my coworker gives everyone the silent treatment for weeks

A reader writes:

I have a coworker, Jane, who deals with conflict in strange and alienating ways. Recently, she’s been giving people the silent treatment on and off. It makes meetings tense, and she tends to keep it up for days or weeks at a time before spontaneously deciding she’s speaking to her coworkers again. She refuses to speak with me and others about necessary work matters until she calms down, and she makes a point of making meetings as tense as possible, up to and including only responding to direct questions from our supervisor.

In the past, I’ve tried reaching out with, “Hey, I’m not sure what’s going on but I’m sorry that I upset you – can you let me know how I can do better?” etc. but this absolutely enrages her and she shuts down completely, thus extending the length of the silent treatment. She’s told us that she just needs to be left alone to process her feelings until she feels ready to talk to us again, but it’s honestly gotten to the point where it’s disruptive to my direct reports’ and my workflow as well as really bad for morale. Not to mention, she refuses to tell anyone what upset her in the first place so no one has the ability to fix it.

I’ll be on-boarding a bunch of seasonal staff soon, and we’re heading into our busy season. I just don’t have the bandwidth for her mini-tantrums and I don’t want our new temps to feel tension or negativity right out of the gate (attrition is a problem, so it’s important that we keep them happy to the extent we can). Jane and I have the same supervisor so I’ve mentioned this to her, along with the steps I’ve taken to handle this on my own (talk to her, give her space when feasible but it’s not always feasible). Our supervisor’s been sympathetic but mentioned Jane has had such a long tenure here that basically she’ll be here until she retires and there’s not a lot we can do about her attitude. I’m feeling really stuck. I love my job, and I can’t imagine leaving over this, but there just has to be a better way to deal with this issue that I’m just not thinking of. What are your thoughts?

I have two main thoughts: Jane is a toddler, and your manager is at least as much of a problem as Jane is, if not more.

Jane’s behavior is, of course ridiculous. She doesn’t have to socialize and chit chat with people at work if she doesn’t want to, but it’s unacceptable to refuse to talk to people about work issues. She’s essentially saying “I’m going to opt out of doing my job for the next few weeks.” She’s a huge problem.

But your manager? Who sees all this right in front of her and apparently is in meetings where it happens and won’t address it? Who responds to requests for help about it by throwing up her hands and saying “oh well, nothing I can do about it”? She’s a huge problem too. Like Jane, she too is opting out of doing a key part of her job, which should include telling Jane in no uncertain terms that her behavior is unacceptable and if she wants to stay employed, she needs to talk with people about work matters, period.

So we have two people on work strikes here, although one of them probably doesn’t realize she’s doing it. (Overly passive and/or inept managers who decline to manage tend to just think “what a pain, but I can’t think of anything that can be done,” rather than deliberately setting out to abdicate responsibility … but the result is the same.)

So, what can you do? You’ve got two options, and you’ll probably end up needing to use a combination of both.

1. Call Jane on her behavior. When she ignores a work question, walk over to her desk and say, “I need the answer to X” and then stand there waiting. If she refuses to respond, then say, “You don’t need to socialize with me if you don’t want to, but you do need to continue doing your job. How would you like me to get X from you?” Similarly, if she’s being rude in meetings, call it out: “Jane, you’re the one best equipped to answer this question. Can you please respond to Bob?”

She may still stay determinedly silent, but by calling it out, you’ll make what she’s doing look even weirder and more awkward, and it will look even worse that your manager is sitting by silently.

By the way, I would drop the “sorry I upset you, what can I do better” stuff. That’s a fine approach for people who will open their mouths and engage, but with someone acting as ridiculous as she is, I wouldn’t cater to it that way. She’s being enough of an ass that she’s forfeited any right to that kind of coddling.

2. Push the problem over to your/her manager as much as possible. Jane won’t respond to work questions or is holding up workflow? Shift straight over to her manager — “Jane won’t answer this, so can you tell me how to get X?” … “We need X from Jane before we can move forward and she won’t speak to anyone. How do you want us to proceed?” … etc. Hell, you can do that in meetings while Jane is sitting right there. There’s no need to protect her from feeling the awkwardness of what she’s doing.

By taking everything Jane won’t deliver or answer straight to your/her manager, you’ll hopefully make your manager feel more of the brunt of Jane’s behavior … and if she has so little shame / so little ability to function as a manager that it doesn’t move her to deal with Jane, you’ll at least be transferring the problem over to her plate. And since she’s speaking to people, you’ll presumably get at least some sort of answer.

I suspect #1 won’t get you very far (but is still worth doing), and you’ll end up at #2. Then you can see what happens once more of this is falling on your boss to deal with.

Meanwhile, though, don’t lose sight of how utterly not-okay Jane’s behavior is. It’s crazy that your office boss is tolerating it, and it sucks that the rest of you have to put up with it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 376 comments… read them below }

  1. 5 Leaf Clover*

    This is FASCINATING – I am dying for more details, OP please do keep up posted on how it plays out when you follow this excellent advice!

    1. Myrin*

      Right? How deliciously bizarre yet infuriating at the same time! And I love me some good advice that starts with “[Your coworker” is a toddler” – I definitely snorted.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Yes – absolutely want an update on this. Even if you feel like you haven’t made much progress – this is a great one for updates!

          1. PhylllisB*

            Is there anyone higher up the chain in your office? If these things don’t seem to work, try escalating.
            As for as the new workers, I think I would give them a heads up from the get-go. Let them know this is just the way she is, and it’s not personal. (Meanwhile trying to halt it.) Tell them that if they encounter any problems, loop you or supervisor in.

            1. Arya Snark*

              Yes to this – I have a report that had a tendency to give the silent treatment now and then and it made all the difference in the world when I told another report that it wasn’t anything she caused.

              For what it’s worth, the problem EE was put on a PIP for this and other reasons. She was told that she didn’t have to be social but the silent treatment was unacceptable in no uncertain terms. Things have improved immensely since then – she’s not social (and that’s OK) but she does interact and her responses are now back to being consistently multi-syllabic.

    3. NoLongerSleepDeprived*

      I use to work with somebody who acted just like this. Calling her out on the behavior only made it worse. I brought it up with my manager who said “that’s just her.” I replied that acting like a 2 year old at work was not acceptable behavior and she needed to put her grown up pants on. Said tall toddler was the managers step daughter.

      Every time it happened after that my manger would end up having to talk with her because everyone complained. I feel your pain OP.

  2. Patricia*

    Letter writer, please please please send us an update after you’ve tried the techniques Alison has suggested!

      1. Hills to Die on*

        The more awkward, the better. Let it just hang in the air. Let that elephant in the room trample all over the conference room table. Then ask yor manager how she wants to handle the missed deadline (or whatever). Try to make sure it’s a very big meeting. I need this and am already relishing your update. :P

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yes. It’ll feel weird, but fight the urge to smooth things over. Just remember: it’s not your elephant. You’re just releasing her elephant so it can return to her where it belongs.

          1. ProducerGal*

            I work with people who are so afraid of temporary discomfort, so employees like this go unchecked and even promoted!

          2. NYCJessa*

            This is GENIUS “Just remember: it’s not your elephant. You’re just releasing her elephant so it can return to her where it belongs.” I love it.

      2. smoke tree*

        Yeah, it’s a weird sort of power play on Jane’s part, and the manager has set the tone for allowing her to spread a miasma of stress and unpleasantness around the office, but I think it will sap Jane of a lot of her power if coworkers just refuse to be bothered by it.

    1. Det. Charles Boyle*

      Ditto!! I want to hear all the details! I can’t believe Jane gets away with acting this way! Can you imagine what it’s like being her spouse or child? Awful.

      1. fposte*

        It’s interesting to try to get into Jane’s head here. I’m thinking anger, hurt, and resentment that don’t subside the way they do for most people, and a history that means this is the only way to signal them that gets any result. Maybe in cooler moments she realizes that this isn’t a good approach, but when the tidal wave hits she just goes to what she knows.

        1. Zweisatz*

          Yeah, that’s a pretty good summary of why I was like this… right after I moved out from my parents… after which I immediately started working on myself because I knew it wasn’t functional.

          Drawing on my experience from the other side, OP: Yes to not giving in (by apologizing), yes to treating her with normal adult expectations (ignoring the subtext of her being mad, posing work questions matter of factly), yes to calmly stated consequences (redirecting your requests to the manager).

          This behavior tries to externalize internal coping processes; she should speak up and/or self-soothe if something doesn’t work out as expected. Instead she waits until enough groveling/punishing silent treatment has happened to make her feel better.
          Don’t participate in this. You’re not her therapist or punching bag.

          Be the Teflon pan of healthy adult boundaries and emotional regulation.

          1. Ealasaid*

            “Be the Teflon pan of healthy adult boundaries and emotional regulation.”

            I need this on an inspirational poster.

          2. Nervous Nellie*

            Zweisatz! Brilliant. I see cross-stitched samplers for everyone as holiday gifts! :)
            Your mention of being matter-of-fact nails it. Folks are at work to work on things/tasks/facts, NOT feelings. Employees are paid not only to get the job done, but to get along with each other (which facilitates the former).
            I hugely appreciate your eloquence and insight.

        2. Queen of the File*

          I had a former colleague like this and I would say this is pretty accurate to how I understood her behaviour. It was a combo of constantly perceiving slights from people (an attitude that everyone was out to get her) and really poor coping mechanisms for the anger/fear/defensiveness that came along with that.

          1. NoLongerSleepDeprived*

            I had a co-worker just like this. She always felt slighted about something and would sometimes go on these weird power trips. During weird power trips she would bully or leave notes basically insulting her co-workers. I usually received the weeks on end silent treatment because she learned really fast I would call out her behavior. Honestly, I came to the conclusion that she must be one of life’s constantly miserable people.

          2. Arya Snark*

            Same here. Everyone is out to get her and everything is perceived through a lens of intense negativity. Case in point: new EE was hired for a new position to help take on some of my tasks so I could focus on other things. The problem EE’s immediate response was pouting, followed by asking when her last day was because she assumed I was “getting rid of her”

        3. uranus wars*

          I wonder if she somehow gets off on the “what can I do to earn my way back into your graces?” and making life hard on people.

          Or I wonder if you are right and its a conditioned response — but for it to go on for WEEKS and not just a small amount of time is what is fascinating to me here.

        4. Someone Else*

          I suspect that Jane may be thinking if she were to say anything before WhateverItIs subsides, she knows enough to know she’d regret it. So it’s some sort of mechanism intended to stop herself from blowing up. Except it goes on for far too long. And what she hasn’t quite realized is that what she’s doing is just as unprofessional as whatever she’s suppressing, so she’s not really helping herself here. Except maybe she is if the managers are not applying consequences either way. It’s also possible she’s being actively silent intending to get a particular result. Those are the two main reasons I’ve encountered other people doing this before (although not in a work setting). Half were trying to not say something they’d never be able to take back, and the other half were trying to get a particular reaction.

          1. GlitsyGus*

            Exactly. If she needs an hour and a walk around the block because she knows her temper is a problem? Great, do what you need to do, we’ll all give you that space. “Cooling down” for four days, though, is not at all acceptable. It also goes way past “cooling down” and into “I am now punishing you for doing something I did not like.”

      2. Birch*

        Can confirm, being treated like this as a family member is terrible. The key is not to play into it. People who treat you like this enjoy seeing you cower and grovel because they like having the power to make you feel bad and not know why. It’s deep gaslighting.

        But in an office setting? I love the idea of really milking the awkwardness of the moment, especially in a meeting. Even better if everyone is quiet and stares at her, waiting for her to respond. Then, in a condescending teacher voice, say “We’ll wait till you’re ready to join the meeting, Jane.”

        Seriously, treat her like a problem child. Be painfully positive but also stern. Do not play along. Insist on acting like a flipping adult and not one who is getting sucked into this bizarre mind game!

        1. fposte*

          I’d counsel away from the condescending and finger-wagging, though, in real life. This isn’t about visibly punishing Jane or shaming her into things, and it’s important to remain professional.

          1. serenity*

            I’m sorry, but cold-shouldering colleagues is behavior not worthy of punishment? I’m guessing you mean that it shouldn’t come from OP, right? Because there is no argument I can make for not shutting down this behavior, in public if need be, from Jane’s manager.

            1. fposte*

              Punishment isn’t an appropriate thing to give to a co-worker in the workplace, period, and it’s often pretty questionable to give to a report. You’re solving problems, not teaching people lessons.

            2. Kelly AF*

              Adults should never punish other adults. (Outside of some sort of consensual situation, I suppose?) There’s nothing wrong with allowing others to experience the natural consequences of their actions — like here, where giving people the silent treatment results in awkward interactions — but that’s not the same as punishment.

            3. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Let’s not conflate “not protecting Jane from the consequences of her actions” with “punishment”. It’s appropriate to (calmly and unemotionally) not accept responsibility and deflect or even refuse any blame for the productivity and social issues that Jane causes, but the point is not to punish her, it is merely to stop enabling her behavior. She is a classic missing stair, and they need to stop stepping around her.

              1. aebhel*

                Right. At the moment, it seems like everyone is working around Jane, and thus enabling her to continue her weird and inappropriate behavior. Asking a colleague direct questions and allowing all the awkwardness of her ignoring you to your face to fall in HER lap is not punishment; it’s a totally predictable outcome of the weird mind games she’s trying to play.

              2. CristinaMariaCalabrese (do the mambo like-a crazy)*

                ^^This. Responding to her behavior as bizarre and inappropriate is NOT punishment; it’s the logical consequence of her actions.

                1. fposte*

                  Totally agree with that. It’s the being consciously condescending while you do it that would be out of line–that’s done to make her feel a certain way, not to fix the situation.

          2. Birch*

            Eh I think it’s totally possible to be condescending and simultaneously icily professional. Jane is forcing people to treat her like a child by making really obvious requests that she do her job.

            1. fposte*

              You can maintain a professional manner, but being deliberately condescending in order to make somebody feel rebuked isn’t a professional action. A decent manager would pull you up for doing it.

              1. fposte*

                And, you know, that’s another ripple effect of the likes of Jane–she spurs other people into behaving the way they shouldn’t at work. Yet another reason why her manager’s failure to manage is damaging.

                1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  Oh, man, this is an excellent point. Which makes me lean towards LW somehow addressing it with the temps as not being a model of appropriate workplace behavior.

                2. Snark*

                  This is a fantastic, very insightful point. The harshest tone I’d take is “mildly exasperated, but keeping it professional and deadpan,” and I honestly think that’s enough.

                3. The Cosmic Avenger*

                  Of course. It’s horrible for morale to know that a peer can get paid roughly the same (and in all likelihood more, since the flimsy pretense the supervisor uses for ignoring her tantrums is that she has seniority) as you and do no work for periods of time. It can make peers feel like suckers for working hard for the same pay as Jane. Even diligent people can think “I wish I could just do nothing and get paid, too”, even if their conscience doesn’t let them.

                4. Rectilinear Propagation*

                  Reminds me of the LW that ended up shoving or punching a co-worker after being in a toxic workplace for too long. Getting snarky would be stage 1 of the place making you more toxic.

                1. fposte*

                  Yeah, I was thinking that. OP could probably do a lot of things she shouldn’t without getting her manager’s attention, but she still shouldn’t.

              2. Birch*

                It’s not being deliberately condescending intending to make Jane feel bad, it’s about acknowledging that having to ask an adult to behave like an adult at work would come across as condescending to any reasonable person, but clearly Jane isn’t reasonable and it’s only feeding her power trip to try and hide that resultant awkwardness. I don’t think our definitions of “condescending” are the same, so I’ll emphasize that I meant to be very blunt in asking Jane to do her job, without any of the softening or pussyfooting that would usually come along with workplace awkwardness. The only way to deal with people who use this kind of emotional abuse as a weapon is to not back down.

                1. fposte*

                  It’s the “condescending teacher voice” that would be out of line, since that’s not a voice to use with work colleagues. But straightforwardly using your words rather than dancing around–that I’m absolutely on board with.

                2. Decima Dewey*

                  Jane has to stop with the silent treatment. It’s interfering with workflow. “Manager, we need X done so that Important Project can go forward. X is Jane’s job, but she’s not speaking to us and won’t say why. Where do we go from here?”

              3. OhGee*

                Agree. I have a coworker who can be very frustrating (not completing tasks for weeks at a time, repeatedly) and when I’ve been nasty/condescending/unkind about it as a result of my frustration, I’ve both not gotten the results I need *and* been chastized by my manager. But when I’ve been very direct and firm about it (“This project was supposed to be completed by last month, and then we changed the date to this month because you forgot to do it, and you still haven’t done it. It must be done by X date. [Silence.] Do you understand?”) I’ve gotten the result I needed and have been backed up by my manager. I can be very petty in my head, but I’ve learned over and over that it doesn’t do any good to give voice to those feelings.

              4. Jojo*

                Asking a job related question is not being condescending. It is being professional and expecting. Them to be professional also. I have delt. With something like this. A person at work would not anewer my work question. I said. Mr manager I am unable to do my job. Please ask mr. B this question.

        2. AKchic*

          I would be so tempted to say “Jane, if you’re not emotionally equipped to participate in today’s meeting, you should really excuse yourself from the room” but I know that is counterproductive and overly parental. She doesn’t need a parental hand, she needs to be called out and let it be shown that this behavior is not tolerated (any longer) and that she needs to act like an adult and the other adults are sick of her ish.

            1. AKchic*

              I know. Fantasyland me has lots of dreams. Lots of would-be conversations and snark. Fantasyland me is not as polite or office appropriate as work me, and work me is only borderline appropriate some days.

          1. Jojo*

            Ask her the question I n a meeting. If she will not answer then say” Mr manager. Please fiND out from Jane if her part of the probject will be done by next Tuesday so the rest of can put our input together for the final report”.

        3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          I would be so, so tempted to say “Jane, this is a work issue. I need you to use your words.” In the exact voice you would use with a toddler. But… probably not a good idea.

        4. Zombeyonce*

          I don’t think it’s OP’s place to effectively stop a meeting to wait for no answer from Jane and saying no one’s going to do anything until she answers. It’s one thing to ask her something and wait a moment to then as the manager, but LW is Jane’s peer, not her supervisor, and I don’t think she’s in charge of this meeting.

          Also, while everyone in the room (minus the manager) might enjoy the awkward pause while Jane doesn’t answer, no one is going to want to sit and stare at her for minutes while they wait for OP to announce it’s time to move on. It’s just not her place to do this.

          1. fposte*

            Yup. Somebody must have coined a name for the reverse of the missing stair phenomenon, when instead everybody is focused on solving the particular problem instead of focusing on the mission. (Eastern 401, maybe, for the flight that crashed because the crew was all focused on a burnt-out lightbulb?) That needs to be avoided too.

          2. GlitsyGus*

            Very true, but she can choose to not intervene. Chances are not everyone will do this, but the OP can say “Jane would be the one with that information…” and let it hang. If the manager or someone else chooses to move it along, then so be it, but OP can opt out of scrambling to fill the silence.

        5. Wherehouse Politics*

          3 possible results: 1) She bolts from the room in a dramatic flourish 2) She suddenly spits/shouts the answer with relucant red faced rage trying to startle/punish the one questioning her 3) She gives the answer with a pregnant pause, low voiced with deadly calm fake civility. All are fine as she provides the answer and/or demonstrates she’s the ass to everyone.

        6. Colin*

          Jane’s behaviour as described is terrible, but organising things with the deliberate intent of getting an entire group to turn on somebody in a meeting like that seems perilously close to bullying in response, and it’ll foster a work culture where people feel free to use that sort of tactic in other situations too. Resist the impulse to step over that line.

          I think calling out the behaviour in a meeting is fine: it’s weird behaviour that’s getting in the way of the meeting’s goals. But if/when it doesn’t elicit a response, move on rather than letting it turn into public humiliation. You’ll have made your point.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        There have been Captain Awkward letters of people writing in who’s parents do this to them, even when they were young children. She calls it out as emotional abuse and it absolutely is.

        1. RedSonja*

          Oh yes. My stepfather literally did not speak aloud to me between the ages of 8 and 16. If there was something he wanted me to know, he would tell my stepsisters or just address it to the open air.

          All of this is to say that I would NOT respond well to her behavior. AT ALL.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            Eight years?! That’s evil. The thought of it is making my blood boil. Sending and your younger self all the good thoughts and hope you’re in a very happy place now.

            1. RedSonja*

              Awwww, thank you! I am happy to report that now that he’s older and ailing, he’s trying very hard to make friends without actually apologizing and I am NOT HAVING IT. It’s super satisfying.

              1. SavannahMiranda*

                What on god’s green earth made him act that way?

                Not that it’s justified. It could never be justified. But criminey. What thin ‘explanation’ did he maintain for such cruel behavior?

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  ‘stepfather’: probably punishing RS the child for being a part of his wife’s life that is separate from him. There’s a flavor of abusers that perceive their spouse and children as part of them; they never grow up enough to perceive others as separate from themselves. They find reminders of separateness to be very uncomfortable.

                  RS, really sorry he did that to you, and that your other parent didn’t call him on it / get you to a safe place.

                2. RedSonja*

                  The reasons he gave (I asked him once why he was so awful towards me) were that I would sit in his recliner without asking him and once when I was 8 I told him that he couldn’t tell me what to do because he wasn’t my dad. So yeah. (No, nobody had ever TOLD me there were recliner rules, so….. I learned later there were also issues if you read the paper and didn’t put it back together in the “right” order.)

                  Fortunately, it was only every-other-weekend visitation, so it was really a very small part of my life. And particularly after that conversation, I realized just how absurd it was and took it for the darkly funny thing that it was.

              2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Please tell me you said, “Oh, now you want to talk?” and then hung up on him. This kind of behaviour is sadly very common and having it come back to bite someone is very satisfying indeed.

                1. RedSonja*

                  It’s only been in person at various family gatherings, and I’m coolly polite but utterly uninterested in him. Which is probably the worst thing to him – to be utterly inconsequential.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Oh, hi! My father also did this to me for the last five years I lived at home. My favorite was walking up to my mother when I was standing right there and saying, “Tell your child X.” I’m not deaf dude, and I (sadly) am biologically your child as well.

            Or the time that he did speak to me once my senior year to tell me all the ways I’d disappointed him and was dead wrong on all of them – “you didn’t get into a good college!” (um, I’m going to a better school than you did, and it’s on a number of national rankings), “your grades are terrible!” (I’m an honor graduate with a full semester of college credit already?), “you don’t have any friends!” (you mean those people I go out with every weekend?), “no man will ever want you!” (so, you’ve not met the guy I’ve been dating for a year and a half, then?). It was hilarious, I laughed in his face and told him I liked him better when he wasn’t talking to me. Thank goodness my mother’s family is more normal, and, by contrast, it made his wholly immature behavior seem absurd by comparison.

            I have a friend at work with a silent-treatment parent as well. We joke that, after growing up in that environment, there is really very little in the work world that phases us.

            1. CM*

              “It was hilarious, I laughed in his face and told him I liked him better when he wasn’t talking to me.”

              I admire you. When I got comments like this, I just cried and believed them. Your way is much healthier!

              I think that goes for the OP too — it takes chutzpah but it’s a good idea to just be like, “No, I reject this behavior, you need to give me the information I need to complete this project.”

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                I was so, so lucky to have a close relationship with my grandparents, who were normal and sane people. When you have a stark contrast of loving and abusive behavior, it *really* helps you to see that the abusive behavior is not normal and is very wrong. For me, it also gave me an escape that made my father’s behavior lower stakes. What was he going to do? Kick me out? Fine, I’d go live with normal people who spoke to me directly. Like adults.

                Growing up like this has its downsides, too, because I would probably be messing with Jane pretty hard. Like continuing to talk to her as though nothing was wrong to make her look like a loon for not responding, directly stating that it was going to be quite difficult to collaborate unless she used her words/retain staff if she was not going to be welcoming, and, when she inevitably did not do whatever it was I asked because she was ignoring me, dump it at my boss’s feet without sugaring it. (I’d also probably tell my boss that I was not able to pick up Jane’s slack, since using the path of least resistance while Jane is toddling is certainly not fair to those of us who are not acting like middle school mean girls.) And then, I’d probably get fired.

              2. Oranges*

                I think it has to do with your personality. Some people are very good at not letting other people skew their sense of reality. Other people aren’t. However for each positive there’s a negative. Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s harder for them to collaborate, or change their mind when they’re wrong since they’re rooted solidly in their reality.

                Each person has situations they’ll flourish in and wither in.

            2. RedSonja*

              I am so sorry! But isn’t it amazing how having healthy relationships with other people really highlights the absurdity of the silent person’s behavior?

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            I’m sorry she did that. It’s so hurtful to be on the receiving end of that behaviour. I hope you’re happy and well now.

        2. Amber T*

          Yes! Even in regular social (non work) situations – silent treatment is NOT OKAY. It would be one thing if someone you cared about did something to piss you off/hurt you, and you used her language of “hey, I need time to process,” followed up by words. But this is so many layers of absurd here.

        3. Health Insurance Nerd*

          Yep. My divorced parents at various points in my life have stopped speaking to me for long periods of time (I’m talking years, here) for myriad reasons, the most egregious being when I was upset after I found out about an inappropriate/abusive interaction between my daughter and stepbrother and my dad couldn’t understand why I was uncomfortable attending Christmas dinner that year. Queue three years of not speaking to me.

          1. church lady*

            My ex-husband did this. Longest silent-treatment run was a few days after the birth of our second child. I said something he didn’t like and he refused to speak to me for 11 straight weeks. Sharing the same bed, eating at the same table. I didn’t realize it was abuse until after I left him. He usually only kept it up for a week or so at a time. I suffered from depression and it took me a long time to get the right combo of talk therapy and meds. I can’t imagine what this would be like for a vulnerable child.

        4. Hills to Die on*

          I am really sorry to see all of the people who had to go through this growing up. I’m glad you are all free of it.

        5. Malice Alice*

          Yeah, that was my mom. Do something “wrong” (the details of which were always subject to change: what was okay one day wasn’t the next)/be too flippant/don’t get 90% in every class & on every test? Silent treatment. Sometimes for a straight week. As I got older, I stopped giving a fig, but it was incredibly painful as a child. And I wound up doing the same thing to my SO because I didn’t fully parse that it was a horrible way to behave. (I’ve since learned to use my words, but it took many years to fix that pattern.)

          OTOH, the learning to not care portion served me well in a previous job, where I had a coworker much like Jane, so I guess I’ve got that going for me.

          1. Serin*

            OK, so you would be one with insight into Jane’s behavior, then. When you were doing it, were you just thinking, “This is the way adults behave when they’re displeased with someone’s behavior”? Or were you thinking, “If I’m mad at someone, I shouldn’t have to talk to them until they’ve apologized?” or something else?

            1. Recovering silent*

              Before I learned to process my feelings better, my thought process was “I can’t believe they did x. They should know better. I can’t believe they’re acting like nothing is wrong. I shouldn’t have to put up with this, I’m not going to let them off the hook and help them apologize.” Then when they ask “are you mad” or “what’s wrong,” “They should know what they did.” And basically being so wrapped up in the feeling of being wronged that I couldn’t hear someone’s apology unless they really groveled and then I might believe they meant it.

              I couldn’t knock this out of my system until I stopped hanging out with people who were jerks/emotionally unintelligent, who would do things that clearly offended me and then were blindsided when it was a problem. Surrounding myself with people around whom I could be honest about my feelings was what helped me move away from this.

        6. Ja'am*

          I am currently getting this treatment from my mother. I’ve long since seen through her BS and gaslighting and tantrums, so I’m not bothered so much by it.

          I know it’s not my job to smooth things over and I think OP needs to keep that in mind as it’s not their job either. We have no emotions to shoulder. Keeping in mind how ridiculous this behavior is from a grown adult helps me keep my own emotions in check (guilt, frustration, snark, etc.) and carry on ‘business as usual’.

          1. LavaLamp*

            Growing up, the girl I was best friends with did this. Over everything. In her case it amounted to controlling the situation the only way she knew how, wanting the attention of someone trying to get her to speak with them and bad reactions to jealousy. We were like 13 so over time we all learned how to human better. I’m amazed someone who isn’t in middle school is acting this way.

            1. Ja'am*

              Maybe some people don’t grow out of it because their behavior gets reinforced, which is another reason for OP to do as Alison suggests and not ‘coddle’ them, feel bad or show it. Make them see that there are serious consequences to this behavior, espeically as an adult, /especially/ at work. Hopefully others (hopefully higher ups) will do similarly.

    2. J*

      +1 on an update – I’m actually dealing with a similar situation with a coworker of my own – one word answers, being totally ignored, not being clear about what anyone did to upset her, etc. – and I would love to hear how these strategies worked for the OP. Our manager is a bit more direct with her, but it’s still a problem that isn’t getting fixed. Everyone on our team is so weirded out by it, and the tension is palpable.

      1. Jojo*

        We had one guy at work. You could even say nice day out without it turning into an arguement. He always had to one up you. I decided not to talk to him about anything except work. No goodmorning, bye, nothing. Just you, phone, you, this your paper. Drive him crazy. In a week he was basically kissing my hinny trying to figure it out. Wored great. I kept it up 3 weeks.

  3. eplawyer*

    Jane needs the “I need you to talk to people at work about work, can you do that?” Followed by “If you can’t, we will have to discuss how to transition you out.” Jane needs to know she is expected to do her job regardless of her feelings. If she is unable to do that, she needs to not be employed. I am sure someone else would be happy to get paid for her job instead.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like the OP has the authority for the 2nd one.

      I like the public call out and shifting the burden to the manager ideas, but I’m wondering what would be the best way for LW to address this with the temps during onboarding.

      1. eplawyer*

        Sorry wasn’t clear. This was the talk for the manager to have. Unfortunately looks like the manager is taking the “count the days until Jane retires approach.”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I wonder if LW has discussed this with other colleagues and if they feel the same way. A coordinated effort to implement Alison’s advice could have an interesting impact.

          1. Not a Blossom*

            It might also help to have a large group of people go to the manager at once and detail how this is a problem. Strength in numbers and all that. I definitely think they should all try shifting the problem to the manager; hopefully she will be driven crazy enough to take action.

            1. Wintermute*

              there’s an old proverb about an old hermit who hated people that had to decide when to go into town to buy food as his would often spoil before he could eat it all: “when the bitterness of the journey was exceeded by the bitterness of the produce, he went”

        2. TheBeetsMotel*

          My guess is the co-worker has some kind of insider knowledge or a high enough experience level within her job that her manager has fallen victim to the The Place Would Collapse Without Jane workplace fallacy and the thought of her being fired means an incredible amount of work to teach a replacement all the ropes.

          That is to day, the manager is being lazy, not managing, and not thinking ahead.

    2. Seriously?*

      Or is there any way that Jane can be cut out of as many projects as possible? Not ideal since it shifts the workload onto others, but I have found it easier to do more work myself at times that work with unreliable coworkers. Or if Jane is managing people, maybe the OP can find out who on her team has the information needed and go to them instead. In an ideal world, Jane would just be fired, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. It is also possible that having job responsibilities taken away will spur her to get her act together.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        That’s a great idea. Ask your boss if you can just go ahead and do Jane’s part. Justify hiring more staff / bringing others onto your team if you end up doing it long term.

      2. Jadelyn*

        It may be unkind of me to say this, but I doubt anything will spur Jane into sorting her s*** out at this point. If you can reach the point in your career where people are talking about your retirement, while still behaving like a pouting child whose parent took their candy away, it’s too entrenched for her to be shaken out of it with anything short of *her* decision to seek therapy and learn how to healthily process her emotions.

        Because of that, I wouldn’t recommend shifting the workload around. I doubt it will help anything, and OP’s manager seems like the type who needs drastic consequences to be pushed into action – so leave the workload on Jane, let it fall through the cracks/get pushed back/miss deadlines/ruin things because of her refusal to act like an adult, and don’t absorb a single drop of that stress. Give it all to the manager, and maybe her manager. Eventually, hopefully, making it their problem will convince one of them to act.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Right. Currently, the OP and others are helping mitigate the problems for the manager by working around Jane. They need to give all that pain and annoyance back to the manager, so that the pain of not dealing with Jane is greater than the pain of dealing with her.

        2. What's with today, today?*

          It’s really hard to do that in the real world though. If my co-worker doesn’t do something, my boss still expects it to be done. If I knew co-worker left something not finished and didn’t take care of it, sure, Co-worker would get in trouble, but I would too for not taking care of the issue I knew was there.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m not saying hand it off and do absolutely no follow-up while you wait for her to start speaking to you again. You hand off the item as regular. When she doesn’t respond at all, you check back in the next day – cc’ing your manager – to make sure she got it and is handling the task/situation/whatever. When deliverables fail to return to you, you follow up with her again, always cc’ing the manager or making sure the manager is aware of it.

            If you have regular one-on-one’s with your manager, bring it up there every. time. it. happens. “So, just to give you a status update on the Vanilla Teapot development project – I haven’t been able to get the new spout schematics from Jane, and she was supposed to have those to me a week ago. I’ve made a bunch of attempts to follow up and she’s just not responding to me at all. This is holding up the rest of the project – we can’t move forward with our prototype until we get that from her. What do you suggest, since she’s not responsive to my attempts to connect?” Basically, do your due diligence – and nothing else – and then lay the resulting mess in your manager’s lap.

            It’s a nasty game of “pass the buck”, it’s manipulative as all get-out, and it’s not something I’d normally recommend – but with a chronic obstruction like Jane and a passive manager like OP has, it’s a last-resort kind of thing you can use when none of the normal, adult, professional solutions you’d normally rely on have yielded fruit.

            1. What's with today, today?*

              It just doesn’t work that way in every industry. I’m in small market radio media and if it’s Sansa’s job to download and insert the Cowboys report into the system so it airs at 12:40, but Sansa doesn’t do it, then when I’m anchoring the news at noon and notice it’s not there, I have to get it in there to make sure it airs. Sure, I can tell my manager and he’s gonna get on to Sansa, but his first question would also be “You got it in and on the air right?” and if I answered, “No, that’s Josh’s responsibility.” Well, that would not be good at all.

              1. Wintermute*

                That’s fair, and that’s reasonable for mission-critical items but in that environment you also wouldn’t have a manager that doesn’t hold people to accountables AT ALL. I presume at some point very soon in this pattern the manager would tell Sansa “only your co-worker’s dilligence has saved us from a major embarrassment twice now, this cannot happen again or we’ll have to re-evaluate whether you can perform the duties of this job and if it makes sense for you to remain employed here.”

                And if it became a REGULAR pattern without management intervention, at that point what would you really have to fear? apparently failure to actually do your job isn’t punished around there, so sometimes strategically letting something blow up a little is preferable to contorting the entire system so that you can avoid a dead weight.

          2. Nancy*

            Agree. That’s when the manager starts the “everyone needs to work together” crap, and “I expect you to get along” (but only telling you this, not the problem person).

        3. Mephyle*

          In response to “It may be unkind of me to say this, but I doubt anything will spur Jane into sorting her s*** out at this point.”.
          The advice to go around Jane isn’t meant to fix Jane, but to get the work done in spite of the roadblocks she puts in the way. ‘Seriously?’ acknowledged that it’s less than ideal, because it shifts Jane’s work onto the normal people, but it has the advantage that they’re not penalized for work they can’t get done when Jane holds up the process.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yes, and as long as the work keeps getting done and everyone keeps working around her, nothing will change. It depends on what the goal is – if the goal is to overstress everyone else in order to be able to accommodate Jane’s tantrums, sure, shift the work around so that the show can go on despite her. But if it’s to have a functional work environment, going around Jane and doing her work for her is not going to help. That just enables the bad behavior to continue.

      3. AKchic*

        Or she’d be happy to be getting paid for doing nothing. I’ve known people who have done that. Essentially act (or not act) incompetent until all of their work was transferred away from them, and they still get paid to sit at the desk because the *did* show up and answer the phone.

        Perhaps bringing the behavior to the attention of the Grandboss or HR would have a better chance at resolving the issue, since the manager is not handling it.

      4. Yojo*

        I wouldn’t want to reward her by giving her less work, but I wonder if there’s work she can be given start to finish that she doesn’t need to collaborate on? Or downgrade her responsibilities? (“Jane, since you’re not willing to collaborate on tasks that need to be done, we’re assigning you to stocking the kitchen and tidying the supply closets.”)

      5. SusanIvanova*

        Useless Coworker Coffeecup was assigned things from the “nice to have” bucket. No extra burden on us because we could live without them, although the day after he was fired I fixed a dozen of them in one morning just to prove how useless he was.

        (Turns out part of his PIP was to fix one thing from that list per day. One!)

    3. Miss Fisher*

      I think before that, there should be a way to send her home with no pay or to use her vacation time and say don’t come back until you are ready to work and act like an adult. Keep doing so until she finally stops. But if it goes on for too long after, I would go to transitioning her out. This all kinds of reminds me of that episode of there office where they brought in Idris Elba and Michael was acting like a child.

  4. JLCBL*

    I want to be able to say, This is fake, right? Surely no adult can behave this way and keep her job! But… managers who avoid conflict despite a massive poo being taken on their staff are legion.

    1. AnonyAnony*

      And it can be easy to avoid conflict when (like my employer) there’s a culture that “we’re a community/family” and long-time employees deserve loyalty solely on the basis of their number of years worked there. As if the employee doesn’t have any responsibility to still actually work and maintain a semblance of professionalism.

    2. The Original K.*

      Oh, my friend has a coworker who does this. (I was pretty taken aback by it when he told me.) My friend doesn’t care whether or not she likes him, so he freely deploy’s Alison’s second tactic and calls her on it in front of people. He frames it as “I need Toddler Coworker to get me XYZ by Friday or we won’t be on track to hit the deadline, but she refuses to speak to me. How should I proceed?” He’s actually fine with them not speaking. He just needs her to do her work so he can do his, and sometimes her not speaking means that she doesn’t do her work, and that doesn’t fly. When she’s called out, she gets pouty and huffy – but she’s taken to task enough to get him what he needs, which is all he cares about.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        He’s got the tactic down! Make it harder for them to pull their shenanigans than it is for you to deal with it. And definitely don’t take it personally or invest an iota of emotional energy into the situation.

    3. mark132*

      There have been several letters here that I honestly have rolled my eyes at. This unfortunately seems to be one of the most likely to be almost completely accurate.

      1. Susana*

        Oh, mark… I envy you. You clearly have not worked at places with wo/man-babies. I assure you, these situations exist.

    4. Jennifer*

      I work with a Jane! She will give silent treatment and we’re an office where everyone keeps their doors open but when she’s in Pout Mode she closes her door. I also tried to talk to her once about it and got a really exaggerated faux confused look “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve just been really busy. I’m sorry but I come to work to work so when I’m busy, I personally just like to concentrate on my job and work hard so I’m sorry if that bothers you” kind of a response so I gave up.

      1. ExcelJedi*

        See, I don’t see anything wrong with closing her door except lying about it after. Sometimes I’m just done with people and need to close my office door (the rest of my office are extroverts, and very very rarely do this, so it’s weird in our culture). Pulling away and isolating yourself (as possible in your job role) for a bit to regroup and get your head on straight is ok. Not communicating about that need (or not communicating at all) is not.

      2. mrs__peel*

        I don’t see anything wrong with that…? I also need to close my office door to get work done, because I get distracted by noises otherwise. Presumably, people can knock on her door if they really need something.

        From her comments, it sounds like there could a legitimate issue with other co-workers either being too loud or spending an excessive amount of time chatting about non-work-related things.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          I mean, there’s nothing wrong with with closing your office door, but it’s kind of silly to pout, give everyone the silent treatment, and then close your office door like you’re a teenager sulking in their room. And then to turn that into a sarcastic guilt trip like “jeez, sorry I’m working harder than you” as if that was the reason for closing the door!

    5. Hills to Die on*

      So. Many. Toddlers.

      One guy got mad at me because I told him to stop playing with his LIGHT SABER so loudly while we were trying to work. He had a tantrum. I went to his boss and asked him to address Todd(ler). Todd(ler) pouted and refused to speak to me or make eye contact with me ever again until I left that job (for unrelated reasons).

      1. NerdyKris*

        You just reminded me of the stuffed duckie incident. I literally had to take away someone’s giant stuffed animal, because they had spent all day posing it and taking pictures instead of doing work.

        And I got blamed by the day shift supervisors for “getting them in trouble” because I had to address it when I came in at 4pm.

        1. Jadelyn*

          So…they didn’t do their job all day, and then got mad at you because you actually did do your job when you started your shift.

          Was this a call center, perchance? It sounds like the kind of thing that would’ve happened at the call center I worked at years ago.

          1. NerdyKris*

            Yup. Call center. The day shift supervisors would constantly get upset with me for writing up people who worked across both shifts, because it would show that they weren’t doing anything.

            I wasted five years there thinking “we just need to turn this around”.

            Now I do IT for a chocolate factory and it’s awesome.

    6. NerdyKris*

      I just started to write up my experience with a person like this and it was turning into an essay.

      Yeah, they exist. Usually in dysfunctional offices that lack proper management.

    7. Ginger G*

      I definitely think it’s real. We have an employee who is acting exactly like this towards another coworker right now. She’s done that to me in the past before too when we had a disagreement over a work issue. Our previous manager t just retired a few months acknowledged that her personality was a problem but never wanted to deal with it because she does do her job well. Now we have a new boss who doesn’t really know any of us but he doesn’t seem the type to want to deal with this either. The employee on the receiving end of the silent treatment is a very kind and easygoing person who would never deliberately offend anyone. She has no idea why jerk coworker isn’t talking to her and she’s upset about it, I sent her a link to this article.

    8. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Totally real. I had an ex co-worker who would give the whole office the silent treatment whenever she felt unappreciated and then bounce in bright and bubbly when she had “processed her feelings”. After a while people stopped responding to her, she never did understand why. She got away with it because she had been there since Day One.

    9. Dr. Pepper*

      It’s very, very real. It’s a power trip move that immature narcissistic people pull to gain the upper hand in conflict. It’s astounding how many regular, otherwise rational people will let them get away with this behavior.

      1. Birch*

        Yep. Because they feed off of empathy. Rational, empathetic people will conclude that they have done something incredibly terrible without even realizing it and thus are a horrible person and beat themselves up trying to figure out what it is. Silent treatment is a weapon narcissists convince you to beat yourself with.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          Slightly OT but your first sentence is so true and the best way to describe a narcissist. I have some in-laws I’d describe as such and “they feed off empathy” is so accurate and concise And perfect. Thank you for that.

      2. CarolynM*

        I agree – I am not conflict averse, I try to remember not everyone is the same, but still … the amount of gymnastics I see regular, otherwise rational people do to appease the office PITA is surprising! It bothers me that regular, nice people have to walk on eggshells to deal with difficult people … we shouldn’t have to be miserable to cater to their temper tantrums and egos!

        In my 20s I had a coworker who thought silent treatments were appropriate punishments for everything from disagreeing with her when she was provably wrong to not doing her scut work that she tried to foist off on the rest of us. After a few days I would start “poking” her “Hey E, I am going to the kitchen – would you like anything?” and she would get red and grunt out a ‘no.” Hey E, I am headed to lunch, can I bring you back anything?” “no.” After a day of this, the silent treatment would stop – she would recognize the futility! ;)

        Current coworker (now in my 40s, so resisting the urge to get down to her level this time) gave me the silent treatment for about 2.5 months. The silence was glorious compared to the constant stream of complaints about everyone we worked with, all of our customers, her entire family and the housemates she is living with.

        She was being so immature and ridiculous and I didn’t want to be associated with it, so I carried on as usual! If I was scanning something and she walked into the room, she would huff right back out of the room … but if I needed to use the scanner after her, I would just wait quietly in the room with a neutral-to-pleasant expression on my face. In meetings with our boss, if she would complain about something and our boss wasn’t listening, I would jump in on her side if I agreed with her and argue for her. It was fun watching her grind her teeth and blush while feverishly avoiding eye contact with me as I am defending her! :)

        Another time there was a disagreement with a customer and I defended her to our boss and even heaped on some actually deserved praise – I am sure it made her skin crawl to have me win her arguments for her. I had no hesitation going into her office to talk about work issues – I just acted like there was nothing strange and dove right in. When a visiting exec showed up and they were chatting in the kitchen, I walked in for some coffee and said hello – my coworker actually grunted and rushed out of the kitchen. The exec had a weird shocked look on her face, I shrugged and changed the subject. Dude, you hate me so much you are willing to act like a weird-beard in front of someone you should try to look good in front of? Oooookay!

        I just ignored her silent treatment until it made her annoyed enough to stop acting like a toddler. But now that I am back to fielding complaints and being asked questions she could look up herself or should already know the answer to … I kinda miss the silence! LOL XD

    10. all the candycorn*

      I’ve had employees who act like turds akin to this, and I’ve been explicitly forbidden by *my managers* to do anything about it.

      The various reasons I’ve been given are: it’s too mean, they might quit and we’ll have no one, they’ve been here a long time, it might hurt their feelings, we’re really desperate for staff right now so don’t upset anyone, you’re too bossy, you should try harder to get along with them, etc., etc.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I would pay to be a fly on the wall if our HR head was referred someone who refused to speak to their coworkers about work-related things. It would be epic and awesome, and the only reason they wouldn’t be fired on the spot is that she’s have to get the employment attorney sign-off. You’d better believe it’d be done by the next day, at latest, though.

          Then, she’d want to talk to the manager about how to appropriate address these issues, note that this could not happen again, and probably write a note to their file as well.

    11. Fishcakes*

      I worked with someone who gave me the silent treatment for an entire year. She was also terrible at her job and was coddled by all senior staff for some inexplicable reason.

  5. Shiara*

    I’m wondering if LW’s concern is that doing either of those strategies will still leave the tension and negativity there “I don’t want our new temps to feel tension or negativity right out of the gate (attrition is a problem, so it’s important that we keep them happy to the extent we can). ”

    And I’m afraid, LW, that there’s not anything you can do about that. The tension and negativity are there. No matter what you or your manager do to try to paper over the tension and negativity, Jane will still be there giving people the silent treatment until she has finished processing her feelings. About the only thing you can do is be as direct, and professional as possible to make it clear to any sane observers that the tension and negativity are emanating from Jane and Jane only.

    It is, unfortunately, possible that your manager is not a sane observer in this case. Hopefully strategy two will prevent her from pushing back on you for not continuing to try to paper over the tension and negativity, by continually redirecting her to “okay, so how should I get thing from Jane” but ultimately it may be worth leaving over the manager who won’t manage.

    1. fposte*

      This is a good point, and I think it’s not coincidental that there’s an avoidant manager and a turnover problem in the same place. Pussyfooting around Jane is only going to make things worse, so might as well deal with her directly and let the temps fall where they may.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely this. I’m having a hard time understanding why Jane thinks this is an effective approach for her. But it sounds like it’s working because she becomes “absolutely enraged” when anyone tries to address the root behavior, and everyone’s accommodating her because of an absentee (in managing, not physical presence) manager.

        As Emmie notes, all OP can do is acknowledge that Jane creates tension, be transparent with the temps about how OP deals with that tension, and let them know how to deal with Jane if OP sees them struggling to understand how to interface with her. It’s (unfortunately) also a good opportunity to model how to be polite but firm when someone is behaving outside of acceptable workplace norms.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        Agreed! Plus, if I was starting a new job and this was happening, I’d feel MORE uncomfortable/flabbergasted if everyone just treated it like this was a totally normal and fine thing that was happening.

        If OP is visibly calling Jane out, then at least I’d see that her attitude is NOT okay and people ARE addressing it.

    2. Emmie*

      It’s also important that you model good behavior for the temps. AAM’s responses allow you to show temps how to appropriately address with her silent treatment, and that her poor behavior will be addressed. At this point, you are inadvertently participating in her unacceptable work antics – for valid reasons; however, you do not need to be nice to her to get an acceptable outcome. I make no judgement whatsoever on the OP as a person. I worked with a person who gave the silent treatment for months, and a manager who didn’t address it. I was at an impasse then, but wish I would have thought of AAM’s suggestions.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Yup. No use getting in a dither over whether you can “hide” this from the seasonal temps. It’s there and you can’t smooth it over. But what you can do is what Alison suggests, which honestly is far better than trying to pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. They’ll pick up on the tension regardless, but if they see you being straightforward and calm when addressing the problem, it’ll feel much more transparent than “haha everything is cool guuuys!” Most people are far more okay with having problems that are out in the open than problems lurking under the surface that nobody acknowledges.

    4. AKchic*

      Which brings up other very good questions – just what is Jane doing to “process” her “feelings” and what exactly is everyone doing to offend or otherwise hurt Jane’s feelings in the first place?

      Because the silent treatment for days/weeks at a time over unknown slights isn’t healthy. She apparently isn’t discussing her grievances once she has finally “processed”, so nobody knows what set her off, so it will happen again because nobody knows what they did in the first place to offend her. She has set everyone up to fail with her unspoken expectations.
      The manager is silently encouraging this process by not confronting her and telling her to knock it off. If this were a personal relationship, I would be advocating that OP disentangle from the friendship/relationship and avoid at all cost. This has markers of emotional abuse and has no place in an office setting.

    5. Pomona Sprout*

      “…ultimately it may be worth leaving over the manager who won’t manage.”

      Seriously, this sounds like it may be a case of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.” Using the tactics Alison suggested should eventually reveal whether this is the case,” and at that point, the o.p. can make an informed decision about whether this is a deal-breaker or not.

  6. Loopy*

    If Jane is doing this to multiple people, can OP get others on board with Alison’s suggestions? If it’s coming from everyone I think it would have an even more noticable impact and maybe more success as a group push back.

    Also I’m definitely feeling some second hand fury on behalf of OP!

    1. MommaChem*

      I love this!!! Make the manager as inconvenienced as you are and maybe they will feel the overall impact of Jane’s childish behavior. This should be executed consistently by everyone so that the manager cannot say that it’s limited to Jane-OP interactions.

      Additionally, is there anyone who is leaving (since attrition was mentioned) who could speak up during their exit and describe how Jane’s behavior affected their decision to leave?

    2. irene adler*

      Yeah- the united front approach- good idea!

      She does this because she knows her behavior won’t be called out my management. Manipulative you-know-what!

  7. Nanani*

    If there is any way to work around Jane, do it.
    She can only refuse to work with you as long as there is work for you to do, after all.

    Take away as many avenues for her bullshit as you can – and definitely eliminate them for your new workers.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Doing her job and going around her is a great one. Jane sure gets pissed off because it takes away all of her power but it puts the behavior to a stop quickly (Note: Do you really want her talking when she’s enraged? Be prepared to walk away or put in headphones). Anything you can do to pick up those dropped deadlines and do them yourself is time well spent, in my experience. Bonus if she already worked on it and finally sends it, then you can say, ‘Oh, thanks but I already completed that and turned it in 2 hours ago when you didn’t answer all 5 of my previous requests’.

      I’m kinda bummed at how much experience I have at dealing with this stuff…

      1. Seriously?*

        Also, maybe she can be asked to leave when she refuses to talk in meetings. She isn’t contributing anything but negativity so she can sulk in a corner somewhere else.

  8. Peter*

    That’s so ridiculous. Interacting with coworker has to be considered part of your job. So if you decide not to do part of your job, this is for sure ground for disciplinary action.

    You have to bring your adult self to work, not the self-entitled-5-year-old version of you. The main problem with accepting this kind of tantrum is that childish behaviour can spread as an acceptable behaviour in the company culture.

    If your manager did not act yet, I suspect she will not in the future (not as if it’s a behaviour she could have missed). You should try to talk to your/her boss first, but, if nothing change, this situation should be escalated.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I wondered that also, but then you may be throwing a grenade into your relationship with your boss. I like the idea of either forcing the boss to deal with it, or giving her enough rope to hang herself. This will surely get back to the grandboss once it’s publicly called out in meetings.

      1. MLB*

        I wouldn’t escalate right away, but if boss is refusing to address the problem, it needs to be sent up the chain. This behavior is unacceptable and LW shouldn’t have to handle it on her own. Maybe if she follow’s Alison’s advice and continually pulls boss in when Jane refuses to do her work, she’ll do something about it.

        I would add that when she pulls boss into this, do it by email so you have it all documented. Then if it has to be escalated, you have proof of how many times it was done.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Heartily agree with all of this, especially the last bit. Never underestimate the importance of a paper (or virtual paper) trail!

  9. Murphy*

    Wow. I can’t believe that a) Jane engages in such incredibly immature behavior and b) your manager lets her do it!

    1. irene adler*

      I agree.
      I have a co-worker who goes into “moods” to manipulate or get out of doing his job. He does the silent treatment when someone angers him. Other times he blows up at people when it is least expected. So people end up walking on eggshells around him, never knowing what will set him off.

      Management is fine with this because he gets the product out the door. That’s all that counts.

      Funny thing is, I’m very used to the silent treatment so it doesn’t bother me one bit. I guess he figured this out. Nowadays I get yelled at.

      There’s a lot of toddlers out there in the working world.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        “Don’t yell at me.” as you walk away.

        No, I don’t know if you can really do this, but at least consider it!

      2. Katherine Bruce*

        The best way to treat people who yell at you is to start whispering at them. Lower your voice until it’s almost inaudible. You will get a bit of ‘stop whispering! Why are you whispering?’ but insist you’re not (puzzled look on your face). Eventually the power of influence will make them whisper back at you. If you’ve ever had a friend who lost their voice, you’ll know how this works. People always end up speaking really low to them even if their hearing is just fine!

    2. AKchic*

      It happens.
      My main reasons for leaving my last job:
      1) Negative Nancy co-worker
      1b) Reinforcement Rita boss who did nothing to stop Negative Nancy and actively encouraged gossip, backstabbing, and drama (we were all the same age, and had I not turned down her position, she wouldn’t have gotten it, and she knew it)
      1c) a grandboss who was aware of Reinforcement Rita but was too busy dealing with great-grandboss and an organization to reign in Reinforcement Rita

      2) burn out
      3) I was offered a LOT more money

      I would have been looking within 6 months anyway, but my job offer was too good to pass up.

  10. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Would it be appropriate to be upfront with the new seasonal staff about this problem? I’m thinking that knowing about it might alleviate some of the awkwardness for them.

    I’m imagining a conversation like this: “Just so you know, our colleague Jane sometimes has periods where she won’t speak to her colleagues. If that happens to you, don’t take it personally and let me know that it’s happening so I can run interference and help make sure we get done what we need to get done.”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is what I was wondering too. I like your proposed script, but I wonder if it would make things worse.

    2. SarahKay*

      I think that sounds like a good idea, although perhaps not on the first day. I’d be inclined to let them settle in a little bit, and then perhaps either on week two, or at the first point when they’re going to have to deal with Jane, give them the heads up.

    3. Kelsi*

      I don’t know. I’d see that as a big red flag about the workplace, and if I had other options at that point, I’d take them. Since turnover is already a problem, it sounds like the new folks may well have other options.

      Like…kudos for being up-front, but I don’t think it’s going to encourage people to stay.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Well, it IS a big red flag about the workplace. And the folks that can’t or don’t want to put up with it will move on. There’s not that much that the OP can do about that, since she can’t change Jane or her boss.

        But I suspect many folks would respond much better to a bad situation that their boss is up front about and helps them to navigate than a bad situation that their boss papers over.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Agreed. When I started at my current job, there was an admin who was famously difficult to get along with. I wasn’t warned and I thought I had majorly pissed her off in some mysterious way – which was difficult, because this was someone I absolutely had to interact with if I needed something. It would make me feel like I had asked her for the wrong thing and had committed a major faux-pas. Finally someone said, “Oh, she’s like that with everyone, don’t take it personally.” Had I known from the get-go, I would have known how to approach her and been confident that I was not asking for something inappropriate. Since then, I’ve low-key warned new people the first time I tell them to go to her for something. “Just know that sometimes she can come across in a way that might make you think you’ve done something wrong by asking her, but you haven’t. Don’t take it personally.” I’ve usually been thanked for giving them a gentle heads-up.

          When she *did* end up crossing the line with me, I was also confident in speaking up to my supervisor.

    4. BRR*

      I probably would in the same way I might provide tips on working with other colleagues. Fergus prefers phone over email, Wakeen likes color-coded spreadsheets, Jane throws temper tantrums (kidding with the wording). I like your script with it. Basically box Jane’s negativity in instead of letting it spread to others.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m on the fence. On one hand, I think it could be helpful so that people aren’t blind-sided. On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of pigeon-holing Jane before people meet her. I’d be tempted to be up front with them after they’ve had some time to settle in.

      (I like your script, btw.)

    6. Anon From Here*

      Love this suggestion. I would suggest that LW alert the incoming seasonal staff, and also let them see the conduct and responses that Allison suggests in her own advice.

    7. Nonny Non*

      What about a more generic script that doesn’t call Jane out specifically? “Some of our colleagues have priorities other than the work we need from them. If you aren’t getting timely responses, let me know that it’s happening so I can run interference and help make sure we get done what we need to get done.”

      1. Mockingjay*

        I like this script.

        Another point with the temps: they will leave eventually and carry impressions of the OP’s company to other worksites, including competitors, suppliers, etc. Better to leave them with an impression of busyness rather than an obstructive employee poisoning the entire place.

      2. Blue*

        I think that makes the problem sound even bigger than it is, though. I’d probably compromise by waiting until they’d be working with Jane directly to give them a heads up.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        For people like me, that would absolutely NOT translate to “some people are cruel and use the silent treatment but it’s not you, it’s them”. Your script makes it sound like they have other legit priorities, perhaps committments to other departments. And truly that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

        1. SAS*

          Yeah, that’s still doing the “missing stair” business of appearing to rationalise or minimise absolutely bonkers and unacceptable behaviour. “Prioritising other work” would not explain Jane refusing to look at me while I ask her about a shared project (which I would assume to be a priority of hers as well).

          If it is outright explained to temps, I would definitely go the personality quirk route- i.e. Oh Fergus never answers his phone but he replies to emails, Sally hates being asked to proofread, Jane gets in moods where she doesn’t talk to people. All annoying things that people do at work but support from a supervisor to respond appropriately helps a lot.

    8. Shirley Keeldar*

      I do think the new staff deserves a heads-up. Something like, “Hey, just so you know, Jane’s been here a long time and knows a lot of stuff, but it can be difficult to get information from her sometimes. If she’s not getting back to you in a timely fashion or if you’re having trouble getting what you need from her, let me know and I’ll deal with it.” And then escalate right to your boss. Seriously, temps don’t get paid enough to be exposed to this kind of hostility

      1. Batty Twerp*

        This script is very cool
        1) it doesn’t specifically mention Jane is a toddler, thus doesn’t prejudice the temps opinions of her,
        2) it’s vague enough to not make Jane sound like a problem, while hinting that working with her might be a problem,
        3) it gives them an action to take

      1. Isabel Kunkle*

        YEP. And this may be why I’m not a manager–but, like, if Jane didn’t want to be pigeon-holed or have people have pre-set opinions of her, she could maybe not have been a crappy human being for a long time?

  11. Cordoba*

    What’s with “Jane has had such a long tenure here that she’s guaranteed employment until she retires”?

    LW doesn’t mention it as a union thing (or that Jane has an actual tenured academic position) so I don’t think that’s it.

    Sometimes a person has been around long enough that their knowledge base is so valuable that it makes it worthwhile to put up with their difficult behavior. But this can’t be the case here; even if Jane does know everything she isn’t sharing it so she’s not much of a resource.

    It sounds to me like the LW’s boss needs to reevaluate how secure Jane’s job should be. She doesn’t deserve a paycheck she refuses to actually earn just because she’s been hanging around the building for a few decades.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


      At OldJob we had someone similar — she’d been with the company for an eternity, since well before the company had been its own company. (Fun fact: after she was laid off, the person cleaning out her desk found venerable floppy disks of 20-years-out-of-date information!)

      She was, bar none, the worst coworker I’ve ever had. Refused to call people by the correct name, threw drama fits over any changes to our procedures or routine, and when I got tasked with doing accounting reconciliations for our team, I discovered that she was responsible for over a third of our total accounting discrepancies, out of 15 people doing the work! But “oh, she’s been here for 35 years, she’s an established part of the team.” Insert major eyeroll here. In the end we all got laid off anyway.

    2. doreen*

      If it’s a small business, things can be strange. My husband once managed a hardware store and quit when the owner rehired an employee that my husband had fired for repeated stealing. Because “Bennie’s father worked for my father”. If it’s that sort of place, the OP’s manager may be correct that Jane will be there until retirement and there’s nothing the manager can do about it.

      1. Bea*

        I thought my old boss was bad at rehiring people who are total bad eggs but this takes the cake. He put up with volatile people who sometimes left without notice only to show up five weeks later. But stealing was the one thing he would never tolerate.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think this is a bad/lazy manager problem. Some folks seem to think that tenure = loyalty = must retain, even if that person is not great at their job. In this situation, Manager needs to put on her big girl pants and address the issue as a performance problem (which it is) through progressive discipline that can result in termination, just like all other reasonably competent managers.

    4. ShwaMan*

      Some more context would be interesting, but perhaps still not impact Allison’s correct response (IMO).
      I’ve seen situations where (e.g.) a 30 or 40 year old good & accomplished employee has a new mental health challenge. You can see why management would be loyal and give leeway. BUT. I agree with Allison – you need to deal with the work aspects straight on. If he/she is not well enough to work, that process needs to play out.

    5. Bea*

      I’ve seen this happen with bosses before but it’s usually because replacing a person is harder on them than firing a difficult personality. They’d rather someone walk off than pull the trigger.

      It’s the lazy way out. This is why mediocre employees keep jobs and the rest of us are forced to leave if we don’t like it.

      Lbr, Jane is obnoxious AF with her kid games but she’s not breaking any rules except social ones. So it’s not worth firing a long term employee over to the manager.

  12. MuseumChick*

    WOW. I would definitely push back with your manager on this, ideally you can get other co-workers to push back as well. I also LOVE the idea of calling this out in a meeting. “Project X has been delayed because I have not gotten any responses form Jane when I’ve asked for Y. How do you want me to processed?”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yup. Lean into calling this out and making it the manager’s problem (because it’s a problem of their creation—if they were doing their job, we would not be in this situation to begin with). This is my favorite kind of resistance.

      1. SadieMae*

        Yes, I agree with Alison that making it the manager’s problem is OP’s best bet. Just calmly saying, “We aren’t on track to finish Project A on deadline because we need information from Jane, and she’s not speaking to us again. How would you like us to move forward?” And if the manager tells OP to just do the work/find the information herself and bypass Jane: “I have a full workload already and can’t do Jane’s job on top of it. Given that, how should we proceed?”

        Just calmly keep returning the problem – because it’s not in any way OP’s problem! – to the manager to solve, and if she doesn’t solve it, then the project doesn’t get done. This is REALLY hard to do if you’re a perfectionist who hates to see a project crash and burn or to leave clients hanging – I used to take up slack for Jane types all the time to avoid that kind of unpleasantness – but with a manager like this, often the only way to make an impression is to let failure happen.

  13. Jen*

    Yeah, shame on Jane, but I almost think the manager is worse here. Dealing worse this kind of thing is part of your job. This behavior is egregious and she is just kind of letting it happen. No way. Buck up and manage, gosh darn it!

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Oh she absolutely is. The manager can affect the situation and chooses not too. Coworker is not an immature ass because of manager; coworker is allowed to behave as an immature ass because manager allows it.

  14. Greg NY*

    Talking is usually one of the core tasks required to do one’s job. Not always, but in most jobs, you are going to have to talk to your coworkers at times about work-related matters. If Jane can’t talk a minimal amount when absolutely necessary about work-related matters (and it would be onerous for her coworkers or manager to communicate with her solely by email or text messages), she can’t currently perform the core functions of her job. That’s the only angle it needs to be approached from. In most jobs, there are going to be situations where a quick verbal question is easier than composing an email or text and waiting for a response.

    1. Antilles*

      I don’t think it’s a difference between verbal communications and email. OP didn’t really address email, but my interpretation was that the situation was more along the lines of “Jane refuses to interact with co-workers at all” temper tantrum rather than a preference for email communication.
      That said, you’re exactly right that talking is a critical role of most jobs. However, the only person who can take the approach of “you need to talk or you’re not doing your job” is the manager…who *herself* is failing at a critical core function of her role.

    2. Naomi*

      I wouldn’t assume that Jane is even responding to other forms of communication. Ignoring someone’s e-mails or IMs is easier than giving them the silent treatment in person–Jane doesn’t even have to weather the social awkwardness of everyone staring at her while she refuses to talk.

    3. Indie*

      If I were the OP and could get the answers from her via email, I would do so and just let her carry on being weird. Jane’s reputation is her look out. That said, I’m sure she would have thought of this.

    4. RTFM*

      How would that affect the advice to the OP in the post? Given that the OP does not have authority to address this and the manager is refusing to. Can you clarify?

  15. JSPA*

    Is this verbal, mostly (i.e. she still responds by email) or total? I can think of several conditions that might render a stressed person functionally speechless, or make her worry about sounding unprofessional–tears or shaky voice etc etc etc. If so, it’s still on her to request and work on reasonable accommodation.

    In the meantime, for the short term problem, if she’s not contributing verbally, can the manager have her skype in to meetings from her office or from behind any closed door? If she’s out of sight, she can’t poison the atmosphere. And the interns are more likely to presume that she has some issue that requires her to be periodically sequestered. (Which is sort of true, even if it’s OOCA–out of control A-hole–syndrome.) A lot of small group skype sessions run text and audio concurrently; she could be put on a text only setting “due to background noise.” That way, there’s a record of her communications (or lack thereof) and also cover for her, if she really just can’t trust her voice. If she can’t trust herself not to call people out in writing, that’s a whole other level of bad, and it’ll become obvious pretty fast.

    1. eplawyer*

      If you can’t trust your voice, that’s usually a short term thing, like minutes. From what I gleaned from OP’s letter, this goes on for DAYS. Just no talking for days. But has the ability to respond angrily if questioned about it.

      1. JSPA*

        My suggestion about skyping in was NOT to cater to her.

        One short term goal was stated as, removing her malign influence temporarily as new people come in. Another implied goal was to document clearly how she’s not doing her job. Another was to get contributions out of her.

        It’s very hard to force goal B and C, without completely throwing a wrench in goal A. All of the, “leave awkwardness with her” is great in theory, but with new people in the room, it’ll be excruciating and weird for them.

        Given that boss refuses to fire her, and given that you’re trying for goals A, B and C, skyping from on-site is a way of physically removing her (while still holding her to all the participation requirements of the job). A short term solution that checks all the “this is essential” boxes, AND can be explained as catering to a STATED preference on her part (if need be).

        Result: She gets to hold her hissy fits (or whatever they are) for an audience of herself and only herself. The new people are insulated. The process generates hard documentation of whether she’s doing her part and answering questions, or not. If a question from one of you does not create an answer by text from her, boss can re-ask it, until the answer is forthcoming.

        Separately: I’d want to consider that for whatever emotional or physical reasons, she may not trust herself to speak. (that does NOT mean she get cut more slack, especially if she can’t document a reason for needing it.” If OP were in a position to fire, the answer would of course be, fire. But OP isn’t. So going to town on why that’s the right answer (which we’re all clear on) is pretty pointless, IMO.

        Formally, however, there are all sorts of things that can intersect to cause longer term problems speaking up.

        Combine something physiological problem (like Diane Rehm, the NPR host) with stress and bad coping skills. We had someone post here the other day about the problem of interviewing when you’re dysphonic, or have problems forming verbal responses due to autism. She mentioned that stress really brought it out. Then there are Parkinsons quavers, MS quavers. Add stress, and they become more evident. Or she may really be losing it emotionally, and doesn’t want to go bat-shit in public, or break down–the question did explicitly say the non-talker stated a need to process things emotionally, at length, so this isn’t random speculation.

        Or she’s just a garden variety spoiled brat.

        Regardless, if you don’t want her dynamic to set the tone, and you can’t fire her, then getting her out of shared space while forcing her to contribute, in real time, in writing, seems like a massive win for the team.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think this is a huge leap. If it’s a vocal issue, then surely she would be apologetic and not huffy, as it sounds like she’s being. And I would assume people would have heard that from her before. Honestly, having her Skype into meetings just sounds like coddling to me. She needs to grow up and get through, like many of us do. I firmly believe that it’s ok to take a minute to collect oneself, but actual self-sequester is just another way of saying you don’t want to deal with people. At work, that’s often not an option. In an office, we all have to deal with things we don’t like, and it’s on us to learn how to manage them appropriately, professionally, and in a mature way.

    3. LQ*

      This was what I thought when I saw the title, but it is clearly not what the actual letter is about. I’ve been weeks without a voice, and without able to trust my voice, and it’s a very different problem. Definitely not what this is about.

    4. Marlowe*

      If that were the case, surely she would take steps to ensure people know that sometimes she suddenly goes non-verbal through no fault of her own, instead of just giving them the cold shoulder? I imagine a good employee with a medical condition that prevents her from speaking correctly would also try to find workarounds (email, writing on a notepad, typing on tablet…) to be able to communicate with her coworkers.

      1. JSPA*

        “I seethe from anger and have to stay silent so I don’t start hurling curses at you”?
        “My voice cracks when I want to break out sobbing every time I see your wretched face”?
        “My father had parkinsons, and my voice quavers, and I’m not ready to face that I might have it too, but I’ll mention it to you in passing, so you know I don’t speak when I’m upset”?
        “I’m depressed, and often find myself overwhelmed by a sense of persecution to the point where I can’t speak”?

        These…are not things someone’s likely to say.

        Any one of these is speculation. Yet for each, we’ve had someone write in to discuss something similar in their own life (and we’re hugely supportive when that happens). Just pointing out that “the silent” treatment may not be the worst option. It could be (if not a “least bad” option), some sort of really maladaptive coping strategy. We had someone like this in our workplace. She formed massive emotional attachments to people inside her own head, then had dramatic breakups when they didn’t follow the secret script of “how to smile and ask about her day, when saying hello in the morning.” On hiring, she made a formal request that she “report directly and only to the boss.” It seemed harmless, but turned out to be code for, “if I have to talk to anyone else at some particular moment, I may become teary, angry or even suicidal, as if they’d just jilted me after a long romance.” It WAS batsh*t. But the silent treatment was SO not the worst option.

        1. Observer*

          Well, none of these are acceptable reasons for her behavior, either. I mean ONCE, maybe. But once Jane realizes that >pick your choice< it becomes her responsibility to find a way to function through this!

          eg: If you get SO angry that the only way to keep yourself from hurling curses is to shut down all communications for DAYS, then you need to find some way to manage your anger.

          You’re struggling to deal with the possibility of Parkinson’s, get to a doctor and / or therapist.

          You’re so depressed that you can’t function? Ask for medical leave (FMLA if you’re company is covered.)


        2. SadieMae*

          I have struggled with severe anxiety and depression for years, and IMHO, for most people with anxiety/emotional issues, creating a lot of work-arounds is actually unhelpful, because the more accommodations that are made, the more our brains just find something else to latch onto. It’s the nature of the beast. Much better to set reasonable rules and then expect the person to step up. It can be stressful, but it’s better for their office/coworkers *and* for their own mental health.

          If Jane does have mental health issues and they are so severe that she simply cannot behave better than this, she needs to either find another job (maybe one where she can work alone?) or document the issues and approach it legally as a disability, at which point she and the bosses could discuss reasonable accommodations if those are possible.

          1. Empty Sky*

            I have learned the same thing myself, even though I find it a bit counter-intuitive (I’m not a sufferer myself, but I have people close to me that are).

            If someone is not sure whether they can cope with something and your response is to take it away from them or do it for them, even if you sincerely mean to help, it can often make things worse. They become convinced that they can’t do it and it ends up being a permanent job of yours (or somebody’s) to do it for them. This ends up increasing their stress rather than decreasing it because, having convinced themselves that they can’t do it, they are constantly terrified that they will be asked to anyway, or that circumstances will require it.

            In contrast, if they can manage to step up, possibly with whatever minimal amount of support is needed to make it work initially, then they will often realize they can do it after all. If they are depressed/anxious they won’t necessarily give themselves credit for it, but it will at least move into one of the lower severity stress categories like “I have too much stuff to do,” as opposed to “I might be required at any moment to perform a task I believe to be impossible, with catastrophic consequences if I fail.”

        3. Julia*

          None of those things prevent her from using written communication, though.

          “I seethe from anger and have to stay silent so I don’t start hurling curses at you”?
          I also have a really hard time believing that someone could have enough restraint to stay silent completely, but not enough to keep from cursing when opening their mouth.

        4. Mad Baggins*

          Oh my word, at what point does “accommodating many kinds of people and various communication styles at work” cross into “making excuses for rude people”?? Because for me, that line is “if I have to talk to anyone besides my boss at any time, or if someone doesn’t ask me about my day, I may become teary, angry or even suicidal”. This person needs serious help, not accommodation for their ridiculousness!

    5. Observer*

      I can think of several conditions that might render a stressed person functionally speechless, or make her worry about sounding unprofessional–tears or shaky voice etc etc etc

      Not for weeks!

    6. Courageous cat*

      Man, I understand there is some value in exploring alternative causes of bad heavior, but overall I wish comments on AAM were a little less fantastical and a little more Occam’s razor.

      I don’t think there is almost any likelihood of it being a physical condition given all the other context in this letter. It’s much more likely that she’s just rude.

  16. Unfriended*


    This is /exactly/ how my ex-best friend (of ~12 years) behaved. I almost wondered if this post was about her. We “broke up” back in March. She still never told me why; I had to gather it through mutual friends who she ranted insane lies and hyperbole to. Things that could have been solved /so easily/ with a simple conversation, except instead she decided to be “mature” and not talk about what annoyed her.

    It’s been… messy and unfortunate and stressful to have someone try to poison your relationships with other people. Fortunately, everyone but me saw through her, and everyone has been extremely supportive and on my side and oh my god I appreciate it so much.

      1. Unfriended*

        Who, my ex-friend? Or the woman in the post?

        The post definitely isn’t my ex-friend, since she’s not in an office, or someone with seniority; she’s getting her physical therapy degree. Would be a small world if you knew her…

        1. Myrin*

          I think CC wasn’t speaking literally but more to the fact they also know someone who sounds exactly like your ex-friend. (It’s like people will sometimes comment “oh wow, I think we were married to the same guy!” when they mean that they also had a husband who did X.)

          1. Unfriended*

            Ahhh ok.

            I was thrown off because she goes by CC, and I thought maybe “CupcakeCounter” was an intentional clue!

        2. Dame Judi Brunch*

          My ex-best friend did this to me too. It was so hurtful and I still wonder why she would do such a thing to me.
          Looking back I realized how toxic the friendship was, and I’m glad we’re no longer friends

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      A relative of mine also behaves like this and has made themselves wildly unpopular in my family because of it. There are several people like this out there, so don’t feel alone! Don’t beat yourself up over it either, there are toxic people in the world and running into one doesn’t indicate a failing on your part.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        +100 I have a cousin like this. There was some minor thing I did that I didn’t realize upset her, which she unfriended me on Facebook for, but then I didn’t notice, so she rage-texted me 6 months later, and then didn’t talk to me for 3 years.

        We made up eventually but I just realized I haven’t heard from her all year…. so maybe on I’m the “list” again? *shrug*

    2. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I had a friend I considered close (even though I moved to a different state halfway through our friendship) for more than 20 years. Then one summer, when my life situation was one of working full time and – with my fiancee – trying to organize, arrange, and pay for a wedding, his birthday slipped my mind and I mailed his card and gift a few days late. LITERALLY 2 days after his date of birth.
      He called me to scold me about how thoughtless I was and that he needed ‘time off’ from our friendship. I was so stressed out about things going on at the time, I told him he could take the rest of our lives off from our friendship. This is a person who whenever anyone else had crossed him (real or imagined) he would claim to suddenly have things go wrong with his car or start receiving harassing items (like a bible from the Church of LDS) in the mail and blame it on whoever he had just ‘broken up with.’
      By this time I was living almost 250 miles away from him, with neither the time nor opportunity to harass anyone, but I can easily imagine the accusations of things I supposedly did to him after this occurred.

    3. miss_chevious*

      I had a close friend who did this as well, just stop talking and I was somehow supposed to divine what was bothering her and fix it. I did the first few times, because we had been through a lot together, good and bad, but this last time (about four years ago), I just said “eff it” and blocked her on all social media. If she wants to get in touch my phone and email haven’t changed, but I don’t care if she does. I would have been happy to have a conversation about what she was upset about and rectify it if I could, but we are grown adults and I don’t have time for childish BS like the silent treatment from someone with whom my relationship is voluntary.

    4. Ja'am*

      My friendship with my ex-best-friend ended like this too…. Actually, now that I think about it A LOT of my friendships have ended this way (not counting those where we just grew apart). I think the trendy term for it is “ghosting”. And it’s so disappointing the older I get that adults act like this. But since it happens so often, I’m starting not to care as much and just let immature people be immature as long as I don’t have to deal with them anymore.

      This doesn’t work for OP since they do have to work/deal with said person, but Alison’s advice/scripts seem really, really good and I’ll try to keep them in mind, God forbid I ever need to use them.

    5. Iden Versio*

      My ex-best friend did the exact same thing! My only regret is that I didn’t end the friendship on my own terms. What a miserable person.

  17. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’m building an elaborate daydream about parking myself in front of Jane’s desk with my laptop or hard copy, wildly pantomiming what I need from her – or maybe using semaphore signals – but never saying a single word. Yes, this is just as juvenile as Jane’s behavior, but it tickles me to think about it.

    OP, please keep us posted.

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      I used to have to go and park myself on the desk of a person in another office to get what I needed. We’re talking simple stuff that took less than 30 seconds to do. But the coworker would ignore all forms of communication from me. So I’d go check out a car drive 1.5 miles across town to literally have this person push a button in the accounting system.

      After I left this person ran for election to head her department. Part of her platform was improving communication between my old office and her office. It was probably a good thing I had moved out of the state at that point. Otherwise I would have been at every public event leading into the election to call her out.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I feel your pain. I had a couple of co-workers like that, too, which is why the daydream came so easily to me.

    2. SadieMae*

      Now I’m just thinking about the Monty Python skit with “Wuthering Heights in Semaphore,” where Cathy is standing on on the moor wildly waving flags and the subtitles say, “Oh! Heathcliff!!” I believe they also have “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Morse Code,” where the gunfighters saunter out and then pull telegraph keys out of their pockets and start wildly tapping on them… :)

  18. LadyPhoenix*

    I would take this over the supervisor’s head. If she is too imconpetant to deal eith this issue, then I’m sure her boss might be VERY interested. Document events where her silent treatment has messed with the qork flow, all the steps you have taken, the manager’s response, and show it to the upper person.

    I feel that tenure is becoming another BS excuse to keep toxic people who should have LONG been gone.

  19. Roja*

    Oh man, my blood pressure went up just reading this! I can’t imagine dealing with it constantly. Good luck, OP, and count me among those of us who are hoping for an update…

    1. Zona the Great*

      I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to handle her with anything but scathing anger. Thank the stars she is not in my life.

  20. Murphy*

    When she won’t talk to you, give her a piece of paper and a pen. “You can write it down if you’re unable to speak.”

  21. Master Bean Counter*

    OP someone needs to be the adult here. It’s not going to be Jane or your manager. My suggestions to go on top of what Alison has said:
    1. When possible email Jane your requests–this requires no verbal response to her. If she does not answer in a timely fashion forward the original email to Jane and your boss. Say, “Hey guys I can’t move forward on X project until I am furnished with Y. The project is due next week so I need this by Thursday.” Follow up two days before and the day before with both of them if you don’t get any response. The message here is to your boss. If Jane isn’t going to do the work, your boss needs to figure out a solution.
    2. Is it possible to work completely around Jane? Can you get the information you need from one of her subordinates directly? Chances are they are tired of her tantrums as well and would probably be willing to work with an adult.
    3. Do you have enough political capitol to over your boss? Going to some one higher in the food chain might be your best option here.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      My initial reading, I had the impression that Jane’s silent treatment extended to email, but re-reading, the LW doesn’t mention that, so #1 might be an easy solution.

        1. Wintermute*

          yup, and ideally in a remotely functional workplace a shield for the LW to hide behind. If something blows up in a big way and the grandboss or even higher has to step in “I tried to get the information four times, my boss was aware and I got *nowhere*” is hopefully sufficient to avoid the mess splattering on the LW.

    2. Pomona Sprout*

      How about emailing all requests to Jane AND ccing the boss each time. Then, if Jane doesn’t respond, forward the same email to her with a note saying something like “I haven’t heard back from you on this, so I’m asking again in case you didn’t get my email,” also ccing the boss. Lather, rinse, repeat, cc, as long as you don’t get a reply. This will 1) make it patently clear to Useless Boss just how big of a a problem Jane’s behavior is, and 2) create a trail of “evidence” that will be helpful if O.P. ever cecides to escalate this to Grandboss.

  22. LQ*

    I haven’t seen the office but I have to imagine there’s an episode with this happening.
    OP: Jane where are the TPS reports?
    Jane: (arms crossed pout faced)
    Boss: (oblivious)
    OP: Boss would you please ask Jane where the TPS reports are?
    Boss: Jane where are the TPS reports?
    Jane: Boss, tell OP that I hid them.
    OP: Boss would you tell Jane that we need the TPS reports to pass the audit and that if we don’t produce them we can’t get funding and none of us will have jobs.
    Boss: Um…Jane…We need the TPS reports.
    Jane: Nuhuh!

    I would really sort of dully and matter of factly go through the boss with every single thing in meetings like this. Try Jane, if not, turn to boss and ask boss to ask Jane with the most dull, bored, this is perfectly normal face you can humanly muster.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      This reminds me of Galaxy Quest when the one girl’s job on the ship was just to repeat the computer.

      But yes – every time Jane doesn’t answer you, or someone else, every SINGLE time, turn and ask your boss the same question. “Boss, can you ask Jane when the bronze teapot will be ready?” “Boss, can you ask Jane what her timeline is for Project X?” “Boss, can you ask Jane where the Project Y files are on the server?”. Do it again and again and again and again.

      I, personally, would play it up like it’s the “Who’s on first” bit, because I love finding humor in the absurd, but delivery is up to you.

    2. Antilles*

      That’d be my strategy too.
      1.) It seems like Jane will grudgingly answer direct questions from the supervisor (per OP), so this actually gets OP the information she needs to do her job
      2.) That puts all the awkwardness and pain right on the manager and emphasizes the business aspect. OP didn’t specify, but my guess is that the manager is currently able to rationalize away/ignore some of the awkwardness. It’s a lot harder to go “oh well, we’ll just have to deal with it” when you’re dealing with these over and over.
      3.) As an addendum to #2, if the Grandboss or other Powers That Be ever attend the meetings, this will clue them into the problem very, very quickly.

    3. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I worked a part-time job at McDonalds for gas money for a while. I have no idea why, but one of the women who worked the grill line took a dislike to me and would complain when I waited at the heater tray for sandwiches to fill the orders. So it got to a point I refused to interact with her. I would have the shift manager retrieve the items in the heater tray and bag them for me to hand to the customer. It went so far I actually called for the shift manager out of the office when they were busy doing something else and told them to bag the food for me, because at that point I refused to touch anything this woman was putting into the heater tray.
      After a couple of nights like this, my co-worker was told to either make the food and stop complaining or find another job.

  23. mark132*

    One of the challenges with coworkers like Jane, is they often actually like and thrive on conflict. There really isn’t much you can do to change her (if it is the case). I hate to admit it, but with someone like this my main goal would be to try and get rid of them. Basically what steps can I do that will lead to them leaving. Of course every step should be completely professional, but that is likely to be the most effective anyways.

  24. NW Mossy*

    Oh, nuts to your “sympathy,” OP’s supervisor. By virtue of your position in the organization, you are explicitly invested with the power to ask for changes in behavior and results from your employees, and you are expected to use that power. It’s why you get paid the intermediate bucks.

    There’s no rule that we stop giving people feedback when they’re nearing retirement. You might make other changes (such as succession planning) for someone in that career season, but giving up on them doing their jobs with professionalism isn’t something you should do. Don’t buy into this business about old dogs not learning new tricks. I’ve seen late-career employees make significant behavioral improvements once they had a boss care enough to give the feedback and push for change. You’ll be surprised at what you can get from employees if you’re willing to ask.

    Heck, in just a little bit I’ll be chatting with my own close-to-retirement employee about a personal hygiene habit that is bothering cube neighbors. It’s going to be awkward AF. But I’m going to do it, because it’s my dang job.

  25. Indie*

    I think as well as shoving Jane’s tantrums onto your manager’s plate you should let the retention of staff become your manager’s problem too. “Oh we lost some people? They resigned already? They had really positive interactions with everyone except of course for days Jane was having a silent day. Some of them seemed taken aback. I did hear someone say they were surprised the company allows her to treat new employees like that (or whatever their reaction is)”.
    You’re a good person trying to do a good job of retaining staff; but in this atmosphere, you should let them see the deal that old members of staff are allowed to tyrannise and let them decide to run away if they need to. Let the awkwardness hang in the wind for all to see like a flag.

  26. Icontroltherobots*

    Op – thanks to Allison, I have read my fair share of captain awkward, and her advice for the “silent treatment” is to not play along. This is a power game. Co-worker doesn’t want to talk to you – who cares!

    I’d combine Allison’s advice – stand awkwardly at co-workers desk, when she refuses, walk immediately to boss’s office, say co-worker is refusing to do her job. Ask boss how you should proceed.

    Keep us updated!

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Or get your boss to come over to Jane’s desk and ask in front of Jane. But I enjoy pissing people off when they act like this, so YMMV.

      1. Icontroltherobots*

        This would be even better. I love the advice above, of asking boss, to ask Jane to respond. Make Jane either do her job or refuse directly to her boss’s face.

        Ideally, everyone in the office would start doing this.

        If Jane’s direct reports have the same issue, OP could volunteer to go with them into boss’s office and have Jane’s direct report, ask boss, to ask Jane for what they need.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        I actually really like this one because it would make Jane and Boss look beyond RIDICULOUS, and disrupts Boss to the point that I feel like they’d have to do something.

        Do this. Every. Time!

        OP: Ques?
        Jane: silence
        OP: stand there for a minute. Then go to Boss.
        OP: Boss, can you help Jane answer something for me?
        OP and Boss: go back to Jane’s desk
        OP: Jane, Ques?
        Jane: silence
        OP: Boss, can you ask Jane Ques for me?

  27. Falling Diphthong*

    Per this morning’s letter, if one of those about-to-onboard workers had asked the manager how she deals with problem employees, she wouldn’t have laughed and said, “Oh, those people will still be here long after you’re gone! She’s got about 27 more years until retirement. Until that point, you just need to work around her.”

  28. No longer working with Cersei (yay!)*

    Oh my… this is hauntingly familiar. I had the same issue last year and even wrote about it in an open thread, which I saved (search for “I’m working with someone who despises me”):

    Take heed, OP- while I agree with Alison completely that this is a weak manager issue as much or more than a coworker issue, my manager in a nearly identical situation eventually solved the problem by pushing *me* (the one who was trying to get work done and remain professional) out. I was “laid off” but it was very clear he simply chose to accommodate my Jane rather than deal with her childish behavior. (I’m in a much, much better job now so it worked out fine eventually but it was a very rough ride and I am still kinda pissed about it.)

    So I feel obliged to offer a word of caution. If your manager is determined to cater to Jane, there might not be a good ending to this story for you. Not fair in any way but there you go.

  29. Hope*

    I have a manager like LW’s. In my experience, you have to make it clear that ignoring the problem is going to be a bigger hassle for them than managing the problem. It’s a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” scenario. The more coworkers you get to go to your manager to solve the problems Jane is creating per Allison’s #2 suggestion, the faster the situation will get resolved. Make it obvious you’re just trying to do your job. Eventually the manager will either get sick of doing that part of Jane’s job for her, or Jane will realize she’s not causing the kind of drama she enjoys because the rest of you will still be able to do your work.

  30. Why Do Managers Do These Things??*

    And while Jane is acting like a toddler, and refusing to work with her team, look at all the people who write in on open thread day who are trying so hard to get a job, want a job, want to actually *work* with people, etc. It’s infuriating.

    I say fire her yesterday and replace her with someone who will actually work and be a team player. What good is institutional knowledge when it’s bottled up inside someone who will not share it?

    1. Bea*

      I wish firing these terrible employees and replacing them with the hard working folks out there was so simple.

      Meanwhile companies struggle to meet up with the only people who can bother to give a damn.

      Jane needs to be removed but it’s not easy to then drop a fantastic replacement into the spot all easy-peasy like. Or more of these people would be shown the door.

      1. Observer*

        It would be a LOT easier of these companies were a bit more sensible, treated people better and were willing to pay a decent wage.

  31. Aurora Leigh*

    I used to have a supervisor who was a Jane, and her manager also wouldn’t manage.

    It was quite frankly a relief, because when she was mad at you about some petty thing it was about the only time she quit gossipping/making racist or classist remarks/criticizing.

    I always greeted her with a big cheery good morning when she was in that mood . . . because I’m evil :D

  32. Dr. Pepper*

    Jane sounds like a relative of mine that everybody hates because they do this EXACT THING. Silent treatment, never ever says what’s wrong, and just huffs for weeks over who knows what because they won’t effing say. My relative is a narcissist (not diagnosed, but pretty much textbook behavior) and this is how they gain the upper hand in conflicts. By refusing to speak even to say what’s wrong, they force everyone to hover around in anxious apology and try to “win them over”. It’s a power move plain and simple.

    The best way to deal with this is not give her that power. Return awkward to sender, as another commenter posted on a different thread. Make her silence not a problem for you but a problem for her. Put her on the spot, put your boss on the spot. Make it so that she looks completely ridiculous and therefore weak, not the reigning Queen she believes herself to be. My relative has been kicked out of our house before (they don’t live with us, but visiting as a guest) until they could behave themselves. Sounds harsh, but it’s the only way to knock them off their power trip. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what it is.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I have one of these relatives. She can go up to a week without speaking and it’s hard going – it reached the point where her goddaughter refused to go on holiday with her over her behaviour and I have to admit that while I’ve never actually refused to go, I was relieved once when there was a genuine work reason I couldn’t go on a trip with her because I could decline for that reason without making her behaviour an issue. She’s sulked all day and thrown the camera at her husband on a boat trip because he corrected her about whose 60th birthday party they went to, sat and sulked at the exit to Vienna Zoo for 3 hours on a different trip, I could go on for hours. her husband tries to jolly her out of these moods. It doesn’t work.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        I feel you. My relative’s spouse coddles them in the same way, while the rest of us are just completely fed up and basically ignore them outright until they feel like being an adult again. If they make themselves un-ignorable, they are kicked out. If they want to sulk, they can sulk alone while the rest of us have fun.

    2. LPUK*

      My father plays the silent brooding game which unnerves my mother to the point where she try to avoid upsetting him ( my response is – if he’s going to get upset about everything you do anyway, you might just as well do as you want cos the grief you get won’t be any worse). Me, I like to sit right in front of him and prattle brightly, asking him questions and moving right on, as if I haven’t even noticed he’s not speaking. It makes him so cross, but if he speaks out to say so, then he’s lost!
      TLDR: don’t play their game and reward them

  33. Jen in oregon*

    Or, especially around the temps and new hires you are on-boarding, maybe take a sheet from the Anne Shirley playbook: “Perhaps you would be surprised to hear, that Jane went deaf very suddenly last week?”

    1. Indie*

      ” ‘Such an affliction for poor Papa …And him only sixty-eight.’ Two dents appeared in his nostrils as he heard his age advanced six years”

  34. EvilQueenRegina*

    Are you me? I have recently had this issue – my one coworker was giving me and someone else the silent treatment for a week and has only just started talking. There had been a miscommunication over a goodbye night out for an ex-coworker who was moving away (she’d mentioned it vaguely, but a few people couldn’t go and she never actually confirmed a definite time with anyone except the ex-coworker, then couldn’t understand why no one showed up to a night out that wasn’t confirmed in the first place, unfriended us on Facebook and gave us silent treatment.)

  35. Anon for This*

    I had a coworker exactly like this who continuously did this crap even after I left. A friend who still worked there would tell me about it and I’d encourage exactly what Alison advised and that they needed to make it the manager’s problem so they would get off their ass and deal with this person. Needless to say, she’s still there and still giving everyone the silent treatment for random crap. Glad it’s not my problem anymore.

  36. Anonymosity*

    This kind of behavior is a power play–“You can’t do anything and are helpless until I decide I want to engage with you.” There is no reason for the OP to apologize to Jane. OP, you likely haven’t done anything wrong. This is Jane’s way of controlling everyone. It doesn’t matter what her motivation is; it’s bullshit behavior to pull at work.

    I think Alison’s suggestions are good ones, especially pushing it onto her manager. In the best-case scenario, the manager will grow a spine and do something about it, but either way, you’re putting the problem where it belongs. If the work doesn’t get done because of Jane’s behavior, someone (the manager or higher-ups) needs to address it, up to and including termination.

  37. CastIrony*

    I’m a little like Jane, in the fact that it takes me more time to process upsetting events.

    I sympathize with Jane to some extent because I’m only talking to a cook when it is absolutely necessary, and it is because he micromanaged me in the way a previous horrible boss used to do. But I do agree, we need to talk to do our jobs, even though it is so, so hard sometimes!

    1. Det. Charles Boyle*

      Silent treatment is different from taking time to process things. I sometimes need to time (in my personal life) to think quietly or process my emotions, too, but I usually can let people know what I’m doing (“I need a few minutes/hours/a day to think about this”). And I never do this at work, b/c it’s work. I guess I’ve learned the art of detachment in my professional life.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Really not the same. You ARE talking with the cook. Not much, true, but it’s nothing like a week of the silent treatment.

    3. Observer*

      I’m only talking to a cook when it is absolutely necessary,

      And therein lies the difference between you and Jane – Jane is refusing to communicate even when it IS necessary

      1. CastIrony*

        You and all the others who reply are right. It’s also why I only said that I only sympathized with Jane TO AN EXTENT (Please know that I am not shouting; I am merely trying to make a point.)

        That being said, I hope Jane talks soon. We can’t avoid people forever, though we can try (or wish we could!) It’s impossible unless we want to lose our jobs! D:

  38. CMF*

    Everyone’s already asked for updates but I’ll throw my support in for that one and beg that you do! I wish we could all come to your office and call Jane out with you, support you while you call her out. Wow. Just wow. I’m wondering if she has a husband. Children? Does she do this to them? This is fascinating, thanks for sharing.

    1. LCL*

      Instead of calling her out, I’d love for us all to stand around at Jane’s desk, blinking silently. Just looking. Don’t ever really do this, it will be seen as bullying.

  39. Chickie Boo*

    “Who sees all this right in front of her and apparently is in meetings where it happens and won’t address it?”

    Managers at my job. I’ve been complaining since I got here that certain staff members (one of whom has retired) are incredibly rude and unprofessional, and I was literally told “that’s just how they are” and that they’ve been here so long that there’s nothing we can do. They are only now addressing it many years later because I’ve made myself extremely valuable and flat-out said, “This person doesn’t have to like me, but they do have to be professional. If they are not, I will be looking for a new job.”

    So very many dysfunctional workplaces…

    1. PB*

      Yeah, this was my old workplace, too. There, the line was, “Well, you can’t change people’s personalities.” Well, okay, but surely you can ask them to behave professionally. We had one in particular who had driven out three employees before me. I was the fourth. Everyone knew it, and no one would do anything about it.

      1. Julia*

        You must be my successor, because I was the third. Did it also come with, “well, they’re old and won’t change, you’re young and can drink your sorrows away”?

      2. Pomona Sprout*

        Maybe you can’t change people’s personablites, but you CAN require them to not behave in a way that obstructs others frnom doing their jobs and bloody well fire them if they refuse to comply.

  40. hello jello*

    sometimes i worry about one day finding myself unemployed and then i read letters like this and i cant decide if they’re reassuring or terrifying because either 1) i’m so much more professionally competent than this troglodyte so of course if she can find employment SOMEWHERE so can i; or 2) wow how much would it suck to one day be unemployed and know that people this awful and ridiculous still managed to find themselves jobs?

    1. AKchic*

      I think that it would be nice to know that if *they* can find and hold jobs, there’s hope for others with better social skills to do the same. Because the technical skills can be learned if they aren’t already there. The social skills are an art in some cases.

  41. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Co-ordinated whoopie cushions. Jane gives a person the silent treatment, the rest of you set them off. Replace the awkwardness with low-brow humour. It’s no more ridiculous than what she’s doing.

    Good luck, OP. Emotionally abusive people like that cause a lot of harm. I hope you can find a way to deal with her, if she doesn’t leave first.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      I’m laughing my ass off picturing everyone “setting off” their whoopie cushions and Jane struggling to maintain her icy glare/not react. What a mental image!

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Heh, glad it made you laugh! It’s absolutely something I would do (if I could get away with it). Jane’s reaction would be something to treasure for a lifetime.

  42. voyager1*

    Three things:
    1. I could have written this letter, except my Jane is a John and my manger really protects him from the consequences of his behavior becaus “he does good work” and “she trusts him.”

    2. Your coworker is a narcissist.

    3. AAM gives awesome advice but it will all fail because Jane knows you have no power over her and her boss is a chicken to do anything about it. Without any real threat of job loss, all advice is all pretty much useless. (sorry AAM the advice is good though if Jane was normal).

    3B. If your manager actually decides to get off her lazy butt and the power dynamic changes expect Jane to lose her shite, that is what people with NPD do since they can’t handle having their sense of self importance/image challenged. Could be a glorious office story after all the fallout.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      In regard to point #3, this is true only to the extent that you care about things getting done and how many other people are involved. In a small group, putting Jane and Spineless Boss on the spot won’t have much effect. In a larger organization where there’s a lot more people to witness the ridiculous behavior and laugh at it (or get mad enough to exact change), putting them on the spot and making them look stupid in the eyes of others can be highly effective. Part of dealing with narcissists is realizing that they care about their public image to a pathological degree. Anything that makes them look foolish they will avoid and anything that improves their status (in their eyes) they will do. It’s a blind spot to exploit. I have a relative that does this, and the quickest way to bring them out of their snit is to inform them that they are being stupid and to take a hike until they can mind their manners. “Clearly you need some time alone so why don’t you take a walk around the block until you feel better.” This is not a request but a command. Then proceed to completely ignore them and have fun without them until they return to civility. This takes the wind out their sails because nobody is dancing attendance and their power play is not getting them any power.

      1. AKchic*


        Narcissists crave power and control, and their image is everything. Right now, Jane thinks she is some sort of diva to be catered to. It’s time to stop catering. No more apologizing. You don’t know what you’re apologizing for because she won’t tell you. If she tells you, she loses her leverage. Possibly because she actually has nothing to be upset about (she’s manufacturing her “anger” for heightened drama and attention) or it is a ridiculous reason and doesn’t want to get ridiculed for it (perhaps someone didn’t ask her if she wanted extra paperclips in her supply order).
        Everyone needs to stop catering to her and apologizing and go about their business. Throw it back on the boss. Email every request (cc’ing her boss) and say “As per my verbal request which you did not respond to, I need to know X…” and then outline the problem, the deadline, etc.
        When she refuses to answer, send it again, cc’ing her boss again with “as per my previous email, see attached. I still need a response” and do a delivery and read receipt for *both* of them. No response? Email both of them again and ask the boss how s/he would like to proceed since Jane refuses to respond to any communication from coworkers again and it is delaying work again, and make sure to cc the grandboss and HR.
        Someone should reign Jane in, and if boss won’t, it is well-past time to get the higher-ups involved.

        1. mcr-red*

          Agree with all of this 100%. Back it up in writing, and always loop your boss in. Make it your boss’ problem too.

          My narcissist ex would do the partial not-speaking thing, just enough so I would ask, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” “But you’re upset.” “I’m not upset.” “What did I do wrong?” so he could blast me for bothering him and not being upset until now, and after letting me cry and apologize for a while, finally tell me what horrible transgression I did that really made him upset, so I could cry and apologize some more.

          Ugh, sorry for that flashback. Yeah, don’t apologize for “Whatever I did to make you upset” EVER.

    2. Khlovia*

      Yep to 1, 2, & 3B; but don’t be so pessimistic about 3. OP isn’t trying to cure Jane; OP needs to stop enabling Jane whatever the consequences, and should use Alison’s scripts (part 1 simply as due diligence, so that in part 2 she can refer to the due diligence) to land this on Manager’s in-box. That last part actually does have a nonzero chance of success.

  43. Ally*

    I’m a big fan of letting things be awkward. The instinct of most people is to smooth over things and ignore it or try to work around it which just lets someone get away with their behaviour.

    Well Jane is the one behaving like a child and following Alision’s advice will highlight how childish she is being hopefully it will shame your manager into doing something if only because she looks weak for letting it happen.

    Do you have a grandboss. I would not “tattle” (note: I know its not tattling but unreasonable people see it this way) but if there is an opening, if grandboss asks you about a project and you can say “I just need X from Jane but she isn’t talking to anyone at the moment” which would lead a reasonable grandboss to question this (and why your manager lets it happen).

    And why does length of time worked there matter? Unless you are academics with tenure even if you like in a country where firing someone is harder than the US (like mine) it is doable. What “we can’t fire Jane” means is “I can’t be bothered to do the paperwork”.

    1. mark132*

      With reasonable people smoothing things over actually does work. It’s only with unreasonable people where you have a problem.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Right. That’s actually what unreasonable people bank on: most people engage in awkwardness-avoiding and face-saving behavior because it pays dividends when you’re dealing with sensible people. It’s just that it all falls apart with unreasonable people.

  44. knitcrazybooknut*

    This behavior was legion in my home life. For the record, it is absolutely a power trip, and they’re teaching you how they want you to behave. If you stray from that, you get punished with whatever horrible behavior they decide is appropriate. It’s a tantrum, calculated to make you cave. When you do cave, they know how long the silent treatment needs to be to make you cave next time.

    OP, whenever you say you’re sorry, or cater to her in any way, it shows her that it’s working. I think Alison’s advice is great. Also know that this is pure manipulation. Other commenters have mentioned insecurity, sadness, etc., and that may be the cause of the narcissism/manipulation, but in the moment, in your work life, it doesn’t matter why. It matters how to handle it. Any empathy for her is wasted. Ask me how I know ===> 41 years of trying to get my mother to connect with me in any meaningful way. I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time and energy. It doesn’t work.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My mom used to do this when I was a kid. Then my husband back when I was married. That guy could go for days! I hate silent treatment so much, it’s psychological warfare, right up there with the yelling. I have no advice for the OP, because my mind is blown by the fact that someone thinks it’s an appropriate way to act at work during work-related conversations, and that their manager thinks this person should be allowed to continue.

    2. Khlovia*

      Another long-lost sibling…. If it makes you feel any better, you smartened up about 15 years younger than I did.

  45. Kathlynn*

    Good luck in dealing with this coworker. My boss decided to promote the guy I work with who gives everyone the silent treatment. And can’t see a problem with the fact that he doesn’t even listen to her. I’m only staying atm for the medical benifits, because I am finally going to use them. (this boss has a habit of picking favourites out of people who make others not like them, due to work and personality issues). [deletes rant]

  46. The Doctor*

    The Boss needs to be reminded that “Allowing Jane to Avoid Doing Her Job” IS NOT a viable business plan. As long as your organization exists to provide a product or service, everyone (including Jane) needs to focus on that.

  47. Adult child of a silent parent*

    Chiming in here to offer my support to the OP. Dealing with Jane must be difficult.

    I wish I had advice to offer. Jane sounds a lot like my now-deceased mother, who would go for days without speaking to us. In my mother’s case, I never knew the cause but it seemed to be triggered by anxiety (the silent treatment would often start in the days leading up to a family gathering hosted at our house) and/or hormones (she would eventually go to a doctor (who was a quack, relying solely on B-12 and/or penicillin shots for 99% of his treatments, from backaches to bronchitis) and come back as herself.

    I know we can’t diagnose people on this forum, but I wonder if the OP and his/her coworkers could frame it in their minds as “Jane may well have an undiagnosed mental/emotional condition,” it may make the situation more bearable?

    Good luck to all

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      No. Even people who publically identify as mentally ill will tell you that they still CHOOSE how to behave. She’s not delusional. She dresses herself appropriately and gets herself to work.

      Honestly, I think knowing that Jane is a jerk who does this to everyone makes it more bearable, because then I absolutely know that it’s NOT me, it IS her.

  48. BirthdayWeek*

    We had a Jane in our office. He was also the manager which made things even more tricky. He ended up getting fired.

  49. Dr. Doll*

    “Processing her feelings”? Snort.

    I am all about dealing with emotions even in the workplace – acknowledging them and DEALING WITH THEM, probably privately but if necessary with help. Not “processing” them while other people wait for you to get over your snit.

  50. Lana Kane*

    I absolutely support Allison’s advice. As I get more years under my belt in the workplace, I’ve come to the conclusion that people behave they way they do because there’s been no repercussions. Formal discipline won’t come from your manager, but she doesn’t get to avoid all consequences. When she gives you the silent treatment, then it’s appropriate to mention it – even if it’s in the middle of a meeting. And when all else fails, a lazy manager WILL act when the problems behaviors start affecting them personally. Because they are lazy, and they calculate that the problem behavior will cause them to expend more effort than just telling them to knock it off.

    I’ll just add that doing this will likely make her escalate her behavior at first. She will be SHOCKED! She will be INSULTED! She will retreat and ignore even more. So I think having some support from your team, having at least 1 or 2 other people willing to go in on this with you (or at least back you up if she complains to others), will make this a bit easier on you. If not, then just be prepared. It will likely blow over eventually, once she sees she can’t get away with pushing you around this way.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Yes, be prepared for an extinction burst. The first time we all got fed up with my relative’s BS and ordered them to leave until they could be nice there were fireworks. HOW DARE WE?!?!?!?! Shocking! Insulting! OMG THE NERVE!!!!! We were all too pissed off to care so they went and sulked alone for the rest of the day. After that we went to the “leave until you can be nice” tactic right away and while we don’t dislike this person any less, life is much more peaceful. Only their spouse falls for their routine now, which sucks, but at least the rest of us don’t have to be bothered.

  51. Nicole*

    Good luck OP, and good on you for trying to fix things first. You shouldn’t have had to at all, but it shows you’re a decent person with concern for others. I don’t have that patience! I’d be rolling my eyes at her constantly and driving the manager up the wall about it!

    I wonder what it would take to get her fired?

  52. This is why we can't have nice things!*

    OP, have you considered just taking Alison’s scientific research idea, and looking at it like you’re studying an alien? Get your entertainment from her, basically? My first reaction to this was to laugh. I would find it very difficult not to laugh in a meeting with my boss, my coworker(s), and potentially our reports, and ask coworker a question to get silence as a response. Obviously this hasn’t just begun, but if it had, I’d say to laugh out loud the next time she doesn’t reply, and then just look her way, like she must be joking about this. Followed up by #2 of Alison’s advice, and turning from coworker to face boss (still smiling, with eyebrows raised), and say “Well, boss…coworker doesn’t seem to want to give me the information I need. How would you like me to proceed?”

    And given coworker’s proclivity to not respond (assuming she hasn’t been responding to emails either), I would just start copying boss on every email you send her. Because waiting to CC boss is reserved for people who haven’t already proved that they’re going to ignore me when I ask them something. Since she has already proven this (assuming that’s true), I’d go ahead and CC boss on every email you send, so that boss also has to see the results of coworker’s lack of response.

    Because IMO, if it’s laugh or cry, you should always go for laughter :) And in all honesty, I do find that a woman nearing retirement deciding to give her coworkers the silent treatment is pretty absurd.

  53. Trek*

    I think I would add to all email communication:
    “If I don’t receive a response I will trust that the items below will be completed by x deadline.’ OR “If I don’t receive a response I will trust that you have no changes for how we are proceeding with this project.
    Her silence now becomes approval.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      The presumptive close! A very powerful weapon when properly deployed. And, you know, completely up-front and businesslike and polite.

  54. aka Duchess*

    Holy Moly – is Jane’s real name Dana? I had to let go of a friend for this exact same thing. Always mad – would never say why she is mad – would suddenly be fine with you – but secretly still holding onto all that resentment.

  55. Bunny Girl*

    I don’t understand how grown people think this is acceptable. I burned up the one rage quit of my career on a place like this. My supervisor refused to train me, saying she didn’t have time, but she had plenty of time to come over and throw a tantrum when I didn’t do something correctly. I asked her repeatedly for training, was denied. There were no manuals or other employees I could go to. I went to her boss and was shut down. After about a month of this, I went to HR to explain the situation and ask if I could be transferred to another department. HR told me that they knew my supervisor was difficult and had an attitude problem, and promised to talk to my boss. My entire four person department gave me the silent treatment for a week. The youngest one was in her 40’s. It was insane. By the end of the week, I had enough. I wrote a scathing resignation letter, and dropped it on my HR person’s desk at the end of the week with my parking pass and went out the door and never came back.

  56. BluntBunny*

    If she creates an atmosphere or is refusing to answer questions in a meeting, I would tell her if she isn’t going to participate then to leave the meeting. You have no obligation to put up with her childish behaviour. That negative energy can be really hard to ignore, people will feel more comfortable when she isn’t in the room.

  57. Ellex*

    I had a “silent treatment” coworker! The hilarious part is that it would regularly take me at least a week to figure out she wasn’t talking to me. We were in the same department, but no one actually worked on things together – we just worked on our own files. She also wasn’t very talkative – like, she hardly talked at all on a normal basis – so I usually only figured out she wasn’t talking to me because I’d realize she hadn’t murmured “hello” or “goodbye” for a few days. Which was the normal extent of our conversations.

    The last time she gave me the silent treatment was when I took a promotion out of that department. She really, really didn’t like change of any kind. Our supervisor told me that she actually asked if there was any way the supervisor could keep me from leaving.

    I once gave her the “silent treatment” for about 2 weeks (I didn’t say “good morning” or “have a good evening” to her – how heinous of me!) because when my cat died unexpectedly, she interjected, into a conversation she wasn’t part of, that she didn’t understand why anyone would be upset about a “dumb cat”.

    1. tangerineRose*

      I’m sorry about your cat. I was fortunate enough to have nice co-workers when a kitty of mine passed away. Some people like your co-worker are awful. I mean, I don’t like snakes at ALL, but if someone’s pet snake died, I’d say “I’m sorry” instead of “I hate snakes”.

    2. Scrooge McDunk*

      I’m sorry about your cat, and your terrible co-worker. I once mentioned to a co-worker that my cat needed surgery and he replied ” Putting it to sleep would probably be cheaper than surgery.”

  58. Noah*

    It seems possible that Boss has already tried everything she could and she’s simply not allowed to fire or seriously discipline this person. I’ve worked places where “loyalty” (such as it is) is valued to such an extent that very long term people are largely insulated from anything negative happening to them. At least one of those places was otherwise a reasonably functional workplace.

    1. LQ*

      I have too, but good bosses at least move those people so far out of the way that they can’t create a lot of trouble. We have that here, but there are definitely dumping grounds for people who no one has the time patience or political clout to get people fired, and yes those areas are disaster fires, but people only end up their internally so we don’t hire people into it, they just get shuffled there.

  59. Lo Flo*

    OK – I was a Jane. How I got to be a Jane was trying to work with a bossy busybody co-worker for years that avoided learning new tasks, gossiped, and constantly complained about her health problems and family. When tried to work with her there was always some vague problem with my body language, or tone of voice, that nobody else had with me. Our manager enabled this coworker’s behavior for years because he felt sorry for her chronic health problems (yet she never filed for FMLA because it was too much for her to deal with) . I got to the point where I was scared shitlesss to verbally engage with with woman, and just wanted to keep my head down and do my work. The statement that the OP feels a need to warn the temp workers was the same type of “caring about workplace” that my former coworker would do to undermine moral, that whole getting the first punch in and getting everyone on her side. So yeah,
    the non-verbal Jane’s out there may have more than just a perceived slight that makes them shut down.

    1. Indie*

      Are you saying you flat out refused to answer straightforward work questions? From anyone but the boss?

      Because if you were just less verbal with one mean colleague, that’s not the same thing.

    2. Wintermute*

      it sounds like you were put in a terrible position, but that really isn’t how this letter reads at all to me. Presumably if you were asked for directly job-related information IN A MEETING you wouldn’t pointedly refuse to speak, you were protecting yourself, not attacking them.

      You were being quiet, you weren’t being quiet AT them.

      That’s the operative difference, whether the behavior is inward or outward, defensive or pointed, and whether it extends to what I can only call work avoidance behavior.

  60. Leanne*

    I work with a “Jane”, she once went 6 months of giving me the silent treatment. Did no good to talk to our manager because they’re friends and I was told to ignore her. She finally did speak to me to basically chew me out over a minor mistake. She has a habit of being nasty when you upset her then nice because she’s in a sense won the arguement.

  61. Courageous cat*

    I have known people like this, and I just love this answer and agree with it. Don’t be afraid to return all her bullshit back to her!

  62. Jemima Bond*

    This reads like an office spin on a school playground behaviour. “Come on Fiona, let’s not talk to Sarah until afternoon break”. Does Jane also not share her her cookie with Fergus because he’s only her second best friend and Tangerina is her best friend? Is Jane refusing to take her turn turning the skipping rope because she’s not talking to Llamarita who’s turning the other end, because Llamarita copied her by bringing in a Power Puff Girls pencil case?

  63. Stephanie*

    You work with my aunt? When she’s mad, she refuses to do anything or talk to anyone, just like Jane. I ended up cutting her out of my life after she blocked me on Facebook for family drama I wasn’t even involved in.

    I had no advice, but please send in an update, I would love to know how this turns out.

  64. MLB*

    Not sure if LW is doing this already, but if not, I would ask for everything from Jane via email (or if you have an IM that saves those conversations somewhere). She doesn’t respond? Escalate it to boss every single time. Keep everything in a folder, and if boss still does nothing to change Jane’s behavior, I would escalate it further. Being an employee for a long time does not excuse behaving like a child. If your boss won’t deal with it, she has no business being a manager.

  65. Indie*

    If this is just a Thing Jane Does, accepted by management, is it acceptable to start treating it like the expected roadblock it is? “Hey co-worker, Jane’s doing the Silence Thing, can you wait for those figures or shall I look around her desk for them?” “Hey manager, can you access Jane’s emails for (info) because she’s doing her Silence Thing today?” “Oh Jane isn’t talking to you, new person? It’s a Jane Thing. It happens twice a week or so. Shall we brainstorm how to find this out as though she isn’t here?”
    I mean…not really, make it the boss’s problem like Alison said, but a) you couldn’t truly fault it and b) just fantasising these scenarios will give you a less apologetic or second hand embarrassment vibe towards her.

  66. Sparky*

    I had one of these too! Ours brought her family dynamics to work; she loved her mom but disliked her older sister and her father. While she dramatically would stop talking to coworkers, with head tossing to indicate she’d heard the speaker but wasn’t responding, she first stopped speaking to all of the men in the office, then the younger women, and finally the older women, one by one. She would also send out vitriolic and nonsensical e-mails talking about how she shouldn’t have to put up with such incompetent coworkers and how great she was. We were contractors to a government agency, and our boss was even more toxic and wouldn’t do anything about this.

    One of the clients got wind of this and asked that these e-mails be forwarded to her (as a client, she was above us all). These e-mails were emotionally over wrought first drafts, full of all caps and lots of exclamation points. They were also very poorly written. The client took a red pen to print outs of these, and then was seen walking among the cubes, distributing the corrected screeds. Manager still did nothing, coworker continued to unravel, finally leaving for a job where she could work alone. She had at least concluded that she couldn’t work with other people. I did feel bad for her in that she must have been raised with the silent treatment, which is abuse, and thought it was normal. But boy was I happy to see her go!

    I don’t think this was the best way to handle her, but no one else was doing anything else. I wouldn’t have corrected her ramblings, but this client hated our manager, so it worked out.

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