my coworker dumps emotions all over us and wants to be coddled

A reader writes:

My coworker, Dionne, and I are struggling with our other coworker, Amber. We are all the same level, but in charge of different departments. Dionne and I are young to have the positions we have, but we’ve both worked extremely hard and actively pursue opportunities to address any skills gaps we have. Amber is older than we are, very insecure, and has boundary issues.

We’ve tried addressing these issues with Amber directly, and that actually seems to make things worse. For example, she was complaining about our administrative coordinator and saying that she, Amber, annoys our admin, and the admin doesn’t like her, and so on. We said, “We’d prefer not to talk about the relationships you have with our other coworkers.” She started crying, and said that’s not okay, that we need to be nicer to her, and that we need to respond with “Oh, I’m so sorry. That sounds so hard. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. How can I help?”

Another time, Dionne had to tell her during a meeting that she didn’t have an answer for Amber and would have to ask our boss. Amber kept rephrasing the question to get the answer she wanted, but Dionne wouldn’t give in. Over a year later, Amber is STILL bringing up “the time Dionne was so mean to her in the meeting.”

People generally walk on eggshells around Amber, and don’t like to ask her to even do small things like put her appointments on the calendar so we can schedule meetings, or ask her to close her door when she’s on the phone, and her team is hesitant to bring up problems with her, because they’re afraid of making her cry.

We’ve noticed a pattern developing, where when one of us has to say “no,” set a boundary between work stuff and personal stuff, address an issue, or go to our boss for an answer to one of her questions, she essentially responds by saying her reaction is our fault, and wouldn’t happen if we were “warmer.” Recently, during yet another conversation to address a flare-up that she admitted was directly a result of her feeling insecure, she told me “the problem is your face” — that my expression is too neutral, so she imagines I’m thinking all sorts of awful things about her, and I need to be more effusive and start my responses to her with “I’m so sorry…”

Our boss highly values collegiality and respect in the workplace, and evaluates us on this specifically every year. I understand having two younger coworkers is really striking at the heart of Amber’s insecurities, and I am trying to be sympathetic to that, but it feels like we can’t address issues directly and have to work around her (and her feelings), and it’s leading to a lot of frustration, especially when she says we need to be “warmer” and less “work-focused.” Is there a way to nicely communicate that we can’t manage her feelings for her, or is this just one of those times when we should start everything we say to her with “I’m so sorry…” to keep the peace, and let the behavior go?

Amber sounds exhausting. She’s asking you to do some very weird emotional work on her behalf, and it’s not a reasonable request — anywhere, but especially in a work situation.

If you give in to her, she’ll have essentially made it impossible to work with her. If you can’t ask her to close her door because she’ll cry, or to put a meeting on the calendar because she’ll cry, or decline to hear gossip about other coworkers because she’ll cry … well, she’s holding you hostage with her emotions. You can’t do normal work things because she might emote all over you. And it goes even further then that — when she doesn’t get answers because you don’t have them, she’s accusing people of being mean to her a year later?

There isn’t a perfect solution here. If you give in, you won’t be able to do normal work-related things that you have to do. If you don’t give in, a flurry of emotions will rain down on you.

Neither of those is good, but one is significantly better than the other. It’s not an option to stop the normal work-related things that you have to do as part of your job, so that leaves you with having to accept that she’s going to have Feelings, and not let yourself get manipulated by that.

That means that all you can do is to treat her like you would any other colleague — be polite and professional with her, but don’t coddle her. If she has a reaction to that … well, that’s going to be on her to handle. It’s not yours to fix. Say what you need to say to her briskly and cheerfully and don’t get drawn in beyond that.

It’s possible that once she sees that you’re just not going to engage on this stuff, she’ll tamp it down. Or maybe she won’t — but you’ll be minimizing the impact on you by not getting drawn in.

I’d also stop trying to address all the flare-ups with her. She’s shown that’s not likely to work, and it sounds like it’s making things worse. Instead, you’re better off limiting your interactions with her and ending conversations as quickly as you can. It’s not your job to explain to her that what she’s asking is unreasonable or to talk through how her insecurities might be influencing her reactions. Stay out of all of that. If she has an emotional outburst, let her have it — on her own. You don’t need to engage with that, and letting her draw you in is signaling to her that it’s okay for you to be involved in managing her emotions. You’re better off disengaging completely and just letting her have whatever reactions she wants to have. Those don’t need to be your problem.

I think it’s feeling more like your problem because of your mention that your boss values collegiality and respect and evaluates you on those things. But you know, most good managers value those things — and still wouldn’t be at all okay with Amber’s behavior or expect you to accommodate it. If the problem is that your boss values those things at the expense of literally everything else, and is someone who would see this situation as Amber deserving respect and collegiality while the rest of you aren’t entitled to any from her … well, then you have a boss problem. But unless your manager has specifically stepped in here and told you to accommodate Amber’s issues — and even then, unless you’ve responded by explaining the work-related impacts her behavior is having and why accommodating it would cause additional issues — I wouldn’t assume that’s where she stands. That would a highly dysfunctional stance — and until you see clear evidence otherwise, you should assume she’ll find this as ridiculous as everyone else does. (Or at least that she would if she knew the full situation. If she only sees bits and pieces of it, she may not — but that would be a sign that she needs fuller information, not that you shouldn’t count on her to respond reasonably once she has it.)

One other thing: I’d leave the age stuff out of it. I can’t tell if Amber has told you herself that having younger coworkers is making her insecure, but even if she has, that’s not an excuse for her behavior and it’s not something that you need to cater to. If she hasn’t told you that and it’s more of a guess, you could be off-base with it. But either way, it doesn’t really matter and I worry that by framing it that way you’re playing into the idea that the age thing would somehow justify some of this … or are inadvertently being a little ageist, which obviously you don’t want to do either. Her behavior is wildly inappropriate regardless.

{ 427 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    this sounds exhausting to be around. It has me wondering, isn’t it exhausting to be like that? To get through the day being that emotional sounds absolutely exhausting
    Keep your head up, OP, follow alison’s advice and keep it professional.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I swear some people live for the highs and lows of this kind of drama. Like, it’s probably exhausting but maybe they feel the way some of us feel after a good workout or a day of [insert onerous home-repair task here], where you’re tired but you also feel like you’ve accomplished something. Even if it’s just venting your insecurities at innocent coworkers.

      1. Flinty*

        Hopefully this isn’t breaking the commenting rules, but I recognize a lot of my own anxiety issues from the way Amber is acting. (Key difference is that I’ve learned some strategies that mainly keep this stuff inside my own brain.) Basically, she sounds like someone who has zero strategies to self-soothe and asks her coworkers to soothe her instead. I’m not sure it’s helpful to think of her as just a drama llama – that might inject a tone of contempt that won’t really help matters.

        I would just think of her crying and complaining as a sort of tic – something to just sort of set aside as not relevant – and continue with what you need to do.

        1. Thlayli*

          She does sound really anxious and insecure, but she also sounds really manipulative and narcissistic. Just being anxious and insecure doesn’t explain ordering other people to change their facial expressions or their tone of voice. Or accusing people of being mean for a year.

          1. Flinty*

            I agree, and if OP has the ability to bring this to management, they should! But it sounds like that might not be possible, in which case, all the OP can really do is ignore it.

          2. Specialk9*

            Yeah, I’m voting for manipulative and possibly emotionally abusive.

            This situation is bananas.

            1. Relly*

              The fun part is, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s possible Amber has massive anxiety issues, and lacks good coping mechanisms … So she resorts to manipulation and emotional abuse.

              This does not change how general-you should react to the Ambers of the world. I just think it’s interesting.

          3. Anony*

            I have pretty severe anxiety but if something makes me cry at work I will generally apologize to the other person for my overly emotional response and I would never ask someone to change (their facial expressions?!) to accommodate my anxiety. Having anxiety doesn’t generally mean you blame others for your own behaviour (at least, not out loud, haha). I might ruminate on someone being mean for a year though if I legit thought they were… but all it would take is one person saying “actually, I think her response was quite reasonable” and you would never hear about it again. Another vote here for manipulative and narcissistic. And flinty is right on about treating it like a tic in the moment. It’s hard not to feel contempt when someone is being manipulative but at the same time you’ll be most effective if you can be completely neutral about her extreme responses.

            1. also anonymous*

              Yeah, I have some serious social anxiety as well that still wouldn’t bleed over like this, where I’d be making this level of demands on others to tailor themselves to my (possibly off base) inner emotional reactions. This is a pretty significant degree of manipulation, whether she’s aware of it or not…particularly in the workplace.

              The only thing that has worked for me with folks who are this deep in the manipulation game is to draw back and place boundaries that basically never change, and then just be neutral with them. They’re looking for a fix and if you stop giving it to them, they start looking elsewhere.

              OP, I would absolutely not have a direct “I can’t manage your emotions” conversation with a person like this–it will be ammo for them in another conflict. I would be professional and nominally polite, and follow your own code of behavior. The thing about her demands is they’re never going to fully satisfy whatever it is that’s leading her to make the demands. You’ll say “I’m sorry” Monday and it’ll be something else on Tuesday. So just extract yourself from the game now.

            2. Julia*

              Yeah, my anxiety usually means ruminating endlessly over something potentially rude/mean/wrong *I* said accidentally, and wondering if people might secretly hate me.

          4. Julia*

            To me, she sounds like someone who picked up some “therapy speak” and uses it in the wrong places. This is the kind of phrasing she can expect from her spouse (depending on who the issue is), not her co-workers.

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              Ugh. Nobody should have to preface every interaction with “I’m so sorry.”

        2. HR Here*

          Yes, I came to say the same. Boss should suggest EAP, if they have one…
          Anxiety seems very reasonable in your head, she may not realize how much of her anxiety she’s putting on other people.

      2. Crooked Bird*

        She reminds me so much of someone I know, and I would vote for “all of the above.” Legit insecure, enjoying the drama (mine was in a religious context and specialized in emotional “reconciliations,” with mediation and hugs, for offenses like speaking to her in a not-gentle-enough tone of voice), and also continually exhausted. The thing is it’s the insecurities that exhaust the person, and what they’re looking for from us is some temporary relief. But we can’t provide it. For one thing, they always, always want more.

        I have a really tried and true method which I want to recommend to the LW. It has three pillars:

        1. Maximum positivity
        2. Minimal eye contact
        3. Vagueness

        Now I worked with this lady as well as being in a religious context with her. She was also a neighbor–it was a somewhat strange situation. Whenever I saw her coming my blood pressure went up. In the early days of trying out my plan, that was the moment I would turn on the chirpiness. Big smile, big hi, nice to see you (much less dangerous than how are you). Never anything negative for her to latch onto. If I had to make a request I’d make it with maximum positivity in my face and voice, say thanks and turn away. This is the part where you’re making sure she can’t accuse you of meanness or disrespect.

        And then no eye contact. This was such an eye opener for me–I really hadn’t had any notion how much the physical act of eye contact has to do with engaging emotionally, maybe I was a bit clueless that way and other people always knew, but anyway–smile and look at something just behind her ear. And don’t engage verbally either–that’s the vagueness. Don’t engage with the specific emotions, cover it over with your general positivity and approval, tell her she’s great and don’t look her in the eye. Never engage with anything specific unless it’s work-related.

        My Amber, once I started treating her like this, started apologizing for the randomest things she had done–like getting in my way briefly the day before–and I kept telling her no, I wasn’t mad, everything’s great, till finally she admitted she just wanted to know what she had done because we weren’t as close as we used to be. (i.e. no more sweet, sweet attention…) The VERY WORST thing I could have done would have been to tell the truth. I told her I thought we were fine and we were just kind of different people, you know, but she was great. (Smile, look at something else) She gave up after that. We’ve gotten along great since then. She even came to me with a legitimate personal problem once and I actually listened and gave her feedback and it went fine. That was years later though. And I must admit I’m still grateful she’s moved away.

        1. Camellia*

          I think this all sounds genius! I’m going to file it away for when I have to deal with my own Amber (may that day never come!).

        2. church lady*

          “nice to see you” instead of “how are you?” = GENIUS
          Cheerful & Stupid (or Vague) is definitely the way to go with Emotional Vampires

        3. Lizard*

          Yes! I’ve developed something like this approach over the years (because my work tends to put me in contact with a lot of emotional people who nevertheless have finite appointment times). But I could never have explained it so beautifully.

          I’ve always thought of this method as “putting on my hard candy shell.”

        4. Artemesia*

          Classic ‘cordial stranger’ play and the absolutely best way to handle people you have to interact with but don’t want to be close to. Works on awful relatives to and how can it be criticized as you are just so friendly and ‘cordial’ even though you don’t let them get within a yard of your soul.

      3. Queen Esmerelda*

        People like this are called “emotional vampires” because sucking all the energy out of others makes them feel good.

    2. Bea*

      This is why I’m pretty good with at least dealing with people like Amber. I just sigh internally and pity them, what a sad existence. I know I can’t fix them and focus on ignoring their OTT reactions.

      Oh no! She’s gonna cry? Sounds like you need space. I’ll close the door while you’re pulling yourself together. Don’t give them an audience.

    3. LGC*

      Like, I feel bad for LW for having to deal with Amber, and I feel bad for Amber for having to BE Amber.

      (I mean, that’s what I tell myself when I have to deal with an Amber.)

      1. ginger ale for all*

        I feel bad about her administrative assistant. Having a boss like this must be draining.

      2. Specialk9*

        I don’t know, Amber has made an awfully sweet deal for herself. Doesn’t have to do any work, everyone walks on eggshells, everyone allows her to deflect her issues onto everyone else around her, and she never has accountability or risks losing her job?


        1. London Calling*

          Yes, she has everyone trained beautifully, doesn’t she? like the colleague I have who consistently fouls up but he has a great deal of experience that our manager is terrified of losing so she runs around saving him each time. As a result he can do pretty much what he likes and some of the rest of us (equally valuable) have one foot out of the door.

          1. Artemesia*

            I don’t understand managers like this. I once consulted with someone who had a subordinate like this. Job one was getting her trained on the secret knowledge he used to manipulate and create chaos in her department; job two was ‘bye Felicia’.

            A manager who is held hostage should be thinking of strategies to make the person obsolete and they need to also reflect on just how true it is that the person holds irreplaceable information. Often it is less so than the cowed manager thinks.

            1. London Calling*

              Neither do I, because she has admitted to me that this person causes problems and creates a perception of the department in the company that she doesn’t want. My feeling is that they don’t actually know what to do about him because he’s clever enough to modify his behaviour when it’s to his advantage to do so.

        2. gecko*

          I’d rather do my work than deal with the burden of anxiety Amber probably bears.

          Anxiety or emotional regulation problems are an explanation, not an excuse; it’s still on her to act reasonably. But anxiety and manipulation can be a “both, and” situation instead of an “or.”

          1. Specialk9*

            That’s true. My working theory is that my ex was emotionally abusive as a way of making sure I never left. (Ironic, because I never *would* have left if he hasn’t tried to destroy my soul.) People can have anxiety as one of the roots of being abusive. (And a profound selfishness that allows one to hurt others to get what one wants.)

        3. LGC*

          What I mean is – Amber sounds like a deeply unhappy person. Because if you’re committing that much time and headspace to manipulating the people around you (which she does), you’ve probably got issues.

          I mean, Amber has everyone at her beck and call. But – having known an Amber or two in my time – she’s probably not able to enjoy it.

          (And this isn’t to say that Amber is the REAL victim. It’s to say that although LW has to deal with Amber acting like the world’s largest toddler, LW at least is NOT actually the world’s largest toddler.)

    4. A.*

      I used to work with someone like Amber. She would always complain about imposter syndrome (which was partly true because the only reason she had the job was her mom) and would want constant reassurance from everyone. She was always going to our boss to beg him to not fire her even though her being fired was not on the table. Breakdown which included crying fits and pulling her hair out were the norm with her. It was effective for her though because our boss did not want to deal with her emotional tantrums, so he would take more and more work from her and pile it on everyone else. It lead to resentment, especially since we knew she did not have the experience or the qualifications for the job in the first place.
      And since she did not have much to do, she would disappear for hours at a time while everyone else was swamped. Then her mother got her a promotion to a position where she is grossly unqualified. I feel bad for her subordinates who will have to manage her emotional outbursts. Many who were probably passed over the same promotion.

    5. HannahS*

      Yeah, I think it probably is. I think Amber is just totally not able to manage her own emotions and lacks the ability to self-soothe, lacks insight, and has no sense of what’s reasonable and what’s not. Whether she’s also narcissistic I have no idea. But yeah, she’s having a rough time. It doesn’t mean that the OP needs to be warmer or more compassionate; I’d argue that firm-but-kind setting of boundaries is the way to go for her own peace of mind, and then you’ve gotta just let Amber be Amber. It might be beneficial to her, ultimate, or it might not. I had a peer behaving a bit like this earlier in the year (extremely anxious, couldn’t take feedback, lacked insight, was incredibly adversarial and unprofessional as a result) and from talking it over with a few people I genuinely think he’s a narcissist. There’s nothing to do but maintain your own ironclad polite professionalism, and loop in your boss.

    6. RightsaidFed*

      Don’t know if it would be worth doing, but when dealing with Amber’s flare ups, try to avoid a ‘us’ v you situation. If Amber can portray your interactions as the heartless girls ganging up on the sensitive, friendless Amber, she probably will jump at the chance to do so. She obviously doesn’t care what the issue at hand really is (I can’t answer your question without checked in with my boss first, Amber), only cares how she feels about it (that time you were sooooo mean to me).

    7. Bones*

      As someone who occasionally cannot stop herself from crying because of lingering issues with depression… yes, it’s awful and humiliating and incredibly difficult to manage.

    8. Jennifer Juniper*

      Amber sounds mentally ill. I hope she uses EAP services, if the office has them. In any case, she needs therapy immediately.

  2. ExcelJedi*

    I’d rather come off as cold thank deal with this. Is there any way for you to just escape when she has an emotional reaction? “I’m sorry…it seems like you’re not capable of this conversation right now. How about we pick it up after lunch when you’ve had some time to cool down?” Then run.

    That’s probably wishful thinking, but I’d do everything I could to minimize my time and interaction with her.

    1. Midge*

      Ah I see what you did there! I actually kind of like the spirit of your suggestion, though. “It seems like you’re not ready to talk about this right now. Why don’t you collect your thoughts and come find me when you’d like to resolve the teapot spout design question?”

      1. Mona Lisa*

        I was also thinking something along these lines. Return the awkwardness to the sender and extricate yourself from the situation. Hopefully Amber will learn that the LW isn’t willing to be part of her emotional displays and will either check them or learn to expect that the LW will leave if she starts crying.

      2. Pollygrammer*

        Or even, “It seems like you’re not ready to talk about this right now. I’ll email you.”

        This would be both not letting her off the hook and having a paper trail for when the ball is in her court and she’s too dramatic to do her job.

        1. heckofabecca*

          I really like this suggestion! I was going to ask what would be a good script for when Amber gets over the top, but this seems really good.

          If you wanted to cut back on having her call you “mean” with the first sentence, something like “I’m going to excuse myself now. I’ll email you” might work too.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yes, but there’s a crucial difference between “you’re not ready” and “you’re not capable”. For this to work and for the OP to have the high ground, she would need to approach it in a civil and neutral-to-kind manner. I say neutral to kind because any hint of snark will be latched on to and magnified all out of proportion, and thrown back in the OP’s face for at least a year. Give her no traction, nothing that could be misconstrued or actionable to a reasonable supervisor.

        1. Lizabeth*

          I don’t think it will matter the tone of voice – even a “neutral” one will set her off based on OP’s description.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            It’s not about controlling Amber’s reaction, it’s about putting the responsibility for her outbursts solely on her, with no objective third party able to reasonably assign any trace of blame or responsibility to the OP. It’s just a bonus that by being studiously neutral, you’re not contributing to the drama. You can’t stop a drama llama, but you can refuse to feed it, even a nibble, or else it will keep coming back.

        2. JSPA*

          “It seems like I’m catching you at a bad time. I’ll shoot you an email instead. Catch you later / chin up / it’s always dark before the dawn / [insert other appropriate generally supportive platitude here.]” When you do, add an extra platitude, smiley, bit of minor praise for her helpfulness or something in the PS. (Copy-paste into a spreadsheet so you don’t overuse?) It’s the “flies with honey” solution, and if you can find out what sorts of praise lift her up, it’ll stop you from getting all “B. eating crackers” about her.

          And when she comes to over-share, “Oh, I’m so sorry, you’re catching me at such a bad time. Could you shoot me an email?”

          She probably won’t send the worst crap. If she does, you have documentation. And you can platitude back about interpersonal stuff always being so tiring for everyone, and how you hate to see it drag her down. And how you’ve felt so much lighter and happier yourself ever since you made a rule about letting go of those feelings and forgiving everyone for everything [every year / every quarter / every new moon / every Monday morning].

          If she sends “feelingsmail,” reply with, “There’s some heavy stuff in here that I [really can’t deal with at work / really can’t deal with while I’m having issues outside of work / really can’t deal with because of issues I don’t discuss.] I’m putting all sorts of heavy interpersonal stuff on hold [for a couple of weeks / for the next month / until we have a group bonding exercise / until I deal with my own issues]. In the meantime, just send me [the confirmation number / the simplest possible version of your question / the date that works for you / etc] and I’ll mentally send you all my best supportive feelings and good wishes.”

          Finally, and this may be hardest–be a work chum proactively. Send her a meme before work on Monday, to lift her spirits. Make “we’re in this together” noises, un-prompted. Share a list of fun free events for the weekend before you leave on Friday. If you run into her shopping, wave and come over and shoot the breeze for 5 minutes (about any topic other than work).

          She clearly has an intense need to feel that people care. She fishes for that by being an emotional hot mess. But if she gets some constant baseline level of positive vibes without having to fish, the hot mess behavior may decrease. In any case, you’ll be setting the terms of the interactions. You’ll also basically have documentation that you’re not being unfriendly and un collegial, which should tamp down your worries about the reviews.

          1. Oh So Very...*

            I gotta say, while her need for a “constant baseline of positive vibes without having to fish” is a worthy and noble goal, I disagree it is LW’s responsibility to provide it. It seems to me that standing that close to a black hole of neediness would be dangerous.

              1. JSPA*

                Yeah, that certainly can also happen. But the payoff for OP is that she’ll have documentation that she’s being collegial and supportive, while also maintaining clear boundaries. That’s worth a lot, if there’s a risk of this blowing up in her face. If it’s really a “black hole” thing (grows when fed) as opposed to a “high baseline” thing (where a little proactive, self-chosen support feeds the need) it becomes clear pretty fast. And making that blatantly clear (as in, clear to the boss as well!) could be a benefit.

          2. Raina*

            Why all this work for the LW? Amber needs to manage her own emotions – it is not coworkers’ responsibility. “Oh, you’re upset! I’ll leave you be.”

    2. starsaphire*

      Yeah, I think a lot of calm iterations of “I’m going to give you a few moments to gather yourself” might help.

      Also, at some point, someone’s going to have to call her on these extreme statements. “You keep saying that X was mean to you; can you explain what happened?” followed by “But being professional is not the same thing as being mean” sort of thing.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I was just getting on here to say this: I’d walk away and let her melt down all by her lonesome. You’re nicer than I am–I’m not even sure I’d say anything.

      1. Zona the Great*

        That’s exactly what I would do as well. I once had an abusive former boss try to block my way in a grocery store by standing in the aisle I was walking down (didn’t notice her until I was right up on her) by putting her hand on her hips and tapping her foot–no kidding. I guess she thought I’d stop. I literally walked around her like Pacman would without any expression on my face. This is what I would do here.

        1. Specialk9*

          Like Pacman, bahaha. Now I’m imagining this grocery store, with cherries in your path and little ghost bosses following you around. It’s been awhile since I’ve played Pacman though, where there cherries?

    4. Laurelma_01!*

      Have a serious talk with your manager about how her behavior is effecting your work performance. Take her emotional response out of your emotional sphere as much as possible. As said earlier, it’s on her, not you. I would ask what you would want from her, and if she has a melt down, oh well, walk away. Easier said than done, I know. Also, sometimes it might be best to ask something of her that would cause a melt down when you’re on the way out the door. Where you can allot 10 – 15 minutes for discussion, if that long, than state I have to go, my kid needs to be picked up (whatever works in your situation).

      Your manager should be talking to her about this, and recommending EAP counseling if possible for Amber. This would wear me out emotionally. I view my emotional reserve as a bank, how much of a percentage of your emotional reserve to want to use on Amber? Emotional reserve that you waste on her, is impacting the amount you have available at the end of the day. I have weird boss, etc. I went to the EAP counselor in order to learn some communication skills for her particular personality disorders. It’s helped some. My big boss also said something that makes sense, when boss is plain rude & insulting …. look at the source. Well look at the source, Amber. Your boss should talk to Amber about how her behavior is being perceived and ask her how she plans to manage it. Even if Amber has a anxiety disability, etc. Her disability & accommodation should bleed out all over the office. That may be way your boss wants you to just deal with it. Amber needs to develop some coping skills, but that’s not your call.

      1. NicoleT*

        I was definitely going to suggest the EAP. You can learn a lot about how to handle other people.

    5. Kittymommy*

      This is why Oriole think in a witch at work. I do not have the time or the patience to deal with this type of grade school behavior from colleagues. Amber needs to dry it up and act like a freaking adult.

      1. Laurelma_01!*

        I think the manager should have addressed this in the bud along time ago. Amber has learned she can be rude, etc., and nothing is done. Manager doesn’t want to deal with it, expects others to accommodate Amber.

        At a former job:
        I recall years ago an issue with a security officer in the building being sexist, etc. There had been a few complaints but little done about it. Well he did something that spooked me that was supposed to have been a joke. His manager was like I’ll talk to Frank, you know how he is. Yes, I know, no one can control Frank. His response was “I can control Frank.” They moved him to another building. Not sure if a similar comment, said nicely would help or not. Or would backfire on you? Many times if someone is choosing to ingore something, if made to feel like they are incapable of doing it, they’ll do it to proof they can.

  3. Nocleverusername*

    Just came here to say these aliases are an amazing deep cut. At least I hope they are.

    1. Merula*

      It pains me to see that you’re right. I can’t quite believe this movie is 23 years old. That’s, like, older than Josh was.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I saw it immediately. To OP: You certainly exercise your mouth, Cher. (And I AM HERE FOR IT!)

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Amber’s plastic surgeon does not want balls flying at her face!

      So much love.

      1. Corky's Wife Bonnie*

        Look, I’m really sorry, call me when you’ve mellowed alright…I’m outie..

        1. Anonny*

          1. I am so disappointed that my husband just doesn’t get it when I say “that’s way harsh, Tai.”
          2. I always thought it was “I’m audi …”

          1. Spooky*

            It is! They actually talk about that in the dvd’s special features! It’s real slang, which started as “I’m Audi 500” (referencing the speed of the car) and then dropping to “I’m Audi.” Interestingly, if I remember correctly, there was also a group of people who dropped the opposite word and shortened it to “I’m 500.”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        But you’ve seen how picky she is about her shoes, and those only go on her feet.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        I promise this is my last tangent…

        I was once at a Clueless trivia night. My team was coming up with a name and we decided on “Party With the Haiti-ans,” which we thought was clever. Until the first score tally happened, and the announcer said, “Will the five teams named ‘Party With the Haiti-ans’ please come to the front, so we can sort out your scorecards?”

        The best team name that night BY FAR was Virgins Who Can’t Drive.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          I am HERE for this party. Although I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a team called Suck and Blow, or Messiahs of the DMV.

        2. Specialk9*

          I’d go with “like I totally paused” as my team name. Not that I use that phrase way more than I should. (whistles innocently)

        1. it's all good*

          yes “Rollin’ with the homes!” Now I will be citing this for the next week. lol. Since our oldest started driving, hubs and I always tell her everything is 20 mins away in L.A when discussing distances and curfews. Her response “we don’t live in L.A.” hahaha

          Best quotable movie ever.

  4. Iris Eyes*

    “…see this situation as Amber deserving respect and collegiality while the rest of you aren’t entitled to any from her…”

    This is so key, Amber is the one who is asking and taking without giving anything emotionally. That’s not ok. Its not ok to demand resources from your coworkers that you refuse to reciprocate.

    1. Luna*

      +1. And telling your coworker that “the problem is your face” (!!) is most certainly not respectful!

      1. Pollygrammer*

        This is where I’d actually turn the tables on her. “Saying things like that make me really uncomfortable, Amber.”

        And that might be a good tactic for addressing it with the boss, too. Dealing with her is uncomfortable, and creating a difficult and toxic work environment. Amber is bullying her about her appearance. Just because LW isn’t a crybaby doesn’t mean she can’t pull the feelings card too.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          See, I was thinking about this very issue, and even if she was willing to reciprocate, this kind of emotional demand isn’t appropriate in the workplace. If I have a coworker to whom I’m close enough to talk to about my emotional needs, we’d go to lunch or meet after work or something. If they hurt my feelings at work, I’d talk to them about it later, when no other coworkers were around.

          Although in the “drop a deuce on the boss’ desk” genre of “revenge fantasy that would never work, but is fun to imagine”, it is very tempting to tell Amber every time that her accusations of meanness have deeply wounded your feelings, and demand that she apologize profusely and abjectly.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          In fact, pull an Amber. “Wow, that was a hurtful thing to say. You need to apologize and never speak to me that way again.” See if you can work up a few tears.

          (No, don’t.)

          1. Blue*

            You could totally get away with a, “It makes me really uncomfortable when you criticize my body that way. That’s very inappropriate,” comment in this situation!

      2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        My jaw dropped. I think I canguess what she meant when she said it, but that is such a horrible way of saying it.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I was thinking the same thing – she just insulted the OP in a hurtful manner. Depending on my mood, if I was told that my problem was my face, I would either burst into tears from humiliation/stress or look at her in shock and ask her to repeat herself. It is one thing to be an emotional vampire, another thing to make comments about a person’s looks and use them as excuse for poor behaviour.

      3. Kat in VA*

        This would piss me off to no end. I have naturally severe RBF. I can’t do anything about it. It’s…my face?

        Adding to that, I have some funky neurological disorder called spasmodic dysphonia that makes my vocal cords flap around uncontrollably, making my speech sound anywhere from strangled and stuttering to just about honking like a goose. The only way I can speak somewhat legibly is in a very flat, very controlled tone.

        She’d freaking hate me and there’s nothing I can do about either situation!

        1. Blue*

          Yeah, same on the RBF. I feel like I’d end up making some semi-sarcastic remark like, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about my face short of plastic surgery, and I’m guessing you’re not willing to fund that, so…”

        2. Specialk9*

          Thanks for sharing that, I didn’t know about that condition. Sounds like you’ve worked hard to not have that take over.

      4. Khlovia*

        LW should reply in the moment to things like this: “Amber! What a cruel thing to say! Why are you being so mean to me?!” and burst out crying.

        1. Khlovia*

          Tsk. Khlovia, you should learn to read all the comments before posting things that turn out to be echoes.

      5. EddieSherbert*

        Right?! I’m shocked Amber is the older/more-experienced person in this situation.

      6. MsSolo*

        Even though she may have meant it as “I find it hard to read your emotions” the fact the phrasing is the sort of insult that gets thrown around the playground when you’re twelve just makes me giggle. There’s no way I couldn’t have reacted to a sentence like that. Yeah, well, my/i> problem is your face ::sticks tongue out::

    2. LQ*

      I’ve known a few Ambers and this has been the case with all the ones I’ve know. Asking for any reciprocation does not go over well. It’s all take and assumptions of agreement on the underlying structure. You have to reject that. Luckily most of the ones I’ve been around I’ve been able to walk away from even at work. Just not going to agree to change my face for you because my face isn’t inherently wrong.

    3. designbot*

      Yeah, respect cuts both ways. You should be able to tell her that her behaviors are a problem in a calm, kind, respectful way, and be heard. Conversely, the way she reacts to you is not in fact respectful. She doesn’t respect your time, your goals, your position, or your feelings.
      I think I would try to approach this with the boss and try to show him this perspective. Tell him that you’ve been thinking a lot about how much he values respect and collegiality and that you’ve realized that because you’re not prone to being a squeaky wheel about things, certain things that aren’t respectful to you have gone unaddressed. Stress that you’ve tried to approach Amber in a respectful way but that you’re not receiving the same in return.

      1. Mel*

        So that when Amber tells the boss you’re being mean to her, you have a log and can figure out what actually happened?

        So that when your work isn’t done because Amber didn’t do her share, you can say “I asked Amber about it on these three dates and all she did was cry”

        1. fposte*

          You don’t need to document to talk to your manager about a colleague who’s interfering with your work, and documenting times a colleague cried and you weren’t mean to her is really not worth the time and mental energy. It makes this a bigger deal when her co-workers are trying to make it a smaller deal.

          1. Lance*

            Also, it’s hard to suggest you need to document something like this when it appears to be so completely prevalent, and most of the people around her would know exactly what anyone’s talking about when talking about Amber being hard to deal with.

            1. fposte*

              And if I were the boss, I’d be wondering why the heck you waited until you compiled a whole list to to talk to me about it.

              I mean sure, there are probably managers who won’t believe you unless you have a PowerPoint with charts and peer-reviewed notes, but mostly you just go to your manager and say “Jane, Amber’s crying instead of completing the WENUS, so we’ve had to submit it late. Any thoughts about how to handle this?” (And the managers who need PowerPoints aren’t usually the kind to intervene if it’s just an interpersonal situation anyway.) The “document” go-to seems to assume a pretty bad relationship with the manager that necessitates a legalistic approach, and, like venting, it really does make the situation worse in your mind. Documenting is necessary in legal stuff, but I think it’s not a useful default in other situations that could be better approached in different ways.

                1. HR Evil Uncle*

                  Do I recall a mention you were thinking/hoping on doing a post about documenting in this type (and similar) situations?

              1. Delta Delta*

                I read “document” as being as simple as making a note on a list or in a journal or something like that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big thing. Could be “June 35th, Asked Amber to update the spreadsheet and her response was that I’m mean and she cried.” That way if it’s not something that needs to be addressed imminently but does come up, there’s at least a short reminder to help refresh a memory.

              2. Holly*

                I agree with this – I just happen to think there’s a legal reason to have documentation in this case.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeah me too. If management ever finds their managerial spine and fires/lays her off, she’s very likely to sue.

                2. fposte*

                  I think there’s no more legal reason to document this than any interpersonal difficulty at work as described. If Manager thinks it needs documentation, then fine, but I wouldn’t do it until consulting with the manager.

          2. Sam.*

            I agree that it’s best to go directly to the manager. But if they’re disbelieving or downplay the issue, compiling evidence isn’t a bad idea.

        2. NW Mossy*

          It could be helpful to the LW to do this to the extent that she and Dionne want to reassure themselves that Amber’s behavior objectively doesn’t make sense and/or that Amber’s behavior is problematic, but that’s really it. Even then, it may not be an awesome idea because it draws that much more of their attention to Amber’s antics, which already take up way too much time and headspace.

          Amber’s boss could benefit from doing this kind of documentation as part of his performance management efforts, but as peers, this is more than the LW and Dionne need to take on.

        3. Anne (with an "e")*

          Also, the boss claims to value congeniality, right? Document the numerous times that Amber has NOT been congenial– “your face,” bringing up misperceived wrongs for over a year– that is called badgering, etc.

          Frankly, it sounds to me like the LW is working with an overgrown toddler who has learned to use crying to manipulate those around her.

      2. chi type*

        Maybe I just read this website too much (as if) but I feel like we have seen cases when someone is, say, forced into mediation for being “mean” to someone who was hindering them from doing their job.
        Maybe that’s the kind of thing SandyS is thinking of?

  5. Jennifer85*

    Completely agree with AAM advice here, but I do find it a bit strange that there’s two of you essentially acting as one (‘We’d prefer not to talk about x’) – that could come across badly if it happens a lot? It doesn’t excuse her behaviour but if she feels like she’s being ‘ganged up on’ or its obviously you discuss her between the two of you that can’t help.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      I noticed that, too. And in that particular case, it felt like maybe a bit of an overreaction on LW’s part? Although definitely not out of line, just maybe a stronger reaction than would normally be warranted.

      That said, I definitely understand how that could be the result of having to have similar conversations way too many times…this sounds like the kind of situation where the two people dealing with it would need to have an outlet/commiserate to make sure they aren’t going crazy separately.

    2. Kay*

      I thought the same thing. The “we prefer not to talk about it” line comes across strangely in text.

      1. bonkerballs*

        I didn’t come across strangely to me at all. I imagine it’s unlikely that’s verbatim how the conversation went and it seems silly for OP to need to say I responded in this way and then Dionne responded in exactly the same way when using the word “we” takes care of that.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I actually had to scroll back up and read the letter again to find what this is referring to because it seemed entirely unremarkable to me while reading the first time; this seemed like a simple verbal shortcut to indicate that OP and Dionne were on the same page.

      2. Kathleen_A*

        I think “we” is…let’s say, not the best word choice. It’s almost always better to just use “I,” to admit your own preferences, and to not appear to hide behind a “we.”

        1. Sam.*

          I generally agree, but I think we can give the benefit of the doubt and assume they were paraphrasing here.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            The only reason I am emphasizing this is that the OP actually put this precise phrasing inside quote marks. If she’d just paraphrased, I wouldn’t have thought much about it.

        2. TootsNYC*

          and the use of “we” (if the OP and her friend are actually saying it to Amber) implies very strongly that you have been talking about her behind her back, and have been “in cahoots” in identifying her as a problem.

          That’s not helpful in this situation (in ANY situation it would be problematic, butr esp. here is it)

          Stick with “I,” and try to develop scripts that don’t sound quite so much like scripts. “Oh, I hate to talk about other people’s relationships with other people. It’s too complicated/It doesn’t seem fair.”

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’m wondering how long LW and Dionne have been in their positions compared to Amber. If she’s been there forever and they are relatively new and a lot has changed, I could almost understand her being resistant to change. Of course it sounds like there is a lot more going on here than that and even being resistant to change wouldn’t excuse her behavior. I just feel like there has to be *some* underlying factor that we’re missing.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Is this new, though? I would think that, with the behavior being this strong, Amber has always been like this.

      And so the age has nothing to do with it either. I think our OP is trying to come up with some sort of explanation for external influences, but I don’t think there are any. Amber is just like this.

      Sometimes that’s how the world works–it’s NOT an external influence or stimulus. It’s inherent in the person.

      That’s how Amber comes across.

  7. Amber Rose*

    I’m exhausted just reading this. I can’t even imagine dealing with it in real life.

    Can you just kind of tune out her tears? Talk to her like she isn’t crying. And if she goes on about how MEAN that is, you can just cut her off with a “sorry you feel that way. Excuse me, I need to go [do work thing]” and leave. You don’t have to listen to her vomit her feelings everywhere.

        1. Jolie*

          I like to joke that some of the AAM stories should totally cross over à la wife swap, in the spirit of poetic justice. (Hey, boss who asked employee for a ride from the airport, then wrote her up for what she was wearing; we just replaced her with the rude clerk who responds to everything with “Your mom”.)

          Perhaps Amber can share a desk in Workplace hell with the two of them? :D

          1. Rey*

            This is amazing! Like a March Madness bracket of which coworkers would outlast each other. Who will win–the coworker who stole spicy food and then reported them to HR, or the coworker who wanted everyone to refer to “her master”?

          2. Julia*

            Amber should be paired with the co-worker who responded to every issue other people had with “at least you don’t have cancer and an eating disorder”. It would either shut her up right away or cause an epic battle of the drama queens I’d definitely watch.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Just channel parents from the 80’s and 90’s. “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

      2. Malevolent Second Banana*

        LOL. I had a similar thought – Okay, I’ll show you a facial expression that is definitely NOT neutral, then.

        But, yeah, don’t do this.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Talk to her like she isn’t crying.

      My favorite “beside manners” doctor did just this when I met with him one of the last times. My medical issue wasn’t responding to any treatment, and I was so frustrated, and I started crying.
      He said to me, matter-of-factly, “If I were you, I’d probably cry too,” and handed me a box of tissues. Then he just kept on with our conversation.

      I found it very respectful! He trusted that I would be able to control my emotions eventually, and that I was still intelligent enough to participate in the conversation.

      Now, Amber is different–but maybe the approach can be the same. A light level of sympathy, “Oh, this is upsetting to you, that’s too bad,” and hand her a tissue, and then keep going with whatever. And if she says something, your response is, “I was trying to respect your autonomy. I trusted that you would be able to handle your emotions without needing someone to drop everything else!”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This approach can work very well. “Yep, cry if you need to, then please put this item on your calendar when you are done crying.”

        OP, you know what your goal is, she needs to answer an email or put something on the calendar or whatever. With the goal at the forefront of your thinking, keep going toward it no matter what her reaction is. Just very matter of fact say, “Do what you gotta do, then please put this on your calendar.” If you feel like you are repeating yourself a lot, you probably are using this method very well.

        One helpful thing I have found with a crying person is to lower my voice, I keep talking softer. I am not sure if it forces them to concentrate or if it helps them to concentrate. Probably a mix of both.

        Unfortunately, because this has gone on for a while it will probably take a while with any method to get a different response. Trust yourself to pick a method that will be workable for you and keep doing it, over and over and over.

      2. Mockingdragon*

        This is lovely. I have a terrible habit of crying when I get frustrated or overwhelmed, and the worst part is knowing that I’ve suddenly derailed whatever was going on. One of the best ways to get my emotions back under control is to finish what was happening so I can take it out of my brain and set it aside. Attention just makes it worse. (Typically, the moment I realize this is happening, I flee to the bathroom or the stairwell to try and collect myself in private.)

        But it never seems to be acceptable to tell people “If I’m crying, just ignore me please and keep going.”

        This is one of the biggest reasons I’m looking for remote work.

  8. Lemon Sherbet*

    To me, this sounds like a person who has, in the past, been told to “use her words” and this is where she’s landed with it. Still completely unreasonable, but at least to me, it would explain the exact script she wants people to use.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Heh, that makes a lot of sense. “Use your words” doesn’t mean, “Use ALL your words and tell people the problem is their face”, but some people take things beyond the spirit of how they’re intended.

      This woman would drive me batty. I almost lost it on a similar person recently, and it’s an exercise in patience for me not to lash out. Which is why I don’t have advice, just a whooooole lot of commiseration.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        A poster to Capt Awkward once asked “Should I use my words again?” because someone wasn’t doing the precise thing the poster wanted them to do. Many people, including me, said “No, your words are not a bludgeon to get your way” and pointed out that the phrase is used to help people who are *afraid to speak up*, not people who aren’t getting their way.

        So, yeah, Amber. You can tell people how you need them to react to you, but that’s a social or familial obligation, not a co-worker obligation. It’s time for you to “fake it until you make it” and pretend to be a grown-up until the acting becomes habit and then you ARE a grown-up, handling your own pain like the rest of us (mostly) do.

        1. Specialk9*

          It’s actually a classic abusive technique to use therapy tools and methods as weapons.

          There’s this subset of abusers that Lundy Bancroft calls “Mr Sensitive” (default male pronouns in that book, unfortunately):

          “MR. SENSITIVE

          Mr. Sensitive is soft-spoken, gentle, and supportive—when he isn’t being abusive.

          He loves the language of feelings, openly sharing his insecurities, his fears, and his emotional injuries. Often he has participated extensively in therapy or twelve-step programs, or reads all the big self-help books, so he speaks the language of popular psychology and introspection. His vocabulary is sprinkled with jargon like developing closeness, working out our issues, and facing up to hard things about myself.

          The following dynamics are typical of a relationship with Mr. Sensitive and may help explain your feeling that something has gone awry:

          1) You seem to be hurting his feelings constantly, though you aren’t sure why, and he expects your attention to be focused endlessly on his emotional injuries. If you are in a bad mood one day and say something unfair or insensitive, it won’t be enough for you to give him a sincere apology and accept responsibility. He’ll go on and on about it, expecting you to grovel as if you had treated him with profound cruelty. (Notice the twist here: This is just what an abuser accuses his partner of doing to him, when all she is really looking for is a heartfelt “I’m sorry.”)

          2) When your feelings are hurt, on the other hand, he will insist on brushing over it quickly. He may give you a stream of pop-psychology language (“Just let the feelings go through you, don’t hold on to them so much,” or “It’s all in the attitude you take toward life,” or “No one can hurt you unless you let them”) to substitute for genuine support for your feelings, especially if you are upset about something he did.

          3) None of these philosophies applies when you upset him, however. With the passing of time, he increasingly casts the blame on to you for anything he is dissatisfied with in his own life; your burden of guilt keeps growing. He starts to exhibit a mean side that no one else ever sees and may even become threatening or intimidating. Mr. Sensitive has the potential to turn physically frightening, as any style of abuser can, no matter how much he may preach nonviolence. He blames his assaultive behavior on you or on his emotional “issues,” saying that his feelings were so deeply wounded that he had no other choice. Many people reject the possibility that Mr. Sensitive could be an abuser.”

        2. Airy*

          I’ve always heard the phrase used to small children to mean “Stop screaming, take a breath and tell me in words what’s wrong.” Apt for Amber – although her complaints are less valid than most of the things I’ve heard my little nephew get upset about. Including the time he burst into tears because he’d run out of the lavender flowers he was planting in his sandbox. Nothing quite like a three year old with tears pouring down his face screaming “I need – more – LAVENDER!”

          1. Specialk9*

            Hahaha I love it. I have a toddler and the things that upset him are often HI-larious, but you can’t laugh oh no.

        3. Working Hypothesis*

          Which Capt. Awkward post? I’m a fan but don’t remember that one. (I might’ve missed the comments thread, though.)

          1. MsSolo*

            The relatively recent one the description brings to mind is the guy who felt the person he’d asked out had been unfair in taking a while to say “no” to him, and wanted to have a long drawn out discussion about how it wasn’t the “no” that hurt (he was already so over her, that valentines poem was basically a joke, honest) but how she’d delivered it and she needed to know that. To which the commenteriat correctly identified that it was the no that hurt, and that it wasn’t her job to make him feel better about hearing it.

            1. MsSolo*

              (ultimately, the point is sometimes when you hear something that hurts, you try and tell yourself if it was delivered in a different way it wouldn’t hurt so much, so it’s the messenger’s fault for hurting you and your responsibility to society to make sure they don’t hurt other people the same way with their bad news delivery method. Or in Amber’s case, make sure LW doesn’t hurt other people with her face)

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                Oh! Yeah, I do remember that one, I just hadn’t thought to connect it. Thanks, MsSolo. And yeah, while it *is* technically possible for someone to so completely screw up the delivery of a message that something which the recipient would be genuinely comfortable with under normal circumstances only hears the hurtful delivery, I think that over 90% of the time when humans tell themselves (and other people), “I didn’t actually mind the message; but the DELIVERY was so hurtful!” what they really mean is, “I didn’t wanna hear that message, and I am justifying that to myself by picking holes in the way they delivered it.”

                All of which is, of course, why “tone policing” is a concept. It’s Amber-ing, taken to a cultural level.

      2. Ms. Alex*

        Oh, I wouldn’t be able to hold back the eye rolls dealing with Amber, which I know would only make things worse! And eventually I’d probably lose it on her too.

  9. Justin*

    As someone with anxiety issues (not diagnosing!), yes, I can empathize with the dumbbrainthings that make Amber FEEL that way, but, see, it’s up to her to get the aid she needs so she doesn’t ACT that way at work. Because it’s interfering with her work, and yours, and everyone’s.

    Document, avoid, nod silently if she Has A Moment.

    Sorry you are going through this (and I’m glad I got some aid before my brain made me act this way at work, or I’d’ve been out on my butt a long time ago).

  10. MicroManagered*

    This doesn’t sound like it’s necessarily related to LW’s age. Amber sounds like she is extremely (irrationally) sensitive and insecure.

    It’s also not super-clear to me from the letter if Boss Who Values Collegiality has actually asked LW & Dionne to accommodate Amber, or if they’re simply concerned that Amber’s outbursts could make BWVC think they’re doing something to Amber when they’re really not.

    Either way, LW, I worked with an unreasonable crier–I’m talking a weekly, hyperventilating sobber. It stressed me TF out just to be near someone displaying that level of emotion, whether I was involved in whatever triggered it or not. If she attempted to talk to me about work while crying, I’d say “Could you come back later after you’ve had a chance to calm down?” or if it started while I was speaking to her “I’ll give you some time to calm down.” I also spoke to my manager about it. She’d already seen it, but her strategy was to let her cry it out. Once my manager was aware that it was causing others on the team distress, she began asking the crying coworker to excuse herself if she couldn’t contain her emotion and even sent her home a few times.

    The other thing to remember LW, is that people who react like this are not necessarily feeling the same thing YOU would be feeling, if you had a similar reaction. I think that’s what made it difficult for me. One time my ex-coworker was crying on the phone, while eating a snack. Just *hick-hick-hick-SOB-crunch-munch* “Ok I’d be happy to do that for you” *hick-hick-hick-SOB-crunch-munch* (for real). I realized, like, if *I* were so upset that I were crying that hard, it would not be phone time and definitely not snack time! That epiphany kind of helped me separate and disengage from her a bit.

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      That’s exactly what my toddler used to do, cry and eat while forgetting sometimes that she was supposed to be crying. Funny in a kid, not funny in an adult.

      1. MicroManagered*

        The sad part is, I eventually concluded that that is probably exactly what was going on. She was kind of a toddler emotionally. That did give me some compassion for her, because someone must not have taken good care of her when she was small and that’s sad, but holy shit it was exhausting!

        1. Decima Dewey*

          When my niece was young, she got upset because hot dogs cooked on the grill were on the menu and she didn’t *like* hot dogs cooked on the grill (neither did I, but I was old enough to know not to get into it with my father). She wept and ate potato chips, then the tears became real because of the grains of salt in her eyes.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      I also question whether this is related to Amber’s age. I mean, it certainly could be, but alas, over-emotionality (is that a word?) and taking things personally spans the generations. But in any case, unless Amber has made this an issue, I recommend that the OP not bring it up. The issue isn’t “This coworker of X years does this thing.” It is “This coworker does this thing.” That’s definitely how to approach it if you have to talk to your supervisor, and honestly, unless Amber has brought it up, that’s how I’d recommend approaching it inside your own head.

      And I like your approach, MicroManagered! I wish I’d thought of it back when I had an over-emotional colleague, which hasn’t been in a while, thank God.

      1. irene adler*

        Long shot: my uncle was on some meds that caused him to be very emotional at times. Just calling him on the phone would cause him to become overcome with emotion where he couldn’t even speak (not a normal thing for him). I understand crying about things not worth crying about wasn’t out of the ordinary either.

        Doesn’t excuse things here and doesn’t explain some of the unkind comments (“your face”). Just a thought.

        And if this was the case, I would think clueing in management would be on her list. So they can assure employees that the crying isn’t something to get worried about.

        1. JSPA*

          recent studies (last 5 years) show that people with depression, when presented with a neutral (or even, neutral-to-mildly-positive) face, see it as sad; people who have been abused or have BPD more commonly see a neutral face as angry or judging, and people with aggression issues see them as hostile. And that degree of critical reaction in parents correlates (that’s correlation, not causality) with kids inattention to expression (and presumably reduced ability to functionally read expression). Can’t find the originals, but here’s a partial summary. So that’s likely where the “your face” thing is coming from. An inability to read a neutral expression on an average face.

          see also

          (which actually shows that it’s not only those with ASD who find reading faces difficult!)

          1. Observer*

            Interesting stuff. But really not relevant here.

            I just want the OP to realize that this is NOT her issue to deal with. Yes, this could possibly provide some perspective, but this is NOT her responsibility, and she doesn’t have to contort herself or feel bad for not contorting herself.

            1. JSPA*

              I find that having a sense of some broader context for someone else’s weirdness can do a lot to drop my own stress response. (Other people are fine saying, “eh, weird Myrtle is being weird Myrtle.”)

              Also, the OP’s coworker seems to suffer from a sort of feedback loop; and this could explain the feedback loop.
              Increased anxiety -> decreased ability to correctly read faces
              decreased ability to correctly read faces -> increased anxiety

              Agreed: It’s not the OP’s “job” to break the loop.

              But going dead neutral on someone who has this problem isn’t just not breaking the loop; it can actually trigger the loop.

              It’s like knowing that Sam has a rage response to the sound of chewing. That’s his problem, not yours, right? But if you know about it, you don’t bring in a big bowl of chips and crackerjacks to share, in an attempt to cheer him up. If Louise has light-triggered migraines, you don’t put up flashing light decorations for holidays. If Sandra says that she’s become intensely sensitive to smells, you watch what you microwave (and don’t insist that she disclose whether she’s pregnant).

              There were a lot of “what the actual F” responses to the “my problem is your face, that I can read your face” conversation. Of COURSE that’s not a good way to phrase the problem. But it is a real thing that people struggle with.

              Stipulated, co-worker is a huge PITA. However, sounds to me like the she has also disclosed an actual disability (in the narrow meaning of, “something she’s unable to do that most people can do.”) It’s a disability that many people are not well aware of. It actually is reasonable– and perhaps also mutually beneficial– to make minor accommodations for that disability.

              1. Observer*

                But what the OP is being asked is far more than a minor accommodation. It’s not just that it’s not fair. It’s not reasonable – and it is also utterly unrealistic.

                Also, there is plenty of evidence that catering to this kind of thing can actually make things worse. It’s one thing, for instance not bring a bowl of crackerjacks and chips to Sam. But what happens when Sam now starts insisting that you don’t bring chips to work at all? And, then also that you don’t being ANY crunchy foods, including any crackers or raw vegetables?

                Now most people who have sound sensitivity don’t tend to behave in this way. But the pattern shown by Amber most definitely DOES tend to expand. And it’s been happening. She’s not getting less demanding with people tiptoeing around her, but more.

                Lastly, people reacted this strongly to the issue of the OP’s face because Amber did NOT “disclose a disability” nor did she say “I can’t read your face.” She said “It’s your fault.” And that OP needs to jump through hoops to make sure that Amber doesn’t imagine all sorts of things about her. If it were just about signalling that “I’m not angry” she wouldn’t be demanding that OP start off all the time with “I’m sorry.”

      2. Hallowflame*

        Some of Amber’s demands sounded a little like exerting dominance, to me, which makes me think the age info may be relevant.
        “…I need to be more effusive and start my responses to her with “I’m so sorry…”” This is the kind of behavior you might see in a very old-fashioned office between two people separated by several rings on the corporate ladder.
        ” …we need to respond with “Oh, I’m so sorry. That sounds so hard. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. How can I help?”” This one just sounds like she’s trying to solicit favors from her coworkers whenever she breaks out the crocodile tears.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Well, see, the thing is, sometimes those of our own age try to assert dominance, too. I see your point, but I really do think it would be better for the OP to just put this possibility out of her mind because Amber’s age shouldn’t affect how the OP reacts, so why bother fretting about whether it does or does not play a role? Unless, as I said, Amber has made it an issue.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          And you know, when you do ask how you can help they hit you with, “Well you should just KNOW what to do.”
          Sure, I will manage your emotions for you and in my spare time I will also read your mind.

          As I was reading OP’s letter I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. That’s not a service I provide.” And I have done a lot of things to help cohorts including going through garbage to find a lost ring. Here’s the point, OP, you know you. And you know how many times you have helped someone with something when it was not exactly in your job description. Use those memories to help balance out what is reasonable for this person and this situation. I know if I had to search through garbage again for a ring, I probably would. I will not protect people from their own emotions.

          People don’t give us the responses WE want, they give us the responses they have. It’s up to us to work with it. OP, find some comfort in your own ability to flex. People who can flex make out better in life than people who don’t. Your coworker is going to have a very long and difficult road if she does not get a handle on how the world works.

    3. Secretary*

      MicroManagered worded this really well. I’m pretty sure that if you guys were older than her that she would still be acting this way.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I agree. I don’t think there’s any possible way Amber’s behavior is confined to these two people/this situation. I DO wonder if she’d be quite that prescriptive (telling LW & D they need to make specific facial expressions or word things apologetically, etc.) with someone her own age/older? THAT part sticks out to me as possibly about age, but I think the crying would be there regardless. At the same time I wonder what “older” means–5 years? 15? Either way I think it’s a much larger issue than age.

      2. Sandy*

        I have a coworker that this exactly like this, and she is significantly older than us. In her case, I really think it is something of an age issue.

        Basically, we are a company that hires in “cohorts”, and the rest of her cohort has gone on to bigger and better things, while she… hasn’t. A lot of bitterness comes out in between the insecurity, and when she gives unsolicited advice, you feel like there is a kernel of trying to keep her down with you.

        1. Meredith Brooks*

          I would still be wary of classifying it as an age thing. While someone who is languished in a position for years is certainly older than someone who hasn’t — the issue isn’t necessarily age, but rather the inability to succeed. And that’s not (or shouldn’t be) because they’re older

          1. Sara without an H*

            Yeah, if OP takes it to management, she should leave out any reference to Amberks age. I’ve seen emotionalism from every age bracket — although not to this degree, thanks be to Jupiter…

          2. Julia*

            I agree, but it seems like Sandy was trying to say that someone older in the same position may *feel * odd about younger people on the same level.

            1. Meredith Brooks*

              I hear you, but the issue is a person’s own insecurities of where they are at a certain age. This has next to nothing to do with the actual age, but rather someone’s own internal expectations. I can blame my age for feeling insecure (when really I’m just using other people as a barometer for my own success because I’m insecure about my own success), other people cannot.

              If this still feels like a grey line, imagine substituting another protected class in this situation.

              1. Julia*

                I agree with you, I just wanted to point out that some people might measure themselves against their ages and that was probably what Sandy was trying to say.

                1. Meredith Brooks*

                  I get it. Sandy thinks her coworker thinks her age is an issue. But, that’s a flawed position, because she’s not in the position to know why her coworker acts the way she does.

                  I’m really not trying to argumentative here (I hope it doesn’t come across as such). I’m sure Sandy is trying to be sympathetic. But, it’s a slippery slope to ascribe someone’s actions to a particular characteristic.

                  Now if Sandy’s coworker were to come on here and shout from the rooftops that she’s bitter because she’s older than her coworkers, she’s allowed to do that. (And I would probably argue with her that she’s not bitter because she’s older, she’s bitter because she believes she should be more advanced in her career than she is and she needs to look deep inside herself to determine whether she’s happy where she is, whether she should look at getting a new job, or making a change.)

    4. Mockingdragon*

      I think this is a good point too…one of the things I discovered in therapy is that I tend to have emotional reactions at an emotional level of 3-5 out of 10 that most people don’t reach until 7-9. It’s been helped with medication, but it was extremely difficult for a long time to explain that I wasn’t actually heartbroken, I was just crying…(but I did get the therapy, and while it’s not totally under my control, I’m trying to support myself outside of a traditional workplace so I stop bothering others)

  11. fposte*

    I think that Amber has a great need and it’s not her workplace’s job to fill it.

    One thing that would help is if you can reconceptualize her crying. See it not the sign of deep distress it would be if you did it; it’s more like a quick grimace. Usually you’d ignore those, and sometimes you’d say “Is another day better?” if you thought they were making it about about Monday at 9 am meeting time.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I think that Amber has a great need and it’s not her workplace’s job to fill it.

      I love this! I think you could take out “her workplace” and substitute a LOT of different things to apply it to many situations in life. I think ______ has a great need and it’s not ________’s job to fill it. Her job, her partner, her child, etc. etc. etc. Just a great observation/statement on boundaries and actually a really non-judgmental way to state it as well.

    2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      “One thing that would help is if you can reconceptualize her crying. See it not the sign of deep distress it would be if you did it”

      OMG, I have a co-worker who doesn’t always cry (though sometimes she does), but she will wail loudly when something relatively insignificant goes wrong like it’s the end of the world. She’ll make a mistake that can easily be corrected, then yell OOOOOH NOOOOOO WHY CAN’T ANYTHING EVER GO RIIIIIIIGHT???? It triggers my anxiety like crazy because my lizard brain interprets that tone/volume as something extremely traumatic happening, even though it might just mean she got a paper cut or misfiled a non-essential document in the wrong folder. I really do try to reframe like you suggested, but most of the time I just get up and hide in the bathroom until the caterwauling stops.

      1. fposte*

        It’s tough–we really are hard-wired to respond to these sounds. But parents can tune out toddler and kid crying that they know isn’t requiring immediate action–maybe the OP can begin to too.

      2. Polaris*

        I have a coworker who is Very Loud and often shouts to make his point or override objections. Sitting near him means triggering my anxiety at least once a day, because in my head men shouting = danger.

    3. Socks*

      Recontextualizing the crying is a great idea- I don’t think I was ever Amber-level ridiculous in my behavior, but I used to be somebody who cried at the drop of a hat when experiencing even mild frustration, and before I got it under control (more when I was a kid), that definitely included sobbing and hyperventilating. I didn’t like it any more than the people around me, I’m sure. It was actually very unpleasant and inconvenient in like, a lot of ways.

      To be clear, that doesn’t excuse the rest of her absolutely bizarre behavior or obligate anyone to be comfortable with her apparent emotional outbursts. Just, also, as a person for whom crying meant “I have been mildly inconvenienced and would really love to finish this conversation while drinking a glass of water”, I think it’s a great idea to treat Amber’s crying the way you’d normally treat anyone else just looking annoyed.

      1. Mockingdragon*

        Same here. It’s nice to hear from others with the same problem…I cry too easily even with therapy and medications, although it’s better than it used to be. I hate inflicting it on other people. It sucks enough when I’m by myself and I can just get it out and move on. Other people paying attention makes it worse and take so much longer to stop. I get hung up on how much I’m inconveniencing them and how manipulative I must seem.

    4. Plague of frogs*

      “For it is a peculiarity of persons who lead rich, emotional lives, and who (as the saying is) live intensely and with a wild poetry, that they read all kind of meanings into comparatively simple actions, especially the actions of other people who do not live intensely and with a wild poetry. Thus you may find them weeping passionately on their bed, and be told that you – you alone – are the cause because you said that awful thing to them at lunch. Or they wonder why you like going to concerts; there must be more to it than meets the eye.”

      -Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

  12. animaniactoo*

    “You need to say it like this, this is how you’re supposed to respond…”

    “I’m not willing to do that – that feels like managing your emotions and it feels manipulative to me to do that. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find another way to deal with this.”

    Say that to her *one time*. And don’t get drawn in further than that – “I’m not willing to discuss this further” – repeat as necessary, walk away if you need to. “Okay, I’ll come back later to talk to you about the Llama Grooming numbers.”

    And from then on, just stick to your guns. It will always be emotionally exhausting. But that’s because you can’t write Amber’s side of the script for her, and Amber is not a rational person about this stuff. All you can do is refuse to become enmeshed in it: “I’ve told you how I feel about this, we need to move on. Are the numbers for the Grooming report ready?” or “Excuse me, I have to get back to work now” if you don’t need anything from her.

    And I would quite honestly schedule a meeting with your boss where you ask what his expectations are, and tell him how you plan to handle this going forward. Because otherwise, you’re going to be moving into uncharted territory and giving your boss a head’s up is a good idea if you know that stuff is likely to explode no matter what you do.

    If your boss wants you to accommodate her, the answer is very very simple: “I’m sorry, that sounds like asking me to put more work into managing Amber’s emotions and reactions than she is willing to put in. That seems deeply unfair – I have enough work to do managing my own emotions and reactions. I’m really not willing to take on hers on top of mine. Mild adjustments are fine, but from my interactions with her she wants a lot more than mild adjustments.”

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, I think it’s worth talking to the manager at this point–it sounds like the OP feels constrained by broader expectations but doesn’t have the boss’s read on how they work in this specific situation. Maybe “values collegiality” means “avoids interpersonal conflict,” but it doesn’t sound like she’s even been consulted on the situation.

      I might take a slightly different approach than your last paragraph, because if the manager is pushing back this because she’s hands-off I really don’t want to get into a conversation about how we all manage her emotions, and if there’s another reason I need to know what it is. So I’d focus instead on the time spent on appeasing Amber and working around her issues and frame it as an Amber tax for the employer on every co-worker’s pay–is that in fact what the company wants to subsidize?

      1. animaniactoo*

        I would approach it first from the standpoint of asking me to do more work managing Amber’s feelings than she will. Because people – and women in particular – are often asked to do this kind of emotional labor without looking at how much effort it is for the person being asked. Men can push back against it more successfully than women can in general, and I think it’s worth pointing out and highlighting that you’re *already* doing significant work on this front and Amber isn’t just a pain, Amber isn’t holding up her end.

        I would only go to the company impact second if boss pushes back against that. It’s not light and no big deal to be asked to do this. There’s a financial cost involved and potential for burnout and turnover among people who just aren’t willing to deal with it.

        1. fposte*

          My problem is that I think that’s an ideological conversation, not a workplace conversation. As a manager, I’m a lot more interested in the effects on your workflow than your emotional labor distribution.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            All this emotional labor is getting in the way of my workflow! It’s taking me 150 minutes every week (that’s 2 and a half HOURS) just to sit thru the emotions, and that’s not including the actual meeting time.

            I think that’s the message that someone needs to hear. Something that makes it clear that this is like working in a pre-school.

    2. AnonyMouse*

      I second talking to your boss. Present it as a work issue: “I wanted to check in with you on what your expectations are — I’m finding it difficult to stay focused on work and have basic work communications with Amber because she gets upset when I ask her to close her door, or tells me I’m not being kind enough if I ask her to put a meeting on her calendar. Obviously I want to be friendly to everyone at work, but I don’t have time to console Amber when she cries. Moving forward, I plan to be professional and polite with Amber, but I want to be able to do work as I normally would with any other colleague, and not have to manage her tears. Does that make sense to you?” or something like that?

      Maybe your boss doesn’t realize how much it’s impacting your work. I was suffering once under unreasonable requests by another department’s manager who I was helping and finally asked my boss how to deal with it, and he said, “Oh my gosh, I give you total permission to just respond to what’s reasonable and ignore the other requests.” I had presumed my boss would want me to do my best to accommodate the other manager, but it turns out that he really didn’t care. I was so glad I spoke up.

    3. Ms. Alex*

      I may have responded to her requests on how to speak with her with, “No, you’re a grown adult. I’m not doing that.” Probably not the best response but after a while you probably just want to be honest.

      To be fair, the older I get, the more blunt I get!

  13. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I would kick this upstairs. Meet with your boss (just you, not as a pair) and ask him to help you create a script and game plan for working with Amber.
    Maybe he’s the like the boss of the OCD employee who sent a woman home for not taking off her wedding ring and upsetting Percival with her imbalance. Maybe he doesn’t realize that she is blaming everyone else for her feelings and not collaborating (much less managing) properly or effectively.
    I’m all for documenting, but don’t blind side your boss with a list of, “this has been going on for a year: begin recitation.”
    Meet and discuss the current situation and the future.

    1. MLB*

      I was going to suggest talking to the boss as well, but as a pair because they’re both dealing with this insanity. If they come in together, boss will see that 1 of the 3 is being completely irrational, rather than LW just whining about the behavior of 1 colleague. Of course this is assuming LW’s boss is reasonable. But it definitely needs to be addressed formally with boss.

      I’d also suggest that LW and sane colleague detach themselves from Amber’s emotions. It’s one thing to be genuinely upset over something (I’ve been there), but she’s being irrational and it’s not LW’s job to coddle her. You can be respectful to others without enabling them and their inappropriate behavior – if you need to walk on eggshells around someone at work, that’s unacceptable and not at all productive.

      This is why I manage projects and not people – I have no patience for this kind of behavior.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      I agree, it’s time to involve the boss. When you have the conversation, keep it as focused on work issues as you can. You’re not accusing Amber of anything, you’re alerting your boss to a situation that’s making it difficult for you to remain focused on workplace issues and asking for her assistance in managing it. And if your boss’s recommendation is basically for you to cave and become Amber’s therapist, push the hell back on that. “Of course I’ll treat Amber with the respect and courtesy that all of my coworkers deserve, but I’m not comfortable doing more than that. I have to see to the needs of my own team and my own workflow and I can’t put all that aside for this.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        “if your boss’s recommendation is basically for you to cave and become Amber’s therapist”
        agreed. They need to know if boss is aware and if s/he supports it.
        I’m wondering if they know for sure. It sounds like LW is interpreting the boss’ wish for teamwork in terms of Amber, not in terms of the company.
        Which is a sign that Amber is a Big Problem.

  14. Rusty Shackelford*

    I see somebody is working with my mother in law.

    While I hope Alison is correct that your boss doesn’t actually expect you to manage Amber’s emotions, I am unfortunately full of Personal Experience in this area. And my Personal Experience would like to point out that there are, in fact, bosses who will agree that you are mean to Amber because you MADE AMBER CRY.

    (And no, I’m not actually talking about my mother in law at this point. Although, if we worked together… yeah, I totally would be talking about my mother in law at this point.)

    And there are other bosses who will be so tired of it that they’ll say “I don’t care if you were mean or if she’s bat poop crazy, I just want her to stop crying, and since she’s unreasonable, that means you’re the one who has to change.” (No, they won’t come out and say it that way, but we know what they’re thinking, don’t we? Again, hello to my old friend Personal Experience.)

    So what I’d do is communicate with her via email as much as possible, just so you can say to your boss “This is what I sent her. Does this sound mean to you?” I mean, if you have to create an email template just for Amber that begins with “I’m sorry” and ends with “Please forgive me,” it might be the lesser of two evils.

    1. Clorinda*

      Seconding using email or written communication as much as possible. It’s so much less exhausting to spread the butter in writing than face to face. Dear Amber, I know you’re busy and I’m sorry to bother you, but when you have a moment of time could you kindly … do this thing that’s a perfectly normal part of your job. This takes five extra seconds and zero emotional effort to type.

    2. The Doctor*

      Of course, it was Amber who flipped a switch and made herself cry. Has she also called the boss “mean” for expecting her to do her job?

      If this were my office and Martha and Donna had the same issue with Clara, I would seriously worry about losing Martha and Clara.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Amber can be as eccentric as she wants. She can ask to be addressed as Queen Nefertiti, Mistress of the Toner Cartridge and the boss can make everyone do it. Amber can’t say, “your face upsets me and that’s why I’m insecure” and expect to end the conversation with that.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      Thank you, Rusty.

      > And there are other bosses who will be so tired of it that they’ll say “I don’t care if you were mean or if she’s bat poop crazy, I just want her to stop crying, and since she’s unreasonable, that means you’re the one who has to change.”

      I had this situation with a Family Member, where for YEARS I accommodated “Yes, you’re right and they’re wrong, but they’ll never apologize and they’re making my life hell so PLEASE will you apologize to them” and finally I decided I was Done.

      The readjustment period was difficult but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I’d gone beyond trying my best, and when I ended that behavior I did so calmly rather than in anger. And now it’s all ancient history, and we all survived. But that was family. I SO would not do that in a workplace.

  15. DCompliance*

    I agree with Allison that unless your boss has specifically told you to put up with Amber’s behavior, then it would be her not acting in a collegial fashion.

  16. AdAgencyChick*

    I am really, really curious to know whether she pulls this stuff when the boss is around. Like, has the boss not addressed this because the boss thinks Amber is in the right (in which case the boss sucks), or because Amber behaves differently in front of the boss, no one has said anything to the boss, and therefore the boss doesn’t know this is an issue?

    OP, if it’s the latter, I’d consider going to the boss (and don’t think of it as tattling; present it in an “I need help to do my job better; how should I handle it when Amber does XYZ?”). Miss Geist* can’t fix a problem she doesn’t know about. Of course, if you go to her and her reaction is to say you need to treat Amber with kid gloves, then you know you have a boss problem.

    *Your boss is TOTALLY Miss Geist in my mind.

    1. Inspector Spacetime*

      This is an excellent point. When I was a kid, my mom acted like this, too. She could definitely control it. She’d be perfectly pleasant and friendly to people out in public, but when we got home us kids would get it.

      It’s possibly she’s putting on an entirely different face for the manager because the power dynamics are different, and the manager doesn’t know the full extent of her behavior.

      1. AKchic*

        I am going to assume that this is the case.

        I am also assuming that Amber is probably a gaslighting, manipulative abuser in this case, as well.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          omg I just re-read and I see that Amber is in charge of a department. That means she has direct reports? Who she is manager of? (shudder) I wonder what her dept’s turnover is?

      2. Specialk9*

        That’s also classic abuser. They want you to think they’re out of control and can’t help it, but they somehow keep it together in public and in front of people they care about.

  17. fromscratch*

    Wow. for a moment there I really thought one of my coworkers may have written this. Dealing with a very similar situation and it is incredibly exhausting.

    I have no advice to offer, only sympathy.

    “…see this situation as Amber deserving respect and collegiality while the rest of you aren’t entitled to any from her” this really resonated with me.

  18. WellRed*

    You need to watch your FACE? She is ridiculous and I was exhausted reading this. However, it has nothing to do with age, unless there’s something not in the letter. Also, agreeing with other commenters that you and Dionne sound a bit…teamed up. Something to consider.

    1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I would be super tempted to say “No, you need to watch YOUR face!” in the snottiest, most childish tone I could muster.

      1. Clorinda*

        How about “I can’t watch my face, because my eyes don’t stick out that far.” I’d be tempted to make weird faces (and my face does plenty of that without me even trying). “How do you like this face? Is this one better?”
        I wouldn’t. But I’d be tempted.

    2. Observer*

      Of course they are a bit “teamed up.” They are both dealing with the same problem, and don’t have good solutions, so they commiserate with each other and provide support.

    3. Argh!*

      She’s not good at reading subtle facial clues, and she was being honest about that. If LW & Dionne have neutral faces, being more forthcoming with their thoughts verbally may help the situation.

      1. Scarlet*

        But they also have to preface everything they say which might potentially upset her (i.e. pretty much everything) with “I’m so sorry”. It’s not just about the facial clues. This is someone who expects others to go to tiptoe around her feelings. Whatever issues she has, that’s no acceptable.

  19. CatCat*

    If she starts crying, walk away. Don’t engage. You know that her crying is not an unusual or one off thing. “It looks like you’re having a tough moment. I’ll let you collect yourself.” And walk away.

    Normally, if I corworker were crying, I would be very concerned and try to comfort, but I also work with people who behave professionally and can typically regulate their emotions in the workplace. So someone crying would be extremely unusual and a sign something terrible has happened. This is not the situation with Amber so I’d disengage as much as possible during her emotional outbursts. It’s not on you to teach her coping skills for everyday office interactions that she finds upsetting.

    1. Relly*

      Just to lend my two cents to this: I’m someone who cries occasionally when I’m angry/frustrated/exhausted as opposed to sad. It doesn’t happen very often, thankfully, maybe once or twice in my career.

      And in that circumstance, I would deeply appreciate a couple of seconds to pull my s**t together. So in that regard: either Amber is crying for attention / so you’ll do emotional labor, in which case, you have no obligation to comply, or she’s overcome unintentionally, in which case, giving her five is actually a kindness.

  20. Akcipitrokulo*

    Let her cry.


    Let her cry.

    Say “OK, let me know when you want to deal with this (whatever it is)” if you’re looking for an answer and walk away.

    If she’s crying because you were “mean” say “Excuse me.” and walk away.

    I am all for being compassionate – but enabling her is not helping her.

    1. SierraSkiing*

      That’s a good approach. And you can follow it up with an e-mail saying “Hi Amber, to follow up with the conversation we started – (thing you tried to say in the conversation.)” So hopefully, she’ll go back to her office, cool down, and respond in the less emotional medium of text. And she doesn’t get to get out of dealing with whatever issue she started crying about.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OMG, this totally gave me a Hootie flashback.

      (But I agree—let her cry.)

  21. Hekko*

    “I’m sorry I have to work with you, Amber.”

    I guess that actually is mean, but it’s following her own request to the letter. If it became necessary to start every conversation with Amber with “I’m sorry,” then I would definitely think the rest of the above every time I have to say it.

    1. Not Really a Waitress*

      When i was a teenager, the morning radio show I listened to did their usual “prank the celebrity” routine on a famous british rock star who was in town for his concert tour. Famous rock star was so upset that he had the station’s promo booth tossed from the concert venue and demanded an apology from the offending morning DJs.

      The following morning the show was all about “sorry” Every song they played had sorry or forgive in it. It was “hello next caller we’re sorry” or “And now for morning traffic, we’re sorry.” They also never played a single song by famous british rock star ever again.

      I love a good passive aggressive apology.

    2. Empress of Blandings*

      Yes, I was entertaining myself by thinking up wildly over-the-top apologetic conversation openers, like I’m sorry Amber, being but an abased and inexcusable worm that crawleth upon the mean earth, my horrifying and cruel visage setting you adrift upon a sea of anguish, and just sort of carry on from there really.

    3. Anne (with an “e”)*

      Maybe the LW could tell Amber, “At least you don’t have cancer or an eating disorder.”

  22. Naomi*

    OP, you asked if there is a way to “nicely communicate that we can’t manage her feelings for her.” You might need to de-prioritize doing it nicely. Obviously you shouldn’t be rude to her, but if Amber is reacting emotionally to normal work communications like “I don’t know, I’ll have to ask Lucinda and get back to you” and “can you please put that on the calendar?”, then there probably doesn’t exist a way to stand up to her behavior that she won’t perceive as you being Terribly Mean to her.

    1. Emmie*

      You make a good point. Amber will not perceive this as being nice. OP has to be comfortable with that. I also recommend talking to OP’s manager about this. The conversation can be about what Amber does, and how you’ve reacted to it in the past. The manager may have a difficult time with such a unique situation. I’d also let your manager know that you’ll be changing your approach to Amber by doing x, and y, and that will result in Amber being more frustrated and emotional. Give your manager a heads up.

      You make a good point because Amber will not perceive any reaction as nice, or pleasant. OP needs to be comfortable with this. I recommend talking to OP’s manager about Amber’s responses to specific work tasks, and explaining how you’ve addressed her reactions over the past year. I’d also have a conversation with OPs manager about how OP will change her responses to Amber’s emotions, and explain that you don’t know how Amber will react, but that you expect it to be unpleasant. It’s not your job to manage her expectations to this extent, and for this long. The manager may not know how to handle such a unique personality at work. It may take some time and multiple reports (remember this may be your manager’s first time hearing about this) for an effective response to her inappropriate and manipulative outbursts.

      1. Emmie*

        Excuse the duplicate messages. I am working on communicating clearly, and you’re seeing my edits. :(

  23. Technical_Kitty*

    I have worked with a version of Amber, it was ridiculous. I am so sorry you have one of these in your workplace OP.

    We had a more senior person who used to buy into our-Amber’s BS, used to ask us to be nicer to her – we were nice to her, we just didn’t cater to her – and genuinely thought our-Amber was good at her job – our-Amber was not good at her job, she was terrible at her job and once she left that position never worked in that field again. I can only surmise our-Amber had mode it that far in those kind of positions by depending heavily on others and friendships in the work place to cover her butt (this was not a position where that was acceptable or safe).

    Anyways, the best thing you can do is ignore her behaviour, and have a frank discussion with your boss and/or HR.

  24. BeenThere*

    If you are seriously concerned about your being evaluated negatively about your dealings with Amber, keep written records of your interactions. The date, what she said/did, what you did in response, and how she responded to that. It is a major pain to have to do this, but it could be worth it to you to be able to point to specific dates and situations, rather than talking about it in general. I would not speculate at all in your notes about why she’s doing this. I would stick to the observable facts only.

    1. Yorick*

      I think documenting in order to show to the boss would really backfire here. A written record won’t show that OP and Dionne weren’t mean to Amber, even if it plainly states what they asked her for and how she responded and those responses seem ridiculous.

      Imagine you’ve gotten the impression that your 2 employees is mean to a 3rd employee. You go to address that with them and they pull out a log of every time Amber cried….

      I would think they were the evilest coworkers.

      1. Anne (with an “e”)*

        But, if they pull out a log that documents comments such as, “The problem is your face,” then, I don’t see this backfiring. It sounds like Amber does and says plenty besides crying that could be documented.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Documenting is good if you have a legal issue, or if you have a boss who is toxic and weird depending on the level and kind of toxic and weird.

          It’s not really a great response for regular interpersonal work issues. With a decent manager, you should just be able to *say* what happened, without having to be all “And here is my contemporaneous log that I have compiled over the last few months in which I document each interaction” because that looks all out of proportion. If you have an issue, just go to your boss and explain the issue! You don’t need a documented log. If you have a decent manager, she will likely be surprised that you’ve been documenting – because this isn’t a legal issue! And because why didn’t you just come to the boss and explain? This makes it look like you don’t trust the manager to be reasonable.

          1. Khlovia*

            Yes. From the letter, they *don’t know yet* whether the boss is going to turn out to be toxic and weird; and to just assume it is unfair to the boss.

            If, after going to the boss wearing a smile and a presumption of innocence and asking in a mature and professional manner for counsel and assistance, they find out that the boss *is* toxic and weird, *then* they start the CYA documentation.

          2. Close Bracket*

            This is not a regular interpersonal work issue. This is someone who told a coworker that there was a problem with her face. This is way beyond a regular interpersonal work issue.
            I have worked in some batshit crazy places with batshit toxic people, but it did not warp my perceptions so far as to make me think someone who cries when asked to do garden-variety tasks is having regular interpersonal work issues. This is a batshit nuts interpersonal work issue.

        2. Yorick*

          Yes, that “your face” comment was ridiculous. But at the same time, that conversation was about how OP is mean to Amber and needs to be nicer (yes, the meanness is in Amber’s mind, but that’s still what the conversation was for).

          In this case, people are basically advising OP to pull out a written log of all the times that Amber has asked them to be nicer to her. If the boss already has the idea that they’re mean to poor Amber, this is not going to make it look better.

          I think in most situations, it would be really bizarre to have a log of all the times that something has happened. Yes, you should document for a legal issue, and it might be ok for something like “here is the number of times this quarter that Amber hasn’t sent me what I need for the report,” but those are way different than some weird interpersonal issue like this.

          I also feel like a manager who won’t believe you when you just say that Amber cries a lot isn’t going to be swayed by a list of dates and times.

  25. The Doctor*

    So Amber defines not having an immediate answer as “being mean” AND wants to dictate the exact words you use in response to her meltdowns? NO and NO.

    HER decision to not act professionally is NOT your fault. You did not “make” her cry; she flipped the switch and chose to cry.

  26. NW Mossy*

    Amber is someone you might find easier to deal with if you think about how we deal with small kids. Not in the sense of infantilizing Amber, but in the sense that one of the hurdles in dealing with small kids is that they generally don’t have a great toolkit to deal with their Big Feels. Amber’s kind of the same – she feels things very intensely, but doesn’t handle it very well.

    In working with her, you’re basically trying to channel a patient adult who cares about the small person sobbing in their vicinity but also gets that the reason for the sobbing is lack of emotional maturity on the part of the sobber, not that the adult did anything wrong. You can apply some of the same tricks parents use in these situations – not engaging the sobbing, a flat/neutral statement of the ‘issue’ (“I can see that you’re upset that the J Daddy cut out of the Jello for you was backwards”), closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, and most importantly, excusing yourself to have a hearty laugh when the subject is particularly inane. The key to it all, though, is that the more you make the conscious choice to make the sobbing Amber’s Deal rather than Your Deal, the easier it is to remain placid and unmoved when faced with it.

  27. Imaginary Number*

    So this might come off as slightly manipulative and doesn’t really solve the problem, but I’ve found it effective in the past with a kind of a similar situation while you’re simultaneously trying to address the issue in a more permanent way.

    Does Amber like chocolate? Or mints? “Would you like a cookie?” sometimes works just as well with emotional adults as it does with toddlers. Obviously it’s not a solution, but it could help make your life easier while you have to deal with her. If she’s feeling insecure because of things like your face being your face while making a totally reasonable request, offering a snickers from your private stash might be just the thing to calm her down enough to actually respond without tearing up.

    1. Imaginary Number*

      I should add that the key here is to offer said snickers -before- she starts tearing up. Otherwise the ‘here have a cookie’ analogy gets a little too obvious.

      1. Ladyphoenix*

        “Here have a Snickers”
        “Cause you act like a 2 year old when you’re hungry”

        /snickers joke

        1. fposte*

          Depends on when you offer the cookie. But also encouraging a phase of the behavior isn’t necessarily a bad thing–that’s often a big component of reshaping behavior, in fact. When kitty scratches the sofa, you redirect the impulse to scratch onto the scratching post and reward when it happens.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This just makes me think of that Big Bang episode where Sheldon ‘trains’ Penny with chocolates.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I went there first and then The Office, where Jim trained Dwight to drool at the Windows start up bells.
        Train her not to cry when you speak to her. Start speaking and hand her a candy. Every time.

    3. fposte*

      Oh, that’s really an interesting idea. Much as I’d love to separate food and emotion, that could be a really effective way of making Amber feel filled in the moment, and plus it’s physically tough to cry when you’re chewing.

      1. soon 2be former fed*

        I’m not going to treat a grown woman like a toddler in the workplace, nope. Not mollycoddling anybody like that. Some folks have issues that preclude them being able yo work with others.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          While I totally agree with you, OP may be forced to deal with this themselves one way or the other if their manager refuses to step in. I would rather placate a coworker with chocolates while still making reasonable requests of them, instead of walking on eggshells and never asking them to do things like close the door while they’re on a call.

          1. fposte*

            Right. And I think it’s really useful to avoid treating this as a winner/loser binary, like if Amber gets anything additional she’s somehow won. What Amber is doing about it a royal annoying PITA, but it’s okay to be needy, and if cookies fill that need, that could save a heck of trouble.

              1. Master Bean Counter*

                Well I know that my bosses are way easier to deal with when the chocolate stash for the office is full. I do make them pay for it though.

    4. Yorick*

      I mean, it could help. Amber is worried because OP’s RBF makes her think she’s mad. Giving her a candy sometimes (or doing something else) might help her see that OP’s lack of smile doesn’t mean she’s mad.

      1. Imaginary Number*

        It’s like the real world version of the smiley emoji at the end of a sentence.

    5. Yorick*

      I mean, it could help. Amber is worried because OP’s RBF makes her think she’s mad. Giving her a candy sometimes (or doing something else) might help her see that OP’s lack of smile doesn’t mean she’s mad.

      Not that you have to do that.

    6. Julia*

      “You’re offering me MINTS? Are you insinuating I have bad breath?? How MEAN!”
      This might backfire a little if you’re unlucky.

  28. Environmental Compliance*

    I’m not sure I’d have anything good to say back if someone actually told me the “problem is my face”. I have resting b!tch face. I have been told that I look grumpy, especially if I’m concentrating on my work. I’ve been told to “smile, sweetie!” a few times, which is always met by a very blank stare.

    What an absolutely ridiculous and exhausting person.

    1. MLB*

      I have RBF as well, but I’ve never been told (at least to my face) that I need to smile at work. I guess I’ve been lucky to work with actual adults and not toddlers who , once they get to know me as a person realize that it’s just my face and have no issues with it.

      1. Kat in VA*

        I wrote it somewhere but the internet ate it. In addition to RBF, I also have spasmodic dysphonia, which means my vocal cords act like psycho little monkeys and don’t work properly, so I sound like I’m strangling and stuttering and honking. I can only control it by speaking slowly, deliberately, and very flatly. She wouldn’t like me at all.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          And that would be your fault because you are weighing your words and that is making her insecure.

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah, I’d have to go pretty far down my list of immediate reactions to get to one that didn’t involve profanity, let alone one that would be even marginally pleasant. OP has more self-restraint than I do.

    3. Master Bean Counter*

      “If you think my face is a problem, please don’t watch my hands….”

      Not really, but oh so tempting….

    4. Argh!*

      In other words, she’s confused and anxious because she can’t read her inscrutable coworkers’ faces. She could have Aspergers, or just be more extroverted and in need of a connection in a way that introverts don’t. I have often been asked if I’m angry, or what I’m thinking about and the answer is “This is just my face at the moment. It means nothing.” It was very self-aware of Amber to admit that emotionless faces make her anxious. I would take that as a sign that she could benefit from therapy or from coworkers who are willing to be more outgoing than they have been.

      1. Q*

        I agree to a point. It’s good that she realizes that neutral expressions make her anxious, but then, why isn’t she applying that, instead of asking LW to take care of it for her?

  29. Cece*

    I have a close family member like Amber. It is exhausting. The only time we got some relief was when she was seeing a therapist and taking anti-anxiety medication.

  30. Bea*

    I would laugh if someone told me the problem was my face. I’m not going to “smile” and I’m certainly not going to start every sentence with “I’m so sorry.” This sounds like an abusive relationship, she’s trying to control you.

    My advice isn’t to change. It’s to accept she’s unreasonable and let her cry.

    I say this as a highly anxious person. It’s my problem to deal with. That’s why I have a therapist.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “If there is a problem with my face you will need to notify the two people who created me. I had no say in how my face turned out.”

  31. UtOh!*

    You should ask Amber for a script of how to respond to her when she comes to you for anything since it seems like she takes everything else you say to her the wrong way.

    1. rldk*

      OP shouldn’t do this unless she wants to actually follow it. It sounds like Amber’s already provided her preferred script: apologizing profusely and softening everything. And OP rightly doesn’t want to have to put in that level of effort to get on with business.

      1. UtOh!*

        Yes, I was definitely joking, the emoticon I added disappeared from my posting. The OP should not be following Amber’s lead, it’s completely ridiculous in a professional (or any) setting.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        But, if OP writes the script down, and checks with Amber to make sure they got it right, and then *pulls the script out* to read off it when Amber cries …

        …that would be mean? But OP would be so careful to do it right!

        (Nota bene all: that was sarcasm)

    2. ArtK*

      Amber seems so over the top that she’d probably start crying in response to that request.

  32. Cheesehead*

    I like the “return the awkward to the sender” line of thought.

    I think you need to practice some bland responses to her theatrics that will become very unfulfilling and uncomfortable for her to hear repeatedly.

    “It looks like you need a few minutes to compose yourself. I’ll leave you alone for that….just call me when you’re ready to talk about XYZ (work) issue again.” (already suggested, but I’m giving it a +1)
    “No, I’m sorry that you’re troubled by it, but the only time I’ll follow a script is when I’m doing community theater.” (relative to the ‘you need to say you’re sorry’ comments)
    “If you’re having interpersonal issues with someone, you should probably talk to that person about it, not me. I can’t do anything about it.”
    “Hmmm….what are you going to do about that?”
    “Do not make comments like that to me ever again. There’s no place for that at work. Now, back to the issue….” (relative to the ‘the problem is your face’ comment)
    Or some that are more blunt:
    “Whoa….wait a minute. I’m not your therapist.”
    “Amber, this is work, and I have a job to do. Being your de facto therapist is NOT it. Can we just concentrate on our jobs, please?” (of course, you may have to use the ‘I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself’ line from above directly after this.)
    “Wait….are you referring to (thing that happened a year ago)? Oh, my gosh! Get over it already! Now, can we get our work done?”
    “Why are you crying about this? I didn’t do anything TO you. I asked you politely to shut your door….that’s typically not worthy of this type of reaction.” (call it what it is).
    If you have an EAP, could you give her the number whenever she’s trying to treat you like her therapist? “I’m going to stop you there….I’m not a therapist. But here….call the EAP and I’m sure they can help.”

    I think you have two courses of action: either confront it and point it out how ridiculous she’s acting, all with a bland face and an even tone, or completely remove yourself from her presence whenever she says/does something unreasonable. Either way, DON’T GIVE HER AN AUDIENCE. With confronting her, you make it more uncomfortable for her keep doing the same stuff because she’s no longer getting the reaction she wants. Just keep being professional and let her dig her own hole.

    1. Meredith Brooks*

      Some of these phrases actually feel aggressive to me. I don’t think it’s wise to make any comment about therapy or therapists in the work place, unless one has a very real belief that someone is seriously hurt. The way to avoid an audience is to not engage. That means not discussing the situation and simply answering the question at hand. Do not discuss what you will or won’t do, just say yes or no. Amber has already demonstrated that she’s incapable of handling more than the most minimum of dialogues.

      1. It's me*

        Agreed. I would not bring up anything about therapy in any responses and I think some of the later scripts here would make the situation worse than it already is.

        1. Argh!*

          I have often fantasized about suggesting therapy for a select few coworkers. Some of them really needed it.

      2. Yorick*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t argue about her emotional response. Even though she’s acting badly, it’ll just make you look bad.

        If she’s crying about request (such as to close the door), maybe ignore the crying and repeat the request, although it may be easier to give up and leave her to cry it out.

      3. WMM*

        I wish therapy were far more normalized. If someone complained of a toothache, would it be necessary to avoid asking if they’s seen their dentist yet?

        There are many levels at which therapy can be helpful- you don’t need to have depression or anxiety to benefit from an emotional ‘tune up’, just like you don’t wait until your leg has started to go gangrene before seeing a doctor.

        1. Julia*

          I also wish therapy was more normalized, but I’m still not sure I’d feel okay with people suggesting it to others in most situations.
          The thing with the toothache is that it’s pretty objective (unless people dismiss your pain, which happens), and usually the person with the ache brings it up first.
          With mental pain, it’s trickier, because Amber isn’t walking around saying “I have this emotional pain”, she’s behaving inappropriately. I’m not even sure that is a mental health issue per se, and even if it is, how about people telling others they need therapy to gaslight them into thinking they’re wrong? You can hardly do that with dentistry.

          Also, the really big problem with every illness is that treatment usually cannot be forced, so the “patient” has to seek it, which only happens if they feel distressed by it. If Amber is getting what she wants out of her co-workers, why would she want to see a therapist? She’s not doing anything wrong in her own eyes. This is also why it’s usually the victims of bullying or other crimes who end up in therapy, not the perpetrators, which makes me pretty mad if I think about the stigma we get for suffering from others’ actions.

  33. Budgie lover*

    Seconding the advice to leave age out of it. The letter conveys a strong sense of “Amber kind of sucks as an employee and now she’s having a breakdown because she’s being forced to work with two younger people who are more competent than she is and that reinforces her nagging suspicion she’s a failure at work.” Which may be true but is not relevant to the issue of Amber being a pain to work with. No shame in being her age in this position, only for being horrible to her coworkers.

    (Also if some disdain for Amber is coming across in the letter, it’s probably coming across in daily interactions too.)

    1. AKchic*

      I kind of have a feeling that the LW is BEC with Amber right now, and as the letter was written, all of the disdain just came pouring out. It happens. I feel for the LW on that aspect.

      1. Sara without an H*

        You’re probably right. I think I would get to BEC pretty quickly with Amber.

    2. sue*

      To be fair to the OP if I had to deal with someone like that everyday I would have disdain for them because this is so far out of workplace norms and she sounds exhausting.

      People who require constant reassurance often end up irritating people so much with this need (especially in a work enviroment where people don’t have time for that) that the irritation shows through and then the person is even more insecure and feels the need to be reassured that they are not irritating people when they are. It can be a vicious cycle when someone is insecure.

  34. Jamie*

    I have someone in our office who doesn’t cry, but will get visibly upset and “ignore” me for days whenever I have to give her any kind of routine feedback. I am actually a naturally kind and cheerful person and and I’ve never had anyone else react to me this way, so I am inclined to think it is the way she handles the feedback and not the way that I deliver it. I’ve softened my approach with her as much as I possibly can, but it doesn’t make a difference, I am still met with the “death stare”, as I call it, followed by an eye roll, angrily stomping away like a toddler, and then being ignored for several days. I am not her manager but I am senior to her and need to be able to give her feedback on projects of mine that she supports. Her manager has directly spoken to her about this on several occasions, but most recently she accused him or singling her out for being a female and not he is so scared of being accused of harassment that he won’t interact with her at all unless another female is present, and being the only female executive in the office, often has to be me. Anyway, so I definitely feel for the OP. It just makes it so much harder to get anything done when you have to interact with someone who doesn’t know how to behave as a professional.

  35. rob*

    How old is she? Maybe it is menopause…not trying to make excuses for her but I am 41 and keep hearing how bad it is going to be on me emotionally, lol.

    1. fposte*

      While YMMV, it never caused me to cry at work or to tell someone the problem is their face.

      1. Number Ninja*

        Me either. Managed to get alllllll the way through The Change without needing to manipulate anyone with tears or act like a 2 year old.

    2. Temperance*

      I know plenty of women who are menopause or pre-menopause, and I promise you that none of them use it as an excuse to act like assholes. They mostly get hot flashes.

      1. soon 2be former fed*

        That was my experience, menopause was a little warm but meh otherwise. No more periods…YESSSS!!!!

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I’m putting a recent ‘cry at work’ episode of mine down to menopause. I was still able to walk away from my desk and cry in private. And I would *never* blame it on someone’s face.

      And if it’s happening because someone asked me to close my door (omg, I wish I had a door to close!), or talk more quietly on the phone: it is my responsibility to manage my emotional reaction to reasonable business requests.

    4. soon 2be former fed*

      I’m 63. Menopause is not Amber’s problem, she didn’t just develop her personality. Menopause was a nonissue for me. If we are to be taken seriously, we cannot use exclusively female-related conditions as reasons for problematic behavioral changes. This was one of the arguments against women being in positions of power, that we couldn’t be trusted to act wisely at all times because of hormones.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      It might be, it might not be. I’m perimenopausal, meaning I’m having some menopause symptoms but still getting my period, and SOMETIMES I have a day that’s like the worst PMS ever, but it’s not every day or every month by any means. (I have also never suffered a ton from PMS. For me, it’s more physical than emotional. Mostly just night-time hot flashes, which are annoying but manageable.)

      So, it’s very much a YMMV situation. It’s worth asking who you’re getting these comments from. If they’re women who are related to you, it might be worth paying attention. Otherwise? People like to say sh!t sometimes, don’t they?

      But honestly? That suggestion sounds a lot like guys explaining women’s emotions with “she must be on her period” which shows both ignorance and laziness on their parts. It’s not a good look on anyone. Please don’t do this.

    6. Observer*

      Could we please stop bringing up sexist stereotypes every time someone acts like a jerk or an idiot?

      It’s gross, it’s constantly used as an excuse to mistreat women, and it’s really disrespectful to women who really do suffer through menopause.

    7. Close Bracket*

      If it’s not menopause, she obviously just has her period.

      It’s not up to us to diagnose. Whatever Amber’s issue is, blaming it on female hormones is dismissive and unconstructive.

    8. Saskia*

      In my experience the many and varied disruptions caused by menopause didn’t result in me acting differently with colleagues or friends. Menopause affects people in such varied ways, there’s no guarantee that you will have the problems most commonly known.

      It’s not an excuse for Amber even if that’s what is happening for her at the moment.

      One of my friends recognized that she was having some mental health issues brought on by menopause and she sought appropriate help and worked on strategies to manage. She would have been extremely painful to work with had she not taken the responsibility to handle her own issues.

  36. Jen*

    My toddler tends to react this way when I tell him he can’t do crazy things like rub spaghetti into his head, or decorate the dog’s tail…. when you are dealing with someone irrational such as a 2-year old, sometimes the best thing to do is to ignore their meltdowns followed by a timeout if needed. If you can ignore her and walk away until the tantrum is over, that is usually the best course of action. If not, try suggesting that she step away and take a few minutes to compose herself. Essentially placing herself in a time out. Another tactic is to distract them with something shiny or that makes noise. So if ignoring doesn’t work, try playing some music nearby “is that the ice-cream truck I hear” that shuts the tears down every time with my tot.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I love the idea of a total non sequitur distraction to snap her out of her emotional storm though.

      Amber: “You have upset me with your face. I can’t handle how mean your face is! And you didn’t say sorry when you requested I save my report to the shared drive!”
      OP (cheerfully): “Can you believe the North Atlantic Right Whale can grow up to SIXTY-NINE FEET LONG.”
      Amber: “Woe is…what? What does that have to do wi….”
      OP (very cheerfully): “Aren’t whales amazing?! So, anyway, be sure to save the documents to the J drive. It’s tragic that the whales are being hit by ships and tangled in fishing nets. But we all have to save our documents to the J drive.”

      It’ll leave her dazed and confused and now when she cries, you can claim it’s because she can’t save the whales.

      Such bad advice, I’m sorry. Don’t take my advice.

      1. Nea*

        I wasn’t at work, but someone once derailed a complaint of mine by saying “Whine, whine, whine, that’s all you’ve done since the cat ate the baby.”

        Gotta admit, I forgot entirely what I’d been talking about.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          DUDE! I had to re-read your second sentence three times because I was so stuck on “the cat ate the baby.”
          What? Wait, what? Oh, ok. I’m back. That’s kind of awesome.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Wait. I have actually used this distraction technique. With certain personalities it works very, very well.

  37. Ladyphoenix*

    Stop giving her the inches she uses to take miles. Tell her to close her store or mark her appointments. Tell her you’re not into gossip.

    When she comments on your face, respond, “That’s an awfully rude thing to say.”

    She’ll probably have one or two cry fits, and then eventually stop. She’s doing stuff that BABIES do, and you are not her baby sitter. Don’t give into the cry fits and don’t apologize either.

    Honestly, I be telling her she is acting like a baby and to grow up.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s worth being prepared for the possibility that Mayati suggests, though: that this is such a long-ingrained behavior that nothing the OP does will result in its stopping. In that case it’s all the more important to figure out how best to minimize this behavior’s impact on you.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Maybe it would work eventually, but you’d need to expect an extinction burst in the short term.

  38. Inspector Spacetime*

    Sometimes I read a letter and go, “Is this my mother’s coworker?” Hahahaha.

    Look, all I can tell you is that it helps to completely emotionally detach yourself from the situation. People like this want to make their emotions your responsibility. It’s not. If you can get to the point where you’re just standing there watching her crying like you’re looking at an interesting animal at the zoo, then you’ll be fine. Her manipulations might even stop when she learns that it’s not effective.

    Good luck!

  39. Mayati*

    Huh, so that’s what it’s like to work with my mom.

    It’s not about your actions or your face or anything. It’s totally internal to Amber and there will always, always be something you do “wrong” (which may not be something you even do, but something she *thinks* you do, or something she thinks you think about her, or whatever). You’re exactly right to approach it as a matter of boundaries. Don’t let her get to you — you’re not the person she’s painting you as.

    But if she’s like my mom, she won’t stop. She might ragequit, so be prepared for that, I guess? But this is some deep-seated stuff that has likely been a pattern all her life, and since she’s not super young, it’ll take her a long time, lots of effort, and probably targeted therapy to change her behaviors. Don’t wait around for that.

  40. Anon Southerner*

    Amber’s reactions/interactions are wildly inappropriate – but I actually understand (somewhat) what she’s feeling, though maybe from a different source. I’m from the South in the United States, where smiling and empathizing is often the default. If you don’t smile at someone, it means you’re upset. If you don’t take the time to have empathetic, congenial small talk, it means something is wrong (yep, even in a work setting). I studied cultural anthropology and have lived in many places so even while I rationally know this is specific to the South and nonsmiley/nonchatty people probably aren’t upset, I still have to work really hard to not get anxious when co-workers don’t smile at me. I work in a setting now that has very little smiling or chatting and it has given me a lot of anxiety and made it hard to get through the day sometimes. I know that’s on me, not on them, (and I would never ever lash out about it!) but it has certainly made me think more about office cultures and regional cultures.

    1. Argh!*

      I have also lived and worked in Southern and Southern-ish places, and I find the Midwest very chilly. Their idea of “nice” or “polite” is never saying anything negative (even when you’re a supervisor and something needs to be said) and not to speak unless spoken to. Even then, I can only manage an awkward “heh heh” from some people. The result is very dysfunctional from the standpoint of work getting done. They’re too worried about keeping the peace to improve things.

  41. Persimmons*

    I would have burst out laughing if Amber told me that the problem was my face. That’s a 12-year-old-boy insult that husband and I toss back and forth when we’re acting goofy.

    “What’s your problem?”
    “My problem is…YOUR FACE!”

    1. Amber Rose*

      I had the same thought. We have that kind of nonsense conversation all the time.

      “Maybe you could try not burning dinner.”
      “Maybe YOUR FACE could try not burning dinner.”

  42. Meredith Brooks*

    I’m a little triggered by the fact that the LW thinks this behavior is age related and that somehow Amber is acting inappropriately due to being older than her colleagues. I’m not sure how being an emotional mess or working with younger people is a symptom of age.

    But, there are a lot of great pieces of advice here. As an older woman (40-ish), I tend to use short, simple phrases when someone is being difficult — that way there’s less for them to analyze or pick apart. If she asks you to change your phrasing, just tell her no, I can’t do that. If she cries in front of you, tell her you’ll talk to her later. Etc, etc.

    1. mf*

      I don’t think that’s quite what the LW meant. I took the age-related thing to mean that their age difference could be the source of Amber’s insecurity.

      I don’t think the LW was implying that Amber is acting out because she’s a lot older than Dionne and the LW. I think she meant Amber may feel insecure about the fact that her “peers” at work are actually a lot younger than her, and that insecurity is the source of Amber’s bad behavior.

      Either way, it doesn’t really matter in terms of how the LW should handle Amber.

      1. Meredith Brooks*

        “I think she meant Amber may feel insecure about the fact that her “peers” at work are actually a lot younger than her, and that insecurity is the source of Amber’s bad behavior.”

        The issue of age shouldn’t be an issue. By mentioning it as a descriptor of the situation means that the letter writer (or others) believe that age is somehow responsible for some of Amber’s behavior.

        But, assuming that she’s insecure because her peers are younger than her is pretty ageist. And I would argue further that while some people may be insecure about their age, the issue STILL wouldn’t be about age, but about their own perceived lack of success. That’s the crux of insecurity, which has nothing to do with age. To assume she’s unhappy because she’s older than her peers is hogwash. My guess is that she was never a secure person.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I agree. LW is trying to find some reason to explain Amber’s words and actions. And that word is not Generation X, it is personality. Her personality sucks. It sucked 20 years ago and it sucks now. She’s a sucky, sucky coworker.

        2. Khlovia*

          Yes. LW and Dianne appear to be doing a lot of guessing. They’re guessing about their boss’s reaction; they’re guessing (from a rather ageist premise) about the source of Amber’s anxiety. Unless they are genuinely and literally telepathic, they need to Stop That.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And this is what these situations drive people to do. They try to figure out every angle in effort to Make. It. Stop.
            OP and coworker have been coping with this for a while now and it shows in what OP says.
            OP, you can tell your boss that the two of you have considered this from many angles and you cannot find a way to work through the issues. I don’t think I would mention all the angles you two have discussed.

  43. Observer*

    If you haven’t done so, please just make sure your boss knows what is actually happening. If all they know is that Amber thinks you are “mean” and doesn’t know why, it’s easy to conclude that you are being rude or inappropriately brusque. If your boss knows that “I don’t have the answer and need to ask boss” is what triggered a year’s worth of “She’s so mean” or that not saying “I’m so sorry!” before any sentence that’s not what she wanted to hear is a legitimate reason for tears, they will see that you are not the problem. Or they will if they are at all reasonable.

  44. AKchic*

    I have really nothing nice to say about the Ambers of the professional world. I’ve dealt with a few briefly and luckily none lasted long around me. I don’t put up with that kind of personality in the workplace. I barely have patience for it in my personal life.

    Talk to your manager. This is something the manager needs to know about. Schedule a meeting. Lay it all out and ask what Manager would like you to do. You are not willing to cater to Amber’s emotional needs, nor should you be required to. It’s not in your job description, nor is it part of the company’s goals. You are looking for an effective way to continue your own work without being penalized, because you’d like to completely stop coddling. You will be polite, but you will no longer cater and coddle, and she is going to get more upset with this. You have done your manager a favor by going to Manager first rather than letting HR have a crack at it, really, so how is Manager going to work with you and Dionne (and everyone else) in reining in this cryfest? Will Manager have your backs when Amber gets upset and claims you all are being mean for not following her scripts? Will manager not penalize you because she cries all the time because she refuses to handle her own emotions (thus avoids work because people do not want to even go near her, let alone bring up work topics with her)?

    Also, people need to stop avoiding her for work. They need to hold her accountable for her job. Make. Her. Do. Her. Job. If it’s too overwhelming and she cries and has tantrums; bring it up to her supervisor. Stop acting like a grown woman crying and making everyone else accountable for her emotional outbursts is *normal*, because it isn’t.

  45. SusanIvanova*

    I must have only subconsciously picked up the pop culture refs (haven’t seen that movie) because I went to another 90s classic movie: Wednesday Addams. She wants you to say “Oh, I’m so sorry. That sounds so hard. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time. How can I help?” Do it in Wednesday’s deadpan.

    1. aebhel*


      This is probably about as civil as I could manage to be. I mean, I have a pretty flat affect anyway, and there are few things I find more irritating than being told I need to emote more in order to keep from hurting someone’s feelings.

      1. Meredith Brooks*

        I’ve been told for years that I need to appear more excited/engaged/enthusiastic about things. My current boss told me I can appear aloof and she likes me. It takes a lot to annoy me, excite me, anger me. I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing. I guess it makes it hard for people to read me, but that’s usually because I don’t want them to or there’s nothing to read.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          You mean you don’t smile and effusively thank a coworker for giving you file that you need, or taking a file you provided? How unfeminine of you. You should make everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

        2. Specialk9*

          I think because people who deliberately are deadpan are often hiding something they think is socially unacceptable. So people with naturally flat affect deal with people wondering “do they hate my guts? Did I offend them? Are they plotting my untimely demise?” Because if their own faces were that carefully locked down, that would be why.

          1. Meredith Brooks*

            To be fair, I am awkward AF in person, so my lack of emotion is probably a way to preserve everyone’s well-being, mine and theirs. But, also because I’m terrible at dissimulating, so my well-maintained neutral attitudeis the best thing I can offer.

  46. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP,

    I haven’t read all the threads in their entirety, so I may be repeating something that’s already been said above. You say your manager evaluates on collegiality and respect. All good managers do this. But you’re interpreting that to mean that you have to just suck it up and work around Amber.

    Does your manager understand the extent of Amber’s behavior? Your letter doesn’t say. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Amber doesn’t act out when the manager or anybody else who’s senior is around. It is entirely possible that your manager just doesn’t know the extent of the problem.

    If that seems plausible in your situation, you’ll need to bring it up with your manager, because from your description, Amber’s behavior is getting in the way of work. You might go back through the AAM archives for examples of possible scripts. Be as specific as possible: “I’ve noticed that when I try to talk with Amber about X, Y, or Z, she gets rather upset. Do you have any advice on how I could work with her more productively? I want to maintain a good working relationship with her.”

    (Try not to gag when you say this…)

    1. MicroManagered*

      I agree but I would tweak your script just a bit… “I’ve noticed that Amber reacts disproportionately to routine requests. For example, when asked about X or Y, she frequently cries or accuses others of being mean to her, even with pretty benign matters like Z. She’s also asked me to quote ‘be more effusive’ or to make more pleasing facial expressions when I speak to her about work matters. I’ve never run into this with anyone before and I’m not sure what to do. Do you have any advice on how I could work with her more productively? I want to maintain a good working relationship with her.”

      I think LW needs to be as specific as possible about just how unreasonable Amber’s behavior is.

      1. Sara without an H*

        I like this. It’s specific, but keeps everything professional.

        People always assume that the manager knows as much as they do. The larger their span of authority, the less likely they are to know what’s going on at floor level.

        1. fposte*

          That’s a really good point. I’m thinking that might be going on with the OP’s comment about the manager’s focus on collegiality and respect, and that the manager really doesn’t mean that as “spending work time emotionally massaging your co-worker.”

      2. Specialk9*

        I would also say to the manager: here are the requirements she has given us all, in order to have her do any task like schedule a meeting in Outlook:
        1) apologize first
        2) no directives, instructions, or direct request
        3) only softened language
        4) must smile with teeth and crinkled eyes; neutral expression is not acceptable
        5) no direct eye contact

        If we fail to do all of these, she will:
        1) refuse to do that task
        2) cry for between 20 minutes to 3 days
        3) berate us and call us mean
        4) criticize our faces
        5) hold a grudge and refer to it a year later

        How would you recommend we handle this? It’s distracting, takes up an enormous amount of brainpower that we’d otherwise use for work, and is a big wrench in the cogs of our office.

  47. Nicole*

    What a massive baby! I’m so sorry you’re stuck dealing with this. You’re tougher than I am, I would have quit before I lost my mind on her. I hope your manager is more supportive of you than this letter makes them seem, and I hope you come to a resolution soon!

  48. T*

    Ugh I worked with a woman like this, it was awful. I sat next to her cubicle and she was constantly slamming her phone down violently and breaking into tears. There were days the Vice President of the company would walk by and look at me as if I could explain her behavior. I would ignore them both and suddenly get very engrossed in my work. A large group of us used to have drinks on Friday, and we invited her once, big mistake. It was like having a drink with Debbie Downer and she spent the whole time making horrible comments about our bosses. The next time we went out we did not invite her, she wasn’t purposely excluded but we all kind of just….didn’t invite her. She found and turned in her seat and started screaming at me that we didn’t like her and weren’t inviting her. I brought a large plant to put on my desk the next day to block my view of her desk. I could still hear her slamming things, crying or occasionally yelling at people, but it helped me focus on my work. The big thing I learned is you can’t control other people, you can only control your reaction to them and how much attention you want to exert on them.

  49. Raina*

    This sounds very much like a member of my family. In my experience, these behaviors will escalate over time. She is making everyone around her responsible for her feelings and emotions – not your job. An update from you will be appreciated – good luck.

  50. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I sense… there is more to this story. Reading between the lines: We have Dionne and OP, the accomplished superior youngsters, teaming up in their dislike of and frustration with the old cryer Amber, who can’t even get along with the shared admin asst. And I’m sure this coordinated dislike is obvious to Amber, right? So that feeds Amber’s insecurity, and it makes her feel the persecution (real or imagined) of these “cold” conspiring youngster co-workers even more acutely. Okay, okay, I am exaggerating for effect, but it does feel like there is some other element at play here, given certain little clues in the letter, like the use of “we” and the age references.

    Trying to disengage from Amber’s overly emotional responses may make OP appear even “meaner” and more unfeeling. I suppose it’s best for OP to ask his/her manager for advice on how to work effectively with Amber, in order to get the job done. That will also serve the purpose of ensuring the manager knows about the difficult situation.

    Sooo… Is it common for people to cry at work like this? I thought there was no crying in baseball.

    1. BananaRama*

      I’m of the mind that unless death or injury is actively occurring, there’s no crying at work.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Well, if Amber wrote in here and said that then we would all probably say something like she should leave the job if this is what she sees going on.
      The wrinkle here is that Amber did not write in.

      As it stands now, I don’t think there is anything OP can do or say that will quickly fix this situation. This one is going to take a moment to reset.

  51. Rusty Shackelford*

    Oooh, I know! A laminated card. “I apologize if anything I’m about to say is upsetting to you, and I most humbly ask your forgiveness for anything I’ve done in the past that upsets you.” Hand it to her every time you need to talk to her. Or no, not laminated, a paper on a clipboard, with a place for her to sign and date, presented before every single interaction with her.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I think it needs to be on a coil, like captive pens use? So OP can always take it back after presenting it.

  52. Massmatt*

    I agree with Alison and the posters to leave age out of it, but I wonder if there is a seniority or tenure issue. Has Amber been there longer? Has the OP’s manager been managing Amber for a long time? If so, and the general culture of the office has become “avoid setting Amber off, don’t upset Amber!” It is likely that the OP will be seen as the problem if she goes to the manager. The mention of how the manager values collegiality and focuses a significant part of employee reviews on it struck me as a potential warning sign. Maybe it’s a healthy focus, or maybe it’s more “Why aren’t you being nice to Amber! You know how she is!”. The longer the boss and Amber have been associated the more likely this is a systemic dysfunction than simply a terrible employee.

    I recommend Captain Awkward’s site and the concept of the Missing Stair.

  53. Milla*

    I’d be so, so tempted to be a not-nice person about this and wallpaper every inch of Amber’s office space with inspirational quotes about how the only thing you’re in control of is how you react.
    And maybe start fake crying in return that she’s being the mean one, and how dare she? This is why no one likes her!

    Where is the no-nonsense jerk of your office? Every office has one. Get them to deal with her.

  54. Dionne*

    This made me jump out of my chair, because my name is Dionne, and I manage an Amber. Luckily, that is the only thing we have in common with the OP. Just be as logical yet cordial, and as unemotional as possible Hope it gets better!

  55. Geneva*

    Oh man, I sympathize OP! I worked with someone who behaved just like this, except she was my boss. Fun times. My two cents are to treat your coworker like a toddler having a tantrum. When she starts getting emotional, give her a blank stare and keep it moving. Hopefully, she’ll go away once she realizes you won’t give her the attention she’s looking for.

  56. Fish girl*

    Ugh, I really feel for you LW. I had a former boss like Amber and it was absolutely exhausting to tip-toe around her feelings for everything. So many innocent requests or statements were met with tears and claims that I or another coworker was “attacking” her. She was also fantastic at catching every single microexpression on my face and interpreting it as scorn or hatred. Since she was my boss, I couldn’t just brush it off and go about my day. Here are some of the tricks that I had to resort to and they might be useful for you:

    -Always have something to drink when you need to talk to Amber. I used my coffee mugs to half hide my face and take a large gulp before I had to answer. Gave me a few seconds to compose myself and straighten my face out.
    -Smile like a maniac. I couldn’t have a neutral or thoughtful face when she talked. I got a lot better responses if I smiled and nodded along, no matter what.
    -Say “Thank you” a lot more than “sorry”. My boss was always apologizing and always wanted us to as well. “Sorry for interrupting, sorry to ask you for…, etc etc”. I hate apologizing for things that aren’t my fault (or things that aren’t anyone’s fault! I shouldn’t have to apologize when I ask her to do her job!). I replaced every sorry I could (in email or in person) with Thank you. “Thank you for understanding, Thank you for meeting with me, Thank you for your patience”. I’d much rather show gratitude (even if it’s not really due) than unnecessarily apologize.

  57. If It Quacks Like a Duck*

    This reminds me of someone I know in the context of my employment who has multiple mental illness diagnoses. I guess you could say that they are “like a client” of ours. (Sorry, I can’t divulge particulars here.) This person has held a grudge against me for years, based off one small mistake I made years ago and several other things which aren’t my fault at all. They think I should respond to their work-related email within 2-3 minutes, anytime of the day or night, and because I don’t respond overnight or when out of the office I’m just irresponsible and infuriating to them. Recently they let me know that they try to avoid contacting me and CC my boss every time they do email to help “make sure” that I do what they think I’m supposed to do. This in turn brings up the fact that they got ticked at me once they found out my job description is different now than when I was hired a few years ago, and they tried to call me out to the Board because they wanted me held to the standard of my original job description, not my current one which is a little higher up the food chain.

    All that’s to say, maybe there’s more going on here with the OP’s Amber than meets the eye. It’s not really anyone’s place to mention it to Amber, but for us, know about the mental illness diagnosis does make life a little easier and their behavior a little more tolerable.

    1. LGC*

      …you used to work in the office next to mine, didn’t you?

      (This could describe a couple of my reports, in fact.)

  58. Anony*

    So, OP pretty much needs to treat Amber like a toddler. “Amber, it’s not my job to coddle you. You are responsible for your own feelings”. “Amber, I act the same to everyone and you’re the only one getting upset. Have you considered contacting EAP?” I would even consider mentioning it to the boss – “I’m really concerned about Amber – she seems to have severe emotional reactions to relatively normal work discussions and responses. I’m wondering if it might be helpful for her to meet with you to discuss strategies for how she can manage her emotions at work? I don’t think it is very good to have everyone tiptoeing around her all the time.” Essentially, be neutral and express concern so your boss can action it. I wonder, too, if the evaluation on co-workers is actually in place so they can give her feedback on her relationships with coworkers, and if so, they are likely not concerned about your behaviour at all. And if the Dionne thing ever comes up, you urgently need to say, “Amber, she was not mean to you at that meeting, people often can’t give a response in the moment, and, if anything, it was mean to pressure her to respond”. (And when she responds, “but, BUT XYZ,” which she will, probably while crying and blaming you, you respond, “I realize you’re upset, but that was a normal thing to do/say and it’s unkind to Dionne to keep bringing it up.

    OP also needs to remove herself from the situation as much as humanly possible. When Amber starts crying, you need to excuse yourself and literally walk away – no reaction whatsoever. “Well, I better get back to work,” “OK, I’m going to grab a coffee now.” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “I’m always work-focused at work.” “I realize you’re upset.
    “This is as warm as I get.” “This is how I act with everyone and no one else seems to have this issue.” And then LITERALLY walk away, or, if you’re stuck at a desk near her, you re-focus on your work and completely ignore any reactions she has, no matter how hard she tries to get your attention with them (which she will – she will likely double down when you start setting real boundaries). This is pretty much like when a toddler realizes if they cry loud or hard enough they can get you to give them a cookie. Every time you give in, you encourage the behaviour to continue, because they know if they try hard enough they will get what they want (which here, is attention, and coddling). If you do this right she will bring all her emotional reactions to someone else and hopefully others will set up the same boundaries.

  59. Ann Furthermore*

    The OP mentioned at least twice in the letter that she and Dionne are younger than Amber, and that it is the root of Amber’s insecurities. How do you know that, OP, or are you just assuming that? Amber is, no doubt, an emotional vortex of need, and no, you shouldn’t have to put up with that at work. But anyone can have boundary issues and be way too emotional. It’s not a function of someone’s age, and frankly, the tone of your letter made it sound like you think it is.

    1. Indie*

      Presumably the two younger managers are the only ones Amber dislikes. If they were the only women on the team or
      rare examples of ethnicity/sexuality it would be just as easy to spot as this brand of ageism is. I have met people like this who assume longevity = seniority (because of cultures where historically that’s all it took). They are extremely threatened by young person + new ideas . Ironically they don’t notice that many of their age peers have new ideas too.

  60. Mrs. Emerson Peabody*

    Just for fun in the hot hot sun, question Amber. Continually. In a very neutral voice, ask her “Why are you so upset?” If she answers something like “you were mean to me,” question again. “Can you tell me what I said that was hurtful so we can deal with or avoid these situations?” “Well, I am going to have to ask you about any work projects we are both involved in. Is there a specific part of those conversations you find upsetting?” “I understand that you’re upset. Please let me know when we can talk about quarterly reports without it being a problem.” If you get the “your face” kind of answer, “Well, what do you think we can do to change that?”

    Again, the flatter the tone you use, the more ridiculous her answers sound – even to her. Don’t apologize or take responsibility, just walk her through it until she runs out of answers (usually about four or five minutes in). It can prove to be quite the eye opener for some.

  61. Michaela Westen*

    I agree Amber’s behavior is inappropriate and unfair to her colleagues. However…
    It sounds like she might be depressed. If she is, and her colleagues suddenly stop responding to her, it could push her over the edge.
    I think it might be good to disengage from her gradually and even better, tell her what you’re doing and why. You’ll probably have to repeat it a few times. Then there’s a chance she won’t take it personally.
    Also if she’s not in therapy please encourage her to go. She might benefit from anti-depressants too.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Well, you tell her in a nice way that won’t make her feel worse (all that crying, OMG) that makes it about you. Like, “Amber, I need a little more time to do my work so I’m going to address that right now, see you later”, and that will keep her from feeling rejected.
      Some of the commenters here are describing her as a manipulative emotional vampire. To me it sounds like she feels rejected and depressed. I felt like that as a child and cried a lot. If she feels like I did, even more rejection might lead to serious harm, like making her try to hurt herself.
      So that’s why I’m suggesting a gradual disengagement with communication, as far as I know it’s the best way to make it seem less personal. I hope she gets the help she needs. I’m not a fan of meds for every little thing, but in her case it sounds like they’d be a big help!

      1. Sam.*

        I just don’t see that going well. At all. If Amber doesn’t see herself as depressed, her reaction would be so over-the-top outraged there’d be no salvaging the situation. (Side note: As a depressed person, I would be kinda pissed if a coworker I thought disliked me decided to educate me about my mental health, and I am in infinitely less dramatic person than Amber). And OP needs to be disengaging, not getting more involved. Even if that conversation magically went well, there’s no way Amber would let her back off at that point. Regardless, it’s not really OP’s place to say something like that, and it’s not her responsibility to fix Amber’s problems.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’m not saying OP should specifically give mental health advice! I’m saying I would try not to make Amber feel even worse while disengaging by saying things like “I need more time for my work” when she wants attention, so when OP doesn’t give her attention, she won’t take it personally.
          I’m not saying OP should *tell* her to go to therapy or take medication. Only if there’s an opportunity to encourage her to do so, I would take it.

      2. Indie*

        There is no nice way to give advice about mental health (or any kind of health) to another co worker. It’s intrusive, patronising and a massive overstep.

  62. Indie*

    You don’t have to persuade Amber to be less of an Amber! Just accept that Amber’s gonna Amber. And, no, dont try to coach her out of her bad habits like gossiping because its a terrible tar pit to step into with an Amber. Your three go-tos are: 1) bored face of watching paint dry intensity 2) The phrase ‘uh huh’ and 3) A good old subject change of ‘Anyways…’

    Put together, you communicate the message of ‘No Amber, the guilt trips don’t work and we survive them comfortably. Quit it.’

    Amber: gossips about colleague
    You: *make bored face*
    Amber: “your face is not sympathetic enough!”
    You: “Uh huh. Anyways….”

    Yes she probably will go to your boss to complain about your face. Let her. She will look ridiculous. If you can, begin positive interactions with her outside of the Amber Game which you initiate. Say Good Morning, ask her about that TV show or neutral topic. Praise a bit of work. Reset the positivity button every new day when you see her. But don’t go along with the specific nonsense she pulls. It’s really not expected of you.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I think this may be the one situation in the world when the non-apology apology is actually appropriate:
      Amber: “You’re so mean to me!”
      OP: “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. Now, about the Prendergast project…do you think you can get your numbers to me by noon?”

  63. PersonalJeebus*

    Yeah, OP, it sounds like you’re being held hostage mostly by Amber’s emotional blackmail, but partly by your own (unwarranted) guilt at having achieved success at a relatively young age. Try to let that go. Even if Amber has said things about how your comparative youth is a major factor in her insecurities, you should disregard that, because it’s probably untrue or at least not as important as it’s being made out to be. Someone who reacts the way Amber does has bigger issues than ageism.

    I say this as someone who is married to someone who (though wonderful in many ways) is highly insecure and does at times get others to walk on eggshells around her. When someone feels that bad about themselves, it’s hard to admit that it’s coming from the inside and can only be fixed by them, so they tend to find external reasons and external remedies for their emotional reactions (“it’s because of your face,” “it’s because of your outfit,” “it’s because you said that one thing that one time and need to apologize AGAIN”). Amber’s coping skills are underdeveloped, and it’s unlikely that’ll change at this point in her life, but she definitely won’t improve with more coddling. In fact, the pattern will only become more entrenched.

  64. Hamburke*

    Amber sounds like she may be a little depressed, or manipulative, not sure which… Either way, I hope she can get some psychological help, perhaps through an EAP.

  65. Argh!*

    Her comment about a neutral face makes me think she’s more extroverted than the other staff. Extroverts need information, and they do indeed find more introverted people more inscrutable and mysterious. If this is the case, she might feel more confident if she received acknowledgement and approval from others. I don’t mean false praise, but something like “I agree, your idea is a great one, which is why Dionne is out tracking down an answer.” or give her a generic statement of your internal response to the direction of a meeting or project, such as “I feel we’re stuck right now, but even though that’s frustrating, I’m still optimistic,” or “We got a lot done this week, which is really encouraging.”

    She could well claim that LW & Dionne have “boundary issues” in that they’re too uptight and don’t share. It’s a matter of perspective.

    1. Scarlet*

      “she might feel more confident if she received acknowledgement and approval from others”

      That’s great advice when you’re working with toddlers.

        1. Scarlet*

          I don’t think anyone would benefit from being coddled to the extent that Amber expects to be coddled. She wants people to tiptoe around her feelings. That’s ridiculous.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            No, of course not!
            The point I was trying to make is, it’s not just toddlers who need occasional acknowledgement and approval.

    2. Scarlet*

      And I really don’t understand where those “boundary issues” come from. If anyone has boundary issues, it’s Amber, whatever perspective you’re taking (unless you think emotionally dumping on your coworkers is ever acceptable).

    3. Julia*

      I’m pretty extroverted and also pretty sensitive, and live in a culture where reading between the lines is considered very important (and used to work with children!). So sometimes I’ll see a flicker of an expression on someone’s face that makes me wonder if they’re annoyed/sad/angry/confused – and do you know what I do? I don’t tell them their face is an issue. I maybe ask them if there’s anything that bothers them, and if they tell no, I shrug it off. I’m not owed an explanation on people’s internal lives, I’m just owed civil colleagues.

    4. Oliver*

      I want to push back hard on the extroversion theory – I don’t think extroverts find introverts inscrutable or require extra emotional cues. Really, neither extroversion nor introversion make you more susceptible to reading into facial expression, as neither effect an individual’s level of empathy or sensitivity.

      Amber sounds like an extremely insecure person who’s coping mechanism is to broadcast that so loudly, others feel compelled to cater to her emotions. I don’t think there’s anything the LW could to to make Amber feel differently than she’s going to feel. Giving her extra approval might be a kindness, but it could also create a trap where the LW is still taking responsibility for Amber’s emotional state.

  66. KT*

    I’m really glad Alison added the part about keeping age out of it as I also did immediately feel it could be an off-base assumption that having younger coworkers is the root of this woman’s insecurity. Most people work fine with people of diverse ages. My 60 year old mother in law loves working with her colleagues in their 30s and being asked to go out to clubs with them. Assuming all older people are threatened by younger people does come across as ageist.

    1. London Calling*

      I’m 64. By definition 99% of the people I work with or for are going to be younger than me and I have never had a problem with that, but then I’m good at my job and know what I do is valued. Perhaps the OP’s colleague doesn’t have that security.

  67. BananaTanger*

    I had an older colleague who was an emotional bully and excellent about making me feel guilty that I was so much younger than her. It was subtle (“I didn’t think you cared about institutional knowledge”) and made me feel defensive — like her behavior was my fault, accepting her assertion that I was a threat. It wasn’t until she made a claim that was objectively false that I finally accepted it was her and not me. She retired 2 months ago. We still haven’t replaced her. I’m doing most of her job. And it is so much better.

  68. ThatAspie*

    I’ll be honest: until it got to about the second paragraph of the letter, I worried Amber might be me. Here’s the thing, though: I know I’m insecure and very sensitive. I try my best not to make that everyone else’s ish to deal with. In fact, part of the reason I was worried was because I worry about annoying others. At the same time as I would like to be regarded as “special” and cooed over and hugged every five seconds, I know that I’m not a little girl anymore and that other people have other things to do besides care for a 150-lb., 5’6” baby! So when I’m crying over something I know other people wouldn’t be crying over (negative feedback, thinking I made a mistake, a fictional dog singing about his lost tennis ball), I wipe the tears off my grown-woman face, apologize as needed, wipe my glasses off with the side of my polo, and get on with my job.

  69. bopper*

    Do you have an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)?

    If so you could tell Amber that “Gee that sounds awful, but since it seems to be bothering you so much have you thought about getting a referral from the EAP people? They have some terrific resources for situations just like this.”

    Then “Have you talked to EAP yet? No? I really think they can help you more than me. Excuse me, I have a conference call”

  70. OP (Cher)*

    Thank you all so much for all your advice and feedback–it’s been really, really helpful in both helping me feel less crazy/like I’m doing something wrong and also being able to more clearly see different aspects of the situation, especially the plusses and minuses of having direct conversations about mental health in the office. And also that there isn’t some perfect conversation that is going to make everyone happy in this situation.

    I did want to clarify/respond to a couple things that you all asked/suggested:

    Dionne & I don’t approach her jointly, so the “we” is just sloppy verbal shorthand on my part, and not direct language. I really hope I don’t come across as disdainful to her (as commenters have suggested, I’ve been trying to be aggressively positive and peppy, I do regularly share my family photos, ask about her kids, chat with her about her weekend plans, go to lunch/coffee, etc.), but I’ll definitely try to be more aware that I might be coming across that way– at this point, I am just so exhausted by the situation, I’ve got my eye on the job postings, although I do otherwise genuinely love my job!

    She has mentioned the age thing to us both multiple times, both jointly in meetings, and individually at least to me–it’s something she’s said makes her feel insecure (and one of the things I feel guiltiest about, because…I can’t change my age!). She says she assumes I think she’s “a dinosaur,” (her words) although we work in an organization where the more experience you have, the better, and I do genuinely appreciate the opportunity to work with and learn from someone with her knowledge base, and I try to make sure verbally express at least weekly how much I respect and value her skills and experience. I’ll definitely own it’s also at least partly my own issue, because it is kind of A Thing in our particular industry– when first being introduced to colleagues in our industry, I do semi-regularly hear “You’re a Deputy for Llama Services? You don’t look old enough for that/you’re so young/someone must have retired for you to have that position.”

    She does not generally pull this when Boss is around, but Boss has a very heavy travel schedule, is in the office about 40-50% of the time, and regularly gone for multiple weeks at a time, so it probably does come across as me being upset about something Boss does not see.

    Talking to Boss has not felt like an option recently (the last time I tried, Boss coached me through how to have “a conversation that would maintain [our] friendship”, which, ironically, ended up being the conversation in which she told me the problem was my face. I felt like I had somehow failed, and thus, could not go back to Boss and just kind of got stuck in the situation). I suspect I was framing up the issue to him more emotionally than I realized, and I’m hoping that the next time this happens, one or both of us can use all the suggestions to respond without enabling in the moment. I’ve gotten in the bad habit of only going to Amber in person, because she told me just emailing her makes her feel I’m mad at her, so I will try to reestablish that boundary first, and go from there with the questioning approach (because I now realize it’s probably crazy to cut out an entire mode of communication with a coworker…). With Boss, I’ll try to really neutrally frame it up to Boss as “I said X, Y happened, with Z impact on my workflow” and follow up with a conversation about what his expectations are for responding in this situation.

    (and yes, it is a deep cut, because that movie is way existential.)

  71. PsychDoc*

    “Recently, during yet another conversation to address a flare-up that she admitted was directly a result of her feeling insecure, she told me “the problem is your face” — that my expression is too neutral, so she imagines I’m thinking all sorts of awful things about her, and I need to be more effusive and start my responses to her with “I’m so sorry…””
    This makes me laugh, because my wife has “Neutral Face”. I have resting concerned face (I always have a look on my face that says someone just ran over my dog and kicked a puppy, even on a good day) and I have anxiety and depression. Knowing that she has Neutral Face and often neutral tone of voice and I have anxiety, the onus is on *me* to seek clarification. If we’re discussing something I may say “it sounds like you’re upset about this” to which she will (often) respond “am I not smiling? I want to be smiling”, then she pulls her cheeks up and we both laugh. I recently read an article that suggested that anxious people are more likely to interpret faces as displaying anger. So, again, as the person with the sensitivities, I need to remember my tendencies and check in with people when I think I may be getting a negative reaction from them. It’s often about giving people the benefit of the doubt. By asking for clarification, they have the chance to help me understand what they were trying to express, or, if needed, back away from an attacking statement they made in the heat of the moment (though that’s more of a romantic-type relationship concern: e.g. If my wife says “can you take out the garbage” and I hear “you never do anything to help around the house”, I ask her to rephrase what she said because what she *said* and what I *heard* were not the same thing and I assume she didn’t mean to say something hurtful).

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