my coworker insists that I’m mad at her and is radiating drama

A reader writes:

Three months ago, I had a conflict with a coworker. We used to walk together during breaks. One day, she abruptly changed directions to walk with someone else. No big deal.

Except that, apparently, it was.

Later that afternoon, she apologized for the abrupt change in walking partners. I was working and hadn’t thought much of it, and I wasn’t upset, so I waved her excuses off.

She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. Or the next day. On the start of what looked like it was shaping up to be a second full day of the silent treatment, I asked her if she was OK. She burst into tears, saying that she wasn’t and that she was tired of always being the one at fault.

Taken aback by her emotional outburst, I apologized profusely, assured her that I wasn’t angry or upset with her, and told her that things were fine on my end. She kept insisting that I was angry with her –and mind you, she was the one who refused to speak with me, etc. I kept trying to smooth things over, and at the end of the conversation, I thought that everything was fine.

That afternoon, I decided to take my break outside. I didn’t explain this in full to my coworker. I just went. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. Except that, apparently, it was.

Over the next few weeks, things fell into a dysfunctional pattern. Any time I did anything that my coworker perceived as a snub, she would go off. If I walked too quickly ahead of her to return to my desk after lunch, I was running away from her. If I didn’t immediately greet her upon entering our cubicle area, I was snubbing her. Twice when I tried to make polite conversation, my coworker burst into tears, sobbing that she’d missed me or missed talking to me. Over the course of several weeks, this became more and more uncomfortable. It seemed like I was always offending my coworker. I began taking breaks on my own or with others. Once, when we were left walking together after a small group dispersed, I tried to make conversation and my coworker just flat refused to respond. So, I gave up.

In March, my coworker went to our supervisor and asked that her seat be moved. I have no idea what transpired during the conversation, but she was moved across the office. While concerned about what she’d said to be moved, I never experienced any uncomfortable talks with my supervisor and received decent scores on the teamwork portion of my annual review, so I decided to let it go and move on.

Last week, someone asked my coworker why she’d moved and why she and I no longer walked together. Apparently, she burst into tears and said that I was angry with her and wouldn’t speak to her. This third coworker decided to take it upon herself to mediate the conflict. I think she’s nice to offer to mediate and she seems honestly concerned; however, I also feel like it’s dragging out a drama that shouldn’t exist.

What am I supposed to do? I don’t really want to talk to the coworker with a third acting as a mediator because I feel like this whole stupid thing is becoming a ridiculous drama built around my coworker’s emotional instability. I am fine with just moving on. I feel that I can continue working with my coworker because although irritated, I’m not particularly emotionally invested in this would-be drama. I am not keen on talking to my boss–on one hand, I am afraid that the coworker will continue dragging others into the affair for the sake of attention, which I don’t want, but I also feel like going to my boss validates and/or fosters the drama by making it a work problem. What do I do at this point? And how am I supposed to talk to someone who bursts into tears every time I say two words to her?

Wha…?

I think your instincts here are exactly right: avoid drama, don’t get sucked into some third-party mediation, and go about your work and leave your coworker’s drama to her.

That said, given that she’s calling so much attention to (her mistaken idea of) the situation and trying to bring others into it, I’d sit her down and this to her: “I’ve told you repeatedly that I’m not snubbing you, angry with you, or offended by you. You’ve apparently refused to believe that and have proceeded as if there’s an issue between us and have even told other people that. I want to be as clear as possible here: I have not been angry with you. I have not had any issue with you. What I am now is baffled and a little frustrated that you’ve created an issue out of nothing and brought others into it. It’s causing drama and tension where there doesn’t need to be any. I’m telling you directly now, please stop. I don’t have an issue with you and I don’t want you telling people that I do. I’m not going to attempt to address this again, so I hope this puts it to rest. If it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll have to live with a coworker telling people I’m upset with her when I’m not, but there’s nothing I can do about that if that’s how you choose to proceed. Regardless, I need you to interact with me professionally while we’re at work.”

And from there, decline to engage. if people ask you about what’s going on, say, “I really have no idea. I have no beef with her and never have, and have tried to tell her that.” If people try to mediate it for you, say, “I appreciate that, but please don’t. That’s creating an issue where one doesn’t exist.”

I have no idea what’s up with your coworker. It’s certainly possible that you did do something that a reasonable person would have read as you being angry, but a reasonable person wouldn’t have taken any of the actions that she’s taken following that so … you’re basically dealing with someone unreasonable and should adjust your expectations accordingly.

{ 368 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      For the record, there is no such thing as WTF Wednesday! (I feel the need to say this because I always worry that Wednesday letter-writers will eventually get offended by that, if the WTF appears to be directed toward them.)

              1. Ella

                I’m with you. I am starting to feel like every time there’s a letter to which the common reaction is some variation of “WTF”?, people make a joke or reference to the day of the week. I would like that joke to stop, personally. Not so much because I find it potentially offensive to letter writers, but just because I feel like the joke has been made enough now. (This is not aimed at BethRA specifically, as I’ve seen it on many entries and by different people.)

                But, I know how trying to control comment threads usually goes on the internet.

        1. BethRA

          “You’reTotesKiddingMeTuesday”?

          (sorry, I meant it as a joke but didn’t stop to think about how it might be perceived. Am happy to have the post deleted if you’d like)

      1. Nashira

        I feel a little like an appropriate response to calls of “wtf Wednesday” is “stop trying to make fetch happen.”

        1. TheSnarkyB

          YES!! PLEASE stop trying to make fetch happen!! These “Is it Wednesday” comments are so annoying, please just stop everyone. :(

          1. Just Another Techie

            what does “make fetch happen” mean? I think I’m missing a reference here. . .

    2. littlemoose

      If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that ridiculous behavior knows no bounds, including specific days of the week.

  1. Kay the Tutor

    The joy that is “girl drama”. We all think we can escape it once we graduate middle school… or high school… or college… and somehow it follows people around.

    OP – I really sympathize with your situation. That’s pretty ridiculous behavior for middle schoolers, much less working adults. My first thought is that she may have something else going on in her personal life and somehow her emotions are getting the better of her. Or perhaps she has some sort of weird attachment disorder. Either way, the only part of Alison’s advice that I disagree with a bit is directly/firmly telling her that you have no beef with her. On the surface it sounds like a good conversation to have. But if you are going to have that one, you may want to be especially gentle about it or have someone nearby because she sounds a bit unstable.

    1. allisonallisonallisonetc

      eh, I really don’t think this is (only) a female thing. All the worst cases of workplace drama that I’ve personally experienced came from men acting in similar ways to how OPs coworker is. People of all genders can be ridiculous and immature.

      1. Cat

        Yeah, seriously. The men in my office are way more dramariffic than the women (which I think is random chance rather than some immutable characteristic of men).

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Absolutely. That said, this could turn into an entire discussion on its own unrelated to the letter, which I want to avoid, so let’s everyone considered it noted that disagreement with the concept of “girl drama” has been expressed (by me as well as others) and move back to the letter!

      3. Jessica

        The most dramatic place I ever worked was where two men were constantly bickering and gossiping about each other, then getting into passive-aggressive fights…. definitely not only a female thing. In fact, this has been true at a few jobs I’ve had, where some men seemed to know they could get away with more drama without anyone calling them out on it; people described them as “passionate”. Not trying to start a gender war, because that’s not the scope of the letter, but I see time and again that men can be very petty and immature too.

        1. Jessica

          Whoops, I was writing my post while Alison wrote hers, so I saw it afterwards. Gender comments done!

      4. The Cosmic Avenger

        And all ages, too, obviously. For the record, my middle schooler has always rolled her eyes at these types of dramatics. :)

      5. Cath in Canada

        Yeah, my main group of friends at the time got torn apart a couple of years ago due to one guy deciding that someone was talking about him behind his back and had “looked at him funny”, and creating massive amounts of drama about it. This is soooooo not just a “girl” thing.

    2. Relly

      I feel with someone this unstable, having the direct conversation might just “prove” to the coworker that the OP was mad with them all along. As much as we want to communicate our concerns to others and hope they will be receptive, I could see this going south. Especially with someone this dramatic.

      I know the OP just wants to let the issue die, but the coworker feels the opposite about the situation, hand has felt inclined to tell people how the OP is angry with her. And the coworker made it even more dramatic by having her seat moved. I think the OP needs to get a supervisor looped into the situation.

      1. Michele

        That is what I was thinking. She needs to preemptively let her supervisor know that she is working with someone who is unhinged. The coworker has already gone to the boss once, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she kept going and was complaining about the OP’s behavior. It seems that she has some sort of relationship going in her head with a fair amount of fiction in it. Who knows what kind of subversive or hostile behavior the coworker might accuse the LW of. Normally, I think that drama should be kept out of the boss’s office, but I think some self-defense is necessary here.

            1. Leah

              ITA. A conversation like the one Allison suggested would work with a rational person, but CW has shown that she’s not a rational person, so it could backfire.

              1. jamlady

                I very much agree with you guys. This girl sounds like how my sister has always been (though she has improved). She doesn’t understand directness, she’s very passive aggressive, and never believes people actually mean what they say. She would drag weird things out for months that I forgot happened about an hour afterward. She’s in her late 20s now and only very recently started to take a step back and realize who she’s with (me, our oldest sister, and our father are all very candid folks) and that we don’t have any hidden meanings in our words. It was nearly impossible to sit down and work it out together and we always had to get our mom involved (who was as emotional as my sister, but not as passive, so a good medium). I agree that this coworker just isn’t all that rational and it’s very likely you need the authority there to smooth things over.

                Btw, the OP’s post gave me some crazy flashbacks and I’m sorry they’re clashing so much. :/

        1. Nina

          IA. Coworker is bursting into tears whenever the OP does or doesn’t talk to her, and now word is getting around the office. Definitely agree that it’s time to get the boss involved.

        2. 2horseygirls

          What about having the conversation with Coworker with Boss present? That leaves no opportunity for Coworker to “interpret” what was said or how it was said to others. Boss already has an inkling of what is going on; this would be an opportunity to clear the air with both parties at the same time. Using Allison’s script:

          “I’ve told you repeatedly that I’m not snubbing you, angry with you, or offended by you. You’ve apparently refused to believe that and have proceeded as if there’s an issue between us and have even told other people that. I want to be as clear as possible here: I have not been angry with you. I have not had any issue with you. What I am now is baffled and a little frustrated that you’ve created an issue out of nothing and brought others into it. It’s causing drama and tension where there doesn’t need to be any. I’m telling you directly now, please stop. I don’t have an issue with you and I don’t want you telling people that I do. I’m not going to attempt to address this again, so I hope this puts it to rest. If it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll have to live with a coworker telling people I’m upset with her when I’m not, but there’s nothing I can do about that if that’s how you choose to proceed. Regardless, I need you to interact with me professionally while we’re at work.”

          And from there, decline to engage. If Boss is present, s/he should be able to nip anything s/he hears after the meeting right in the bud.

          FWIW, I’ve been told repeatedly over the last 8 months that I am passive-aggressive and creating tension in the office by my immediate supervisor. When I check with my officemates directly, no one has any issues they will verbalize to me, so the only thing I can do is continue to strive to be professional and cordial with all.

          (My supervisor is fairly well-known for coincidentally having those exact traits . . . ;) )

      2. SJP

        Yea I agree, because this could come back to bite OP while you’ve tried to ignore it and move on (which is the right, adult thing to do) but unfortunately if its work and involves people working together in a team and one will not let this drop then I think you need to loop in your manager.
        Phrase it as something you’re not making as a big deal –

        “Jane, I just wanted to talk to you about Meg. As I am sure you’re aware there is a situation that I want to loop you in on. Meg has taken *insert whatever it was* as a slight and that I am upset with her. When it fact it really wasn’t and I must have come across as angry or upset with her. I was neither of those things. Evidentially things have escalated as Meg has moved away from me, and everytime I try to speak to her she either cries or just ignores me.
        I’ve tried to keep away from this as I see it as unnecessary drama. I’ve explained multiple times that I am genuinely not upset with her but she refuses to believe that for whatever reason.
        I come to work to work and get the job done, and I do that with being on good terms with my colleagues. I am worried how this situation is being perceived by others as I am aware that Meg is telling people I am upset and angry with her and I am worried that that is going to cloud people’s views of me.
        Are you able to help resolve this as I have tried speaking to her to explain myself and as I mentioned she just bursts into tears and it’s making it really difficult for me. I have tried so many ways to show I am not angry or upset with her but it’s falling on deaf ears. What do you suggest? ” or something like that

        1. fposte

          But it doesn’t need to be resolved. Trying to resolve things is just going to keep fueling the melodrama. The OP has the right instinct to disengage, and the supervisor is relevant only insofar as it might be useful to let her know where the OP is on the desk change thing and working with Co-worker, which is “Meh. Fine.”

          1. SJP

            Well yes, maybe not ask the manager to for a resolution but this co-worker seems really manipulative whether she knows it or not and if she keeps spreading this stuff and then says something big like “jane hit me” then people might actually think OP could have done that as they may believe she has been being mean or angry or whatever.
            Plus maybe the boss can call in Meg as I call her and nip this in the bud and call a cease on this e.g. – say “Meg I wanted to address this with both of you as it’s getting out of hand. Jane tells me she’s been trying to talk to you about *situation* and explain she doesn’t have any sort of problem working with you and you’re not taking that on board and I need this to be water under the bridge and for you both to get move on as this isn’t appropriate for work. Meg, no more drama in the office and telling people about *insert information* and jane, please try and be professional at all times to avoid this happening again” or whatever is relevant to OP to stop this colleague from blowing up all the time.

            1. fposte

              This just isn’t manager-level stuff, though. I think it’s going overboard to think she’s going to claim falsely that there’s been an assault and I don’t think meeting with a manager would stop her if she’s that crazy anyway.

              If the third party won’t back off when told to, or if the co-worker bugs the OP at her desk and won’t back off when told to, that’s when it’s time to get the manager. But currently this isn’t a manager problem.

              1. SJP

                Fair enough. Although would you not even tell the manager at all?
                Just if this was my reportee’s i’d want to know as this is so “out there” that i’d want to be kept in the loop. But that’s just me

                1. fposte

                  I might let her know, yes. From a managerial standpoint, I’d be fine with being notified.

              2. Snoskred

                I’ve got to disagree with you on this one. I think the minute a third co-worker was dragged into this, it becomes a much bigger deal. Before people can blink, this co-worker will probably have engaged half the workforce in some kind of imaginary “taking sides” against the OP.

                A heads up to the manager is a wise thing to do in this instance, making it very clear that the OP has no issue with the coworker and cannot understand why the coworker believes that the OP has a problem with her. Then it is up to the manager how it is handled.

          2. Artemesia

            The issue is preempting any more of her nonsense. This kind of thing can tar the OP and so the supervisor needs a heads up.

        2. TheLazyB

          Oooh, not “I must have come across as angry/upset”. “she seems to have interpreted this as me being angry/upset”.

          Also, in my head you are Sarah Jessica Parker. If you’re not, please don’t tell me :)

      3. nona

        Yeah, a conversation could be a demonstration of the “issue.” Virtually anything OP does is being taken as an insult or a snub. I think OP needs to speak to a supervisor if this doesn’t die down, particularly since OP’s loon ex-friend is telling weird stories to whoever will listen.

      4. maggie

        I agree. I think it’s officially time to bring in Boss. This woman is clearly unstable and it’s officially becoming poison in the office and Boss needs to know what they’re dealing with.

        OP, has anybody else reacted this way toward you? The reason I bring this up is the (horrifically named) ‘Resting B-tch Face’ syndrome possbility. Is it possible that others have complained of behavior like this? ‘She’s so aloof, she’s always so rude, she always gives me the cold shoulder, blahblahblah’.

        1. Kat

          I think I’d rather suffer from resting bitch face than being a porch dick.

          Lol sorry, off-topic tangent

      5. INTP

        That’s what I thought too. Any sort of “conversation” one could have about the topic would inevitably involve expressing some sort of displeasure with the way the ex-friend has been conducting herself, and through the drama-llama goggles could be seen as confirmation that OP is mad at her. The woman has shown an ability to perpetuate drama out of absolutely nothing so it would be a piece of cake for her to perpetuate drama out of an “I’m not happy with you, but not for the reasons you think” conversation.

        Agree that LW needs to inform her own supervisor of what is going on. I’d say to even privately tell this entire saga to the coworker who is trying to work as a mediator, assuming that the mediator seems very rational and isn’t close with the ex-friend. (I must be honest that I’m suspicious of the mediator just based on the fact that she so readily jumped into the role of mediating a very dramatic situation – but I could be wrong. But I’d try to get a very good gut read on her before trusting her to make sure that she isn’t the type to relish the drama or see herself as friendship savior or unstable person savior or whatever.)

        1. Vancouver Reader

          I think mediator is trying to be helpful, not knowing both sides of the story completely. However, I do think it’d be good for OP to thank the mediator for her offer, but that the OP and Dramaella will work things out on their own.

      6. Come On Eileen

        I tend to agree. The script that Alison has suggested is very direct and to the point, and I can just see the dramatic co-worker receiving the message as “waaah! stop being so MEAN to me!”

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The thing is, though, I don’t care if the coworker receives it that way. She’s not the audience — others are, if at some point the OP needs to say “here’s what I’ve said to her.”

          1. LBK

            Agreed. The coworker’s response really doesn’t matter at this point (because based on historical data, it is guaranteed to be dramatic, no matter how the OP approaches the conversation). This is purely for the OP’s peace of mind and so she can tell people “I’ve told Jane that I’m not mad at her repeatedly and I’ve also told her that I’m no longer engaging if she insists on sticking to that perception”.

        2. ThursdaysGeek

          Yeah, I agree. And I don’t think there is much benefit in going to the boss, other than perhaps letting the boss know what is going on (the first part of what SJP says above). Don’t ask for a resolution, tell the boss you are trying to just ignore it and let it die down.

          I had a co-worker go to HR because I was smiling at him, he claimed I was trying to make us be friends again (this was not out of the blue). And all HR said was for me to quit smiling at him when I saw him in the hallway. (I’m a smiling greeter, so it was really hard to make an exception for him!)

          Since he’d gone to HR first, I was the one who looked bad. Or maybe they did think he was at fault but it would be easier for them to make me change my behavior. Either way, perhaps just letting your boss know you’re trying to ignore the drama would be good, and then try to ignore it all.

    3. Simplytea

      This sounds like a situation I previously had:

      In elementary school there was a boy named Kevin who, when broken up with by his previous girlfriend, pointed at me and said “you’re my new girlfriend!” Apparently I had no choice in the matter.

      Anyway, the next day in gym class we had free-walking time around the gym (so fun!) and he followed me everywhere I went. So I reported him to the gym teacher, he was told to stop, and he told me I couldn’t be his girlfriend anymore. He got back with his ex the next day.

      Your coworker = Kevin

    4. AMG

      Although it does sound exactly like the kind of thing that my 4th-grade daughter would come and tell me about.

    5. RJ

      “Drama” is absolutely not a gendered thing. This sounds like the coworker has some severe personal issues and has extremely poor personal boundaries. I have worked with several people like the OP’s coworker, both men and women.

      The main issue here is that even when others act unprofessionally in the workplace, it doesn’t excuse us from stooping to that level. It is unacceptable to speculate about medical issues or diagnose another employee as mentally ill, or even hint or insinuate by using words like “Unbalanced” or some unspecified “disorder”. The issue is that if you use “mental illness” labels or try to diagnose this person as “mentally ill”, you could be creating a hostile work environment against people with mental illness, or creating protections for her under the ADA. http://workplacecoachblog.com/html/posts/responding-to-ebola-fears-at-work-196.php The linked example describes how labeling employees using psychological terms create potential protection for these employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects employees “regarded as” disabled.

      The best thing for this employee is to immediately start treating coworkers professionally and maintain professional boundaries. If the coworker’s behavior is impacting your work, get HR involved if the coworker continues to cry, manipulate, or otherwise act unprofessionally. You can be friendly and cordial with your coworkers, but maintaining boundaries and emotional separation is key, especially when dealing with someone who is acting out or unpredictable.

  2. BethRA

    In some seriousness though, is there a point at which you would advise speaking to a supervisor? If Unstable Mable keeps talking to coworkers about how OP is angry with (and thus mean to) her, is it ever worth making sure their manager knows that OP isn’t the one creating drama?

    1. Spiky Plant

      I actually think that time is now. OP has tried multiple times to talk to the co-worker directly; it’s either ignore it or go to the manager, and since the co-worker seems to be talking about OP in a way that could damage her professional reputation (by miring her in ridiculous drama and making her look like a willing participant), it seems appropriate to go to the manager.

    2. QAT Contractor

      I would say going to the manager is a good idea. Not that she needs the manager’s support to fix the issue or anything, but just to make them aware of what’s going on and what has been tried in order to find a resolution. It’s basically protecting the OP from further damage to her reputation.

      If this coworker keeps saying OP is angry with her it will make the OP sound mean or unreasonable and eventually, with only one side of the story, other coworkers will form an opinion. Making the manager aware is the best she can do at this point to protect herself, other than fighting the drama every time someone tries to mediate/help fix the issue.

      The only other option would be to ask the coworker why they think you are mad at them. What was it that they believe caused your anger toward them? Perhaps once you know what they believe the issue really is there is a way to reconsile it. Though the friendship is likely lost, at least it might help with the professional relationship side.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Yes exactly, time for Op to CYA. Interesting, though that her boss didn’t talk to her when coworker asked to move. Makes me wonder if coworker said anything to boss about Op at all and just wanted her to think that?

            1. Leah

              If that’s the case, the boss should address it with the CW. It’s ridiculous to have an office situation where one person cries when another person tries to interact with them.

              1. fposte

                Though it’s possible the boss *has* addressed it with the co-worker–that’s not something the OP would necessarily know.

                1. fposte

                  Right, and the boss might be putting a PIP or a termination plan together, too. We just don’t know, and it would be appropriate in the situation for her co-workers not to know–this isn’t a big enough thing that they’d need to know anything.

          1. INTP

            That was my thought – boss knows that it was just silliness but figured it was easier to give UM her way and move her out of the situation than force them to keep working near each other.

      2. LBK

        I would agree with this if the OP had a manager that sounded like she could take this at face value, but I don’t think she does. By OP’s description, her manager would turn this into a workplace issue when it doesn’t need to be – I see it actually having the exact opposite effect and rather than being a CYA move, it would drag the manager in who would be more than willing to perpetuate the drama by deciding that the two of them need to mediate rather than seeing that clearly, this is a one-sided issue and only person needs to change their actions.

        1. QAT Contractor

          I’m not sure where you picked up that the manager would be “willing to perpetuate the drama”. From what I read, if anything was said to the manager by the coworker regarding this issue, she never brought it up during the review with OP and still gave good teamwork scores in her review.

          That sounds, to me, like a level headed manager that can take this at face value.

          1. LBK

            That comment is based on this line in the letter:

            I am not keen on talking to my boss–on one hand, I am afraid that the coworker will continue dragging others into the affair for the sake of attention, which I don’t want, but I also feel like going to my boss validates and/or fosters the drama by making it a work problem.

            1. Vicki

              But it has become a work problem. You’re involved. Other people are getting involved. And heaven help you if you need to get a work product out of this person.

              It is a work problem already.

      3. 42

        I’m thinking that Alison’s excellent wording may work best in an email rather than a conversation, cc’ing whomever needs to see it. Paper trail in black-and-white rather than a conversation that can be denied, forgotten, misunderstood, misrepresented, or misquoted.

        1. Dynamic Beige

          Ah, now there’s an idea. Considering that all other attempts have just resulted in cow-irker crying and telling the OP that it’s not true (uh… you read minds?) another conversation is unlikely to have any other effect. I can see where the mediation might be useful because Unstable Mabel (to good not to steal) would be able to air all her perceived grievances and be a *star* for a while/get a bunch of attention but I have a feeling that within a couple of weeks it would devolve back into “OP hates me because I made them go to mediation and work out our differences and they. just. weren’t. willing. to. do. it. in. the. session. because. they. moved. my. lunch. in. the. fridge. to. get. to. the. milk. *bawls*”

          Maybe the OP should have a quick word with her manager and see if this is a solution, to e-mail UM and cc the manager/boss/supervisor. As someone else pointed out, that person may already be aware that UM is prone to overreacting/overly sensitive. Also, unless there is someone within HR/the company that has been trained in this kind of mediation, one may have to be hired and most companies I think would be loathe to do that, except in very serious situations.

        2. AW

          BCC

          The OP, if they go this route, should blind carbon copy so co-worker doesn’t see that other people got this email; that alone could set them off.

    3. Anon Accountant

      I’d mention it to a supervisor now just as a CYA especially since the coworker has asked to be moved and has cried multiple times over a non-issue.

    4. INTP

      *Enters echo chamber*

      I also think that time is now, for the reason that Unstable Mabel (UM) is already involving others in the drama. OP needs to protect her reputation or risk looking guilty for not making an attempt to do so. You don’t want to be the person to turn a silly friendship drama into a work problem, complain to managers that someone doesn’t like you enough, ask to have seating rearranged, burst into tears at coworkers, etc, but UM has already done this. There’s no keeping it an interpersonal thing anymore.

  3. SouthernBelle

    I would say everything that Alison said… but in an email. You’ve talked to her before, and the meaning behind spoken words seem to escape her and magically turn into alternate scenarios, so a black and white email is, in my opinion, better. Plus, you don’t give her the opportunity to turn it into “she’s attacking me!!!!! *screeeeeeech*”, since the verbiage is quite direct and leaves no room for misinterpretation (by reasonably intelligent folks).

    And this 3rd person can have several seats.

    1. the_scientist

      ha! I’m going to try to find a way to fit the phrase “have several seats” into my daily vocabulary as soon as possible!

      1. GOG11

        I keep re-reading this to try to understand what “And this 3rd person can have several seats” refers to. Could someone loop me in?

        1. Helka

          Telling someone to take/have a seat (at least in this context) basically means for them to back down and be quiet — it’s a nicer way of saying ‘sit down and shut up’ basically. Making it several instead of one just intensifies the whole thing. They need to butt out, because trying to jump in as a mediator is making the whole thing even more dramatic than it already is.

    2. some1

      Except an email can be forwarded to whomever the coworker chooses, and I do believe the coworker will see this as an attack.

      1. AMG

        It can be forwarded, but I would anticipate that it would illustrate what’s really going on and help to squash the perception that OP is mad at Unstable Mable (props to BethRA for the moniker).

      2. QAT Contractor

        I would agree. Once you send that email she can do whatever she wants with it (even edit it) before sending it out to others. Granted you have record of the email in it’s original format and wording, it would just be one more headache to deal with.

        1. Ben Around

          I agree — emails live forever, and even if the recipient doesn’t alter it, its use would be out of the OP’s hands; and if an email can be read wrong, it will be read wrong.

          This is a tough situation. I had a similar problem with a male coworker years ago, and the situation got so bad that I talked to the boss about it. The boss didn’t want to hear about it (and, for the love of God, he and I ended up yelling at each other with our noses about eight inches apart and I was amazed I didn’t get fired). The only good that came out of that talk was that the boss treated me with more respect after that. The coworker eventually took an early retirement, which is when the BS finally ended.

      3. AW

        The coworker might see it this way but I doubt anyone else will read an email stating “I am not and have not been angry or upset with you” as an attack. If anything, the co-worker forwarding this email to peers or their supervisor is going to help the LW because it’ll make it clear that the LW just wants a calm, professional relationship and the co-worker won’t let that happen.

        1. Sans

          Unless the coworker edits the email. And she seems highly invested in her fantasy life, so that’s a possibility.

          1. some1

            Or she can claim that the email came out of the blue and she has no idea what the LW is talking about.

            1. fposte

              But that’s fine. It’s not about getting the co-worker on board; it’s about putting an official period on this discussion.

              1. some1

                I was going by the idea that if this gets put in an email and forwarded, no one will think less of the LW, not saying that needs to be the LW’s ultimate goal here.

                1. fposte

                  Ah, got it. Yeah, I don’t think it really matters if the OP emails or talks on this; co-worker is going to say what she’s going to say either way, and it really doesn’t matter.

          2. AW

            If the co-worker is going to edit the email then they are probably already lying about the LW’s interactions with them anyway (claiming the LW is saying/doing things they didn’t) and at least with an email the LW has the original.

            I don’t think an email puts the LW in any particular disadvantage.

      4. INTP

        I agree that the coworker will see it as an attack. The coworker sees everything else as an attack, apparently, and I predict this would be seen as “OP says she’s not mad at me, but she won’t even speak to me about this!”

        And if the crazy coworker forwards it to people who don’t know the entire history, they could also be convinced that OP is quite cold and dismissive for trying to handle this sensitive issue via email. That’s why I think the manager needs to be informed before OP engages with this woman again.

        1. OhNo

          I would agree to mentioning it to the manager first as well, for the same reason you mentioned (“OP won’t even speak to me!”). Also, by putting this kind of direct language into an email, OP does run the risk of looking cold or “mean”.

          The problem with email is that you don’t have tone or body language to work off of, so while someone who knows the OP well might read that language as them trying to be calm and professional, someone who doesn’t know the OP well might just think, “what a cold b***h.” I think if the OP does choose to address it by email, the language needs to be toned WAY down. It needs to be very nice and inoffensive, even to people who don’t have any background to the situation.

          Maybe something like… “I’ve tried to discuss this with you before, but I really do want to make it clear that I’m not angry with you and I never have been. I’m sorry that you’ve been interpreting my actions that way, but I assure you that no offense was ever meant. I hope we can put this behind us/continue to have a good working relationship/work together well on project X moving forward.” Or something like that, anyway, were it would be VERY difficult to read it in a negative tone.

      5. Connie-Lynne

        If the coworker is as invested in her fantasy life as a former friend was in hers, she won’t feel a need to edit it.

        I once got a 16-page screed from someone detailing all of my supposed crimes against friendship (and humanity). I had already decided not to engage with her, so I simply sent back the original email with, “We have talked about this already, and you know that my opinion of what happened is quite different from the version you put forth here. If you are willing to meet with a mediator to work this out, I am happy to speak with you, otherwise, I don’t think an extended email debate will solve this. I’m so sorry our friendship may be ending like this and I truly wish you the best.”

        She was so angry she forwarded it along to all of our mutual friends with “Can you believe this? She is so … [froth froth froth about how awful I am].” She didn’t change one word of what I said — through her filters, it was already clear what a terrible person I was being by refusing to engage.

        I wouldn’t expect this person to feel a need to edit things, either.

    3. YourCdnFriend

      I can see the point in moving from convo to email but it goes against my personal barometer of email vs convo: is sending an email “easier” for me or is it the best way to communicate?

      In this case, I think a convo is best. Yes, it could be turned but so can an email.

        1. eee

          yes but the upside is that there’s an existing copy of an email, so that OP can forward it to the supervisor if the coworker manages to read in between the lines, to point out that “no, there isn’t anything to take offense with.” As opposed to a conversation where it’s impossible to replicate objectively unless OP secretly records it (which I am not advising, as that would be mega-weird/illegal in some states).

          1. Rayner

            But that’s making it way way way more complicated than it needs to be.

            Mable: THIS PERSON SENT ME THIS EMAIL, LOOK AT IT!
            OP: *now has to go and collect their email from their files, show it to their manager, have the two compared, may not be given that opportunity*

            A conversation is just as easy.

            1. Fabulously Anonymous

              Except there’s no proof of anything that was said in the conversation. (Read about Debra Milke for an extreme example).

              1. Rayner

                Yeah, but right now, is there a need for proof?

                Is there a need to send things recorded and make sure all these people have evidence? Or is it just a case of understanding that this is just drama caused by one daft individual, rather than anything else.

                1. Fabulously Anonymous

                  Well, it’s been several months, OP has already had a convo with the co-worker and clearly stated there is no animosity and now the co-worker is telling others there is an issue and a third party is offering to mediate.

                  It sounds to me like additional conversations will not help and that things do need to be recorded. But perhaps I’m just used to dealing with more irrational people?

                2. fposte

                  @ Fab–yeah, I’m with Rayner on this. There’s no indication that anybody’s doubting the OP, just responding to the co-worker’s distress. I think it’s fine to email this too, but talking to her one last time isn’t a conversation, it’s just ringing down the curtain face to face.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I agree, and since tone is very hard to convey in an email, Moaning Myrtle here might just tell everyone the OP sent her this mean message, oh boo hoo, etc. etc.

        1. Mephyle

          But the message will exist in black and white, and if necessary, can be read by anyone else who needs to know (such as the manager or mediator), and they can judge whether it is mean or not.
          As mentioned before, this can’t happen with a conversation.

          1. fposte

            The odds that the manager is going to be sufficiently interested in any email declared to be “mean” are very small indeed.

        1. Koko

          I think that’s the point she’s making – the instinct is to use email because it’s easier, but the correct choice is the conversation, because it’s the better way to communicate.

            1. fposte

              She had a conversation to try to fix things, yes. But this isn’t a conversation but a statement, and it’s not trying to fix anything. It’s clarifying that the OP is no longer engaging the co-worker personally.

      2. Person

        Alison: would you recommend a conversation with a follow-up email or is that too intense? How do you feel about putting this in an email at all?

    4. FarFromBreton

      I once dealt with a coworker who was similarly difficult (we had actual interpersonal issues, but this person liked to recast and broadcast conversations to make it seem like they were a perpetual victim under cruel attack) and made me worry about my reputation. With this person, I found that email or spoken were similarly pointless in actually resolving our problem, but email allowed me to carefully compose my thoughts and not have to worry about getting sucked into circular conversations. People like this often have an endless supply of counterarguments and energy for fighting–you’ll wear yourself out and get upset, and they’ll just get fueled. When other people did eventually get involved, though, I took to ccing one or two of them on our email conversations (with their permission) and avoiding phone conversations with the person. It usually forced the other person to behave, and when it didn’t, I had proof that I didn’t provoke them or say anything cruel. (So glad to be out of that situation!)

  4. Allison

    “She burst into tears, saying that she wasn’t and that she was tired of always being the one at fault.”

    I got caught up on this line here, and I wonder if she’s referring to her relationship with the LW, or if there’s something else going on in her life that’s making her . . . shall we say extra fragile, or if she’s dealt with some bad stuff in the past (at work or otherwise) that’s bleeding into her current situation.

    1. Muriel Heslop

      That is my thought as well. We have an admin who has acted in a similar fashion, with the drama at work building as her personal life has spun increasingly out of control. I don’t know if one feeds the other, but there was definitely a correlation in our workplace.

    2. Olive Hornby

      Yes, this was my thought as well, especially since this constant crying seems to have come out of nowhere. I’m not sure if there’s anything to be done about it, but I wonder if it would be worthwhile to invite the coworker (via email) for a coffee or walk to try to see what’s going on. Yes, this opens the door to lots of tears and unpleasantness, but it seems like that’s happening anyway, and perhaps getting out of the office would help.

    3. MsM

      Yeah. I wonder if the better approach is not “I wasn’t annoyed with you, but now I am,” but something more along the lines of “your interpretation of what’s going on doesn’t seem to reflect what I’ve been doing at all; is everything okay?” and encourage her to use an EAP if she needs one.

      1. Nashira

        As somebody who’s had the inappropriate tears at work (so embarrassing) and discovered it was Therapy Time, I can’t recommend the EAP suggestion enough.

    4. sunny-dee

      First thing I thought of … is it’s possible she’s pregnant? That can wreak havoc with the emotions.

      1. kozinskey

        Her actions go way past normal even for someone very emotional. I think there’s something else going on. Also, I’d like to avoid jumping to the conclusion that a uterus is to blame for any weird actions on a woman’s part.

        1. Allison

          +1

          I’m not a fan of someone speculating that a woman’s pregnant (or “just PMSing”) every time there’s something weird going on with her emotions. It’s a possibility, but it’s one of many, many things that could be going on.

        2. maggiethecat

          +1 from someone who is currently pregnant and remaining my professional self at work. I think that suggestion could be offensive to people.

        3. Blue Anne

          >Also, I’d like to avoid jumping to the conclusion that a uterus is to blame for any weird actions on a woman’s part.

          This, very much.

        4. sunny-dee

          The reason I brought is up is because it seems to be a change in response for the woman herself. I’m assuming (?) that she didn’t used to be so visibly emotional, which means this is new behavior. There are a lot of things that can cause that — my first guess was pregnancy, others’ was something wrong in her personal life, it could be a change in medication. Whatever.

          1. Mishsmom

            while i remained professional while pregnant, there were a few moments at home i was an absolute NUT (i’d catch myself and apologize, but there were some moments). i think it’s completely legitimate to bring it up. no one is saying it’s a gender thing, but since it is about a woman, that could be one of the things causing this type of behavior.

        5. Case of the Mondays

          While I agree that we shouldn’t default blame our “woman parts” I do wish there was more public discussion about the total havoc menopause can cause for some women. The type I’m talking about is rare but is akin to severe post partum depression or PPMD (whatever the extra bad pms medical condition is.) My mom suffered from it and it made her near certifiable. (I don’t say that in the funny way but in the serious way.) She acted very much like the woman described here. Everything was a personal slight that drove her to tears and the silent treatment. It was awful. It took a long time to get her to admit their was a problem and for her doctor to do anything about it. Luckily she eventually got it treated.

          I’m not saying that this is what is going on with the OP or that it will happen to every woman. However, I think we do ourselves a disservice by not discussing what can occur. People then don’t recognize it in themselves and don’t seek the help they need.

            1. Mishsmom

              not everyone is able to do that 100% of the time. i’m impressed you two do :) but trust me, not everything is controllable by everyone all the time. to imply that it should be in my mind is like saying keep your depression out of the workplace. it’s a bit judgy.

              1. Kat M

                Well-it’s not saying that everyone should be completely stoic and be fired over one slight sense of being upset. But there’s a big difference between needing to take some extra time and care of yourself and taking your emotions out on others. If you have a legit health concern, it is up to you to manage it and if that means going to the boss and asking for accommodations, then you do that. But when I say keep it out of work, that means I do what I can to manage my condition and I don’t take it out on other people. I don’t see why that is judgy. It’s a part of being in the workforce, as well as a part of society.

                That’s not to say we all don’t have moments where we get emotional or frustrated. But this isn’t emotional, frustrated, or dealing with a health condition. This person is being rude to her coworkers and causing drama-that’s an action she is choosing. Plenty of people struggle with health conditions every day but do what they can to make sure that their coworkers don’t fly into the line of fire.

                1. aebhel

                  This. When I was pregnant, I sometimes had to take ten minutes and go cry in the bathroom, but I never flew off the handle at my coworkers, and certainly not in such a sustained and dramatic fashion. Snapping at someone once can be blamed on hormones. Spending months creating an overblown disaster out of absolutely nothing is something else entirely.

      2. Lulubell

        Ha – my first thought was that she went on birth control pills. Because those things make me crazy emotional and teary. (Though not ever to the extent that I would act in this way.)

        1. Helka

          I don’t want to jump right to the idea of birth control pills specifically (see what Allison and maggiethecat said above about not assuming that it’s the uterus/estrogen to blame) but starting, stopping, or changing any medication can potentially have a lot of effects on someone’s mood. It doesn’t have to be HBC to be playing funny with her moods.

          But this is all speculation anyway, as we have no evidence that this person is even taking any medication, or needs it, or anything, and it’s a bit beside the point because the cause isn’t the question, her behavior is the question.

          1. Allison

            True, speculation won’t do much on the end and her behavior does need to change regardless of the cause, but I think the purpose of this specific thread is to point to legitimate reasons why someone might act this way, to counteract possible remarks about the woman simply being “crazy,” or some evil drama queen who just likes to cause trouble. She’s a human who’s probably going through a struggle none of us, not even the LW right now, knows about.

            1. Green

              Speculation that includes understandable or compassionate reasons can help impact how OP feels about the situation and deals with it. (Asking if she’s OK or asking what’s going on instead of expressing frustration — which can then impact whether the situation deescalates or escalates.)

              It’s hard to do, but I try to do a little mental exercise when I’m in a conflict with someone where I make up a little mental story and try to attribute their behavior to something that assumes the best about them. When I do it successfully, it at the very least helps change my tone and nonverbal expressions.

              1. Allison

                I could probably stand to do more of this in my own dealings with people, really. Sometimes I don’t realize, until it’s too late, that so-and-so could have X issue and maybe that’s why they were acting that way.

                To be fair, if I’m acting weird around people, I normally try to explain why so they don’t assume I’m nuts or somehow “bad,” but I’ll admit that even I don’t always know what’s causing me to act weird until after the fact.

              2. Connie-Lynne

                This is a really good point.

                If this is a significant change in behavior in the LW’s work-friend, it’s possible something else is going on. Maybe something medical, some outside stressor like family issues. I like the suggestion someone gave about coming at it from a compassionate angle, just asking if anything is wrong, or if there’s something they want to talk about.

      3. Marzipan

        Please, please, please don’t ask her (or, basically, any woman ever) if she’s pregnant.
        Being pregnant can wreak emotional havoc, absolutely. But for some women – for instance, those struggling with infertility, or those who have suffered a pregnancy loss – the question itself is incredibly upsetting. It’s a reminder that no, they aren’t, thanks for asking! (I know you weren’t directly suggesting the OP ask her, but I just wanted to chuck that out there.)

    5. Erin

      Absolutely. I know I tend to burst into tears about stupid things (oh, say, the ice machine is broken at home, not to put too specific a point on it) and it’s 100% always caused by stress somewhere else in my life.

      But that said, if that’s the cause of Mable’s issues, she can’t keep icing out and causing drama with the LW. That shit’s unprofessional.

    6. INTP

      I was also wondering if she has some extreme neediness that comes from somewhere – whether a traumatic event in her past, a personality disorder, or just a non-pathological personality flaw.

      I’m picturing ex-friend deliberately walking with someone else that fateful day, with the hopes that OP would show how much she really cares for and needs ex-friend by getting hurt or mad about it. When OP didn’t seem to care, she flew off the hinges, either just convincing herself that OP really did care and creating this false reality where everything OP did was based on being so hurt that one time, or was able to see that OP really didn’t care but started trying to bait her into getting emotional to prove that she really cared about the friendship by giving the silent treatment and then lashing out.

      Obviously I have no real evidence that it went this way…that’s just where my mind went as I read the scenario.

  5. Cheesecake

    And it is not even Wednesday…

    Maybe it is not a bad idea to involve a manager in the discussion. Your colleague went extra mile to move away and is now spreading rumors about you (willingly or not). So before it reaches your boss, i’d involve boss in the discussion so she witnesses first hand what you are dealing with and maybe help. I am not an advocate of involving boss and hr when your lunch is stolen, but because they allowed colleague to move (no idea what she said, otherwise there is no reason to), they hear only one part of the story that throws shaaaade on you.

    1. fposte

      I never know in these situations if the boss and the supervisor are the same person or not. But if they are, the boss got roped in already on the seat switch thing. I guess either way I might loop the supervisor in, since she’s already heard about this, to say “I’m absolutely fine with working with Mabel, and I’m not sure what’s made her unhappy here. I’ve told her so and asked her to keep our relationship professional. I just wanted you to be informed.”

    2. Katie the Fed

      I really disagree with the advice to involve the manager at this point.

      It’s really not OP’s business what was said to the manager. Any manager worth her salt already knows that this woman is overly sensitive and dramatic, and the fact that she moved her doesn’t mean she’s taking sides or anything. She’s just trying to reduce drama.

      Managers really don’t want to get dragged into this stuff unless it’s affecting work.

      1. Cheesecake

        But it is affecting work. Because of those 3rd parties who sympathies and try to protect poor colleague by disturbing OP. Been there, done it, to the point that i sat all day everyday thinking what next will she dramatize about. I guess fposte’s idea to have it in written and loop boss in is a great first step instead of a real chat.

      2. fposte

        Yeah, as a manager I’d be okay with being informed, but this is not the level of problem where I’d be involved in the discussion, and I wouldn’t do it.

      3. Mephyle

        I think there’s a difference between involving the manager (drawing her in, asking her to do something about Co-worker), and informing her (letting her know with a just-the-facts CYA email letting her know OP has no beef with Co-worker and doesn’t know what she has done to make C0-worker unhappy). I agree she should avoid the former, but it’s time for the latter.

    3. Just Another Techie

      If she’s already having weekly or monthly 1:1s with her boss, I don’t think it would be out of line to casually mention “By the way, Mabel seems to think I’m upset with her. I’m honestly confused about what’s up with that, and have tried to reassure her I am not angry and have no ill feelings at all towards her. What do you suggest I do from here?” I do think it would seem weird to schedule a meeting with the boss or supervisor just to talk about Mabel though.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I wouldn’t ask the boss for advice though; that’s opening the door for all kinds of bad suggestions that will increase the drama (like the three of them meeting about it — ick). If anything, I’d just say, “For what it’s worth, I understand Mabel is telling people I’m upset with her. I’ve told her clearly and repeatedly that I’m not and at this point I’m resigning myself to letting her think whatever she’d like to think because I know how clearly I’ve told her that I’m not. I’m hoping that will be the end of it, but I’m mentioning in case it pops up on your radar.” Followed by, if necessary, “No, it’s fine, it’s not impacting anyone’s work, it’s just mildly annoying, but I strongly prefer to make it a non-issue.”

        1. QAT Contractor

          Totally agree. It’s not an asking for advice situation with the boss unless you just want to fuel the fire. Simplying making the manager aware of what’s going on is all that should happen, specifically calling out what you have done to address the issue and that you do not wish to persue it further at this point.

          If it were to impact work/productivity, then the conversation changes.

          1. LBK

            I’m just wary of the manager deciding to take action whether the OP wants her to or not, because it sounds like that’s a likely possibility (based on OP’s description of her manager). If you tell your manager you don’t want this to be an issue and she decides it merits mediation anyway, you get stuck between a rock and a hard place – the mediation will probably be useless, but declining to attend will only fuel the coworker’s claim that the OP is causing drama.

            Honestly, I don’t think the OP has a winning move here. Ignoring the coworker and letting her believe what she wants to will probably have the least volcanic results, but I can tell you as an avid Real Housewives viewer that if someone dramatic decides you’re having a fight, there is literally nothing you can do that they won’t take as participation. Silence/ignoring them will be considered a silent treatment. Keeping things cordial will be taken as being fake. Trying to engage and reason through it will result in screaming matches.

            Andy Cohen has made millions off of unreasonable people sticking to their unreasonable guns. I truly believe it can’t be fixed from the outside unless you are that unreasonable person’s therapist.

            1. fposte

              I’m not seeing a description of the OP’s boss–did it turn up in comments or did I miss it? Or were you thinking the third person trying to mediate was a supervisor? I don’t think it was–I think that was just a random co-worker.

              1. Myrin

                I understood it that way as well. (It’s “the third coworker”, not “my manager” or anything similar.)

              2. LBK

                I misread part of the letter – I originally read it as saying that she didn’t want to bring the issue to her manager because the manager would make it a work issue, rather than saying that she didn’t want to bring it to her manager because that action itself would make it a work issue (regardless of how the manager addressed it).

                So disregard the first part, but I stand by my second and third paragraphs!

                1. fposte

                  Maybe she’s trying to become a reality TV star. I’d love to see her say “I’m not here to make friends.”

        2. steve g

          meeting about it…..me and friend I worked with had an argument about work and weren’t talking to eachother for a few days and office mgr/nitwit “couldn’t stand the tension” (even though me and my friend were emailing eachother about work we just didn’t want to look at eachother) so office nitwit made us meet and talk it out, very very prematurely. thanks but no thanks. You can make us say sorry and think you solved things but the real reconciliation came the next week over drinks, all on its own

          1. Elizabeth West

            I would have been so tempted to do a very dramatic “I’M SORRY I LOVE YOU FRIEND” “NO I LOVE YOU AAHHHH” thing in that meeting just to mess with Nitwit, and then go back to exactly what we were doing before. I have friends who would go along with this even if we were arguing.

            1. Steve G

              LOL it was sort of like that with 1/2-way eye-rolls when nitwit wasn’t paying attention:-). Actually maybe that was the strategy to get us talking again after all, annoy us to the point where we HAD to talk – about how dumb the meeting was!

        3. Just Another Techie

          Oh good point. This is totally the sort of thing I’d ask my manager for advice on, because he is very calm, level-headed, and good at interpersonal situations and I’m kind of the exact opposite. But not all managers are created equal, sadly.

    4. Sadsack

      I think that the coworkers actions during this whole thing make it obvious that she is the one with issues. Reasonable people wouldn’t respond the way the coworker is when asked why she moved her desk. If the boss thought that OP was a problem, I think she would have dragged her in to discuss it, especially if she was already resorting to moving the coworker’s desk.

      1. Cheesecake

        It seems strange to me that the supervisor did not talk to OP about that; someone who wants to move desks need a reason to do so. So either
        -colleague lied her way out of it so boss doesn’t know the story
        -boss knows the colleague is a trouble and since OP did not complain decided to leave her out
        -boss is not a huge fan of confrontations
        Either way boss is not aware it affects OP or does not want to deal with this directly. Something tells me moving desks will not help long term. So boss should be more involved if this drama keeps going on and on

        1. fposte

          Yeah, I wouldn’t have involved the OP. You don’t want to sit near Lucinda because long tedious explanation? Fine, don’t sit near Lucinda. I think part of managing is keeping this kind of stuff out of Lucinda’s face.

          1. LBK

            I’m torn, though, because IMO the real best answer is “This is a professional workplace and whatever personal issues you’re having, you need to get over them. I’m not moving your desk.”

            1. fposte

              I certainly understand the impulse there, and if it involved moving another staffer to swap, that’s probably where I’d go. But if you just want to move and it doesn’t affect anybody else and it means I’m less likely to hear about it again? Sure, move. And then that’s my card if you complain to me again: we’ve dealt with this already with the desk move.

              1. LBK

                I suppose it depends on the employee’s reputation – if this was someone I knew to be prone to drama, I’d be wary of giving in to one such request and potentially giving the impression that I’m happy to cater to your ridiculous needs whenever they arise. Of course, if this person had such a reputation I’d probably be working to fire them anyway, so I guess the problem would self-correct in short order.

                1. fposte

                  Yeah, definitely with you there. How much work can she be doing if she’s spending so much time angsting?

  6. Sunflower

    Wow this is a brutal one. Yeah I think it’s time for you to sit down and have a talk with her and reject the third party mediation. The only other person who may need to be involved in this is your boss but I’d advise against that unless she starts making defaming statements.

    I also wouldn’t worry about what she said about you to get moved. Considering her frequent crying fits, your coworkers probably know she is emotional unstable and that it’s not you causing the problems. Even if you were a heinous bitch to her, breaking down into tears every time it’s spoken about is not a usual reaction.

    1. Cheesecake

      You would be amazed how many people sympathize with these outbreaks. If you don’t complain – you are the bad one. That’s why i’d involve the boss upfront

      I was in a similar situation. I also did not want to create drama, until my boss called me and asked why i am so nasty and rude to my colleague. Apparently she went to him numerous times with a well-rehearsed performance about what a monster i was. So i advised we all chat together and it was clear to him who’d be a perfect candidate for real housewives. I wish i did that earlier, would save a ton of my nerves.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Sometimes the boss even encourages the drama…

        Many years ago, at one of my first full-time, indoor jobs, my boss told me that a co-worker, who seemed perfectly nice, was talking trash about me to her. I just became more professional and less collegial with her, but when I ran into that co-worker years later, it turns out that the boss had told her that *I* had been talking trash about *her*, too!

        tl;dr version: DON’T FEED THE DRAMA LLAMA.

        1. Artemesia

          My grandmother was like that — huge extended family and she always had the paddle out stirring things up.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            My grandma was like that, too. She’d get this look on her face like when the Grinch got the idea to steal Christmas, and then she’d drop a gossip bomb right in the middle of everybody just so she could stand back and gleefully watch.

      2. eee

        yes, I really agree with this. Assuming the co-worker otherwise acts normally, this is how the situation is perceived by everyone else (who, being neither persons A or B are probably not watching the situation like a hawk, and likely miss some salient details like person A’s apology or efforts to be friendly):
        -Persons A & B are friendly at work and hang out at work sometimes
        -Abruptly, persons A & B stop hanging out at work
        -Person B seems to be extremely upset with person A, to the point of tears
        -Person B asks for their desk to be moved away from person A, and is allowed to move
        -Concerned, you ask person B what’s going on, and they burst into tears over it
        -This whole time, person A has been ignoring the situation, and acting like nothing’s wrong

        If your information about persons A & B is that they’re both reasonable people…you would probably assume that person A did or said something really awful to person B. After all, what could have prompted this huge change if not something awful? Maybe person B came out to person A as gay and person A said they were disgusted and didn’t want to talk to them anymore. You don’t know! And getting a desk move approved also makes it seem like maybe the supervisor knows something you don’t, because there’s got to be a good reason behind the move.

        It would be really, really easy to misread this situation, because most people witnessing this wouldn’t automatically conclude “I bet person B is just a total weirdo.” If OP doesn’t care for drama, and wants to keep work-life separate, they don’t need to address this issue to everyone. But it is important to let the boss know, so that if the co-worker comes to them talking about how OP’s hostility is making it hard for them to function, they already have another perspective.

  7. NickelandDime

    I’ve always noticed third party mediators never really accomplish anything positive in these situations. It seems to stir the pot more. But this situation sounds like maybe she’s having some personal problems and this really isn’t about you. The crying…is extreme for a casual work friend. I mean, if you found another job today you probably would never see her again. But she’s crying repeatedly…Take Allison’s advice and try to avoid her. Don’t talk to anyone at work about this either. If she keeps up this behavior at work, she’s going to have more to worry about than a colleague being “mad at her.”

  8. ZSD

    For once, I think I disagree with Alison’s suggested wording. The script provided here just makes it sound even more like you’re angry with her. If someone told me, “I’m telling you directly now, please stop,” I’d *definitely* take that as an indication that the person was upset about something (even if I weren’t already as fragile as this woman). I think being this direct will just lead her to get more upset.
    How about using Alison’s start but then going in a more gentle direction? Like this:
    “I’ve told you repeatedly that I’m not snubbing you, angry with you, or offended by you, but it seems like you don’t believe that. Can you tell me why you originally thought I was angry with you, and what I can do at this point to convince you that I’m not?”
    I think that sounds more caring and is more likely to convince her that maybe you’re really not angry.

    1. fposte

      But that opens the door to hearing aaaall about why she thought the OP was mad at her and suggests the OP will be up for placating her; neither of these things need to happen, and they’re certainly not a good use of workplace time.

      If you can make her feel better *and* make it clear that her behavior needs to change, that’s great, but the priority here is the second. It’s okay if she doesn’t feel better or change her mind about the OP’s anger.

      1. EmilyHG

        Yes, this! Originally the issue may have been that the coworker thought the OP was angry, but I think the issue now is that the coworker is creating drama. The coworker needs to stop pulling other people into this situation, period.

        Also, if I was the OP I’d be beyond frustrated at this point and no longer willing to be placate my coworker.

    2. NickelandDime

      But it seems that the OP tried that, but it didn’t help. I think Allison’s advice takes the OP’s previous efforts into consideration. These are also adults we’re talking about here, and people at work too. It’s not like this woman is a close friend or a family member where you need to work extra hard to preserve and protect those relationships. I think your advice would work well there. Some people aren’t worth the extra effort – like someone who wouldn’t come to you directly with a problem.

    3. Colette

      I really doubt there’s anything the OP can do to make the coworker believe she’s not mad, and I don’t think she should try. IMO, the best approach is the one Alison suggested – tell the coworker directly to cut it out. The coworker can feel however she wants to feel, but she needs to act professionally.

    4. Elizabeth

      I disagree.

      At this point, while the OP isn’t angry or offended by whatever the co-worker said or did originally, they are reaching the point that anger & offense are in the offing.

      I’d go more with “I’m not sure what led you to think I was angry or offended by your words or actions, because I wasn’t. However, every time you suggest to everyone around us that I was or am angry, you create a situation where I am more likely to become angry with you. Please stop doing so immediately.”

      This is just as much a whisper campaign as rumors about a colleague sleeping with their boss, and these whispers are just about as insidious. Until the co-worker is told directly to stop making up stories about the LW, they won’t.

    5. AMG

      I’m going back to the parallel of my 4th-grader again. We talk a lot about curbing the drama because it is affecting the teacher’s ability to work. In reading, talking to the pediatrician, the teacher, etc., I have found some common advice: There is a point where you don’t want to hash it out and talk about it more because it stirs up the drama and keeps her feeding into it. I think Alison’s advice is the adult version of the drama issue. Focus on the behavior you want to see from her (stopping the drama) and don’t engage.

    6. V

      I also think Senior Blogger Green’s approach is too direct for this situation. It would be perfect for reasonable, stable people, but this woman is not that. I like the idea of saying “I’m not sure how to tell you that I’m not and never was upset with you because when I try to, it seems like you don’t fully believe me. So please tell me what I can say to make sure you know that I’m sincere.”

      I also like the idea of saying this in writing rather than face to face because it gives her some breathing room rather than creating a situation where she can say you “confronted” her. And it creates a paper trail if you do ever need to discuss it with your boss. I’d write it in a card, rather than an email because cards read as more thoughtful and less cold than email, and I’d snap a few pictures of the card on my phone before giving it to her, in case I need that paper trail.

      1. Rayner

        I wouldn’t even bother – that’s making it way way too officious and also makes it look like it’s the OP’s responsiblity to ‘not create drama’ when it’s entirely Mabel’s fault.

        Buying a card and trying to be caring in the beginning would have been fine but this has gone on far too long and Mabel is being very overreactive. Crying because she wasn’t immediately greeted upon entering a room and saying that returning to your desk is “running away from her” kind of push it beyond the boundaries where a card and a gentle chat are needed or are okay.

        Just grabbing someone for a chat in their cubicle or in the break room (not in a quiet corner far away from everybody else) and saying bluntly and plainly, “WTF is wrong with you, cut that crap out because it’s gone well over the line, I’m not mad but you’re being really daft about this,” is a reasonable thing to do.

    7. Jess

      I disagree. I don’t think OP should respond in a way that implies her coworker’s future behavior (i.e., ending the drama) should be dependent on OP’s future actions (i.e., her ability to convince her coworker that she isn’t angry in the future). The issue that needs to be dealt with now is putting a stop to the continuing drama from this coworker; it isn’t soothing her coworker’s feelings, or getting to the root of her coworker’s emotional issues. And the onus for modifying the coworker’s behavior falls on the coworker herself. For OP to ask what she can do to make it better implies that her coworker’s behavior is somehow OP’s responsibility. OP has already stated that she wasn’t angry. In Alison’s suggested wording (which I think is great), she reiterates that fact and then moves on to say what she expects from her coworker in the future. That’s all she can do: OP didn’t break her coworker, and she can’t fix her.

      1. fposte

        Yup yup yup. The response should basically to boil down to “I’m out of this discussion.” The thing you absolutely don’t want to do is open it up for continuation.

    8. INTP

      Based on the entire saga, though, I really DON’T think there is a way to interact with this woman in a manner that would convince her that OP isn’t and has never been mad at her. She seems to be able to find the attack in any wording, or in no wording and no reaction at all. That’s why IMO the OP should just inform her boss of what’s going on before even communicating with ex-friend directly again.

      My guess is that what she wants is for OP to break down in tears and finally admit that she really does care about ex-friend sooooo much that that one time she took a walk with someone else really did hurt her so much that she has been lashing out for months. I think that literally nothing else will make the ex-friend happy. When it comes to these needy, manipulative people, they are great at getting people to think that if they can just find the magic words to explain thing and just try again and try harder they can make everything okay but it doesn’t work. They just want to reassure themselves by managing to keep you invested in the drama.

  9. Katie the Fed

    Don’t stress about what she said to your supervisor. We know who the drama llamas are.

    1. AW

      I agree. The fact that it apparently had no impact on the LW’s teamwork score during review time tells me that the supervisor knows what’s up.

      I mean, what could the co-worker have said to the supervisor that they’d take seriously? That LW doesn’t want to hang out at lunch time? That they have non-work related chats less often?

      1. Shell

        When I read my employee handbook front and back, I saw a section about resolving conflict. That section noted that employees are to attempt to resolve interpersonal conflicts on their own before looping in a supervisor. I had thought that was really odd, because obviously, right?

        Then I read stories like these and realize that these situations are what those kind of sections are written for.

        1. Nashira

          Yeah, it’s not obvious. I have a coworker who goes to our supervisor every. single. time. that say a fax gets forwarded to her instead of another staffer. It’s ridiculous, and the good solution is “so forward it yourself” but no! That would be letting the forces of chaos win and we can’t have that.

    2. Another Ellie

      Yes. If the boss is in any way competent, she’s realized that the co-worker is manufacturing drama and is totally unconcerned about OP. Especially if the boss isn’t a drama person. I mean, how does a conversation to have your seat moved go?

      Aphrodite: “Boss, Athena is being mean to me! I need to have my seat moved!”
      Boss: “What is Athena doing to you, Aphrodite?”
      Aphrodite: “I made her angry by walking with Mercury on our break, and then the next break she walked alone, and then I cried, but she didn’t explain why she was angry, so now I can’t talk to her!”
      Boss: “So, why do you feel that you need to have your seat moved? Is Athena doing anything to you that makes you uncomfortable? Have you talked to her to see if you can resolve this?”
      Aphrodite: “Yes, I talked to her. She said she wasn’t angry, but I know she really is! Now I can’t talk to her at all and I can’t bear to sit near her!”
      Boss: “Um…ok. We’ll move your seat then.” :::Internally thinks Aphrodite is being crazy and hopes this is the easiest way to resolve a non-issue:::

    3. Anonicorn

      And I’m guessing this isn’t the first instance nor only indication of whatever her problem is.

    4. LQ

      You mentioned this upthread as well.

      Do you in general think a heads up to the supervisor would be warranted if the person was in another unit/department?

      I’ve done this when I think there is something up either drama, or anything that I think someone else might bring up to my boss so he already knows what’s going on and that I’m dealing with it. So far it’s been appreciated, but I wonder if this is the best way to handle it.

      1. Katie the Fed

        It sort of depends on the egregiousness of the behavior. If it’s impacting your work, I should know. If someone is just being a butthead, I probably don’t need to know.

  10. Poohbear McGriddles

    It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    Are you mad at me?
    No.
    Are you mad at me?
    No.
    Are you mad at me?
    Well, now I am.

    Mabel sounds like someone who either feeds off of drama or is in need of some professional help. Maybe a mix of both. It’s strange that apparently things were going well for a while, until one day things changed.

    I’d tell her to save the drama for her mama, but then you’d likely get a dissertation on how dysfunctional her relationship with her mother has become.

    1. AnotherAlison

      This was my “best” friend in high school & college. I’m a direct person, and she’s a super-sensitive person. We had a vicious cycle where she would peck at me with comments of, “Are you mad?” until I would get annoyed enough to blow up on her, and then I think she was satisfied that I was mad. The 12-years long friendship died about 10 years ago. About a year and a half ago, I saw a long public post on FB from this friend, and it detailed some of the severe mental health struggles she was having, and about 3 months ago she FB’d me and wanted my cell phone number. She will randomly send a birthday or anniversary card every ~5 years or so, too. So weird. I completely imagined her when I read the OP’s letter.

    2. Anonsie

      Yeah, that’s the thing. At some point, I am indeed going to get mad at you for insisting I’m mad repeatedly.

      It’s like when someone tells you to calm down and even if you were calm before suddenly it’s like I AM CALM DON’T YOU TALK TO ME LIKE THAT

  11. Kai

    I have a (somewhat former!) friend who does this. Back off, don’t engage in the drama, and be honest if she confronts you about “why are you mad at me?!” Alison’s script is very good. This coworker sounds like she has plenty of her own issues to work out, but don’t give her the satisfaction of making you react the way she wants you to.

    1. Stephanie

      Yeah, I have one of these as well. There are lot of fantastic things about this girl, but she was big into the “Are you mad at me?”/”Everyone hates me” drama. I found the easiest was just to not engage and be straightforward (“No, Wakeen is definitely not mad at you. So how’d your interview [or other unrelated topic] go?” Moving cities also helped.

      Although OP might like her job and not want to leave. I would back off and not engage as much as possible. You’re not dealing with a rational person here, so keep that in mind.

  12. KJR

    * Sigh * You just described by family of origin’s dynamics. I deal with this kind of stuff on a daily basis, and have for my entire life. It’s tiring.

    1. HeyNonnyNonny

      Yup, my family too. If you’re not 100% happy, you must be ANGRY with someone! Cue drama…

  13. BRR

    It concerns me that you are frustrated at her for needing to constantly tell her you’re not mad at her because it will become difficult over time to maintain a calm tone.

    My advice is just to stay away. Your actions won’t influence your coworker. I’m groaning at myself for the armchair diagnosis but it sounds like she has something going on with this and that’s going to make it impossible for you to get through to her. I have the negative thought spiral and it’s hard to get over. My first week two coworkers who I shared an office with went to lunch and didn’t ask me. I had to talk myself off the ledge (figuratively) about it. They just did it again literally right now and invited another person but didn’t even ask me (and never have). It takes people different amounts of time to learn things aren’t person.

  14. Adam

    OP, by chance does your co-worker exhibit the ability to rotate her head 360 degrees?

    In seriousness I think this person may need some focused help sorting out her emotions with a professional of some sort. The best thing OP can do is choose to not engage in any drama filled pot stirring.

  15. CAinUK

    IMO this is one of the rare instances where direct confrontation wouldn’t go well. A conversation as Alison suggests could quickly derail in any number of (crazy) directions, and I doubt it would change the drama-seeking. The main reason to have the direct conversation would be to prove to a supervisor that you tried – but you already HAVE directly asked, and nothing changed except she is escalating the drama.

    Otherwise I agree with all of Alison’s advice: act super professional toward the drama-seeker and politely decline the 3rd parties (the script Alison provided is perfect – I just don’t think you need to have another convo with drama-seeker to use it).

    Only bring it up with your boss if the boss brings it up in passing or provides an opportunity, and then use the same script as you would with any 3rd party: “I have no idea what’s going on – I’m not mad, although I am confused, but since she keeps talking about it with folks I thought it best to simply focus on work and remain professional.”

    1. Amanda

      I considered this, too–that the coworker would view OP’s “I’ve told you I’m not mad at you; please stop” conversation as PROOF that the OP is mad because the OP isn’t interested in “saving the friendship” through a mediator. So I agree that a direct confrontation may not be the best idea.
      OP might consider sending an email stating the same thing–except then the coworker will probably misinterpret that as being passive-aggressive. However, an email, if written politely (which I don’t think would be a problem for the OP) would provide a record of the measures the OP has taken, if the coworker tries to involve a boss/HR. OP would have something to point to as proof when saying, “I’ve told Coworker repeatedly that I’m not mad at her, but she doesn’t seem to believe me. At this point, I think it’s best for everybody if I just disengage.”

  16. some1

    “One day, she abruptly changed directions to walk with someone else. No big deal.

    Except that, apparently, it was.

    Later that afternoon, she apologized for the abrupt change in walking partners.”

    Did anyone catch this? I think this was the classic non-apology. She only offered it because 1) she hoped you *were* offended at her punishment of switching partners, or 2) that you would at least ask why she did it, giving her the chance to lay into about whatever you supposedly did wrong.

    Think about what it says about a grown woman who can’t go up to a work friend and say, “You know, you hurt my feelings/made me mad when you did X”, but instead metes out punishment 1) without giving you the chance to explain and/or apologize and 2) hoping you will feel worse by her attempting to hurt you.

    1. fposte

      I think you’re right. This was a maneuver, which the OP blessedly failed to pick up on.

      I do kind of feel for the co-worker, who’s obviously unhappy and has a limited social skill set and is in for a lot of misery if she doesn’t start to figure that out. But that doesn’t make it the OP’s problem.

      1. Stephanie

        Yeah, I actually feel a little bad for the coworker as well. This type of behavior comes from somewhere, be it mental illness or lack of self-confidence or self-esteem or something else. I hope she can figure things out.

    2. LBK

      Yup, that was a pure moment of manipulation. It was an attempt to force the OP to engage in drama.

      1. Ama

        Yes, I recognized that particular move well from my “best” friend in junior high. I indulged her emotional manipulation for years trying to keep her happy before I realized the only way to avoid her drama was to just not be her friend any longer.

        For her, I think it was largely an issue of being ignored inside her family (her older brother was a certifiable genius) and being implicitly taught that the only way to get attention was to claim some kind of extreme emotion. I don’t know if she ever got better — her family moved out of state when we were in high school — but this is definitely how people like the OP’s coworker get started.

    3. INTP

      Yup. I mentioned under another post, it seemed like a deliberate move to provoke the OP into acting jealous, hurt, or pissed, most likely for the unstable coworker to reassure herself that the OP really does value her. And then everything to follow was either part of some false reality created to preserve the delusion that OP was really hurt about that one snub, or just continued efforts to make her show some emotion to prove how much she values the friendship and needs the ex-friend.

      It sounds crazy, but I absolutely have known people needy enough to do this.

  17. Kat

    Is the OP male or female? I am getting the impression that they are male and the co-worker may have developed a crush on him and is taking his indifference and lack of interest too personally.

    1. Fabulously Anonymous

      Eh – not necessarily. I’ve had a female friend act that way towards me (I am also female) because she looked up to me.

      1. steve g

        Oh wait your point isn’t about which one is which gender or if they r even the same gender it’s about if there is a crush….they can always play into the passion involved in many of the situations on this site!

    2. skepticalacademic

      I’m also wondering if there’s a crush dynamic at play here. Was this, to the coworker, a potential romance in bloom? Or perhaps the coworker regarded them as better friends than the OP? While I know people can drum up drama, I also think it can be too easy to dismiss people as being overly dramatic when there’s something more going on.

      1. Kat

        When I’ve seen similar situations play out, it’s 99% of the time due to an unrequited crush. No, it doesn’t matter which sexes are involved, so I shouldnt have assumed. I’ve seen it between two females.

        Generally though, this feels like a crush gone bad situation and those suck. The OP might not have been aware that their friendliness was being taken as potential romantic interest. Too many people mistake friendliness for flirting and it drives me nuts.

  18. junipergreen

    Drama Llama indeed. I seem to have a history of befriending People Who Turned Out to Be Drama Llamas. A fast friendship would suddenly self-combust, and I’d be made to feel as if I should be apologizing for some imaginary slight. That game of “You owe me an apology” and “Please remind me what am I apologizing for this time?” is terribly emotionally exhausting.

    The best lesson I’ve come up from this is to disengage quickly and quietly. Sometimes people bring it up… but it’s less often in the context of “What did you do to Persephone?” and more in the context of “Holy moly, Persephone just walloped me with a crazy story about how I’ve wronged her…” The one shared trait I find among these Drama Llamas is that they cycle through their “friends” QUICKLY, so chances are it’s reflecting more on them than it is on you.

    1. Stephanie

      The one shared trait I find among these Drama Llamas is that they cycle through their “friends” QUICKLY, so chances are it’s reflecting more on them than it is on you.

      YES. So much this. And I imagine this would be the case at work as well. Just don’t engage and I sense she’ll move on or annoy the wrong person enough eventually.

      1. fposte

        There may be some glomming onto a new bestie and walking him/her by the OP’s desk giggling ostentatiously, too. I think the OP will probably be able to bear that pain.

    2. AnotherAlison

      Same. And it seems they not only cycle through friends quickly, but jobs, husbands/boyfriends, residences, etc.

      I figured out that I attract these people because I am mostly a loner and only become friends with people who are persistent about becoming my friend. Most people aren’t that motivated to hang out with me, but these people will, and they’re needy so they’ll put up with me being a crappy friend, where others won’t. My sister, on the other hand, is super, super nice, so she attracts these friends for pretty much all the opposite reasons.

      1. some1

        My former best friend would fit your description exactly, except she’s been with the same boyfriend/husband about 13 years — because she found a guy who loves drama as much as she does. And the ending of friendships, jobs, etc was NEVER her fault, of course.

        1. Anonsie

          I’m reminded of that Scrubs with the Tasty Coma Wife/Widow who is only interested in crazy conflicts.

      2. LMW

        You just solved a major mystery in my life — I am the same. Also pretty much a loner and you’re right — the drama llamas are persistent in the face of my relative indifference.

      3. Lindsay J

        Same here.

        These types of people seem to forge instant “strong” connections as well. Instead of drinks outside of work or a conversation being a small part of forginga friendship over time, going for drinks or having a conversation means that you are now instant best friends.

        As someone whose always been a bit of a loner, that emotional intensity is nice for awhile. However, over time it becomes clear that there is a *reason* this person is in search of a new BFF, and that they drain way more attention and affection and energy than they will ever provide.

    3. Chloe Silverado

      I’m a magnet for these people as well! So frustrating! The OP’s co-worker sounds like a totally overdramatic person, so I doubt this will be the only irrational behavior she ever engages in at the office. Co-workers may buy into her histrionics for now, but as time goes on and she has similar issues with other co-workers or starts telling stories about outside of work personal drama, they’ll quickly realize that there’s a pattern forming. Not that the OP should stand idly by while the co-worker damages her reputation, but I would not be surprised if down the road other co-workers fall victim to the Drama Llama and realize the OP wasn’t at fault here.

  19. clairedelune

    I’m going to stick my neck out a bit :) I’ve always believed that it takes two to have a conflict – it’s rare for a clash or disagreement to be entirely the fault of the other party. And I’m always a little suspicious when I read a letter on this site that makes the other party out to be completely and utterly unreasonable. I understand that Allison has to take the OP’s word for it, but still. I just can’t imagine any adult behaving in this way (or at least, I can’t imagine any adult behaving in this way who is also capable of holding down a job!)

    Even if 95% of this drama is indeed coming from the coworker, you’re probably not going to be able to change her, if she’s truly that crazy. My advice to the OP is to examine his/her own behaviour and do something about the 5% that’s coming from him/her. When I worked in retail, I had a coworker who would give me the silent treatment if I didn’t greet her in the morning. I can be a little cranky in the morning and I don’t always feel like greeting everyone, and most people don’t care. But she did. So, from then on, I made a point of greeting her warmly every day. Took two seconds. Made a huge difference in our relationship and the overall atmosphere at work. So, OP, it could be something as simple as that. As someone who can be a little brusque and no-nonsense, I’ve only recently begun to understand how my personality can be perceived by those who are more sensitive. I’m not saying change who you are – just examine that 5%. It’s really the only part of this situation you can control.

    1. EngineerGirl

      It is clear you’ve never dealt with someone like this before. These people absolutely exist. It takes two to have peace. It only takes one drama llama to have a conflict.
      The drama llama will do something that collides with your very nature in order to have conflict – stop being a woman! stop being honest! they looked at me funny! The drama llama will escalate and escalate and escalate until they get their desired level of drama.
      I do agree to act kindly and not engage. That gives them less ammo for their guns.

      1. Celeste

        +100. There are people who have issues, and they create situations. Period. Whether it’s from some past traumatic relationship or event, or whether they borderline personality issues, this is a thing that is out there. They need to be in an emotional tug-o-war. ALL you can do when it happens is set down your end of the rope, ie disengage.

        1. CQ

          I agree that it sounds like she has some kind of Borderline Personality Disorder, but as someone with the disorder, might I offer a bit of advice?

          Ignoring her may only feed her notion that you hate her, so I implore you to treat her with kindness, perhaps talk with her out of concern for her emotional well-being and encourage her to seek help. Suggest she might be happier if she worked on the source of her unhappiness, rather than taking out her insecurity and frustration on others.

          But maybe you don’t want to get that invested. Whatever you do, please be kind. It’s easy to write her off as a “crazy coworker”, but she’s a person too, and if she’s as emotionally unstable as your letter makes her sound, she’s certainly suffering a great deal.

          1. fposte

            I would stop an employee from doing this, actually. It’s too much engagement and getting into inappropriate territory. I understand the desire to help the person who may be unhappy, but that really can’t be the priority here.

          2. Pennalynn Lott

            The few times I have tried this with people who were emotionally unstable their responses were either, “YOU are the source of my unhappiness!” or “How dare you presume that I am insecure and frustrated! I don’t need to seek help, you’re the one who needs help!”

            So, no, I very much advise against trying to get someone who isn’t a family member or very dear, very close friend to seek help for their emotional well-being. So many ways it can blow up in your face.

        2. Not So NewReader

          Some people actually need the drama in order to have energy to do anything. They derive energy out of drama. Skip all that stuff about healthy food, exercise, hydration, rest,etc.

      2. aebhel

        This. I think clairedelune’s advice is well-intended, but it only works if both people genuinely want there to be peace. For some people, the conflict and drama and the emotional high they get from it is the point in and of itself. A peaceful, low-key environment bores them, or worries them, or makes them feel unappreciated. If nobody is reacting emotionally to them, they feel like no one cares about them.

        Also, for me, on a personal note, I generally refuse on principle to engage emotionally outside my comfort zone (I am not okay with intimate friendships with my coworkers, in general) in order to placate an unreasonable person.

    2. LBK

      I said this above as well, but there are some people for whom no response to a situation is acceptable. Every possible action is a perceived slight (“she’s giving me the silent treatment,”she’s being fake” and “she’s not seeing my side of it” being the three most common ways that actions get twisted). With those people, you can truly, honestly, not be at fault and there’s nothing you can do to prevent the conflict. Your only mistake was existing around them. Often the trigger is a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation (ie the OP just plain forgot they were supposed to meet some time and coworker decided it must have been an intentionally jab at her) but because these people select the worst explanation as the default, there’s no opportunity to correct the perception before it causes a fight.

      1. Chloe Silverado

        “These people select the worst explanation as the default” – thank you for this perfect encapsulation of how these people operate.

        People like this tend to be very self-centered. They seem to lack the capacity to understand that people have different demeanors and priorities and assume that 1) everyone operates exactly the way they do, 2) everything others do is somehow related to them. For example, if I don’t text my Drama Llama friend back for an hour, she lacks the awareness to think “Maybe Chloe is busy at work/with family/driving,” and instead immediately jumps to “Chloe isn’t answering me. Come to think of it, Chloe looked at me funny on Saturday. Chloe hates me! I hate her!” and now we’re suddenly in a fight.

        1. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)

          Exactly like in the children’s books about Llama Llama. Only he’s supposed to be a toddler, so of course he’s a drama llama about Mama Llama being on the phone, or being sick, or having to go to the grocery story.

          Coworker is not 3 years old.

        2. Sigrid

          You just described my sister to a T. And while I knew all that — I cut off communication with her years ago — I’ve never seen it so clearly explained.

      2. Leah

        Yup. Had a friend like this in college. We have drama (definitely not 100% on her, but mostly), we basically stop being friends, she ignores me if we’re both with mutual friends. I’m not mad anymore, I really want to just forget about it, but she won’t. Fast forward, she shows up at my engagement party with our mutual friend (not as a date). So I thought that was an indication that she was ready to move on – this wasn’t just a party, this was a specifically me-centered event, and it was fairly small (less than 20 people).

        When I saw she had come, I gave her a hug and said I was glad to see her. And I really was. And it turns out she thought I was being petty and fake when I said that. I still have no idea why she showed up to my engagement party if she was still angry and didn’t want to be friends, or what the issue was.

        1. LBK

          Because the curse of the Drama Llama is that they feel compelled to interact with you as often as possible in order to give you as many chances as possible to apologize/move on/mend fences, but of course none of those things are actually doable because there’s no response they will take at face value. So they show up again in your life, get upset about however that event goes and then seek out another opportunity to see you again so you can apologize for the last time you did literally nothing wrong but they still decided you were being dramatic. It’s a ouroboros of delusion.

          1. Leah

            Yes! If I had acted mad, she would have said how I won’t put it behind us and all she wanted was to make up, and now I ruined it and it’s a new drama saga from the drama llama prima donna.

      3. shep

        +1

        I have a much milder anecdote than the OP’s–I discovered a woman at work I never have contact with thought I hated her. I’d actually heard from others how nice she was, so if anything, my perception of her was very positive. But apparently she thought I rolled my eyes in her direction once, and that the occasional silent hand-washing next to each other in the restroom was indicative of hate.

        Sometimes, it’s not what you do or don’t do; it’s all the other person’s perception. It’s got that idiomatic truth to it–people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.

    3. INTP

      I do usually think that there is more than one side to the story, and that even if the LWs are 100% up front about their sides, it can’t necessarily be taken at face value because it’s still just their perception. However, if my suspicions are right and the ex-friend in this scenario is one of those people who perpetuates drama just to reassure themselves that people care about them, the only thing you can really do to avoid conflict with them is to never befriend them and risk becoming a person to whom they’re attached enough to feel the need to test your devotion in the first place (or to genuinely need them as much as they want you to need them – but that’s a codependent, unhealthy sort of need and they’ll still be constantly paranoid about you losing interest and continue to test you). The ex-friend’s reaction is just waaaaay out of proportion for the type of conflict that is caused by someone being less sensitive than someone else prefers (which I’ve definitely been through myself).

    4. Panda Bandit

      Oh no, there are definitely people who take nothing and try to turn it into a conflict. One of my relatives does that. I make a decision, she goes and spins a story about how my decision affects her life so horribly and I’m a terrible person because of it.

      People used to ask me why we were fighting until I told them she was the only one fighting. I don’t have the energy, time, or personality for constant drama.

      1. OhNo

        “I told them she was the only one fighting.”
        I think this is a perfect response to any third parties in OP’s situation. Whether it’s the coworker who wanted to mediate, or the manager, or whoever, just say that.

        (Actually it’s a perfect response in general. Just ignore the drama llama as best you can, and tell anyone that wants or tries to get involved that you’re having none of it.)

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        My current boss won my loyalty forever when he was my new boss, and a coworker was trying to have a one-sided drama with me. I was worried because I wanted to get off to a good start with him, and I wasn’t sure if he’d see my innocence if (when) she brought the drama to him. I didn’t do anything preemptive because I didn’t want do bring him trouble unnecessarily, but I was nervous that she was being suddenly very, very nice to all my faculty members (trying to recruit allies).

        Then one day not long into the drama, my boss called me aside and asked, “Why’s Jessica being so super-nice to me all of a sudden?” I said, “I don’t know why, but she’s having some sort of conflict with me and been trying to recruit allies.” He won my eternal loyalty (1) by asking in the first place, and (2) with his response of, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” That’s all he ever said to me (or me to him) about it. She wanted up storming out in a rage not long afterward, I think out of frustration that the PTB banded together to put a stop to her drama.

    5. Tinker

      I agree that you can only control what you can control, and will extend from what you said to point out that there’s pretty much always a reason for a person’s behavior. Once you have the facts, in general, it becomes obvious why a person behaved the way they did.

      That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s always the case that all involved parties have substantiative contributions to the cause of a given dispute, or that all parties have enough control over the issue for it to be appropriate to hold them responsible for not averting it. If it’s a matter of “this person was emotionally abused as a child and they now regularly recapitulate those dynamics in their relationships as an adult”, that’s an entirely sensible reason but not something that most people can expect to do much about in the course of an (ex) coworker-lunch-walk relationship.

      When as much as 95% of the drama is directly in control of the other party, it may be easy in hindsight to say “you’re responsible for your part of it, i.e. the part where you were not gentle enough, or so gentle to be condescending, or where you didn’t disengage, or when you cut the person off prematurely, or when you didn’t seek outside help, or when you tattled”. This is particularly so given that in general people tend to treat whirling vortices of drama as if they are forces of nature and assign responsibility only to the parties who are seen as able to make a choice — depending on the particulars of the situation, there can also be cultural expectations that a given party (generally the lower-status end of various axes) must absorb and manage other people’s behavior.

      That apparent “control”, though, is not always actually present — while in some cases a simple alteration in behavior defuses the situation, in other cases it may be that the person’s reaction is essentially independent of the option chosen (a case, say, where the base emotional truth is “I am being abused as I was before” and all roads lead to confirmation of that conclusion), or that the action that might well have worked was not actually something that a person would be likely to correctly discern in advance or be capable of implementing (for instance, that a young child may not have the cognitive development that permits them to inhibit their reactions to bullying). In that case, it’s important to recognize that the solution to the problem lies somewhere other than in the target of the behavior and that there are not, in fact, two legitimate sides to the conflict.

      The danger of the blanket “there’s two sides to every story” rule is that it constitutes an obstacle to understanding when a conflict has become for all practical purposes one-sided and leaves one open to inadvertently enabling or running interference for people whose behavior does in fact call for solutions other than peacemaking through the target’s initiative.

      1. fposte

        Yes, thank you. You may be “responsible” in the sense that a butterfly’s flapping wings may be responsible for alterations in a subsequent hurricane, but that’s “responsible” meaning “causal,” not in the “responsible for the accident” kind of responsible where it means you did something wrong.

        I think we all bug somebody, and it’s not because we’re all doing stuff wrong.

        1. Us, Too

          Agree completely.

          My 18 month old son woke up at 11 pm last night and had an absolute temper tantrum meltdown. He screamed until he was hoarse and it took me 90 minutes to get him back into bed.

          As the drama wound down, I looked at my husband and said “Sheesh, what did we do wrong tonight?”

          He said, “Absolutely nothing.”

          And he was right. We just happen to have a child who has feelings and hasn’t learned how to constructively deal with them, yet.

          Unfortunately, OP’s coworker doesn’t have the excuse of being less than 2 years old but the net effect may be the same.

      2. aebhel

        This. I think it’s very tempting to expect the more reasonable person in a given situation to mitigate their behavior, because clearly they’re capable of it while the screaming drama vortex…obviously isn’t, but in practice I think it recasts abusive dynamics as situations where everyone is equally at fault, and that can be really destructive.

        I think it’s very tempting to believe that people just don’t act like that for no good reason, but…they do. Even people who are gainfully employed.

    6. The Bookworm

      Ditto what EngineerGirl said –
      Not work related, but my sister tends to lead a drama and conflict filled life.
      Anything she imagines you to think about her can and will be held against you. Example: she was going on a first date with a guy. She called me to describe what she was going to wear & ask my opinion. Before I could respond, she said “oh you think that….” and said something ugly about herself. I hadn’t thought it, and heaven knows I sure wouldn’t have said it. But in her mind I was guilty.

      1. Not So NewReader

        At one point in my life, I decided to target that expression “oh, you think that…”.
        Each time I heard it I would say, “It is okay to ask me what I think, it is not okay to tell me what I think.”
        Drama Queen has already decided what OP thinks. I hope you see that OP, the common thread through your examples is that she has decided what you are thinking each step of the way.
        It’s pretty disrespectful, in my books.
        Going forward, OP, you might want to keep this sentence handy.

  20. hildi

    Disengage.

    From what I can tell you’ve already tried the following:
    1). Asked her if she was ok after the first silent treatment. Didn’t change anything.
    2). Apologized and clarified you weren’t upset with her. Didn’t change anything.
    3). Physically avoided her on walks and lunchbreak. Didn’t change anything.
    4). Tried to engage in polite conversation. Didn’t change anything.

    You’ve done pretty much done all the reasonable actions you can take. You’ve tried to reassure her and you’ve tried to detach. NOTHING CHANGED.

    So wash your hands of it and move on, but continue to be kind to her (which I admire you for being able to engage her in polite conversation after all this weirdness. I’d probably find it too awkward and would just avoid her for fear of conflict. So kudos on that). Being kind isn’t agreeing with someone’s dysfunction or behavior. You’re being kind to her because of who you are, not because of who she is. No one really has a clue what’s going on in this lady’s head or life, so it’s a safer bet to be neutrally pleasant.

    And I think your instincts serve you on not wanting to do anymore mediating or engagement. That continues to give her power in this situation. I think if you show through your actions that you won’t play ball (meaning detach and be kindly neutral with her), she’ll either self-combust or attach herself to someone else. It’s proven that no action you take in the affirmative is going to change how she views this situation. Time to detach and depersonalize.

    1. hildi

      Oh, also was going to mention: like Katie the Fed said above – don’t worry too much about whom she’s telling what. People will either side with her ( in which case I don’t think I’d care what they think since they can’t see her behavior for what it truly is) or they’ll be a little skeptical of her claims if they know you well. The reasonable people will see her for who she is and see you for who you are. This is part of the task of depersonalizing. I can imagine how hard it must be to know she’s spreading misinformation and untrue things about you. But then again – consider the source. If it was someone I esteemed highly and respected their opinion was saying untrue things about me…that’s when I’d be more likely to want to clear the air. But a pretty clear nutcase spreading gossip? Mentally box that one up and move on.

        1. hildi

          Thanks Elizabeth. :) I don’t have a lot to say and have my dormant periods, but it’s fun when I feel like I might actually have something decent to say :) Woe to my children because they’re going to be the recipients of all of this “trainer’s life advice” one day. They’ll curse my profession :)

      1. 2horseygirls

        So, hildi – you’re opening up your own advice column when? ;) I have a couple of doozies that you’d come up with the perfect response to, no doubt.

    2. The Toxic Avenger

      I agree with you – and, with Laurel Gray below. People like this co-worker are bad news and they act this way deliberately.

      1. hildi

        Yeah, and I think for many people that behave this way it’s such a deeply ingrained pattern of communicating and behaving they may be simultaneously aware and unaware of how they’re acting. I feel sorry for people like this, frankly, because imagine the torment that she must give herself on a daily basis. Guarantee OP is not the only one this woman has these crazy emotional issues with. It’s sad to me because this behavior must come from a place of powerful low confidence and pain somewhere in her life.

        (I could never be a therapist….or a correctional officer. I’d be far too soft hearted).

        1. The Toxic Avenger

          “…I think for many people that behave this way it’s such a deeply ingrained pattern of communicating and behaving they may be simultaneously aware and unaware of how they’re acting.”

          This is a good clarification, and Marzipan also commented on this below. I think there are two kinds of manipulative people – the malicious kind, and the…well…passive / unaware (or, partially aware) kind. Regardless of the co-workers intent or level of awareness, the co-worker is still seeking a specific reaction or outcome – hence my use of the word “deliberate.” As you said, the co-worker will probably pop a spring if she does not get the outcome she wants. Very sad. :( And exhausting. And you would be an awesome therapist.

          1. hildi

            ha, thanks. I do think it’s very sad because whole, healthy people don’t act this way. I’m sure this woman has had a painful past (and maybe present). Hurt people hurt people. (that’s another gem I picked up along that way resonated with me).

    3. Anonicorn

      You’re being kind to her because of who you are, not because of who she is.

      That’s a lovely comment. Truly.

      1. hildi

        Oh yeah, I read that somewhere and cannot remember where, but it was like a lightening bolt when I did read it. This is how I try to live my life. I teach a class about civility in the workplace and this is one of the points I make strongly in the beginning – that respect is a value one holds and you do it because of who you are, not because the people around you deserve it or don’t deserve it (it’s just a nice bonus when you do feel like they deserve it!).

        1. The Bookworm

          You’re being kind to her because of who you are, not because of who she is.

          I needed to see this comment today. It is my new screen saver.

  21. Mike

    This is my mother in law’s personality. Every interaction with her is a minefield of trying not to offend her, it’s downright exhausting being in a conversation with her. I couldn’t imagine having to work with someone like that.

    1. AMG

      here too. Exhausting is the right word, especially when there is also the parallel of not being able to avoid them.

  22. kd

    ugh. I truly dislike this kind of drama and avoid it like the plague. That said, I have experienced similar situations a couple of times in my career.

    Most recently, I was friendly with a woman in another department that was an admin. Friendly as in, we did lunch in groups and she had a couple of us over for a dinner game night. She is very social and out going – the person who runs all the office pools, organizes parties, etc. She was part time and very much wanted to work in my department full time. When an admin position opened up, I recommended her and she got the job. The entire department was restructuring and my job changed also, I was put in charge of a large integration project. This meant no time for chit chat at all.
    Some where in there we had a new controller, who when he found out how much time she was spending on pools wanted to fire her. A coworker and I went to bat for her, vouched for her and she was not fired. We did speak to her about cooling it down.

    Months went by with general friendliness and one morning she caught me in the bathroom. She immediately burst into tears, asked me why I hated her, why I no longer talked to her and then said she and her husband just decided I was jealous of her….oh my.

    I responded with very close to what Alison wrote. I am not mad at you, etc. Then explained that everyone’s job had changed, it had nothing to do with her, but I didn’t have time for anything any more. (and why on earth would you think I was jealous?? I never addressed this for I thought it was just wrong on so many levels.)

    I talked her down and thought that was it. No – again she corned me in the bathroom stating the same thing. At that moment I was done. period. I responded the same as the first time and walked out. I was polite, but removed myself from any position that could be misconstrued by her. She wasn’t my admin, so I did not have to interact with her at all.
    Years later I found out she had been going through a reoccurring cancer bout and had told no one. She just focused all of her emotions at me. I could not let that make me feel bad for my words, for given the information I had at the time, she was completely over-reacting.

    At another place of work we all had issues with one woman until she revealed she was on hormone drugs to get pregnant. I fully support that, but it does not give anyone permission to be awful and nasty to co-workers. This woman we actually spoke to and she completely denied she was acting differently. We were all quite happy when she got pregnant.

    So my take over the years – do know the drama llamas and stay clear. Once identified, keep it professional and polite, but do not engage. Defend yourself as necessary – I did mention both interchanges above to my boss in passing – nothing formal, because I wanted him to know how I had taken care of it and not be surprised if it came to him in a different direction.

    The older I get, I truly feel that I have no time for this kind of nonsense. Life is too short. Work professionally and do your job. Act like an adult. If nice things happen or you make new friends – wonderful. But avoid anything that looks to be a sinkhole.

    1. NickelandDime

      People like the folks you just described don’t understand that by bringing their problems to work and unloading them on strangers, it has the potential to cause other problems such as tense discussions with managers, performance improvement plans and firings. I think most folks can sympathize with health struggles, but if they find it affecting their work, they need to seek help for it through EAP or maybe go on leave.

    2. Nicole

      Some people can just see things in the wrong light. I’ve had a coworker completely go from friendly to downright cold overnight toward me without explanation. I figured it was because she was friends with someone else who didn’t like me and decided to “take his side” even though she and I got along great. My attitude was pfft, whatever. I know I hadn’t done anything toward her to deserve the sudden silent treatment so I chalked it up to learning her true colors sooner rather than later. I don’t need that kind of person in my life and I’m certainly not going to go crying to them asking why they hate me. I have more pride than that!

      I also heard via a third party that a former coworker complained to everyone who would listen that I was always helping out two new coworkers but never helped her that much when she was new. Nevermind the fact that when she was new she was learning something I had no experience or expertise in whereas the two new girls did. I was helping them because I could, not because I preferred them over her. People are strange sometimes how they get stuff in their head mixed up.

  23. Audiophile

    I had this happen to me once. I made an off-handed sarcastic comment and thought nothing of it. Three months after the fact, (and long after I’d forgotten about my comment) I was being ignored by one coworker. I asked her what was wrong and she blew up at me, insisting I was talking about her and spreading rumors about her. When I protested, she insisted she had been told by a third-party, that I had said horrible things about her and she would bring this third-party as proof.

    I ended up approaching our direct supervisor, because she was making me that uncomfortable. Surprisingly, supervisor said “I told her not to say anything.” Um, so you knew and didn’t try to do more to quash this.

    It ended up being mediated by our direct supervisor, who basically said to the offended coworker to drop it immediately.

    There are some people who will find drama with anything and purposely seem to seek it out. It’s usually the people who say, “I don’t want any drama” that seem to cause it.

  24. C Average

    I’m gonna plus-one the “don’t touch the crazy” advice that seems to be the prevailing theme here.

    One thing I’d add to that, though: if this person has no history of drama otherwise, it IS possible that she’s going through something personal that’s momentarily dramafying her and you just happen to be a target within range.

    If you believe this to be the case and if you have any interest in being friendly with her again when things return to normal, perhaps you could do something to create conditions under which your friendly relationship could resume in the future: perhaps periodically toss out an invite for her to walk with you again, or make a point of saying hello to her when you see her.

    This way, if by chance she’s acting this way because she’s adjusting her meds, pregnant, going through a personal issue, or any of the other hypotheses posited upthread, she’ll have a safe path back to the good relationship you used to have.

    1. Cheesecake

      I think if there was a valid reason for colleague’s behavior, she’d say it (somehow). Instead she went extra length to move places and keep the drama. I don’t see how their relationships can go back to where they were. Plus, as was said above, this is work, not family issues with crazy auntie Sally. Avoid!

    2. Dr. Johnny Fever

      I got hopping mad over a coworker accusing me of messing up his data in a conversion – complete user error and I had backup to prove it – but he would not shut up about how I messed up data he never entered in the first place. When I approached my boss he gave me a sound piece of advice: “Never argue with crazy.” It’s served me well.

  25. Rayner

    I would also proactively approach the co-worker who decided to try to mediate, because otherwise they’re going to get a headfull of Mabel’s perspective and nothing from you so they immediately go into *MUST FIX IT NAO* mode. Just a quick conversation like Senior Blogger Green suggested would just make it clear that nothing is going on and you’re just carrying on in your own way away from the drama llama in the next room.

  26. Laurel Gray

    I know this may seem out of line and insensitive but I have always felt that this kind of emotionally unwrapped individual is merely just a manipulative person who uses these outbursts to “get their way”. Crying in the workplace is already pretty much a DON’T but I think this level of emotional outbursts is a gimmick of coworker’s to manipulate people’s opinions etc. I think those who know better will not read much into it but with all the politics and drama that go on in various workplaces, it is easy to make something look more than what it is.

    When I was younger and in a part time job, I had a coworker who was just like this. Our boss was a mommying type and would comfort anyone showing emotion in the workplace to the point that even men would begin to pout and lay their head on her ample bosom while voicing their complaints or concerns. This one particular coworker was such a troublemaker and whenever it was time for sympathy, she would go around the office telling the story and crying, taking a Kleenex at each destination. By the time she got to my desk and would start “Laurel, you wouldn’t believe what Hans said to me…” I would stand up and say “these pretzels are making me thirsty” and walk away.

    1. fposte

      Sure, there are some like that, especially in the personality disordered. But I don’t think it’s necessarily either/or, though, in that I think this doesn’t have to be consciously manipulative so much as a way she’s developed to get reassurance from people. It’s not hugely uncommon in childhood, and if it keeps working, she might never have realized how inappropriate it is–as you say, there are plenty of people who respond to it.

      1. LBK

        Yes – I don’t like the word manipulative in this context because it implies a level of agency/intention that can genuinely not exist in cases like this. The end result of her behavior may be the same as someone who’s sitting down and planning out “I will run into Jane at lunch today and then cry to freak her out and then go tell Bob how mean Jane was” but I think more often than not, that series of actions occurs as the logical steps in that person’s illogical brain. It’s the result of misaligned belief systems and skewed perceptions, not maliciousness.

        1. LBK

          (Like, really, how many real-life Thomases are sitting out back smoking and talking to O’Brien about how they can mess with Mr. Bates next? Does this kind of mustache-twirling villainy really occur so often in modern offices? It can’t possibly happen as often as people throw around the term “manipulative”.)

        2. Not So NewReader

          If you don’t know the behavior is manipulative, then it doesn’t count as manipulative?

          Maybe I am misunderstanding. I do believe that some people have to be taught what behaviors are manipulative, if you don’t learn it growing up then where do you learn that?

          However, OP, does not sound like she feels or thinks she is being manipulated.

          1. LBK

            Not that it doesn’t count, per se, but I’ve always read “manipulative” as having a connotation of intentional wrongdoing. It describes the person’s decision-making process more than the results of their actions (even though those may be the same whether the intention is to manipulate or not).

      2. Marzipan

        Yeah. I’ve actually always felt that people with certain personality disorders – who are often described as ‘manipulative’ – are, when you get down to it, absolutely *terrible* at manipulating people. They typically adhere rigidly to a set of behaviours they’ve adopted early in life, even though those behaviours may now be entirely inappropriate to their situation and are actively preventing them from getting whatever they want/need – whereas a genuinely manipulative person will adapt their approach in whatever way is necessary to get to the outcome they want. Someone with a personality disorder will often have no clue how their life ends up so full of drama and feel the world is set up to constantly stand in their way, where an outside observer can see a clear pattern to their behaviour where the difficulties they’re experiencing can be traced directly back to their own actions/behaviours. Which is fascinating, but incredibly hard work for both that individual and the people around them.

        1. fposte

          This makes me think of the posts and discussions we’ve had about baby talk, especially the really egregious offender–I think that can be a similar pattern.

        2. aebhel

          Yeah, it may seem counter-intuitive, but you need a fair amount of empathy to be able to manipulate people successfully. Drama-lamas will default to drama whether or not it will actually get them their way.

    2. Artemesia

      My reaction to0. I’d probably tell the meddling mediator that I had no intention of feeding the drama llama — that I had assured her numerous times I wasn’t mad and that she seemed intent on stirring up a fuss and that I wanted her (the mediator) to leave it alone. I was done with the nonsense.

      ‘Sensitive people’ are in my experience insensitive to the needs of others and both self absorbed and manipulative. I have zero patience for manipulative whinybabies.

      1. Lefty

        Actually “The dingo ate my baby!” has everything to do with Laurel Gray’s comment “These pretzel’s are making me thirsty!”

        Both are Seinfeld references that characters on the show used to extricate themselves from uncomfortable social situations. It’s pop culture here in the states.

        I’m guessing that the “insensitve” remark is because of the Lindy Chamberlain case where she was convicted of murdering her baby, but later exonerated when it was ruled the child was in fact killed by dingos. I’m sorry, but to be fair, that was 25 years ago on another continent so that is not what I was thinking of when making a Seinfeld reference. If this was upsetting to you, I apologize.

        Very nice calling me an idiot though. It is not exactly in keeping with how we speak to each other in this forum.

        1. aebhel

          Honestly, I thought your comment was pretty insensitive, because I’m not familiar with Seinfeld and I think making jokes about an actual infant who died horribly is pretty tasteless and offensive in general.

          Something to think about when making that particular kind of pop-culture reference. Not everybody is ‘here in the States’, and even those of us who are haven’t all watched the same 20-year-old sitcoms as you.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            And not everyone in the U.S. knows what that Seinfeld line was a reference to; in fact, I’d guess most don’t.

            In general, err on the side of assuming good will here.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Oh, I actually meant “of the people who know that line from Seinfeld, most don’t know that it refers to an actual real-life tragedy”! But this is true too.

  27. Cubicle Joe

    How does that Bowling For Soup song go? High school never ends . . .

    Always makes me laugh when people try to put a positive spin on drama. They’re just “venting”. They’re just using you as a “sounding board”. They want to “share a concern”. (Concern = Gossip)

    The OP has taken the high road, and has made a genuine effort to understand the situation. Unless her project deadlines are being directly affected, then further reconciliation efforts are not required.

  28. Jules

    I would not directly deal with her. However, during one on one with the supervisor, I’d casually mention what happend and tell her how I dealt with it. Just to keep her in the loop. That way if someone ask my supervisor (either to stir to pot or ‘OMG how can you let this happen in your team’), she could easily fend them off.

    I got lucky, the last time I was upset with a co-worker, I spoke to the department’s HR rep who coached me though the problem. She offered to mediate if I needed help to have the conversation. Does your work place have something like that in place?

    Mediation might help deal with the issue if the mediator is good what she does. She helps control and bring both parties back to the main issue at hand instead of letting either parties go off tangent.

      1. Jules

        Oh, God no. Non of that. That is about all you need to turn this into a drama filled situation. Can’t OP just say to this helpful co-worker, “I didn’t realize that she and I had any issues. Don’t worry, if I have any issues with her, I would address it directly with her like professional adults. Thanks for the offer though.”

  29. Dasha

    I don’t know if someone has already made this comment – I’m late to the party! OP – it sounded to me like you had been walking with the co-worker for awhile now but I could be wrong… Did she just suddenly start acting like this or has she always been very emotional? Is she having mental, health, or home problems and taking them out on you?? Very weird.

  30. Millennial

    This! I thought I was the only one with a super sensitive, teenage-drama coworker. My coworker is just like this, extremely sensitive and thinks she’s being snubbed if I don’t chat with her. She doesn’t chat with me, only talks to me about work-related stuff, but chats with the girl next to her, and yet thinks I’m snubbing her when I don’t make conversation with her. I face the door, so when people come in, I say hi and chat with them, and my coworker (who faces away from the door) thinks she’s being left out or ignored. She now hijacks my conversations with other people for attention and then will go back to not talking to me. She tries too hard to be liked and popular, even going so far as to scurry around after people, get their coffees, walk with them to the store, etc.

  31. Concerned Carrie

    I would be careful. I have both worked with and had friendships with people with serious mental health issues, unbeknownst to me at first. Sometimes it’s not just innocuous “drama,” but a red flag that something else is going on. I think it’s very good advice to disengage from this person as much as possible if the story you are telling is accurate; if they want to continue a relationship they can reach out to you but don’t give them any more fuel for fire. Good luck, my experiences with these kinds of things are that they are inevitable in any workplace or life, but you have to be vigilant about minor drama spiralling out of control.

  32. AgentScully

    I have a similar situation with an employee. She gets upset when people do not say hello or goodbye to her when entering our office area on work days. If I am away from my desk, in a meeting, or otherwise unavailable when she leaves for the day, she will send me a text message that she is sorry she missed me and couldn’t say goodbye before she left. She has given the cold shoulder to another team member due to a (ridiculous) situation where she claims the team member didn’t say hello to her one morning. She now refuses to speak to that person unless absolutely necessary. I have met with her on three separate occasions to address this issue, each time she seems to get better for a few weeks, and then goes right back to the old behavior. No amount of one-on-one conversation, or conversation with me, HR, and my supervisor, seems to get through to her that this is her issue and she needs to find a way to get past this. Most recently we had to have a pretty intense conversation about how I can’t require people to say hello to her, but I DO require she do her job, regardless of whether she has had a greeting from another employee that day. This is not her only issue and she is currently on an improvement plan. I do not foresee her being a part of our team much longer as her attitude & behavior are more befitting a middle schooler than a professional in her late 50s, and the time she spends on the daily drama is causing serious performance & quality of work issues.

    1. Career Counselorette

      I’m rewatching the X-Files right now, and I’m really enjoying the idea of Agent Scully sighing exasperatedly reading these dumb text messages about not saying goodbye while she’s leaving to infiltrate a secret bunker.

    2. FiveByFive

      Wasn’t there a Seinfeld episode where a bank had to give you $100 if they didn’t greet you with a “hello”? Sounds like this lady would be a frequent visitor there.

      I think Uncle Leo on that show was also a stickler for hellos.

  33. jso

    I had a similar situation. An old coworker flipped out when I took a coworker from another country out to dinner since he had never been to the states and wanted good seafood. I live in the south and in a big city, so I offered to drive. Apparently she liked him and told everyone but me that I was childish, a backstabber and how could I would even do that to her. She was pretty unstable at work after that and I quickly avoided her as much as I could. I never she liked him (we were not that close) and he lives in a different country. Her work friends and even supervisor told her to get over it and that going to dinner with someone means nothing. Yes, she told everyone which made a lot of higher up people lose respect for her. I’m glad I disassociated myself with her.

  34. Marzipan

    I… would be tempted not to talk to her in quite the way Alison suggests. Without wanting to get into internet-diagnosing strangers, there are some red flags in the description of the co-worker’s behaviour that make me think such a conversation could easily become even more dramatic, and in this case the OP could be perceived as having ‘started it’ by instigating the conversation. I am not for a moment suggesting that would be a fair or accurate perception, but I do think it could happen.

    Even if it doesn’t, I think this approach engages too much with the drama – I know the OP wouldn’t be being dramatic about it, but potentially any contact on the subject *at all* is too much engagement. So, that said, if you want to give her the message that you weren’t angry with her, still aren’t angry with her, and in the interests of maintaining good professional relationships in the workplace would prefer she not tell co-workers that you are angry with her, I prefer the idea of doing it in writing. That way, if she does perceive it as some kind of attack on her, you can very clearly evidence that you were being perfectly reasonable. But I’d also consider just disengaging completely without even doing that.

    On a side note: people of the world, unless you are trained in the specific skills required to mediate and have experience of using those skills in practice, DON’T OFFER TO MEDIATE! It’s not just ‘get the two people in a room and get them talking’; it’s hard to do well and easy to screw up completely.

  35. Interviewer

    I swear, some people THRIVE on this kind of life. It is such a self-absorbed way of thinking – setting up paths toward jealousy, tears, rage, irrational reactions – imagining how everything plays out in their own heads, all to generate sympathy for themselves. Then they start moving the pieces for themselves to watch it happen in real life. And they wrap everyone around them into the game, watching them take sides, crying at the opportune moments, raging at others. Most bizarre thing I’ve ever witnessed.

    Hopefully the manager already recognizes this, and separated you both in an effort to decrease your encounters. Rather than being mystified, or trying to solve the problem, I’d be pleasantly relieved, and keep on going. You will never begin to understand it or manage it.

    Good luck, OP.

  36. Lefty

    My mother pulls this kind of crap. She makes up all this ridiculous BS and then goes off as if there were some basis in reality. Whenever she starts it, I just say, “I’m not doing this” and hang up the phone. The first time that happened, she called me back and asked if I had hung up on her. I told her that I refused to get involved in some kind of fabricated Jerry Springer drama and was not going to participate in it. She started off again and ‘click’. The rest of her calls that day were ignored. Two days later she called and neither of us made any mention of it. She can call up my grandmother with all that crap and they can scheme and plot against everyone together. She knows not to call me about it. Life is too short to be drawn in to that stuff.

    Since you’ve already had multiple conversations with this co-worker and she continues to play this game and even recruit others, I would just behave normally until she starts the ‘burst into tears’ ploy. I would then just firmly say, “I’m not playing this game” and walk away. I’m betting she craves the attention and re-assurance she gets when she turns on the water works. You just have to only reward good behaviour and withdraw all attention when she behaves badly.

  37. Jill

    I would mention this to the manager. Not in a “you fix it” tone but just in an “I think you should know” tone. Women are notorious for building an army of supporters (for example, the third employee that immediately decided to mediate the issue, but only after hearing C-Worker cry, NOT after also talking to OP to get herside). The last thing OP needs is for half her female co-workers to all of a sudden be against her because Co-Worker has told so many people that she’s being snubbed by OP.

  38. Cupcake

    I may be a bit of a cold fish, but I would approach it by… not approaching it. The time to put the kibosh on the whole thing would have been when Mrs. Kravitz put on her mediator hat, but one can certainly understand being caught by surprise and not being prepared to respond at the moment. Bringing it up again to either Moaning Myrtle or Mrs. Kravitz would simply extend the run of the play. Instead, wait for Ms. Kravitz to bring up the “I wanna be a mediator” schtick again, and use the opportunity to say “I’ve made it clear to Myrtle that I have no ill-will towards her. It seems that she just cannot believe that, so I’m not certain whether the issue is with her home life or her health, but she is projecting it in to the work-place, where it doesn’t belong and could do her harm. I think the best thing we can both do for her is not elevate the drama to the point that it affects how management views her. Let’s just let her settle down and go on with our jobs.”

  39. Mel

    For me, people who have acted this irrational did so because they misinterpreted my actions. I have had guys act similar to this (just not at work) because they thought there was something more than a friendship going on. I’m not saying that’s exactly what’s happening here by any means though. Just saying it’s a special kind of crazy to freak out over how a lunch break is spent.

  40. Macedon

    Taking the craven’s route, but I’d honestly just… disengage completely. I’d refuse to interact with her beyond standard office politesse, and I’d definitely not cater to her whims by making sure to greet her first, walk with her, or whatnot. The less attention you give her, the likelier she is to “move on” to someone else.

    As for the “mediator” – I’d say to gently let her know that you appreciate her concern and earnestness, but that this is a situation you would prefer to resolve on your own terms. Given that she has no real authority or stake in this, she is likely either a meddler who enjoys participating in the drama, or she’s playing ‘rescuer’ to your poor, distraught workmate. Either way, her input is unlikely to yield any positives.

  41. Ravel

    TL;DR

    I think the key to what she wants is in the letter: “sobbing that she’d missed me or missed talking to me.” I think she wants things to go back to the way they were before, but she’s sabotaged it in her insecurity about the friendship. Once you know what someone wants, you can appropriately address the real issue.

    I’ll confess that I did something similar in my first professional job out of college. It didn’t end prettily, with someone making it a work issue, my supervisor having a talk with me, and I was embarrassed. But I immediately stopped the behavior and coped with my emotions privately. Since then, I don’t make friends-outside-of-work at work.

  42. Anon for this

    This woman’s behaviour sounds like the way I acted sometimes when my anxiety was bad – especially the bursting into tears, if that hasn’t been something she did regularly before this. I’m not saying this is definitely what’s going on, but with anxiety, once your brain is convinced someone hates you. it can be really, really difficult to un-convince it. She still shouldn’t be bringing it up the way she has been (especially to other people!), but I don’t know if it would help you to think about it as “my coworker possibly has a health issue she’s not dealing with very well” rather than “my coworker is a bonkers drama llama”?

  43. peanut butter kisses

    I am curious – has anyone here ever been like the former friend and gotten help to change that part of themselves? I am just wondering if it would ever be possible for people like this to change – if they wanted to, that is.

      1. Anon directly above you

        Yeah, honestly, what helped me get better was going to the doctor and getting CBT. It would obviously be inappropriate for the OP to suggest anything like that to her coworker (“Hey, Miranda, I’ve noticed you’ve been acting weird! Maybe go get therapy because you sound cray-cray!”), but in my experience, yes it is possible!

    1. Anonymous for PTSD

      I was unconsciously (not sure how to word this) manipulative, usually for sympathy or any kind of attention, as a teenager. I did not cry or use other people to pick fights.

      Therapy helped, but what actually had an immediate effect was my first job. I had to prioritize a lot of things over personal issues. Therapy has helped with the underlying issues since then. I hear that I come across as laid-back and reserved now, somehow?

  44. BeckyDaTechie

    There are a number of reasons this coworker could be acting “off”. It’s up to her manager to sort that, since it’s clearly affecting her at work. It’s not up to you to keep trying to reassure this person that she shouldn’t feel X way because Y. Rationality and logic don’t seem to be growing in her garden this season. And I’ve had coworkers assume I hated her guts for no discernible reason I could see. It’s awkward, at best.

    OP, I would keep your phone with you (if you can) the next time you have an interaction with her and use the video function if you have a camera to record what goes down. (ASSUMING! It’s allowed to record that type of situation in your state and business. Standard ‘I am not a lawyer’ goes here.)

    What you’re stuck with is “she said/she said” without a lot of proof that the coworker is, in fact, overreacting. With video proving her overreactions, you’ve got a leg to stand on if trying to talk with her in person once more, or going to a manager with a “heads up, it must be play season– Oh the Drama!” ends up being twisted by this person’s warped (at this point) worldview.

    How do you handle it? C.Y.A. Document, document, document. Remember that the issues she’s facing (which could be as simple as a problem in her personal life or a medication change rather than some kind of pop-psych diagnosed personality disorder) are hers, not yours, and she shouldn’t get to have the kind of control over you that allows her bad days to become your bad days. It’s time to talk to somebody about this, but try to prove your side of it if you can safely do so. (I say safely only because this kind of overreaction is sometimes a sign of something serious and you shouldn’t endanger yourself or your family if you’re concerned she may take the issue outside of work, for example.)

    1. fposte

      I would really, really recommend against videoing a co-worker without permission. As a manager, I would have sharp words for anybody who tried that, even if it were technically legal.

      This is not a situation where anything needs proving. If you play it like it is, the drama gets escalated, not stopped. This is about disentangling. Don’t video, don’t document. Drop the curtain by email or voice and then let it all go.

      1. BeckyDaTechie

        And having been a manager myself, I would rather have a visual of the floor but audio of “Hi Myrtle,” “Oh now you’ll talk to me you bitch! *sob sob sob*” instead of relying on “she said, she said”. The LW has already tried “Say it and disengage” more than once. It’s escalating in spite of that effort and including other people.

        There’s a possibility that Mable here may not stop.

        Whether the proof will be needed (because I didn’t say “dump all this on your boss” I said “document”), having a log of times you’ve spoken to someone who’s this (potentially) unstable can make things like protective orders much easier to attain, and that happens occasionally. If my coworker hadn’t been able to get to her text messages to her husband about the employee’s threats and irrational behavior, she wouldn’t have been granted her restraining order, even though the behavior (which started a lot like this) had escalated to multiple death threats. And, based on what we’ve heard here, I’m not convinced this is the “harmless office drama monger” a lot of others seem to believe. I hope, for the LWs sake, it’s a simple case of hormone changes or a medication shift, but it’s up to the LW to protect hirself in case it’s not.

    2. Rayner

      The thing is, this approach makes it all covert and drama ish and implies that op needs to take all kinds of action before The Big Bad Thing happens.

      A good or reasonable manager is often able to spot the drama llama ten miles off and won’t demand proof. Video taping someone escalates the OP’s situation and can make her the bad guy. It’s also incredibly confrontational and would not help her at all.

      If she does, the daffy colleague goes from “she’s being meeeeeaaaan to me” to “Op is video taping me without my consent, being rude to me, and I’m not okay with that.”

      One is a drama ish complaint. The other is a serious and egarious violation of workplace norms and possible laws, not to mention worthy of possible firing.

      Unless the OP is being subjected to severe and repeated harassment, this is just one dimwit making an absolute fool of herself, and the OP should just rise above it.

      1. BeckyDaTechie

        I hope for the OPs case that it really is just a dimwit with a drama fetish. But, I’ve also seen something very similar go very badly, and a paper trail was the only way the drama llama could eventually be removed from the equation. In the mean time a coworker had to spend *months* ignoring, avoiding, and disengaging from this kind of behavior until it escalated to the point of death threats (to my coworker and the rest of us in the building). Only at that point would someone take her seriously enough to support an order of protection and the “drama llama” being removed. Documenting, without taking each incident to their manager (just logging, basically) doesn’t have to be overt, but can protect the OP should things go slantwise. And sometimes, they do.

  45. FD

    I’m curious, if you were these people’s manager, and you were seeing the drama, how would you address it? I’m just interested in how that might change the perspective, if it’s not too OT.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Say to the drama llama: “Jane, this is becoming disruptive to the office. Your personal relationship with Felicia needs to stop being a focus of discussion, and I need you to work with her professionally and pleasantly.”

      1. Not So NewReader

        This.

        My go-to is “Part of what you are being compensated for is your willingness to get along with everyone. Are you willing to maintain a daily working relationship with everyone here?”

    2. BeckyDaTechie

      “This is getting unreasonable, and it needs to stop. Mable, your job is X. Not A, B, or C. Just X. Can you put your difficulties with LW aside and do X, or not?”

  46. Ella2

    I can totally understand your frustration. I too worked with a drama queen trouble maker but be careful, she could start complaining that your causing tension in the group and say that moral is low with everyone because your “mad at her”. I wont matter to the boss whats really going on, all they will want is the team to preform. Ive been there and the drama being cause by the other person actually cost me my job. I would do the confrontation but with your manager present.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, I tend to agree. OP, know your workplace. If you have a dynamic that something like this will thrive, then you do need to take the first strike. I am saying this because this has gone on for three months. I think you can assume it will go one for as long as you both work there.
      Someone upthread suggested cuing the boss, not in a manner of “fix this”but just in “a way of letting you know”. If this person is having problems with other people the boss might want to know. If the person develops problems with others in the future the boss might want to know.
      You can tell the boss that you have tried x, y and z, nothing has worked and so going forward you are going to just detach from the situation entirely.

  47. Alissa

    Your coworker most likely has a personality disorder which prevents her from forming meaningful relationships. I’d be shocked if she is married or has many friends (who also aren’t drama llamas that is. I’m curious as to the mediator…) People like this usually job hop or create intense drama in the workplace for coworkers when they think everyone is out to get them, which at one point or another will happen, because sooner or later everyone will be on her list of “bad” people. It’s called “splitting” – black and white thinking – people are either all bad or all good, and it can change daily depending on what perceived slight or offense happened that day. You were all good until you weren’t anymore, over a perceived slight of which you have no knowledge, because it was something totally ridiculous and insignificant to the rational mind. It’s a quite sad way to live being this emotionally unstable. I know someone like this and it’s very draining to keep up with the drama so I try to distance myself as much as possible. I’ve been on the pedestal and I’ve been knocked down with her. When interacting, be as kind as possible, even when you are frustrated, which I know is ridiculously hard to do. I’m speaking from experience here. Harsh or even remotely short words with people like this make things 100 times worse and will just fuel the problem in her mind and justify her irrational feelings towards you. Kindness, boundaries and distance are the way to go. Early on in this scenario I would have suggested having a calm heart to heart with her, alone, or trying to, but at this point that’s not possible, as she’s too emotionally invested in this story which she has fabricated. Hang in there because I think sooner or later she (sadly) will find another person to focus her drama on and you’ll be off the hook. Once she focuses on someone else, she may even turn to you later for support in dealing with that “horrible” person! I’m not even kidding. It’s a way of life for people like this. Sad.

  48. Shabang

    I kinda wonder if there isn’t already a third party involved. I had a coworker once who would tell someone “what someone else said” (whether they did or not), and then run back and forth between two parties with any comments that might be said (and if there weren’t any, they would make them up). After he got the fire burning usually things would flame all by themselves, and he could just watch the show. Or maybe steer the direction of the fire.

    Just a thought.

  49. Safflower

    Wow, I didn’t know adults actually used the phrase “drama llama.” I associate it with middle schoolers and those with limited vocabulary, to be quite honest.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Wow indeed. :P

      Well it’s rather colorful, and we like to have a little fun with our comments here. But feel free to use another phrase if it’s not for you.

    2. aebhel

      I find that when anyone starts banging on about someone else’s limited vocabulary, their own isn’t anything to write home about, to be quite honest. ‘Limited vocabulary’ implies an inability to accurately convey a concept or narrative and/or repetitive or inaccurate language use; it does not mean ‘uses colloquialisms I personally dislike’.

      I get the same thing about swearing sometimes, and I find it very tiresome.

    3. Airy

      People using slang and childlike expressions aren’t necessarily using them because that’s all they know how to say. Often it’s a deliberate choice made for fun and/or humorous effect. In this case, using a jokey, rhyming phrase helps to keep the discussion of a problem cheerful, finding humour in a difficult situation.
      Plus, one of the points here is that the coworker’s behaviour is more like what we’d expect from an overly emotional middle-schooler than a sensible working adult. Therefore the middle-school vocabulary is thematically appropriate.

  50. moodygirl86

    Bloody hell, Unstable Mable sounds like the intense daughter of my ex-boyfriend and former bullying manager! Just as paranoid and prone to assuming the worst. OP, not engaging is the best thing you can do with people like that. Whatever you do she’ll look for an ulterior motive/malicious intent and whatever you say she’ll twist it. You can’t win. Sorry one of these twats has turned up in your workplace.

  51. Not telling

    Like so many others here, I’ve had my misfortunate with a drama llama. The only effective solution is to disengage–COMPLETELY. As this woman has demonstrated, even simple pleasantries like hello can be turned into drama.

    Unfortunately to truly end the drama you may have to disengage from your other coworkers for a while also. Don’t walk with other people on your breaks, because it will reinforce her idea that you are snubbing her. Don’t go to happy hours or get into water cooler chats about fantasy sports. Don’t do any of that, it just feeds her need for attention. Just keep your yap shut and your head down. Eventually she will run out of fuel. For now the meddlesome mediator is going to have to carry on under the impression that you are at fault–because you need to tell her that you will handle your own relationships on your own. Eventually she’ll figure out this girl’s schtick.

  52. Erin

    Good afternoon!

    I am the OP in this situation, and I would like to say thanks to all for the comments, suggestions, and thinking points posed in your responses. It’s taken me a while to respond because frankly, although the situation has been ongoing for months, it has been a sort of dysfunctional devolution that’s left me not knowing quite how to respond–hence my writing in and fervently hoping for some perspective and help. I wanted a little time to think things over and to see the situation form the perspective of others.

    I did want to clear up a few things that led to reader questions. Here goes:

    1. Please don’t think that I’m trying to paint myself innocent in the telling of the tale. The question posting guidelines encourage writers to keep questions within a reasonable length, and I have difficulty with brevity. I was trying to include the main points of the story without getting into all of the minutia as I was feeling quite desperate for some insight.

    It’s very plausible, even probable, that I was at fault at certain points–for example, in the initial event that seems to have fostered a sense of disagreement, I probably should not have waved away my coworker’s apology. From my perspective, it was no big deal. As I later told my coworker, from my perspective, she’d done nothing wrong and had no reason to apologize, so I didn’t think that it required a lengthy discussion. In hindsight, yes, I probably could have handled the situation more appropriately, given her time to apologize, discussed that it was not an issue at greater length, reassured her on the spot, etc. I also probably should not have waited for a full day of the silent treatment from her to address what was clearly becoming an issue. Not having experienced the silent treatment from anyone since childhood, never having experienced it in a professional context, and not being particularly comfortable with confrontations, I didn’t know quite how to approach the situation. Had I addressed the issue sooner, it is possible that I could have avoided allowing the situation to grow into something that may have been becoming a bigger issue in my coworker’s mind in the meantime.

    2. Since I can’t claim omniscience, I don’t know what’s going on from my coworker’s perspective. We are all the centers of our own universe—by that, I mean that my perspective is my own and is therefore inherently self-centered. While I can use educated guesses and context clues, paired with sympathy/empathy, to try to understand the perspective of others, I can never really know what’s going on in my coworker’s head. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to be understanding, but it does mean that all I know for certain is what has happened from my point of view.

    I truly did try to make things right once I thought that I understood what was going on, and that wasn’t easy since I was very uncomfortable with my coworker’s reactions. I apologized profusely and assured her that I was not angry. I asked her to let me know if I did anything to upset her in the future so the issue could be addressed directly before it became a problem. She agreed, but her behavior was forever after off. It seemed like she was just waiting for a cue that I was still angry at her, and at the slightest hint of anything that could be interpreted negatively (ie., walking too fast, not taking every break with her, sitting in a different seat at lunch because there were already six people crammed around a table for four, not saying “Good morning,” first, etc.), she would completely fly off the handle (running after me while taunting, “Running away again?” if I walked quickly to clock in on time, bursting into tears at the initiation of conversations, competing for projects then sobbing that she wasn’t taking all of the work and I could have half, etc.). It was a gauntlet of alternating tears and stony silence.

    3. I’m not an automaton. After weeks and months of this, I did begin to distance myself from my coworker because, even if she does have baggage causing her to act this way, it was just too much for me to handle. Although I can and do feel bad for her as she, from my perspective, seems to have some real issues, I simply cannot take responsibility for her emotional wellbeing.

    Is that callous? Maybe. Could I have been more compassionate? Probably. I could have been more sympathetic, more interested, more concerned. I probably could have invested more time in trying to find out what was really going on, but to be honest, I just wasn’t comfortable with that, nor did our relationship up to that point warrant intense emotional investment. My relationship with this coworker up to that point had been that of a congenial colleague. We happened to be stationed at adjoining cubicles, so we chatted daily, sometimes sat together at lunch, and generally took breaks together with other coworkers. Once, I gave her a ride to pick her car up at a repair shop after work because it was on my way home. (Not an exclusive action–I’d also given another coworker a ride to the bus station.) But that’s about it–we’d never so much as talked on the phone outside of work, and we’d never hung out together. From my perspective, I’d treated her much the same as I try to treat all of my coworkers. I try to be polite, respectful, office-friendly and engaging at work, and casually friendly if I run into someone in the community at large, but that’s where it ends. Work is work. I prefer to keep work colleagues separate from my home life.

    And of course, there’s another dimension to my actions. As a couple of other reader suggested, when someone keeps insisting that you’re angry over your own assertion that you’re not and that person keeps acting out accordingly, it’s difficult not to get a little frustrated. Or a lot frustrated. And that doesn’t exactly create a great environment for wanting to be someone’s best work friend.

    4. All of this garbage was beginning to have a real effect on my ability to perform at work. In the mornings, I began to dread going to work because I’d have to endure whatever nonsense the day would bring. I started getting migraines in the morning. It was terrible. So yes, I did start to avoid her company at times. It’s not nice, and it probably only fed into her insecurities, but do you have any idea how awful it is to have someone start crying over an incidental greeting like, “It’s so beautiful outside this morning!” It’s a lot to deal with before 8:30.
    In the meantime, I was also starting to become really concerned about spillover. Whatever was going on wasn’t a work issue, and I really did not want to drag my manager into something that amounted to a bloated interpersonal misunderstanding. Since annual reviews were upcoming, I was getting pretty nervous about what kind of conversation as going to happen during mine. Turns out, my review went well. I received no suggestions for improvement that reflected upon interpersonal interactions or relationships with coworkers. Whatever was said between my coworker and our manager remains private, and I’m fine what that. It’s nice to know that my manager respects confidentiality.

    5. While these explanations hopefully serve to round out the story, I’m not sure that these dimensions really matter anymore. It boils down to this:

    A. My coworker and I were probably both at fault in the conflict.
    B. Although I initially tried to repair the damage many times, I don’t think it’s reparable. At this point, the conflict has been going on for nearly four months. I’m not inclined to form a close relationship with someone who didn’t respect me enough to have an honest and non-hysterical conversation with me before going to drastic measures to make a point. I work full time, attend a minimum of two grad level courses per semester, manage my aging mother’s healthcare needs (which are substantial) and oversee the financial side of her business, am currently finishing a mentorship, and try to have some semblance of normal life. I just don’t have the reserves of energy or emotional investment to deal with my coworker’s baggage.
    C. I just want to be able to do my job to the greatest extent of my abilities with as little conflict as possible.
    D. I will probably never know what’s going on with my coworker, and while this may sound callous, that’s OK. I don’t need to know, because I can’t deal with it. She’s an adult, and she needs to take responsibility for her needs on her own time, not at work.

    Since writing my original post and reading all of your thoughtful reactions and responses, I have had a little bit of time to reflect and (attempt) to act. So, here’s what has happened in the meantime:

    1. About the would-be mediation: I didn’t include this in my original post because it would’ve taken up too many words, but I did agree to the third-party-coworker mediation. Not because I wanted to—ick. But because I felt ambushed. The third coworker basically ambushed me after lunch one day, launching into a diatribe about how our mutual coworker was really upset and how she felt that I really needed to “be a good Christian” and talk to her because she was suffering psychologically. She made it all sound so pitiful for our coworker and so bad of me to let her suffer that I had no idea how to get out of the situation gracefully. It was really kind of horrifying. In that moment, I had absolutely no idea what to do or how to extricate myself from the situation without looking like a total jerk. In that moment, I tentatively agreed to talk to her. Fortunately, it seems that the upset coworker told the would-be mediator coworker that she would “get back to her” with a good time for the three of us to sit down together outside of work but never has. While I know that the adult thing to do would be to approach the would-be mediator and nicely but firmly tell her that I appreciate her concern but decline in preference of dealing with the situation directly, the coward in me wants to leave it at that and just let the situation go away.

    2. Manager involvement: I maintain a desire avoid involving our mutual manager. I feel like if it was a managerial concern, my manager would have brought the issue up in my annual review meeting. Since she didn’t, I don’t think it’s appropriate. I don’t want to make any bigger of a deal out of the situation than it already has been. That being said, if additional issues arise (for example, if the coworker continues trying to stir up problems with others or if there is a noticeable change in my ability to interact and work with other coworkers) and it becomes apparent that it needs to be addressed, I will broach the subject. I just don’t want to make a big deal out of an interpersonal miscommunication and I don’t want to validate the drama.

    3. I agree that the adult thing to do is to use Alison’s script and firmly but without rancor ask my coworker to cease and desist. After a couple of days of thought, I readied myself to do just that. I even tried a couple of practice runs to see if it were possible. And…fail. Not joking: EVERY single time I attempt to approach my coworker, she takes off in a different direction. She refuses to look at my face. If we’re in a meeting, she moves to the opposite side of the room. If I approach her desk, she leaves. If I walk down the hallway, she turns into another. During this time, her face gets very alarmingly red. Given that even my attempted approach seems to stir an emotional response, I’m a little afraid that she’ll complain that I’m intimidating her. So for the moment, I’ve backed off. Maybe this is a sign that she’s willing to disengage. If so, I’ll take it. I know that’s a non-response, but I’m hesitant to push the issue if she’s willing to let it go. I also thought about but don’t want to use email—it’s too easy for words to be taken the wrong way in writing. For now, I will continue to monitor the situation and if it comes up again, I plan to use the script in a semi-private (quiet enough to not allow others to overhear but in a visible space so as to avoid any report of intimidation) setting in a firm but polite manner.

  53. Erin

    Thanks to everyone for their input!

    In the end, I took Alison’s advice to avoid engaging in any sort of 3rd party co-worker mediation. I agreed that it would just stir up the drama and involve additional people in a situation that really never should have gone on the way that it did for as long as it persisted.

    I did not end up sitting down with the co-worker to talk to her about the situation for a final time. I was reluctant to because of the constant waterworks, and also because she decided to take the drama up a notch by going to our mutual manager. She asked to be moved and was relocated to a different part of the office. This made things awkward, to say the least, as everyone was understandably curious about why she had moved. My manager never said anything to me about it, and I avoided talking about it or her to anyone else.

    I ended up moving lunch tables and spending a semester working on school work at lunch to avoid any further conflict. Disengaging from the situation completely didn’t resolve the issue as the co-worker decided that she could no longer work in the same office. She continued drumming up some drama with others, mostly for attention I assume, but I refused to engage in anything. She found another job after some months and moved, refusing to tell the office where she was moving to or where her new job.

    It’s been pretty quiet since then.

  54. LibraryChick

    I had something similar happen to me with a coworker. In hindsight I think she was just immature. Anyone thinking of high school with this woman? The key part of their drama filled world is having other coworkers scurrying around, carrying the gossip back and forth between the two parties. If you refuse to partcipate it takes away a lot of what is needed to create that drama.

Comments are closed.