my coworker was a jerk to me and now I want to stop being friendly at work

A reader writes:

So, here’s what happened. I have three coworkers in my department who decided together to do Thing, and got permission from our boss. However, the way in which they decided to do Thing took resources away that I need in order to do my job. No one gave me a heads-up that this was going to happen. I’m pretty sure our boss didn’t realize that his approval for Thing was going to cause a problem for me, but I was frustrated because similar things have happened in the past, due to breakdowns in how things are communicated sometimes. They should have been more specific, but boss should have asked more questions.

When I realized I didn’t have what I needed (and I am not authorized to procure on my own), I went to boss for help but he was out for the day, so I asked our office administrative assistant if she could find someone who was authorized to help. This is within the normal scope of her job, and she was more than willing to help me, and shared her surprise that this situation had been allowed to occur in the first place. I unfortunately did let my frustration show in my voice as well, and to me it just seemed like a moment of shared venting/commiserating at a frustrating situation. I didn’t lay blame on any one particular person, just kind of made a joke about how our lack of clear communication in the entire company is an ongoing issue.

Somehow word got back to one coworker that I was upset, and he confronted me about “gossiping” about him and “throwing him under the bus.” When I tried to explain I had only gone to our admin assistant because they left me no other option when they took the the resources I needed, he said he’d done just fine without those resources in the past and I should have figured it out without involving people outside our department. He refused to hear my perspective, and said the bottom line is I should never mention anything even remotely related to our department to anyone outside it, including our boss, or else I was making us all look bad and he no longer feels he can trust me, and that I’m obviously trying to get him fired. When I again tried to refute that and share my perspective, he cut me off and said he no longer wished to discuss it.

Believe it or not, a few hours after this conversation, when all of us were together, he tried to strike up a friendly conversation with me about last night’s baseball game. I no longer wish to have a friendly relationship with this coworker. I can’t fathom having friendly conversations with someone who believes I’m some kind of evil backstabber. I feel like he is being completely unreasonable, and his refusal to discuss it further means there is no way forward, because there are bound to be times when I will have to discuss aspects of our job with our boss or other people at our company. I would like to just stop talking to him at all about anything outside of work, but I’m sure the other two would notice, and if I single him out he’d probably take that as a personal attack, so I was thinking I’d just stop talking to everyone unless it is work-related.

I know it would be absurd to answer “Hey, how’s it going?” with “I no longer wish to have personal conversations at work” but are one-word answers okay? I’m thinking of just saying “fine” to everything and then moving on to work-related stuff if necessary, or just silence after the “fine.” I know “Fine, how are you?” is what’s expected, but my coworkers take that to mean “Fine, now tell me everything that’s happened in your life since last we spoke” and use it as an opening for longer conversations which I really, really do not wish to have with that one coworker anymore. I’m worried though, that cutting off these personal discussions at work will be noticed and interpreted as hostility. Is there a way to get out of having to pretend to be friendly with him that won’t negatively impact my own image or reputation?

Whoa. You’re going from “one person overreacted and was weird and out of line” to “I don’t want to be friendly to anyone I work with every again,” and that’s not a proportionate response.

I mean, you are certainly entitled to do that if you want, but it’s likely to affect you negatively and it doesn’t seem warranted by the situation.

If you really don’t want to have personal conversations at work anymore, you can that without resorting to one-word answers. One-word answers are going to come across as chilly at best and hostile at worst (especially in a context where you used to be friendlier; the change is going to be its own message). It will become A Thing when you don’t want it to be, and it’s likely to affect your relationships with people whose good will is helpful to your work, and possibly your broader reputation.

If you really just don’t want to have personal conversations, you can stick with vague, slightly impersonal answers (the weather, sports, and other time-honored impersonal subjects that people rely on when they aren’t looking for greater intimacy), while still being generally warm and friendly.

But I suspect it’s not really that you just don’t want to have personal conversations. It sounds like you’re pissed off at your coworker (understandably so) and this response feels like a satisfying “fine, F you then, here’s what you get in return.” But the situation doesn’t really warrant this response, and it’s likely to harm you more than it will harm anyone else.

Instead, ideally you’d talk directly with the coworker about what happened. For example: “Hey, I was taken aback by your reaction the other day. It’s not realistic for me never to discuss my work with people outside the department, and your reaction seemed really intense given what actually happened, especially since you refused to hear my perspective. We’ve always gotten along well and I was pretty rattled by how aggressive you were. I’d hope that if we had a disagreement, we could just calmly talk it out.”

I know he told you that he no longer wanted to discuss it, but often you can revisit this kind of thing once a few days have gone by and the person has calmed down. But if he does again announce he won’t discuss it, you could say, “I don’t think we have a choice since it affects the way we each work, and I need to be clear about what I can and can’t agree to.”

This is worth doing. Who knows, maybe you’ll find out that there was some key misunderstanding about what happened that you can clear up. Or maybe he was having a terrible day and regrets how he acts. Or maybe not, maybe he’ll dig in his heels and be an ass, and then you’ll have confirmation that he is indeed an ass. But if he’s never seemed particularly awful before, it’s worth trying to find out what happened.

However, if you don’t want to address it head-on, then yeah, you’re probably going to have to do some degree of fake friendliness to him. You don’t have to have long social conversations with him if you don’t want to, but there’s an expectation that you’ll engage in at least a minimal amount of friendliness to people you work with, particularly on a small team, so one-word answers won’t fly.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Nobby Nobbs*

    I thought OP no longer wanted to be friendly with this specific coworker, not with coworkers in general. Did I read it wrong or did Alison?

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Op wrote “I would like to just stop talking to him at all about anything outside of work, but I’m sure the other two would notice, and if I single him out he’d probably take that as a personal attack, so I was thinking I’d just stop talking to everyone unless it is work-related”

      So, in order to not seem to single him out she was thinking of freezing everyone in the group out.

      1. SavannahMiranda*

        What a lovely and perfect self-fulfilling prophecy for him.

        I mean he gets to be a grade-A ass, in private, rattle OP in such a way that it affects her treatment of him and everyone, in public, all while having plausible deniability and getting to act like he can’t imagine why OP suddenly started being chilly to everyone.

        Oooof. OP, do not do this! If for no other reason than not to give him the satisfaction!

        Jerks like this are not always master players performing operations like this with this kind of foresight and cunning. Sometimes they are. Often they’re just jerks whose jerkiness infects the culture at large.

        Regardless of which one he is, being chilly to everyone in order to not single him out with chilliness plays right into his hands.

        1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

          You called it. OP should freeze this guy out as politely as possible, be civil and friendly-ish to (while carefully watching) the other two.

        2. Troutwaxer*

          Just go talk to your boss and be done with it. You need your resources. This asshole can STFU.

          1. AKchic*

            Talk to the boss immediately. This guy isn’t the boss and he has no standing to demand that you never speak about the department (let alone him) to anyone, including the boss.

          2. Anne Noise*

            Coworker has borderline abusive control issues! How dare he dictate to whom and about what someone else may speak AND to refuse to discuss it AND to ignore the tension? That really passes the line from rude to cruel and needs to be directly addressed.

            1. Lissa*

              Well, it could be an abusive control issue, or it could be he is legitimately one of those people who “gets it off his chest” and then can immediately reset back to normal/friendly, often not even thinking of the previous interaction as something that will long-term affect the other person. I find this sort of thing extremely baffling, but I have seen people legitimately yell and then be friends again in half an hour, not out of a manipulative tactic even. Not that OP ever has to talk him again if she doesn’t want, but he might actually not realize the effect of his treatment. (and yes I have read all the articles about how people totally do know and are always using this type of thing as a tactic, but that has not always been my experience.)

              1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                Yeah, no. I know the kind of person you’re talking about, but they don’t get to “get it off their chest” and then refuse to even let the other person respond. That’s bullspit.

            2. AnnaBananna*

              Why do I feel like we don’t have the entire story? There’s something about OP’s ‘venting’ defense that mildly reeks of a guilty conscience. And I agree his reaction was over the top, but so was OP’s. In fact, it seemed rather childish. The best defense would be to be cool as a cucumber/ber professional, as well as seeking clarification from Boss.

              1. Psyche*

                I think people are over-looking a key player here: why did the admin assistant tell this guy about the conversation in the first place, and how exactly did she frame what the OP said?

                The OP might have made a snarky remark to the admin assistant out of her frustration. But the admin assist obviously gossiped about it, and made sure it was spread back to this co-worker, who acted very, very defensively about it.

                Return to admin assistant and investigate how she spread the gossip, and why. Seems she might have made a mountain out of a mole hill on purpose.

          3. GlitsyGus*

            Exactly. He doesn’t think you should talk to the boss? Tough titty, kitty you need to do your job. Do your job. If he’s usually been a good dude and this seems really out of character you can let it go if you want, it is possible he was having a bad day or misunderstood the situation. But really don’t let him intimidate you into not advocating for yourself or getting the resources you need to do your job.

        3. MarsupialHop*

          Two people have an issue. One seems to have acted like a jerk.
          Your choice is simple.
          (1)You can react like a logical person. If you disagree, you calmly say “I’m sorry you see it that way, but I disagree” AND END the conversation. (You don’t need to keep explaining to someone who is acting like an immature troublemaker. No point in shouting into that void)
          (2)You can tear a page from the jerk book and respond in a similar manner (no you make our dept look worse than I do!)
          (3)You can use the jerk’s bad behavior to retaliate (you did this, so I’m going to do that!)

          The benefit to choice 1 – you are the calm person. It forces the other person into the role of sole jerk. Also, it allows you to disengage. You don’t need to have this fight in the jerk’s arena, he will always have home court advantage, you will be playing uphill, as jerk always escalate.

      2. Nobby Nobbs*

        There it is! I caught the first part of the sentence but not the last. Yeah, bad idea, OP.

    2. MamaCat*

      Found the line you’re looking for:

      “if I single him out he’d probably take that as a personal attack, so I was thinking I’d just stop talking to everyone unless it is work-related.”

    3. Ann Perkins*

      This sentence… “I would like to just stop talking to him at all about anything outside of work, but I’m sure the other two would notice, and if I single him out he’d probably take that as a personal attack, so I was thinking I’d just stop talking to everyone unless it is work-related.”

  2. #PettyBetty*

    Idk, I took the LW to mean that they no longer wanted to have personal conversations with the coworker that pissed them off.

    LW, I would stick with short answers and steering conversations back to work-related topics. I don’t see a problem with that approach at all. You tried to explain the situation, they didn’t want to listen, so what’s the use of beating the proverbial dead horse?

    1. #PettyBetty*

      Hmmm… I guess I missed that “stop talking to everyone” line.

      So to revise my earlier response, I’d reserve the short answers and conversation steering to the coworker who confronted you. I honestly wouldn’t care if he felt attacked by that; there’s no requirement to swap personal stories at work, so to feel attacked because someone doesn’t want to hear the super cute thing your dog did last night is their own deep-seated problem. No need to freeze out other people (unless you genuinely don’t like to engage in personal conversations at work; cuz that’s a thing).

      1. Luna*

        Short answers are one thing, but to only respond with one-word answers to everything from now on (as the LW is suggesting) would definitely come across as hostile and rude. She doesn’t need to engage in long personal conversations, but there is a bare minimum of politeness that needs to be met.

          1. OtherLuna (Not LW!)*

            Yes sorry, I didn’t see that the LW had the same name until after I posted this!

        1. #PettyBetty*

          Agreed; short answers as opposed to one-word answers. Judging from the update, keeping this coworker at arm’s length is the best course of action.

        2. Marion Ravenwood*

          Especially if it’s only directed towards one person. If you’re singling someone out by behaving differently towards them, then that’s a pretty clear signal that something’s going on.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    My coworker intentionally sabotaged my work, tried to get me fired, and spread nasty rumors about me that weren’t true also in the hopes of getting me fired.

    I refuse to take the elevator with her, and I don’t make eye contact with her as much as possible.

    Your response needs to be proportionate to the situation. That outburst doesn’t merit your response.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Agreed, you and your coworker both need to throttle back. You’re both way overreacting.

      1. whoa*

        I don’t think Snarkus Aurelius needs to “Throttle back” at all. I wouldn’t get in an elevator with someone who did this to me, since *they could lie about what happened in the elevator.*

    2. TootsNYC*

      though, our OP’s coworker implies that THEY were the sort of person who would do what your colleague did.

    3. Jennifer*

      Ditto! Mine got pissed that I wouldn’t hold the elevator for her, but what happens if the damn thing breaks and we’re both stuck in there?

  4. Ann Perkins*

    OP, looking at it from an outsider perspective, it sounds like you were frustrated and gossipping, got called out directly for it, and now you want to freeze everyone out. Perhaps the coworker’s tone was aggressive, but moving on and proceeding as normal (like your coworker is) seems like it would be in everyone’s best interest, including your own.

    The only appropriate followup I could really see here would be to follow up with your boss and ask him or her to give you a heads up if resources are reassigned so that you can plan appropriately. That’s really the boss’ job, not the co-workers.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Except the coworker included the boss in the list of people OP should not discuss things with. WTF?

      1. Kyrielle*

        To clarify, I feel OP is overreacting. But I can also understand that because the coworker’s response seems so out-of-line.

        Showing frustration or sharing any of the needless details (ie, why did coworker’s name even come up with the admin assistant?) isn’t a great look.

        But “…never mention anything even remotely related to our department to anyone outside it, including our boss,…” is ridiculous. Asking for things needed for work and not available is a reasonable action, and if the boss is out, asking their admin assistant to help find someone who can authorize that is *also* reasonable.

        So the coworker also overreacted badly, laid down a law there was neither right nor reason for, and then cut off the OP. Does that mean the OP acted rightly? Nope. (How much so is hard to tell from this letter – obviously the coworker’s name got pulled in somehow, but did OP mention them, or did the admin assistant have enough info to realize what happened?) But the coworker’s “don’t talk to anyone about anything” demand is not reasonable, shouldn’t be followed, and as such hangs as an unresolved ‘problem’ left over from the mess.

        1. neverjaunty*

          This. Dude gaslit OP about the fact that they caused her problems at work, framing it in terms of a Personal Betrayal, and th n wanted everything to be friendzo afterward. And he did that “us against The Man” thing that AAM normally highlights as a problem.

          That doesn’t mean OP should become icy to everyone, but I’m a little baffled at the idea that she did a bad thing and should kiss and make up like nothing happened.

          1. $!$!*

            +thank you never jaunty. The dude wouldn’t listen to her and was very rude and then a FEW HOURS later (not a week, not even a day) wanted to be friendly? Wut? And I’m calling foul on the admin assistant. Even the assistant was surprised to hear that the LW didn’t have what she needed so she probably took it upon herself to stir the pot even more

            1. DivineMissL*

              I don’t know – my impression was that co-worker felt bad after losing his temper, and was trying to “make up” to OP and be friendly by starting a friendly conversation without actually addressing the argument.

              1. AKchic*

                Otherwise known as a “Honeymoon Phase”?

                I wouldn’t doubt that the admin assistant procured the supplies necessary for LW to get her job done, which got back to boss (and other management), who questioned things, and then someone got a talking to, which is how the coworker got a talking-to, which is why he approached LW about “gossiping”.

                1. B*

                  Meh. Abuse is the extreme and pathologic form of things; plenty of people get into arguments then back off by trying to be nice again after without bringing up the sore point. I don’t think doing that signals abuse.
                  It depends if they are being nice after because they actually don’t think anything wrong happened or if they’re trying to work their way around to an apology or properly constructive discussion. And that’s mostly revealed with time and whether they keep repeating (or worse, escalating) the bad behaviors.

                2. TL -*

                  That’s a really common response to being mean to someone, though! You’re extra nice to ‘balance the scales’ – the problem isn’t if it happens, the problem is if it happens over and over, especially with increasing frequency or escalating bad behavior.

                  Someone goofing up once or twice a year, realizing it, and trying to ‘make up for it’ does not an abuser make.

              2. Arjay*

                This was my thought as well. Things got out of hand in the moment, so the coworker was trying to move past that and reestablish some warmth in the relationship.

              3. Michaela Westen*

                The guy ordered her to behave in a certain way and then refused to hear her side or discuss it like she’s a person. That’s not good behavior, it’s controlling and disrespectful.
                The kind of person who would feel bad about being a jerk wouldn’t behave like that. He would show more respect.
                I think his friendliness was an attempt at manipulation, to get her to pretend everything’s ok and go along with him.

          2. Kelsi*

            Yeah, I’ve had someone do something similar to me–they screwed up in a way that affected my work (and would have made ME look incompetent if I didn’t explain to my boss what happened). They wanted to act like “we’re all friends here, I wouldn’t rat YOU out, it’s us vs. the managers” but what they were really asking was for me to take the blame and shut up about it.

            I told my boss what had happened in the most neutral terms possible, told the jerk “[Boss] asked me directly and obviously it wouldn’t be appropriate to lie” (which was…admittedly a lie, Boss did not ask) and then stopped being friendly with the jerk forever.

            Being cold to *everyone* is a super overreaction, but it’s not at all unreasonable for OP to be coolly professional and no more with Jerkface going forward.

          3. Maddie*

            She didn’t do a bad thing. She was not gossiping. She was trying to resolve s situation. She needs to tell Boss about Jerk’s reaction including the line that she should never go to Boss.

          4. GreyjoyGardens*

            Yes, that “it’s us against The Man! Don’t be a tattletale!” is gaslighting BS, and I’m glad Alison pushes back against it, because it is dysfunctional. Asking for what you need, and wanting your boss to *manage*, isn’t “throwing someone under the bus.”

            I don’t think LW should be icy to everyone at work from now on, but they should definitely stand up for themselves and not worry about “being a tattletale” or stuff like that.

        2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          I can actually understand how the coworker’s name came up if it went something like:

          OP: “Can you help me find a way to print my reports for the client?”
          Admin: “Sure, is something wrong with the department printers?”
          OP: “Jim’s using them all for his project, the boss gave him permission but I wish they’d checked if I’d need it, I don’t have permission to take this to Kinko’s on my own.”

          If that’s the sort of thing OP’s coworker called gossip, I’d be annoyed.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This is where I land. OP should call the coworker out (in a constructive way) as opposed to being chilly with everyone (which I think is extreme), but it’s also ok to be politely cool to just that coworker for a few days.

          The coworker’s demands of secrecy and loyalty are bizarre and made me wonder if: (1) he’s being shady about other things at work; or (2) he previously worked with or has experience with being blamed for all manner of things, so now his policy is to conceal problems. Neither of those is a good thing, but it may help OP navigate dealing with the dude if they know can figure out which bucket the coworker is in.

          1. Specialk9*

            Exactly. I’ve come to realize in life that people who demand loyalty often don’t deserve it, and don’t give it. People who deserve loyalty don’t have to demand it. Be very suspicious of anyone demanding loyalty, they’re likely up to no good.

            1. only acting normal*

              Exactly. You don’t ask for loyalty you *earn* it. Ditto with respect (other than basic human respect).

        4. Abby*

          From the letter: “I didn’t lay blame on any one particular person, just kind of made a joke about how our lack of clear communication in the entire company is an ongoing issue.”

          So actually OP didn’t mention his name like he accused her of. OP wasn’t in the wrong for voicing a general overall frustration with something at work to someone who could help fix the problem.

      2. Cat Herder*

        This. Co-worker was ridiculously over the top in his initial response. To me the friendliness later sounds like either, he’s embarrassed and wants to get back to having a friendly relationship, or he doesn’t realize how unreasonable he was and so of course is going to be friendly. So AAM’s advice is good. I’d add that OP should also talk with boss about both this particular Thing and more generally about how to prevent this sort of problem in the future. Calmly, rationally, and without getting snitty about the coworker.

        1. AK*

          OP’s update makes it sound like his reaction is probably par for the course, they just might not have had a reason to see him act out like this before.
          +1000 to talking to the boss about it!

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think the hard part with his friendliness is that, if you just received a tongue-lashing and are still processing, his behavior reads disingenuous/fake. Like OP noted, if someone was a jerk to me and then tried to buddy up a few hours later, I would still be irritated and feel like I’m being gaslit or that the coworker is a phoney.

          The alternative, and more charitable, reading (as you note) is that the coworker’s trying to reset the relationship by being friendly, but he’s not come out and apologized for his overreaction. That would also low-key irk me, although I might be willing to hear someone out if I thought that they were just having an awkward time fixing the situation (as opposed to being manipulative).

    2. Opting for the Sidelines*

      I see the opposite: I see that her co-worker got caught with his hand in the cookie-jar, got reprimanded, so he deferred all of his frustration about being reprimanded back on to OP. And then having vented his frustration, was “done” with the conversation and moved on.

      My advice to the OP is to let it rest for a couple of days or so. No matter where you work, you will deal with jerks, and you will also deal with good people who are just having bad days. I don’t know where on this spectrum your co-worker resides. If after a few days, you are still mad, that is completely ok. I know I would be and I know I would be very suspect about sharing anything with this person going forward. Remember this is work. Your co-workers do not have to be your friends. Just default to being professional.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. It sounds like both the coworker and the OP basically vented embarrassment/frustration and escalated a situation that should have ended with the OP going to the boss and explaining the resources conflict, and asking that it be addressed differently in the future. But now we’re here.

        1. Specialk9*

          They tried to do that and the boss was out of the office. And they really didn’t do anything wrong. This whole two sides thing goes too far sometimes. Sometimes one side is totally completely wrong.

          This whole thread feels like an extended metaphor for 2018. Blargh.

    3. This Daydreamer*

      The OP wasn’t gossiping; she was just trying to figure out what happened to the resources she needs to do her job. I’d argue that’s even part of her job. Freezing out innocent coworkers is going a bit too far, however.

      1. Seriously?*

        I agree. Talking to the person trying to fix the problem about why the problem occurred is not gossiping. Coworker trying to say OP is not allowed to talk to anyone about the issue and should simply deal is unreasonable. Refusing to talk about it with the OP was childish. But being icy won’t fix the problem. Personally, I think that boss probably needs to be looped in at this point to fix the communication issues.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          The OP actually said that they were “venting/commiserating at a frustrating situation”. And that she “made a joke about how our lack of clear communication in the entire company is an ongoing issue”. That is a little gossipy.

          1. neverjaunty*

            What an odd definition of “gossip”.

            The OP wasn’t talking about who is dating whom or whether the boss is going to Cabo for vacation, she was talking about a recurring work-related problem.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah. AAM is teaching me that lots of folks use “gossip” liberally to refer to normal workplace conversations or to running one’s mouth (i.e., a lack of discretion). But I agree that I don’t think OP’s discussion is “gossip” at all—it was just venting to perhaps the wrong person about a legitimate work-related problem that had a negative and significant affect on OP’s ability to work.

              1. boop the first*

                Also “throwing under the bus.” My boss used this one repeatedly and it drove me crazy. I would expect “throwing someone under the bus” to mean “unfairly using a random person as a scapegoat.” But if that specific person really is to blame for a bad situation, then it shouldn’t apply.
                If someone doesn’t want to be known for doing cruddy things, then maybe they should just stop doing cruddy things.

                1. Queen of the File*

                  100% agree. I kept watching this happen on Top Chef (of all things) and it was so frustrating. It’s not ‘throwing someone under the bus’ if they are actually the reason something failed and you are asked to explain what happened!

            2. Girl friday*

              I think if you are talking to someone who can fix the problem, then it’s not gossip. If you aren’t, then it is. I discuss things with myself frequently, and sometimes it’s gossip and sometimes it ain’t.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Talking about how there is a systemic problem in a business’s communications…. isn’t gossip.

            It’s hard to tell whether the “venting/commiserating” was gossip, but it could easily not be at all. For example: “This is incredibly frustrating! Not sure how to get the TPS reports done without access to the printer. Boss needs these TPS reports by the end of the day but Bob smashed it in that field. This is going to eat up my whole day and is so stressful!” is not gossip. If it’s “Bob is *always* being sneaky like this! I bet he’s trying to make me look bad, did you see how he talked to Susan yesterday? Same thing here. It’s so frustrating!” would be.

            Not all exchanges of information about people are gossip, and I think the coworker here is trying to do enough damage to OP Luna here about how she was wrong, wrong wrong – except that she was not not not. I don’t think it is helpful to stretch and distort to try to find ways that Raging Bob is right and Blindsided Luna was wrong.

            1. Specialk9*

              Yeah. It feels like Histrionically Betrayed!!!1! is trying to win by framing it, both in Luna’s head and if they relate the situation to anyone, so Luna is in the worst possible light. There are just a whole unhappy fistful of red flags about this guy, he’s seriously trouble.

            1. Snorks*

              Gossip and the truth are not mutually exclusive.
              Sheryl from accounting may be sleeping her way around the department, but talking about it to other people is still gossip.

    4. Luna*

      Yeah I’ve been thinking a lot about “gossiping” since then, and it’s kind of amazing how many conversations at work could be construed as gossiping. We are all up in each others’ business, and I never even noticed it before, it’s just the water we swim in. When it’s “Hey, I heard you did a great job on that presentation, good for you!” we think nothing of it but “How’s it going working with Ann? I heard she can be really strict about deadlines” that could be problematic.

      And then there’s things like “So I heard the boss was worried that you and I wouldn’t be able to handle this project as well as Bill used to, and I’ve got nothing against Bill, but between you and me I think we really kicked his project’s ass.” And it all seems normal in the moment, but I mean . . . it IS gossip.

      I’m definitely going to be more careful about it going forward, and make sure I never say anything about someone I wouldn’t say to their face, or better yet say it to their face first if it’s really important enough to say at all.

      1. TootsNYC*

        actually, a lot of personal topics that are talked about this way aren’t really gossip either–they’re a sharing of information that is useful to help people manage the dynamics.

      2. DCompliance*

        This. If venting about a lack of communication is considered gossip…there isn’t one person in my company who isn’t a gossiper.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I don’t see the gossip, really–it is totally reasonable to go to your boss about not having the thing you need to complete your assignment, and to boss’s assistant if boss is out for the day. And to explain to either of them “I can’t take the Weinermobile because Bob’s group took it” if that’s why you can’t complete your assignment to man the Weinermobile at the library book fair. Within that narrow take on the problem, Bob is totally unreasonable–it’s not on OP to cover for his (or their boss’s) inability to make a simple prediction about “If I do A, then B will result.”

      If the problem is that OP’s turn of phrase for “Yeah, I’m frustrated that Bob and Boss didn’t loop me in because I would have pointed out this problem back when it was easy to fix” landed to the admin (or someone else) as “%&*%$F#$%Y MORONS!” then that’s a problem about professionalism, or about taking an already awkward situation and making it more awkward by seething at the person trying to help you. Which may or may not describe what happened here at all, but it really isn’t described by “gossiping.” “Gossiping” is how OP’s remarks to the admin got back to Bob at all.

      1. Queen of the File*

        > “Gossiping” is how OP’s remarks to the admin got back to Bob at all.

        Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s easy for me to imagine some situations where the information would get out there from the admin in a non-gossipy way: “Hey I had to book a second Weinermobile on Thursday for Linda because Bob’s group was using the one she had reserved. There was an urgency fee because we didn’t reserve in advance” or whatever.

  5. Luna*

    OP here, thanks so much for your response, Alison!.

    As it turns out, in the intervening days since I wrote to you, one of my other coworkers also approached me about the issue, but in a totally different way. She told me more of what had happened from their side. Basically, Admin Assistant told Boss I was upset, Boss took this to mean seriously upset, Boss reamed them out for not communicating with me better before approaching him. I could see how it looked to them like I had purposefully gone behind their backs to complain about them, but that was never my plan nor intention. Coworker A had gotten defensive, but Coworker B came to me more gently and genuinely listened to my side, and we each were able to say what we needed to happen going forward so these things don’t happen again, and we actually ended the conversation crying a little and hugging, reassuring how much we care about each other.

    And I did actually go back to Coworker A to try to clear things up. It didn’t go well. My purpose for the conversation was “Hey this thing you thought I did, I didn’t do. That’s not who I am, that’s not something I would do” but it was sort of like he just wasn’t hearing me and kept saying “This is settled, we’re good. I’ve said all I have to say. We’re done with this. We all know not to do it again, it’s over” as if I were still trying to argue about the details of the resources being taken. We were talking totally at cross purposes and he didn’t seem to want to even take a second to try to hear me, and his attitude was just shy of “Talk to the hand” middle-school bullshit, so I just said fine and gave up and walked away.

    He did say something in the course of the conversation that was kind of chilling, when I said I wouldn’t deliberately try to get him in trouble, or anyone else at work, and he said “I don’t give a shit about anyone else at work. I care about myself and my image and things that impact myself only.” And yes, I know basically everyone has to be their own advocate and you should make yourself your first priority, but this is the kind of company where people do develop genuine outside of work friendships, and he always makes a big show out of being so gregarious and friendly to everyone, but the way he said that sounded so cold and nasty. And now, it’s actually obvious how many of his social interactions at work aren’t genuine and just calculated to advance his own visibility with higher-ups, and how he does things like signing up to help with events that will get him noticed, but never any of the behind the scenes things that actually require more work. He’s a schmoozer and a fake, and at least I know this now.

    I’ve been able to be polite, and even friendly-ish, and actually feel a little bit sorry for him if he really does view other people either as just obstacles, or as things to be used to further his career.

    And yeah, you are right that I was being petulant, and I’ll watch out and make sure I keep that tendency in check in the future. Thanks so much!

    1. MamaCat*

      Yeah, this guy sounds like a peach. /sarcasm/

      But you seem to be handling it well now! I’d be pretty guarded around him, as well; reasonably pleasant, but guarded.

    2. Okie dokie*

      Be very very careful with someone who says things like this. I worked with someone who when we were peers came right out and said she was a ladder climber and didn’t care who she stepped on. I kind of laughed it off until I became a rung she stepped on. In the end long story but a few years later it did come around and bite her but keep an eye out for sabotage.

    3. animaniactoo*

      For future, if you ever end up having a follow-up conversation like that again? “It may be done from your side, but it’s NOT done from mine and I would like to talk to you about it. You say we’re good, but I say we’re not and I want the opportunity to speak to you about the issue that *I* have. Otherwise, the next time you have an issue with me, I am literally going to walk away and ignore you because this does not only go one way where you unload on me and then you’re done. I am not okay with you treating me like that and I will not stand around for it.”

      With a very sharp “DO NOT INTERRUPT ME” in the middle if you need to.

      1. Luna*

        Oh wow. I pictured someone saying that, and the woman in my image was a lot stronger and cooler and more bad-ass than I could ever imagine myself being.

        1. Opting for the Sidelines*

          Fake it ’til you make it!! I find that if you pretend you are badass, strong and cool, then you usually are.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Would you feel more able to do it if you were standing up for a friend? Sometimes I find I’m braver when I’m sticking up for someone else, and that reminds me that I’m capable of sticking up for myself, too. Sometimes you can also build up the ability to interject by practicing in lower-stakes settings (e.g., calmly saying, “You’re interrupting” to a friend who overtalks you).

          Your coworker sounds like an ass, and he’s rude AF and unnecessarily aggressive. He doesn’t get to yell at you and then decide the conversation is over because he doesn’t want to own up to his behavior.

          OP, this was actually a helpful experience, because now you know who he is. He sounds superficial, ruthless/selfish, and manipulative. He flipped out at you and assumed the worst, and I suspect he assumed those things because they’re things he’s willing to do. He can’t imagine that anyone would have non-nefarious motives, because his motives are suspect. I’d keep him distant—be cool and polite, but don’t be friendly with him. Of course, don’t be rude, but to paraphrase another commenter, you can expose him to the cool disdain that flows from deploying impeccable manners.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          You may not ever need to do this, differences in workplaces, ya know? But we also don’t know what lies dormant inside us just waiting for the right moment. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting kicked a few times. Other times it’s a matter of seeing OTHER good people getting kicked a few times. And situations that jeopardize our licenses/certifications/paychecks/etc can cause the lion inside to roar.

          This is why it’s important to never make a person feel cornered, we don’t know what will come out of a person next. Sometimes people just decide, “Okay. I have had enough of this crap.”

          1. Specialk9*

            I’m not sure I’m following. What’s your advice? This felt really ominous.

        4. Anne Noise*

          Kick his ass politely with words, girl! He will not listen until someone speaks it out loud slowly like a Kindergarten teacher. I said above he was borderline abusive, but now I think he’s an actual sociopath! You should resolve this internally and never speak to him unless necessary! Civility, professionalism and courtesy, but get away!

        5. Specialk9*

          I will say upfront that I don’t think any talking will register with this guy, he’s ticking a lot of boxes in my head for people who use abusive tactics to get what they want. They can’t really be reasoned with because selfishness doesn’t budge, and they excel at twisting things.

          Even so, you basically were apologizing (explaining how you’re really not like that IS apologizing), and handed him the high ground. That’s not the goal in the future, the goal is to state clearly that his behavior was unprofessional and you will not comply with his bizarre rules. He won’t listen, but it sets the groundrules.

          BUT if you’re dealing with a different kind of person, someone who had a misunderstanding and a temper flash but isn’t a rat, there are ways to use your words calmly. Keep reading here, you’ll find yourself using Alison’s calm straightforward scripts without meaning to.

        6. B*

          Given what he has already told you I’m not sure it’s worth it at this point to try to talk about this particular issue again, sounds like he doesn’t care about anything but himself. But definitely give zero plucks for what he wants; if you need to go to the boss or other department folks about something to do with him, don’t hesitate! If he comes at you again with “I thought we talked about this! Never do anything to make me look bad!” then maybe there’ll be an opening to retort “you talked about it. I disagreed. And I don’t see a reason to hamstring myself just because you’re trying to steamroll me.” or something, or maybe he’ll just try to railroad again. Mostly, just ignore what he says since he’s not bothering to try to listen to you and what he’s asking is unreasonable.

        7. JSPA*

          “It’s nice that you’re good with it, whatever ‘it’ is. But I’m not. We don’t actually agree on how the process with [xyz] went off the rails. It’s possible that we don’t agree on what the rules are, going forward, either. If you decide it would be useful for you to hear what happened from the person who was actually there–meaning me–we can have that chat.

          If that happens “never,” that’s fine. But I can’t and won’t take responsibility for doing whatever it is that you unilaterally decided we’ve agreed on. I’m going to continue to be respectful to everyone, while reaching out–as needed–to do the job I was hired to do. If that’s likely to be a problem for you, decide how you want to address that, and get back to me.

          I’d like to clear the air. I’d also like to make things smooth for you, whenever possible, because it’s important for coworkers to be supportive of each other. But I won’t be prioritizing your convenience over the nuts and bolts of doing my job.”

          Bonus: this is even something you can put in an email. Because, y’know…you’re asking him, in an email, if he has a problem with you doing your job. Or with putting your job ahead of his

      2. LSP*

        I don’t know it would be worth it to rehash the issue at this point. OP has learned quite a bit about this coworker from this interaction, and it’s good knowledge to have. If something like this *does* happen again, and he tried to shut OP down without hearing her side (a personal pet peeve of mine and a reason I despise passive-aggressive notes – people want to say what they have to say without hearing from anyone else), then this script might make sense. Unless (until) that happens, I’d let it lie and play my cards close to my chest with this guy.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Yeah, what LSP said. I’d leave it, but Luna, watch your back around this guy!

        2. Specialk9*

          You can’t make this kind of person see your side. You can’t get them to admit you were right. You can only lay out boundaries clearly, and then push back when they stomp on them.

      3. loslothluin*

        I was just about to say this! Absolutely agree. He’s dismissing OP’s view as inconsequential and reinforcing that only his POV is what is important in any situation. To hell with that.

      4. HumbleOnion*

        I want to put this on an index card to have in case I ever need it. Very good!

      5. LCL*

        Yeah, you can’t let coworkers get away with the one sided, lecturing you about your conduct behavior and then when you defend yourself the conversation is over. When he tries this, you say ‘no, you brought it up, discussions are two way conversations, otherwise you are basically threatening me and giving me orders. Is that what you want from this conversation, and is that the reputation you want? You are talking to me like one would talk to a minor child. You are not either of my parents.’ Man, I would be spitting if someone tried that crap on me. My PARENTS never even tried that on me, I was allowed to question everything.

        I did use the phrase ‘this conversation is over’ on Tuesday. Because I was being asked to fix something that I had no power to fix, the longstanding problem exists because of the personal preference of someone who outranks me. I also told the person I cut off that I agreed with him, but I couldn’t fix it.

        1. neverjaunty*

          He can certainly decide the conversation is over. What he doesn’t get to decide is how the OP approaches him in the future and to what extent she wishes to let him participate in conversations with her.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Win the battle, lose the war.
            It’s on page 54 of the “What NOT to do at Work” book.

      6. AKchic*

        If necessary, a “Fine, we’ll continue this in Boss/HR’s office” if he refuses to allow you to finish.

      7. Michaela Westen*

        My experience with such things is I don’t think about it, I just do it. It’s been a process of overcoming fear/shyness/bad experiences and learning to be myself and express myself.
        Then after it happens I realize I was cool and badass! Though unfortunately there are always people who judge and think I was too harsh.
        Your update confirms my first impression of your coworker, unfortunately. Be sure to always cover yourself with him. Try not to be alone with him – he might make stuff up about what happens with you.
        I would be looking for opportunities to let my boss know what he said/what he is, if boss doesn’t already know. Don’t assume your boss knows. Verify. It took me a long time to realize bosses don’t know everything that’s going on!

    4. Cat Herder*

      Whelp, I’d be superficial-friendly with him and always careful. You’ve learned something really useful about him.

      1. Crystal*

        That’s what I was thinking too Cat Herder, this is actually good intel to know about him! A lot of people are this way and you don’t know they are, this is a good thing to know!

      2. RVA Cat*

        We really should have had the Game of Thrones names for this because he is straight up Littlefinger, and OP, he literally told you not to trust him.

        1. only acting normal*

          Ha ha! Good point.
          OP – he told you not to trust him, so take him at his word.

    5. AK*

      Sounds like your boss reacted pretty poorly by jumping on the rest of your team instead of at least checking with you to say “hey I heard from Admin that you’re unhappy, what’s up?” I wonder if any of that was deflection because they didn’t do their own due diligence when approving your teammates to do The Thing.

      Coworker A sounds like a piece of work though, even for his reaction to be to the Boss reaming them out and not just hearing about you gossiping that’s… a lot.

      Glad things are working out with Coworker B though?

      1. aebhel*

        I was just thinking that… ironically enough, OP was right on the money with the ‘poor communication’ issue.

    6. Midlife Tattoos*

      Hmmmm, did your company hire an employee that I managed out?

      I wonder if your boss is aware this this guy is a self-serving ass. I had an employee like that and while it took me some time to figure him out, once I did it was over. He could really talk a good game, but when it came to work, he was like a kid trying to avoid homework. He tried to be buddies with everyone, but one by one they saw right through him.

    7. Kathleen_A*

      That’s actually not a bad outcome. It sounds as though you got some really valuable information: that coworker A is a jerk, that coworker is a nice person who got confused by a misunderstanding (and probably an understandable misunderstanding), and what to do moving forward, so I’d call this a win if I were you. Congratulations on working it out. That cannot have been easy.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          This is exactly what I was just thinking.

          Of course we’re not supposed to diagnose online, and this is a career website. But that was my thought exactly.

          Other people’s thoughts and feelings literally have no weight or meaning. Sociopath much?

    8. neverjaunty*

      Definitely work on your own professionalism, but keep Coworker A at a superficial, polite distance going forward. He’s not only shown you who is he, he’s TOLD YOU.

      1. Antilles*

        +1. When people tell you what they’re like, listen. This guy has openly told you that he’s a selfish jerk who only believes in Myself…so you should take that at face value and remember that.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          So much this. Maya Angelou said it best: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

          Watch your back, OP, and channel Sansa from late Season 6/Season 7 when dealing with Coworker A.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Definitely! This guy has TOLD you he is Bad News. Do not trust him. At least now you know!

    9. Opting for the Sidelines*

      I had a co-worker who was very, very much like this. Once I figured out that this was his modus operandi, I never shared anything personal within his earshot, kept my conversations with him as superficial as possible, and quietly made sure he was never, ever, ever assigned to any of my projects.

      1. Emelle*

        Same! Except my coworker would lay low for a while, and you’d think she had Seen The Light, and the second your defenses went down, she’d pull her brand of crap on you. I needed a professor moody in my life to yell “Constant Vigilance!” at me.

        1. only acting normal*

          It is incredibly hard to resist the superficial charmers. My father is like this, he acts like a normal friendly person but he turns viscous in a heartbeat if you let your guard down. You never know when what you tell him in a moment of weakness is going to be used against you (or worse against someone else). The only way I cope is minimal contact.
          “Constant Vigilance!” is a good mantra. :-)

        2. Michaela Westen*

          My father is like this too. :( I stopped having a relationship with him in 1995.

        3. Michaela Westen*

          To expand on this, the way it works is, you wish they would be nice and decent to you. You may think you’ve put that to rest but when they come pretending to be nice, you get your hopes up even though you know better because it’s what you want… and you let your guard down, and they get you.
          So remember what you’re dealing with, even if it’s 6 months or a year from now, and keep your guard up and cover yourself.

    10. Jennifer Thneed*

      OP, it’s worth letting your boss know about this. Not in a tattling way, and not because you want the guy punished, but because he’s being an unprofessional jerk and you just want it on record.

      And maybe you can point out that the boss assumed you were more upset than you actually were, didn’t check with you to verify that, and then “reamed them out”, which, honestly? doesn’t sound like great management. Maybe if he’d checked in with you, the whole mishegas could have been avoided.

      (And maybe you really were more upset than you’re admitting to yourself, and that’s why the frustration slipped out strongly enough to impress the admin?)

      1. SavannahMiranda*


        This whole thing could have *again* been avoided by the manager *managing.*

      2. Luna*

        That’s all worth considering.

        I don’t think I’ll bring it up with my boss. Maybe I should have at the time, but it wouldn’t be great timing now. We’re undergoing some major transitions and there’s a good chance I won’t have to work with that jerk guy any more, *IF * things shake out the way I hope they do. I don’t want the change just to avoid him, that’s just a bonus, there are actually many reasons I want to have a slightly different set of responsibilities and I’d actually asked for it way before this happened, but I do need to stay on Boss’s good side to have a chance.

        And yes, I wish he would have checked with me first, and he probably would have if he had physically seen me before he saw them, but he’s super busy and always doing a million things at once so if he sees you in the hallway that will trigger a “Oh yeah I have to talk to this person” and he’ll grab you and do it then and there. And then jump from topic to topic so quickly you feel like you’re in kind of a whirlwind, where he’s trying to cover 3 meetings-worth of conversations in a quick hallway conversation. We mostly keep up. Mostly. :)

        As for being more upset than I realized, that’s definitely possible. I do tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and that was a particularly stressful day. And that particular admin is kind of a protecting, motherly type of person, so yeah, perfect storm of misunderstanding. But I’ll watch my emotions in the future and make sure I take a deep breath and mentally rehearse before I complain about anything.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Honestly, I don’t see anything here that does not happen a 100 times a day in most work places. Coworker A has unrealistic expectations of how workplaces function.
          I find it ironic that he is lecturing you on your emotions and he is by far the MORE emotional being. It was because of emotions he shut you down. It was because of emotions he contorted what you were saying. It’s because of emotions that he hogged all the stuff you needed him to share. This guy is a runaway train load of emotions.
          People who don’t have much to offer have to step on others in order to climb up higher. Truly talented, sincere people do not do this.

        2. Auntie K*

          When I read your post it made sense to me that you were upset because this guy broke your trust. You thought you had one kind of relationship and found out you had another. It’s hurtful – and important to learn. I had that experience today when a colleague lashed out in a meeting, accusing me of not doing part of my job for a full year, and then said I wasn’t managing my team effectively. It came out of nowhere and it made me mad and then later I realized I was hurt. I trusted her and she treated me in a way that I would never expect. So yeah – I get why you wanted to back out of the friendships. That stuff makes me want to close my heart to protect it. That said, it’s easy enough to do once you feel your feelings. I’ll follow up with my colleague next week (I need time to stop feeling mad/hurt) and ask what was going on with the ultimate goal of telling her that bullying me doesn’t work and setting some boundaries – namely if she ever yells at me again she can expect me to walk away while she’s doing it. Or hang up. If I’d done that today, I would have ended a project conference call so I didn’t. Next time, I will. At least I hope I will.

          1. only acting normal*

            Not a conference call, but my colleague recently paused a meeting with a lot of seniors present so she could take 5 minutes to compose herself after feeling attacked. *More than one* senior came to her afterwards to compliment her on how she handled it.

        3. Mad Baggins*

          I agree you may have missed your shot now, but now you’ve got an ace in your back pocket if you ever have to work with him again. “Sorry boss, I’m not comfortable working with Little Finger. He told me himself that he is selfish and doesn’t care about others.”

    11. Oxford Comma*

      Okay, based on your clarification, this is a whole other ball of wax. Coworker A is a problem. I would recommend being polite in a surface way (eye contact, polite smiles, small talk). Do whatever is necessary for work purposes in shared projects. And otherwise? Stay the hell away. Don’t cover up for them. Don’t share details of your personal life. Be careful around this person. Anything problematic or that sets off your Spidey senses: document.

      1. Tea, please*

        +1 with the documenting. Send as much in email as you can. If you agree to something verbally, send a follow-up email confirming.

        To some extent, you need to play the same game. You need to keep a professional relationship with him. A former supervisor seriously burned me. I didn’t go out of my way to chat with her after that. I would always smile when I saw her–just kept things nice enough so I could get the information I needed to do my job. (though, in my head, the petty side took over–I’d mentally congratulate myself for being the bigger person)

    12. Boredatwork*

      WOW! so it seems co-worker was mad because you made him look bad to boss. If you think there is a chance that co-worker would have known taking “resource” from you would negatively impact your work, that would explain his disproportionate response.

      When you complained, you basically put on blast that he should have checked in with you before asking boss for the “resource”. I would speculate that boss may have even asked him about the impact of this on you and co-worker said it was fine.

      So when boss found out it was not fine, he probably had to address it with co-worker. He seems like a kid who got his hand caught in the cookie jar.

      1. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

        So much this! He’s not sorry he did it, just sorry he got caught.

    13. Antilles*

      And now, it’s actually obvious how many of his social interactions at work aren’t genuine and just calculated to advance his own visibility with higher-ups, and how he does things like signing up to help with events that will get him noticed, but never any of the behind the scenes things that actually require more work.
      Slightly off-topic, but just FYI, this strategy likely won’t work out nearly as well for him as he hopes. It might help a little bit (presuming he’s good at his job, because nobody cares what volunteering you do if you’re screwing up 40 hours a week), but it’s not going to dramatically change his fortunes. Couple reasons:
      1.) People who have been around the block a few times figure this trick out surprisingly fast. After the first couple events, the pattern becomes blindingly obvious. Also, in functional organizations (and even many dysfunctional ones!), you generally don’t get to a high level without developing a pretty good ability to recognize someone who’s just pretending.
      2.) If your senior people have worked their way up the chain, then the crummy jobs will absolutely be the ones that garner you the most respect, because the senior people themselves probably did similar low-level work once upon a time and know just which volunteer positions actually require effort and commitment and which don’t.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        It’s like the person who never contributes to the potluck but comes over and fills their plate. We know who you are.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        And these people are effortless to submarine. If the company is having X event and I do all the set up work, then I know where everything is because I set it up. So Pompous A comes in taking credit for set up. The next thing that happens is someone asks Pompous A if he knows where this or that is. He won’t know. Then someone else asks if he knows the timing for XYZ, he won’t know. And so it will go, it will become apparent that he is not in the loop. He is a phony braggart. Do nothing, OP, except rock your own job. He will unravel himself on his own.

        1. only acting normal*

          Pompous A is an amateur.
          Pompous B knows to lie, bluff, and blame others if the lie is exposed. All done with a veneer of extreme confidence and competence, and for a carefully selected audience. If they’re really good the only people who sniff them out are the ones with no power who take all the blame.
          Beware of Pompous B.

    14. Tea, please*

      I agree with the other comments that you learned a helpful lesson about your colleague. I’ve learned this lesson too and it hurts. It’s definitely going to color how I build relationships at my new job.

      I also wanted to suggest being more close to the vest with your emotions around the admin or really anyone outside your department. I get the feeling–you want to build camaraderie with a shared emotion. But someone outside your group isn’t going to have all the information and can draw incorrect conclusions, often ones that reflect badly on you. I was an admin for a year. People would often say things in frustration to me but I’d see them do something completely surprising. It made me take some of my colleagues a lot less seriously. I didn’t have all the information and people were blowing off steam with me. My interactions were just snapshots which gave me a skewed perspective. I see this now with colleagues who aren’t part of the same conversations I am. They get really worked up about something, mostly because of coworkers who are a part of the conversation and want to blow off some steam, but don’t know the full story.

      1. MsSolo*

        I want to echo holding your emotions closer to your chest here. This doesn’t sound like a healthy work place in general. Venting to a coworker leading to your boss assuming you’re very upset, crying and hugging it out with a coworker, angry shouting about it all… none of these are proportionate reactions to a miscommunication over resources (at least, in most industries – I could understand if you worked in something emotionally fraught like providing emergency neonatal care in disaster zones that emotions would just run higher than your average workplace). Whether it’s a mismanagement issue, the one toxic coworker bleeding into everyone else’s lives, really, really terrible communication, or something else, the extent to which everyone involved seems to be treating this as a fraught situation suggests there’s a source of tension that’s not about resources.

    15. Minocho*

      “and he said ‘I don’t give a shit about anyone else at work. I care about myself and my image and things that impact myself only.'”

      When someone tells you who they are, through word or deed…BELIEVE THEM.

      You have a valuable piece of information about this coworker. He handed it to you; view it as the gift it is. You can work with this person. You can have a friendly coworker relationship with this person. And now you know how they work, so never place yourself in a position where his self interest is in direct competition with your interests.

      Fortunately, as coworkers in the same department, this will not be difficult for the majority of cases. Be sure that when it might be an issue, you have positioned yourself correctly. To avoid most conflict, also make these positions clear to him – it is better to forestall needing to use documentation or other defenses in the first place.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        At some point, OP, you want to inform the boss that he told you this is method of operating. You may see more of this behavior, perhaps he targets someone else. There might be a point where you can go back in on the conversation.

    16. Ms. Ann Thropy*

      Ooh, a sociopath! They rarely show themselves so openly. You now know all you need to know about him.

      1. Minocho*

        I’m sure I’ve met more in my life and just haven’t noticed, but I’ve had at least two be at least this open about it.

        One would let you know he was all about his own best interests…and feel perfectly justified in doing anything he wanted because…hey, he WARNED you. We had a hobby in common, and he could be fun to hang out with in a group setting, but I knew very clearly that I could never depend on him to do the right thing if it would require any effort at all, and I knew that if I did anything nice for him, it would never be reciprocated. The crazy thing is all the other people he was very open with about his attitude who would “lend” him money, and then be shocked and surprised that it was really a gift.

        The other was a coworker in my department, very much like this guy. Once, while we were drinking after work, he started playing a game with his new wife. He didn’t tell her he wasn’t coming home after work. After a couple of hours, he texted her, playing up the drinking and pretending to be very drunk in his texts. He started texting about driving home drunk, and he scared her quite badly – she was phoning and texting, trying to find out where he was to come pick him up – and then he texted her how much he loved her, still acting drunk. He explained he did it because she would trust the emotion in the text if she thought he was drunk, and the compliment would feel so much better after he scared her like that.

        So I found out something VERY important about my coworker, and I could work with him, but I could never trust his words alone ever again. I just made sure to keep his interests aligned with mine as much as possible, to take everything he said with a grain of salt, and to never trust in his good will.

          1. Minocho*

            It was really messed up. I told him that’s not how a healthy marriage should work, and his response was that he loved her, so it was okay. I responded that I couldn’t say for sure whether he loved her or not, but with that behavior, he sure didn’t respect her. He looked at me like I’d grown a second head, or I was speaking Alpha Centauran.

            What was more messed up was all my other coworkers were there too, and thought I was mean for calling him out like that. I didn’t care much – he knew that I knew what was up with him. That was enough. I felt bad for crap he might pull on those other coworkers, but I have learned that when someone tells me they’re a horrible person, or they believe in gaslighting their spouses, or whatever…well…I believe them. It’s served me well so far.

      2. Thusre*

        Actually, one of the ways to find out if a narcissist is a narcissist is to ask them – they’re usually proud of it. Psychopaths are proud of who they are, too.

      3. anon4now*

        Nah, probably not a sociopath. American work culture fosters these behaviors (capitalism= emphasizing
        the individual’s needs + greed without a ceiling) so it’s not really surprising IMO.
        To be fiscally successful in America, more than likely you’re not the kindest person in the room.

        1. Specialk9*

          That’s a big old statement. You’re right, only Americans have ever had greedy people who amassed fortunes at the expense of others. Unlike, say, ancient Romans. Or all of feudalism, aristocracies, colonialism, conquistadores….

          1. Delphine*

            Your statement is actually odder…what do ancient Romans have to do with a comment about American work culture and capitalism? There’s no need for #NotJustAmericans when no one has implied that Americans have a historical monopoly on this behavior…

    17. Bea*

      Ef that dingleberry. I’m glad you cleared it up with your reasonable coworker and understand what happened.

      Watch your back with that jackal, he’s mad you “backstabbed” when in reality it’s because he’s the one who won’t think twice to trample you. That’s his thing, now you know he’s not to be trusted.

      Don’t let him intimidate you or change you. The others clearly aren’t bad, just this troll.

    18. NW Mossy*

      Oh, Luna, A is for a**hole in this situation. But maybe more to the point, he’s unbelievably wrong about how professional relationships work even within the context of his own dumb statement.

      If he only cares about himself and his image, he should remember that everyone he encounters has an image of him, not just those who hold the strings of money and power. YOU have an image of him, and it’s increasingly unflattering. Your boss, B, and the admin assistant all do as well, and they’re likely side-eyeing him a bit now too. Over time, who holds the money, power, and ability to help shifts, and not necessarily in ways maximally favorable to A. He’s poisoning his own reputation by being a hostile jerkward, and much as he’s going to try to lay the blame for that at others’ feet, this is firmly in hoisted-on-own-petard territory.

    19. Becky*

      I think you’re right to remain polite and distant with this coworker, but I would seriously consider actually getting closer, if not personally, professionally, to other coworker who filled you in. Most people have various degrees of closeness with different coworkers–that’s fairly normal. If you can maintain a polite relationship with Jerk but a closer professional relationship with Helpful it would probably not be considered unusual and would probably enhance your career and relationships in the long run. Networking, retaining relationships with contacts is part of professional development and someone who is blatantly as self serving as Jerk is going to find his superficiality eventually insufficient.

    20. RickTq*

      Does Admin Assistant have a reputation as a drama llama or as someone who tries to tamp things down? Was Boss told you were “kind of upset but OK” or “really angry having this resource diversion happen again”? Boss may have been lead to the wrong impression.

      Does this silent resource diversion happen a lot with CoWorker A’s projects?

      1. Anne (with an “e”)*

        +1 Agreed. I think the AA is the root cause of a lot of this drama.

      2. Luna*

        Admin Assistant is kind of a protective motherly type, and I could see her being motivated by trying to stick up for me.

        And as for the resource diversion, the plan we all agreed on a while back was to check with everyone first, but that kind of gradually started to fall by the wayside. I myself am a stickler about always checking, because I don’t want to inconvenience anyone the way I ended up being inconvenienced, and 99% of the time everyone would be like “Not a problem, go ahead.” So since it’s almost never a problem, I think everyone else just sort of started to take the checking-in for granted. If they had checked with me, I would have been like “Yeah, usually it’s not a problem, but this is the one time in a hundred it actually is, so can it wait a week?”

        Part of the frustration I had in my original conversation with Coworker A was that I pointed out how it caused a problem for me and he said he never complained when I did it to him, and I was like “But I always check with everyone first and if they say no, I don’t use the resources” and he was like “Ok fine, from now on, we’ll always check with you first” which was frustrating to me because we had already agreed on that 9 months previously. He acted like this was a totally new thing. Which kind of makes me question if he’s actually a sociopath like so many here are saying, or if he’s really just not that bright and gets blustery to cover up for it.

        Coworker B, however, she did remember how we’d agreed to handle it, and apologized that with some of the recent craziness going on with our company and her personal life, she’d kind of slacked off on notifying me, and that since she knew it was important to me she’d make sure to email me from now on.

        1. only acting normal*

          Stop giving A the benefit of the doubt. He flat out told you what he is. Believe him.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            ^^^^^ to all of this. I’ve work with people like him. He won’t change. He told you who he is. That was a warning. Take him seriously.

            You do not need to be friends with him. It won’t make you a bad person or a bad co-worker. There are ways to distance yourself while being polite and still do your job.

    21. Anne (with an “e”)*

      In the words of Michael Corleone, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

      OP(Luna), don’t freeze out this guy because I think you should try to keep tabs on him (to the extent that you can).

    22. LGC*


      So, it seems like you have a couple of issues:

      1) You have a co-irker (pun definitely intended) who happens to believe that The Prince is an effective workplace behavior guide. He’s almost certainly approaching this as Luna impeding his climbing the corporate ladder and pushing back his ascent to CEO by at least like three months or something equally silly.

      Also, he sounds miserable. But you knew that already.

      2) Maybe I’m reading into it, but you might have a bit of a boss problem as well. It looks like things kind of spiraled out of control when the admin went to your boss, who sounds like they might not have handled that discussion as lightly as they should have. On the other hand, you admit that you seemed upset when you went to the admin, and she might have just gone based off your cues – and also, Aspiring Machiavelli and your other co-worker were doing something that held up your project – and indirectly, your boss’s project!

      One more thing: I’m glad you were able to cool off – but dude, like…it’s fine that you sulked a little bit, as long as you managed to pick yourself back up! It happens! I’m a firm believer in having a good sulk every now and again. Again, it sounds like your coworker sucks, and I’m sorry you got burned by him twice. I hope he steps on multiple Lego.

    23. mimsie*

      My goodness, does this guy think he’s on The Apprentice or something? *eyeroll*
      From my experience people like that think they’re hard but they don’t get very far professionally. You do eventually need to develop some level of collaboration and listening skills.

    24. boop the first*

      he said “I don’t give a shit about anyone else at work. I care about myself and my image and things that impact myself only.”

      …well, YEAH. That’s literally THE POINT. omg I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from laughing after that one!

    25. Close Bracket*

      It sounds like there is a lot going on with this coworker. I’m sorry you have to work with him. I think you should keep considering talking to your boss about the fallout. His “I’m done talking, so you are done talking, too” thing is a problem, and it’s a problem that will affect how you work with him, or rather, how he works with you, in the future. This exact situation might not happen again, but it will probably happen again that something he does causes you difficulty, and you want to have a different way of dealing with it now that you know how he works.

      You might want to talk to your admin. Say something like, “I don’t want to get into details, but there were some bad reactions after Boss spoke to A and B. I hope that you will talk to me first if you feel that something I have said to you should be brought to Boss’s attention. That way, I have some warning and it won’t seem so out of the blue if there is blow back.” End by making clear that this request applies to that conversation, too. :) You aren’t singling out A; you aren’t asking her not to act. You are asking to be informed of developments that might affect you, which is fair.

      Don’t try to explain anything else to A, but write down the details of the two conversations you have already had. Give him a two strikes you’re out policy, and if anything similar happens again, go to your boss with it saying this has happened twice, and it’s not a good work environment. If it’s happened to you, I bet it’s happened to others, and Boss should know this is how A interacts with his colleagues and do something about it.

    26. chickaletta*

      Is your coworker the guy I just ended a relationship with? Because their reactions were very similar (I was annoyed over something he did, he took it very hard and got very offended, and when I tried to smooth things over, explain my point of view, and have a conversation about how we could try to understand each other better going forward and work through it, he had a very similar response to your coworkers. Just a complete shut down.) People like that are childish. How in the world they expect to function in society is beyond me. (Well, he has no relationships -friends, or otherwise, that have ever lasted more than a year or two that I know of. He’s completely estranged from his family too. Now I know why).

    27. Ladybugger*

      Oh sweet lord, this gives me anxiety left over from a coworker I had who was JUST like this. It came to us having to have mediation with our respective bosses, and he would say something like “You gossip about me with the managers!” and would say, I don’t do that, what makes you say that? And he would say “Well let’s just keep this about work, I don’t want to talk about personal things.” Conveniently, he had JUST accused me of something pretty major but oooh no now we couldn’t delve into it because it was “personal”. Any issue I had with him was “personal”, while any issue he had with me was purely work-related, of course. It was gaslighting, manipulative bullshit from the word go.

      Anyway, I’m quite happy you’re keeping your distance with this coworker, but don’t be surprised if he pulls you back into his web of drama sometime soon. Document everything.

  6. Exhausted Trope*

    Wow, Luna, your coworker sounds like a gigantic arse! I’d never ever want anything close to a personal relationship with him after this.

  7. BRR*

    I’m not going to try and convince you to stop being friendly with him (or the others), but I do want to point out two things that are in your best interest:
    -It’s important to separate friendliness and politeness/professionalism. This might involve insincere, short responses but generally there is an expectation to be professional and polite to coworkers.
    -If you shut one out and the other two follow, it might end up hurting you to have three coworkers not enjoy working with you. Unless they’re all known for being difficult to work with, you might end up being perceived as the difficult one and it could have negative ramifications for you. I’m not saying that’s how things are, I’m only saying what might happen.

  8. Sabrina Spellman*

    My boss always likes to use this saying: you don’t have to like each other, but you do have to work together so respect is required.

    1. LKW*

      Respect is earned, but I’ll grant you that behaving respectfully is always required.

      1. sunshyne84*

        Why does respect need to be earned? How do you even decide someone has made themselves respectable? Why don’t you just respect everyone until they deem themselves unworthy? That phrase never made sense to me.

        1. Temporarily Anon*

          I used to teach middle school, and I had to have a conference with one of the parents within the first two weeks because of his son’s behavior, including tampering with my personal property. Both parents attended the conference and brought their son; the father was the only one who spoke, and he led with “I’ve already told Eddie that he does not owe you any respect until you have earned it; as of yet, you have not done anything to earn it.”

          I’ll start with a basic respect that assume that anyone I work with has the appropriate qualifications to do his or her job, and that he or she is not a flaming jackhole. Both those opinions can be lowered based on observation, though.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            At some point Eddie will decide that his father has done nothing to earn Eddie’s respect. Dad just shot himself in the foot with that one.

          2. Anne (with an “e”)*

            You know there are many people whom I don’t “respect,” but, that does not entitle me to be rude or disrespectful to them. I was taught to be “polite” to everyone.

            Eddie’s father is setting Eddie up for failure. If Eddie is learning that he can be actively rude to everyone he encounters until those people “earn” Eddie’s respect, I predict that Eddie will have an extremely challenging, stressful life.

            1. Temporarily Anon*

              I was flabbergasted, but pointed out that all of the students were expected to follow the established classroom and school rules, and that doing things like taking items from my desk to hide in his classmates’ bags (which he admitted to doing “just as a joke”) or refusing to complete homework assignments did not constitute “acceptable behavior.”

              That was my second year of teaching, and it turned out to be my last. In retrospect, I wasn’t all that great of a teacher, but I wasn’t all that awful of one either.

        2. DArcy*

          Respect is defined as “deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” It doesn’t make any sense at all to default to deeply admiring people as a default point of view, because that contradicts the very definition of respect.

          1. Specialk9*

            There are lots of definitions of respect, it is an incredibly complicated word with very different meanings based on usage and context. The one you’re using is narrow in a way that most don’t use it, except in specific understood contexts. A better definition for this application of the word would be “politeness, honor, and care shown towards someone or something”.

        3. En vivo*

          Exactly, give respect to all simply for their ‘quality’ of being a fellow human being. Respect in this sense shouldn’t have to be earned.

        4. NextStop*

          Sometimes when people say “respect” they mean “treat like a person”. That shouldn’t need to be earned.

          Sometimes when people say “respect” they mean “treat like an authority”. That should need to be earned.

  9. MarsupialHop*

    I need to get along with my coworkers, and I need my workplace culture to be ‘neighborly’. Not friendly, neighborly. That means I greet them with a smile, don’t leave my garbage out for them to pick up, try to not ‘park in their spaces’, give a general helping hand if needed and hope they do the same for me. None of these pleasant interactions mean that we are friends, or that I like them for who they really are, or have any curiosity about their lives. I don’t wish them harm, but I also don’t invite them into my personal mindspace.

    What matters is that we all do our jobs in a pleasant environment and we don’t waste emotional energy on resentment, envy, annoyance, irritation at each others existance.

    1. Luna*

      Yeah, I would like it if my job were more like that, honestly, with a little more distance. I didn’t want to go into too much detail about the exact type of job it is, but it’s normal for this “industry” for people to get very close. It’s cheesy in most places of employment to say “We’re like family!” but when you’ve got several sets of spouses working together and people’s social lives tend to revolve around work things too, well . . .

      1. Oxford Comma*

        I get this. I have friends who I work with. But there are people who are dangerous and Coworker A sounds very much like that. I would advise in this case, you cover with friendliness–social politeness and nothing more.

      2. Specialk9*

        I was kind of worried about that, since you said that you and your other co-worker sorted it out with hugging, crying, and protestations of how much you care about each other. I’m goggling trying to imagine this happening at any of my functional workplaces. (It totally would have happened at the alcoholic-run restaurant that was a cluster.) It’s just a really big blurring of professional lines, and blurring lines doesn’t end well all around.

  10. Chachslide*

    I agree with Alison. I used to respond in the way OP wants to and did me morning but pain and made me look immature and incorporative to my boss. It’s incredibly hard to like your coworkers all of the time. Sometimes you have to fake it. Keep your convos short but pleasant because ultimately it’s not what you think of people that matters in the workplace but what people think of how

  11. lina inverse*

    Agreed with Alison, this reaction is out of proportion to the situation. Definitely have the 2nd attempt at discussion, but if co-worker doesn’t respond well or tries to shut it down again, I could see it meriting a conversation with their boss included. The co-worker’s specific comment of not discussing the department *with their boss* is concerning and really, if communication is such an issue at this company, then having boss looped in allows folks to address the the issues of “we need to be able to talk about this” AND “what can we do to avoid the miscommunication that caused this in the first place.”

    I went through a similar-ish situation a few years ago where one of my employees overreacted to a situation and decided that she was going to give my other employees the silent treatment–apparently, a co-worker did this to her prior to my time and no one called her on it, so she thought it was ok. NOPE. I sat her down and said in no uncertain terms told her that silent treatment was not acceptable and that while I did not expect her to be friends with her co-workers, I did expect her to be civil and friendly. She was initially really reluctant and upset by this directive, but did listen and our department was much better for it. Being fake nice to people you don’t like is just one of those things we all have to suck up and do at work. And really if there is such a bad communication problem already, why make it worse?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The co-worker’s specific comment of not discussing the department *with their boss* is concerning

      This this this! I was really surprised that Alison didn’t touch on this in her answer. It’s a HUGE red flag that he doesn’t want you to talk to your boss about things that are going on in your department and it makes me wonder what else he’s hiding.

      LW, I think you should sit down with your boss and say “hey, I want to clear the air about what happened regarding Thing” and then explain the steps you took and also share Asshole Coworker’s response. If your boss is even halfway decent, that remark should be very alarming.

  12. I wish*

    “Believe it or not, a few hours after this conversation, when all of us were together, he tried to strike up a friendly conversation with me about last night’s baseball game. I no longer wish to have a friendly relationship with this coworker. I can’t fathom having friendly conversations with someone who believes I’m some kind of evil backstabber. ”

    This is the behaviour of someone who does the non-apology apology. My mother was like this. She would fly off the handle, make her point in a meaner-than-necessary way or with exaggeration, then later want to show that she wasn’t mad any more and wouldn’t hold a grudge, but without actually saying “I’m sorry I over-reacted” or anything like that. So she would bring popcorn to the TV room and ask what I was watching, and I was supposed to read between the lines and respond to her olive branch and we could get back to being cordial without any processing of That Fight. It’s not a great way to have family relationships – it’s not a great way to have work relationships either, but it’s doable. I think you are very unlikely to get any direct acknowledgement from him that he was in the wrong or that he might re-examine his behaviour going forward. But I also think that if you do change your behaviour because of this, you are the one who looks bad. Workplaces often expect superficial cordiality among all colleagues, and if you can’t follow this, you are seen as the one who isn’t a team player.

    1. neverjaunty*

      There’s superficial cordiality, and then there’s Pretending Nothing Happened, which is the thing your mom and this guy pulled.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I had a few family members play this way.
      Eventually some of them lost their minds to dementia. I have often wondered if it started with this distorted thinking where they felt they could say whatever and then later pretend like nothing happened. Adults are accountable for their words. How anyone can con themselves into believing they are not accountable is beyond me. A few of these people would rather choke and die than say “I am sorry”. Everyone noticed that they NEVER apologized for anything.

      But with everyone who played this way, I made sure I kept them at arm’s length. I was not surprised when they ended up pretty alone in life.

      1. Sylvan*

        I might just be reading your comment badly, but I really don’t think anyone with dementia got it by not holding themselves accountable enough.

      2. only acting normal*

        I don’t think that’s how early Alzheimers manifests. The social niceties breakdown comes much later (usually born of extreme confusion).

      3. Michaela Westen*

        Last I checked they didn’t know what causes dementia, but I’ve wondered about this too.
        If a person has lifelong habits of pretending things aren’t what they are, or denying obvious reality, or fooling themselves in other ways, does that make their mental health more fragile and vulnerable to dementia?
        I suppose we’ll have to wait for studies.
        One thing I’ve been told is “use it or lose it” with the brain – doing challenging mental things helps people stay sharp as they get older.

  13. Anon for this*

    OP, having been on the other side of this, believe me that Allison is correct that you will come across as chilly and hostile. And others will notice, and any consequences will fall on you. No on will think, “Joe must have overstepped,” they will wonder why you’re so hostile all of a sudden. The colleague who froze me out, also became hostile to others in the department, and was eventually fired — there were some existing performance issues, and the hostility was the last straw for our boss. (I realize that this part may not apply to you.)

    So please give your colleague a chance to clear the air, and for your own sake don’t let this incident color your reactions to him.

    1. Jennifer*

      I dunno, the guy at work who freezes me out, well, nobody other than me has seemed to notice. But I’m guessing since I’m his only target and he talks to everyone else, versus your dude was hostile to many others, that he can get away with it.

      I think I’d just be (barely) polite and say “fine” and otherwise say as little as possible to this dude, myself. As someone else said above, back against the wall when he’s around.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, freezing out everyone is only going to burn you, OP. Pompous A will continue on as usual.

  14. LQ*

    In addition to the other stuff, sometimes it’s helpful to just sort of keep in mind the …”You’re not the boss of me.” attitude. I have a coworker, Sally,who gets overly picky about things, she really is trying to do the right things, but she’s very very rigid. Another coworker Jack cares WAY too much about what Sally thinks, Sally’s senior and can assign work, but is NOT Jack’s boss. Jack doesn’t report to Sally. Sally doesn’t make promotion decisions, raise decisions, or any of the rest. But Jack just can’t seem to hold onto that and sort of let Sally’s attitude about showing up 2 minutes late roll off his back. Sally’s not the boss of you. Shrug and keep doing a great job yourself. You can even still be pleasant with Sally. (Strong second on the talk about the weather or whatever, keep it not personal.) But an arms distance from caring about what your Sally thinks can help a lot.

  15. aebhel*

    I have a coworker who has a bad habit of biting people’s heads off and then being chatty and friendly an hour later like nothing ever happened. The first time it happened to me I was completely taken aback–she’d literally just blew up at me and now she’s trying to chat about my kids? WTF?? and was pretty chilly to her. It was awkward and terrible.

    Over time, I’ve figured out that it usually works better if I call out her behavior in the moment. I don’t argue with her, I just tell her, ‘look, I get that you’re frustrated/upset about [X], but you don’t need to speak to me like that. Please stop.’ Or, in a case like yours, ‘Actually, I’m still kind of taken aback by how you spoke to me earlier, and I’d rather not talk about baseball right now. Let’s just focus on work.’

    Usually, it works. If your coworker is an otherwise reasonable person, directly confronting him on his behavior, without arguing about whatever it is he’s upset about, may wake him up to how out of line he was. Or maybe not. But at least this way it’s all out in the open.

    Going forward, I’d recommend polite, pleasant non-answers to any non-work related issues.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      I used to work for a guy like that. He’d chew someone out, they’d go away to lick their wounds, and shortly thereafter he’d be looming over their cubicle wall, asking how the family was. Oh, he was 6’3″, and the cubicle walls were such that he could comfortably look down at you when he decided to chat.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I had a boss like this who ran hot and cold. And you are right, it’s all about having the presence of mind to say something effective in the moment. It takes practice and it’s easy to make mistakes. But once you get it figured out, what to say and find your own voice then it’s very effective. These types of people will give you less crap than they give other people.

    3. Specialk9*

      ‘Actually, I’m still kind of taken aback by how you spoke to me earlier, and I’d rather not talk about baseball right now. Let’s just focus on work.’

      This is a beautiful script.

  16. Amethystmoon*

    I would be careful. I once had a male coworker who had issues with women in general. If you aren’t at least properly polite at work, your manager could put it in your review. But I really dislike this idea of forced niceness at work, especially of women to men. It’s yet another sign that we still aren’t truly living in an equal society.

    Be polite as you have to be without getting in trouble. I however don’t think you should have to go out of your way to make conversation with someone you don’t want to.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yup, good point. You will get penalized more than he will and he’ll probably report you to boot because it affects him.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Properly polite can work into do NOT say anything that you would not repeat to the boss word for word. Talk as if the boss is standing beside you.

      “Pompous A, you know… that is kind of NOT cool. We work together as a team. We all need each other in order for each one of us to bring home a paycheck.”

      In this example what is Pompous going to do? Tell the boss that you said you all have to work together as a team? Wow, he is going to look like he is from a different planet if he complains about that to a boss. Talk as if the boss hears every word.

  17. mcr-red*

    I have had some times where for my mental health, I needed to shut down the friendly. It took everything I had in me to make sure I was at work and doing my job. Chatting with co-workers about the latest episode of American Idol or whatever, not on my radar. So I don’t see anything wrong with pulling back for awhile. No one was angry with me and I didn’t get written up or anything. If they came to me with a work-related question, I was always polite. If they said good morning to me, I said good morning back. But I didn’t go out of my way for a friendly conversation as I wasn’t up to friendly conversations with anyone.

    I’d say be focused on work, say hello or whatever, and be polite. You don’t have to be friends with your coworkers.

  18. Robin Sparkles*

    You already updated so sounds like things worked out well. I did notice in both the letter and your update that you mention wearing your emotions on your sleeve. This is something to be aware of in future interactions. You may think you are holding it in but you may be coming across as very upset. I also noticed how you talk about your coworkers-and it seems that you may have stronger reactions to things than warranted. For example, your initial instinct was to cut everyone off rather than directly call out the first coworker. When you had the conversation with the other coworker, you mention crying and hugging to resolve it. Each of these in isolation is fine and it happens. We are human beings after all. But because you had a few instances of this, if any of this sounds like it could be a pattern, it may be worthwhile to give yourself a few minutes before reacting. Maybe next time, when faced with a frustrating situation, take a break -walk away -take five deep breaths – whatever works! Then have the necessary conversation in a calm controlled voice.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have worked with people like this guy. They actually thrive on upset. There is always upset around them. Aim for insisting on logic, OP. This will help you to think along logical lines too and you can better control any upset you might feel. This is because you make yourself channel that extra energy into using logic to derail the dude.

      Remember on the inside he is a 100 times more emotional than a most people. That is why he is the way he is. He has to put himself first because he worries or feels threatened or whatever. He has a rationale for this if you ask him. (You don’t have to ask him if you don’t want to.)

    1. Justin*

      But yeah, sounds like you have an answer: be wary and distant from him, focus on the others who don’t seem so bad.

        1. annakarina1*

          I think it’s a reference to the Real World from the 90’s with Puck, who was the resident asshole and an early reality TV star for being the “love to hate” villain. Others can correct me if I’m wrong.

  19. LibraryBug*

    Tangential question to this letter:

    Is there any way to repair or improve work relationships when you have already been cold? I’ve been so frustrated with my boss that I haven’t been particularly chatty. I’ve been trying to clarify exactly what is needed and keep notes (she has a tendency to be vague and then be upset with the final product) but this comes across as petulant, I think. I plan to jobhunt soon, so I’ve stopped letting the micromanagement etc. get to me. But have I ruined my chances of this being civil until I leave?

    1. Bea*

      You can only control yourself.

      After I found a new job my last two weeks were spent being my old self because I let go of all the crap I was seething on. So you can just act the way you want, in this case be warm and friendly enough. Then see how others react.

      My old boss was clearly rattled that I went from Insta-withdrawn after our fallout to my regular joking, laughing self. There’s a reason why I didn’t speak to him on what turned out as my last day when I made rounds to say goodbye to the people that I do miss working with. But it also feels good that I didn’t just slither through the very end miserable and closed off.

      1. LibraryBug*

        I like that, it’s always a good reminder to get out of your own head. It’s so much easier to act like a person when you’re not seething, like you said.

    2. MarsupialHop*

      It is never too late to be politely pleasant. You can start by making small changes.
      (1) acknowledge everyone with brief eye contact, and either good morning or a nod.
      (2) when you see your coworkers, or when you enter a room, make eye contact and smile. This will give the impression that you are pleased to be there, pleased to see them. (Are you really pleased? Only you truly know)

      While I’m a big fan of ghosting (who isn’t?) — you don’t work in a haunted house. Think about how the coworkers you admire act. Are they heads down grunters? Probably not. While there are plenty of times I’ve wanted to be invisible and get the job done and disappear at the end of the day, at no time have I ever wanted my coworkers to think “I will ignore MHop as if they were invisible, and boy do I wish MHop would disappear”)

      Benevolent distancing. Pleased to see you, nice job on the xxx, have a good evening.

      1. LibraryBug*

        Thank you for the tips! As a fairly shy person I’ve always struggled with the eye-contact portion but I’m glad to hear I can make some strides toward being a more friendly coworker/supervisee.

        1. Specialk9*

          My policy is to always stand tall and have a very slight smile on my face when I’m any public area of work – hallways, bathrooms, caf, etc. I really think it impacts how people register me, without even talking to me. It’s a good strategy for shy people, no need to even talk to someone!

        2. MarsupialHop*

          In general, shy people often want to stay out of the spotlight. They avoid eye contact, they stay on the edge of interactions. They try not to expose themselves to the scrutiny of others, heads down, eyes on own paper.

          This has the unintended affect of making their coworkers feel invisible, unseen. It isolates coworkers from them. Coworkers feel like they shy person is avoiding them for some reason that has to do with feelings about coworkers, not the shy persons feeling about theirself.

          And the feared spotlight is not really that bright. Think about this — do you remember every single person who greeted you last week. How about who said hello to you three Tuesdays ago? You don’t. But you do have faint ideas as to who is pleasant to work with, even if you can’t remember if they said “good morning” to you last February 18th.

          People deserve to be acknowledged. This is true for your coworkers, for your mail carrier, for the cashier at the store, for the lady who held the door open for you. Don’t let your shyness, your fear of being observed – make you penalize the people around you. You don’t have to reveal yourself, you are not obligating yourself to deeper interaction. You just have to lift your head up and make eye contact and make an effort to acknowledge (nod, smile, wink, say hello, say hey, say w’sup, whatever works for you). These types of interactions are not a spotlight – they are fireflies of kindness. And we all want to live in a kind world.

  20. gk*

    The fact of the matter is that he is your COWORKER. Not your boss and not in charge of you and your behavior at the office. He has no right to chastise you like that and he put you in a corner so you couldn’t defend yourself. You were trying to do your job and did the right thing by seeking support and authorization so your work could continue in everyone’s absence.

    Please let your actual manager know what happened that day and ask what you should do if this occurs again in the future as COWORKER was very upset about how you handled things and you were very taken aback by his reaction (Then you can really throw him under the bus!!). His behavior needs to be checked and you need to follow the proper channels to protect yourself. He obviously got chewed out by someone for not taking care of his responsibilities before he did THING.

  21. Airy*

    His emphasis on “Don’t tell anyone what goes on in our department, including our boss” raised my eyebrows. It could just be about the current situation, but I wonder if he’s also up to something else that means he really doesn’t want the boss’ attention on their department. Keep your eyes peeled for shenanigans.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I’d have to find ways to push back on not telling the boss.

      “Gee, why not?”
      “Good luck with that. I really don’t have to say anything but someone WILL.”
      “I can’t help you with that.”
      “Too late. Boss probably already knows.”
      “Yeah. Right. Okay. I am on it.” /snarky tone.
      “Do a good job and no one will have to cover for you. You won’t have to worry about it.”

  22. buttercup*

    The overreacting coworker sounds like a jerk – this behavior is not normal. I don’t blame the OP for being put off. That being said, I don’t recommend isolating yourself – make sure whatever you do serves you and doesn’t hurt you in the long run.

    1. buttercup*

      I wrote the above comment before seeing the OPs update above. He is definitely a jerk.

  23. Maddie*

    You’re coworker is a huge jerk. I would not discuss anything personal with him, other than a brief reply. Keep it professional. You are entitled to go to your boss or anyone else without his permission. He’s the untrustworthy one.

  24. Bella*

    OP, read Pride and Prejudice for stellar guidance on how to have flawless manners while actively disliking someone. Heck, Darcy proposes to the person who dislikes him most, never realising he’s the butt of most of her jokes.
    Additionally, I’m always grateful when someone shows me their jerky side. Its as good as a warning bell and you can avoid getting caught out by him again. Its also interesting to see how quickly/slowly others catch on or to muse over how dramatic his downfall is going to be. You can be all wise and nod sagely when that happens that you knew it all along. Bonus points if everyone says that your suspicions were invisible because you have such impeccable manners.

  25. Bea*

    My biggest piece of actual advice is to not allow these kind of people to corner you. You deserve respect and if they refuse to use the proper tone or threaten you, tell them you’re not talking about it until they can discuss things like adults. Nobody gets to yell at you.

    I would have walked right out and be getting the boss on the phone if he’s not in the office. This is a “I’m being screamed at and I’m not to be spoken that way” thing. Since he’s so fcking concerned about his rep, screaming and abusing any co-worker is a real killer to have in their personnel file.

    But I work strictly where he would get his ass tossed to wolves and into the unemployment pool. So my tolerance is zero.

  26. wayward*

    I’d let the boss know how he’d behaved, especially since it may not be the first time, and then be civil but not overly friendly to him. You do need to be professional, but it doesn’t make sense to trust this guy.

  27. Argh!*

    I have had a few dust-ups with coworkers, though they didn’t take things as personally as this person did. It’s just business, nothing personal, when resources get rerouted or I have to go outside of “channels” for something (hey, LW at least you’re allowed to talk to a coworker! We have to use a chain of command!)

    Just compartmentalize, and don’t let workplace grudges fester. You all have to live together, like family. You can’t choose your coworkers, and some are delicate flowers that can’t handle the normal things that happen at work. Shunning them teaches them nothing, and makes them feel like they’re the victim, thus reinforcing their delicate flowerhood.

    If this person fears being fired, there may be good reason for that, so sucking up and being nice may not be a burden for you for long.

  28. LGC*

    But also, I totally get LW’s perspective, and I feel like the part that stings the most (and what would have hurt me the most) was the niceness after the blowup without any apology. I mean, I know I’ve had people do Jerk Things to me and then act like nothing happened later, and I’m thinking, “dude, you are the biggest Jerkface on the planet Jerkfaceia why are you even talking to me.” I’ve even had it happen at work! It sucks and it ends up feeling really aggressive because you’re still wounded and it feels like they’re rubbing it in by pretending they’re the reasonable ones in public. (Emphasis on the fact that it feels aggressive – not that it is aggressive!)

    And then I get home (or okay, I get home, do a ton of stuff, and then lay in bed stewing about it for a little while) and then realize that…I’m devoting way more headspace than they deserve to their jerky behavior. (Well, sometimes I do. Other times, I act like a petulant teenager about it.) I get the feeling that LW fired this letter off the day this incident happened – in which case, it’s hopefully self-resolving, as she was probably Super Mad about Jerk Coworker and then realized that he might have had some valid points/he was having a bad day/he actually is the Worst Person In The World and deserves none of her headspace/some other option that makes her Not As Mad.

    That said, Jerk Coworker might actually be Jerk Coworker That Realizes He Was A Jerk But Is Awkward About Apologizing For It. Which…is not great! But also rationalizes his behavior afterwards – maybe he tried to strike up a friendly conversation about baseball because he felt super awkward about blowing up on you and didn’t know how to respond! (I mean, not to stereotype All Men I am stereotyping All Men, but a lot of guys are not taught how to gracefully accept fault when they do wrong and they just kind of short circuit when they have to – look at a bunch of politicians that have to apologize for various scandals. Actually, come to think of it, although it’s usually associated as a Guy Thing, it’s definitely not just a Guy Thing.) So he might have been pulling a power move…or he might have been genuinely sorry and trying to be nice to make up for it and ended up coming off as pulling off a power move anyway. I don’t know, I can’t see inside his mind, and I wasn’t there.

    So, extremely teal deer: LW, I feel you, you can totally be mad at him in the moment and think he’s the biggest jerk in Jerklandia, but also I hope you’ve calmed down a bit since this all went down. And he might feel awkward about it himself.

  29. SRMJ*

    If a coworker made these absurd accusations about me, refused to even consider my response, interrupted me, and then ended the conversation in the way this coworker did, I wouldn’t want a friendly relationship with this person either. The coworker’s reaction was over the top, hostile, and irrational. When people act like that and show no understanding of their behavior after the fact, that undermines their credibility as a fellow, stable adult in my eyes. That degree of volatility over something so incredibly minor is a red flag, IMO. I wouldn’t be able to trust that coworker, like, ever again. Not without an apology that exhibited an understanding of the extent of their misstep.

  30. Lynn Marie*

    If I were emperor of the world, the first thing I’d do would be to outlaw the use of the verb “confront” used to mean “have a conversation with”.

    I suspect the OP’s use of this term shows OP automatically framed this conversation as confrontational in their own mind, when the colleague may well have simply been being direct – not the same thing, but so often conflated.

    If OP had been able to step outside of the idea of being “confronted”, perhaps OP would have been able to listen to what the person may have been trying to say, respond to that instead of to the “confrontation”, been able to communicate to the colleague why Thing had been a problem, and maybe even come to an understanding about how to avoid Thing problems in the future.

    Instead, because OP thinks OP was “confronted”, OP is totally frustrated and ready to stop talking to all her colleagues. From now on, try reframing “being confronted” with “my colleague wants to have a conversation about a problem”.

    1. Lynn Marie*

      None of my above comment precludes the OP being direct also: nothing wrong with interrupting a true onslaught with “Hey, don’t do Thing any more.” Using your dog trainer voice.

    2. Trust Your Instincts*

      The problem with that is that a conversation has two sides, and the coworker shut it down before OP could say her piece. If you go up to someone and say you didn’t like something, that’s fine. If you go up to someone to call them out, then follow that up with demands not to talk to anyone else about their department, then shut down the “conversation”, that’s the very definition of a verbal confrontation. I don’t think telling OP to reframe it as a direct conversation would change anything.

  31. Nicole*

    Is it possible to pull the coworker into a meeting with you and your boss? His behavior needs to be addressed (including dictating to you what you can and can’t tell your own boss!), but you should also be having a discussion about what happened that left you high and dry in the first place. Whether you like it or not this may be a Thing that happens again in the future, and you should be properly prepared for it to avoid situations like this again.

  32. Pollygrammer*

    I think there might be a more charitable interpretation of OP’s coworker than most people here are suggesting. (Sociopath? Really??)

    This is something that happened once.

    People lose their tempers, they let other stresses get to them, they say dumb things and make dumb accusations in the heat of the moment. They should apologize, but they don’t always. They sometimes misremember themselves as acting a lot more reasonably than they actually did. They may be embarrassed. They may genuinely think that these things just sort of fade out of memory.

    A guy can be a hothead or a dummy or a jerk, but IMO ordinary jerk-ness is worthy of some caution, but not of seething hatred or diagnoses of personality disorders.

    1. Indie*

      I’m definitely more inclined to agree with you than with ‘sociopath’; yet I think OP is still entitled to give him side eye. Even if bad behaviour only happens once, even if there are human failings behind it; he’s an adult. Adults tend to discover that x behaviour = y consequences. Besides it’s not like it’s even possible to change how you *feel* about an interaction. Her response and behaviour is the only thing she can control – exactly whaat he should

    2. LGC*

      Well…if you read her update, things get worse. (Which I missed the first time myself! But basically, she went to follow up with him and his response was literally, “I’M NOT HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS.” Like he was the villain on a bad early oughts reality TV show.)

      Like, I think that he’s not an axe murderer or Bernie Madoff or whatever (what you think of when you normally use the term sociopath). But he literally admitted that he’s trying to manipulate people at his job to LW.

      1. Indie*

        ” the villain on a bad early oughts reality TV show”
        Very funny! I think you would enjoy Cap’n Awkwards thoughts on reality shows…

  33. Jaxie Carvallo*

    Would it be possible to write an article without the unnecessary swearing? I’m sure other words could have been used. I cannot take someone seriously if they’re unable to construct a sentence without resorting to profanities. I look forward to your explanation. Thank you.

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