my coworker treats me like an incompetent child

A reader writes:

I have been in a new job since March. Due to my past experience and industry knowledge, I went from part-time to full-time quickly, and have also received a small raise recently as well. This happened in a little over a month, when I was informed it could take a year. I receive good feedback from the company on a regular basis. I have past experience in a similar role, in the same industry for seven years, as well as being in supervisory positions in customer service in another industry for 10 years before I was laid off. Basically, management thinks I am doing a good job, and I have lots of experience.

My problem is my coworker/peer. She has been with the company doing the same job for nearly a decade. She provides lots of unnecessary personal feedback. She knows my background, and that I have a lot of experience in my current role. I have spoken to her about the issue many times.

Examples of her unwanted/unneeded advice: making sure I put my chair under the conference room table after meetings (told me this after I pushed my chair under the table), greet customers with a smile, wash my personal cup out after use, how to use basic office equipment, close the door behind me, break requirements (she is wrong), when to take lunch, as well as to follow certain steps that go against the training I received from management. I promise you, I do not need to be told to wash my cup or push my chair, or when to take lunch, but the advice/opinions come anyway. It is not like these things are told to me when needed; they are just offered even after the tasks are completed correctly! It is said in a condescending fashion. She starts her advice with “I know I am not your boss…”

She insists there are policies or procedures that do not exist, and I have confirmed with management that there is no set policy. She also offers poor customer service advice and gets upset/angry when I ignore it. (For example: Don’t be nice to the vendors, you need to be demanding and pushy….don’t try to build business relationships….customers are never right, etc.)

I thought the issue was handled a month ago when we had a lengthy discussion about it. It started again just the other day, and I just don’t feel I should need to go over this every month.

I need to work closely with her, as she is a wealth of information regarding our vendors and clients that is not in our system! Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her — “stop trying to change things”.

Am I going to have to constantly deal with her issues, and remind her of our talk to back off of the constant personal advice? Typically I would ignore it but I need to work with her and that means dealing with her bad advice and treating me like a child. I wish I could distance myself from her, but that is not going to happen. How can I help her understand the difference between helpful and nuisance? She has provided me some wonderful beneficial vendor/client info, but the personal advice is wrong, horrible, and demeaning. Is she threatened by me?

Help me nip this in the bud! She is embarrassing me in front of clients! There’s no HR team. It’s a small family-owned seven-person company, and only three of us are not family.

Talk to her again.

I agree with you that it’s ridiculous that the first conversation didn’t solve it, but I wouldn’t assume that having to have a second talk means you’ll need to do it monthly. In fact, more often than not, handling stuff like this takes more than one conversation because the person’s weird ways are so deeply ingrained.

Since it’s a second conversation, though, you can escalate the seriousness of your tone, and that and the repetition mean that it’s possible it will stick this time. I’d say this: “Jane, we talked last month about how I want you to stop giving me unsolicited advice about how to do my job. It’s continuing to happen. I do not want you telling me to push in my chair or wash my mug or when to take lunch. When we talked last month, you said you understood and agreed to stop but you haven’t. What’s going on?”

After that, if it continues, you can address it right in the moment by saying, “This is an example of what we talked about.”

You can also shut it down by just giving her a natural response to ludicrous guidance. For example:

Coworker: Make sure to push your chair in!
You: What an odd thing for you to tell me.

Coworker: I know I’m not your boss, but you shouldn’t be taking your break right now.
You: I’m going to manage my breaks on my own. Thanks.

Coworker: You’re being too nice to vendors.
You: I’ve got this covered.
Coworker: Well, I know I’m not your boss, but I would suggest being pushier.
You: I’m confident about how I’m handling it, but I’ll let you know if I ever want to talk it over. But otherwise, please assume I’ve got it.

And when this gets exhausting, you can also feel free to simply ignore her. Pretend you don’t even hear her. Pretend she’s talking to an imaginary grade-schooler who accompanies her everywhere. Or just give her an exasperated look, like the one you might give an extremely annoying sibling, and otherwise ignore her.

Will this have repercussions for your relationship with her? Quite possibly. But what she’s doing now is already impacting your relationship with her, so you might as go ahead and try to address it.

Also, if you’re not already making a point of keeping your manager up-to-date about the many awesome things you’re hopefully doing in your new job, start doing that. If your coworker complains that you’re not taking her advice, you want your boss to have a solid foundation of seeing that you know what you’re doing.

Relatedly, I wouldn’t worry at all about not having an HR department to intervene. This isn’t something you’d normally take to HR anyway; it’s more of an interpersonal issue that ideally you’d handle on your own. But at some point, if the efforts above don’t work and it’s interfering with your ability to do your job, it might make sense to ask your manager to tell her to knock it off — but you’ll want to have tried to handle it yourself first.

{ 235 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessie*

    I love the line “what an odd thing for you to tell me.” It’s neither aggressive nor passive-aggressive and makes a clear point. I’m going to have to remember that one.

    1. MillersSpring*

      I love Alison’s advice. I’m also a big fan of chuckling first. “Oh Jane, how funny that you think I need to be told to wash out my cup (push in my chair, when to take lunch, etc.)” Then move away, change the subject, or resume work on something.

  2. baseballfan*

    Also might I suggest a twist on the classic answer to rude questions (“Why do you ask?”) – “Why would you say that?

    Or, “I know I’m not your boss – ” Interrupt with, “yes that’s true, so anyway, about client X…”

    1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

      Or how about to “I know I’m not your boss….”

      “Let me stop you right there.”

      And then you get bonus points if you walk away.

      1. LQ*

        I once stopped someone by just saying “True.” after “I’m not your boss.” Never did it again. Why do people say that? (It sort of feels like “I’m not a racist.” I know that what I’m about to say after this thing isn’t something I’m supposed to say so I’m going to qualify it and pretend that means I can say this thing I shouldn’t say.)

            1. Chalupa Batman*

              I know that when the urge strikes to say “with all due respect,” I am about to say something I shouldn’t say to someone who wouldn’t have received it well anyway, guaranteed. By that point, I already know my opinion has been disregarded and it’s just me trying to find a nice sounding way to get in a jab. I have never been sorry I didn’t say something I’d planned to preface with “with all due respect.”

            2. sam Conklin*

              My pet peeve is, “to be honest…”

              Sooooo, you’ve been lying to me prior to this??

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          I love saying “True” in these situations. So effective for shutting people down.

      2. Barf*

        “I know I’m not your boss….”

        “No, You’re not. Which is why I’m ignoring you.”

    2. Florida*

      This is how I handle this type of situation. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when someone says, “I know I’m not your boss, but” or the more common, “I don’t mean to be rude, but.” So my response is to interrupt and say something like, “That’s true, so please stop right there.”

      I’m not necessarily recommending this strategy. It points out what the person is doing wrong, but doesn’t necessarily build good will. Alison’s suggestions are probably better.

        1. Jaguar*

          Are these snide / brusque / sharp comments actually good advice? To me, it seems like there are three scenarios:

          1) The coworker is honestly trying to take OP under her wing, in which case this is really cold and would probably be shocking.

          2) The coworker is being territorial, in which case this would be a declaration of war and further damage a working relationship.

          3) The coworker is just neurotic in some way, in which case you’re being a jerk.

          Why not just address it like you’re both mature adults? “Can you please lay off with the advice? It’s starting to feel like you’re nagging me. If you have a serious problem with the way I work, let’s discuss it among ourselves or take it to our manager.”

          1. Artemesia*

            She has already done this including having a long talk with the woman. Context. Context. Context.

            1. Jaguar*

              I don’t agree that if civility fails once, someone should start acting difficult. Not to get all WWJD, but other people being rude doesn’t justify you being rude as well. That just makes more rudeness.

              1. Jadelyn*

                So…at what point is it okay to stop being a doormat and stand up for yourself?

                Nobody’s even advocating being *rude*. It’s not rude to calmly and politely call out something they’re doing by taking their “disclaimer statement” at face value, which is what these comments are suggesting.

                1. Jaguar*

                  When someone opens with a statement and clearly hasn’t finished their statement and you cut them off to make a snide remark, reframing that as “taking [the comment] at face value” seems really disingenuous to me. It’s pretty clearly rude, and if we can’t come to agreement on that, we probably can’t come to agreement on any broader points. Not to mention that there’s more than one way to stand up for yourself. The language I suggested would also be standing up for one’s self, I think.

                  The “doormat” comment is interesting, because I don’t see the OP, or anyone else dealing with a nagging coworker, as being a doormat. When I hear stuff like that, I’m reminded of a friend of mine. He’s a kind, intelligent, polite person, but a little insecure. He once complained that, whenever he bumps into people, he always apologises, even if it wasn’t his fault. He claimed he wanted to be more firm and not apologise unless it was his fault. To me, that was baffling. He doesn’t lose anything by being apologetic in those situations, nobody gains anything from him by being apologetic, and it reflects well upon him. Similarly, not being short with people doesn’t cost anything. If you feel like your self-esteem is being chipped away at but someone else’s stupid behaviour, it’s time to look inward, not outward.

                2. Jaguar*

                  I guess I should also point out that I’m bringing this up because so often in the comments, people suggest this sort of combative language, and it always strikes me as bad advice that will escalate a bad situation instead of solving it. I’ve never seen this kind of principled snark go well for anyone.

                3. Jill*

                  But Jaguar, some people are just straight.up.asshats. They aren’t interested in being nice or getting along. They are just interested in superiority. If I get the sense that I’m dealing with something like that – when I’ve tried every get-along strategy in the book and they continue to condescend or otherwise treat me badly, the quick shutdown is almost always what works.

                  It’s for the person that just keeps at it no matter what to the point where you just can’t take it anymore. Yes, it should be a last resort. But I see no reason not to have the snarky shut down as a tool in one’s arsenal.

                4. Jaguar*

                  Well, maybe my experience is atypical, but people who are straight up asshats are never shut down by being abrasive back at them. It’s always been more like throwing gasoline on the fire.

                  But I also don’t like being a jerk to people, regardless of how deserved it is (making judgements about what other people “deserve” being a hugely problematic idea to begin with). So the idea of someone pushing me into it seems like a loss for me as well.

                5. Blurgle*

                  I suspect there is a cultural issue at play here. If I tried one of those snarky comments with a coworker I would fully expect to be walked out by security (well, if we had security) with my possessions in a banker’s box within the hour. It’s trying to swat a fly with a grenade launcher; you simply do not speak like that to anyone, ever, no matter the provocation.

                6. The OP*

                  My feeling is, someone else being rude is not an excuse for me to follow suit. Everyone jumping in the gutter is still no reason for me to do the same.

                  It is not being a doormat, it’s standing by my own personal code of ethics/morals/rules. She can be as rude as she wants, I won’t follow. I did the right thing, brining up an issue that has plagued me since day 1 when she yelled at me for not immediately start answering the phone while in training with someone else. I tried ignoring it, tried the wide-eyed looks equal to “are you seriously telling me this?” Tried answering her curtly, and then the full talk happened. Being rude won’t solve the problem; it would just create additional ones.

          2. Here, kitty, kitty...*

            I could certainly see nos. 2 and 3 being correct, but I think that telling someone something as basic as when to push in a chair, especially after having just witnessed the person do just that, is not taking the OP anywhere but to kindergarten. That to me is more in line with nos. 2 and 3, or maybe just meanness. I also think the coworker’s resistance to sharing her client information in a centrally accessible database / area is a red flag. To me, that says the coworker is threatened by OP, and wants to hang onto what she sees as her remaining bit of relevance. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s how I’m reading it.

            1. The OP*

              Oh, she is willing to tell me, trust me she has no problems telling me anything, she just won’t update the systems to reflect the info, meaning every time I deal with a new vendor I need to check with her. It is a control thing, for sure!

              1. Rana*

                That might be something to bring up with your boss. Frame it as a “hit by a bus” scenario – it is not good for the company to have all its eggs in one basket, so that is leverage you can use here.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  YES. That is pertinent information that the boss needs to know. If there is a way to start entering things she tells you verbally into the system intended to house it, I would do that, too.

                  With that information, I’m inclined to think that her overreach is a territorial thing or insecurity.

          3. Lily Rowan*

            I think the key is not NOT make them snide/brusque/sharp. You have to be super pleasant when when you say it.

            1. Jaguar*

              Maybe. The context I’ve heard these sorts of replies, it’s always sounded callous and rude to me, and the people that acted like that quickly developed a reputation as an asshole. Maybe there’s a different tone that makes it different.

              1. Lily Rowan*

                You CAN say them rudely, but you don’t have to! I’ll say shit like that with a smile, and people still think I’m nice and not an asshole.

            2. Jaguar*

              Although, at the same time, if you’re being super pleasant, doesn’t that let the person off the hook? I think you still want to communicate your frustration with the person so they understand why you want it to stop.

          4. Anon Anon Anon*

            Can you please lay off with the advice? It’s starting to feel like you’re nagging me.

            Isn’t that brusque and snide as well?

              1. Jill*

                Yes! Tone is key. That and how you are generally as a person. If you’re generally nice to co-workers, do your job diligently, and are generally a pleasant person…the once in a blue moon snarky shut down would ideally be eye-opening precisely because it would be unusual for you to speak that way.

                Now, if you use snark and sarcasm and make cutting remarks all the time, then it wouldn’t be useful in a situation like this. It would just be more evidence of what a jerk you are. Tone is key!

                1. Jaguar*

                  I don’t know. I think most people act differently at work than they do at home or “naturally” (or, at least enough people that it’s noteworthy). So it can be easy for people to see rare instances of nastiness as the mask sliding off. And, to be frank, being a nasty person only rarely still qualifies a person as nasty. It’s a bit like a thief protesting that 99% of the time, they’re not stealing anything.

          5. Ultraviolet*

            I agree that interrupting and saying something snarky is not the best move, regardless of the condescending coworker’s intent. It won’t make OP look good in front of their managers (and other coworkers) the way handling it calmly and civilly will. It will have a worse impact on their relationship with the condescending coworker too. I like Alison’s suggested wording a lot. It’s assertive but not at all aggressive.

            I’ve certainly responded to condescension with snark in my personal life, when my goal was to shut the other person up (and honestly, to score points at their expense.) At work, I know I’m much better served by not sacrificing the high ground for a little personal satisfaction.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Which works for “I don’t mean to be rude”, but not so much for “I know I’m not your boss”. :-)

      1. K.*

        I had a coworker who had a serious interrupting problem – everyone noticed and hated it. He even interrupted his boss (who replied, calmly, “I’m still talking”). I solved it with the following:
        Him: “I don’t mean to interrupt …”*
        Me: “Then don’t.” Then keep talking as though he hasn’t said anything. Eventually it worked – just with me, though. If you didn’t call him on it, he’d keep doing it.

        *Why do people say this? It always means the opposite. If you didn’t mean to interrupt, you’d keep your mouth shut until the other person was finished speaking. Interrupting by saying you don’t mean to interrupt makes no sense.

        1. Heaven's Thunder Hammer*

          It can be an ingrained habit from childhood – my mother is such a conversation dominater the only way I could get a word in edge wise was to interrupt her. Now I just interrupt everyone – though I have been made aware of it and I try (sometimes) to be aware of it and stop. It is very, very hard.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This, this. So many times the person who chronically interrupts is a person whose voice was not heard as a child. It is amazing how much we telegraph about ourselves and we are not even aware.
            HTH, you are probably better than half way to solving this one. You know why it you do it and you try to do better. It will only get easier in the near future because you have faced the hard stuff right here.

            I felt I would not be heard. One of my things that I did was try to be more aware of when people responded to what I was saying. Even if they disagreed that still indicated that they had absorbed my sentences. Practice being more aware of the times you get it RIGHT. And practice being more aware of the times when people are actually listening attentively to you. I had to ditch MY own assumption that people would just not listen.

            I remember one place I worked, if I had a problem coworkers would RUN toward me to help me. Another coworker commented, “Frightening, isn’t it, to see people running toward you? You have to remind yourself that they are running to help you, not sabotage you.”
            “Thank you for dragging that out into the light of day to look at”, I thought to myself.
            If we are not use to people listening and responding in an appropriate manner we have to deliberately remind ourselves when we see it. “This is what an appropriate response looks like.”

        2. Professional Sweater Folder*

          I am guilty of often saying “I don’t mean to interrupt.” However, that is because of my ADHD, there are times I physically cannot stop myself from interrupting. Saying that I don’t mean to interrupt is my way of communicating that I acknowledge it is not my turn to speak, but my disorder is forcing me to and I apologize if I’m out of turn. Then again, I usually say it after the fact when I realize I have interrupted someone.

        3. Simonthegrey*

          I have ADHD and grew up in a family where I would be willing to bet both parents had it to some degree. Interrupting was the only way I got listened to. Honestly, having a honeycomb of conversations was so ingrained in how my family interacted that I really didn’t notice how weird it was until interacting with my husband’s family. And before you ask, yes – I have interrupted bosses, coworkers, peers, students, just about anyone. I always apologize profusely but sometimes I honestly cannot throttle it down.

          1. JessaB*

            Also, while it’s not as common now, there are cultures where cross-talking is normal. It may just be where I grew up and when, everybody talked, nobody got yelled at for overtalking. It was just normal. OMG I still do it sometimes and get the “Don’t interrupt me,” from people and they get back a “but you can still talk, I didn’t interrupt, I just talked with you.” I try to not do it, but it still happens sometimes. But it baffles people who were not raised in an everyone talks at once group and it never occurred to me and my cousins that this wasn’t the normal way everyone had conversations.

        4. Tony*

          Pretty much anytime prefaces a sentence with something, it’s the complete opposite.

          “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”
          “I’m not racist, but…”
          “I don’t mean to be offensive, but…”

          1. JessaB*

            Yep, although the previously mentioned “with all due respect,” actually has an origin and a proper use. It’s military shorthand for “I’m going to say something you don’t like, but you outrank me, and I have to acknowledge the fact that you outrank me, before I’m allowed to say what must be said, because otherwise things are going to go sideways.” It’s a shorthand mark of respect upwards, even when you know better, or have more information.

            1. Tammy*

              Agreed. I worried when some people said this was rude. It is intended as the *opposite* of rude. Rather, it is to give due acknowledgement to the person with whom you’re speaking before you disagree or partly disagree with them. It is intended to soften the disagreement. So, naturally, it does *always* proceed a disagreement, but it is also supposed to be the polite way to bring such things up. For those who don’t like the saying, what then is the replacement?

    3. Jadelyn*

      I was thinking, “You’re right! So about [thing]…” But, same thing, she’s giving you an opening to cut her off with the “I’m not your boss” disclaimer, so take it!

  3. Leatherwings*

    It would really take a lot of restraint for me to avoid being sarcastic in response to this coworker. How irritating. I do like the suggestion of addressing it in the moment as a reference to the larger conversations like “That’s one of those things I don’t need you to remind me about.”

  4. Dawn*

    “Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her”

    OP, it sounds like she’s feeling really threatened by you- if she’s been around as long as you say she has, and then here you come moving up the ranks super quickly like a rockstar, then I imagine she’s terrified that she’s going to not be able to coast by anymore and will have to step up her game.

    Doesn’t make your situation any easier, but it might give you a place to start looking for coping strategies or ways to approach the situation.

    Another suggestion would be for you to take the initiative to document as much of her knowledge as you can- so when she tells you something, turn around and document it where it needs to go so the knowledge database is at least getting as filled as it can be without her cooperation.

    1. Mae*

      Agreed with this. She’s projecting whatever insecurities she has about her own success there and is trying to tell you to “know your place” in an unprofessional and passive-aggressive fashion. Only thing I would add to Allison’s advice is to get to the heart of the matter without being confrontational. Try, “Is there something your personal advice is stemming from? Is there anything I’m not aware of you’d like to share with me? How do we work better together?”

      1. The OP*

        The long talk was introduced with….”where is this coming from? Do you doubt my abilities? Is there some mistake I have made? She just said this is how she is and not to take it personally.

        I worried I could be dealing with an insecurity issue so I have thanked her publicly in front of management when she has done something great. I have given her credit where credit is due, stood up for her when our boss made a comment about her not working hard enough and was taking a brief break….(she does not take a lunch break typically, which is a problem for another post, but instead, smokes 3 times a day for a few minutes.) she is many things, but lazy or incompetent is not one of them. Afraid of change…yes.

        She has actually done the same and after I was made fulltime, she said she suggested that they do so, because I was doing so well. (she is not one to play lip service so I have a feeling this is somewhat true.)

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Uuughh, the “this is just how I am, don’t take it personally” crap. Someone needs to tell her “You are in control of your behavior and it’s hurtful to other people. When people tell you to stop doing something, you stop.”

          1. Rana*

            It’s funny, but people who toss out the “this is the way I am” line are almost always capable of handling themselves better when it matters to them. I bet you dollars to donuts she doesn’t do this to her boss, for example.

          2. Julia*

            Especially egregious when you have to complain to your boss about your co-worker yelling at you and he says “that’s just how they are!”
            Well, not accepting being yelled at is just how I am. What’s Boss gonna do now?

        2. Not So NewReader*

          “stood up for her when our boss made a comment about her not working hard enough and was taking a brief break…”

          This jumped out at me. Keep an eye on this one, OP. Don’t be standing up for her. If the boss says something again, just let it go. Boss and Coworker have a history that you are not aware of. The boss could be aware of her problems here and a few more problems that you have yet to discover. If you defend her, it makes it even harder for him to fix what he wants to fix there. Don’t walk in between the two of them.

          1. The OP*

            The full story behind this is earlier that day he made a comment about some ‘busy work’ that has not been done. We are at the tail end of a very busy season and have not had the chance to do the ‘busy’ work, and was commenting on this.. saying.. ‘she has time to smoke a cigarette but not to do xxx.” before I was hired, she was doing 3 people’s jobs, and now the 2 of us are barely able to keep up.

            He was not there earlier when I was at lunch. The comment could have easily been directed at me.

        3. nofelix*

          Not putting information into the required systems sounds incompetent to me. Maybe she likes people depending on her, but colleagues need business info for their own work or if she is sick. I would try and subtly make your manager aware she is not doing this, because:

          a) They will want to know about something that’s genuinely affecting your ability to do your job, and
          b) If she is threatened by you and harming the business with her insecurity, it makes sense to reduce the power she has.

          I’ve seen this in a few companies, where veteran staff members will start to become very selfish with their knowledge, even of straightforward things like where stuff is kept. Sometimes it’s because they want to entrench their job security, or other times because they feel they have earned some perks (like lower performance) and want to throw their weight around to achieve this.

        4. Wren*

          Maybe she is on a level threatened by you, but is aware of it and not fully successful in fighting the feeling, hence, on one hand praising you to management, but on the other hand giving condescending advice. I’ve been in her shoes. Keep being competent and giving her credit where credit is due, and I think you’ll eventually have a good relationship.

    2. themmases*

      Yes, it seems like this woman feels threatened and wants to capitalize on the advantage she does have, which is long experience with this specific company. There could be other reasons too, but one reason people sometimes resist creating documentation is so they can remain indispensible on that one thing. I think there have even been questions here about it (from both sides).

      I agree that a good way forward is for the OP to start documenting the information she does get. That’s no reason not to keep trying with this woman, but there’s no reason to let the information go to waste in case the relationship deteriorates.

      1. SophieChotek*

        I agree. This seemed the key — she doesn’t want to share key information. probably figuring that as she as she has it in her head (and no one else does) she’ll keep her job.

        1. The OP*

          She will share with me…I just need to constantly “keep her in the loop” and ask her all the time..not good for independent working!

          1. MillersSpring*

            Some people need to be told twice, or three times or four. I bet you that one or two more talks will have her adjusting her behavior and cooperating. My guess is that eventually she would rather avoid another polite confrontation from you than continue with her behavior. Especially if you continue to be kind and competent in all other regards.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      At my first job, the CPA had two assistants because the duties were a lot. But she refused to train the two assistants on anything beyond their basic duties. I always suspected she was paranoid about a layoff.

      Management didn’t care until the CPA went out on disability, which she had planned, and no one knew how to do payroll. Not sure what the CPA thought was going to happen there…

      1. addlady*

        I’m guessing she just didn’t care. Not her company, not her income, not her problem.

    4. Gandalf the Nude*

      That line made me think the same thing. It’s like the IT guy who hides all the passwords to create artificial job security. She may be holding onto institutional knowledge and refusing to share so that her value doesn’t decrease.

      It may even be reasonable to get your manager involved in that part of it. You never know when she could win the lotto or be hit by a bus, taking all that info with her. I think there’s some advice in the archives about how to convince folks of the need for documentation or cross-training. Approach it less as a problem with Nosey and more of a plan for the future.

    5. BRR*

      The entire thing seems like an insecurity/power thing (or this coworker is just incredibly rude/annoying). Is there someone else you can ask to propose the documentation project to? You could propose it as a company wide thing if there are multiple people you would like to get information from. I am guessing she is not disclosing information as a power/insecurity thing but some people don’t do stuff like this because it can be a lot of work or it does not come across as being as urgent as other tasks. This is often because the people who need to record the information aren’t affected by the information not being recorded.

      1. The OP*

        .Thank you for your advice! She has been working with clients and some of the info is something like “prefers invoices mailed not emailed” so it is not something another person would need to know. Our company is small. I could find out much of it with experience but i could annoy a customer easily without it. By adding these notes to the record it would save time.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Having worked like this before, I know that you can work without her inputs. It’s just deciding to apologize where you need to and asking questions directly as you go. I wonder how much of her inputs are accurate, anyway.

          Maybe if you let go some on needing her inputs, you’d take away her power about the cup/chair/etc. I know I can only beg a person for inputs for so long, then I am done. I decide just to learn the job on my own.

      2. Girasol*

        This! I had a senior employee do this with me. She acted as though she knew everything and I was young and naive and had a lot to learn, which she would teach me. (This felt really strange. We’re both over 60 and both over a decade with the employer but only recently working together.) After I got past being miffed over her comments one day I realized she was acting superior because she was terrified that she wasn’t and I might show her up. I started going out of my way to praise her skills and boost her successes in front of our manager. The behavior started to taper off.

        1. Marisol*

          This was brilliant of you. I think doing something like this also has potential to make you look great in front of your managers, especially if the annoying coworker had a reputation for being a pain. Being able to interact gracefully with the office sourpuss makes one look that much better…

        2. The OP*

          I tried this too! It did not help, unfortunately.

          I went through soooo many leadership classes and in a previous life I have done management coaching, training and provided feedback to several thousand employees over 10 years. I am not trying to brag, I am just saying I had a lot of ammunition in my arsenal and many of the “positive” ideas have already been tried, and failed. Thank you, truly, for your advice, I think that could work for a lot of such issues, but only if the praise is sincere.

          I even explained that her advice is fantastic for an entry level employee working their first job, but maybe not ideal for me, and keep the advice to clients, not personal or procedural, unless asked. Sigh.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        This is a great idea. It could be framed as not bothering a coworker who is on vacation or in case someone needs to be out for any length of time, we have this information in case we need to cover. We had CYA (cover your arse) binders at NonProfit Job. Stuff like this went into them in case anyone needed to refer to it. Of course, this is digital, but same principle.

    6. Lemon Zinger*

      Absolutely. Jane is obviously well-established in the company, so I read these bizarre comments as her projecting her insecurities on to OP, who’s clearly doing very well.

    7. TootsNYC*

      The mom-type advice (“push in your chair,” “wash out your coffee mug”) especially seems like a territorial thing.

      For those especially, I might break out the amused, “There you go again!” and just walk away without any other comment.

      You may not be able to change her behavior, or her insecurity, but you can totally change whether you think it matters what she says. Her comments and advice are ridiculous. Treat them that way. Be visibly amused, in a friendly way, and blow her off.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree that if you had some go-to phrases this would be a huge help, OP. You would not have to craft a individual response for each situation.

    8. Artemesia*

      Good idea. This might be something to take to the boss i.e. start formally documenting many things in the system. With pressure from the boss she might actually comply and otherwise it will still get documented over time.

    9. Stan*

      A friend and I were recently having a conversation about people who make themselves “irreplaceable” — employees who keep everything in their heads, won’t share information, have to have control, etc. His take is that employees like that should be fired. (We both work in IT.) His reasoning is that if an employee refuses to use systems that are in place (or to create a system) to share/document the information necessary for the smooth day-to-day running of the business, she isn’t an asset to the company. At some point, that person is going to have an emergency or get a better offer and the business will be hosed. (Especially true with IT people who won’t share passwords or allow others to have high level privileges.) At least if you fire the person, you are in control of the timing of the fallout and can work with a new person to insure it doesn’t happen again.

      1. Artemesia*

        This is how I dealt with someone like this who basically held a department hostage by convincing everyone that what he did was incredibly difficult and complex and only he could do it. It wasn’t. It was fairly simple and I demonstrated that when I had everyone cross trained. The department had busy and slow seasons that were not distributed across the group so it was important that people with a slow time step up to help those with a crush. I tried to get him on board and to assist with cross training but he instead tried to foment insubordination by telling the minions that the demands on them to learn new thing were unreasonable. Once he was gone, things moved along just fine and we junked cumbersome systems he had created and managed for newer easy to use systems.

      2. ZenJen*

        This is a really good point–if the employee isn’t sharing knowledge that’s needed for the job to happen, then they’re not being a decent employee. In our co., they’d be seen as going against the company culture by not sharing the knowledge. They’re also not being a team player.

      3. Rachael*

        I worked at a highly regulated bank and it was an audit procedure to make sure that at least two people knew how to do each process. A manager was given a “finding” if they allowed one person to be a knowledge hog because it could very well cause the bank risk if something happened to that person. There are some people who think that it makes them unfirable, but all it does is cause the company either financial or reputational risk if something goes south.

        1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

          That’s a fantastic policy, both for succession planning and internal control.

          1. Mookie*

            Seconded. Great strategy for pre-emptively ferreting out or diminishing the potential damage of people hoarding power / information.

        2. JessaB*

          Also it’s very easy to do something shady if you’re the only one that does it. Banks especially tend to frown on that kind of “one person has control,” it’s also why they usually require people in certain jobs to take a minimum of a two week holiday every year. To get them away from whatever it is they do so if there is something shady it will show up (most shady practises may not show up in a few days but in two weeks something usually pops up.)

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Her: I know I’m not your boss…
    You: Yes, you aren’t.

    And then go about doing whatever it is you were going to do.

    I highly recommend ignoring her.  If she calls you on it:

    Her: Did you hear me?
    You: Yes, I heard you.

    And then continue on as if she said nothing.

    If this is really worth it to her, she’ll take it to HR or your boss or someone else, but I bet she won’t.  And if she does?  You should welcome that opportunity because this is ridiculous.

    I don’t doubt that she’s a pain to deal with, but a large part of me thinks she -wants- you to react negatively or blow up.  She’s baiting you into putting a chink in what she perceives is your awesome armor.  

    Don’t just not give her the satisfaction, but don’t give her any indication that what she’s saying on you has an effect.  I’d imagine it would get boring after that, but my sister is one of the rare people who can go for hours without getting a reaction and never stop so who knows?

    1. Mike C.*

      Her: I know I’m not your boss…
      You: Yes, you aren’t.

      Exactly this. There’s no need to sugar coat this.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The game show voice is great. It can be used to convey the same message but with different wording if need be.

    2. Lady Kelvin*

      “I know I’m not your boss,…”
      “I’m glad you are realize that.”

      For some of the stuff I would probably respond a bit sarcastically because that’s the only way I can respond to people being demeaning without being rude, plus half the time people don’t know I’m being sarcastic. For example:
      “Make sure you wash out your mug”
      “Oh, are you planning on using it later?”
      And then laugh like it was a joke, but I’d feel so much better because really I’m seething at someone being so disrespectful to me.

      1. Chalupa Batman*

        I like this. It basically lets you say “why do you care?” without dropping your professionalism.

  6. Lizabeth*

    Have you considered starting your own files containing the “wealth of information on vendors and clients” that your co-worker has? While putting the information into the system without her knowledge wouldn’t be a good idea just now, you’d have it for future reference and uploading.

    1. Stan*

      Why would putting the information in the system not be a good idea? It’s one thing if co-worker wants to keep it all in her head, but as the OP receives this information, she should document it in the systems that are in place.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Yeah, I don’t think the OP needs to pay the slightest bit of attention to the colleague’s reluctant to add that info to the system. the OP should just quietly do it all on her own. The opportunity to build the system has been offered, and Jane declined.

        1. Alli525*

          I’ll quibble only slightly, and only on the phrase “quietly do it all on her own.” OP should proactively let her manager know that she’s working on a project that better documents customer preferences, order histories, etc. Doing it with her manager’s blessing (because how could she NOT get her manager’s blessing?) is the best way to CYA. Plus, if Coworker gets territorial and starts deleting the info that OP is entering into the system or otherwise f*ing over OP, the manager will have background.

        2. The OP*

          Thing is, she is sharing, just won’t add the info to the clients record. I do and no one seems to care either way.

            1. The OP*

              As long as it does not interfere with productivity. if I was spending hours adding data, they would tell me to stop…but I’m just talking about the basics – contact names, e-mail, if here is a preference for billing, etc, this way I do not have to keep asking her every time access a customer or vendor for the first time. I do understand where everyone is coming from – but it is just one of a chain of things she just does not seem to understand. The owners are onboard as a ‘learning tool’ but truly, the owners don’t see the time savings, and trying to show them charts or data analysis will not work. Since the information can be found with a few phone calls – it’s a non-issue, and don’t seem to care one way or another if I add it or not. They are okay with me doing it, but it should not be a priority.

  7. Cathy*

    Annoying Co-Worker: ” I know I’m not your boss..”
    You: “No, you’re not.” (walks/turns away)

    1. JC*

      Since the other woman has been there for 10 years, there is a good chance she might be the OP’s boss one day soon. I would just smile, nod, and ignore any friendly advice she gives.

      1. Isabel C.*

        Yeah, I recommend the “Mm-hmm, thanks,” with varying degrees of faux-sincerity depending on how much power she actually has, while mentally translating everything she says into the “wah wah WAH wah” noises the adults make in Charlie Brown cartoons.

  8. Francis J. Dillon*

    I also like to use “I don’t know what to tell you.” when people are being outrageous. With the chair and cup thing I’d probably say something like, “You do it your way, I’ll do it mine.” But that shit is so crazy.

    1. AFT123*

      I like both of those responses. I’ve used “I don’t know what to tell you” too, especially when someone complains about things to me but I don’t agree with them and don’t want to get into it – you can usually tell those people are trying to bait you into a discussion/argument. That phrase helps to not engage and turns them off pretty effectively.

      “You do your way, I’ll do it mine” is a good one too. I also like “I don’t agree with that approach, but that is ok – we don’t have to agree on how to get there all the time as long as we are reaching the same destination.” Sometimes that opens things up for more conversation, but then the “I don’t know what to tell you” works to shut it down. You’ve gotten your point across and feel good about being able to get your opinion in, but things hopefully don’t escalate beyond that.

      1. The OP*

        I tried the same destination speech and she started telling me procedures that do not exist, like order entry details that she wants alone, but no one else cares about. She got very defensive and it went very wrong very fast.

        “You have to type the word color before the color.”
        “Because it has to be done that way and just saying Orange Cup could be confusing.”

        I gave up on this battle even though no such rule exists, but if it really makes her all gleeful, I will write
        color: orange”.

        And feel like a moron.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Actually, I like your “I don’t know what to tell you” in response to “push your chair in.”

      1. nonegiven*

        How about,

        “Push your chair in.”

        “Wash out your mug.”

        1. Rana*

          I’m kind of terrible. The mug thing would prompt me to say something like, “Aw, but I finally got the patina just as I like it!”

          (My teacups are pretty horrifying, yes.)

  9. Argh!*

    I’ve encountered people like this. Busybody know-it-alls who think the world won’t spin without them. They drive me nuts. It’s especially frustrating to be the newbie with experience. I have used the same specialized software in three consecutive jobs, and in my current job and previous one, I had to deal with patronizing idiots who thought they needed to explain the obvious.

    Worse, I now have a boss like this, who warns me not to do things that I learned not to do 30 years ago. She assumes I’ll do something stupid or ignorant or embarrassing. It’s one of the reasons I’m considering moving on. Nobody deserves to be treated this way.

    Re: LW’s coworker, these people are habitually patronizing and it’s hard to break a habit. I agree with Alison’s advice to point out those things as they occur “This is what we talked about, remember?” It may take time to train your coworker to zip her lips, but she may be teachable. Don’t give up.

    1. BRR*

      “Busybody know-it-alls who think the world won’t spin without them”

      And these are almost never the people who are heavily leaned upon.

    2. DoDah*

      I have this boss too! I’ve held positions three levels senior to him–yet he can’t help but lecture me. ugh.ugh.ugh.

  10. Bend & Snap*

    Captain Awkward just ran a letter on the personal side of this kind of thing.

    The advice was to just say “okay” and do whatever you want, since you can only control your own behavior.

    Maybe that would work here?

    1. NJ Anon*

      My MIL used to do this too when my kids were little. Unsolicited advice was always answered by an “ok” or “good idea!” And, then ignored it.

      1. Lady Kelvin*

        My Mom always told us to say “Thanks for the advice! I’ll keep it in mind.” That way they feel like they are contributing but you don’t commit to taking the advice. And yes, she knows we use it on her too sometimes.

        1. WT*

          I have often used the phrase “That’s one way to look at it” when I get advice or other info I don’t need or care for. It also helps with folks who spout fake facts around.

    2. MC*

      We always used “Thanks! I’ll keep that under advisement” or “Thanks! I’ll consider that.” then do whatever you want to do. When the person comes back and says that you didn’t do as instructed you simply say “I told you I would consider it. I did and decided to do what I felt was best.”

    3. AnotherHRPro*

      I do this with my Dad all the time. He means well, but every other sentence out of his mouth begins with “you ought to…”. I now just agree and do what I want. He is trying to be helpful so I give him the acknowledgement he is looking for with “yep, good idea, I’ll think about it”.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      That’s what I did with my pushy coworker.

      Her: Make sure to use a paperclip and not a staple.
      Me: Okay. *Staples papers*
      Her: You stapled it! Why did you do that?
      Me: I know; it’s okay.

      This is an actual literal example of her advice. I don’t know why she cared why I used a staple versus a paperclip. The documents were for my files and I wasn’t violating any staple or paperclip policy.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Haha, I love this.

        My mom calls it, “Say ‘yes’ but do ‘no.'”

      2. The OP*

        Lol! You seem to know “Jane”. LOL! There are so many examples I could give that are right down this same alley!

    5. Kate M*

      Ohhhh I used to do that with my grandparents a lot. I love them dearly, but they are very old fashioned. I would get advice such as, “When somebody invites you out to a bar or for a drink, just tell them you have to stay in and wash your hair.” Ok, grandma.

      1. caligirl*

        Not at work, but the similar situation for me and the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing me to break off an engagement (!), was: “do you really need that much soap in the dishwasher”? Argh.

        Good luck, OP!

      2. Christopher Tracy*

        I would get advice such as, “When somebody invites you out to a bar or for a drink, just tell them you have to stay in and wash your hair.” Ok, grandma.

        I say this all the time and it’s true! Lol. My hair takes awhile to wash and deep condition, so I typically do it after work when everybody else wants to do Happy Hour. I nope right out of that.

  11. Mint Julips*

    Ugh…*groan*….I used to have a co-worker like that – she would tell me weird stuff within earshot of managers and co-workers – it was frustrating. I have perfected the …raise eyebrow and walkaway. I am not saying it’s the best way to deal with it – but my co-worker stopped very quickly after that because people would end up smirking and giggling whenever she started.
    Goodluck OP! Be strong!!

  12. IT_Guy*

    I guess my natural reaction would be along the lines of: “Wow, great advice, maybe you could show me how to tie my shoes too!”.

    1. Florida*

      This is funny. Especially when she tells you to push in your chair (no one has told me to do that since elementary school).

      1. Lily Rowan*

        If you would also like to have an opinion on that, check out the show Going Deep with David Rees.

      2. EmmaLou*

        Ha! “Well, since you bring it up… Were you aware that it’s bunny around the tree…”

    2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Bonus if you both look down & realize your shoes don’t have laces…

    3. LibraryChick*

      Yeah, my natural reaction has been to say, “Thanks Captain Obvious” with a dry, sarcastic tone.

  13. ginger ale for all*

    I think she wants to be looked at as an authority figure and is fumbling about on how to do it. Is there any way that you can give her a small area of perceived power and authority while still keeping your sanity?

    1. SJ*

      I don’t think OP owes this woman anything, not even a small area of perceived power and authority.

    2. WT*

      I agree that giving any impression of power or control would be bad. I almost wonder if a better response is to just ask why the coworker feels the need to question her so much. I had a previous coworker who would constantly tell me how to do my own my job and only cut back when I started flat out asking what her end goal was.

    3. Ultraviolet*

      It might help to regularly make a point of asking her some smart questions that take advantage of her institutional knowledge.

  14. RVA Cat*

    “There’s no HR team. It’s a small family-owned seven-person company, and only three of us are not family.”

    I think a lot of how you should response depends on whether or not Jane is part of the family. It sounds like she’s not – and that could be driving her insecurity. But if she is, you should probably look at moving on (maybe next year?) since a lot of other letters show that small family-owned businesses let family members get away with all kinds of whackadoodle things (a lot of them far worse, bordering on illegal).

  15. animaniactoo*

    You might want to approach one of the owners of the company who you have a good relationship with – relay your concerns that Jane has so much info about vendors that’s not in the system and while nobody expects her to go anywhere, if she has to be out unexpectedly, there will be no way to access that info.

    You can document everything that she gives you so that you at least get that much in, but really it’s on the owners of the company to push that she document what she knows. Because, you know, you’re not her boss or anything… ;)

    As for the comments to you – because you said they started back up recently, another approach might just be to do a one-liner reminder without having to have the whole conversation again. “Jane, you’re doing it again.” Preferably with a smile the first time, and without the smile but with a raised eyebrow the 2nd time if it happens again within a short period of time. This is the kind of thing where some benefit of the doubt might really help you. She’s not *intending* to revert to form, she just is because this is her pattern. Probably not just with you, but with anyone that she feels threatened by or sees as “junior” to her. So it’s a habit that she needs to break – at least with you. Reminding her when it’s starting up may be a quick short-circuit until she’s completely stopped doing it to you.

      1. Windchime*

        LOL for some reason this really made me laugh. It’s so outrageous, but wouldn’t that be something? Just whip out the airhorn and give her a blast. Or a squirt bottle like I used when my kitten was trying to climb the Christmas tree.

    1. The OP*

      When she was out, I had to make a few tiny mistakes like sending information to an old contact, and had to call up the company and get the right info myself. If she had it in the system updated, it would have saved me about 15 minutes of research…so the job can get done without her, just takes longer.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It looks like it would take you a half hour to wrangle it out of her, if you do it on your own it takes 15 minutes. I think I’d be telling her that it’s quicker to find my own answers.

  16. Important Moi*

    I’ll just add, having dealt with this myself. Don’t underestimate the people working around you. They know this person is insecure and acting out.

    1. Artemesia*

      But also don’t underestimate the potential effectiveness of underminers. The advice to document success with the boss is good. IN any situation it is a good idea to have a strategy for keeping the boss continually apprised of your work. e.g. while getting coffee, make a casual remark about how client A was ‘thrilled with the new application we installed last week; she called to let me know it had helped them meet their targets.’ or ‘that new framis we installed last week has really worked out well, I have been able to complete the billing cycle in half the time and have been able to get a start on the Ferguson project.’ This kind of informal updating creates a reputation of being on top of things, of being effective etc without any sort of formal reporting. If this is hard to manage, then a regular summary report on projects can also be helpful. Don’t underestimate what a nagging employee like that might do to your reputation.

  17. AFT123*

    Alison, you use this phrase a lot, and I just love it – “What’s going on?” It’s not threatening, it places the onus on them to work out and recognize their own issue and likely dig themselves into a hole, and keeps you on the offense. It’s perfect.

    OP – I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. It must be a hot-button issue for me because I could literally feel my muscles tensing up as I read your letter. I can’t handle people like this. My sisters in law are like this. Fun anecdote – one of the sisters is planning a baby shower for me which I agreed to hold at my house for spacial reasons. I asked if there is anything I can do to help her out. Her response was to tell me to clean my house, further detailing items such as mow the lawn and pick up dog poop in the yard. (I am a very clean person, my lawn is always mowed, poop picked up, house tidy and shining… cleaner even than her own house…) I can’t take offense to it because she is just this kind of person to everyone, but I used to get so bent out of shape about it. I’ll never be close to her because she drives me batty, but at least now I can roll my eyes and even laugh about how ridiculous she is. You’ll get to that point with your coworker too, I think, as long as you don’t go nuts first.

    1. AFT123*

      I also sometimes like to respond back with a dead-pan “Really?!”. As in “Really?! You felt like I had to be reminded to clean my house when 30 people will be coming over? Really?” Then I usually make a sarcastic comment to break the tension and we can laugh about it (she knows she is obnoxious). Though this might not work with your coworker.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The other thing I like about that phrase is that it opens the door for all sorts of things — including stuff like “I’m sorry, my dog just died” or whatever. It lets you avoid assuming anything until they answer.

      1. addlady*

        For a minute, I thought that you were suggesting saying “I’m sorry, my dog just died” in response to someone telling you to clean up their dog poop. As if to point out, stop micromanaging me, you don’t know the details of my day-to-day anyway.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh ha, yes, bad example. More that it opens the door for them to tell you something’s going on that you never would have thought of.

        2. the gold digger*

          “I’m sorry, my dog just died” in response to someone telling you to clean up their dog poop

          “And I am keeping his poop as a keepsake.”

          Kind of like not erasing your dad’s voice off his answering machine after he dies. You know. The memories.

    3. the gold digger*

      pick up dog poop in the yard

      The person who has to be told this sort of thing, only in this case, it was the woman who hosted the bridal shower for my friend Leigh and

      1. didn’t clean up the dog poop in the hall, and
      2. let her dogs jump all over the guests, until Megan finally said, “Put those f*ing dogs outside,” and
      3. didn’t put the dogs outside until they had peed on Leigh’s presents and even then, had to be told to do so

      is the person who doesn’t think it’s necessary and won’t do it anyhow.


      Been there at the bridal shower where the dogs peed on the presents

      PS This hostess is a psychologist.

      1. AFT123*

        Oh jeez! I suppose there are def. people out there who need to be told these sorts of things. I can probably think of a few..

        1. the gold digger*

          AFT123, I wasn’t trying to say you were wrong! I am supporting you – anyone who has to be told this stuff IS NOT GOING TO DO IT ANYHOW! That is clearly not you. :)

      2. Artemesia*

        There seems to be this whole thing now where people treat dogs like kids or better than kids and let them do stuff like this and are offended if you object.

        1. LD*

          This made me cringe thinking that people would let their toddlers poop in the hallway and then just leave it there!

      3. LD*

        That’s appalling. And in my city, it could be seen as and even reported as abusive to the pets because they are living in a house with poop left on the floor. Pets need clean living situations, too.

  18. Tom*

    alternatively start to say the same kind of insulting, patronising shite back to her; give her something and say “now say thank you … good girl”
    “don’t forget to wash that up” just as she finishes eating something
    “how long are you going to be? okay don’t forget it’s only 30 minutes for break”

    1. Emilia Bedelia*

      I think this could only possibly be useful as part of a longer conversation about the behavior, in the context of “how would you feel if I told you to make sure to wash your hands after using the toilet? That’s how I feel when you do that”. Otherwise you’re just establishing that you’re just as immature as she thinks you are

  19. BethRA*

    As annoying as the unsolicited (and condescending, and bad) advice is, I’d be more concerned with her refusal to put her “wealth of knowledge” about vendors and clients into the system where it belongs. That’s bad for you, and the business – and has a greater potential for causing mischief latter on.

    I don’t have any great suggestions about how to deal with that, unless you think your managers would be on board with addressing it, but at the very least I’d start taking notes AND adding that information where it belongs when you can.

  20. Jadelyn*

    The bit about her not wanting to document her knowledge jumped out at me big time – that bit tells me that this is someone who’s insecure about their value to the organization, feels threatened by you since you have experience and are moving up quickly, so she’s undermining you and trying to keep you in “your place”, as it were. So, treat that with exactly as much seriousness as someone’s petty lashing-out deserves. I’m fond of the slighly raised eyebrows, mostly-suppressed smile, and going back to what I was doing without saying a word. But, that’s because I don’t like open confrontation much, so it’s easier for me to convey “are you serious with me right now? Wow, okay, whatever” through body language and expression than to say outright “Stop doing the thing”.

    And yes, document the hell out of everything she tells you regarding vendors and such. Maybe not in a shared system, but even just in a word document or spreadsheet you keep on your computer, so you can wean off dependence on her knowledge.

  21. Rat Racer*

    I’m curious how she reacted the first time you talked to her about this. Was she totally dismissive? Did she agree to change? If the latter, when she starts pulling the “I know I’m not your boss, but…” crap again, remind her “Hey, Jane, remember we talked about this. You’re doing it again.”

    Remind her that she made a commitment to change.

    FWIW, I could tolerate a co-worker like this about as far as I could throw her. This kind of unsolicited parenting in the workplace is a tacit undermining of your competence as a worker and a human being. Drives me batty! Sending glares at your co-worker across the internet.

    1. The OP*

      She started to dismiss me and tell me she thought i was being condescending…and taking it personal. I assured her it was not that. I stopped short of saying this is a life lesson. She said she would work on it because she was just trying to help and realized i do not want that help.

      1. nonegiven*

        When she gives you her secret undocumented information, say, “Thank you, this is helpful information.”
        When she tells you what to do like you’re 5, say, “That is NOT helpful.”

        1. The OP*

          During our talk she said she hates people who are all uppity about having a college degree and how it makes them better then her…and that I act “uppity” because I have a degree and worked for a large international bank and was an AVP. (We were talking about titles and I was telling her that AVPs are a dime a dozen as my old company and it is not very impressive, but it sounded good to my parents!

          (Your daughter is an AVP. What?? Your daughter is A VP! Our daughter is a VP? Woo Hoo! tell the Donaldsons, our daughter is a Vice President!) lol. AVP….not a VP.

          I shared this with her…I don’t have a college degree, started at the bottom, and worked my way up. It should not matter how I got to where I was, I know I am not there now.

          …I told her I would work on being uppity and she would work on the advice thing…oh well.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Wow. This woman has a bunch of problems that have nothing to do with you. I feel sorry for her to be that insecure.

  22. Allison*

    I have a coworker like this, and I swear I’ve been dealing with it for over a year at this point. She’s not my manager, and doesn’t acknowledge it when she micromanages what I do, so sometimes I wonder if she does think she’s in a leadership position over me, or if she just wants to be. I never know how to address it, because I’m much younger, and how to I try to clarify whether this woman thinks she’s my manager without sounding like a little kid going “you’re not the boss of meeeee!”

    To be clear, on some occasions where she has micromanaged me, I’ve asked her if there was a reason for it, like did she not trust me? Was I not doing a good job on my own? And she’d go “noooooo, you’re greaaaat! I just thought this would help you to it better!” with a great big smile.

    Today I caught her staring at me in a meeting, like she was making sure I was paying attention to what our manager was saying. I mean, okay, I had zoned out for a minute, but why is it this lady’s concern whether I’m being a good little worker or not? She’s not my mommy, she’s not my teacher, she’s not my mentor, she’s NOT my manager, and I wish she’d back off. It took months for us (my manager and I) just to get it through her head I’m not her administrative assistant.

    There are people like this who need to be in charge, even if they’re not. Sometimes they’re power hungry, sometimes exerting control over a situation is how they deal with stress. And it’s annoying, but some people feel they’re naturally in charge of everyone younger than them, because that’s how age works – in their minds, anyway.

    1. Allison*

      Oh, as for how I’m coping, I’m more or less letting it roll off my back at this point. Identifying the behavior as unreasonably controlling helps me mentally dismiss it, so it doesn’t get to me.

    2. Becky*

      Did she honestly think you were her administrative assistant? How incredibly aggravating. What worked for you and manager to get her to understand?

      1. Allison*

        I talked it over with my manager, about how she kept asking me to do things I thought she should be doing herself (“can you go into the system and pull this information for me?” “can you upload this file to the system?”), because I wanted clarity on whether it was my job or hers, and I wanted to make sure I was pushing back correctly, so she sent an e-mail to the team reminding them that I’m not an admin and that they should be doing X, Y, and Z tasks themselves. Then she coached me to say stuff like “sure, I can help with that, but going forward, that’s something you should be doing yourself; I can show you if you’d like!”

  23. Emmie*

    “I need you to stop this permanently” is my current go-to statement when I have to address something more than once.

  24. boop*

    Wish I’d read this one yesterday. I temped at a different location (so was brand new) and ran into an estranged coworker in the bathroom. She was friendly, and I have social anxiety, so we had distracting small talk while I waited for her to exit the sink area. I was a little taken aback when she finished with a condescending “are you going to wash your hands?” and then left without a goodbye. I could only reply with a cheery “well yeah!”, but for some reason I can’t stop thinking about it.

    Like… was that rude of her to say, or is there a social time limit to washing up in the bathroom? Why am I still haunted by it the next morning? I don’t even know her name.

    1. Snazzy Hat*

      “Yep, and my feet. You don’t want to see that.”

      That was certainly rude of her. You mention social anxiety; I have a few empathetic hypotheses which I’ll keep to myself, to avoid putting you on the spot.

      Look at it from another awkward view courtesy of your brain and body language: “Hey, good seeing you again, yeah, um, I kinda, need to wash my hands, but, y’know, you’re still here, and, um, yay conversation, but, uh, okay you’re leaving, wait you said something rude instead of ‘goodbye’? What the hell just happened?”

      Sometimes if there’s a line at the sink or all the sinks are occupied, I’ll get some soap (if it’s in a wall dispenser) and rub my hands. I’m not sure if it works the “ladies, I wanna wash my hands, hurry up” angle, but it cuts down on how long I personally will be at a sink.

    2. LQ*

      Because you ruminate on social things and try to figure out what happened so you can make them better next time? (Not that I have personal experience! Nope. Not at all…)

      That is totally rude. And I find personally running these things past a trusted friend is really helpful to let them go, or I will still be thinking of it months or years later. I can identify things from others much easier than things from myself. Like yes, that was rude, no it wasn’t you, it was weird of her to say that, and there is no social time limit. A cheery “well yeah!” is an entirely reasonable response, likely better than I’d have mustered in the moment. Remember people responding here have time to think and respond, so you don’t have to be that witty in the moment.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      It could be that it haunts you because you got caught without a comeback that you did not know you needed. Where is your ESP?

      Try to laugh at people like this sometimes, please. It will help.
      And also try to figure out what you would say the next time. This helps prevent the next time from happening, firstly. But more importantly, it helps to train the brain to be quicker.

      “Are you going to wash your hands?”

      Once you get out of the way, yeah.
      Oh, is it your turn to monitor health and safety today?
      I need to soak my injured wrist under the hot water. I did not want to run water while you were talking to me.
      Had ya worried, didn’t I?

  25. Torrance*

    It sounds like the coworker perceives the OP as a threat, perhaps rightfully so. The rising star who wants her to document and share her entire ‘wealth of information’? It wouldn’t be unreasonable for her to assume that’s the first step to redundancy.

    The coworker sounds like a meddlesome annoyance who is clearly trying to sabotage the OP but it does kinda make sense. Lots of people can only see the part they play, not the bigger picture.

  26. TheBeetsMotel*

    One tiny bit of a break for the co-worker – any chance she has to deal with a boss above her who’s micromanaging/ has very exacting expectations?

    I know I’ve been in that situation – where the boss’s expectation is that you stand over people’s shoulders for All The Things, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not managing correctly. I’ve had to catch myself in the past and tell myself that no, my new hire really doesn’t need me to tell them basic, grade school stuff every time they do it, because they’re a competent adult and doing so is inappropriate and frustrating.

    This doesn’t excuse the co-worker’s behavior, but might possibly explain it. Micromanaging sometimes breeds micromanaging.

    1. The OP*

      Hmm…apparently there was a relative who ran the company extremely tight and was a horrible micromanager. He is gone from the picture, and I am wondering if some of her weird rules come from that time.

  27. Katie the Fed*

    I would probably stop her right at the “I know I’m not your boss” part:

    “I know I’m not your boss, but –”
    “–Yup! You’re not!” and walk away.

  28. The OP*

    Wow…it is hard for me to wait till lunch to respond to all these wonderful …and some extremely funny…comments! Don’t tell on me but while “jane” is on her smoke break, I am having a good laugh! To the person who asked if she is part of the company family, no she is not.

    During our long talk when she stated she would not offer advice again, she admitted that this is something she does in her personal life, and gave me examples when she has corrected employees at convince stores. She said she is trying to learn how to hold her tongue. She is in her late 30s, and I feel should have learned this years ago.

    I have been updating client’s info that I get my hands on in our systems and management is on board. She says that management has said this in the past but there was no follow through. A lot of it is updated contact info and specific procedures for vendors. If she was gone tomorrow I could get the info, just would take time.

    I actually tried “the look” approach yesterday when she provided unnecessary advice to me in the middle of our production meeting. She saw my look and started to apologise saying she was just trying to help. The whole thing was ignored by management.

    I was beginning to think I was wrong and should sit back and not make waves because I am new. I will be trying “that is an odd statement” next time. I will be reading replies but i cant find the time to reply till tonight because we are very busy!

    1. Red*

      It sounds like she’s mostly well-meaning, but has a lot of trouble tamping down on that impulse to intervene or comment. My friends call it “halping.” Some people are very… halpy. They *mostly* mean well, but also have an incredible urge to not only be correct, but be *seen* being correct.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        I can’t say I find telling a grown person to wash their cup or push in their chair “well meaning.”

        It’s infantilizing.

        1. Jaguar*

          It can be both. Not everyone is well adjusted. OP’s co-worker sounds like she isn’t.

    2. designbot*

      Sounds like the look works fairly well, at least it drew her attention to it in the moment. If that happens again with the same explanation, you can say something in a neutral tone like “It’s more helpful to let me go about my work.”
      Also I’m laughing picturing her scolding convenience store clerks, saying things like “You should really wipe down the soda tops before stocking them. Will you do that next time?”

      1. afiendishthingy*

        My personal preference would just be to intensify the Look if she starts with the “just trying to be helpful”. If you’re consistent with it hopefully it will eventually stop??

        I would have ripped her head off by now.

    3. Catabouda*

      Management likely ignored it because they felt that you had handled it appropriately.

      I’ve recently had a slightly similar situation come up where a person was trying to tell me to use one of our internal software systems in a different way than how I was. It was opposite of you – I am a long term employee and they were a new hire and didn’t actually know the system yet so it was sort of ridiculous. And, yes, for those of you thinking it – I really do know what I’m doing, and what she was telling me to do wouldn’t work.

      She finally said “I keep telling you not to do X!” in a very exasperated tone. I replied “Yes, I know. Once you learn the system better you’ll realize why I’m ignoring you.” She stormed off and complained to another coworker how she’d never “help” me again. I can only hope she keeps to her word. :)

      And, to provide a bit more context – coworker Z had a question while training NewPerson. Z walked into my office to ask about it, and NewPerson came too. It was while I was trying to show Z what to do that NewPerson kept trying to tell me to do something different … on a process she didn’t know (she was getting trained on said process right then) and in software she’s never used. As Z left my office he said “pray for me.”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      My bias is showing. I thought she was a person my age. She is too young to be acting like this. Yes, in my stereotype middle age people give stupid advice with poor delivery and at the wrong times. Okay so I know what I have to work on.

      At some point, maybe you can tell her that you are going to use a keyword as a reminder for her. I was thinking like an elongated version of her name: Maaarge or Jaaaannn. Tone is everything, is should sound soft but final as in “Jan, give it a rest. It’s tired.” Just the word alone and nothing else with it. What I like about this is you can use it through out the day, because it’s just her name.

  29. Mental Health Day*

    OP, don’t sweat this person. Many organizations are chock full of buffoons like this that have literally petered-out (in the Peter Principle sense of the word) career wise. This person is jealous of you and intimidated by you. This person knows they will likely go no further in their career and that they are really not very good at their current jobs. I know this is harsh towards that individual. I really do feel sorry for people like this, but they are grasping at whatever tiny little scrap of power or status they can and they are doing it at your expense. Ultimately, they are bullies, and I don’t have sympathy for that.

  30. Anna*

    I wonder…is there anyone else you can get a perspective of about this person? I promise – at least with 80% certainty – that someone else has had to deal with these issues. I don’t know if getting perspective will help but maybe that will help get insight as to how others have handled it. WORSE will be if you hear that “oh people always have that issue with her.”

    1. The OP*

      Wish i could but it is just her and I…everyone else is either an owner or related and they dont talk to us really on anything. Just “get the job done in silence”. It is an odd social dynamic if you can call it that.

      1. Anna*

        Ugh that sucks. I swear if it were me, if you can, start looking around. I don’t think this will get better. But I feel like that’s terrible advice on my part!

        1. Ruffingit*

          I don’t think that’s bad advice actually! Because really, family owned businesses are often fraught with problems and it sounds like this is one of those because “get the job done in silence” (lack of feedback) coupled with Ms. Push Your Chair In, I’d seriously considering getting out.

  31. TG*

    There is a woman like this in my office. She seems to spend way more time dishing out unsolicited bad advice to new employees than actually working. People start off responding politely to her, but after they’ve been here awhile and realize she’s steering them down the wrong path, “Thanks, but I’ve got it,” and turning away back the their work seem to be the only things that work in getting her to cut it out.

    1. Liana*

      Oh man, my office mate is just. like. this. I suspect she likes to think of herself as the mom of the office (at least among the admins) and is constantly trying to offer unsolicited advice for our professional and personal lives, but most of it is either outdated or just flat wrong. I’ve started doing the same thing – I say “Thanks!” and immediately turn back to my computer.

  32. Anon*

    I think it makes such a difference that she does acknowledge it’s inappropriate. You could try making it a running joke – I can’t quite think what wording would work (‘Thanks, Mom’?) but feels like all you really need is something that reminds her in the moment (nicely) she didn’t need to say that, points out to everyone else that she doesn’t need to say that, and helps you keep your sanity.

    My jobsharer has these tendencies. We’ve compromised on ‘feel free to patronise me in private, but not in front of colleagues’.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You could try point out to her that although she compares her statements to what a boss would say, it’s not the type of thing a good boss would say. Let her know that she sounds more like a mother hen and it really does not come across professional at all.

  33. Noah*

    “I need to work closely with her, as she is a wealth of information regarding our vendors and clients that is not in our system! Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her — “stop trying to change things”.”

    This is a GIANT red flag. Co-worker has confidential business information that she keeps only for herself and refuses to put in the company system. Her entire work life appears to be set up to ensure she is needed… and needed more than LW or others in similar positions.

    This person has been in her job for 20 years. Eventually, this will go bad for LW. She needs to have an exit plan in place.

  34. Rence*

    I once had a co-worker who used to claim things were “policy” or “corporate standards” when they clearly weren’t. I used to just ask him to provide me with a copy of the policy so that I could review it to ensure that I was compliant. Since the policy didn’t exist, he usually dropped it. Sometimes he would press the issue and I responded with “Policies are documented. If it is not written down, it’s not a policy”

  35. Tomato Frog*

    OP, sometimes when I just don’t have the wherewithal to respond to rudeness/inappropriateness, I will just stare at the person directly for a moment and move on. It is oddly satisfying and occasionally causes their own consciences to convict them. It’s good for when you’re low energy and just can’t find the words, and also good when you don’t want to start a debate…. it’s hard for people to argue with a stare. Not that they won’t, but they’re less likely to.

  36. Emma S*

    While it wasn’t nearly as bad, this reminded me a little of a coworker from one of my previous jobs. He was the office tech support guy, and everyone seemed to think he was really cool. But from the time I started, any time he spoke to me, it was with this this horribly pedantic tone like he was extremely irritated that I couldn’t read his mind. I’ve never clashed with anyone in IT like that before, and I’m fairly competent with computers (although all of them in that office were outdated and using IE, sigh). I brushed it off for a while, but one day he called me over to his office to work out an issue with my company account. My boss and I stepped inside, and they immediately started chatting about something unrelated while I just stood there. So at a pause I asked if he was ready for me. And he looked at me and said, highly exasperated, “Um no, you need to LOG IN,” pointing to his computer, as though I was a dumbass for not just waltzing in and typing. So with very pointed eye-contact, I responded, “OHkay” and I could tell he caught my tone that time. After that he was actually a bit better at interacting with me… I’m lucky an exasperated look/answer did the trick in my case!

  37. AtomicCowgirl*

    Is it at all possible that this woman isn’t being intentionally rude, jealous or territorial? That just perhaps she has a different issue altogether? She reminds me a little bit of my kid with autism, who wants and in some ways needs to have everything structured just so, and if you do anything differently than he expects it throws him for a loop. As a result, he spends a lot of time reminding us to do things we already know we need to do, or reminding us of the proper order of certain steps we are already quite used to following. I’m not saying that the woman has autism, but would suggest she might have an issue with anxiety or a related disorder that causes her to feel the need to make sure everything is always done a certain way. Just a thought.

    1. The OP*

      Hmmm. She lives with a special needs adult….hmmm. Maybe she is so used to coping with those needs she can not stop doing it in the office?

      See, I don’t get any kind of vicious feeling about it…It is such a challenge to stay focused and do my job with her HALPful comments driving me insane.

      It feels like I am a thermometer and every comment makes me 10 degrees hotter…

      1. Niccola M.*

        What about saying “Oh, I bet you have to remind Roomie of that all the time”? That might jolt her enough where she realizes hey, my coworker doesn’t have Roomie’s disability, and the girl at the convenience store probably doesn’t either, or at least to the same degree–why, I’ve been treating so many people as though they have Roomie’s difficulties with daily life! No wonder most people don’t like it.

        (I at least hope that’s what’s happening. I wonder if Roomie even needs so many reminders? Ugh, and Roomie can’t even escape…)

  38. XOXO*

    Pretend she’s talking to an imaginary grade-schooler who accompanies her everywhere.

    This made me giggle! The visual I have is great. I would so do this and get a huge kick out of it.

  39. stevenz*

    Once in a while you have to look someone squarely in the eye and say “excuse me?!”

  40. The OP*

    Wow! What a day! Today was very interesting. You all have read much of what she has been doing and saying and acting. After lunch I had my phone on my desk. She stopped to say “If you are back from lunch please put your phone away.” She is a busybody, she can not keep her nose in her own business. I gave her a look, and she just stormed out.

    Thing is, she is right in this situation – it just kind of made me even more annoyed.

    I appreciate everyone’s thoughts, opinions and advice…tomorrow is a new day.

  41. Spider*

    What happens when this person *is* your supervisor? My supervisor is like this and we will be sharing an office beginning in September, and I have no idea how I can talk to her like an adult about this while still being respectful.

  42. Justin*

    I worked retail for 7 years and work with people like this now. I don’t think there’s anything quite as frustrating in a work environment as this.

  43. Michele H.*

    Since you didn’t mention your own gender (I’m guessing the OP is male), or both of your ages, could it be possible that she is just a little socially clueless and sees you more of like a “young man”who could use some friendly advice? She could be actually clueless too. I mean, she is giving you “advice” that is mostly true, that you find useless of course, so it doesn’t much seem to me like she is trying to torpedo your career. She could just be thinking that she is doing the right thing.

    I had a very similar situation myself. I was a new hire in a small organization of of 2 men and 6 women. Four of them began working together 20 years earlier, and the other four had joined the organization ten years earlier. Then they hired two “young gals,” as they all called us. The “advice” these moms and grandmas were giving us was ridiculous, and the other “young gal” and I often complained about it to each other. It was the same kind of stupid stuff. We were both in our 30’s, had been working for over ten years someplace else, were well supported by management, and here we were at the office being told to clean up our lunch wrappers AFTER we cleaned up our lunch wrappers. Some days it felt really rude, and others just plain annoying. We felt we were being treated like children. What worked for us?

    We just ignored it, or would nod our heads and say, “Yeah, yeah, I heard ya,” or jokingly say, “Thanks, mom,” and they would laugh. They often got stuff wrong because they had been doing it the same way all those years, or used shortcuts that they had never been called on before, and we would just say, “Well, they told us specifically to fill out the sheets like this, so I’m just going to do that and we’ll see what happens.” What DID happen is that eventually we wore off on them. We were never rude to them or burned bridges with them, but if I had said snarky rude things back to them to shut them down or shock them, we never would have developed the wonderful relationships with these women that we did. They told us VALUABLE information about our clients and our neighborhoods. They introduced us to important people in the neighborhood and told them things like, “These two young gals here know how to get it done”, or “they will be a big help to you” and in the very next breath would say, “Don’t put those boxes on the ground, put them on the table.” When I lost my mother to cancer and had to fly back home in a hurry, these women bent over backwards for me – -rushing me off to the airport, giving me money so I could get lunch, cooking lots of Italian food for me when I returned, doing all the piddly stuff at work for me when I got back so I didn’t have to. They turned out to be good friends and co-workers despite still giving us stupid advice we didn’t need.

  44. The OP*

    Forgot…and I am older but only slightly…and I think some of it stems from my accomplishments in 10 years, which were significant, while she remained in the same position. I went from entry level in one job to AVP in a second in 13 years…she has not had the same experience. ( I was going to type luck but it was NOT luck that got me there, it was hard work.

  45. spinetingler*

    These incidents seem like the appropriate place for that good ol’ southern expression “Bless your heart.”

  46. Why Me*

    My co worker talks to me like her child..
    I have been there 8 yrs longer than her and she acts like the office manager..
    I started ignoring her antics cause I need my job, but when I did she went and told the boss I dont talk to her. Childish!!!
    She is a brash, miserable un happy person with no life so she feels like she can invade my life..
    Just want her to leave me alone…
    There are 3 of us in the office and the owner is one of them..I pray everyday at work

  47. Julie Austin*

    When someone I worked with was making up rules, I asked her to show it to me in the book. She stopped. People who behave this way are bullies. They are insecure about being shown up in a job that they aren’t all that good at. Instead of learning to do the job better, they use that energy to drive the person they perceive to be a threat out of their job. Bullies come in degrees. Sometimes if you go toe-to-toe with them, as a last resort, it stops. If that doesn’t work, watch out for scheming. The person I dealt with did drive me out of her area. She continues to perform at the highest level of her incompetence. She looks like a hard worker, but she doesn’t make a difference with what the job really is. She is task oriented, working in a people oriented job.

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