my boss wants to be my work mom

A reader writes:

I have a problem. My manager wants to be my work mom, and it’s stressing me out.

To give you some background, I’ve been in this job for four and a half months, but at the company for a little over a year. I’m currently dealing with an awful bout of depression and anxiety — turns out admin and event planning work is not for me (I’m the HR admin and in charge of putting together company events). I have a really fantastic therapist, and I have started looking at jobs more like the role I had at my previous company, although I don’t plan to make any decisions until I can get stabilized through medication (which I’ll be starting this month). I’m lucky in that the depression and anxiety haven’t seriously affected my ability to do my job well — and I’ve bookmarked your recent post about depression, just in case.

A major source of my current anxiety is my manager. This is only the second office job I’ve had, and I think my perspective is probably skewed when it comes to employee-manager interactions, as all my previous managers have been very hands-off. I didn’t realize until about a month ago that she expects me to basically share my entire life with her, and ever since, I’ve been feeling pretty gross and anxious about it. In our past weekly 1-on-1s, she’s brought up extremely personal things she gone through (think family matters/illnesses/etc.) and really put the pressure on me to share on the same level — not directly, but it’s definitely there — it’s just kind of expected on this team. And … I have. I’ve actually shared some pretty personal things, including that I have depression.

On top of this, I’m having a hard time respecting her. I’m still professional, and get along with her, but my respect for her as a person is basically nonexistent. She rolls her eyes every time employees’ life-threatening (!) food allergies come up; she is not kind to waitstaff; she consistently gossips with my other two coworkers about employees’ sensitive, personal issues; she is passive-aggressive; and she has retaliated against employees in the (very recent) past for various reasons, among other things. She’s a decent manager when it comes to actual work, and all the feedback I’ve received about how I’m doing is really positive, but she still constantly asks me how my life is and reminds me I can talk to her about anything.

My strategy lately has just been to give very vague, boring answers, but that unspoken pressure hasn’t really let up. I’m afraid when I quit, I’ll have to make up a ridiculous reason instead of being honest just so she doesn’t rain hellfire on my head for not talking to her about it first (especially if it’s depression related). (As a side note: I’d be okay burning this bridge; I don’t plan on moving back into this industry and I have two other really solid references from this company.)

Please tell me I’m not just imagining that this is over the line. I’m the youngest on this team by a good 20 years, and all three of my team members are older women, well into their HR careers. HR departments shouldn’t be this involved in each other’s lives, right?? It’s stressing me out to the point that I get sick to my stomach when I have to talk to her. I don’t need another therapist, or a work mom, and even if I did, I wouldn’t choose her!

I’m hoping you and the AAM readers have some excellent advice for me about surviving this. I need to stay until I’m in a more healthy place mentally and can devote serious energy to job searching.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked to hear more about the form this pressure to share takes. The response:

It’s hard to explain. If I don’t share enough about my weekend, or my life in general, or don’t have personal experiences to share in response to hers, her disapproval is obvious. The closest feeling I can relate it to is knowing your mother is “disappointed” in you. If I haven’t said enough, she’ll wait expectantly for a few moments before either asking a follow-up question or perfunctorily ending the conversation. She has said before that she likes to know what’s going on in our lives. The impression I get is that she just expects to have that information given to her, and it doesn’t help that my other two team members are more than willing to discuss their lives in great detail at work.

Okay, you are not just imagining that it’s over the line. It is indeed over the line! In fact, you say that you think your perspective might be skewed since your previous managers were very hands-off, but I think your perspective seems pretty well calibrated. Your manager should not expect you to share your entire life with her, and she should not be sharing people’s personal issues with others.

It’s true that different managers and different teams have different styles, and some will be more share-y than others. And it’s not that there aren’t good managers and perfectly effective teams out there who lean a little heavily on the “let’s build personal connections by talking about our personal lives” side of things. But even people who are big sharers themselves should recognize that some people draw their boundaries in different places, and they should be okay with that.

That said, the fact that this is unspoken pressure gives you a lot of room to decide how you want to deal with it. If you share a minor detail about your weekend or your life and she waits expectantly to hear more or seems disappointed that you’re not matching her sharing, what if you just decide to be okay with it? So she waits expectantly for a minute or two and then seems disappointed. That’s okay! You’re not obligated to rush in with more sharing just to smooth it over. Let her feel unfulfilled; she’ll live.

And if she directly asks something like, “What about you, Jane? Any depression in your family?” it’s reasonable for you to say, “Oh, I’m not much one for talking about that stuff at work.” You can soften that by following it up immediately with something else, like “but what you went through with your mom sounds really hard. I’m glad she’s doing better now” (or whatever’s appropriate).

You can also try doing a whole lot of sharing about things that aren’t actually that personal. Pick a few topics — let’s say Game of Thrones, cooking, and your cats — and lean on them heavily. When your boss asks what you did this weekend, talk excitedly about what you cooked. When she asks if you have big plans for the upcoming weekend, talk excitedly about Game of Thrones. Throw in some cat anecdotes, and you’re well on your way to seeming like someone who’s sharing her life, when in fact you’ll be revealing hardly anything.

As for when you quit: You don’t need to get into the details of why you’re quitting if you don’t want to! You can fall back on the always-extremely-useful “this new job fell into my lap and it was too perfect to pass up.” And even if she pushes you to tell her more, you don’t have to.

Overall, the theme I see in your letter is that you’re giving your boss a lot more control than you need to in these interactions. She wants to talk about personal things, and so you’re feeling obligated to accommodate her. She’ll want you to talk in detail about your personal reasons for moving on, and so you’ll feel bound to oblige. But you’re not obligated to do those things just because she’d like it if you did! You can set the boundaries where you want to have them.

Often people think, “Sure, I could set those boundaries, but it would come across as incredibly rude” — but it doesn’t have to. If your tone is cheerful, and if you generally interact with her in a warm, open way, you can get away with a ton of boundary-setting without offending most people. And that boundary-setting doesn’t usually mean saying outright “I don’t want to talk about that”; it’s more about redirection away from the personal things you want to avoid.

There might be a point where it feels like it would be helpful to be more direct, and you can do that if you want to … but the beauty of this kind of unspoken expectation is that you can cheerfully act as if you’re oblivious to it.

There can be a risk in doing that, in that a boss like this could penalize you in some way for not playing along. But you’re getting good feedback on your work and you’re planning to leave anyway, and you’re not terribly concerned about the relationship long-term. I think you’re on solid ground in just deciding that from this point forward you’re not going to recognize or respond to this kind of unspoken pressure … and it sounds like it would be a pretty huge gift to yourself to do that.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 230 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Yes, staying cheerful and feeding the beast with different food than she asks for tends to work well and smoothly. You’re not failing to answer probing questions, you’re just not answering what’s asked.

    I think of this as front-porching. Areas with front-porch cultures are great at being friendly to visitors without having to let them into the house.

    1. Loopy*

      I love the front porch analogy! I’m going to try and keep that idea in mind for my own use!

    2. Kowalski! Options!*

      “Front-porching….” that’s a good one. There’s a dissertation in sociolinguistics waiting to be explored, right there.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      I’ve never had a boss like this, thank goodness, but I’ve had lots of coworkers who were, and even a few people who weren’t direct supervisors but were still higher up on the org chart than me. And the redirection approach works like a charm. It’ll be a little difficult at first, but once you get used to it, it should be a breeze.

      If she ever tries to dig deeper despite your masterful redirect (she probably won’t, but she might), just redirect it back to her, as Alison as described.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Oh, and I’d go so far as to store up anecdotes in preparation for these chats. I do this with my MIL. She isn’t intrusive, but she has a habit of remembering every bad thing that ever happened to her and talking about it at great length, boring and depressing everyone around her (including herself), so when I know we’re going to see her, I’ll start making a mental list of Things I Am Pretty Sure I Can Get MIL to Talk at Length About.

        1. JMJ*

          Hmm, Kathleen Adams, I do the same thing w/ MIL and at work. For work, I also find it helpful to turn the question on the person asking it. They get so busy talking they forget to ask me anything else.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            Yep. And with MIL, I like to think it’s a kindness, too. Surely it’s better for her and her listeners (as well as for my patience and temper) to talk about that time she helped her dad harvest soybeans – or the neat car she bought with her pay from first real job – or even how Aunt Jane was related to Great-Grandpa John – rather than the women her ex-husband (my husband’s father) had affairs with. (Which she actually did one Christmas, BTW. Really.)

        2. Amber T*

          Learning how to redirect conversations with people is a ridiculously important skill to have in general.

        3. Another person*

          I have a list of topics stored up to use with my in-laws for when they start getting to uncomfortable topics and I am too tired to handle. (Conversation starts headed towards race or politics, I bring up the quiet car on the train. And then sure, I might have to listen to a long list of Every Single Person Who Has Talked In The Quiet Car, but those conversations are (a) much less upsetting (b) really easy to switch the subject to and (c) no one seems to care if I actually stay for them.

        4. Oryx*

          I do this with my hair dresser. I love how she handles my hair but she wants to talk all.the.time and sometimes I don’t want to chat. So, I know what she likes to talk about and will ask a leading question related to that and then chime in every once in awhile.

    4. D.W.*

      “Front-porching”—how apropos! I am adding this to my arsenal of phrases.

      OP, I believe that Allison’s suggestion of picking a few negligible topics of conversation will do just fine. And if your manager isn’t satisfied, try your hardest to not be swayed by her expectancy. People do not have a right to know your business.

      I say this speaking to myself as well. This is an area I’m learning to be more controlled in. I tend to feel anxious when silence falls between my manager and I, and I end up oversharing trying to fill the void. I’ve gotten better, but I still slip up.

      Stand firm! Kindly, of course.

      1. Colorado*

        That’s an important note, oversharing to fill the void. Silence is okay, it’s hard to learn but important to stop talking when you finished what you wanted to say. Good point. You don’t owe anyone anything more than you want to explain. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Learn them now and it will become second nature.

      2. Part-time Poet*

        And good boundaries make strong healthy relationships. I have always had to fight with some people in my life for good boundaries, in spite of their protests that they somehow think they have some inalienable “right” to deep personal information. And they will pull out their manipulative bag of tricks to get one to spill their guts. The more I have had to kindly enforce boundaries, the stronger and better I feel. It isn’t always easy, but practicing helps and it does get easier to do over time.

      3. nonegiven*

        Embrace the silence, bask in the silence. Let the silence make the other person uncomfortable.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Right on. When you start thinking about filling the void, remember the void is only 50% yours. Or even less if there are other people handy. It’s good to have some go-to questions. “So, cooking anything interesting for dinner this week?” or whatever mundane topic you find works for the two of you. It’s nice to inquire about family or whoever they talk about frequently, “How did your son make out on his test the other day?”

      5. Specialk9*

        Would it help to know that silence is actually an interrogation technique? Most people panic and start babbling. I don’t think this boss is doing this accidentally.

        Mentally reclassify work appointments as a place in which silence is super comfortable and normal – even if it’s not. OR, as suggested, find a shtick. I also love to talk about cooking and hobbies as a work appropriate but invisible intimacy shield.

    5. Another person*

      I love this term and I wish I had learned about this early in my career!

      It can backfire if the boss is not a reasonable person, but I have found it effective with the majority of overstepping bosses and colleagues.

      I’m still feeling a little bruised from a situation where I ended up wildly overworked when the boss rewarded colleagues who over shared their personal troubles with her with lighter workloads. It almost seemed like a competition of who had the most drama in the office.

      If this is what you’re dealing with, better to get out asap. But the ability to talk cheerfully at work about things that are not high stakes is a skill that will serve you well in reasonable work places in the future.

    6. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I just realized that front-porching is a good term for how I approach Facebook!

      1. PlainJane*

        Exactly! Most people don’t want to hear all your dirty laundry, and the ones that do will probably misuse it. I present a shallow, sanitized version of myself on social media–and I wish some other people in my life would do the same.

    7. Artemesia*

      Great analogy. You can be full of information without letting someone past the porch. I love AG’s suggestions of food, game of thrones and cats. This is what sports was invented for; all sorts of conversation is possible about the sportsball game. None of it gets below the surface. And a good cook can blather on about the differences between different kinds of lentils till everyone else’s eyes glaze over.

      1. Alienor*

        My late husband was a master at small talk, and I remember him telling me that if you can talk about sports and TV, you can talk to almost anyone. He was so right–sometimes you’ll meet a person who neither follows sports nor watches TV, but the majority are interested enough in either one or the other for at least a short conversation.

        1. VioletEMT*

          Yep. Actually became a fan of Local NFL Franchise and Local University Sports Teams so I could talk to people about it.

      2. Sketchee*

        Love the term front porching! Good doors make for good neighbors, feel free to close the door.

        Just because someone else wants something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. You get to decide what you give. Other people’s wants are their own concern.

        You can consider what they want, respect what they want, and still be honest with what you want.

        It takes practice, so a reminder to help keep the pressure off while training yourself limit setting. “Warm heart while keeping apart.”

  2. Hellanon*

    >>When she asks if you have big plans for the upcoming weekend, talk excitedly about Game of Thrones. Throw in some cat anecdotes, and you’re well on your way to seeming like someone who’s sharing her life, when in fact you’ll be revealing hardly anything.

    This is my go-to strategy for sharing my life in the classroom as well. Throw in some Dad wisdom (“You’ve buttered your bread, now lie in it” – remarkably useful advice, actually) and presto: my private life stays private, but I am accessible and enthusiastic with students and co-workers, and thus able to accomplish what I want to.

    1. Dee*

      Yep. This, and the redirect that Alison mentioned above. Give a vague answer, and then turn the conversation back to her.

    2. Elizabeth H.*

      Hahaha I LOVE “You’ve buttered your bread, now lie in it.” I can’t believe I haven’t heard this before.

    3. DataQueen*

      I have a coworker who I overshared with WAY too much during an extended happy hour. It wasn’t a great move in that moment, but it was worse when she started coming to me every week asking for “the good gossip”, sitting on the edge of my desk waiting for the download. Instead of divulging the real juice, I told her the most innocuous rumors ever – “Did you hear that marketing’s printer broke, and they had to use finance’s printer all week?!?” “Jane Smith got a new dog! It’s really cute!” “I saw Wakeen setting up for the lunch meeting – they used Panera instead of ABP this week… what’s up with the switch?” Soon, she stopped coming to me for any news whatsoever :)

        1. blackcat*

          Dude, when I did my student teaching, printer gossip was where it was at. Mostly because at any time 50% of the printers/copiers were busted, so it was a goal to always know which ones were working (there were different faculty prep rooms in different wings of the building–this was a 3,000 student school).

          1. Artemesia*

            On my first day as a teacher, one of the least effective colleagues came to me and conspiratorially suggested that I cop a ream of copy paper and hide it, ‘because we always run out during test week.’ Four years later when I left to go on to further graduate school, I still had that ream of paper in the back drawer of my desk.

        2. Daria Grace*

          If you planned it well, you could tell a multi-month, gossipy story just about the printers

        3. Greg M.*

          oh man this would be perfect. I’ve been selling printers for 7 years. I could turn around and be like “can you believe marketing bought the 8710, they should have got the 7740 it takes the same ink and has a second paper tray but will also let them do wide format” and just go forever………

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        This is hilarious! Oversharing happens to the best of us, and you found a brilliant way to dial it back without making it totally obvious what you were doing; kudos!

      2. Purple snowdrop*

        Oh my god can this act in reverse do you think?! A colleague keeps telling me about our director’s affairs and I don’t wanna know *shudders*

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          What I used to do with a coworker who adored passing on salacious gossip and also very (VERY) gross and un-funny jokes was to pretend I was a lot more straight-laced than I actually am. She got in the habit of thinking, “Oh, Kathleen won’t want to hear this.”

          I missed out on a few tidbits, no doubt, but for the most part, she was right. I did NOT want to hear “this.” Missing out on some of those things that I really did not want to hear/know was well worth the minor cost of not hearing the very few jokes that I might have actually found funny. Besides, she was inaccurate a lot anyway. So being considered Miss Prim&Proper was pretty much a win-win, as far as I was concerned.

          1. Specialk9*

            The cheerful artificial prude technique is a solid one! I work in a male-dominated field, and have found that my dropping a mild curse can mean that they think they can unload the raunchy upsetting curses and stories. So I pretend I’m a Mormon guy I went to school with – super friendly, but SO clean socially. In real life, I cuss like a lumberjack. I only dial that in once I know I can trust someone.

          1. I prefer tea*

            My dad’s is “What tangled webs we weave when at first we don’t succeed.” It so works.

          2. VioletEMT*

            My dad’s was a sports metaphor: “Carry the ball across the finish line.” Instead of, y’know, into the end zone.

    4. Sled Dog Mama*

      This is me! There are some things I just don’t talk about when other people ask, but you wanna know what I baked last weekend or what my favorite farm stand has this week? be prepared to have your ear talked off. It also helps that I am a geek over baking so if someone is being too probing I can always start in on the science behind using buttermilk in cupcakes rather than regular milk and that usually results in them leaving me alone.

      1. Sled Dog Mama*

        And my dogs, it helps that my dogs cause drama. Like last weekend one got loose and decided to go visit the neighbor’s cows!

    5. kbeers0su*

      I work in a field (Student Affairs) this is notorious for its lack of boundaries, oversharing, and wanting everyone on the team to be best friends. As a supervisor when I’ve brought folks into my department I’ve given them this same advice- especially with more introverted folks or folks who made it clear that they wanted/needed boundaries.

      My go to topics are hiking (where I’ve been, where I’d like to go), silly things that my daughter has said/done (she’s 4), and my chickens. All innocuous topics that give a bit of insight into who I am/what I like to do, but without getting into any of the serious stuff (health, politics, religion, my marriage, family drama, etc.).

    6. Michelle*

      If she’s a Game of Thrones, there are so many theories out there that if you can get her to talk about which she believes, that could easily take up half a day. Ask here about ice dragons or who she thinks Azori Ahai is. TV talk is my favorite method of derailing people who try to get too personal.

      1. Amber T*

        Seriously, now that GoT is back on, awkward water cooler talk has been saved! I’ve had five different conversations about the episode (specifically how awesome that opening scene was!).

    7. kittymommy*

      I can feed you cat anecdotes. I got five of them, they need to start being useful to someone! :-)

    8. Anonygoose*

      I am the same way – I talk about new Netflix shows, or movies, or travel, etc. I’m pretty comfortable with those topics but really clam up when it gets more serious. I had a colleague a while back try to get into details about my relationship (i.e. asking me what I’d do if he got a new job somewhere else or vice versa, would I love him enough to follow him, how we decided who came ‘first’ in our marriage(!!)) that were incredibly intrusive and weird. I shut that down so fast. Why would anyone want to get into that sort of stuff at work? With coworkers?

    9. PlainJane*

      This is basically the art of small talk with a little extra depth about innocuous subjects. It’s a great way to fend off the Nosy McGossips of the world.

  3. AMPG*

    Hey, OP. This sucks and I have so much sympathy for you. As a riff on Alison’s suggestion to share things that aren’t personal, I’d suggest talking about some mundane drama pretty regularly, so you’re bringing emotion into it. Talk about how you got a flat tire over the weekend and it took FOREVER to find an open garage to fix it. Talk about how your cat is such a jerk when she only gets dry food to eat, but the vet said that too much wet food is bad for her teeth, so now you’re researching different “oral care” treats so that you can give her wet food again. Talk about how you went grocery shopping on your way home from work and forgot the one ingredient you absolutely needed for the dinner you had planned. You get the picture. This way it feels like you’re confiding in her and sharing your life openly, but you’re really not talking about anything of substance. I’d even suggest keeping some of these topics in a mental list so you can access them easily and worry less about panicking and sharing something personal that you wanted to keep private. Good luck – it’s your right to have boundaries and I’m sorry your manager is pressuring you over this.

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      Yes! My cat story this morning was my answer to “Wow…you look upset, is everything ok?” The truth is it’s not really all okay. My husband is miserable at his job and was venting to me as we drove together this morning. What I said was (and this is true!) “My cat and I aren’t speaking. He kept me up all night long playing with the blinds in the bedroom to let hubby and I know that he wanted to be fed. It didn’t matter that it was 2:30AM. When his royal Meowness wants food, he wants it then!” Co-worker laughed, personal life protected, and I was at my desk a minute later. :)

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Hope you and Meowness get on speaking terms soon. Sounds like he’s a demanding feline. Not unlike all other felines.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes! And the stories don’t even need to be true, so don’t stress yourself out trying to come up with minor drama if there wasn’t any. Flat tires, public transit woes (can you believe how crowded the subway was this morning????), running out of laundry detergent – those are all pretty universal themes, so if you can have a list of them handy you should be good to go. The point of the conversation seems to be the conversation itself, not the specific factual truth of it all, so go with that.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I love talking about the weather, which I know other people think is boring, but who cares. “How was your weekend?” “It was great! I love these days where it’s sunny all day and then rains at night — great for the garden!”

        1. IANAL (I Argue Nightly About Llamas)*

          There is a fine art to talking about the weather, especially in the South. I once had a 20-minute conversation about changing weather conditions (when is it gonna make up its mind???)

        2. PlainJane*

          I just skip to talking about my garden. It keeps fellow gardeners interested and bores the pants off the people looking for gossip. Win-win! BTW, it’s rained here every afternoon, and my garden is loving it. The hollyhocks are gorgeous, the basil is ready for harvest and pesto-making, and the grasshoppers are driving me crazy, and… you get the idea.

      2. OhNo*

        This, exactly. My anxiety tends to flare up in the morning, and I always have a planned anecdote for when I get to work, because at least once a week someone will notice and ask what’s up. I have a few of them in rotation, just in case: My cat made an escape attempt! The train was full and there were no seats! The bus was running super late! I forgot my fare card and had to go back!

        It doesn’t have to be real. As long as it’s plausible, no one will ask too many questions. Especially not if you turn it back on them. Like, “The bus was running behind this morning, I though for sure I was going to be late! Did you get caught in the traffic, too?”

        1. Artemesia*

          I think it is important for the OP to have about 3 of these always available for quick display if they are pressed i.e. have a pet disaster, a fabulous casserole recipe that turned out disappointing (or fabulous if you want to be upbeat), a car or transport annoyance. Whatever. But have specific anecdotes ready to go if pressed. This way if you are particularly down and are being hounded you don’t need to expend any energy coping, you just slot in how frazzled you are because the cat got out, or you will be scrapping casserole off the bottom of your oven (who knew how much less effective new pyrex dishes are than the originals), or you are hoping to get tickets to the Saturday sportsball game.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            If you can’t find one easily borrow the your friend’s story about her silly cat, or the neighborhood kids who put a baseball through another neighbor’s window. Just borrow stories randomly.
            My pool of subjects includes the dog, weather, vehicle problems, the amount of water in my yard after this last rain, traffic and so on. Really nothing of any substance except for the fact that it is today’s story or a very recent happening.

    3. MillersSpring*

      It sounds like the OP’s manager has heard the managerial advice to know your employees on a personal basis and be supportive, but taken it way too far. It’s one thing to say, “Oh you took your niece to the splash park this weekend–how fun,” than to say “How was your anxiety this weekend?” or “Did you have a date this weekend?” (Shudder.)

    4. Jesca*

      My current go-to is my apartment situation. Weeks of drama trying to find one. Then the new place bill dramas. The dramas with the landlord. This is all that people at work literally think I have going on in my life.
      And as far as “personal” details that are *required*? I keep them honest and upbeat. My son has XXXX and I tell some humorous stories. This comes up as he needs many doctor appointments and as opposed to letting the rumor mill make shit up, I am honest and vague. I just don’t talk all about the struggles of having a kid with XXXX and how that affects me emotionally or the impact it has on him and my family. So maybe when she keeps bringing up your depression, just respond with “oh you know how that goes.” and move the conversation on to how many times your new landlord texted you this week and how the cable company over charged you on that damn bill! Be drama without actually being “drama”.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Her: How is your depression doing?
        You: “You know, funny thing. I found that if I don’t talk about it much, I feel better. So that is my new thing now.”

        1. Wanna-Alp*

          That will work with reasonable well-intentioned people.

          With another class of people (who may include OP’s boss), that is not advisable, because you have just told them exactly where your weak spot is and now they know exactly what to press you on.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OMG, one of my reports does this, and it is mind-numbingly boring. Like watching paint dry boring (except watching paint dry is probably more interesting?). Granted, she does it when I ask her things like, “what’s the status of the invoice for X?” which is less appropriate, but I love the idea of deploying it as a tool for OP’s prying manager.

  4. OP*

    I really needed to hear this. I’ve been all up in my head about it and you’re right, I’ve been having a hard time knowing how accommodating I need to be. Thank you, Alison!

    1. Kowalski! Options!*

      When it’s a boss, the power disparity creates a weird dynamic, and it’s hard to know where to draw the line. A friend of mine had this issue last year with a supervisor, in reverse – the two of them bonded over talking about troubles, which seemed okay until the supervisor veered over into “Personal Oh My God Why Are We Talking About THIS Get Me Out of Here” territory on more than one occasion. The supervisor probably didn’t mean to be OMG-WTMI, but when my friend tried to put a halt to it, the supervisor made things so uncomfortable for her that she was out of the job within a month.

    2. Mehkitty84*

      I am so sorry you are going through this environment on top of depression. You mentioned once you have your medications managed you will be moving on to another company. From personal experience, keep looking even during this time. I went to a company that was very high stress and had a dysfunctional department. I was only there for 6 months and I applied to wonderful job on a whim. I ended up getting the position and my stress level is so much better! It feels like night and day and I am so glad I took the chance even though in my head I was so upset with myself that I didn’t stick it out longer on my resume. Good luck! BTW I am in HR as well and in our industry we really shouldn’t expect for others to share so much. Your manager is really setting her self up to cause the company a lot of liability when it comes to terminations or investigations (or really anything that might come up!).

      1. JulieBulie*

        Yes! Even if you don’t want to apply to anything just yet, it’s a good idea to get a head start on seeing what’s out there.

      2. OP*

        Thanks! I’m definitely looking, but I just yesterday reached a point where I said, I HAVE to work on my resume. I’ve been putting it off, because most of my energy has been going toward managing the depression. But I was able to get it to a decent place and I’m going to apply to a bunch of jobs this week. I’ll keep you posted for sure!

        1. Mehkitty84*

          Yay! Please do keep us updated. Also, I would highly recommend taking a look at Alison’s cover letter and interviewing advice. It really helped me with my search!

          1. OP*

            Don’t worry, I definitely am! I currently have about a hundred tabs open on my home computer with AAM cover letter and resume advice.

        2. Elfie*

          Good luck OP! I too suffer from depression, and left ExJob only a year into it (I was looking from 6 months – I knew within the first week). I am now in Fantastic NewJob, with a Fantastic NewBoss (I disclosed to OldBoss that I suffered from depression after an unexpected absence and got put on a PIP; I disclosed to NewBoss that I suffered from depression after an unexpected absence and got told to take care of myself and was there anything she could do to make things easier for me?). Yes, I do still get anxious and depressed (life happens, y’know?), but funnily enough, I’m so much happier and better off in a really good job.

          I know how hard it can be to even think about finding a new job when you’re in the midst of depression, but what really helped me was updating my CV. Listing out all of the things I’d actually done over the years made me realise that OldJob was an anomaly, and you know what, I did actually have skills and worthwhile experiences. YMMV, but if you have enough mental reserve, I wouldn’t put off looking for a new job. Changing your work situation may go a long way towards managing your anxiety and depression, especially if it’s the cause of some of it!

          Good luck – and your manager sucks, and this totally isn’t normal!

    3. Alexa*

      I’ve used the “talk about my cats” strategy with a co-worker (not manager, so it’s a little different) before who was really into sharing and spreading gossip. It worked so well, she stopped asking me things because I talked too much about my cats. I kind of became the office cat lady because of it but that was better than having her spread all sorts of info and speculation about some other half answer I gave her to one of her intrusive questions.

      1. ByLetters*

        This. I used to avoid talking about my cats out of fear of being perceived the crazy cat lady .. until I realized that I wanted to go into my medical / personal history way, WAY less. Much better to be the cat lady than discuss traumas and dramas with people at the office, in my opinion.

        1. Artemesia*

          And if you don’t want to be the cat lady, decide to talk about movies or cooking or something that is less stereotyped. (by the way see ‘Manifesto’; it is amazing)

    4. Marisol*

      One thing that will really help you, in this situation and in life generally, is to increase your tolerance for other people’s disappointment in you. You can be aware that the person you’re conversing with isn’t enjoying themselves, and just sit with that knowledge without it changing your behavior. And note that I said “increase your tolerance;” I didn’t say “learn how to be comfortable with”. When it comes to developing emotional skills, it’s a “no pain, no gain” kind of situation, with the pain in this case being tolerating your own icky feelings. Asserting yourself with others feels uncomfortable for most people, most of the time. The people that do it successfully have learned to tolerate the icky feelings they feel, rather than eradicating them. Over time the discomfort does lessen of course, but it’s important to remember that you haven’t failed if you take the right action, but feel squeamish. That squeamishness is totally normal.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. This is relevant to the previous letter today, too. Accepting that you’re not pleasing someone is a really important skill to develop.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s funny/odd, you know, we can get caught in the mindset of pleasing others and we never think what about THEIR responsibility to please US.
          All relationships are a give and a take. It’s so easy to think we should give more, but in some cases we really need to TAKE more.

          OP, how could this woman be a good boss to you? What do you like from bosses? Get a couple ideas going on here: I like clear instructions. I like to know when I do something that is super helpful (so I can keep doing it). I like when bosses confide where the problems are in the work so I can help bounce around ideas.

          Once you have this list (short list) figured out the next thing is to gently guide your boss to show her where you truly appreciate her leadership. This can be pretty simple, like pointing out when you can help out with something. I pointed out to my boss that I was pretty good with Xs because family member worked in the field and I picked up a lot of pointers. This was a nice way of letting her know that if there is a problem with X, she should feel free to mention it.
          Yes, that is one little example, but you keep doing this and eventually you have a stack of things that you have shown the boss about how to expand your contribution as an employee.

          And happily, if you are thinking about stuff like this you are less apt to be thinking about her disappointment rating today.

  5. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    My go-to topics are my cat, how I love going to flea markets to “treasure hunt”, and books. I will also throw in some Broadway show topics with a few people who share the love. That’s it! I sympathize LW! I work in a very close knit office and I am the lone person who doesn’t like to share. I still get the questioning where it almost feels like I’m being interviewed “what was your childhood like?” but I just shrug and give an answer like “I was known as the book worm in my family. I swear I’ve read every children’s classic out there! The first book I ever got mad at was Little Women….” and then their eyes glaze over.

    FWIW, I have depression and anxiety and have never had a manager pressure me to disclose that. It’s weird what your boss is doing. Total overstepping!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I have anxiety and my managers know and they still don’t expect me to talk about it beyond what I need in the workplace and how my workload is going.

    2. Murphy*

      What was your childhood like? Wow, I can’t imagine asking a co-worker that! That has such potential to open up a huge can of worms.

    3. Maggie*

      I like to cook, so I’m the “office foodie” that likes to bring in homemade lunches (I had to get take-out last week and someone commented that it wasn’t my usual deal) and is perhaps overly-fond of strawberries and tea (no coffee).

      It’s fun, not too personal, and since socializing isn’t the easiest thing for me, it gives me a nice little foundation for conversations.

          1. fposte*

            And I thought Pam was joking that there’s no such thing as too much fondness for strawberries or tea.

    4. Chinook*

      I have gotten so go at “front-porching” that, after being president a women’s group, who are very much in to sharing and caring, the members were shocked that I had lived overseas and spoke 3 languages even though most had known me for the last 7 years. As well, they weren’t sure if I was married, were pretty sure I didn’t have children and only one of them knew about the wolf (which means the AAM commentariat knew more about me than these women). All of this came out because we did the ice breaker where you had bingo cards with personal trivia to fill out.

      Once you have practice at this, it becomes second nature though it does make it harder to make “real friends” who know you very well. On the flip side, those who get you to open up really do realize how special they are to see that side of you.

          1. Snark*

            I lol’d at this:

            “Yes – Marley is a rescue from a wolf sanctuary who was the runt of her litter and basically failed as a wild creature.”

            I have this suspicion that, hundreds of thousands of years ago, this is how dogs got domesticated. There’s no archaeological proof, but I can totally see “awww, look at the little runty wolf! She’s so sad and lonely, can we let her sleep in our cave pleaaaaase” And lo, these dozens of centuries later, we still have little nerdy runty wolves living in our caves.

          1. Chinook*

            And this is why she never comes up in regular conversation – turns out mentioning you have a wolf derails all sorts of conversations. Sorry about that, Allison.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I have spent so many hours staring at pictures of Marley, Chinook, that my dog has been getting jealous (seriously—after sitting very petulantly staring at me, she low-growled, which is pretty shockingly bad behavior for her).

              1. Chinook*

                That’s okay – Pete (the fuzzy black and white dog in one or two photos) would get insulted and walk away whenever strangers would coo over Marley on our walks. Before she arrived, he always got all the attention. Luckily, before he passes, he was getting blind so he rarely noticed it happening.

    5. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Mine are pets (I have 2 cats and 2 dogs so there is always something going on), reading, hiking, running, and working out. Exercise is great if you are a bit low energy (e.g. I worked out extra hard this morning and am knackered, we did a 15 mile hike on Sunday and I am still feeling it) but don’t want to talk about why

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        When Laurie married Amy. I was 11 years old and it just didn’t sit well with me. Laurie and Jo were supposed to be together!!!! I actually threw the book across the room and broke this stupid porcelain ballerina thing I had on my dresser. My mom was so mad I broke the figurine and didn’t care at all that I had valid reasons for hurling the book at a wall.

        1. Marisol*

          ah, that was a disappointment. and then Jo married that old guy…totally not the romantic story a young person wants. I remember throwing 1984 across the room as soon as I finished it because the romance didn’t end happily–of course I didn’t care about the political allegory.

  6. DataMiner*

    I’ve met some people who think this strategy of innocuous personal sharing is being fake, but as long as you’re true to your core principals and beliefs (i.e. positive, happy, healthy, etc.) than this becomes your work persona and there’s nothing wrong with that! Good luck!

    1. BlueWolf*

      Exactly. It’s not like you have to lie about your life, it’s just sharing little details that are mundane but still true. Nothing fake about it.

    2. Lora*

      What??? How?? I don’t even tell my mother about a good amount of my life, why the heck would I tell someone I work with? Jeez.

      Trust me, the only parts of my weekend you really want to hear about are the gardening, the dog and cooking. You do not need to know what hijinks middle aged ladies get up to on a Saturday night with lots of tequila. We are gross.

      1. Anna*

        I work with young adults (16 – 24) and a lot of them share that feeling. They don’t understand the difference between being “fake” and professionalism and boundaries.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I guess my life is boring & I don’t share with anyone much because I’m wondering what more is one “supposed” to share? I know most people’s “vaults” are broken, and I don’t want my gossip spread around by family or friends, either.

        I might speak about more broad topics than gardening, but you’re still getting the superficial overview. I’ll talk about my kids, you won’t hear about my son’s gf that I don’t like. You might hear “Oh, my parents are nuts” but you won’t hear “My parents are impossible to get along with because of XYZ.”

    3. Snark*

      It’s not that it’s fake, for me. It’s that it skirts the issue without establishing a boundary, and it avoids a conflict I firmly believe needs to be normalized and honored in this culture and isn’t. We don’t have a good language around “you’re crossing a boundary and I need you to stop,” and it feels confrontational and awkward when we do it, but that’s a fundamental and critical social conflict that we all have and which always needs resolved.

      1. Emi.*

        I don’t really agree with this–in some cases, you have to be direct but this seems like a case where front-porching can be a perfectly fine strategy. Some pathologically nosy people will persist, but they probably wouldn’t respect a directly-stated boundary either, so this might be a better way to not-tell them about your personal life (I’d get more direct in my refusals if they get more direct in their demands, though). People who are basically fine but momentarily overstepping will probably get the hint–you’re establishing a boundary with the subtext.
        To me, direct vs. indirect is kind of like karate vs. jiujitsu. If someone attacks you, you could hit them in the face, or you could move your feet and redirect their energy and wow, there’s them over there and you not in their grasp! (As I write this, I realize an extension of this analogy: jiujitsu is especially useful for countering size/strength disparities, and redirecting nosy questions is especially useful for countering power disparities like your boss pressuring you.)

        1. paul*

          I mean in an ideal world I’d agree with Snark as far as being able to tell the manager exactly where your boundaries are….but I kind of have a hunch it’d go over like a lead balloon here, and well, there’s that power dynamic and the fact that staying employed is generally a good thing.

      2. nonegiven*

        “Why would you even ask me that? Why would someone even answer your questions after hearing you gossip about other people’s personal problems?”

        But that may be a burning a bridge too soon.

    4. paul*

      and frankly, innocuous personal sharing (aka chit chat) is good social grease. It serves as a great reminder that coworkers are actually people with lives outside of work. I mean, people should appreciate that anyway, but it’s a very good reminder.

      I am all for small scale chit chat to whatever level people are comfortable with if it doesn’t become too much of a time sink. It’s the overshare/overly intrusive that’s a problem (and yes that can at times be a fuzzy line but OP’s manager seems to have pogo jumped over it).

  7. knitcrazybooknut*

    I have completely been here, and it was disturbing and no fun. I would also suggest being really excited about something she finds boring as hell. You can pick one thing that she shares fondness for, and a bunch of things she has no interest in. If she wants more salacious details about your family background or something, pick the plot of your favorite telenovela or soap opera. These are options, of course, and you don’t have to do any of them. Having a distraction for her can be helpful so you can keep your private life private.

    I feel like this type of behavior is like that of an emotional vampire, draining the drama from everyone else’s life in order to avoid their own. You can choose to feed her or not, depending on your preference, and what you want to do.

    All sympathy to you for dealing with this. You do NOT need to accommodate this behavior, and it’s WAY over the line. Take care of yourself first, and know that she is being unprofessional and creepy.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      This is a great strategy, I’ve definitely done it before – that when someone is constantly wanting to talk about “intriguing” personal stuff or gossip or just go on and on about stuff that is not relevant to work, to talk equally enthusiastically about something that you are pretty sure is of zero interest to the other person but doesn’t reveal anything you don’t want to about yourself. This is easy for me because there are a lot of weird/boring things I am fascinated by (taxes and tax law, library fine structures, Excel – the latter of which isn’t weird/boring but not everyone loves talking about it at length) that I am happy to yammer about for the same length of time as whoever I’m talking to wants to yammer about the Whole 30 or their personal frustrations with coworkers or their dating life or whatever.

    2. OP*

      I do like Days of Our Lives…the only problem is making sure that I drama-down the plots a little bit so she doesn’t think my family is murdering each other. ;)

      And thank you! I need all the reassurance I can get, so I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought this was totally over the line.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        You could also share “personal” info you don’t care about people knowing.

        So instead of “my cousin has drug problems,” it could be “my daughter got a blue ribbon in calligraphy” or “my neighbor is noisy and has moles in his lawn.” Complaining or bragging always make it seem more personal but you can pick and choose the topics for safe ones (irritating neighbors, minor accomplishments of family members, daily trivial occasions).

        1. Not About Bob*

          Read that as “my neighbor is NOSY and has moles in his lawn”. A neighbor deploying undercover spies is a conversation worth having!

        2. Anon today...and tomorrow*

          Yes! A friend of a friend often corners me at parties to share gossipy stories full of drama and there’s a lot of weird one-upmanship in the way she approaches the conversations. I don’t really have a lot of drama in my life, but my mother’s friends do so I file them away for when I need them. At the last party friend of a friend was sharing this story about a woman who’s husband left her for another woman the day after they got back from their honeymoon. She ended her story with “I bet you haven’t heard anything more awful than that!” And in fact, I had! I shared the story of a friend of my mom’s whose fiance died at his home of a major heart attack in the middle of getting dressed for his wedding. For the rest of the night friend of a friend was walking around the party asking “have you heard the story Anon today has about her moms friend? So sad”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Borrowed drama. When your own drama just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        hahaha, be careful or she might go to HR because she’s worried about your evil twin!

      3. Toph*

        Sports can be a good one, if there is any sport you’re into, especially if she is not. It’s the sort of thing that’s totally reasonable for you to sound very passionate about, but might also have the benefit of her being bored to death so she might stop asking if she gets it in her head that it’s all you ever talk about. Win win.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Two words for you, OP: Real Housewives (you can pick your regional poison).

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Take up knitting and start researching the varying opinions on acrylic versus natural fibers. You would not believe the nuclear heat in those arguments.

        1. Kalica*

          Not just fiber wars. You would not believe the arguments I’ve gotten into over Bamboo needles vs Aluminum. Not the plastic needles, mind, I’ve yet to find someone who didn’t think those were heretical abominations. Personally, hardwood knitting needles for me when I can find them, which is never, and aluminum when I can’t because I find the ‘clack clack’ soothing.

          The true nuclear option, though, is Knit vs Crochet. Which I personally find silly, but soooo many opinions. I mean, I’m pretty sure the antecdotal “Hookers are called hookers cause they used to make lace with crochet hooks and had to prostitute themselves to make ends meet” came from that particular war.

          There are so many hills to die upon in fiber crafts I sometimes wonder why I bother.

  8. Ramona Flowers*

    This part really stood out to me: but she still constantly asks me how my life is and reminds me I can talk to her about anything.

    This just isn’t appropriate on her part. She’s your boss. She isn’t there to talk about absolutely anything – she’s not your therapist and this isn’t a peer support group. It’s really unnerving when people don’t have good boundaries, because it makes it hard to rely on them.

    So no, it’s not just you!

    I also want to push back on the idea that she’s a decent manager when it comes to actual work. I’m not sure there’s such a neat divide, actually. Because people do work, and managers need to be good with their people.

    Hugs to you, OP. It’s hard when people push on your boundaries. It’s okay to let that awkwardness belong to them (return it to sender, as blogger Captain Awkward likes to say).

    1. AMPG*

      Yes, I wanted to say this, as well. Good managers set examples for their subordinates about professionalism. They don’t gossip, or belittle coworkers, or pick favorites based on who shares the juiciest personal information.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I’m questioning the actual work part, too. IMO a good manager is the one that helps create the environment that, in turn, helps their team get the actual work done. Dragging people into gossip sessions, cornering them and demanding good gossip, harassing them into “telling me anything” to the point where they dread going to work, all have the opposite effect of helping get the work done.

    3. NEW YEAR, NEW ME*

      I agree. I once vetted to my future boss about my frustration with a contributor at our company whom I had to go out of my way for to get her copy. Future boss ended up telling contributor, as the head of my department got an angry phone call.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Sometimes the best way to handle something like this is to just say, “Okay, thanks! If something comes up, I will be sure to mention it.” Then don’t.
      I am not a fan of talking one way and walking another way, but sometimes it just makes life simpler to agree with some people then do as you wish. Not something to make a habit of, for sure. But sometimes we can see that there is no good outcome any other way.

  9. HisGirlFriday*

    I also struggle with anxiety and depression, and I work in an office full of over-sharers, so you have my sympathies, OP.

    I often employ Alison’s strategy, of talking about some mundane aspect of my life but in great detail: Oh, my husband and I wanted to build a patio, but if we made the size we wanted, the MS4 requirements meant we needed a storm-water runoff basin, and that was too much hassle, so we made it smaller, and now we don’t need stormwater management and blah, blah, blah.

    People feel like you’ve shared, and you really haven’t.

  10. CityMouse*

    I would Greyrock her a bit. If she demands info about your weekend tell her a stunning anecdote about buying bread and milk.

  11. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Yikes. OP, you are so not the weird one being bothered by this! And let me say, if you’re someone who tends to score high on the empathy front, that unspoken disappointment can absolutely be as potent as an outright demand, and possibly even more compelling. One of the things I’ve had to work on in my own career has been letting unspoken expectations go unanswered, even when I’m perfectly well aware of them and have information that could answer them.

    1. OP*

      Oh my gosh, you hit the nail on the head! I am very empathetic and I hate drama, so I sometimes have a hard time knowing how far is too far when it comes to accommodating other people. I’m definitely going to keep this in mind.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Ooh, I feel you there (lol). For me, it’s way harder to ignore an implicit demand than a stated one, because I’m just so programmed to recognize and respond to the “vibe” of the conversation. I find it helps a lot to recognize the demand to myself as a demand and let myself treat it as though someone had actually said aloud to me “Tell me this thing.” It makes it easier for me to kick in the ‘I don’t want to/shouldn’t say this’ routine.

      2. sarakg*

        Another aspect of this to keep in mind, or rather that I keep in mind especially when dealing with depression and anxiety, is that it lies. Not at all to say that your boss isn’t disapproving when you don’t overshare, but that your reaction to it might be more related to what’s going on in your brain not your boss’ brain. An example from my life is that when I sense gossip/drama happening, I fear/fret that it’s about me or something I did. Not all the time, but when my overall mental health is bad, this is definitely one of the signs that I need to look after myself better.

        1. Sylvia*


          My “person doesn’t like me” and “person’s upset with me” sensors go a little funny sometimes, which can lead me to misread people. This isn’t to say your boss’s issues are all in your head – they definitely aren’t – but that anxiety disorders are lying assholes.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        One tool I have found very helpful is to pretend not to notice other people’s upset. I just go on like all is normal. Sometimes people give it up because I seem oblivious to their subtle behaviors. It’s their disappointment to carry, I don’t have to carry it for them.

  12. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Oh, OP, I feel you so hard on this. My 2nd ‘adult’ job I had a manager who had a daughter that was my age and she tried to mother me too. And the passive-aggressive crap and gossip and everything? I’m pretty sure mine is retired now or I’d think you had the same one.

    Don’t worry about making up an excuse when you leave. Just tell her that you realized that you’re not really suited for this type of work so you decided to find something that was a better fit. But be prepared for her to be incredibly p-a with you during your notice period. I was offered the option to transfer to an out of state office because they were laying off in mine and I accepted it. She was mad that I opted to leave and have a job rather than stay and be at risk of not having one.

    1. k.k*

      Agree that no excuses are needed, you have a perfectly valid reason! The amount of time you’ve been there isn’t very long, so it’s still within the settling in, getting to know the position period. You can say something like “Once I had some time to get a feel for the job I realized I’m not suited well for it. I’ve enjoyed working with this team but another position fell in my lap that was a better fit, and I couldn’t pass it up.” It’s massaging the truth a bit saying you’ve enjoyed it, but it sets the tone that it’s just the job duties and nothing personal.

        1. nonegiven*

          I learned a lot is probably not a lie and means whatever the listener would rather it means.

  13. EA*

    I have a lot of experience with this.

    I don’t have that conventional of a life (I don’t get a long with my parents, don’t want kids) and I don’t want to get into it with people.

    I focus on fake sharing like AAM says (I am the runner at my job), but also focus on asking people about themselves if you can stomach it. Most people like to talk about themselves. If she is asking you personal questions, re-direct to things about her, most people I encounter love this.

  14. Junior Dev*

    Do you have a hobby? I’ve pretty much bored all of my friends at this point by going on about weight lifting, and I’m pretty disappointed I haven’t yet had a chance to deploy it in this manner. Talk about the repairs your bike needs or how you’re doing a knitting pattern that was so hard you had to frog a row three times before getting that cable right. Use all the technical jargon and be extremely excited about it.

    1. Snark*

      “I’m pretty disappointed I haven’t yet had a chance to deploy it in this manner”

      You….I like you.

    2. JulieBulie*

      Ha ha! Someone at work was more nosy with me than I liked. I decided to talk his ear off about my love for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Now he thinks I’m weird, and he avoids me, which is fine. (If he comes back, I’m ready to tell him about the afternoon when I played with my nephew’s Transformers. Hilarity ensued.)

      I don’t know if I would try that with my boss, but it worked with the nosy coworker who wanted to know about my religion, politics, and health issues. I didn’t just want him to stop asking – I wanted him to go away.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        HAHA! I read a book by these sisters hiking the Appalachian Trail. One of their friends on the trail was being pursued by a creeper she called the Old Buzzard. One of the sisters scared him off by hiking with him and talking his ear off in extreme detail about a vet internship “she” had done (actually a friend of hers had done but she remembered enough about it to tell it to him) and for some reason, they didn’t seem him again after that.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This type of approach also worked well with crank phone calls. They hung up.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      First rule of CrossFit. . .never stop talking about CrossFit. It’s bound to work in this situation.

      Another danger zone is asking me how I like my Garmin VivoActiveHR. . .because I like it a lot and it has a LOT of features. Bwahahaha.

  15. Snark*

    People are often really reticent about returning awkwardness to sender, but I’m personally a fan of it, and I’m not particularly a fan of placating people like this. When she says “Remember, you can tell me anything,” with a strong undercurrent of *and I expect you to*, it’s totally okay to return with “Honestly, I’m a pretty private person and I share what I feel comfortable sharing.” If she asks a nosy follow-up question, you can say, “Oh, that’s all the detail I really wanted to get into on that topic.” If she asks you about mental health issues, you can say, “Really, that’s between me and my therapist.”

    1. JulieBulie*

      I think that especially in OP’s case, this might be the better way to proceed, because OP’s boss seems hell bent on feeding off of other people’s drama.

      If OP leads with cat/laundry stories, Boss will suspect or accuse OP of trying to be evasive. But if OP leads with something like what EA suggested, and THEN goes into the cat/laundry stories, the message is clearer that she isn’t willing to share drama, but she’s happy to chat with Boss for as long as Boss will listen.

      1. Snark*

        Yep, this. The strategy of throwing out some anecdotal chaff to confuse the radar works fine with amateur-hour prying and boundary-crossing, but OP’s boss seems to be playing that game for keeps. If she tosses out some banal personal anecdotes, Boss will get suspicious and annoyed – because she’s *owed* some drama, dammit, and you better tell me everything! At this point, I think it’s fine to draw a line.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t think the boss would say that out loud, but if she does, OP, just look at her like you are baffled, shrug as if bored, and say, “There’s not much to tell.” Then shift into a work topic.

          Worst case scenario, you will only do this a couple of times and then it probably won’t be a problem. People do go on fishing expeditions, so it’s a good life skill to be able to brush things off as if they are really nothing that important.
          I think it might help if you frame this as, “Dammit, I am going to learn to do this because it will be handy for me, for a long time.” The way you have it framed now is kind of suffocating. “I have to make this boss shut up.” But thinking about the long haul and telling yourself, “Well, I would have needed to figure this out sooner or later anyway” might lighten your load at the moment.

          I have used bad coworkers and bosses in this manner. I told myself that if it did not happen now, it probably would in the future so might as well collect up tools now for reuse later.

    2. D.W.*

      I am practicing this type of forwardness on a smaller scale. The first few times I was direct in communicating my boundaries I felt like an absolute jerk! Isn’t it crazy how that happens? It’s a feeling I have to ignore.

      I like both options of providing useless information and being direct. OP seems like a non-confrontational, get-it-done-with-the-least-amount-friction person. So I would suggest trying Allison’s way first, but if your boss comes back with a “that’s not good enough” vibe, then firmly say you’re not comfortable sharing at length.

      Good luck!

    3. aebhel*

      If you do it very pleasantly, you can often defuse a lot of the outrage, too. A deadpan ‘that’s none of your business’ will be (rightly or wrongly) read as insubordination, but a very friendly, “oh, I’d rather not talk about that,” *smile smile* is a lot harder for people to justify getting angry over.

      Not that it works with everyone, but I’ve generally had good luck with it.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Very seldom have I ever confided in anyone who says. “Oh you can tell me anything.” I noticed that I never say that and people tell me stuff that I would rather not know. Leads me to conclude that the true confidants, the true advisers in this world do not advertise.

  16. always in email jail*

    So many people have already agreed with this but I just want to be another voice saying half-sharing is a great way to go. People have given a lot of good examples, I do try to avoid any seemingly shallow story that involved spending large amounts of money, such as “oh I’m updating my bathroom” or “I was looking in to getting a new couch” etc. People love to gossip and judge how other people spend their money.
    Other than that, there’s always “my weekend was great, I tried new ____ restaurant!” or “Caught up on some cleaning!” “I got one of those pressure cookers everyone is talking about and I’m obsessed with looking up and trying new recipes!” “My friend is having a baby and we spent the weekend looking at nursery ideas” whatever.

    If it seems like the person is dying for drama and you’re feeling really pressured, you can manufacture some that has to do with a friend. “My friend just had a baby and is having a tough time adjusting, so I spent the weekend chatting with her and making a care package to send her” may give them an opening to talk about their own past baby-having drama, for example.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP, it’s important to understand that you can’t stop people from gossiping. Some will take the stupidest little detail and spend days on it. For your own peace of mind, decide that people will gossip no matter. What is really important is that YOU know that you are living a life true to your values. That is all that matters.

  17. Xarcady*

    “You can also try doing a whole lot of sharing about things that aren’t actually that personal.” So very much this.

    I learned this technique at the family dinner table, as my parents would press us for details about our day–even when all we had done was go to school and come home. My brothers responded by not talking, answering questions with as few words as possible, or grunting. Which resulted in more pressure from the parents and more grunting and evasion from the boys.

    On the other hand, I told them everything about stuff I didn’t care about, and because of the sheer volume of words, they thought they knew everything I did. The irony here is that I was doing absolutely nothing they would get upset about; I just didn’t think they needed to know every conversation I had with anyone during the school day, while my brothers were actually hiding some teenage drinking, joy riding, etc. My parents suspected the boys were up to something, but I could have gotten away with anything, because they thought they knew what I was up to, and had established the appearance of free and open communication. I never lied; I just didn’t tell them everything, and it freed me from the poking and prying that my brothers got.

    Same with noisy co-workers. Mine think I live for my cats, bake a lot, and read a lot. Which is all true to a degree (I don’t live for the cats, not really). But they don’t know I’m dating someone, planning a trip abroad, or going back to school at night for the degree I should have done as an undergrad, if only I’d known it existed. None of their business. And I Do Not Want to deal with their prying, gossipy, inquisitive questions if they ever find out. So they are not going to find out.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      I used to do this, too! In my case, it was preemptive–I didn’t want to risk upsetting my mom by telling her I got a C on a quiz or something (not that she would have been, but I was hard on myself), so I talked about anything and everything EXCEPT what I didn’t want her to know.

    2. Chinook*

      My family taught me the secret of oversharing unimportant stuff to hide the important because there was grandmother who would worry/overreact to everything and, as a result, lost the privilege to know about anything that might cause her to overreact.

      I hadn’t realized how unspoken it was amongst the greater family until one day, when we and the cousins were travelling, on of the kids fell off the roof of a houseboat and was okay. We kids, all under 14, looked at each other and said “tell grandma we dropped something” (technically true – we dropped littlest cousin) at the same time and then laughed because we realized we all knew this trick.

  18. TootsNYC*

    she waits expectantly to hear more or seems disappointed that you’re not matching her sharing, what if you just decide to be okay with it? So she waits expectantly for a minute or two and then seems disappointed. That’s okay! You’re not obligated to rush in with more sharing just to smooth it over. Let her feel unfulfilled; she’ll live.

    Talk with your therapist about coping techniques or exercises you can develop to do >>in this moment.<<

    You know this moment is going to come up, so you've got the advantage of being prepared for it. Work w/ your therapist to find some mental mantra, or maybe a "count to see how long she takes," or something that you can do right then and there to make it easier to wait.

    And also get your therapist to help you develop a way to cement in your own head:
    This is rude of her. This is disrespectful of her. She may be thinking she's being caring, so it may not be that she's evil and is instead mistaken. So get your therapist to help you focus specifically on this.

    As a boss, I walk a fine line. I'm pretty open myself, and I try really hard to make sure other people don't think I'm expecting the same of them. I'll say, "how was your weekend?" and when they give vague answers, I say, "Good," and I move right along.

    Once someone worked for me who was suddenly being out for doctor appointments. I really struggled with whether I should say anything, bcs she wasn't normally a sharing person. But I didn't want to come across as though I was uncaring. So I finally said, "I don't want to pry, but I've noticed you've had a lot of doctor visits. I'm hoping I don't really need to be worried about you."

  19. Maswaki*

    This OP sounds a lot like me or rather her situation feels very similar to mine. I have a female boss who constantly wants to get up close & personal. She drives me crazy and like the OP I am finding it hard to respect her. I tend to feel resentment towards my own boss as well.

  20. Decimus*

    I’ve found (claiming to be) living a boring life works also. “What did you do this weekend?” “Laundry! Oh, and I scrubbed the toilets too. They really needed it.” “Didn’t you do anything else?” “Nope.”

    It doesn’t matter if you really spent the weekend visiting family, attending DragonCon, or tap dancing. People lose interest if you bore them enough. Plus you can re-use stuff. “I did laundry like I do every weekend. And I cleaned. That’s my weekend.”

    1. Marillenbaum*

      As someone who is a bit of a cleaning nerd, this can be a great path–the perils of trying to remove candle wax from fabric, trying to restore your grout to its former glory, cleaning your oven racks in the bathtub–there’s so much to discuss!

    2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      I’m a pretty private person at work – cleaning is absolutely my go to subject when I don’t want to share anymore than I already have (or with people I don’t feel comfortable sharing with). I just talk very enthusiastically about scrubbing or finding the right combination of supplies (stubborn grease dust on the top of cabinets – defied all products except SoftScrub or reorganized tupperware/mug collection/pots and pans and it felt great! or scrubbed grout all weekend).

    3. ByLetters*

      HAH! I see you there, fellow nerd.

      I find a lot of times, talking about the nerdy stuff will turn off the questions about the private stuff. It’s amazing how fast their interest about your weekend dries up when you tell them “Oh, I had a great time at the tabletop gaming session I went to!”

      Downside: your manager has no idea what D&D is and is a mixture of horrified/fascinated and demands details.

      Upside: She avoids asking about your weekend after that, because who knows what you will say.

      1. Sylvia*

        Seconding this. One person stopped asking about my weekends just because I know what tabletop RPGs and LARPing are. I’m not even that kind of nerd. I’m a different kind of nerd! I didn’t even have to talk about my real nerdery!

      2. Merrie*

        I one time mentioned to somebody that we had played Dungeons and Dragons that weekend and his eyes got kind of wide and he was like “You really shouldn’t talk about that kind of stuff at work” with an air of “The other kids are going to think you’re a huge geek”.

  21. K.*

    My go-tos are biking and other physical fitness activities, cooking, and what I’m reading and watching. All of those things are pretty big parts of my life (I’ve changed into workout clothes at work so people know I’m active), but they’re not that personal.

  22. OxfordComma*

    I think it can be hard to establish the boundaries between work and home for a lot of people.

    It sounds like your boss does not fall into this category at all, but for what it’s worth, I tend to be an oversharer and I’ve had to work on keeping my answers to that “Hey, what did you do this weekend?” to short and generic. In turn, I’ve noticed that because I am an oversharer, when I ask a question they seem to think I want specifics and I don’t.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “I think it can be hard to establish the boundaries between work and home for a lot of people.”

      Yeah! Shortly after we married, my husband observed, “We spend more time with the people at work than we do with each other.” 8 hours * 5 days = 40. Throw in a little overtime.
      At home, we had 1 hour in the morning (getting-ready time), and from 7:00 to 11pm. So, 5 hours a day. Weekends were all that tipped the scale.

  23. Tea, please*

    This is fantastic advice! I wish I had these strategies when I started my last job. I had a coworker who was an oversharer and expected the same of me. Since he had been employed by the nonprofit for several years when I was hired, I thought this was the office culture and I needed to participate or be excluded. I had worked at another organization where I did have very close relationships with several colleagues, so it didn’t strike me as off at first.
    One of the things that motivated me to set boundaries was that I didn’t want the burden of knowing about his personal life. He shared a lot of things that impacted my respect for him, like negative things about his wife or the tactics of an advocacy group he was a part of outside of work. I avoided him and the office as much as possible, which, if the office had otherwise been functional, would have been an issue. Also, I was managing people new to the workforce and I saw that I was modeling that it was ok to have these personal conversations at work (open office so no private convos…).
    I wish I had set these boundaries much sooner…like before he asked advice on whether he should leave his wife for another woman.

  24. TootsNYC*

    Kowalski! Options! said above that the boss dynamic makes this extra hard–I agree.

    Throw in that she’s old enough to be your mother, so there’s an “age = authority” thing going on.
    Throw in that for most of us (women especially), our mother* is often the one with whom we have the most “emotional” relationship, the one we go to when we need emotional support.
    Throw in that a great many bosses (and subordinates) have only the parental as their model for how to be an authority figure.

    No wonder you feel that pressure! But hold fast to your conviction that she’s overstepping.

    *I think there’s a trend for women subordinates/women bosses to slide into a daughter/mother framework. It wouldn’t surprise me if sometimes it’s easy to slip into son/father in damaging ways too. (and of course, mothering and father-ing of opposite sex “children”)

  25. Lily Rowan*

    I don’t think anyone has specifically said this yet, so: when your boss says “You can tell me anything!” assuming you’re trying to maintain your relationship with her, you can say back, “Thank you so much! I really appreciate that.” and then continue to not tell her things you don’t want to! It’s just one more piece of Alison’s suggestion to be warm without being that open — a mindset I find really effective at work.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’m sort of fantasizing about our OP saying–when the boss is being kind of prying and says, “remember, you can tell me anything”–“but I don’t have to, right?”

      1. TootsNYC*

        Those are modals, those words: can, may, must, should, could, will…

        People use the wrong ones all the time, or they use the ones they don’t mean.

        Remember that she said “can”–take her literally. You can. You don’t have to.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I really want OP to look around furtively, and then make intense eye contact with her boss and say, “even about the dead body?” And then pretend she’s said too much and walk away.

        (Obviously don’t do this. It’s just hilarious in my head.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Oh what fun. Go on and on about the dead body. Then reveal there was a dead mouse in your living room this morning.

  26. TootsNYC*

    one last note:

    One difficulty for you is that you have already shared stuff about your depression and your feelings. So pulling back might mean that she steps forward, i.e., says, “You don’t share with me anymore?” or “how is your depression, are you feeling OK?” And basically pries into the emotional stuff.

    You can prepare a script for that. I like to say stuff like, “I’ve found it’s not helpful for me to talk about it at work. I hope I can count you on.”
    Frame it as being “good for me” or “helpful for me,” so that if she persists, she has to sort of “do something harmful.”

    I hope you’re specifically talking about -this- issue with your therapist, and getting some time and a spare (trained) brain to help you figure out coping mechanisms that help you deal both on your own AND in the moment at work.

    1. OP*

      I actually have been worried about this, so thank you! I’m going to write your script down and use it if this comes up.

      And yes, my most recent therapy session was spent talking about solely about work, and I have some coping mechanisms that I’m working on. This is the worst my anxiety has ever been, so it’s been an uphill struggle, but I’m getting there. And honestly, a huge burden slid off my shoulders while reading Alison’s answer. So I things are looking up!

  27. Rebecca*

    My ex-manager was like this. Favoritism, talking about coworker’s issues, always wanting personal details and way oversharing with her own personal things, like when her sister had toes amputated due to diabetic issues, said sister came to the office and showed her foot with the missing toes. I wish this was not true. Thankfully, I didn’t see it. She went on and on about how she loved us, we were like a family, and if we gave short answers to personal questions, she would act offended.

    Personally, I didn’t tell her anything that I didn’t want the entire world to know, because she had a gossipy bucket mouth. I figured if she told me personal things about herself and my coworkers, she would tell others things about me, so I kept things to myself. I agree with answering her with a smile, talking about your cat’s toenails being trimmed, or doing laundry, or any mundane thing…and when she questions further, nope, that’s all I did, nothing very exciting…oh, gotta run, I promised Fergus an answer on the Madigan file right away this morning…and away you go. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

    And, I need to say, I love my new manager. She never asks me questions about my personal life, why I’m taking time off, nothing, just yes, you can have that day, or no, we need more coverage, can you take X day instead? That’s the way it should be!

  28. Allison*

    I’ve noticed that while some women scoff at struggles with mental illness and try to show the sufferers tough love (comments like “UGH, I’m tired of this crap. Woman up, go to therapy, get over it already, this IS NOT NORMAL!” are very common on Corporette), other women like to take an annoyingly maternal approach when they see younger women struggling – “Oh honey, it’s okaaaay. Here, tell me what’s wrong, I’ll make it all better. You’re all right.” I’ve had other women sense I was nervous about something and then immediately try to “mommy” me, talking to me in a tone that was both soothing and infantilizing. I think they think this is how you help someone feel better when they’re having a tough time, but really it just makes you feel worse doesn’t it? It’s boundary-crossing, because you don’t want that woman to be your mommy, and it’s condescending because they assume that’s what you want or need, when actually you want most people to get out of your face leave you the hell alone.

    I wish more people understood that when someone is going through a tough time, whether it’s a mental illness or grief or anything similar, letting someone in and leaning on them feels very intimate to them, and no matter how well intentioned you are, simply wanting to be there for them doesn’t mean you get to be.

    1. JulieBulie*

      Wanting to “be there” means really wanting to be helpful. The helper doesn’t get to decide what’s helpful. I don’t know if this boss really wants to “be there” for OP.

      “Being there” might mean offering OP more flexibility in her schedule, or giving her a quieter place to work for part of the day. It doesn’t mean she gets to interrogate OP for her own entertainment.

  29. My name is Inigo Montoya*

    I had this boss! And I dreaded talking to her – to the point where I did leave the job. When I didn’t share enough or asking enough follow questions about her weekend, her dinner, her new shoes, etc, she’d coach me on my “soft skills”. I don’t have any problems with small talk and work in an industry where one-on-one connection is essential, but she was over the top!

    My coping strategy towards the end was to find that one or two things I could go on and one about at length to satisfy her need – for me it was restaurants and all things food / coffee. She must have thought I ate every meal at a five-star restaurant. But whatever – she stopped asking me about the husband, my marriage, when we were going to have kids… All because she wanted restaurant recommendations. 10 minutes of reading OpenTable and Washingtonian before our one-on-ones saved my sanity there.

  30. Not About Bob*

    OP, if you need lessons in redirective small talk, talk to someone in sales. Salespeople excel at making a superficial relationship seem more meaningful. (That may seem sarcastic or scornful in type, but I genuinely admire the skill.)

  31. DecorativeCacti*

    I’m not sure if this will work for you, OP, but one of my strategies for avoiding overly personal talks is to play the “It’s not you, it’s me” card in various ways.

    “You don’t want to hear from me; I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, I’m really being a grump.”

    “I slept horribly last night. I need about six cups of coffee before I can even function.” Then if she tries to follow-up: “I’ve had my coffee so I feel much better.”

  32. The Queen of Cans & Jars*

    So reading these comments, I’ve realized a lot of the topics that people suggest using as diversions are ones that I legitimately talk about when someone asks me about “my life.” I guess I’m either a) incredibly boring, or b) blessedly drama-free.

    In an ideal world, you should be able to push back and say, “You know, that’s really more personal than I’m comfortable answering,” but when you’re dealing with coworkers or, especially, bosses, you do risk losing some political capital by creating that tension. And if you’re feeling emotionally fragile, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with engaging in a little subterfuge so you don’t have to deal with a situation that may add to your stress.

    Personally, I have such fun with ignoring people’s unstated expectations if they’re unreasonable. If you are too chicken to ask me something straight out, I’m just going to continue to pretend to be blissfully unaware. :D

    1. JulieBulie*

      Queen, I doubt that you’re boring. I think you’re just smart. :-) It took me years to figure out how to manage all of that.

    2. Julia M*

      With the high amount of emotional stress at my job (geriatric healthcare) you are exactly the person I would want to have lunch with. Our lunch time conversations are usually about tv shows, books, strange news we came across or bad jokes. Otherwise we’d be too drained to function all day!

  33. Government Worker*

    I think that this sort of thing is exactly why some people get a reputation for talking a lot about their kids – they provide easy fodder for innocuous conversation, especially with coworkers who are parents but even just in general. It’s so easy to answer a question about the weekend with “took the kids to the splash park” or “Johnny got sick so we were stuck at home” or whatever, and avoid truly personal stuff while giving people the sense that they know all about your life.

    I’m definitely not one of those please-stop-talking-about-your-kids coworkers (I talk way more about nerdy industry stuff I saw on twitter), but I struggle to find balance. As a young(ish) professional woman in a job where I’m trying to earn the respect of a lot of older men, I kind of feel like I should mention my kids as little as possible, but it’s hard not to rely on kid stuff as a ready supply of idle work chit chat.

  34. Jady*

    It’s healthy and normal to have boundaries on work vs private life. I have depression as well, that’s not something I’ve ever said to anyone I work with, and no plans to change that anytime soon.

    So like Allison suggests, I have just a category of things I’m willing to talk about at work when necessary. TV/movies, some degree of politics, weather, games, books, pets, etc. Pretty generic stuff.

    It’s been rare in my experience for anyone to push. But I did have someone above me in rank ask about my health earlier this year when I was out for a medical reason. My answer was simply “I’d prefer not to talk about that.” I think generally the power dynamics make you feel obligated, but at that moment I remembered HIPAA exists and I couldn’t quickly think of any other response.

    They just said “Okay” and life went on.

    Unless you happen to know your boss is insane and would retaliate, staying private isn’t an issue.

    And if I did end up with an insane boss, I still wouldn’t share anything I didn’t want to. If that meant coming up with a fake-second-life made of lies, oh well! Hah

  35. cornflower blue*

    Back when I worked for a similar type of boss, I was dealing with a terminally ill parent. I tried very hard to balance protecting personal information with making certain that the boss knew just enough information that he wasn’t blindsided when I inevitably needed to use some FMLA and then bereavement. The drama he would have caused due to not already knowing about the situation would have made my mom’s passing even more overbearingly stressful, so I spoon-fed him bits over time to build up goodwill.

    Just a perspective to keep in mind.

  36. not your daughter*

    Oh this! My previous boss referred to me as “my high school baby” on numerous occasions, including in client meetings. She also wanted to give me feedback on my online dating profile. Still give me willies even though it’s been several years.
    On the bright side, she did give me a fantastic reference when I moved on.

    1. Emi.*

      Were you in high school? Were you an age that if you were her kid, she’d’ve had you in high school? What does this mean? Why did she think it was appropriate?

  37. Marisol*

    OP I am grossed out on your behalf. Here’s a deflection strategy I haven’t seen mentioned: is there something innocuous you could let her mentor you on? She wants to mother you and so perhaps this would be satisfying for her, even if you were discussing something that was ultimately low-stakes and impersonal. I’m thinking something like, the way she dresses for example. “Jane, you always wear such beautiful clothes! How do you approach shopping for office attire?” Something that you could pick her brain on that would make her feel important, but that still falls withing the professional realm, would be ideal. And she may actually have some skills or attributes that you would benefit from learning. If you can make a list of what you admire about her professionally and show enthusiasm for learning from her, that might scratch her itch.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love that idea — and the OP could end up getting something of value out of it too, if she asks about the things she really does think her boss does well.

  38. Hermione Lovegood*

    I may be off-base here, but OP, you said you are the HR admin. Does that mean your boss is in HR? If so, that takes this to a WHOLE ‘nother level of inappropriateness. Gossiping about coworkers’ personal issues? Retaliation? This throws up all kinds of red flags if she is, indeed, in HR.

  39. km85*

    To play devil’s advocate… I often dislike this kind of personal sharing, but I did have a boss a few years ago who I developed a close relationship with. She knew a lot about my personal life, and it helped me once.

    I was going through relationship troubles with my fiance, and because I was upset and emotional, I got drunk at a company function, retired to my office where I essentially held a private party with company booze, and then drove home. Security told my boss, and I definitely should have been fired.

    But because I had been sharing a lot about my relationship, my boss told me point blank that she knew I was going through a tough time and that it was anomalous behavior for me. I was put on a PIP instead of getting fired. But if my boss didn’t know and sympathize with the fact that my fiance and I were breaking up, I would have been out a husband and a job!

  40. Iris Eyes*

    This reminds me of the book Queen Bees and Wanna Bees (the book Mean Girls was inspired by) one of the main premises of the book is that female social circles often use information as currency. Well it talks about it anyway, its been a decade since I read it so my memory might be a bit faulty.

    I really don’t like the way that your boss is using the confidences that are given to gossip and talk badly about others. She is using a position of power to coerce information and then using that information to be rude.

  41. Anonny*

    At a previous job, the secretary swooped in when people were getting married and tried to become an unasked-for wedding plannner/shamer. She shamed a coworker into buying glass plates to use for a shower, instead of paper. I really liked this person, but knew I had to keep my wedding plans out of the office. I ended up inviting a few people who could keep it quiet and then sending a voicemail to my team the day prior to the wedding. It was either those extreme measures, or having someone hone in on my wedding/ceaselessly discuss it at work. I needed one place where I wasn’t thinking about it.

    FWIW, this person had 3 sons and I think really yearned to have a daughter to do these things with.

  42. voluptuousfire*

    This kinda reminds me of when your parents start trying to meddle in your job search and the advice here is to not tell them anything or keep it vague/general. Same applies here!

    This is essentially the office version of it.

  43. Julia M*

    It sounds like you’re not so afraid to “open up” to people at work, as you’re afraid to open up to a manager who is manipulative and uses people’s personal information against them. As soon as you said she says bad things about other’s personal issues behind their backs it all made sense to me why you would not want to open up to her. The unspoken “pressure” is actually an unspoken “threat” in that she’s trying to get personal information to use as ammunition against people. That’s extremely unhealthy.

    I think the “talk abut shallow meaningless stuff” is the best answer. And remind yourself she has no right at all to hear anything personal about you. This is work – not group therapy. And if it were group therapy it would be a safe place. And I say this as a person who loves to talk to people and get to know them and has had people at my work tell me incredibly personal things. The difference is, I respect that information and keep it to myself and I do appreciate that we can have a friendship along with our co-worker status. But your manager isn’t doing that and it sounds like you were wise enough to sense it from the start.

    Sounds like she wants to have power over everyone so the best thing you can do is not give her that power by fearing her. She may feel very important being able to manipulate people into trusting her with their secrets so she can use them against them, but she’s like a tiny little mouse casting a giant shadow – when you realize that fearsome beast is just the shadow of a tiny mouse, you’ll realize how truly powerless (and awful) she really is and she won’t cause you so much anxiety anymore.

  44. mf*

    Talking about the latest TV series/movie/book you’re enjoying is a GREAT way of sharing something “personal” that isn’t really all that personal.

    If your boss tries to direct the conversation towards your health/depression, definitely go for deflection: “It’s nice of you to ask but I’m trying to focus only on positives stuff right now. Let’s talk about [x topic].”

    You also have the absolute right to lie: “I’ve actually been feeling really good lately. Nothing much to report. How are you doing?”

  45. RabbitRabbit*

    Ugh, yes, I had a previous manager who wasn’t so much mom-ish as “older cooler sister” in her sharing. Our department was getting bad ‘engagement in work’ scores and her idea of improving team spirit was to have cake-and-gossip sorts of luncheons with ‘bonding’ questions. One was during a bridal shower thrown for a coworker, and she expected us to all go around and share our engagement story; I think the unmarried folks had to share a memorable dating story or something. My husband and I aren’t traditionally “romantic” – best Valentine’s present ever was a fun co-op video game where we could blow away aliens together – so my story was about how we had decided it was about time after living together for years.

    In one of these ‘bonding’ sessions, she managed to attempt to humblebrag (not so much on the ‘humble’) about how a Major Sports Superstar had seriously hit on her during his prime.

  46. Beezus*

    I have a senior coworker who does all this (she’s slightly senior to me and has a manager title, but she doesn’t have direct reports anymore). She dropped some broad hints that she loves how Sarah and Jane consider her their ‘work mom’, and I deadpanned back, “I have a really complicated relationship with my mom, so for me, that would not be a good thing.” I think that helped her accept that I was never going to warm up to her in that way, without taking it personally. I am cheerful and friendly and professional, I just don’t gush about the gory details of my personal life.

  47. Ashley*

    I had a very similar boss. I know WAY to much about her life, specifically her dating line. She always talked about writing a book about dating over 50, but wanted to wait until her parents died because it was too explicit. Blegh! She was desperate to chat with anyone about ANYTHING, especially herself.

    Make it all about her. That’s what she wants anyway. She wants to talk and unload about herself. AAM’s advice about a couple of light topics was spot on. DO NOT share anything else personal or medical. Nothing that can be used against you for any reason. Good luck – I know how draining it can be.

  48. Y*

    Remember that people like talking about themselves. People like this, especially. So practice conversational judo: turn their over-sharing against them. Answer every question with a tiny crumb of detail — one that doesn’t provoke any obvious follow-up questions — and then immediately swing it back onto a question or some other opportunity for the interlocutor to dispense their wisdom / share details of their own life / give advice / whatever.

    It’s easy, and far from making you look rude (as shutting down the conversation or saying ‘I don’t want to talk about that’ would), people come away thinking you’re the bestest conversation-partner int he world because you let them spend 90% of the time talking about their favourite subject, ie, them!

    Disadvantages: you do have to be prepared to smile though the boredom as they rabbit on and on about themselves. It doesn’t work if you can’t fake attentiveness.

  49. Bobsterbrownie*

    Can you start reading a book…..a really long, long, long boring one or a crazy long series like Game of Thrones? When she asks you what you did, just got into long excruciating detail about how Hobbits aren’t really related to Dwarves regardless of their short stature. Did she known That? Oh and by the by, Sargeas didn’t start out as a horrible le, evil demon of the dark, he started out as a paragon and fought the void!

    Maybe deflecting with honest information that you are comfortable sharing will discourage her from prying further lest you launch into a discourse of wether or not Illidan is truly evil or the o lt one who understands how to protect Azeroth. ;)

  50. Cam*

    Oh my goodness, this sounds exactly like my old manager! At my performance review, she spent 5 min telling me that I’m doing well at my actual job and then TWO HOURS telling me that I really need to work on improving our relationship because I “don’t share stories about my dog with her”. I wish I was making this up. I’m sorry that I don’t have a dog story to tell you every day, crazy woman. I stammered something about how I was worried I was talking too much about my dog and I didn’t want to annoy everyone. She also didn’t like that I always responded with “Fine” when she asked me how I was and that I only wanted to talk about work.

  51. Sara*

    This is the exact management style I like to work with. It makes me feel way more comfortable. With that being said, having depression and/or anxiety can make a pause in a friendly conversation seem extremely awkward. I agree with the suggestions. Try to participate in the convo without sharing personal details. This will help you two build rapport without feeling weird about over sharing afterwards. If you just give short responses, not making eye contact, etc. it could give the impression that you are uninterested and it could make it more awkward for both of you.

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