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Hello everyone! How are you? I am completely destroying my cat’s sense of safety and object permanence packing up my entire apartment for a move this week. All the comments in the spam filter are actually spam, so it must be time for another question. Shall we continue the Labor Day holiday with a work topic?

Dear Captain,

I have worked in my office for 8 years. My colleague has been here over thirty. He’s in his sixties, I’m thirty. I thought he was one of my best friends though we’ve had our issues before. Let me explain. No, there is too much, allow me to sum up.

We do the same job in a support team. For a long time, I’ve been taking on more stuff because I’m asked to (and because I actually like to feel like I’m doing my job to the best of my ability) and he’s been excluded somewhat from tasks he likes. I don’t know why this is – it’s certainly not my doing or responsibility, but the digs he gets in makes it clear that he thinks I take everything on (I can be prone to this and work against it…) and it’s basically my fault and there’s a giant conspiracy against him. If there’s a conspiracy against him, I’m not part of it. Which I’ve said a million times.

Sometimes the way he talks I think he has absolute contempt for me. He doesn’t like me being bossy (who would?) but he doesn’t pull his weight or step up to the plate to *offer* his services. The number of times I’ve walked past his desk and he’s just on the internet… or sometimes reading the newspaper! I’ve not said anything to our boss because I don’t want to get him into trouble… and because I feel it would make things worse anyway! All this, incidentally, while I’m tearing my hair out trying to get things done by deadlines etc.

I feel like what he wants is for people to go to him and say ‘Will you do this/help us with this?’ but he won’t offer, won’t put himself forward. When people do? He’s grumpy with them. So more and more people come to me because they know they’ll get a more positive answer… and he doesn’t really keep himself up to date with changes so oftentimes can’t answer their questions anyway!

He sits grumbling that he never gets asked to do things/attend meetings/whatever but when he IS included he then complains that he just sat there useless! All the while, getting in digs at me. He says he can’t be bothered fighting my ‘need to have fingers in all the pies’, to which I have responded that I don’t want fingers in all the pies (i’m inquisitive certainly, but I truly don’t feel that way, but it seems to go that way mostly because he won’t step up and because there’s nobody else). I try to fight the urge to do everything and I thought I was doing much better with trying to spread the load. Apparently not, or not enough/in the right way for him.

Have I mentioned that no matter how I approach things with him, he always seems to interpret what I say or do in the worst possible light? In fact, I do most everything with a view to not upsetting him, not making him irritable or grumpier…. which often means not even *ASKING* him to help out with things because a: I know he will just say no and b: he’ll accuse me of being bossy… then he gets angry because he sees ‘me doing everything as ‘him being left out’.

And all the while he’s sat there saying he doesn’t want to be there/wishes he didn’t have to work in this dump anymore/doesn’t get how *insert project here* works.

So I feel constantly like I’m on eggshells with him. And if he’s pissed at me, he’ll be nice as pie to everyone else and speak to me in monosyllables, which makes me feel about two inches tall.

Last year, he complained to our manager about me being bossy and know it all and opinionated, I think… and at the time I basically apologised, said I’d do better, and didn’t go back with my laundry list about him because I will always assume that I’m in the wrong. It was only later that I thought ‘hang on a second…’

I KNOW I can be bossy, especially when I’m stressed myself. I seem to construct everything at work around a fear of screwing up, which isn’t exactly healthy, so when it’s very busy or I feel like everything’s on me, I do get anxious. Since the last run-in, I’ve tried REALLY hard to regulate my weaknesses. It seems he doesn’t care/hasn’t acknowledged this. I can’t help wondering now that it’s not that I’m patronising/condescending/bossy, but that he will always interpret it that way because he chooses to. But I don’t know because my mind is being yanked in a million different directions and now I’m terrified that everyone thinks that I’m those things as well.

We’ve talked about all this before. I’ve tried to stress to him that I’m never looking to do things to make him feel bad, that I don’t do anything with a mind to making his day worse. I’ve also said that he needs to be direct when he feels I’m doing those things… but he does the same passive-aggressive thing as always.

I deal really badly with passive-aggression (see also: my mother). I know this. I try to do better. I am trying so hard to be the best human I can be and it just seems like it’s all for nothing. I do not know what to do, how to approach any of it!

I don’t feel I can talk to him because he’ll blow up, so I sent him an email trying to explain my side as gently and yet as honestly as I could. He came back and said my email was condescending, that he is way more productive when I’m not there… I just wanted to be honest for once and got accused of condescension, being confident/rude/pushy.

I don’t know… am I a mean bitch, or is it that he won’t accept anything but the responses he wants?

I have no idea what to do, Captain. I really don’t want this to be a thing with our manager again, or to affect my reputation with other people at work – if it hasn’t already – and I’m also scared that actually, everyone else thinks I’m those things when I really try not to be and I’ve been trying so f**king hard to regulate my lesser demons.

Yours,

Terrified Yet Increasingly Unwilling To Be His Doormat

Dear Terrified:

The fact that you are walking on eggshells around this person and signing yourself “Terrified” is giving me a lot of information. That information sums up thusly:

  • Whatever bond you shared in the past, your coworker is now actively sabotaging you and your work.
  • He wants you to be scared, miserable, and walk on eggshells.
  • I don’t think there is a fix where you guys are friends again, so what we are going for is neutrality and distance.

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