how do I work with someone I can’t stand?

A reader writes:

My question is regarding an irritating coworker, who I will call Karen. We both report to the same supervisor and work in the same suite, but are on separate teams. I have struggled with our relationship since we began working together five years ago.

Karen is not the brightest bulb in the box and has poor social skills. She believes that dentists are scam artists who “give you cavities.” On a business trip, she squealed when saw a dirty pigeon in a large city asking, “How did that bird get in here?” She also has a giggling tic, that results in her cackling constantly, even if no one has said anything funny. Her giggles combine with her constant sniffling and loud nose blowing, creating a horrific, nonstop symphony. I could go on for awhile here, but you get the idea.

I know it sounds petty, but these behaviors encompass every single pet peeve I hold. When she was first hired, every time she opened her mouth she would say something that sent chills of irritation down my spine. So I simply stopped speaking to her. This became very obvious to others in our small-ish suite. Eventually it got so bad that I would walk past her without saying hello, which resulted in her going into a nervous giggling, hiccuping, and sniffling fit every time she saw me, which just amplified the irritation and tension.

I don’t need chastisement – I’m not proud of how I’ve handled our relationship in the past. Since it began, I’ve grown, been promoted, and am poised to enter upper management within the corporation. Karen will be returning from maternity leave in a few weeks. When she comes back, I’d like to handle our relationship more professionally, but I could use advice on how to get past the personality conflicts and the agony of agitation.

Ah, work — it’s second only to families in forcing us to spend time with people we’d rather not be in close contact with.

But the thing to keep in mind here is that part of what you’re being paid for at work is to get along reasonably well with your co-workers. That doesn’t mean that you have to be BFFs with everyone, but it does mean that you need to be reasonably polite and not freeze people out, no matter how annoying they are. It sounds like previously you figured that if you didn’t like Karen, you didn’t need to interact with her. But in a professional sense, you’re not being asked to form a social judgment about her, and it doesn’t much matter how you personally feel about her. Professionally, what matters is that you treat her with a reasonable amount of civility and respect — regardless of what you might feel internally — just because that’s a basic expectation at work.

I’m not sure if you’ve imagined what this was like on Karen’s side of things, but it sounds like it might have been pretty bad. If you work in a small office and one of your co-workers outright refuses to speak with you … well, it’s going to be highly uncomfortable at best, but more likely it’s going to be upsetting and pretty terrible. I’m not surprised that her nerves acted up when she saw you! It’s actually problematic enough that your manager really should have stepped in and not allowed you to do that, because it’s not okay to have someone refuse to acknowledge the presence of a colleague or create that kind of tension in the office. (I know you said you don’t need to be chastised, and I’m not trying to do that — but I do think it’s helpful to think through this part of it, because it will make you less likely to fall back into old habits with her.)

So, how to reset things and handle the relationship differently going forward?

One thing I’d do is to keep in the forefront of your mind the fact that Karen doesn’t sound like a bad person, just an annoying one. None of your complaints about her are about her being unkind or rude. They’re just about her being a little irritating. Sometimes when you’ve been annoyed with someone for a while, everything they do can start seeming much worse than it really is — and it might help to step back and remind yourself that she’s annoying but not a monster (and not even ill-intentioned, it sounds like).

It also might be worth digging into why her annoying behaviors bother you as much as they do. I mean, they do sound legitimately annoying — but your reaction to them is a pretty intense one, and it could be interesting to delve into why. Sometimes when you have a surprisingly acute reaction to something, there’s a reason for it — one that’s about you rather than the other person. Can you try to figure out exactly what it is about her nervous giggling and other habits that get under your skin to this extent? Who knows — maybe there’s something interesting there, like that you squelched your own nervous-giggling habit early on and think she should be able to do it too, or that you’re particularly hard on yourself when you make clueless-sounding remarks. Or maybe there’s nothing there, but when you’re giving relatively innocuous behaviors this much power to push your buttons, it’s worth asking yourself why.

I wonder, too, if you can find some sympathy for Karen. It can’t be fun to be saddled with constant sniffling and nervous laughing and weird beliefs about dentists and pigeons. And it’s definitely got to suck to already have poor social skills that probably make it tough to build a rapport with co-workers, and then to have one of those co-workers freeze you out. There’s a lot here to feel compassion about, if you shift your mind-set on it a bit.

Also keep in mind that Karen is probably dreading re-encountering you when she comes back from leave, given the history. Since you regret how you handled things in the past, what if you decided to make it easier on her now? Could you resolve to greet her warmly and say “welcome back” when you first encounter her? You should be sensitive to the fact that, at this point, if you do much more than that, you’ll probably freak her out, but who knows how much she’s dreading this, and it would be a real kindness if you show her, in a low-key way, that you’ve resolved to change things.

If none of that works, then move to this: The way you treat her will reflect on you. Especially as you’re moving into a senior-management position, your behavior is going to be more visible and, to some extent, more scrutinized. You want to be seen as someone who can handle annoying people with grace — and you definitely don’t want to be seen as someone who’s thrown off your game by someone more junior.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 363 comments… read them below }

  1. sonia*

    “I wonder, too, if you can find some sympathy for Karen. It can’t be fun to be saddled with constant sniffling and nervous laughing and weird beliefs about dentists and pigeons. And it’s definitely got to suck to already have poor social skills that probably make it tough to build a rapport with co-workers, and then to have one of those co-workers freeze you out. There’s a lot here to feel compassion about, if you shift your mind-set on it a bit.”

    THIS IS WHY I READ ASK A MANAGER. Thanks for some lovely, thoughtful advice.

    1. NW Mossy*

      The part about compassion is applicable for SO MANY situations at work when you find yourself frustrated by someone else’s behavior. Pushing yourself to take that step back and think “There’s probably a reason why they’re acting this way, and it’s very likely that the reason isn’t because they actively want to make me miserable,” can really help in reframing the person who’s annoying you as a human being who’s worthy of your respect and professionalism.

      1. SignalLost*

        It is literally advice for every situation. If you stop assuming that driver who merged at the last minute did not set out to make you angry, you’ll be a lot happier.

        1. Hrovitnir*

          Heh, you’re not wrong that letting this stuff go is better for your mental health. However, it’s at least as infuriating to take the view that most people who do things like merge at the last second are just too selfish to go around the block rather than cut someone off/skip the queue (I have sympathy if you haven’t driven here before but it’s too common to be the primary driver (heh) of the issue.)

          /irrelevant complaint

        2. Life is Good*

          This is so timely for me. I was pulling up to a car this morning on my way to work that had a right turn signal on and wasn’t turning even though there was no traffic. I grumbled “why aren’t you turning, dumbass.” When I got to the car, I saw a bumper sticker on the back that said “I am driving like this just to piss you off!” The car went straight when the light turned green.

        3. Lindsay J*

          Yes. OMG. This one thing has made a huge difference in my general attitude. I used to arrive pretty much everywhere annoyed because of bad driving. And I never realized how much mental energy it was taking up until I stopped doing that.

          I made the conscious effort to work on believing that people were generally acting with good intentions. And I decided that if I did get annoyed by driving or anything else, I was not going to vent about it. Not to my coworkers, not to my boyfriend, not in a Facebook post. I was going to be annoyed by myself and then let it go.

          I’m very rarely annoyed by people’s driving, now and am much happier in general I think.

        4. Sketchee*

          Yes! One of my mantras for my own happiness is to “Be generous in spirit.”

          People are generally doing their best. Whatever my reaction is needs to take that into account.

      2. EmilyG*

        I previously worked somewhere that had two explicitly stated values that helped with this. One was “assume positive intent”–just what you said about not assuming that someone wants to make you miserable. Instead, assume that they had a positive reason for doing whatever it is. The other wasn’t as slogan-y but had to do with “interest-based problem solving.” Don’t stick to your proposed solution but instead be open about what each person ultimately wants (what is their interest?) and then try to find a solution that addresses each person’s interest even if it’s not their original desired plan. (Which also leads you to be compassionate about what they want and why.)

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          This is my philosophy too – be generous in your assumptions and gentle with your feedback.

    2. DArcy*

      I think it’s fair to be compassionate about the things that aren’t her choice, but the weird beliefs are her choice and the poor social skills are a personal shortcoming which she needs to prioritize working on. It’s fair to be compassionate about that as well as long as it’s being addressed and worked on, but not so much if she ends up being one of those people who insists that they don’t want to bring their social skills up to a functional level.

        1. Specialk9*

          I think it’s worth remembering that there are lots of ‘not one’s fault’ reasons for one’s brain being wired ‘funny’. In this case, would you feel differently about the co-workers responsibility if you found out that she had childhood lead poisoning, or had extended oxygen deprivation at birth? (Both situations I’ve encountered IRL.) Both of those examples can lead to some seriously atypical social skills and disorganized thinking.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yeah, I read critiques of people social skills with a degree of sadness because of my children has autism and really struggles with social skills. The kids has been in social skills therapy for years and now attends a social skills immersion school to try to make more progress – but it’s still obvious that they’re different and “good social skills” are a huge struggle and I can see the kid’s tics being a Karen-like annoyance. It’s a huge priority for us but brain wiring is hard to overcome. My kid is smart, compassionate, and sensitive, and I am dreading the heartbreak ahead when people don’t assume good intent. :(

      1. Mananana*

        “Poor social skills” is a very subjective statement, though. The OP doesn’t state what her coworker is doing that falls under this category, so it might be things that OP doesn’t like, but doesn’t strike the others on the team as something to be corrected.

        1. Julia*

          I can forgive pretty much any “poor social skills” but rudeness. Or maybe even rudeness that doesn’t change when called out on it.

          All the rest – people are people. Talk it out.

      2. Hills to Die on*

        That’s all true, but it isn’t the OP’s place to make those judgment calls. Also, if we all decided that treating people badly because they have character / personal defects was okay, we would all be mean to each other 24/7.

        I can be judgmental, and when I find myself doing it, I try to appreciate all of the good things about the person. I would rather work with a gigglesniffer who Doesn’t Have a Clue about certain things than some coworkers I have had in the past that go out of their way to be hateful to nearly everyone. Surely you have met someone worse than Karen, OP? Try and appreciate what she does do with kindness / efficiency / whatever. And don’t be too hard on yourself—just work on getting better at this. :)

        1. Kathenus*

          Thank you for the phrase ‘gigglesniffer who Doesn’t Have a Clue’. Gave me a needed smile today.

        2. char*

          Seconding appreciating the good things about the person! I have a few coworkers who I am sometimes irrationally annoyed by. Reminding myself that Fergus has a great sense of humor and Wakeen is fantastic at teapot spout maintenance helps me feel more forgiving when they do something harmless that happens to get on my nerves.

        3. Lindsay J*

          Yes. And the judgementalness was what really stood out to me in the OPs post. Like, she even felt the need to judge the pigeon by calling it “dirty”.

          Like, I know it is a pigeon, so I know it is certainly not clean. But the pigeon didn’t need any adjective or to be described in any way as anything about it other than being a pigeon was completely irrelevant to the letter. That she felt the need to specify that it was “dirty” tells me that she is probably in the habit of judging everything in pretty negative ways and it’s not just this one specific coworker that gets an otherwise non-judgmental person’s heckles up for some weird reason.

      3. Observer*

        Compassion is a far more reasonable reaction to weird beliefs than global rudeness and dehumanization, though.

        Those may sound like extreme words, but that’s pretty much what the OP is describing. Not “I keep on telling her she sounds like an idiot when she says those things” But “I won’t even say hello to her in the ever.” That’s pretty extreme.

        1. Anon anon anon*

          Yeah. I feel for the co-worker. I would have compassion for her. I get where LW is coming from to an extent. Sometimes people’s quirks push your buttons. I’ve been there. It’s not easy. The key is to acknowledge that it’s your own issue and that it’s part of your job to deal with it. To say to yourself, “Bill’s laugh reminds me of the uncle who I don’t get along with. I need to find a way to deal with that or find another job.”

          When I was younger, I used to have more inappropriate reactions to stuff like this. It is a skill that comes with time. At least it was for me. Now I’m pretty good at differentiating harmful behavior from harmless things that I react to for random personal reasons. It’s easy for me, now, to be kind to people unless they’re doing something that seems wrong or indicative of I’ll intent.

          Interestingly, most of the stuff that bothers me is related to bad memories. I’ve found that the more aware I am of how I’m reacting and why, the better I can deal with it.

      4. Mamunia*

        Or be compassionate about those things because for whatever reason she is unable to not do those things, even if the reason is unwillingness. If that is the case, how sad to be so entrenched in your weird beliefs and actions that you are unwilling to change.

      5. fposte*

        What is it you’re proposing as an alternative, though, and why do you think it’s better? Do you think it was okay for the OP to freeze out her teammate because of an annoying laugh and a sniffling habit? How are we defining “functional level,” and couldn’t we just as easily define people who don’t exercise compassion as below it too?

        Ultimately, I think a big reason compassion is preferable is because it’s better for the person exercising it than seething and dislike; its benefits for the recipients matter too, but they’re less immediate.

      6. INTP*

        The weird beliefs aren’t hurting OP, though, so there is no need to punish them with rudeness or withholding compassion. What a person thinks about dentists is completely irrelevant to how you should treat them at work (unless maybe you work at a dentist’s office). If they’re carrying on with annoying rants then by all means, try to figure out diplomatic ways to distract them, but what your coworkers think about dentists inside their own heads is really none of your business.

        OP displayed a complete lack of a certain key professional social skill – the ability to be friendly to someone you don’t enjoy and keep your personal opinions about a person to yourself – so she should certainly be able to empathize with the coworker on that front. Even if the coworker isn’t making rapid strides, the OP has only just decided to work on this herself, so withholding compassion to punish the coworker for not self-improving on her own exact timetable would be quite silly.

      7. LAP*

        “the poor social skills are a personal shortcoming which she needs to prioritize working on.”

        If the LW actually developed this mentality, Karen may not be the only one with the poor social skills. It’s none of the LW’s business what personal things Karen needs to work on

    3. Specialk9*

      Agreed! I flare like a lit match, internally, and I wish I could have Alison’s ability to speak hard truth and urge compassion in the same measured tone.

    4. Owner of a proud smile*

      It may not be fun to be saddled with sniffling and an obnoxious laugh, because those are physiological symptoms the employee can’t do much about.

      But the employee *can* do something about her weird beliefs about dentists: namely, re-evaluate them, or at the very least, stifle her opinions. I don’t need to have “compassion” for anti-vaxxers (they ought to have compassion for the people they cause to become sick). “Dentists cause cavities” isn’t far removed from the anti-vaccination crowd.

      1. Princess Cimorene*

        Hmm. So someone having a different belief system than yours makes them someone not worthy of human-decency? Just because an opinion is held by a majority on something doesn’t necessarily make it “right”

        (granted, believing dentists cause cavities is a bit bizarre – however you don’t know where he belief in that stems from, what she may have gone through in her life to come to that conclusion or what her family dynamic was growing up, etc…)

        But deciding that because someone has beliefs that aren’t the same as yours means they don’t deserve compassion or that it means they deserve to be treated poorly says a whole lot about you and nothing good.

        1. David McWilliams*

          I can think of beliefs that, were someone to hold them, would lessen or eliminate the amount of compassion I felt towards that person. None of those beliefs (or anything close to them) are on display in the OP, but I can certainly think of them.

          Although I suppose the driving factor there is not that their beliefs are different than mine, but the fact that they lead to behavior that actively harms other people. I’m thinking about anti-vaxxers endangering the people who depend on herd immunity to avoid illness–my compassion for those who’d sacrifice others’ health for the illusion of purity is strictly limited.

          Allison, feel free to shut this down if I’m too off-topic.

          1. Lindsay J*

            I feel like I still can have compassion for people while disliking or even actively hating their beliefs. (Having actual compassion about those beliefs is still difficult, but I’m working on it.)

            Like, if someone who is anti-abortion has cancer, I still feel badly for them and hope that they are okay, even though I am staunchly pro-choice.

            It’s more difficult for me to have compassion/understanding for their belief. However, if I approach it by looking at their starting point (a fetus is the same as a fully formed human being) I can see how they reach their belief (Killing human beings is wrong. Therefore killing fetuses is wrong.) and even their desire to enforce that belief on others that don’t share the same belief as them, (If everyone in the world suddenly decided that murdering 5 year olds was okay if caring for them was a hardship, I would strongly disagree. If they tried to legislate it and make killing 5-year-olds legal, I would protest and would have difficulty understanding the people who thought it was okay).

            I still don’t *agree* with their point of view. (There are many things that make a fetus different from a 5 year old in my opinion). But I can understand it and understand them and why they do what they do much more and see them as human being trying to do what they think is right in a complex world rather than just this group of cogs out to destroy rights that I believe in and that people like me have fought hard for.

        2. Lindsay J*

          I mean, I found out a few years ago that the reason my parents stopped taking me to the pediatric dentist I went to as a kid was because they were sued because they drilled and did other things to actually healthy teeth in order to collect fraudulent insurance payouts.

          That isn’t exactly causing cavities but it’s pretty close. And it didn’t alter my entire family’s view of dentists, but I could see how it might.

        3. Snark*

          “So someone having a different belief system than yours makes them someone not worthy of human-decency?”

          This is not about belief systems. You can have your own interpretations, but you’re not actually entitled to your own facts just because you happen to like them better. And if they’re actively harmful to public health, the environment, minorities, and/or society at large, I’m not obligated to view them empathetically or compassionately either, and anti-vax zealots are right there for me.

          1. Observer*

            Neither suspicion of dentists nor fear of pigeons is “actively harmful to public health”. This is nothig more than an excuse to look down at others.

      2. Plague of frogs*

        ‘“Dentists cause cavities” isn’t far removed from the anti-vaccination crowd.’

        It is quite far removed, unless you are forced to french kiss that person.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Exactly. Unlike anti-vaxxer beliefs, an irrational fear of dentists harms no one except the person holding that belief and any dependent minors.

          But in any case, much as I dislike and condemn anti-vax stuff, that *still* wouldn’t justify my freezing out a coworker who had those beliefs. The OP has no excuse for being that unpleasant to this coworker.

    1. CatCat*

      Yes. Amazing answer.

      I’d like an update on this one. I know it’s not one of the most dramatic tales here, but I feel like if the letter writer really takes the advice to heart, works on the internal feelings that are coming into play, and adjusts her behavior. there will be a great outcome. The letter writer seems very open to fixing how she is treating Karen! I’m hoping for this to work out for both letter writer and Karen.

    2. Owner of a proud smile*

      Part of the point of being a manager is to find employees capable of exercising good judgment. Does repeating this mantra of “dentists cause cavities” suggest the employee shows good judgment in other areas?

      What would you (as an MD) think if the employee said “I don’t trust doctors. All they do is make me sick”?

  2. Snark*

    And this is why there’s no Ask Snark column, because I’d have gone straight to discussing the merits of various locations for discreet corpse disposal.

    Poor Karen, though. Like Alison says, it’s got to be a tough row to hoe, and having been the odd man out socially for large chunks of my childhood, I’d not want to be stuck in the same place as an adult.

      1. cleo*

        My favorite part of reading Alison’s column on that site is waiting for the stock photo to load! This week’s was so good.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        LOL I found another one in that series independently, when I was bored at work and making a PowerPoint about a fictional company just for laughs. It was the same exact woman in the same exact office, filing her nails, looking as bored as I felt.

        I named her Sally Gladhand, receptionist. She has been on the front desk for ten years and is sure that someday she will marry a rich client and never have to work again. :)

    1. M is for Mulder*

      Same. I am totally qualified to give Awful, Terrible, Life-Wrecking Advice, if there’s a market for that.

      1. Batshua*

        I mean, that could be a great blog if marketed as such. Like “M’s Advice on What Not To Do”…

    2. Lorelai Gilmore*

      For real. She sounds like the type of person I’d be silently wishing would quit her job every day.

      I appreciate Allison’s advice though. I had a rhinoceros snorting in my office all summer. I (and everyone else) was counting down the days til his fellowship ended. It’s all you hear, once you hear it.

      1. Windchime*

        I used to work with a Nervous Giggler and it was horrible. She would laugh every time she said anything. It got to the point where we couldn’t have her meeting with customers because they were offended when she would do nothing but laugh through the whole meeting. Yes, I have compassion for Karen but I also have compassion for the OP because it is supremely annoying.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          It’s horrible to *be* the nervous giggler. I do this sometimes and I absolutely hate it because it makes me look insipid, nervous, and immature. But it is not an easy thing to stop yourself from doing.

    3. Purplesaurus*

      Me too. My first thought was to drop off a gift basket of dead pigeon photos during her giggling fits. It’s a good thing I’m too lazy to act on my initial impulses.

      1. Her Grace*

        No, no, you need to be more subtle than that.
        A welcome-back gift is most appropriate. I was thinking a box of crackers. Nice ones, of course.

    4. Jennifer*

      I am the one who sets off the “bitch eating crackers” reaction in several people I work with. I just super super super pissed one off today (she was telling someone not great/partially wrong info, I overheard it and stepped in, yes, I concur I was wrong). I am trying to figure out how to NOT piss people off. The only thing I can come up with is just to stop speaking except when I absolutely have to, and apparently I should have just let that person say the wrong thing and then just cleaned up the mess when the client complained a few weeks later.

      1. Specialk9*

        Shutting the hell up… The superpower most people learn in grade school, and I learned in my late 30s.

      2. Snark*

        I suspect it’s not that you’re correcting them on saying the wrong thing, it’s how you’re correcting them, and who’s around to watch them get corrected.

      3. writestuff*

        If you really want to figure it out, talk to the person you pissed off, and truly listen without being judgemental or defensive. If you’re pissing off several people you work with on a regular basis, that is quite a large, blinking sign that something must change (if you want good working relationships and also, a job).

  3. (Different) Rebecca*

    OP, do you possibly have misophonia? I do, and OMFG if you crunch your carrots loudly in my direction… Just a thought–understanding one’s own reactions is sometimes (only sometimes) a way to make them easier to control.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Hehe one of my coworkers has this (with apples) and she explained that the sound causes INTENSE FITS OF RAGE that she can’t control. I was like uh okay I’ll go eat in the kitchen no problem byyee!

      1. (Different) Rebecca*

        It’s an awful feeling. I can be having an outwardly pleasant conversation with someone while my mind is all ‘KILL. KILLLLLL. REND THEM LIMB FROM LIMB UNTIL THE NOISE STOPS.’ And I’d love to be able to not feel the rage, but for the moment the best I can do is suppress my own outer response.

    2. Abby*

      As a misophonia sufferer, I was wondering this, too. I sit in a small office with a co-worker who snacks regularly in the office and the moment I hear the first chew, I feel a wave of unreasonable anger and panic, but I know it’s me, not them.

      Understanding your triggers can help with finding ways to cope that help mitigate negative feelings towards others.

        1. Midge*

          Not Abby, but I sit across from someone who eats chips every day for lunch. My noise cancelling headphones aren’t enough to block out the noise. I typically get up, either to eat lunch or just walk around the office while he’s crunching, because I just can’t handle listening to that.

          1. WeevilWobble*

            I have a sleep sound app, Relax Melodies. And a fan app (which sounds like a fan.) When noises bother me I put that on with the noise cancelling headphones and it works great. Just white noise.

        2. Abby*

          I do. Usually I get them on the moment I hear them reaching for their snacks, but sometimes I’m caught up with something and don’t notice until the first sound of chewing.

        3. sin nombre*

          Also not Abby, but yes, I have indeed thought of this, because it’s extremely obvious and I’ve been dealing with this my whole life. Believe it or not, headphones and earplugs do not even come close to making this stuff not an issue.

          1. Specialk9*

            “yes, I have indeed thought of this, because it’s extremely obvious and I’ve been dealing with this my whole life.”

            Lol. Yeah, I always realize after asking that kind of question how obvious it is. But I’m glad you answered anyway, as education on a condition I know little about.

          2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            We don’t eat at the dining room table as a family because my sister has this and specifically, my husband chewing bugs the everloving shit out of her. She can handle some people eating, but he’s a loud chewer. We eat on TV trays with a movie or Pandora on just so it’s not slurp-slurp-crunch-scrape-squeak at the table. She’d end him. I don’t even doubt it.

    3. La Revancha*

      I have misophonia and I’m fully deaf in my left ear (was born that way). The combination makes it impossible to be around people who are noisy with their mouths. I had an old manager who made the loudest mouth noises when he spoke and I would have to wear and ear plug when we had meetings.

      1. (Different) Rebecca*

        Mouth noises are THE WORST. I’m seeing a guy and although I’d never tell him this one reason I adore him so much is he’s a quiet eater. Almost preternaturally so. It’s wonderful.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          God, I can barely stand my own mouth noises, let alone other people’s. I try to avoid crunchy foods as much as possible because I hate listening to myself chew.

      2. willow*

        Have you ever noticed that some people on heavy pain meds actually click when they talk? My mom did this on morphine, and others do it with oxycodone.

        1. LCL*

          God, the spitclickers make me homicidal when I hear it on the radio. You hear this especially on NPR, I think it happens when people are trying to prounounce things crisply. It’s not just pain meds.

        2. Meredith*

          Strong pain killers (and some other medications) quite commonly cause dry mouth, so perhaps that’s why?

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I remember pulling up an article about misophonia… which had a loud autoplay video of someone eating popcorn right up top! I just about threw my laptop across the room. Uggghhhhh shudder.

      1. Lindsay J*

        I’m pretty sure Spotify had an ad of someone eating chips or something like that for awhile specifically to force people into paying for premium so they never had to hear it again.

        It worked on me.

    5. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I don’t have misophonia, thankfully. I might have hyperacusis, though. This is still under investigation. Everyday sounds at perfectly fine volume levels are painfully loud for me.

      I also have a very pronounced gag reflex.

      I once shared an office with a guy who grazed constantly. And chewed with his mouth open. And didn’t blow his nose. Instead he sucked the snot up his nose.

      If I hadn’t had earplugs I would have puked my guts out.

      1. Anion*

        High-five ubersensitive gag reflexes!

        I used to work with a guy who’d come sit with me at lunch, and he would spread mayonnaise (which I can’t stand) on slices of roast beef, roll them up, and eat them. Then he’d eat potato chips by crushing them up, scooping up the chip shards with his fingers, and literally shoving his entire hand in his mouth to place them on his tongue.

        He was a really nice guy and I generally enjoyed his company, but I spent the entire time he was eating staring at my lap, the table, anywhere else but his face, because if I watched him I would gag.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t have either of these, but snot guy would have gotten a tack in his chair (not literally but gah).

        Something similar to the hyperacusis thing does happen to me when I’m either expecting Aunt Flo or I’m getting sick. Then even the tiniest noises just make me want to scream. I take it as a warning sign and go home.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          This was me my whole pregnancy. Cat licking himself on a different floor? I can hear him AND IT BUGS ME. Husband breathing in his sleep, as you do? PILLOW OVER HIS NOSE AND MOUTH. Somewhere a faucet drips? BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND. Someone in my office just took out nail clippers? SHOVE THEM IN HIS EYE SOCKET. I had never realized just HOW sensitive to sound a person could become.

          1. MisoMiserable*

            That’s what I live with all day every day, for my entire adult life. Sometimes my wife and I have to eat dinner in separate rooms and the TV turned up. At work I just try to time my lunch hour to the peak eating time around the office. Even if people near me aren’t eating, I can hear a person 100 feet away eating a turkey sandwich. Outside of lunch hour people still eat, and sometimes I can drown it out with earbuds but not all the time. If it gets bad enough I have to go outside and try to slow my breathing down because so much rage gets bottled up that if I don’t remove myself from the room I’m worried that I’m either going to scream or start flipping desks, or both. It’s not just eating sounds either. Sometimes – even with earbuds on and music playing – I can simultaneously hear someone 50 feet away chewing gum, the receptionist phone ringing downstairs and at the other end of the building, the copier 100 feet down the hall, and someone stapling papers through a closed office door, along with about 30 keyboards clacking in unison. The perceived combined noise level is about like a jet taking off a football field away.

      3. Plague of frogs*

        I work with someone who snorts about once a minute through all of allergy season. Ear plugs aren’t enough to block the noise. It is usually in patterns of three (“snort snort snort”), or with a sneeze (“choo! snort”). I fantasize about bursting into his cubicle and spraying nasal spray on him out of a fire hose. Sometimes I picture him excitedly searching for truffles in his cubicle.

        He is a lovely, kind, intelligent person, and I mostly try to focus on that, and how miserable allergies are.

    6. Looby*

      The absolute overwhelming anger and loathing I feel toward my coworker every time she starts crunching through an entire box of rice cakes makes me worried for my sanity some days.

    7. Story Nurse*

      If you have misophonia, investing in a pair of Doppler Labs Dubs noise-canceling earplugs will save you. They’re small and discreet and let conversation-level sounds through while blocking the most irritating tones. I wear mine at rock concerts and when the baby is screaming. My partner with misophonia, who used to go through jars of foam earplugs on a regular basis, wears them at the dinner table and at work (where they’re surrounded by open-mouth chewers who eat lunch at their desks). Highly, highly recommended.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Oh man, I need to get these for when I eat out with my bestie. She’s a sweetheart, but can’t stop chewing with her mouth open.

    8. kas*

      Wow, I’ve never heard of this before but I looked it up and I now know I have misophonia! I’ll go from pleasant to angry in 0.5 seconds if I hear slurping. I think I hide it well but inside I’m fuming. I had a very nice coworker who I could no longer stand because he slurped his soup/coffee. After that pretty much everything he did annoyed me and I avoided him.

      1. Jesca*

        For years, I had this unbelievably hatred for my stepfather. I had no good reason for it either, until I discovered I had this. I HATE the sounds of lip smacking when someone is eating. He has been partially deaf his entire life and has no idea how loud he is! I no longer hate him as I realize that it is neither rational nor fair to hate someone based on how they chew their food! I just avoid him when he eats now haha.

    9. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      Ditto. Mine is slurping. For two years I worked next to a guy who slooooowly sucked his coffee in through the smallest possible gap between his lips. How I never flew over the cubicle wall and strangled him I will never know. It’s been 3 years since he left the company and I still get a little rage-flare just remembering him.

      1. Abby*

        Haha, my poor husband does this, too (particularly the free coffee offered at Trader Joe’s). I mean, I understand that the drink it hot, but ugh, it drives me up the wall. He knows of my condition and tries to minimize it, but usually I just try to get some distance or find some other, non-triggering noise to block it out.

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        Mine isn’t related to eating; it’s nail clipping or styrofoam. Even just saying the word styrofoam makes me shivertwitch in rage.

    10. EOA*

      I just learned about misophonia the other day and it sounds really frustrating. The fact that it causes someone to go into a rage (as opposed to being disgusted) is interesting.

      1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        It really does. And it’s only certain sounds. Chew something extra-crunchy around me, I may find it annoying, especially if you’re plowing through a ton of it. But make one slurp, just one little slurp, near me and I get a full-body shudder followed immediately by an intense desire to brain you with the nearest heavy object.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Man, whereas I’m the total opposite. Slurping I can handle, but crunching is an immediate rage-and-nausea trigger.

        2. No Green No Haze*

          Entertainment industry here: often we wear headsets for front-of-house to backstage communication. Eating on comms is seriously taboo, but we’ve got one guy who still snacks and forgets to turn his mic off, and to make it worse, his useless superpower is making white bread sound like goulash. Doesn’t matter what inoffensive item he might be eating, it turns into a symphony of slurping. Right into your brain.

          I don’t have misophonia, but I do have irritability issues.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        Makes you wonder how many random attacks are committed by misophonics who also have poor impulse control! :o

        1. attie*

          My guess is none, because by the time you get to an age where you can begin to effectively attack random people, you’ve had at minimum a dozen years of thrice-daily lessons in keeping a hold of yourself!

    11. Anony McAnonface*

      I was wondering exactly this. For me it’s certain tones, so I don’t have the same problem with chewing etc that some people do, but the giggling and sniffing would make me go spare. (that said, I also just get irritated with verbal tics like my coworker who said “right on” every sentence. I nearly murdered him).

      This sounds like a hellish situation, and I have no suggestions for the OP other than to invest in headphones.

      1. Lacie*

        Oh god, verbal tics. I was in a constant state of pre-rage at my old job just waiting for my coworker to say “very cool” in response to every. damn. thing. Combined with lip smacks and other mouth noises, it’s a good thing I moved on from the job when I did.

      2. Jen*

        Yup, there was a podcast I had to stop listening to because one of the hosts punctuated nearly every sentence with, “y’know?” Infuriating.

        I had a high school teacher who would end every sentence with, “ok?” English, French, and Italian – every language he taught in, same sentence ending. I couldn’t stand him.

    12. Geillis D*

      I was on the receiving end of pretty blatant dislike from someone who just. Intensely. Disliked. Me.
      They were promoted to be my manager several month in, and it’s been miserable being mostly ignored unless they needed me to do something or, more often, mention a mistake I’ve made. The misophonia discussion made me paranoid about unintentionally annoying the living daylights out of them.

      Knowing that your mere existence is highly offensive to someone is… not pleasant.

    13. Spider*

      I’m super sensitive to the sound of overheard laughter. It’s strictly the sound itself of the laughter, in the auditory stimulus sense — I don’t think people are laughing at me, I don’t hate people for being happy, I’m not a misanthrope who hates fun, honest! And if I’m in a conversation with people laughing, it’s not a problem at all. But if I’m trying to concentrate and people nearby are laughing, by God, I want to bite their heads off.

  4. Temperance*

    LW, not armchair diagnosing or anything like that, but there’s always the possibility that Karen might be struggling with involuntary tics. A college friend of mine has Tourette’s syndrome, and he used to make bleating noises like a goat when he was stressed. Her annoying tittering laughter might be an actual tic and not just an annoying habit.

    That being said, I will agree that she sounds exhausting. Even my toddler niece and nephew understand what pigeons are, and they don’t live in a city.

    1. Observer*

      I have no idea if Karen has Tourette’s syndrome or any other diagnosable disorder. But from what I have seen, I’m pretty sure that this is not something Karen can control. Certainly not easily, and under the kind of stress she must be dealing with.

    2. Kiki*

      I have Tourette’s too, and tics can be anywhere from difficult to near impossible to suppress. Mine are all physical, not verbal. During super stressful days at work my jaw, neck, and hands begin to seize up and twitch. I’m sure it looks really disturbing and possibly distracting to my coworkers, and trust me when I say I would prefer they not see me like that, but there’s not much I can do about it except try to remove the stressor (which isn’t always possible in a work situation).

      1. Specialk9*

        Do you tell your co-workers? Either Tourettes, or more broadly ‘a medical condition that makes me twitch involuntarily’? Or have you tried that and it didn’t work out well?

    3. Backroads*

      I felt empathy for Karen! I am one symptom short of Tourettes diagnosis. Explaining to everyone, including my young students, that I probably will hum in monotone for no reason gets old. Tics can suck.

    4. McWhadden*

      A tic was the first thing I thought of. Especially since it was exacerbated by the OP ignoring her. Obviously that would make seeing her very stressful for Karen. And then she starts doing that. That’s classic tic.

    5. Argh!*

      I have a coworker with a coughing tic. People have asked to be moved away from her office, and fortunately there were other desks for them to go to. Other people seem not to be bothered, or have headphones on all day.

      If someone has trouble ignoring extraneous sounds, that’s something the boss should address by moving desks around. If it’s mere annoyance, then it’s a matter of getting over being annoyed.

    6. many bells down*

      I have a chronic sniffle just from a fairly minor sinus/septal issue. It could probably be easily corrected with surgery, but I also have a major heart condition, so getting approved for any elective surgery is a nightmare.

    7. Close Bracket*

      Nervous laughter is an involuntary response even in people who do not have Tourette’s. I’d jump to that before jumping to a diagnosis.

      1. Sakura*

        Right, but the letter writer also mentioned other nervous tics – taken altogether it seems possible. Tourette’s was my first thought here, but even if not, it pays to be aware that these tics might be related to a health issue.

        I’m glad tourette’s has been brought up. I have it, and I’ve sometimes seen it brought up here as a joke, which has been deeply hurtful and disappointing in an otherwise respectful community. Could I take a moment to request all to be more aware, and if you see it again here, to shut it down if possible?

    8. Jen*

      I dated a guy with Tourette’s, and his manifested as a repeated noise deep in his throat (hard to articulate, but again, a tic). He was surprised I recognized it as Tourette’s, but I’d had a coworker who had physical tics, so it was the first place my mind went. I found my brain tuned it out pretty quickly with the boyfriend, but I am sympathetic to anyone who would have a hard time tuning it out.

      All of these discussions on misophonia are making me wonder if my husband and his mother have that, based on comments he’s made.

  5. Observer*

    Alison gave an excellent answer. It’s not always so easy to change your mindset, but you CAN do it. Not that you will somehow suddenly start to enjoy the sniffles, giggles, etc. But you can change you you perceive and react to them.

    And, you can change your outward reaction to her even without changing your internal reaction. Of course, it’s easier if you can adopt Alison’s viewpoint. But, you are an adult, and should be able to act with basic civility even towards people you really don’t like. I’m not trying to chastise you, but I think that some clarity on what you are doing and what you need to do is helpful.

    Keep in mind that Karen is not going to be the last person you are going to come up against in a work context who is annoying – and the likelihood is that you are going to run into people who are even MORE annoying, and probably significantly more troublesome (the person who tends to mess up instructions, for example). Also likely to be more morally reprehensible, although you can always hope not. You will still need to be able to interact with them and be polite. Start practicing with Karen.

    1. LCL*

      OP, it might help you to think of Karen and her beliefs this way. Everyone holds an illogical, no evidence at all based belief about something. You know Karen’s. I guarantee if you learned all of the weird things your coworkers believe to be true without thinking about it you would be shocked and amused.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      To my way of thinking, the higher up the ladder you go the more you should be able to deal with difficult people, or difficult-to-you people.
      I made it into a puzzle to solve, I worked with some challenging people. For example: Boss tells me to do X, the next day she says never do X. Here is my puzzle, how will I solve this. I’d figure out something and move on to the next puzzle. Coworker takes my work things. How will I solve this? etc.

      OP, you have an additional wrinkle in that you have not spoken to her in how long? So her trust of you is probably near broken or entirely broken. You will need to use transparency in all you do, in order to establish a better relationship.

  6. Nephron*

    I had a peer that had some annoying habits and I tried to manage my reaction, I look back and cringe at how I acted at times. It did feel like at times like she was summoned to perfectly fit everything I found annoying and frustrating both personally and professionally. The knowledge that her behavior was not entirely professional does not make me feel better either. A key part of for me was constant contact as we shared an office space, so for the LW it might get better if you are not in as close proximity as a promotion might provide a more private office space.
    If possible try to think about how you could isolate yourself for a bit to disengage from the things that upset you, close your office door so you don’t hear her all day, take a private lunch outside the office so you get away from all of the frustrations, and if you are having a bad day take a long deep breath before you are going to interact with her because those are the days you are going to struggle. If you have to take another business trip, can you volunteer to be in a car on your own, or wake up early to have some coffee/tea before you meet up with people so you have had time to wake up before dealing with her?

    1. Tex*

      *” try to think about how you could isolate yourself for a bit to disengage from the things that upset you, close your office door so you don’t hear her all day, take a private lunch outside the office so you get away from all of the frustrations”*

      I tried doing that with a former annoying coworker AND SHE STILL FOLLOWED ME EVERYWHERE. That’s when I began the second Ice Age freeze out. Not the best way to handle it, but I was at my wits’ end because she didn’t get social cues, was messing up other politically sensitive relations in the office and didn’t take kindly to a ‘hey I’m here for questions but let’s try to stay in our own lanes’ conversation.

      1. KG, Ph.D.*

        This is somewhat off-topic, but your story actually reminded me of my dog! He has severe separation anxiety (we’re working on it with a professional and starting medication literally today), and when I’m doing anything that looks vaguely like getting ready — drying my hair, putting on makeup, finding my shoes — he starts following me around. I try not to get annoyed with him, but I start avoiding him and trying to get him to leave me alone, which only makes him follow me more, which makes me more frustrated…and so on. I’ve totally experienced the same thing with humans before, too. It’s exhausting!

      2. Nephron*

        My peer was from a different culture so I was not sure if it was social cues issue or different social cues entirely, but that step was a struggle for me as well. That step might be easier with the management hierarchy coming into play though.

      3. SanDiegoSmith82*

        Did you and I have the same co-worker? Being a total ice queen still didn’t entirely work. She was the 2nd giant reason I actually ended up leaving. Not only was she one of the most annoying people on the planet, but she was (and is) completely inept. She had been at the business three years, and every year, she’d have to be retaught how to do her job, which kept pushing her tasks onto everyone else to where she basically just smiled at the front desk. The boss would give her “90 days to improve” and 90 days came and went three times. No incentive to actually do you job if the boss won’t ever actually fire you as threatened. To make matters worse, it came to light due to the equally inept out of office HR person’s mistake that this lady was the highest paid person in the office next to the boss. She was making 60% more than the longest employee who actually did her job. Talk about adding to the resentment most of us already had towards her due to her lack of understanding social cues…

  7. JD*

    Reminds me of my coworker who I shared a cube with who cleared her throat every 2 seconds, I did in fact count at one point. EVERY. TWO. SECONDS. FOR. FIVE. YEARS! I mean. So help me. It made me like her less even though I am well aware that she had no idea she was doing this. I have no advice, just saying I feel the pain. I also get annoyed by sounds. If you chew ice around me I may lose my mind, smack your lips when you eat and I may never come within ten feet of you again.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I had a coworker with constant sniffles (I think it was allergies) – I could set a clock to the sniff, which would come just about every seven seconds. After an hour I was like BLOW YOUR NOSE BLOW YOUR NOSE OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO COME OVER THERE AND DO IT FOR YOU. It was like chinese water torture.

      1. Abby*

        To be fair, I’ve definitely had allergies that were bad enough where blowing my nose gave no relief, and only resulted in a headache. The only thing that helped was an antihistamine with a decongestant.

        1. JD*

          I for sure get allergies but I even have to tell the BF “blow your nose stop sniffling”. It seriously doesn’t occur to him to blow his noise, he likely isn’t even aware he sniffles. For my coworker it was a nervous habit because I know she never once did it outside of work.

          1. attie*

            I live in asia now and blowing your nose is impolite here! Sniffling/huge upward snorts that try to draw it all down the throat are the correct thing to do.

            I try not to let it affect me, and I am hoping my colleagues do the same about my wretched tissue-pack-a-day habit.

        2. nonegiven*

          I could blow my nose all day, usually nothing comes out unless I managed to start a nosebleed from excessive blowing. I sniff all the time, trying to drag some air in through my deviated septum that isn’t bad enough for surgery but is always swollen because of non allergic rhinitis.

          1. Julia*

            Me too!! My nose is constantly stuffed and it’s so annoying, because I also don’t want to be a mouthbreather.

      2. Snark*

        And you’re like WAIT FOR IT WAIT FOR IT WAAAAAAIT GAH THERE IT IS….god that was annoying….WAIT FOR IT WAIT FOR IT

        1. sin nombre*

          YES this part is so painful. Mine is the coworker who cracks his gum. It’s so sharp and loud that headphones can’t block it, and worse than the sound itself is sitting there on edge all the time knowing the next one is coming any… second… now… THERE IT IS FULL BODY RAGE SHUDDER and back to waiting for the next one and I don’t know when it will come but I know it will.

      3. Ramona Flowers*

        Adults sniffing give me the rage. I have reached a point now where I ask if they need a tissue and if they no I say yes you do and hand it to them anyway. On the London Tube.

        1. DeskBird*

          I was commiserating with someone the other day about how we both hate people who sniff and sniff and don’t blow their noise – and someone else interjected that they thought blowing their noise was one of the rudest sounds ever – equivalent to farting or unspeakable bathroom noises – and that they will sniff until they can get to a bathroom to blow their noise. I was blown away. The idea someone thought the constant sound of snot was somehow more polite. I’m sure the two of us looked at him like we realized he was a alien – neither of us have subtle reaction faces. But I guess people have differing ideas on what is polite?

          1. GG Two shoes*

            I believe this is also a cultural thing. In some Asian countries, blowing your nose is akin to farting.

          2. tigerlily*

            I would much prefer to hear sniffing than someone blowing their nose. I am definitely of the opinion that nose blowing should be done in the bathroom or other private place.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Allow me to clarify, I hate them both! But if you can blow your nose once and be done with it, I’d take that over 2700 sniffs per hour, or whatever people are averaging.

          3. silence*

            I had an office mate with the same opinion. She thought blowing your nose was rude / disgusting and I thought sniffing was annoying. The year we shared an office was full of mutual horror.

        2. Gen*

          Yeah i have constant colds and I can’t physically blow my nose, it just makes my ears whistle and then I can’t hear properly for a while. I know it’s awful so I’m glad I work from home, cos there’s nothing worse than being handed a tissue and knowing it’s a choice between ‘temporarily more deaf than usual’ and ‘have you tried…’ I had surgery as a teen, they didn’t find anything they could fix without causing more problems so I’m stuck as I am

        3. Rebecca in Dallas*

          I do that with cough drops. I keep a bag of them in my desk and if a neighbor is coughing, I just hand them some cough drops. I try to say it like I’m being nice, “Here, let me offer you some cough drops! I just happen to have some. Let me know if you need more!” But it’s more for my own sanity.

      4. many bells down*

        I have this problem too. It’s a sinus/septal defect. I need surgery. Blowing my nose often does nothing because there isn’t actually anything IN there. It’s all way back up in my sinus messing with my breathing.

      5. Jessen*

        It honestly took me forever to realize that blowing your nose actually does something useful for other people. For me, the only result I’ve ever gotten from blowing my nose is “now I have a bad headache from blowing so hard and I need to sniff even worse.”

    2. Xarcady*

      A couple of years ago, I was on a special project and we were all seated at a long table working together. Oh, dear. The woman on my right cleared her throat at least every 6 seconds. Yes, I timed her. It was the only way to stay sane.

      And just about everyone else on the project kept clearing their throats, as well. It was two weeks of being a lot closer to a lot more people than I was comfortable with, and all of them making throat/mouth noises constantly.

      So, so glad when that project ended.

    3. Phoenix Programmer*

      My husband’s trill, which sounds like a throat clear is on if his tourretes symptoms. Yes every two seconds. They can’t help or though so being irritated is like being mad at the person in the wheelchair talking up to much elevator space

      1. Lissa*

        I wish knowing another person couldn’t help something would allow me to stop being irritated by whatever it is. That would be awesoooome. As it is though all I can do is manage my outward reaction to it, and leave the area if possible if it’s one of those sounds that trigger a rage reaction. I have tried telling myself “you are being a jerk, this person can’t help it!” and sadly does not change my emotions.

    4. DeskBird*

      I used to work with a woman who must have had some kind of allergy to apples. She would cough like she had whooping cough and was trying to forcibly eject a lung from her body for forty-five minutes afterwards every time she ate one. And she ate one with lunch every. damn. day. It drove everyone in the office nuts – because if a food gives you a horrible deep wrenching cough – WHY WOULD YOU EAT THAT FOOD?

      Though it does sound like the OP has reached B*tch eating crackers stage with her coworker. Where no matter what she does her person is so annoying that anything she does will annoy you (Look at that B*tch over there eating crackers like she owns the place). Which I have all the sympathy in the world for – I have been there and it is hard. In the past I have gotten though it by being extra nice to the person I have reached B.E.C status with. I don’t trust my face to remain impartial or blank so I slap on a warm smile and pretend I am the star of an office sitcom and am paid millions an episode to be nice to my fake coworker. Probably not healthy – but everyone who has reached that place with me has no idea that i sometimes daydreamed about drowning them in a giant vat of their awful perfume – so that’s a win I guess?

      1. JD*

        I am so bad at hiding my emotions on my face. I truly do not intend to but am often told that if I am displeased my face shows it. I also cracked up to Bitch Eating Crackers because I had forgot about that. Thanks for that giggle.

        I must say the throat clearing bugged but the crazy chick who hated me (like just because I existed hated me from day one) would clip her toe and fingernails at her cube. Every click was another nail into my brain. WHO THE HECK clips their nails at work. So gross. I cannot even imagine someone thinks this is ok. I would leave and go grab coffee or something until she was done. Let’s just say she got hers one day so I feel better.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        Maybe she doesn’t actually know it’s not normal, and/or assumes the benefits must surely outweigh the result (an apple a day and all of that)? I had a friend in college who literally did not realize he had developed lactose intolerance as an adult because he didn’t know that was possible, and would suffer after his daily milk. He just assumed I-can’t-remember-what (cheap college cafeteria milk? subpar chocolate milk blended in?) about his milk consumption but that it had to be good for him overall.

        1. many bells down*

          There was a Tumblr post a few years ago where this guy who talked about how much he liked bananas. The flavor, the texture, the way they made his tongue tingle …
          Cue a bunch of people telling him this was NOT a thing that bananas did and that he was probably allergic. He thought they were just … spicy?

        2. Mephyle*

          I had no allergies whatsoever until I was in my forties, and then I developed oral allergy syndrome. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I investigated why apples made my mouth tingle. It took several years of very gradual increase before I realized it. It’s quite possible to have it and not be aware.
          My hour of hacking coughing, though (which I did not inflict on others) was triggered by milk. (It seems to be milk protein intolerance, rather than lactose, because it is in the throat, not in the stomach.)

    5. Adlib*

      One of my very good friends coughs year round. No idea why (not an illness to my knowledge or believe me, she’d have told me about it), but sometimes it makes me crazy. It’s not as constant as 2 seconds or anything, but yikes.

      1. Mandy*

        I have cough/congestion nearly year round due to the air pollution in my area. And it doesn’t help that ALL of my neighbors smoke and some of them I share a porch with…

          1. Mandy*

            I’ve tried some and I’ve gotten some prescription meds from my doctor for it, but most of them aren’t meant to be taken long term and so I only use them when it gets really bad.

          2. Else*

            I have a similar issue from the pesticides and fertilizers they use in my region, and it doesn’t do much good. At least mine’s pretty seasonally limited. Thank goodness smoking isn’t common here, though – that would get me, too. My sympathy, Mandy

      2. LurkNoMore*

        Taking blood pressure medicine can produce a constant cough. A gentleman in our office has been coughing every 4 minutes for the last 7 years! My mom also, so when she was staying with me this summer, I got it 24/7.

        1. Adlib*

          Hmmmm. You could be on to something. I just can’t recall if she is on one, but she is on a few that might also cause this. Never occurred to me!

        2. Soon to be former fed*

          When I had a chronic cough due to Vasotec, I told my doc who switched me to something else. Apparently, it was a common side effect. Always let your doc know if any medicine is bothering you, there are often alternatives.

    6. MashaKasha*

      Please come get your coworker. We have her now. She triggered my migraines when she sat next to me.

      I’d already started looking into the more expensive noise-canceling headphones for myself, when coworker’s desk was moved to the other side of the office. Financial crisis averted.

  8. Lil Fidget*

    So true that the things that make you cringe THE MOST are your own worst traits or things you’ve squelched. I see this so often in my own life. The alternative would be if these quirks remind you of someone you had a bad past experience with … that was the explanation for me when I was fixated on somebody’s approval at work. It had nothing to do with them at all, and once I figured that out, I was able to let it go.

    1. (Different) Rebecca*

      This. This is why I’m happily single. I only annoy myself, and I can give myself a strong talking to about cutting whatever behavior it is out.

      1. (Different) Rebecca*

        I realized that could be confusing with an above comment–I mean I happily live by myself.

    2. Editor Person*

      So much this. So often the things that drive me the most nuts about people are the same things I like least about myself.

  9. Engineer Girl*

    OP, you don’t deserve to be in leadership until you learn to act rightly and respectfully toward Karen.
    I’d suggest makin up a list of good things about her. Focus on those things to help you in respecting her.
    Another thing to do is to look at her faults and see how they could be converted to strengths. The pigeon issue shows that she’s naive and therefore teachable.
    The nose blowing is problematic but probably an allergy issue.
    How about choosing to do one nice thing for her every day – on purpose?
    But you need to actively, not passively, work on this! What you are doing now is classic mean girl exclusion. If you worked for me there is no way I’d let you have any reports. Please, choose to actively and aggressively be nice to her.

    1. Static*

      Definitely not necessarily teachable! And there’s a difference between naive and being steadfastly wrong and unwilling to consider other points of view. I mean, I’m sure more than a few people have challenged her belief about dentists and yet she still holds it… your other points though, are fair. I don’t hold it against OP for dealing with it the way she did at the time though, it’s possible the frustration and irritation was SO immense that being silent was the best outcome.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Could be no one else (in power) noticed or part of the office’s dysfunction is everyone is driven crazy by Karen. So avoiding her may be more common than OP said. (Which, yes, poor Karen, but really? Dentists are a scam?)

        1. Anonymoose*

          To be fair about the dentists, there are some incredibly unethical dentists out there, including ones who are miraculously capable of finding cavities that no other dentists can see. It’s quite possible that someone with too many run-ins with bad dentists/having heard too many familial dentist horror stories, might conclude the entire thing was a scam.

          Note: Oral hygiene is super important, as are regular dentist visits! I’ve had great experiences with most of my dentists. But there was one brief period where I lived in a place where the hunt for a decent dentist was bafflingly difficult and some of my friends’ previously odd beliefs about dentists suddenly made a lot more sense.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            One time my sister and I each had appointments at a dental mill here. They diagnosed that she needed three root canals. She had no tooth pain. When I went in after her, I needed four root canals. When my dad later went to the same place (without knowing she and I had gone there, guess who needed two root canals. My sister did end up having one done but I decided to get a second opinion. The dentist I went to that time was an independent practice, not part of the dental mill. I actually needed zero root canals. A search online says that that particular dental mill is known for that behavior, and they upsell CareCredit cards and stuff. No, they didn’t give me cavities, but they nearly drilled out four teeth that didn’t need it.

            To be fair, I have nerve damage from a dental process many years ago, and I did end up eventually needing a root canal on one of my teeth, but it was 6 years after the dental mill told me I’d need it.

        2. sin nombre*

          Maybe that’s kooky (and maybe not, as Anonymoose pointed out), but unless the workplace in question is a dentist’s office, is it really likely Karen’s kooky beliefs about dentists directly affect her work or her coworkers?

      2. Maya Elena*

        Possibly others felt similarly but hid it better, and LW may be the most technically (as in, soing the job, not “by technicality”) competent candidate for the position.

    2. Delphine*

      Definitely do not be aggressively nice to her, it will be too obvious, and could make things more awkward for your coworker–take it slow and easy and repair the relationship with care.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Not aggressively nice, but agressivly working on it. So far the OP has been very passive on working the issue, while actively excluding. These things need to reverse.

    3. KG, Ph.D.*

      The “list of good things” helped me a lot when I was dealing with a difficult coworker. She was a pathological liar and a “one up-er”, and our political views do not align, to put it mildly. I really prefer to not discuss politics at work, especially because I know my views can seem divisive to some folks, but she was VERY VOCAL about hers, and she’d inject them into conversation at every opportunity. It was exhausting. She also had a lot of tics and personality quirks that drove me up a wall.

      At any rate, the thing that helped me was learning a bit more about her personal life while talking to her at a conference. I really grew to admire her for being a fantastic stepmother to her stepdaughter, particularly given that her husband was deployed all the time in the military, and they got married when my coworker was 22 and her stepdaughter was 10. She took on a huge amount of responsibility in that arena at a relatively young age, and she’d also given up some pretty huge career opportunities because it would have meant moving her stepdaughter away from extended family. I began to see her as a complex, interesting person instead of a collection of habits and views that annoy me, and it made working together much easier. We stopped working together 5 years ago, but we’ve actually stayed in touch sporadically since then, and I genuinely miss working with her sometimes.

      Certainly, it would be difficult for the OP to find that deep of a commonality, but surely there is *something*, no matter how superficial, that she admires about Karen. I think that identifying those things and really focusing on them could help.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This. Most people can be very annoying if we know them on a superficial basis, OP. Deliberately hunt around for something you admire about her. Yes, this is hard, it’s also part of the path out of the habitual anger.
        As the poster above says, do something nice for her. It’s hard to stay angry at someone if we keep doing nice things for them.
        I had an incredibly toxic boss, probably the second worse boss of my life. I would bring her things, a salad, a plant, etc. I picked things that I knew matched her interests. I did this randomly, maybe once a year and other years maybe three times. Mostly we shared information, if I had x problem around the house she might find the answer for me, I did the same for her. We dovetailed well and in some ways there were times when I actually looked forward to discussing a matter with her. And I could see the same in her. If she was playing a straight game at the moment we could put our heads together and figure stuff out. I just never knew when she was going to get coy with me.

        My point is that very seldom is anyone all bad. As bosses we need to be able to quickly find the good in people and bring that good to the foreground as a company resource. Get the best out of people while doing our own best too. if our subordinates fail, that does not mean that we have succeeded.

      2. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Yes, I like that story! I had to do something similar with a coworker who just embodied *every* pet peeve that I have. Gum-chewer, tuna-fish and hard-boiled egg eater, constant talking, etc. I had to just force myself to focus on her positive aspects. She is extremely positive, very close to her family and (my personal favorite) her live-in boyfriend is 20 years younger than her and very good looking! Haha, when I learned that last tidbit, I was like, “Yeah, get it, girl!”

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      I think if you make it to working age and are still that naive, that pretty much shows that you’re unteachable.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I disagree. Some people, especially those from dysfunctional families, are actually kept from seeing the world as it is. Slow correction does wonders.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Likewise, I have seen the same. I would even go one step further and say that very seldom do I meet anyone at work who does not eventually ask me to explain something verrrry basic to them.
          Knowledge gaps are fascinating to watch. For one thing I feel better about how much I don’t know. But it also teaches us something about assumptions, no everyone does not know how to put on makeup, plant a garden or that birds live in cities or that there are ethical dentists out there. And to think that everyone does, is kind of presumptuous.
          I think we have done threads on this forum talking about what we did not know and were amazingly old before we learned it.

          Going one step further with dysfunctional families. Here people have to hide what they don’t know because other people will make fun or be mean, etc. I was in fifth grade trying to figure out what the heck “baseball” was and trying to not let anyone know that I did not know. (I was sick as a kid and missed a lot of stuff. My parents were not too concerned about helping me catch up.) many years of this catch up stuff shaped my thinking and actions to this day.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            I can’t count the number of students I’ve had who had no idea a narwhal was a real thing.

    5. So anonymous I wasn't even here*

      +1. I wonder if the LW wasn’t “poised to enter upper management” would they even be re-evaluating their behaviour towards Karen. I will note I’m viewing this through the dirty lens of similar dismissive/ignoring behavior in my office which is incredibly isolating.

  10. seejay*

    There was a young woman on the QA team that was… well… let’s just say, I know why she was hired and it wasn’t for her skills and talents in QA (it wasn’t anything sexual or about her looks though, it was more related to the manager’s quirks and his very specific preference to what he wanted on his team in regards to diversity). She was nice, but because she was incapable of doing her job, it made my job ten times more difficult. I had to spend a whole day writing up step by step testing documents for her, including how to set up the testing environment (which was something she should have known how to do just because it was her job) to even outlining the basic tests that were standard for every single dev that we sent over (on top of the non-standard things that I needed her to focus on).

    And every time I sent something over, she’d come over to my desk to ask me questions, most of the time about something she didn’t understand because she didn’t read the document or I didn’t outline something clearly (which should have been something she didn’t need outlined in the first place) or she found a mistake which wasn’t a mistake, she just did it wrong in the first place. Or if she did find a bug, she came over to tell me, instead of using the bug system to file a ticket.

    Eventually I found out she was afraid of me. Because I was snarly, cranky and outright *mean* to her. I was actually devastated when I heard that. I knew I was annoyed and frustrated with her but I didn’t realize how badly I was treating her, despite how incompetent she was. Having been the victim of bullying for years growing up, I never wanted to be someone who did that to others, but obviously I had let my frustrations leak out way too much towards her. I made a vow to change my attitude towards her because I just didn’t want to be that type of person.

    She was still frustrating, but I would stop and take a breath whenever I had to deal with her. It was hard, she never got better, but I stopped being mean and angry at her. She was always nice fortunately, just really not good at her job (there was nothing I could do about changing that though). Things did get much better and I found out that she was much happier once I stopped being a horrible awful person to her. And it taught me a valuable lesson about thinking through my responses to people.

    The good news too is that after a reorg in the company, I have a different QA team and my prepwork for QA takes me a half hour now (instead of a full day) and I get maybe one question out of them during the QA cycle (unless it’s a major dev with a lot of new code in it) and there’s little hiccups and messes now.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This is a really thoughtful response. I bet if OP pictures Karen going home and literally sobbing about her treatment at work – which may well be the case – she will not lose her motivation to do better. Shame can have a positive side sometimes!

    2. Babs*

      Reminds me of when I found out that an annoying person was being annoying because her boss and coworker were playing mean girl tricks on her. They told her that I didn’t like her and wanted her fired. So this girl would over communicate everything, blind copy the mean girls (because they told her to), she would ask for things on projects that were way out of line for her to be asking for, she would call and check in on me several times.

      It got so weird, I was about to yell at her in front of her coworkers but somehow I stopped my self. Instead, I asked her to coffee. She was so scared of me she agreed but only if her friend, another coworker could join. I only had to ask her “hey, what’s going on?” and she blurted out all the horrible stuff her boss and coworker were telling her. They were telling her all this awful stuff about this girl and telling her that I was reported it all to them. It was totally untrue. They wanted her to quit because they viewed her as being too… ok, I’m just going to say it…they didn’t like her because she was overweight. She was very competent. After our coffee, we had new ways of communicating. She eventually took a job in another department away from the mean girls. but the mean girls are still at it, they just have new victims. It was the weirdest thing I have ever witnessed or been a part of at work.

      1. seejay*

        Geezus H Criminy on a cracker! O_O Bullying is one of those things that gets me so bad… it just… it kills me when people pull that crap, especially if it’s highschool level shite. I had tools to deal with bullying in highschool but they’re gone now because I haven’t had to use them in so long, so when I did get bullied in the workplace, I was literally at a loss… which is also why I was so mad at myself when I found out I was making this QA girl feel similar. I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to that treatment, it’s just awful.

        Mean girls going out of their way to be highschool mean girls in a work environment is a *huge* pet peeve of mine. It’s like they never bothered growing up. We had one at our office and while she was pretty awful to about half her coworkers, she reserved her disdain for a select few, one of them being me. I built up a pretty good wall of defense for dealing with her most of the time, but occasionally she’d get her way through, which usually resulted in me feeling like I was 14 all over again. :/

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Oh gah, me too. That just makes me so MAD. I would be tempted to sabotage the mean girls so badly they quit or get fired, but that would just make me as bad as them, and they usually don’t learn anything anyway.

          My preferred method to deal with work bullies is to make sure they know they can’t push me around; then they usually back off. Unfortunately, I can’t make them stop picking on someone else, but I can stick up for that person if they start in.

      2. JulieBulie*

        Wow! Good on you for inviting her to coffee instead of yelling at her.

        I’ve felt like OP before (I hope I managed to hide it better), and I’ve been in Karen’s shoes too. I understand that there are some interpersonal conflicts that cannot be solved with coffee – but I also know that sometimes even a small gesture of civility can really change things between two people.

  11. L.*

    There’s a person in my social circle who is this person – down to the cackling, oh god, the cackling – so I really sympathize with the OP on this one, because this is something I have had to learn to deal with through painful experience. To a lesser extent, one of my coworkers also fits the bill, although with way fewer of the truly offensive opinions or beliefs – it’s really the behaviour reminding me of Culprit A that bothers me in her, so that’s been easier to handle.

    Sometimes there’s just someone who is your own, personal version of nails on a chalkboard, but what I hold to is this: I don’t owe anyone my friendship, but I owe it to EVERYONE to feel respected. I don’t consider myself an unkind person, and I don’t want to make anyone feel smaller or lesser because they happened to see me that day. So when I can, I fake warmth, and when I can’t, I try to practice absolute neutrality. That means that on good days, Culprit A and I get along just fine within the context we’re in, and on bad days we get along just fine too, except I can only bring myself to nod and say, “Hmm,” when she expresses something awful like (real example) that teen pregnancy is the inevitable result of poor parenting. I am a super straightforward person and I really struggle with dissembling or acting contrary to how I feel, so I know how hard this is, but it’s a valuable life skill in every arena to be able to nod and smile when someone is only being annoying and not doing anything actually terrible.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      On the other hand I think you can politely press back when somebody is saying something actually hurtful! You don’t need to nod and smile about something you disagree with, just to protect the feelings of the karens of this world!

      1. L.*

        You’re definitely right on that – I think it’s a matter of picking your battles, honestly, and I’ve found that they aren’t worth starting a discussion that will end in tears (hers, not mine!) in the social context. At work, it’s often my job to delicately point out that PERHAPS we shouldn’t be saying that “[all people from a specific continent] are dirty” (another real example, unfortunately), so I view that as a separate skill, even though they’re definitely closely linked.

        1. JustaCPA*

          ^ that person would not have my respect. sorry/not sorry.
          “all people from a specific continent are dirty”???? I mean REALLY??

          1. L.*

            They don’t have my respect, to be perfectly honest. But I still treat them respectfully, because that’s part of my job.

      2. Clewgarnet*

        I used to work with a man whose response to making a mistake was always, “Oops! I’m such a girl!”

        In most ways, he wasn’t sexist. He had no issues acknowledging that I knew more than him, and that what he was saying sounded bad and he shouldn’t say it. But he made a LOT of mistakes, and every time, “Oops! I’m such a girl!”

        That, combined with his total lack of initiative, turned him into a total BEC. I’m sure my constantly calling him on it turned me into his BEC. We managed to get along okay by sitting as far apart as possible and communicating amicably via chat, where I couldn’t hear his catchphrase, and he had time to think before typing it.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t owe anyone my friendship, but I owe it to EVERYONE to feel respected.

      I suppose that there are exceptions for ax murderers, or the like, bu other wise 100% You don’t have to like anyone, or be their friend. But you have to treat people reasonably.

      1. L.*

        I honestly really had to learn – and to some extent do still actively work on – holding myself to this when I don’t respect someone, because, listen, some people are nightmares (for me! not in general!). For me, it helps me to remember that *I* want the people around me to feel respected, that (outside of the heat of the moment) *I* believe that’s how things should be.

        But I’m coming at this comment after some years of working really hard on it, because it’s not automatic to me. I had to do a lot of work to get to the point where it feels more natural to me to shrug it off when people are being really annoying – and I had to do the work because my behaviour was *noticed* when I didn’t (in different ways and contexts than OP, obvs). So to some extent I’m reading this letter just being like, “Yeah girl, been there.” XD

      2. Justme*

        Agreed. I work with people that I seriously dislike, but they will never know that because I treat them with reasonably and respectfully. We don’t have to hang out after work, but I’m not going to be a jerk to them.

      3. CJMster*

        I used to feel that way and act friendly to everyone at work. And I still feel that way for the most part. But there were a few people at work (I can think of two out of about 100 in my department) who were absolutely awful to their peers (but not to their superiors, of course!) on a regular basis. They were critical, mean, manipulative jerks. I decided that they didn’t deserve the friendliness I showed everyone else, like smiling when I passed them in the hallway. That felt like giving them a tacit okay on their generally rotten behavior. So I stopped smiling at them in the lunchrooms and hallways. I looked away or kept my expression neutral. It was just between us, and I hope they got the message.

        So if someone regularly doesn’t treat others well, I’m done being friendly and respectful to them. I’ll be neutral — not a jerk. If that’s not respectful enough in someone else’s view, I’m okay with that. It’s my way of respecting *myself*.

    3. JulieBulie*

      Well said – all of it. I can feel impatient or even intolerant with certain coworkers who grate on my nerves with their annoying mannerisms and such, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to show that I feel that way. It won’t improve any facet of our working relationship, the atmosphere at the office, the outcome of our project, the moods of our colleagues, etc.

  12. imaskingamanager*

    It’s only a conflict if you participate. It takes two to tango. Stop doing the tango. It is possible for you to develop a different response to her. Work on you. Work on your reactions and responses. when you decide not to let someone ruin your day, and you really follow through on how to be OK with that, it’s amazing how freeing this can be. I usually have to make up a different narrative about the person, one that is more compassionate than the one that fuels my irritation.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      It doesn’t take two to tango. It takes two to make peace, but only one to make war.
      In this case its been the OP that’s causing the conflict, and it’s on OP to resolve it.
      I do agree with you that actively deciding not to let it ruin your day is a key attitude.

      1. SubwayFan*

        I’m with Engineer Girl on “It takes two to make peace, but only one to make war.” I have a pair of “difficult people” in my office who have both stopped speaking to me, and I’ve tried making nice with them in a number of ways since we have to work on projects together and it’s REALLY awkward to have people not return your hallway hellos but then spend time in meetings trying to cut you down. I have spent a lot of time figuring out how I can improve, but I don’t think I can fix this unless either of them decides to alter their own viewpoint, or they decide to stop collaborating.

  13. Phoenix Programmer*

    My husband has Tourettes and whenever his tics start to bother me I remind myself that he can’t help it. It helps sympathy push out the irritation feelings for me.

    Also for coworkers I don’t like or have a tense relationship with I make a point of saying good morning and “hi Name!” Whenever I see them and 99% of the time it melts the awkward and we find common ground.

    1. fposte*

      This is so true–often pulling away from the irritator leaves the irritating aspects the most salient, but if you make a point of having pleasant exchanges with them you can see their warmth, their love of their kids or parents or pets, their dimensionality as a person.

    2. Snark*

      Out of curiosity, are there therapies or approaches for Touretters to reduce ticcing, or is it pretty much a feature of their lives?

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Speech therapist did a lot to lesson the impact of his tics. Apparently as a child he would grunt loudly and move his entire head. Now it is very quite and light eyelash flutter. It’s still an everyday part of our life. He also developed a new tic while sick with a flu/cold just last year which he has been working to reduce.

        My husband loves sharing because apparently everyone thinks the disease is about cursing so he likes to clarify whenever possible and share his story.

        1. Else*

          I’ve met three people with Tourettes that I’ve been around enough to know they have it, and none of them have been inclined to curse more than anyone else, so far as I could tell. It was more sudden physical movements. One of them would make a sound once in a while that I can’t describe – it was like the air clapped in their throat? I don’t think I could make it.

      2. Kiki*

        I’ve been dealing with Tourettes for 20 years, diagnosed when I was a child. For the first few years I took medication and went to a sort of physical therapy to try and get my tics under control. The medication had no effect and I haven’t tried it again. The therapy techniques I learned (breathing exercises, specific focus points, etc) can sometimes help for a mild tic, but the more severe tics always persist. They’re just something I’ve come to live with.

      3. Sakura*

        I was diagnosed with Tourette’s as a child. At the time, I was presenting with a constant cough. My mother took me to several doctors, the last finally suggesting I may have Tourette’s, but my father reacted with frustration and anger (he thought I did it on purpose) ordering me away from family and even spanking me if I coughed too much. So, you can probably see why I learned early on ways to try to suppress my tics as much as possible. My family tried medication, but it’s the same as any neurological disorder – it’s difficult to find the right medication that leaves you feeling like yourself. I mostly learned to suppress or make less obvious movements to somewhat ease the tension. The trouble is, the tics don’t last forever – they do change and you might get new ones and old ones might stop…so maybe you can hide one tic sufficiently, like jerking hands under a desk, and not be able to hide a new one, such as frequent blinking.

        I’m a middle school teacher, so I feel a lot of pressure to suppress as much as possible. It definitely leaves me exhausted at the end of the day. Aside from this, people with Tourette’s also have some form of OCD, ADD/ADHD, and audio/visual processing. It’s not easy, but most people don’t even realize I have this until I tell them.

        1. Anonish*

          My son is in middle school and has Tourette’s, OCD, and ADHD (inattentive type.). Luckily, he is also very gifted in academic areas and music, so he compensates a lot in those areas. He feels a little short-changed- if he is going to have some brain issues, it would be nice to have the cursing variation of Tourette’s so he could express his views at school without getting in trouble!

        2. FormerEmployee*

          Sakura: I would tell the kids about it and even mention how you weren’t always treated well while growing up because you were different. And then you can point out how despite these issues you were able to complete your education and become a middle school teacher. I suspect this could be very inspirational to students who have various disabilities or even ones who just come from difficult home environments. It might also be a good lesson in compassion for kids who are different.

  14. Mamunia*

    This is a really hard thing to deal with, so I feel you, OP. I like the advice of doing or saying something nice to her once in awhile. It’s so easy to think the other person is totally clueless about your dislike for them – especially when they seem clueless about everything else – but I think it’s true that they may be picking up on more than you think. Purposely going in with the intention to make the other person happy might make it easier for you, and maybe even make you feel good if it works.

  15. LSP*

    At my former job, I had one of my coworkers, who I had previously always had a friendly relationship, just stop speaking to me. If we passed each other in the hall, she would ignore me. If we were in a group, and I spoke, she would turn her head away as if the mere sound of my voice was offensive to her.

    To this day, I have zero idea what happened, but it started about two years after we started working together, and about a year before her retirement.

    I thought about confronting her, but decided that it was on her to be professional and talk to me about whatever offense took place and give me an opportunity to make it right. As I said, she was retirement age, and if she wasn’t going to be an adult about it, and since we had no need to work together, I just didn’t care.

  16. a1*

    I love Alison’s response to make this a slow roll. Jumping right in and being uber-friendly, or having a “big discussion” would be weird and probably more off-putting. But start with the warm “welcome back” and continue to be civil and polite – say “hi” when you pass each other in the hall, or a head nod if otherwise engaged, don’t avoid interacting with her, etc. It can still stay more minimal, like Alison said, you don’t need to be BFFs, no need to seek her out for extra things, but stay polite. And a stupid/trite sounding thing that actually works is force yourself to smile, it will effect your tone of voice. Otherwise, even the most polite intending words can come out wrong.

  17. Leslie Knope*

    It was so liberating for me when I realized that I didn’t have to be BFFs with everyone at work, but I did need to be polite. I think it’s easy to often see things in black and white, such as “oh that person is so fun and I’d definitely hang with them outside of work” or “Everything they do is stupid and I never want to talk to them ever”. I have people that I struggle with, but I’ve learned that if I’m cordial, polite, enforce boundaries, and don’t complain about them my life is 1000x better. You can do this!

    1. Loz*

      I find the better I know someone the less polite my frustrated mode is. If we’re at the raised voices, eye rolling, doofus calling stage it’s likely to be some I have beers or occasionally hanging out after work. Polite means I don’t have enough to go on (i.e default to benefit of doubt) or I hate you and want the interaction to end and get resolved. There is of course middle ground but you get the idea!

    2. oldbiddy*

      ..It was so liberating for me when I realized that I didn’t have to be BFFs with everyone at work, but I did need to be polite….

      I wish they could’ve printed this out and put it up on the bathroom walls at my former company. My boss was of the mindset that if you weren’t his BFF you were a lesser member of the team. He was British so he was always polite to everyone, but he never quite figured out that the fact that he had a clique of besties was way more toxic to the group dynamics than the people who were professional but not part of the clique. It was liberating to switch to a group where everyone was professional and inclusive but no one socialized with each other outside of the office.

  18. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    I have a co-worker I don’t like who I don’t talk to unless absolutely necessary. She’s Karen and then some!! Our office is very small and I worried that my dislike for her would be visible but I lucked out in the fact that due to the nature of our work I can literally come in to work, sit at my desk and not speak to a person face to face the entire day. I also wear a headset and headphones so when she walks by my desk I honestly don’t hear her and only see her through my peripheral vision.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I have been trying to master the British blank stare whenever someone is being annoying. Tim and Dawn used it a lot on the English version of The Office, usually on David Brent.

    2. Geillis D*

      In a tiny office, completely shutting a person out is even more blatant than at a bigger place.
      When I left my last workplace there were five of us, including the owner. As I mentioned upthread, one of my coworkers disliked me intensely. We did have to interact, but they limited their communications with me to strictly work-related issues. No “good morning”, no “how was your weekend”, no “how about that crazy weather?”. Some days, especially when the office was quiet, I felt like the walls were closing in on me, trapped with a person who would basically ignore me and made it very clear they’d rather not have me there. On bad days it almost made me feel like a non-person. A dislike this intense is next to impossible to hide, particularly in a small office.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yup, that’s my office except it’s two out of the five who don’t want to hear a peep out of me. I suspect one of them has misophobia and *I’m* the one that pisses her off (last week she told me not to yawn aloud), so…fun times. But it’s better to be shut out than to have them directing their complaints to me directly, or my supervisor, but of course both of those happen too.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        My friend has a situation where there are four people in a larger building. Think lots of empty space, rattling around, lonely. Two of the people only do baseline communication. They speak when spoken to and answer as simply as possible. These two seem nice enough she says but they only have any real conversation with each other and will not talk beyond work stuff with my friend and her other cohort.

        My friend talks about quitting the job. It’s like working alone all the time… in this big building.It’s very hard not to assume these two do not like my friend and her cohort.

  19. Elle*

    OP I just wanted to compliment you on seeking advice how *you* can handle it more professionally. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would chastise you. I believe it can’t be easy for you and I really hope things get better for you.

  20. Imaginary Number*

    It sounds like you’re trying to find a way to hit the reset button with her, now that you’ve moved on from hating her because of personal pet peeves.

    Initiating a simple, casual conversation can really do wonders for that, depending on the person (assuming that she’s hoping for an amicable working relationship as well.) Things that create a feeling of “we’re on the same team” without having to be particularly personal.

    For example:

    “The parking lot was ridiculous today. Took me fifteen minutes to find a spot. Did you have any trouble?”
    “I heard there’s free donuts in Conference Room C! Did you get any yet?”

    1. Murphy*

      And she’ll be returning from maternity leave. Friendly inquiries about the baby can work as well.

      1. C*

        I would consider giving her a baby congrats card too (either in her work mailbox or on her desk – I would not mail it unless your office publishes a directory of home addresses for some reason – ie don’t look up the address in the work computer system).

  21. Sally*

    This question is so specific that the coworker in question would absolutely know it was written about her. Do you think the OP obfuscated/changed a lot of the details? Or could the question be partially fabricated? I always wonder about questions like these, because if it’s 100% honest/accurate, the coworker is likely to find out about it. (Or am I overestimating AAM’s popularity?)

    1. Tableau Wizard*

      1. We’ve been asked to not speculate on whether letters are real or not

      2. I actually don’t think the coworker is likely to find out about it. On the rare chance that someone who knows the coworker reads the blog, then that person would have to correctly identify the coworker and decide that they are confident enough to share it with either the coworker directly (which would be a bit cruel) or other who ultimately share it with the coworker.
      This isn’t likely a situation that google would result in the coworker finding it randomly.

      Just my thought.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just to be clear, I don’t care if people speculate about whether a letter is real or not; the issue is that posting that speculation is derailing and not helpful to the letter-writer (and kind of awful if they’re real), and ultimately we have no way of knowing so it’s not a useful discussion. And ultimately I don’t really care as long as the answer is useful to someone.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        There’ s also that Dunning-Kruger thing where the people who are most annoying/incompetent are unlikely to be skilled enough to realize they’re annoying or incompetent, so hopefully that protects them from any recognition when they read accounts of their behavior :P A lack of self-awareness can be occasionally beneficial hehe.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Hehe I always wonder about this too! But when I wrote in, I did change one thing that (hopefully) made it completely unrecognizable to the people involved, or would at least give me plausible deniability if it ever came back to me. Hopefully other people do the same.

    3. McWhadden*

      Honestly, in this case, it might even be helpful for Karen to read it. Karen must know she’s been frozen out. So, while unpleasant to read, at least it’s an explanation.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Well the coworker would also find out that OP feels she has made a mistake here. So all is not lost. Just as OP will have to find a way to overlook CW’s quirks, CW will have to find a way to get past OP’s error in judgement.
      Both people in this story are going to have some work to do. Hopefully, CW will be inspired by OP’s changes and that in turn will inspire OP.

  22. Babs*

    I have a Karen too, but absolutely no one would know it. He sits on the other side of my cubical wall and sucks snot balls up about every 5 minutes and it makes me gag. I decided that if I wasn’t ready to be adult enough to tell him that it really bothered me than there was no way in H.e.double hockey sticks! that I was going to tell any one else that he was such a Karen. because really, it just sounds petty when you imagine that conversation telling his boss that his throat clearing is actually making me throw up a little all day long. He would just say, “Oh, I have allergies.” True enough but come on! a little awareness in a cubical farm goes a long way to keeping friendly coworkers.

    1. You're Not My Supervisor*

      Omg I have a guy who sits near me who does the same thing. It makes me physically shiver every time I hear it. There HAS to be a better solution than gearing up as if to hock a lugie every time you get the sniffles, for everyone involved!!

    2. a1*

      I worked with someone like that, except that his sucking snot was so loud you could hear it halfway across the cubicle farm. That is not an exaggeration. Clients would complain about it on conference calls with him and he wouldn’t mute. Management never talked to him about it, even with client complaints. They just tried to minimize his need to be on the calls. It was so gross and so loud. I can usually tune these kinds of things out, but not him.

      1. The Grammarian*

        I also have this problem. I can hear the snot balls from this coworker through the noise cancelling headphones. It drives me up the wall. I don’t think anyone has told him about that or his tooth sucking habit.

    3. nonymous*

      I was someone else’s Karen when I had a cold (I was a part time student employee, so no leave time). It was mortifying when a coworker came by to offer me extra-strength cough drops! But she was so very nice about it.

  23. LBK*

    I have a coworker whose manner of communication makes him a complete nightmare to work with and who generally has a loose grasp on social boundaries (not necessarily in an offensive way, more in an awkward way that makes me Office-style cringe). I work around it by pretending in my head that whenever I have to interact with him, I’m talking to the smartest, most valuable, most wonderful coworker I’ve ever met.

    Part of this is a coping mechanism. It puts me in a pleasant enough mood to deal with him and then once the interaction is over I can go back to imagining strangling him in the midst of one of his rambling, 15-minute answers to a simple yes/no question. But it also sometimes genuinely makes the interactions better because I suspect he’s gotten so used to people clearly telegraphing their dread at having to talk to him that someone actually being nice makes him try harder to deliver a good interaction.

    As Alison says, most people have at least some self-awareness about their personality quirks and annoying habits, and sometimes acting as though you don’t see those or they don’t bother you drives people to put more effort into controlling them. After all, who’s going to exert their maximum self-control to please a person who’s a jerk to them?

  24. Nervous Accountant*

    Oh dear that’s rough. I have a few coworkers that I cannot stand but they’ve all actually earned the ire (messing up on assignments or being disrespectful etc).

  25. Nervous Accountant*

    Karen is not the brightest bulb in the box and has poor social skills…. She also has a giggling tic, that results in her cackling constantly, even if no one has said anything funny. Her giggles combine with her constant sniffling and loud nose blowing, creating a horrific, nonstop symphony. I could go on for awhile here, but you get the idea.

    I am soooo scared someone thinks this about me. Ugh.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      You’re so right, I do have an (irrational? Reasonable?) fear that people out there hate me this much and it’s all they can talk about, even if we barely interact! I tell myself only a narcissist would assume anybody thinks about me this much but – sometimes it does happen – exhibit A!

    2. L.*

      I have a theory that all of us are ‘this person’ for someone in our lifetime. It has less to do with anything about YOU and more what’s pressing a particular person’s buttons – for example, I can imagine that my default to sarcasm and sitcom-style quips is super annoying for some people, which is why I try to tone it down at work or when I have to get along with people.

      Be you. Be the best ‘you’ you can be, and of course be sensitive to social cues and adapt when you need to, but you’re never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Liking yourself is 1000x more important than anyone liking you, at least in the short term, and being anything but yourself is super stressful and terrible.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, I have a bunch of sinus issues and while I’m mostly under control, I know I used to sniffle a lot, so I’m sure I’ve annoyed the snot out of someone.

      An old coworker, later boss of mine used to complain about every. little. sound. He hated the sounds of phones ringing. He hated the sounds of pencils and pens clicking. He hated the “um” and “well” the some people interject into their speech. He hated the flippy-flap sound of women wearing dress sandals in the summer.

      I’m sure I made some noise or something that annoyed me, but he also never had the guts to speak to anyone directly about any of it, so I was just left in this state of low-grade paranoia all time. And maybe he wasn’t the only one, maybe everyone secretly hated the way I breathed or something.

      I try hard not to think about what other people are thinking about. :(

  26. Justin*

    I feel for Karen. I’ve been Karen before (well, I, uh, go to the dentist and don’t care about pigeons).

    But at least you’re asking for advice and I think the advice is great.

  27. Game of Scones*

    Sometimes it helps me to imagine that an annoying person like that, who blurts out the stupidest things, grew up Amish or in a cult or something. It helps me be more patient with them and if I stick to the fantasy, it becomes fairly entertaining to observe them.

    So, in this case, maybe pretend Karen is Kimmy Schmidt?

    1. AMPG*

      I was complaining about my sister-in-law once, who has some of Karen’s similar lack of knowledge about the world (most recent example – she tried to drive with her eclipse glasses on because she thought you had to wear them all the time if you were outside during the eclipse), and someone implied I should be more sympathetic because clearly she just didn’t understand the culture. Now, she lives in the town she grew up in, so it wasn’t that, but that did make me think about situations where it would be more understandable for her not to know things, and sort of pretend she was in that situation, which made it easier not to be so mocking.

    2. Creag an Tuire*

      I mean honestly, while OP may be understating the time Karen gave her a two-hour dissertation on the Dental-Industrial Complex, the two statements taken in isolation aren’t that odd — I know a lot of people with the opinion of “Don’t go to the doctor, he’ll find something wrong with you” (which isn’t the healthiest attitude, sure, but then Karen’s personal health belongs firmly in The Realm of Nunya), and as for the other, well, my grandmother is a lovely, intelligent woman with a doctorate, but as a rural person and a bit of an ornithophobe might have startled a bit at a pigeon strolling out on the sidewalk bold as you like (as city pigeons do).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I’d like to bring all these people startled by pigeons to a city near me. Four lane main street. Mama duck and her 20 kids (probably other ducks’ kids) decide to cross the road, in bumper to bumper traffic. Yep, they made it just fine. Then they started down the side walk with hundreds of people milling about. Think something like the parting of the Red Sea, as the crowd opened up to allow mama and her 20 or so babies of all different sizes pass through the crowd.
        They’d walk right over your shoe if you were close enough.

  28. Amber Rose*

    I work with a male version of this person. I whine about him all the time on Fridays during the open thread, although mostly that’s because by doing so, it helps me to laugh at how ridiculous it all is.

    But I’m also really, really good at ignoring him. OP, I’m not even kidding, I’m only the second person to survive sitting beside him in the office for more than a year. And it’s because one, my professional persona is a titanium mask of impenetrability, developed over years of telling myself that it’s not worth being affected by [some thing], and two, because I laugh at myself a lot. It’s too silly to get worked up over whether someone doesn’t like pigeons, don’t you think? And unless her breath is killing the plants and melting the tables, her opinions on dentists are not really important to you, right?

    The annoying sounds thing is harder to deal with. But imagine, for a moment, if your best friend is hanging out with you at the tail end of a cold. The sniffling is forgivable because you like that person, right? And at some point you’ll go home and not listen to it anymore.

    You don’t have to be this coworker’s best friend. But if you can put on a professional polite and friendly mask and engage this coworker in casual small talk every once in a while, and try to think nice things about her or at least focus on how you have a wonderful silent evening ahead of you, and learn to laugh at yourself just a little bit…

    You’ll be amazed. :)

  29. Mrs Pitts*

    A couple a tangible suggestions for when Karen comes back.
    1) Have a baby gift. I recommend a CD by Elizabeth Mitchell called You Are My Little Bird.
    2) Ask her about the baby and Karen: Did the baby let you get any sleep last night? What new milestone has s/he hit? Do you have a recent picture?
    3) If you’re feeling especially kind, say, “I’m sure you must be exhausted, can I get you coffee when you go to get your’s.”

  30. Hiring Mgr*

    You know now that I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a pigeon with cavities..And yet when have pigeons ever gone to a dentist??

    Maybe Karen’s onto something after all…

  31. Argh!*

    There are much worse coworkers out there. Keep reading AAM or google “annoying coworkers” to help you feel better about Karen!

    If Karen’s tics settle down when she feels more respected, just being friendlier could help. Or headphones. Or asking to have your desk moved. Or a white noise machine. Noise is indeed stressful and you shouldn’t have to put up with it.

    1. Argh!*

      I just remembered our food nazi, who worked on the other side of a divider from me & two coworkers. She was a big believer in eating a lot of vegetables, which meant a lot, and I mean a LOT, of loud flatulence. We were often breathless with suppressed laughter. Needless to say, that kept us from getting stuff done.

  32. Facepalm*

    I’ve had my fair share of annoying coworkers. What I eventually found as a coping mechanism was to make the obnoxious behaviors into a game. Throat-clearing coworker? Started making tallies of how many throat clears I heard, so it became something I looked forward to instead of something that sent me into a rage, so I could add another mark to my tally. Coworker who constantly tried to one up everyone? (For instance, when one person was sad about a relative dying in a plane crash, one-up coworker actually said, “Yeah….when I was growing up, the Foreign Service used to fly us everywhere, but I was never scared of crashing…” that kind of thing, ALL.DAY.LONG). With that one, I used to watch videos of the SNL character Penelope, and coworker’s annoying behavior turned into something I was amused by as another “Penelope story” instead of something awful.

    Not sure if that’s an option for OP, but it’s helped me cope in a lot of instances. (Just don’t get caught making statistics of your coworkers’ behavior, lest you become the weird/annoying one!)

  33. DeutschAnon*

    Jeez! Add 3-400 pounds to “Karen” (that’s my annoying coworker’s actual first name too!) and you have my coworker in a nutshell.

    I don’t hate her for her weight, but combine that with her taking up so much space in the open office setup that one has to squeeze past her and she can only fit on an end desk, body odor due to (probably?) problems reaching to clean herself, sleeping and snoring at the desk, and loud eating, it exacerbates the annoyance for sure.

    I think I’ve mentioned her here before, but surely complaining online is better than snapping and screaming at her.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, better to complain on line than scream at her. But really, what do you think she’s doing that justifies screaming?

      She’s not fat at you. As for your assumptions about her hygiene, that’s just gross and utterly unjustified. The fact that there is not enough space for her is your office’s fault. Do you expect her to quit just because she’s too fat to suit you?

    2. Kate*

      Wow, you are nasty. “I don’t hate her for her weight, but…”? You sure sound hateful. I have sympathy for your coworker.

    3. Amber Rose*

      And every time you mention her, you get these kinds of responses. In the future too, you will still get these kinds of responses. Perhaps one day, you’ll realize that your attitude sucks and you should work on changing it. Until then, I hope you like repetition.

    4. Anion*

      Weight aside, a co-worker who smells, sleeps and snores at her desk, and eats loudly sounds like a nightmare, DeutschAnon. Maybe you fixate a little on the weight because those other things are so irritating? Either way, try to be kind about it (the weight, I mean). I’m sure it’s humiliating to her every time someone has to make an effort to squeeze past her, and it’s possible–IANAD–that the weight is causing breathing issues, which could then cause the open-mouth eating and the sleeping/snoring (lots of overweight people suffer from sleep apnea, which means they never really get a good night’s sleep and so are exhausted all the time).

      It’s also possible she has some kind of glandular issue, which could cause both the weight and the odor.

      Try to be kind. You’ll feel better.

  34. Anion*

    This may sound preachy, but it helps me to remember when dealing with irritating/stupid/whatever people that said person is some mother’s baby, and that mother loves him/her. Karen is somebody’s baby girl. Now Karen has a baby, so Karen is somebody’s beloved mommy. Presumably Karen is also someone’s beloved wife (or partner). That means Karen is a real person with feelings, and someone out there wants to protect her and take care of her. So for me, thinking of that person’s mother (or family) while that person is being irritating helps me to ease back and remember that said person is just a person, like we all are, dealing with things the best they can. Karen’s not doing any of this AT you, she’s just nervous and not very bright (and oh, I feel for you on that one, I really do).

    My older daughter is a quirky, rather odd sometimes child–she was never officially diagnosed autistic but was in therapy as a toddler for autistic behaviors (she tested out of the program at age 5, but she’s still quirky and sometimes odd). It’s hard for me sometimes not to get irritated with her, and I have tried to curb some of her more unsightly habits (she used to spend time running her fingers around her nostrils, frex, which is just not something anyone should be doing in public). So maybe this is why this perspective helps me; my daughter has been bullied and picked on, and it increased her nervous habits and behaviors. I think about how livid I was when she was bullied, and then imagine how (in this case) Karen’s mother must feel/have felt, how hard she must have tried.

    It also helps me, if it’s not too difficult or weird for you, OP, to think that it’s possible that Karen admires you and your opinion really matters to her–this obviously isn’t always the case and I’m not saying it is here (although if you make Karen especially nervous and your prior unkindness was upsetting to her, it’s very possible), but (not to toot my own horn at ALL) I have once or twice found myself in a situation where I discover that Irritating Person X is especially irritating around me because IPX really wants my good opinion and looks up to me for whatever reason (they are obviously delusional, but that’s not the point).

    I truly hope it doesn’t sound egotistical or weird, but for me, thinking of it that way helps me to remember to be kinder and friendlier. If you think that *your* behavior specifically is important to Karen, it’s easier to monitor your attitude and behavior toward her. If you think that your good opinion matters, or she wants to be your friend, or just that she thinks highly of you, then you can view yourself as modeling behavior for her, or even as “What can I do to keep that good opinion in place?” “What can I do to show her that her admiration is warranted?” That makes it about YOU “proving” that you’re worthy of a good opinion, and not about HER being deserving of a lower opinion, if you know what I mean–it enables you to focus on you and your behavior, rather than focusing on how much she annoys you. And you can walk away from every interaction with her thinking, “Did I demonstrate the kind of behavior that will make her feel calmer and happier, or did I not?” Which for me is always a good check to run on myself, no matter with whom I’ve interacted.

    I hope that helps!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I love this and it is so useful.
      I had a family member whose sons were, well, typical teens. They got under mom’s skin and festered.
      I went to visit and brought my aging dog. Will the boys understand my older dog’s needs? The boys were outstanding with my little buddy. I described what I noticed to the mom. I thought she was going to cry, “Thank you, thank you for seeing the good in my boys. I know it’s there, I know it is.”

      I have more stories like this. We just don’t know who is out there hoping we will be kind or we will connect in a meaningful way with their loved one.
      If we want to find something wrong with anyone we probably will. If we want to find the good in everyone, that will take an extra effort.

      1. Anion*

        “We just don’t know who is out there hoping we will be kind or we will connect in a meaningful way with their loved one.”

        This just struck such a gong with me. Thank you for such a lovely expression of such a lovely thought (and for the great story about the boys–I love those little tales of kindness). I feel that hope every time I watch my daughters walk into their school building, and I’m sure I’ll keep feeling it just as strongly when they’re adults out on their own.

        And it reminds me, too, of times when I’ve been down or been having a bad day, and some random person’s kindness or friendliness, or even just acknowledgment of me as another person in the room, has made a huge difference for me.

    2. I'm anonymous.*

      I’ve never commented before but as a mother of a child with an ASD diagnosis thank you. I am also working hard to quell my child’s most awkward behaviours, it is exhausting and stressful.

      I have a trick for when I’m feeling really irritated. I imagine someone (my mum/the school principal/the author of my favourite parenting book) is standing outside the room scoring my response to the situation. Pretend that the scenario is a test of how well I can handle myself. This helps me to think about what I should do and be mindful of how I want to behave.

      This technique has really helped my relationship with my child and I have applied it at work when dealt with challenging clients (I pretend they are mystery shoppers). Maybe OP this would help you? Good luck and good on you for wanting to do the right thing.

      1. Anion*

        {{{hug}}} Thank you!

        Oh, it’s so difficult, isn’t it, trying to discourage those stimming-type or other awkward behaviors? Such a fine line to walk. You want it to stop, but you’re so afraid of giving your child some kind of complex or making them feel even more awkward or unsure of themselves.

        And that is an excellent trick, thanks for it!

        1. Turner*

          Stimming has a function. When i’m stimming, it’s easier to understand what people are saying, easier to maintain my train of thought and remember what i’m supposed to be doing, easier to regulate myself and not have a meltdown in the grocery store and keep my balance while walking. I am an adult and I do supress my stims in public as much as I can or try to do my more surreptitious ones instead but it is a direct trade off between trying to pass enough that i won’t be a target and being aware enough of my surroundings to navigate my environment safely.

          Sometimes stealth is more important so I supress as much as I can. Sometimes paying attention my surroundings is more important so I can’t supress it. If I need to understand what someone is saying to me in a noisy environment, I will start rocking. If I don’t need to understand then I don’t need to rock.

          My parents tried everything to get me to stop. They tried rewards for good behaviour and doctors and therapists and imitating me and laughing at me and taking away my toys and hitting me and worse things than that. My peers also tried to bully it out of me. Ultimately what I needed was for people to understand that I can either pay attention or I can look like I’m paying attention but I cannot do both.

          These days I do usually opt for stealth as much as I can but I nearly got hit by a bicyclist yesterday because I can’t do visual processing well enough when 100% of my attention is focused on supressing my body’s natural way of moving. The bicyclist was yelling at me saying “hello hello hello” but I couldn’t understand who he was saying hello to or that hello meant “watch out” not “greetings friend” (he was a stranger so surely he didn’t mean me? but he did mean me!) until he was about a metre away. That’s what I’m giving up by supressing my stimming. But being visibly disabled has it’s own dangers and makes me an easy target for people who can’t behave themselves around people they think are subhuman.

          It’s important to teach your children to navigate the world and that includes learning to be considerate of other people and not annoy them. Your children will have to make tradeoffs, and it’s important to help them navigate those tradeoffs and learn when it is more important to put their own needs ahead of others and when it is more important to put others needs ahead of their own. Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself and sometimes you need to sit down and be quiet. Learning when to do which is a lifetime’s work; plenty of the questions on this blog are also about knowing when to shut up, when to speak up, and what to say when you do speak. It’s like social stories for grown ups. :)

          It’s important that when you ask someone to change something, you understand why they are doing the thing in the first place, what that behaviour is doing for them, what need they are trying to meet with that behaviour and figure out how they can get that need met in some other way. Doing little movements can help meet the need without being too distracting to other people, sometimes. I’ll wiggle my fingers at my sides instead of moving my whole arms. It doesn’t help as much but it helps.

          When I was a child, I was always doing my best, all of the time. I don’t think anybody could tell because my best was still a disaster — sometimes because of my disability and sometimes just an ordinary childish inability to resist temptation or to think before acting. It was right for my adults to try to get me to be less of a disaster and they weren’t wrong to punish me but maybe it would have been less frustrating for them if they’d known that I really was doing my best.

          To get back to the letter writer, sometimes people are annoying. sometimes we can avoid annoying people but sometimes we can’t and we have to suck it up. Sometimes we are the annoying ones and we can and should stop but sometimes we are annoying but we need to do what we’re doing anyway. I am happiest when I assume that everyone around me is just doing their best to keep it together and get through the day and get their own needs met. We all need to be patient with each other. I am happiest when I don’t try to want things that I can’t have, but look at the available options and try to want the best one. This is as hard as anything else in life but it’s a worthwhile kind of hard.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            This is an excellent post. +1000000. Good job!

            My husband is on the spectrum, albeit in a fairly minor way, but just knowing that there was a common set of things going on that explained various awkward and annoying aspects of his behaviour actually helped me and my family a lot.

            In the early years of our relationship we had several extremely unpleasant incidents where he had a major meltdown and was quite cruel and nasty to some of my relatives, to the point where I seriously considered leaving him on our honeymoon! But a combination of getting a diagnosis and treatment for the concurrent depression, learning why certain things set him off (and how us neurotypical people can try to avoid these situations), accepting that he does some stuff that others find weird but is harmless, and frankly a bit of growing up on both our parts has done wonders.

  35. Sabine the Very Mean*

    I just wanted to add my two cents that I know will not be popular but do offer a different perspective: my father is Karen times 20.

    Occasionally, when it’s very bad, I wish others in his life would react the way my brother and I do. Please hear me say that This is just want I secretly hope for, not what I actually expect: I secretly wish people were harder on him. It seems the more he’s coddled, the worse he gets. But I do know that that would not be appropriate in a work place but I still wish for it.

    A tough spot for OP but I’m impressed she cares enough to change.

  36. RB*

    Having been on both sides of this issues, I thought Alison’s advice was perfect. Thanks for a great response.

  37. CJMster*

    I tried to respond over at The Cut but had no end of trouble registering there. Very frustating.

    Anyways, the first comment there asks “Lunch?” to which I wrote this:

    No! That’d be too much for LW; she’d be volunteering for a torture session. I think Alison’s advice is very good: Take small steps to practice civility until it’s a new habit.

    I had a similarly irritating colleague at work with similar habits — especially the cackling. When you’re trying to concentrate on your work, and that shrill sound startles you and interrupts your focus (and it happens several times a day — sometimes several times an hour!), it’s hard not to react very negatively. I considered the cackler to be the destroyer of my peace at work, and I avoided her at all costs and wouldn’t speak to her unless I absolutely had to. She was (and still is, from what I hear from former colleagues who still deal with her) a clueless, utterly annoying human being — the polar opposite of polished and professional. In my case she was also a lying manipulator, but I don’t hear LW saying that’s the case here. I was considered friendly and professional at work — except with her. I think it’s because I worked hard to be professional and set the right tone at work, and the cackler was my polar opposite and yet wasn’t called out for all of the disruption she caused her colleagues. It felt like cosmic (corporate?) injustice.

    LW, I feel for you! I think Alison’s tips are all good ones, and I applaud you if you can learn to set your irritations aside and be civil to the cackler. I know firsthand how daunting that can be.

  38. ragazza*

    How about when the coworker is annoying and has few social skills, and is also bad at her job, but so delusional that she thinks she is the smartest person in the room? To the point of thinking that she can do other people’s (unrelated) jobs as well or better than they can.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Then you set some boundaries on discussion and work that is done… and be polite and professional and kind. And if she’s that bad, you bring concerns to your boss.

      I’m not sure if you’re asking permission to be cold or just what you’re supposed to do, but honestly, there’s no level of annoying that justifies treating someone like you’re miscast from Mean Girls. Sometimes, there are nasty people and you have to work around them. To abuse an old cliche, if you drop yourself to their level, they will beat you with experience.

    2. Anion*

      Then you view it as a challenge to yourself, to continue being polite and professional (perhaps even kind). You set yourself a goal of doing so, and maybe even decide something like, if you can make every interaction with her polite and professional for the entire month, you get to buy yourself that X you’ve had your eye on, or you get an extra dessert, or whatever.

      Note that “polite and professional (perhaps even kind) doesn’t mean you have to feed her delusions, it just means you’re not being actively rude, yelling, or namecalling/giving dirty looks/rolling your eyes when she speaks/that sort of thing.

      I highly recommend you buy a book by Miss Manners, and read it cover to cover. You’ll finish it feeling armed and ready to politely and professionally handle even the most irritating loudmouth–Miss M. always demonstrates the most effective way to deal with such people, and her advice has been invaluable to me more times than I can count in the twenty years or so since I first bought one of her books.

      Seriously, Miss Manners and a reward-for-yourself-type system. Give it a try. Good luck!

  39. chomps*

    Would it be a good idea to apologize to her as well? Completely freezing her out is pretty egregious behavior and I would be pretty anxious if someone who previously wanted nothing to do with me started being friendly to me. I’d be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I was thinking an apology would be in order as well. She’s obviously distressed by your cold shoulder. Something along the lines of, “I was wrong to ignore you. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” Of course, you have to follow through with being nice after saying you will, but that’s a good thing. And sometimes a promise out loud helps you do what you know you ought to.

    2. Clinical Social Worker*

      I have been frozen out at work before. It is AWFUL. I also think an apology is warranted here.

    1. Awkward and annyoing person who tries really hard but can't stop*


      I know I am weird and off-putting but I promise I am better than I was and I am trying

  40. SCtoDC*

    So much BEC happening in this letter. I am currently struggling with this at work. A guy on my team is the BEC and I just don’t like him. Anyways, it was good to read the response to this one.

  41. Lexie*

    Great comment. I would like to take a small detour and ask what if the co-worker actually does “everything wrong”. The said coworker of mine microwaves fish dishes, is really really really stupid, doesn’t understand her/our work (we are working in R&D). She is loud (I can hear her from the corridor when she is squealing in the office), talks on the phone (private calls) so loud it disrupts my work. She also stopped talking to me after she filed in a big (imho unreasonable) complain about me. The complain sabotaged my progress for a while but I am back on track – yet she is still carrying on with the weird behaviour. She keeps doing stupid things and is literally the most annoying person ever. And she regularly microwaves fish ;). I don’t think she is malicious, she is just incredibly dumb, annoying and loud – but in my case I am not going to be promoted anytime soon ;). How do I handle such a person I cannot stand on the day to day basis?

    1. Amber Rose*

      Smile politely, say hi when you see her, do your work like normal. If it helps, view her as a member of a strange alien species and decide her odd behavior is the result of coming from a different planet. Become an imaginary anthropologist.

    2. SCtoDC*

      Yeah, my situation is different. I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like this colleague, it’s just his personality. I think Alison’s comment about the OP’s response to her coworker reflecting positively or negatively on her is really helpful. You may not like your coworker, but that’s no reason to risk derailing your career. I need to keep this in mind too.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      The first thing to do is streamline your actual objections. In the bigger picture, nuking fish is not the problem, it’s a mere symptom. Tell yourself that one day you will find that breaker for the microwave and turn it off just before lunch. Yes LIE to yourself so you can let it go.

      Now you haven’t really said to much about what the stupid things are she does with her work but this is probably the main issue right here.
      1 Do not correct her mistakes for her. Give the work back to her.
      2 Do not cover for her. She is as responsible for her work as you are for yours.
      3 Stop looking for more reasons to call her stupid. Decide that you have enough proof and do not need more.
      4 Ask her to lower her voice or if applicable close her door when in conversation.
      5 Decide that it’s not healthy to be this angry at any one person no matter how justified. Realize that you could end up with big medical bills and she will still be cackling away on the phone while you lay in a hospital bed in agony. So:
      a Take walks at break time.
      b Stay away from caffeine and foods loaded in sugar.
      c Get more rest at night, so you have some positive energy to cope with this.
      d Consider installing a punching bag in your home and using it regularly. All that negative energy has to come out somehow.
      e Scare yourself: Is she worth losing this job over? Because that is where anger like this can led.
      f Practice being respectful to yourself. How do you talk to yourself when you make a mistake?

  42. Mischa*

    Save for the pigeons and odd dentist beliefs, there is a person in my grad school cohort, “Jamie”, who is very similar to Karen: they do a funny thing with their voice (maybe to be amusing?), have an annoying laugh, and are just a bit “weird” socially. OldMischa would’ve said, “NOPE! Not socializing with that person! They are awful and annoying and I do not like them.” After having read this website for months, I decided on a different approach. And am I glad that I did. I told myself to ignore the habits and see just the person. Basically, I allowed myself to be annoyed for a fraction of a second, then I forced myself to get over it. Once I got past the irritating voice lilt, the laugh, and the funny social skills, I discovered an incredibly kind, intelligent, and generally wonderful person. Jamie is now one of my good friends/study partners in my cohort. I would be missing out on such an opportunity to connect with them if I had been judgmental like I had in the past.

    I know it’s hard. But it’s worth it in the long run. Opening myself up to a person like Jamie has helped me grow so much personally. And I have a new friend and colleague who I can rely on. That’s absolutely worth it.

  43. mAd Woman*

    Beyond compassion, I wonder if it would be helpful to purposefully try to (silently) find something you like about Karen. It can be really small like “she turns in work on time” or “she’s never late for meetings”. That can help me scale back my irritation… “Gah Jane is over there yelling into her speakerphone again!! … But, she always holds the elevator for me so I guess you can’t win em all.”

  44. buttercup*

    I had a coworker like Karen. While she was annoying, I also found her kind of comical, which is what I think helped me deal with her, well, quirks.

  45. Not That Jane*

    A piece of advice a friend once gave me about people who get on your last nerve: Look for the first thing you LIKE about them. That way, you have at least one likable trait “pre-loaded” in your mind for whenever you have to interact.

  46. Tabby Baltimore*

    I’ve read through most of the comments, and didn’t spot this, so will offer this to the OP for consideration. You mentioned Karen’s coming back from maternity leave. I’m going to assume this is her first child, and that the baby is living with her. What to consider: It’s entirely possible that Karen’s personality may have changed, either a little or a lot, during her absence. She may have lost her nervous giggle, or her internist/OB might’ve helped cure her possible allergic rhinitis, or she may no longer have an aversion to dentists. Even more importantly, whether she went through labor/delivery or not, after even just 6 weeks of caring for a newborn, most new parents develop a confidence and self-assuredness in their ability to caretake. This might mean she no longer cares about having your attention or approval, especially if it turns out she is not your direct report on her return. Bottom line: be prepared to see a different Karen in the hallway, different enough that you might be surprised by how much easier it is for you to be around her now.

    1. Book Lover*

      How nice if that was your experience! My experience was of a profound new understanding of how absolutely useless I was at everything to do with caregiving, together with utter exhaustion and inability to think. I don’t feel completely useless any more, but I am still exhausted and my brain definitely doesn’t work as well as it used to which means checking and double checking and being more anxious than I used to be. If my kids sleep through the night for the next six months, that might improve, I suppose.

      In any case, I do agree that the break and addition to her family might have changed her, and more importantly the OP wants to do better with her. Hopefully the return to work will go well.

  47. Book Lover*

    Sigh. I have one of these at work. I guess everyone does. This one is the over complimenter – always (really, always, not sometimes) comments on clothes or hair or weight (blah, ugh). Also gives presents at birthdays and Christmas when no one else does, even after being told not to. And always listens in on every conversation and inserts herself in when not wanted. It is exhausting. I focus on a mostly blank face, polite thank you, ‘oh you shouldn’t have’ and saying ‘no, we’ve got it, thanks’.
    I don’t like her, I will sneak in another direction if I have the option without her noticing, but I think I am doing ok at not being overly rude. I hope. And I tell myself she is likely insecure, that she is just trying to help, that she just wants to be liked. And count to three as needed.

  48. Anonymous72*

    I really appreciate this question and the answer. I had something similar written and didn’t send it. I have a coworker who lies on reports, literally chases people down hallways to ask complex questions, corners people to help on projects although she can’t remember any of the details but just knows she needs help now, blows deadlines like dandelions, turns 30 minute meetings into hours, talks people in circles, and is pretty combative and unreasonable about things. I have a visceral CANNOT WORK WITH YOU EVER reaction to her, and, although I’m not yet to the “won’t say ‘hello'” point, I am at the “all I will say is ‘hello'” point…and I can tell she’s hurt by that.

    Patience and unconditional positive regard is…hard sometimes. Again: thanks for the question, and, Alison, thanks for the answer.

  49. Aeth*

    Oh god, I’m the Karen in my office of five people and it’s tough. I’m diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, and occasionally have ‘sneezy days’ where I just sneeze constantly. I’ve been accused of ‘not taking my pills’ (antihistamines, which I take but believe it’s more of a stress response than an allergy), and told to go and sneeze in the corridor. I have nothing in common with the people in my office and while I’m intelligent in myself, they have a weird habit of thinking I’m stupid because my beliefs differ from theirs. I really don’t know how to handle it some days, I hate feeling like the four people I spend most time with think I’m so damn weird and annoying. They’re not bad people, they’re just very… echo-chambery. But it really drags me down some days, and I feel very unheard and unvalued.

  50. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    Lovely answer, Alison!

    I think one of the important things to remember here is that it’s not illegal/bad/a crime to be annoying. I have several pet peeves when it comes to people’s behavior, but as long as they aren’t hurting me , I sorta just have to deal with it.
    One is allowed to be out and about in society and be annoying! And have poor social skills! and even be dumb and/or ditzy!

    1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      And there is nothing I can do about that. I just have to accept the annoyance and be polite.

      (I notice some commentators bring up coworkers who are bigoted or rude intentionally – I think that’s a completely different thing that one should push back on if possible. The Karens of the world are harmless and most of all, don’t do it on purpose. )

  51. bohtie*

    this advice is SO GOOD. I work with some really difficult personalities and one of the things that has helped me a lot is talking to, in my case, my manager, who is much more familiar with the inner workings and culture of our group – I’m part of it, but I largely work alone and my projects are the type that don’t often involve my coworkers, so I don’t know them terribly well on a professional level in most cases but I have to sit in very close confines with them. Even the littlest bit of sympathy helps – like finding out that my cube-mate is biting everyone’s heads off because she gets really attached to projects she’s been on for a long time when they come to a close – and the less cranky I feel about them, the less cranky they get in return (or so it seems). I’ve found that even when you think you’re being as professional as possible, it’s still gonna show a little bit if you dislike them, and it ends up kinda cycling back and forth.

  52. Den*

    Uuuuuuugh, I dealt with my own Karen for a while, and am well aware its my problem, and not strictly about her. It was a student I regularly worked with in my department who has dyslexia, and gets into major, frequent, laughing fits. Loudly.

    My issue is that her quirks are my major peeves. Like, I cannot stand being laughed at, particularly, when I try to be serious. Got me into physical, anxiety, chest pains kind of bad alongside the typical frustrations, and letting it dwell on me for ages. Adding that is explaining the same, exact things over and over again for a few months straight, laughing when other students call my name to help them, and her coming in at least 5-6 hours, 5 days a week. I felt sick a lot from the distress and cried too. I explained from time to time I don’t like being laughed at and it makes me sad, but laughs at me and said I’m kidding around.

    Objectively, she did nothing wrong so I did what I can, help her when she asked me to, very friendly with my supervisors, staff and other students so I quietly soldiered on without raising any complaints or barely venting out for over a year. She eventually graduated and its been a couple of months now, but still feel haunted by her and pops up on my thoughts when I get stressed during work lately. There’s the part that does want me to tell her off and how I felt during her time, but I know that is no good, pointless, creates unneeded animosity, could lead to future troubles, etc so, well, I have to live on with the lingering resentments.

    I got no advice or ideas for the OP since it is not like I am a shining example of handling frustrating people. Just wanting to share a pretty similar story and the feelings of not feeling alone in these kinds of distresses or peeves.

  53. The Other Katie*

    Hey OP. Given the sound-based nature of many of your complaints, I wonder if you have symptoms of misophonia (an emotional response to some noises, anywhere from irritation to searing rage). Do other repetitive noises like chewing noises or loud breathing bother you excessively? There’s no good way to handle this problem, though wearing headphones when you can helps, but I find that just being aware of my tendency toward it does help me realise that I’m the one being unreasonable and people aren’t breathing loudly AT me or whatever.

  54. I can do it!*

    Wow, I’m glad I don’t work with the OP, and am surprised someone who it seems like the entire office noticed was creating a hostile work environment is getting moved into leadership roles. You are probably annoying to your coworkers in some ways, too! We are all annoying! If you’re going to be in a leadership position you reeeally need to learn how to be more diplomatic and graceful than you’ve been.

  55. Clinical Social Worker*

    I have been frozen out at work. Like I’ve literally offered to help someone with an unpleasant task and had them walk right passed me. When I would speak in meetings most of the time it was as someone had just farted and everyone pretended it hadn’t happened.

    It is AWFUL.

    I’m a little surprised to see Alison didn’t suggest apologizing for the rude behavior?

    1. I can do it!*

      I agree, and same. This person is displaying open contempt for Karen at work and in this letter. I’d do more than “chastise” them if they worked for me, it’d be a definite PIP and apology situation. Poor Karen.

  56. Anon*

    If Allison’s advise doesn’t help, focus on the things she isn’t doing – backstabbing, sabotage, manipulation, bullying, false accusations – and the sniffles/giggles will probably seem pretty tolerable and tame.

    A few more direct reports and you might be longing for these, the good ole days, when giggles were the worst you had to deal with.

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