my coworker plays Christian rock all day, contacting strangers on LinkedIn, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker plays Christian rock all day

I was recently moved from a private office to a shared office with one other member of my team, Lily. I tend to work in silence most of the time, but Lily likes to have music going at all times. I don’t have a problem with that – I like music, I just don’t keep it running all day when left to my own devices. We talked about it when we first moved into our shared office, and I agreed to having music on in our office. It’s always her music, since she comes in before I do, so by the time I come in her music is already playing. I wouldn’t mind that, even, if it were something generic.

But it turns out that she specifically listens to Christian music. Not even just vaguely Christian pop, which I could probably ignore, but songs I recognize from many years ago when my parents tried to get me more interested in church by taking me to the “alternative” services. They’re basically hymns, with lyrics talking about “the precious blood of Jesus Christ” and “Jesus, Lord of all” and things like that. (There’s even a contemporary-ish version of that old Sunday School classic “Jesus Loves Me”!)

I am really, really, really not Christian. I’m a pagan and a witch, and I have some old “bad blood” with Christianity based on my experiences with it in the past. So being inundated with Christian music all day is quickly starting to drive me up a wall. For bonus points, it’s a pretty short playlist, so it’s not uncommon to end up hearing the same song two or three, or even four times in a single day, and the repetition is making it even more irritating.

I have earbuds that I can put in and drown it out with my own music, but I can’t wear them for more than about an hour without them starting to hurt my ears, so they only help so much – plus, wearing them makes me feel isolated from my surroundings in an anxiety-provoking sort of way, which is good when I need to focus on something but not pleasant the rest of the time. So unfortunately, relying on being able to shut out her music with headphones is not a viable solution for me.

Ordinarily I’d just use one of the scripts you’ve provided in the past for office music and other noise disputes, but the specifically religious aspect of this is making me wary. I genuinely wouldn’t mind letting her pick the music 99% of the time if it were pretty much anything else, but it’s specifically the religious content of it that’s bothering me, and I worry that explicitly saying so would be perceived as me attacking her religion. Is it unreasonable for me to ask her to stick to secular music when I’m in the office? How do I phrase that in a way that is respectful of her religion while still basically asking her to keep said religion to herself? Lily is a great coworker and we usually get along really well, so I don’t want to sour things between us, but this is not working for me at all and I’d like to do something before I get more frustrated.

It is absolutely reasonable for you to ask her to stick to secular music in your shared office. It would be unreasonable if you asked her not to wear a cross or not to quietly pray before eating; those are things she has a legal right to do at work. But this is music in your shared office, and you aren’t legally required to accept being bombarded with religious hymns all day long. If she really wants to listen to it herself, headphones would make that possible for her to do without making you listen too.

You can say it this way: “I know you prefer to listen to music during the day, which I can work with. But can I ask that you stick to secular music?”  You could stop there, or you could add, “I’m not totally comfortable with religiously themed music and it’s pretty distracting for me.” This is a perfectly respectful thing to say, and if Lily is indeed a lovely person, she might be disappointed but she shouldn’t freak out or resent you.

But if she protests, then you can say, “How about I try to come up with some playlists that we both might like? I’m sorry I didn’t realize in advance when we talked about playing music in there that so much of it would be religious. But I’m sure we can find a compromise — or we can always switch to headphones if you’d prefer that.”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Can I contact strangers on LinkedIn who used to work for the companies I’m considering working at?

I am currently on the job hunt and primarily have worked at huge, well-known corporations. Some of the companies I’m deep into the interview process with are smaller and have very little information about them on Glassdoor, which is always what I use to look for red flags/inform my decision. I have avoided some terrible places just by researching Glassdoor reviews.

Is it considered too risky or bad etiquette to reach out to folks on LinkedIn who have worked at a company/team in the past that you’re interested in joining (for insight on what it’s like or if they’d recommend/avoid it)? Or is there a way you can approach them without it seeming overly intrusive/making them feel uncomfortable?

Some people would be comfortable talking candidly with a stranger who contacted them out of the blue, but a lot wouldn’t. You’d be asking them to potentially divulge perspectives that they wouldn’t want getting back to their former employer, and a lot of people won’t want to take that risk for a stranger. That’s especially true if you’re asking them to respond in writing (via LinkedIn or in email), but the way around that is for a phone call, which a lot of people will see as a big request for a stranger. The better way to do this, if you can, is to use LinkedIn to find people in your network who are connected to the people you want to contact. It doesn’t even need to be a direct connection; if you see that someone you know is connected to someone who’s connected to the person you want to talk to, that’s usually enough to get you an introduction if you explain what you’re interested in. And people are generally a lot more likely to talk candidly with someone who comes through their network like that.

If you can’t do that because you can’t find any connections, you can still try your original idea. It just might not be as fruitful.

3. My coworker said she finds me draining and gave me a book to read

A coworker just came into my office and in front of my officemate told me that she wanted to acknowledge that ever since she met me she’s felt intense discomfort and found me physically draining. She handed me a book about empaths. She then told me that the reason she didn’t feel at ease around me was because I might be an empath. She wants me to read the book and we can talk about it at any time. I’m not sure what to think. My office mate thought this person was incredibly awkward, rude, and the whole scenario was hilarious.

Awkward and rude is a good conclusion. You should feel free to ignore the coworker’s request that you read the book. If she requests it again, you can just say, “Oh, no thanks!”

I suppose it’s worth thinking about whether you might have interacted with her in a way that a reasonable person could find uncomfortable and draining — and I’d certainly limit your optional interactions with her in the future — but I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on this.

4. Dealing with a separation when I’m close to my coworkers

I work with a small team and we’re all reasonably close. We don’t hang out all the time, but we’ll talk and joke during the day, hang out at work events, and attend the occasional outside-of-work holiday or Halloween party or grab drinks as friends. This means they all know a reasonable amount about my personal life, which brings me to my question.

My husband and I are separating right now and it’s incredibly painful. No one at work currently knows, but I’m moving out soon which will make questions about him all the more upsetting. What’s worse is that my husband and I work for the same company (though not the same department so we never interact or even see each other unless we make a point of it).

How do I deal with the inevitable questions about him that come up? I feel really weird pretending everything is fine, but I feel like I don’t have any other option.

There’s also the fact that I’ve set a precedent for being really happy and open to talking about him and my personal life in the past so suddenly never wanting to discuss it may seem weird (I’ve worked with these people for 5+ years at this point so we know each other well).

Is there a tactful way to put a stopper on questions relating to my marriage? Do I just keep dodging and hope no one notices? Pretend it’s fine? I don’t know what the line is here, especially since we’re definitely closer than colleagues at most companies, but we’re not BFFs, either.

It’s entirely up to you! You can be vague if you want to — replying to “How’s Bob?” with “Oh, he’s fine,” etc. Or you can tell people — the next time someone asks about him, you can say, “Actually, we’re separated.” The thing that’s most likely to happen after that is that their face will fall and you’ll get a sympathetic reaction, and you can respond to that however you want — but one good option is, “I’m trying not to talk about it at work, of course, but we’re both hanging in there” followed by an immediate subject change.

You’ll probably only have to do this a few times and then word is likely to get around.

5. What’s up with employers looking for “humility”?

Here’s something that came up at a recent interview that I was hoping you could shed some light. I can’t tell if this is a new spin on an old concept or I’m just embittered and have had too many interviews to count.

I had a video interview this week for a program manager position. The interviewer (a woman who appeared to be in her 20’s or early 30’s) told me that the company culture required that people who worked there be “ego-less” (no divas … okay, fine) and be “humble.”

When I use the word “humble” in conjunction with a profession, I would be thinking of someone who is a priest, or spiritual leader. To me being humble in the workplace would mean being quiet and not taking credit, or letting other’s take credit for your work. I did reassure her that I was a team player and worked transparently, while sharing my knowledge with team, but that didn’t seem to be quite what she was looking for. This position ended up not being a good fit because what they needed was a people manager and I am an individual contributor. I’m kicking myself because I didn’t ask her what this meant to her/to her company. Since then I’ve seen a few job posts that mention being humble in their job descriptions/company culture.

Is this some sort of new hipster language for being a “team player” or is there something else going on? Seriously, I’ve spent years working on myself in therapy and trying to bump up my self esteem so I could get to a place where I can negotiate a fair salary, and stand up for myself when some of those overbearing types in the workplace try to get me down. The thought of parking all this or faking humility in order to get back to work is daunting to say the least.

I’m sure there are some employers out there touting “humility” as a way to say “we don’t want you to ask for a raise or ever assert yourself.” But lots of perfectly healthy workplaces use it to mean “not arrogant or cocky” and are trying to convey “we don’t want someone thinks they have all the answers, won’t listen to others, and doesn’t appreciate other people.” One of the best organizations I’ve worked with includes it in their core values and means it that way. And then still other employers use it because it’s a buzzword but it doesn’t reflect much of anything in their culture either way.

In general, I’d avoid reading too much into this kind of language choice unless it’s part of a pattern in what you’re seeing from the employer.

{ 654 comments… read them below }

  1. Les G*

    Folks like OP2’s coworker are, uh, draining, to say the least. Did you have a weird interaction with her? Maybe, because people have weird interactions all the time. Sometimes people don’t like people and it’s not because anyone involved is paranormal. In my day we called it a “vibe” and no books were needed to understand the phenomenon. Give this loon a crystal at the office secret Santa and avoid her at all costs the rest of the time.

    1. RaccoonLady*

      I mean, I believe (not from anything I’ve read but just something I’ve always believed) that some people have “positive” energy and some people have “negative” energy which is…draining.
      At the same time, I would never tell someone that’s what I thought of them, much less hand them a book!! Doing that makes me discredit anything she says. I also think that kinda feeling is a very personal thing and I wouldn’t extrapolate that because *I* found someone draining that everyone else does.

      1. Les G*

        That’s the “vibe” thing I was alluding to. Everyone feels this way, it makes neither the person who perceives it nor the one whom they perceive it about unusual or special in the least, and (as you note) does not merit acknowledgement of any kind.

      2. Yorick*

        You know what’s draining? Someone telling you they find you intensely uncomfortable and assigning you homework about it.

        1. Say what?*

          YES! Why are you giving her homework? Does everyone in the world have to adjust to meet your needs? You’re the draining one.

          1. Say what?*

            Side note, check that she isn’t the author of that book. If she’s handing out copies willy-nilly to all of the people she finds “draining” maybe it’s more to do with promoting the book?

            1. LQ*

              OMG I HOPE THIS IS TRUE SO MUCH! I don’t care if that makes me a horrible person. But this would be the best.

              1. Fact & Fiction*

                This made me giggle and now I’m considering how I could work this into my own life with my books. They’re under a pen name so it could work! “You are obviously a shapeshifter from a rival race/species in disguise and I’m finding that disconcerting. Please read this urban fantasy book so we can work out the proper way to relate to each other. Also buy and read all the sequels plskthx!”

                And yeah I would definitely ignore this bizarre request.

                1. Say what?*

                  Hahaha!!!!! “I’m worried you’re a shapeshifter” is way more valid than “I’m worried that you’re perceptive to my emotional state.”

                2. Bobbin Ufgood*

                  Am looking for new book series! I would love to know the title or your pen name if you feel comfortable sharing.

                3. Fact & Fiction*

                  Bobbin Ufgood: I don’t want to hijack this thread so let me think on it and post something on today’s open thread after work today. I’ve been keeping this posting name separate from both my pen name and real name but am not adverse to sharing with fellow UF readers.

              1. Specialk9*

                I read that as it being a more entertaining theory that they were enjoying imagining, rather than what they think is actually happening. I may be wrong though.

                1. Say what?*

                  No, not a serious theory, just a joke. I don’t think she wrote it. Although, even if it turned out to be the case that coworker felt the book had changed her life for the better and was passing it around to anyone she could find, it’s still pretty problematic. You can’t assume that someone needs a self-help book.

          2. Nita*

            Yeah, so how’s the conversation supposed to go if OP does read the book and agree to discuss it with her? Does she expect OP to apologize for unwittingly draining her life-force? Offer to quit so she feels better? Keep some crystals on her desk to absorb bad energy? Just. So. Ridiculous.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            I’m so genuinely confused too about why a person being an “empath” would be draining for someone else. I thought she was going to say that *she* was an empath so being around OP was draining because like she could tell they were secretly sad or something?

        2. Decima Dewey*

          And why would you want to sit down and talk about the supposed reasons you find OP “draining”? Why not just limit interactions to the actual job, and avoid taking lunch and/or breaks at the same time OP does?

          1. SavannahMiranda*

            Right. Having a homework conversation about being draining with the supposedly draining person sounds…draining?

            Homework assigning coworker sounds codependent to me. There’s an emotive buzzword to lob back at her.

            Hey, don’t come over here assigning me homework to report to you on, you’re not my therapist and I’m not your project person to fix, you codependent weirdo!

            Sigh! If only.

            1. Specialk9*

              Is codependent the right buzzword? I feel like the co-worker is the one initiating bad things on their own. It’s not to the level of “abusive” though.

          2. PersonalJeebus*

            Because this very draining person simply *must* “help” the OP! She’s doing them a huge favor by pointing out their issues when obviously no one else has the moral courage to tell them the truth, and bestowing upon them the tools to fix themselves.

            Ugh. People who hand out unsolicited self-help books have serious impulse control problems and are the most draining ever.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          So true! The coworker who wore me out the most in one sitting was one who, at lunch together, gave the equivalent of an hour-long, super-hype infomercial about herself. She was bubbly and positive and utterly exhausting.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            Yuck. That person was fake, fake, FAKE! Genuinely positive people do not give hour-long infomercials about anything, especially themselves. Instead, they’re enthusiastic and eager to listen to others, not dominate the entire room.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Yes! I used to work with this guy who was So. Chipper. All. The. Time. It was too much. I just wanted him to be cranky for one day so I knew that he was human.

        3. JelloStapler*

          My former supervisor (now colleague as we had a re-org) can be so Pollyanna to the point of the rest of us feeling dismissed because we were pointing out real problems.

      3. Seriously?*

        Yeah. You can find someone draining. It happens. But unless they are doing something specific that you would like to see change (ex: finding someone draining because they are constantly talking and interrupting you), don’t bring it up. At that point, you are basically saying that you find their existence draining, which is not their problem to fix.

        1. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

          In my experience, calling yourself an “empath” to that degree means that you have massive boundary issues, often because you’re coming from an environment, whether FOO, relationship, or long-term workplace, where expecting others to respect your boundaries was actively dangerous. I confess, I used to be one of those people, and finding that label was such a relief!

      4. Former Borders Refugee*

        Right? You can’t control what someone else does, so you learn to cope with it. Coworker has some homework of her own to do.

      5. Lissa*

        Yeah, “I find someone draining” is a personal reaction to someone – we all have them. But there are some people out there who seem to think that this means said other person has some objective quality of negative energy, or being draining (or heck, even being “off” in some way if they get a bad “vibe”) and this is just not really accurate. We all have wildly different reactions to people, sometimes based on something they did, something based on something that happened to us unrelated to them, and and sometimes just a bad mix. I know quite a few people convinced they are “intuitives” or “super good at picking up things about people” and it’s tbh, never been true across the board.

        There’s a certain type of personality that I find extremely draining to be around but I keep that to myself because it’s a ME thing not a THEM thing. I feel like some people have taken the whole “my spidey sense went off” thing as gospel (accidental allusion to Letter #1?) instead of something that can be caused by many things.

      6. Dr. Pepper*

        No, you do NOT tell them! Much less assign them homework?? Wtf? If you find someone draining, you minimize your interactions with them and fortify your energy when you do need to spend long periods of time around them. It’s a personal problem and should be treated as such.

    2. Airy*

      I thought empaths were people who can perceive what other people are feeling, like Deanna Troi on Star Trek: the Next Generation, and unless they were always smugly telling you how you felt when you were trying not to show it or it was none of their business (like Deanna’s pushy mother Lwaxana), I don’t see why an empath would be “draining” to deal with. If anything they might find other people draining because they would be constantly aware of their emotions and it might be overwhelming.
      Anyway, Deanna Troi was a lovely person notable for her intelligence, integrity and kindness and I think you should print out a glossy photo of her and put it in a handsome frame on your desk, as inspiration.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That’s exactly what the word means, which is why the idea that OP is “physically draining” because they’re a secret empath is hilarious. If OP is an empath, they’re more likely to feel physically drained by the coworker’s emotions than vice-versa.

        1. Les G*

          At first I thought there was a typo and OP meant to write that her *coworker* was the empath. But nah, I think the coworker’s just a standard issue “my body is 65% Kool-Aid” type.

          1. BRR*

            Yeah I also thought the coworker would be the empath but now the whole thing is extra strange to me. “You can read emotions so I’m finding that exhausting.”

            1. LQ*

              “You can read my emotions so I have to spent a ton of time on emotional blockers to stop you from draining me of all my life.”

              Which I actually think is a Steven King novel…
              It’s a great sci-fi/fantasy/horror concept. It’s a weird coworker concept.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Exactly! Not all plots that work well with light sabers and capes translate seamlessly to accounts receivable.

                1. HappySnoopy*

                  “Not all plots that work well with light sabers and capes translate seamlessly to accounts receivable.”

                  I think this should be a motto somewhere…or at least on a t-shirt.

                2. BF50*

                  Can we put it on a mug? I want that mug and then when sales comes to bug me about not approve credit for a crappy customer I can tell them “no” while sipping out of that mug. And sales would never get the joke, which would make it better.

              2. Say what?*

                Yeah, this is what I was reading the situation as.

                “I’m worried that you see through my bullshit and I find that draining to deal with.”

                As someone who prefers to keep things close to the chest, I could see how constantly assuring people that you’re fine could be draining. But it doesn’t sound like the OP was demanding that, only that her coworker was perceiving that. So strange…

          2. Gadget Hackwrench*

            Same. If you believe in this stuff it would have to be the coworker who was an empath for any of this to make sense.

            1. Seriously?*

              Maybe she thinks she is an empath too and encountering other empaths is draining? Assigning a book to a coworker to read is a hilariously bad idea (unless it is directly work related).

              1. BF50*

                That was my guess at her motivation. That they are both empaths. Basically, that coworker is trying to convert OP to her brand of crazy.

                1. BF50*

                  And just for clarity – I know several absolutely lovely and sane people who believe in empaths. I don’t think that everyone who believes this is crazy, only the OP’s coworker.

            2. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

              And you’ve just put your finger on what *really* bugs me about people like this with your “if you believe in this stuff.” Because people like this co-worker seem to think that being highly empathetic (or intuitive) is something “psychic” or otherwise “woo” based when it’s actually nothing of the sort, and it doesn’t work anything like they think it does or give them any special powers about reading someone or whatever. People with strong empathy or intuition may or may not be wired a little differently than others, but that’s called being ‘neurodivergant’, and not really any different than the fact that some people are wired to be extremely good at math, or are synesthesic, or whatever.

              1. PersonalJeebus*

                Yes. It’s fine to believe that empaths are a thing. It’s not fine to corner people, especially ones you barely know, with “diagnoses” and homework.

              2. Specialk9*

                Exactly. Perceiving chemical signals more than most people can isn’t woo-woo, it’s just having more sensitive versions of normal human perceptions. Seeing 20/20 isn’t woo, even if most people see worse than that.

              3. PersonalJeebus*

                Or to put it another way, this coworker’s problematic belief is not “empaths exist” but rather “it is my job to diagnose and evangelize to empaths.”

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Yeah, that confused me. Usually it’s the empathic types who feel drained by everyone around them.

          Maybe LW #3 misheard what coworker said? Though that doesn’t explain the book. It’s weird all the way around. I wonder what the book is.

          1. Serafina*

            Didn’t someone write to Dear Prudie about that very scenario? Coworker told LW she couldn’t do work with LW bc coworker was an empath suffering from proximity to LW’s negative aura – or something like that, managing to be both exceedingly weird and deeply insulting to the poor LW at the same time.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I had the same reaction. Had to google “empath” to make sure it’s not code for something.

        4. Beancounter in Texas*

          I’m with Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. I think the coworker is the empath, not the OP, and the coworker is the one who should learn how to manage her ability, not the other way around.

          1. Trek*

            -she didn’t feel at ease around me was because I might be an empath.-

            I think coworker is stating that OP is the empath.

          2. Tiny Soprano*

            I’d look coworker dead in the eye and ask her if she has a problem with succubi in the office and follow up with supernatural beings are a protected class.

            Mind you, I’m always convincing people that I’m some kind of millennia old undead creature. So YMMV.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, that’s what empath usually means! In non science fiction terms, a sensitive person; in science fiction terms, someone who psychically reads emotions, like Troi.

        But there’s a very specific subset of new age/self help philosophy in which empaths are something else, people with more “soul force” or stronger “soul expression.” People who are believed to be unwittingly pushing their emotions in addition to reading the emotions of others. I imagine that’s where it’s coming from.

        1. Workerbee*

          Yes. This bugs. Lots of folks are looking for confirmation that they’re special, and “empaths” keep coming up. Oh, the care one must take!

          1. Falling Diphthong*


            Being able to dial down your empathy is a specific marker of maturity. Because if you identify fully all the time all over everything–yeah, it’s draining on you, and it means you’re no help to people who need it. If I’m severely injured I need someone around who can dial down their empathy and, rather than joining me in collapsing, administer appropriate first aid while efficiently arranging more professional help.

            I was thinking of physical hurt, but this is also a trait that people deeply value in their circle when they have been emotionally gut-punched–someone who figures out all the practical things that need to happen, and does them, while the hurt person is too shell-schocked to react.

          2. GreenDoor*

            “Lots of folks are looking for confirmation that they’re special” So much this! I have a friend that is convinced she gets visions, has ESP, and is an empath. Because, well, she read a few books on those topics, you see. Now she has total confirmation bias, assuming her every thought, dream, and idea somehow stems from her “abilities.” She’ll say, “I sense something bad happening in April.” And lo and behld, some horrible story will be on the news one day in April. Never mind that “something bad happening” is pretty vague….and doesn’t “something bad” happen in our world every day? Ugh…draining indeed! (Not to negate people that actually are sensitives….just the confirmation bias is unreal with her!).

          3. Specialk9*

            It’s even more annoying for those of us who actually are an emotional raw exposed nerve, and the term “empath” actually fit, and then jerks coopted it.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          Now I wonder if the coworker meant “emotional vampire”. And if the book was Henry James’s novel “The Sacred Font.” Nah, coworker is probably just batsh*t crazy.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Huh…well that, at least, would make some sense in this context. I’ve never heard it used like that before, so it’s good to know that’s A Thing to some folks.

        4. Jennifer Juniper*

          Thanks for explaining that. I thought people who unwittingly push their emotions would be more likely to have difficulty reading the emotions of others. I am autistic and have been told I’m an “energy broadcaster.” I am trying to modulate my emotions more.

        5. Ice and Indigo*

          So it’s a way of saying someone’s emotionally loud? Well, I guess if the OP wanted to be obliging she could ask a couple of other people if they thought that was true of her, and if so, maybe dial it down a bit in a professional setting?

          Given the co-worker’s lack of professionalism here, though, I wouldn’t put much stock in her judgment on its own. She could be saying anything from ‘I wish you’d treat me with more professional respect and neutrality (and I’m going to communicate this in a really odd way)’ to ‘I just don’t like you very much, please change yourself.’ Third-party input might help work out which it is – but that doesn’t mean OP has to read the book. (Though I have to say I’m curious what book it was!)

      3. Accidental Analyst*

        In some fantasy novels empaths are not only sensitive to the emotions of others but they’re also able to influence other people’s emotions. Maybe they’re going with that form of empathy?

        1. JSPA*

          If coworker feels that she’s receiving subliminal, emotionally-charged messages direct from OP’s energy field, to the point that she’s coming to OP about it, might this be something to bring up with HR as a safety / security issue?

          Not because people who perceive the world differently are intrinsically dangerous (statistically, most are not).

          But because people who think you’re inside their head, and are willing to make it your problem, are demonstrably perturbed by the situation, demonstrably willing to make their problems into your problems, and potentially quite motivated to “make it stop.” (We can laugh at how bizarre it is for coworker to give OP the book, but coworker’s presumably feeling real suffering / anxiety / fear / sense of violation, and those are all powerful emotions.)

          Because there’s apparently some philosophy behind co-worker’s assessment, I suppose it’s not quite the same as if coworker demanded that you stop whispering telepathic insults inside her head.

          But it might be worth following up (or better yet, asking someone in HR to follow up) juuust enough to document, in case there’s progressive “reality slippage.”

          1. Specialk9*

            I would definitely tell the manager, and possibly HR. It’s not the weirdest thing they deal with, but it’s one of the weirder things OP will deal with, and yeah documentation.

      4. Akcipitrokulo*

        I’ve read there is a belief in “empathic vampires” … that sounds more like what she’s describing. (It’s also nonsense and OP shouldn’t worry about it!)

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            My nephew bought me a book I thought was satire but wasn’t… a discussion of the 4 types of “real” vampires. Empathic vampires of this sort were one of them. (He thought it was funny and I’d like it as I did WoD larps where I played vampire characters…)

          2. Anonymosity*

            I thought the same thing.
            Off-topic, but the message board thing reminded me that I used to have a neighbor in a residential hotel who was a witch. One evening he told me with the utmost gravity that the city we lived in contained actual vampires. I tried to get him to elaborate, but he wouldn’t. I never found out if he meant blood drinking fetishists, empathic vampires, or hecking Dracula. Given that a popular vampire film was shot in this particular city, he may have just been messing with me, but he seemed completely serious and refused to discuss it further.

            1. Julia*

              Actually, the last heir of the Dracula family lived in Germany before he passed away a few years ago. I’m not kidding. My father went fishing with him once.

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        The coworker seems to think empaths are also vampires.

        Her office mate has the right idea–collapsing in hysterical laughter is probably the best response here.

        (It depends on the sanity of your management, but if they’re normal this is something I would hand over to them, as banally as possible: “Lisa told me that she finds I drain her emotions, and she believes I’m an empath and wants me to read up on it. I’m not really comfortable with this.” Before she starts sprinkling garlic in other suspects’ cubicles.)

      6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        The way I’ve seen it used in a real-world context is that ’empaths’ are people who are prone to being easily influenced by the emotions of people around them, or being really good at perceiving and understanding them. People who are really good at reading a room or noticing and interpreting very small emotional or conversational cues, but might have trouble staying calm when other people around them are running really hot, that sort of thing. And even so, it’s still about an ability to perceive what’s going on with others, not about being draining for other people to deal with.

        1. Specialk9*

          I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s some fascinating psychology on the ability of humans to smell emotions, but it’s actively suppressed by our brains to help us cope. Emotions are chemical, so it’s not really weird.

          It was really helpful to me, in understanding why I had this often-unpleasant connection to the feelings of others. I figure my nose is extra tuned to the chemicals of emotions.

      7. ragazza*

        I am hypersensitive to other people’s emotions and often perceive things during interactions that others don’t–until fairly recently I thought everyone saw and sensed what I did. I don’t know if that makes me an empath, but it is draining. However, it’s on me to figure out techniques to save my energy and I would never bring this up in a business setting.

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          The problem with emotional hypersensitivity is that sometimes, things are perceived that the other person isn’t feeling.

          1. soon 2be former fed*

            Oh, and for the OP: Ignore it all, and avoid coworker whenever possible. If she asks, say you want to avoid draining her. What nerve.

          2. ragazza*

            Or don’t recognize that they are feeling. One thing I’ve realized is that while I might sense what someone is feeling, I don’t know where it’s coming from or what it means, whether it’s directed at me, etc.

            1. Indoor Cat*

              Yeah, like, if I’m not trying to hide it, I can often look irritated. It’s because I often *am* irritated– by a small but annoying degree of physical pain that I’m always in.

              It’s awkward when someone gets anxious and asks if I’m irritated or even “mad” at them, because the honest answer is, no, I’m not mad at them, but I don’t really want to share what I am irritated about because it’s personal. Like, it’s a slightly embarrassing medical issue that I handle best by distracting myself from. But if they keep asking after I say, “No, I’m not irritated, just thinking,” then, yes, the irritation gets aimed at that person.

          3. Lissa*

            Yeah my problem is that a lot of people who are convinced they’re empaths are also convinced they are never wrong, so if they say “I perceive you’re upset” and you say “but I am not upset” they will just straight up not believe you.

      8. Anonnie Annie*

        Yes, that is exactly what it is, except the Star Trek version is much “cleaner” and clearer than it tends to be in real life. There’s a lot of new age woo woo nonsense surrounding empathic sensitivity and so forth, but think of it like you’ve got an extra antenna and basically pick up more frequencies than most people do. It’s not magic. It’s like having really, really good hearing. You just “hear” more. It does suck because you can see/feel just how two faced many people are.

        I would guess that this coworker is NOT actually an empath but fervently wants to believe that she is. I would put her down as a narcissist instead, especially considering her need to make herself appear different and important.

        1. Chalupa Batman*

          I wondered if I was misunderstanding “empath,” but this larger thread shows it’s not just me who’s confused as to why OP being an empath would be draining to someone else. I don’t know a lot about empaths, largely because of the high volume of woo-woo: I think it’s probably a thing, but there’s so much bad information and so many people who fall in the category you describe (“I’m an empath, and you’re clearly in deep distress!” “Nope, that’s just my face…”) that all sources are suspect. I wouldn’t have much trust in a book offered up by someone who thinks it’s anything less than insulting to ask someone to read it because they were “draining” her.

          1. Anonnie Annie*

            Yes. Empaths are a real thing and people claiming to be one for whatever reason when they are not is also definately a thing. I am an empath, and I do not declare myself as such because…. well, why? What is to be gained? Anyone who proclaims themselves as such with little to no provocation or context should be treated with extreme skepticism. It’s a way people who need to feel special differentiate themselves from others, and also a way to blame other people for their problems. “My emotions are all over the place and out of control and I just feel so *assaulted* by other people’s emotions and demands, I must be an empath!!” Possibly. “I better go around informing everyone they need to treat me differently because I’m SO SPECIAL and SENSITIVE.” Um, no. If you are an empath, you need get a grip and train yourself to handle it, which doesn’t involve other people. If you’re not, then you also need to get a grip and deal with your problems.

        2. Thany*

          I love this description of an empath! I always have a hard time explaining what an empath is (which I only explain if I react very emotionally to something, and they have no context as to why), so this is really helpful. I also don’t go around telling everyone that I’m a sensitive snowflake, because it’s important to me to regulate my own emotions. I don’t expect other people to do it for me.

    3. justcourt*

      I’m sure everyone who’s had an interaction with the book giver have had a weird interaction with her.

    4. Tim Tam Girl*

      The act of raising the issue so bluntly reminded me of a former flatmate who was in Landmark Forum (fka EST). One of their bits of jargon was ‘racket’: when you were super-annoyed by someone, but you recognised that they weren’t doing anything intentionally to make things hard for you – that it was just some quirk of theirs that bugged you – you ‘had a racket with’ them.

      I thought that this was a pretty good idea at its foundation, in that it prompts you to do the math of ‘is this person doing this super-annoying thing AT me, or is this just a thing they do?’ Where it got weird, though, was that when you had identified that you had a racket with someone, *you had to tell them*. So I watched as my flatmate had these gut-twistingly awkward conversations with our other flatmates wherein she sat each one down and explained that there was X thing about them that she couldn’t stand but that she recognised that it was her issue to fix, not theirs, and they didn’t have to do anything about it or discuss it any further. And then she went cheerfully about her day, while my flatties rolled around in various stages of the WTF Giggles and tried to wrap their heads around this Radical Honesty that was actually VERY, VERY INSULTING but that they couldn’t address in any way. It was extraordinary manipulation performed in what appeared to be complete innocence; but then, how could someone not know what a trash move this is? Maybe it could work when kept within a group of people who all understood it and used it equally; but the outside world was not ready for this particular jelly.

      Anyway, I would not be in the least surprised to learn that OP2’s co-worked had done some time in Landmark or something similar. But whatever her deal is, I hope she’s got it off her chest now and you can all move on to a less racket-ridden existence.

      1. Snickerdoodle*

        What happens if you have a racket with their racket? How would you resolve it? Or would it just trigger a vicious, escalating circle until both sides storm out in acrimony?

        1. Tim Tam Girl*

          No one storms. It would just be gently-delivered but strangely pointed Helpful Feedback back and forth, back and forth until they both died of being lashed by a wet noodle.

      2. Specialk9*

        That’s making me squirm in second hand awkwardness! What were the repercussions to the radical honesty one?

        1. Tim Tam Girl*

          None really. I mean, what can you do a person like that? No one hung out with her much but no one did that much even before this. She was nice enough but off-putting; one person described her as ‘Ally McBeal trapped in a Chekhov play’, which will stick with me until I die.

          It did get even more awkward when she started pushing us to attend her graduation ceremony from whatever Landmark level she had been in. It was a very big deal to her and we were all overseas students far from home so didn’t have our usual friends/family for those kinds of events. I felt for her, but… not enough to go. At all.

          1. kitryan*

            When you go to those graduation ceremonies they put all the ‘guests’ in a separate room and try to get you to sign up for the first session/class. I went for my boyfriend at the time – and I sort of knew to expect that we’d be separated and there’d be a bit of a sales pitch, but it was *very* pushy. I am so not into that sort of thing, so I noped out and my sister still refers to my boyfriend who tried to get me to join a cult.
            He was not a terrible boyfriend but he was pretty into Landmark. Once I went to the thing and said I wasn’t into it, he didn’t push at all, so that was ok.

      3. MsChanandlerBong*

        LANDMARK FORUM! Oh man, I haven’t thought about that in years. About 14 years ago, my boss sent me to a Landmark Forum session. People were sobbing into microphones, and my brain was like, “Danger, Will Robinson!” I left after an hour and asked them to refund my company’s money. It was insane.

      4. Ermintrude*

        Jumping in here because I’ve done Landmark. One simply does not go around telling people who haven’t done Landmark they’ve got a ‘racket’. You can only have rackets if you’ve been through the training of what they is and how they work. Another Landmark graduate could tell me, or I could tell them that I/they are running a racket and know what we’re on about but I’d say something to someone outside of Landmark without any jargon because the concepts are helpful but the jargon is not.
        Also, I’ve had run-ins with supposed empaths and yeah, nah to that.

          1. Ermintrude*

            Tim Tam Girl, Your ex-flatmate was rude and ridiculous. Going to the Landmark Forum doesn’t fix that if someone doesn’t check themselves before trying that stuff on other people.
            I did my Forum in 2009 and Landmark has changed a fair bit since then. I am very glad to have taken part but I will say it wasn’t quite the exilir of sorting my life out I hoped it would be but it’s made definite improvements.
            It was like finding my favourite everything and wanting to share it but I’ve dialed that right down.
            I think if Weirdo Colleague had done the Forum, they’d be pushing that, not some book.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think the OP needs to read the book and report back to us, because now I’m very curious as to what kind of empath she allegedly is.

          1. LQ*

            I don’t know that I have the wardrobe at work to do that. Though my “office” cardigan is pretty stretched out…

        1. Snickerdoodle*

          LOL! I was just going to suggest using it to fix that wobbly table leg, but I also like this. Maybe both.

    6. Jennifer Juniper*

      OP3: Weird projecting passive-aggressive co-worker is weird. Ignore her.

      Also, I thought those types loved empaths and saw them as higher beings.

    7. Kathy*

      Being the demon I am, I would say I read the book; admit I am an empath, and suggest maybe I would need an exorcism. Let the games begin.

    8. buttercup*

      The way the coworker handled it was so so wrong. She may have legitimate reasons not to like the OP, but either she should keep it to herself or have a straightforward discussion about it. When I first read the title, I thought the coworker found the OP draining because the OP talked her ear off or something. It seems like the coworkers is just passive aggressively telling the OP that she doesnt like her existence, which is weird.

    9. Stephanie*

      Specifically, give them hematite for the office secret Santa. If they’re a crystal person they may recognize it as the “shield from bad feelings” crystal. If not, well no harm done.

      I’d just pitch the book unless you’re curious. If she’s getting a bad vibe 9r bad feelings, it’s on her.

  2. Not A Manager*

    LW4, one option when people ask about Bob is to say, pleasantly and even with a smile, “I don’t want to talk about Bob.” Most people will hear that and absolutely not talk about Bob.

    1. Pony tailed wonder*

      I had something similar happen to me. I was engaged to a co-worker and he jilted me a few days before the wedding. I told one trusted co-worker (it was my boss) briefly what happened and told her to let people know that I didn’t want to talk about it. It worked for all my co-workers except for one who promptly swept in to my cubicle and demanded all the juicy details. I repeatedly had to tell her that I wasn’t going to talk about it. Most people will be good about it but you might encounter an idiot. Best wishes.

      1. Snickerdoodle*

        I’m so sorry that happened to you.

        There’s always ONE, isn’t there? I think it’s amazing you were able to keep it together and just keep repeating yourself. I probably would have snapped and yelled at her.

        1. Snark*

          I read something recently in a different context that was basically, 85% of people will be decent and respect boundaries automatically, 10% can be retrained to respect boundaries even if it doesn’t come naturally, and 5% will just amuse themselves as they will whatever they’re told or taught about respecting boundaries.

          1. Specialk9*

            I think you’re missing a category of people who love boundaries, because it tells them where to stomp.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        You are so right. When I split with my ex, a co-worker demanded the details. I told her what worked for everyone else – I don’t want to talk about Ex – and she replied, ‘Oh, come on, you can tell ME…’ Wouldn’t let up and I finally ignored her.

        OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this – PTW, I’m sorry you did, too.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I had one like that too. There’s one in every office, it seems! Mine interrupted a perfectly nice girl talk about jewelry between her, me, and another woman, with a “why are you not wearing your wedding ring?” Because I’m sometimes slow to see the red flags, I said, “because we are in the middle of a divorce, that will be final in a couple of months”.

          She came into my cube the next day to tell me that she and her husband of 20 years had sometimes had arguments, but they had worked on things and are still together, and I should go back to my STBX and work on things too. She was a new contractor who barely knew me, and had never met the STBX, not that it would’ve entitled her to any opinions. At least she didn’t prod me for details, because she was too busy enjoying hearing herself talk! Silver lining!

          The third woman never said anything on the subject, for which I am extremely thankful. I had only told a couple of people in the office at that time, because I did not want to discuss any of that with coworkers.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Good lord.

            My supervisor is (in the middle of? Just completed?) a divorce. He told us once and it’s never been mentioned again.

            I would really love to know what goes through the minds of people who insert themselves this way. I cannot even imagine what I would say to somebody, even if I thought I had the right.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Ugh. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that, and I will never understand people who seem to thrive on the details of something bad that happened to someone else. What’s wrong with, “I’m so sorry, and if you need anything, please let me know?” and leaving it at that? Or respecting the initial request to not talk about it at all?

      4. Dr. Pepper*

        Ugh, yes, there’s always one, eh? My stock answer to invasive questions is “Why do you need to know?” Say that in whatever tone you fancy, from very bland to hostile, depending on the situation. It brings most people to a stammering halt.

    2. Les G*

      That’s my wife’s go to move for all manner of nonsense. People don’t ask about the proverbial Bob more than once.

    3. Washi*

      Out of the blue though? I can see this being a good response if someone keeps pressing the subject, but if the OP has previously been sharing a reasonable amount about her life and then suddenly goes “I don’t want to talk about Bob” one day, that will probably come across as pretty abrupt and standoffish.

      I think Alison’s advice is good, and if the OP does feel close to this group but would have a hard time talking about this, I think she could even ask one or two coworkers to pass around that the OP is separating and would prefer not to have any questions about Bob. Especially since he’s at the same company, people are probably going to find out anyway, and I think it’s worth giving a brief explanation of the truth (without going into detail.)

      1. ItsOnlyMe*

        This is what I did when my marriage ended. I spoke to a trusted co-worker – told her what had happened and asked her to spread the word and tell others I didn’t want to discuss it. It was hard but everyone understood and left me to it but I was glad they knew why I needed a little extra space.

        OP I am sorry you are going through this, wishing you strength.

        1. AllMyExesLiveInTX*

          Yep same with a breakup recently. I spoke about him a fair amount and it would’ve been weird if I hadn’t said anything, particularly in our small office. Told two people, asked them to spread it to the team, and make sure no one mentioned him or on that particular Monday, ask me how my weekend was (terrible. Just lost the man I thought I was going to marry. Thanks for asking…).

      2. CheeryO*

        Yes, this is how we tend to handle news like this in my close-knit office. It would be strange if someone never shared that they were separating from their spouse, but it’s totally understandable to not want to share right away, and to not want to talk about it at work.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, I think if you’ve been openly discussing Bob up until now, and then one day you say “I don’t want to discuss Bob,” it’s not going to stop the conversation. It’s going to raise questions.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Any questions raised they can keep to themselves, though. Because you just said you don’t want to talk about it. Responding to “I don’t want to discuss Bob” with probing questions about Bob is exactly the wrong thing to do.

        2. OhNo*

          I suppose it depends on the people, but at least among my coworkers, the only follow up question would be, “Do you mean just today, or until further notice?”

      4. Not A Manager*

        In my experience, even if you have been quite open about a subject in the past, blandly but pointedly saying, “I don’t want to talk about x,” actually is really communicative. It doesn’t mean that you can’t *ever* give *anyone* more details, but you get to do it on your own timetable.

        Generally if I hear or say “I don’t want to talk about x,” what it communicates is “back off” without sounding accusatory or having to give details about it. A good response to immediate follow-up questions is “I *really* don’t want to talk about Bob.” That’s even more communicative.

    4. AnonForThis*

      I was in a sort-of-similar situation once: close knit group of coworkers, they had all met my spouse who had worked at the same place, we talked about family a lot.

      When my spouse came out as transgender, I really didn’t want to talk about it at work (even though I had an amazing workplace that was super supportive of LGBTQ people). Once my spouse and I were both ready for people to know more broadly, I talked to coworkers individually or in small groups as opportunity arose and said:

      “Hey, so, you’ve met Spouse before… she came out as transgender a few months ago and is going by NewName. Since we all talk about families, I wanted you to be aware of this, but I don’t want it to be a big deal at work. Thanks.”

      That worked well. I’ve had one or two people come to me individually and discreetly to offer support, but nobody has been pushy when there’s general family talk and I don’t chime in (AND if I do choose to talk about her, I don’t have to explain who NewName is).

    5. Specialk9*

      The best approach for a separation / divorce is not to get into the details at work. If you know someone well enough that they come to your home and you expect that of course you’ll still hang out after moving on to a new job… Those people you can tell details if you want, but not at work.

      As an aside, sometimes people get weird for their own reasons. For my divorce, I went in assuming the rule above (discretion at work) was the right one, but my Director kept probing and I went with it because we were friendly and I respected him, and then I thought I had been wrong about that rule. I made at least one work friend uncomfortable by oversharing and realized (embarrassed) that, no really, discretion at work was the rule after all! That Director was divorced himself shortly after, so clearly he had his own reasons for asking so many probing questions.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        OTOH, I made a lot of teammates and casual work friends upset by not telling them at all. They found out after the fact and sounded hurt by that. But honestly, I would not have known how to work that into a casual work chat! “How are you?” – “Oh fine, you know, divorcing, how about yourself?”

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, I know that one too. It took years before things were sorted in my head enough to summarize appropriately to a situation. I had 0% or 100% disclosure. Now I can summarize, but then? No way.

    6. anonforthis*

      You can also deputize someone you work with and trust to tell people that you and Bob have split and you don’t want to talk about it. That keeps you from having to repeat it ad nauseum and heads off anyone bringing it up.

  3. Daria Grace*

    OP1, I have no extra good advice to what Alison has said but wanted to offer my sympathy. I am Christian, I sometimes listen to that kind of music outside church and yet having it on loop at work would still be super annoying and awkward.

    1. Les G*

      Right? I can’t grok having any kind of music I didn’t personally choose to funnel into my hearing-holes by means of technology blasting in my office, especially not on a loop. I don’t care if it’s my all time favorite Argentine cumbia group’s newest record, I’ll listen on my day off, thankyoukindlybye.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When my daughter had her wisdom teeth out (so I was sitting and waiting for a few hours, with a laptop), the reception area had a radio AND a TV playing. Until I was driven mad enough to ask them to kill the sound on the TV.

        It could be that the architecture gave the people behind the desk mostly the radio while I was at a perfect confluence of both sound streams; still, I cannot figure out how no one before me ran mad and destroyed one set of speakers.

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          I like quiet and think all public televisions shout be on mute with closed captioning enabled. But I suppose that’s not fair to any bling or vision impaired persons in the room.

          I don’t like music while working and think those that do should wear earphones.

      2. kitryan*

        When I worked in theater costume shops, there was always music on. I usually didn’t mind as I liked most options and could tune it out if I didn’t until someone else picked something I liked better. However, in school, one day the music selection was totally taken over by a couple of the staff (who, since they were older and local to the small midwest town the school was in, tended to be more conservative in their tastes) and it was the easy listening /smooth jazz station all day! I am not even much of a heavy metal person but as soon as they went home for the night I was going through all of the CD options for the most aggressive music I could find. I could not take another tenor sax solo or my head would have exploded!

    2. Phil*

      Also a Christian here. Don’t make it a secret, but also avoid playing anything (Christian or otherwise) that’s going to annoy people. And hearing the same 30 or so songs on a loop day in or day out would annoy me even if it IS Christian!

      Suggestion for the letter writer though: curate your playlist carefully. The way you described Lily’s musical tastes, it sounds like she’s gonna have a problem with a LOT of secular music. Steer clear of anything with overt sexual content or swearing so as not to cause further musical conflict. Personal recommendation: check out Australian artist Pogo.

      1. Rosemary7391*

        I like music sometimes at work, even christian, but my coworkers would only notice if they saw the title come up on my screen. It never occurred to any of us not to use headphones ! I would just ask for them to use headphones, especially if you don’t want to mention the religious aspect. That’s a totally normal request in my opinion.

        1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

          ^ This. I stongly suggest just asking her to use headphones. Something along the lines of
          “I know we discussed this when I first moved in here, but I’ve never worked in an office with music playing all the time. I’m finding it extremely distracting and it’s getting more and more difficult for me to focus on my work. I would really appreciate it if you would wear headphones from now on.”

          Just leave the religious part out of it. From the sound of it, no music would make for better office hygiene for you anyway (I personally could never do work that required thinking with music playing all day), but also as person of faith in today’s climate I could definitely understand her feeling very uncomfortable if your objections were souly* based on the religiosity of the music. Even if she reacted well (and from what you say about she’d probably be mortified that she made you feel that way), it wouldn’t be a crazy reaction to feel as uncomfortable about it then as the music makes you feel now.
          *pun intended .

          1. BeautifulVoid*


            This was my initial thought, too. You said at the beginning that playing music in the office would be okay. You gave it a try, and now it’s not. If you don’t want to get into the religious aspect or any type of arguing/debate over what music to play, I think it’s fine to politely ask her to wear headphones if she wants to listen to her own music all day.

          2. Genny*

            I agree about leaving the religion out of it and framing it as “turns out I can’t actually take this arrangement. I really tried to stick it out since that’s what I agreed to, but it’s gotten to a point where that’s no longer feasible for me. Can you wear headphones instead?

            I’d also caution LW to be really careful about saying you’d be fine with literally any other music. IMO, it’s fine to renegotiate the original agreement once, but it’s not okay to keep renegotiating it. You don’t get ask her to play anything other than Christian music and then come back two months later to say that her (country, jazz, rap, heavy metal, Taylor Swift, etc) music doesn’t work for you either without damaging your working relationship with her.

          3. Snark*

            Yes. It’s not reasonable to play music over speakers unless you’re the only person in the room and you can reasonably expect it to not bleed to other work areas. Listen to music on headphones in an office, as a general working rule.

          4. Snark*

            “also as person of faith in today’s climate I could definitely understand her feeling very uncomfortable if your objections were souly* based on the religiosity of the music”

            What’s unique about today’s climate that makes this request uncomfortable?

            1. Iona*

              Many Christians feel deeply oppressed because they’re occasionally no longer allowed to oppress the rest of us.

            2. Indoor Cat*

              I’m not sure about today’s climate, although what with social media pile-ons and all, any semi-political or moral/ethical conflict can become more fraught.

              I remember an argument about whether or not a teenager’s prom dress culturally appropriated led to complete strangers, adults, bombarding her with harassing messages in her school email address. And if the question of, “is it okay for a white teen to wear a cheongsam to prom?” is, comparatively, of less moral gravity than the question of, “it it okay to play religious music at work without headphones”, there’s a decent risk that the outrage machine could get stirred up over this too.

              Still, that seems like an unlikely outcome. It’s a concern, but probably not a realistic one at this point.

              But, I do think a request to tone down religious expression can feel more like a personal critique than a request to use headphones or something. Like, essentially, OP is saying that what bothers her are lyrics stating (or, singing) her coworker’s sincerely held beliefs; there’s no polite way to say that that isn’t hurtful or embarrassing. Requesting headphones is the way to go.

          5. smoke tree*

            Yeah, apart from the religious angle, this coworker has demonstrated that she can’t be trusted with shared music, since she doesn’t have the good sense to (1) avoid music that is likely to bother some people and (2) avoid playing the same playlist on a loop all day, every day.

          1. Queen of Cans and Jars*

            I think it’s because it’s religious music. However, I don’t think the religious aspect really is even relevant. She doesn’t like the music, so it’s fair to ask the coworker to not play it. Same as if coworker was playing screamo, metal, or really, even classical. If the office mate isn’t keen on the music, it’s common courtesy to use headphones.

          2. Dolorous Bread*

            Yeah, I’d probably say something like “You know, I’m not as good with music in the office as I thought I would be. Can we switch over to headphones?”

          3. Jadelyn*

            I’m the OP on that one – and I’m tiptoeing because it’s specifically religious music – and I’m the only non-Christian on my team.

            The head of the department is a pastor and the manager below him goes to his church; all three of the remaining coworkers at my level are various types of Christian. I’ve never felt the need to hide my beliefs and I don’t get a lot of flak for them, just some good-natured teasing sometimes (like the department head asking for prayers for his husband when he had to have surgery, and I asked “even filthy heathen prayers?” He replied, “Especially filthy heathen prayers. Maybe sacrifice a goat?”) but I do want to be careful in how I approach it because of the religious aspect.

            1. Jenna*

              This is something my very religious mother would do to try to convert you. Especially since you said you’re open about your beliefs. So keep that in mind, she might be purposefully doing it (with her own “good” intentions but it’s still annoying). Why on earth you would convert after listening to crappy Christian rock is beyond me.

              1. soon 2be former fed*

                Yeah, coworker is actually disrespecting OP by playing overtly religious music all day knowing OP doesn’t share her faith.

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                My guess is, the people who write this music are not allowed to listen to anything else, and so are genuinely not aware of the fact that their music is crap. (BG, I was converted in my last year of college by American missionaries, and so listened to my share of the 80s Christian rock until I really couldn’t anymore.)

                1. Mia*

                  Yeah, I grew up in an area where most folks are very into this kind of music and you’re definitely onto something. All of the Christian musicians I knew had never really been allowed to listen to the radio or watch music videos or anything, so their only real exposure to contemporary music was Christian rock.

                2. Specialk9*

                  80s Christian rock was the WORST. I remember mentioning it to my evangelical aunt, who replied quellingly that there’s no such thing as Christian rock. Okay, I guess Amy Grant really does bite heads off of bats, got it. :D

                3. Radio Daze*

                  SpecialK9: One of my favorite lines in Gilmore Girls was when Lorelai and Rory are checking in at a B&B and Lorelai says, “Christian Rock? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” just before Sam Phillips (formerly Leslie Phillips, 1980s Christian Pop/Rock Teen Queen) does one of her signature Gilmore Girls la-la-las. But honestly, what the OP is describing here sounds more like modern praise & worship music, which is repetitive on purpose and, to those of us who aren’t its core audience, ANNOYING AF.

              3. Green Cheese Moon*

                Just leave out the religious part altogether. I would apologize and just say sorry, I really thought I’d be ok with music in the office, but unfortunately I don’t work that way and find it more distracting than anticipated. So could we instead use headphones for individual music?
                I sort of went through something similar with certain scented products, going from yes that’s fine, to oh wait a minute, when seasonal allergies kick in I turn out to be very sensitive to those same fragrances.
                In the end, no one needs to know that it was the religious aspect of the music driving you batty. A request to go music-free is just fine.

                1. Jeanine*

                  I disagree, the religious aspect should be brought up. These born again christians are always finding passive aggressive ways to force religion down people’s throats and it’s getting old. I say take over the music half the day and play what you want. and see how she likes it. This is not a christian nation and religious nuts have got to learn to stop!

            2. soon 2be former fed*

              I understand, but your trepidation isn’t really necessary. The default in an offices hould always be quiet or earphones unless muzak is piped in.Is muzak still a thing?

            3. HappySnoopy*

              The fact that it’s a limited playlist could be a factor to bring up as well, but if it’s now to the point of any of the songs is like you’ve been on the it’s a small world ride too many times, just use “Enter_the_Dragonfly”‘s language.

            4. Perse's Mom*

              I think you’re really safe to say that it’s the constant nature of it that’s distracting. Wouldn’t matter what genre of music it was, necessarily, just that it’s incessant and sometimes you need actual quiet to concentrate properly on your work.

              …or you could ask to alternate who controls the playlist and maybe after a day or two of carefully curated less “moral” music, she’ll just agree to use headphones like a reasonable person.

            5. Chinookwind*

              Jadelyn, the fact that your boss can joke along the lines of “sacrifice a goat” means they will probably have your back if you mention that the music is overwhelming and distracting (because the same small rotation of songs day-in and day-out is very distracting) regardless of the fact that it is Christian music. If your coworker balks at your first request and pulls the “religion” card, she may not find the type of support she thought she has.

            6. Specialk9*

              ” (like the department head asking for prayers for his husband when he had to have surgery, and I asked “even filthy heathen prayers?” He replied, “Especially filthy heathen prayers. Maybe sacrifice a goat?”)”

              That’s awesome. The kind of quip I only think of days later.

            7. TinLizi*

              OP1-Would you be okay with Christian music if it were instrumental? An easy way to sidestep the religious aspect is to tell her you’re finding the lyrics distracting and ask to switch to instrumental only. She may still play some hymns, but at least they’re won’t be words.

            8. TheItalianOne*

              I’m also a witch, and honestly admire you for your patience cause i would have lost it by the end of song #1. Seriously. I think best option here is to both switch to earbuds. Personally, being petty i’d come in early one day and put on some Wicca/Pagan music on. ( Like “we all come from the Goddess”) and then watch the drama unfold but i totally aknowledge it won’t be the best idea but…i’m just fed up with people trying to shove their faith in my throat.

      2. Veronica*

        This reminds me of the day I had to ask my floor to stop playing loud F-bombs-here-there-everywhere Kanye while I was on the phone with suppliers. It made for some awkward conversations.

        Fortunately we were one of these ‘cool’ companies so our suppliers weren’t even that surprised, but guys, come on… If we’re doing Kanye, Kanye has to whisper.

      3. Simon*

        Movie themes tend to be fairly neutral as well. The composer Helen Jane Long has music that I find good to work to, and there are no vocals.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          No vocals is key for me. If I am reading or trying to concentrate on something it is much harder for me with music with lyrics playing. Music without lyrics can blend seamlessly into the background. It is the perfect compromise when my husband wants to play music and I want to read. Of course our favorite kind of vocal-less music is bagpipes, and I know that is not everyone’s jam.

          1. CaitlinM*

            I love to listen to instrumental versions of popular songs at work. It’s also really good cocktail party music. Not stodgy, but not distracting.

            1. Red Reader*

              And when someone puts the Vitamin String Quartet’s cover of NIN’s “Closer” on the wedding reception playlist, you get a good giggle when your grandma tells you how pretty the music you chose is.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Same problem–I cannot listen to music with words and concentrate on other words at the same time. Words + math is okay, or instrumental music + words, but I can’t do words + words.

          3. bb-great*

            I use several different Spotify playlists to find vocal-less background music for work. My favorite is called “Soft Focus.”

        2. Cheryl Blossom*

          I’m amused by how often this suggestion comes up– obviously it works for a lot of people! But I’ve never been able to figure out how people concentrate to music without lyrics– especially when it doesn’t have the same repetitive structure as modern pop songs. Movie soundtracks are especially bad for me because I’m paying too much attention to the music, whereas I can just tune out Stayin’ Alive* or whatever is currently on the radio.

          *Actually on the radio right now

          1. A Queen Victorious*

            I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me: I’m incredibly language-focused, and I’m not able to tune out the lyrics in music unless they’re in a language I don’t understand (Spanish lyrics = distracting because I can pick out about 80% of the lyrics. K- or J- Pop = totally fine because I know about six words total and I can’t even make those out when people are singing), whereas instrumental stuff just becomes pleasant background noise to me. My mind might track the ups and downs of it (especially if it’s a piece I love, like Nara by E. S. Posthumous) but it doesn’t interrupt my thoughts.

            TLDR if I’m listening to lyrics I’m basically singing the song in my brain because I can’t focus on anything else.

            1. teclatrans*

              I have a variety of work “moods,” many of which allow for lyrics, but deep concentration definitely requires instrumental or foreign-language tracks. There is some very repetitive, engaging instrumental stuff out there (especially in or adjacent to the Trance genre, but also Ry Cooder has some nearly hypnotic soundtracks).

              Back before streaming, I recall emerging from one intense O-chem study session to discover that I had spent the last *2 hours* listening to the same 5-minute Dead Can Dance track (non- English vocals…sometimes I am not sure whether they are speaking a modern language or old English or just making up language-sounding words) over and over and over over because I had set my CD player to song repeat. If that had been on speakers in a shared space, I am sure somebody would have resorted to violence.

      4. Liane*

        Another Christian –who sings in the choir, even –and I would likely be emailing Alison if it was my officemate.

        Not only is it a “You don’t do that at work!” thing but I cannot stand the radio versions of most contemporary Christian songs including updates of traditional hymns. What Evil Power made these people sing in monotones and pretend music dynamics don’t exist?

        1. Parenthetically*

          What Evil Power made these people sing in monotones and pretend music dynamics don’t exist?

          *laughs in bitter youth group survivor*

        2. Sara without an H*

          Hi, Liane — I’m also a Christian and for me, Christian music is anything by William Byrd, Palestrina, or Beethoven’s Mass in C Major.

          But then, I’d have a hard time in a work place where there was any audible music playing over the sound system — I think I’d just find it too distracting. Maybe that’s why I work in a library.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            I’m NOT a Christian and I love (and sing) all sorts of classical choral music, which is mostly very Christian – though not usually in English.

          2. SechsKatzen*

            I moonlight as a church musician and actually do have a couple of playlists with this type of music in addition to a few Orthodox chants, organ pieces, etc. My biggest arguments with people have been over “appropriate” church music and so it would actually be challenging to keep my mouth shut if I heard Christian rock all day!

            But really I think it’s best to address this from a “no music at all” angle rather than “you can play all types of music except this one.” If someone asked me to turn off my Palestrina because they didn’t like religiously-themed music, I’d comply but would be irritated given that I’ve listened to plenty of types of music I don’t like for years in a shared office environment. And I can’t guarantee my opinion of the person wouldn’t change. If you were never thrilled with the idea of music in the first place, it seems better to ask her to wear headphones rather than have the debate over whether someone’s preference is more legitimate than the other’s. It seems to be a reasonable solution for her to wear headphones.

        3. Chalupa Batman*

          OMG yes. Christian here, and I HATE pretty much all Christian music. Not because I don’t think God belongs in music-anything you’re passionate about is a great theme for a song. And some Christian music genres aren’t necessarily bad, but aren’t my thing. But most Christian pop is terrible musically! It’s like they let a computer write the songs or something. I’m not a music snob, but come on. If I had to listen to this all day I would go insane, and it’s pretty inappropriate to play music with overtly religious themes in a secular workplace with a non-Christian officemate to begin with.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            It’s like they let a computer write the songs or something.

            There was a South Park episode where Cartman writes Christian rock songs by taking existing love ballads and replacing any reference to a lover with the words God and Jesus.

            The reason why he decides to start writing them in the first place is because he thinks there’s a lot of money in it.

            1. spinetingler*

              Hank Hill said it best: “You’re not making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock and roll worse.”

          2. teclatrans*

            I think much/most music of this genre is basically Christian agitprop, so the musicality and artistry (or lack thereof) reflects that.

      5. Seriously?*

        I think that it would be easier to simply have both use headphones if they want to listen to music. Or don’t listen to music.

      6. Annie Moose*

        This is a major reason I can only rarely listen to Christian radio stations! I know there’s less selection to choose from, but must we listen to the same five songs eight hundred times in a row?? Newsboys, Toby Mac, Hollyn, Hillsong, Casting Crowns, repeat…

        1. Michaela Westen*

          A little side topic – mainstream radio is like this too. Growing up far from a big-city music scene all I had was radio and its 12 or so songs a day, every day for years and years… and they were *not* the best songs available even by genre.
          I read the first volume of Eddie Condon’s autobiography and radio was like this in the 1920’s. He was always sounding off about this and eventually became somewhat involved – unfortunately not enough to change it!
          I don’t know why radio is like this, but it always has been.

      7. KC without the sunshine band*

        Yes, this. A common playlist is possible, and may help both of you get to know each other better. She probably won’t want to listen to certain songs that go against her beliefs, just like you. And yeah, any playlist that means you hear the same song multiple times a day would be unacceptable in my book, even if I picked the songs.

        I would approach it more out of a “Let’s do this together.” attitude so she doesn’t feel attacked. Since it sounds like you already have a good relationship, this may end up being a good thing.

          1. JSPA*

            You can, if you wish, even be honest about having a painful history with certain songs–not the specifics of it, just that they were the background for some painful memories that are not appropriate for work discussion. That puts it very clearly in the “it would be deeply Christian of you to be kind and forego these specific songs” as opposed to, “I hate Christians and anything that reminds me of them.” Not Christian myself, but my playlist includes some gospel, some spirituals, and some devotional songs in other languages. If it turns out that she has strictures against listening to non-religious music, you can still probably work out a playlist that is (formally) 100% religious, but (unless you speak the languages involved) is functionally comfortably secular, for you.

            Alternatively, lightweight on-ear (not earbud, not massive over-ear) headphones still exist, though they are hard to find. They can be worn comfortably for hours without aching ear canals or creating a humid environment for fungi and bacteria; and they let in enough ambient noise that if both of you wear them, you’ll both hear general office background, without hearing each others’ music.

            Final note, though–her tunes may be a protective shield for her (either from the world at large, or from the ideas that your presence represents–if she has any awareness of your religious identity)–or a form of low-key proselytizing. Ditto her niceness. So I think you’re right to tread lightly.

            1. Specialk9*

              I think it’s ok not to want any religious stuff at work. She doesn’t have to soft pedal a full on ban of intrusive religion at work.

              1. JSPA*

                Totally ok, morally, legally, and that’s where the “this is how we can listen to our own tunes all day” headphones suggestion comes from. But if the goal is keeping the interaction warm & fuzzy (seems like they have a good atmosphere in all other ways), it may be an extension of their work friendship to come up with joint playlists. OP doesn’t seem freaked by awareness of being surrounded by Christianity per se. (If that were the case, my suggestion would be different.) So i’m pointing out that if they get creative, there could be all sorts of unanticipated common ground. Rendering both parties actually happy. Which isn’t a bad goal. Presuming OP’s not feeling religiously oppressed by the sheer weight of Christian presumption in the company. (I might, in her shoes, but– not coming from that background — it’s not the music that’d get to me.) I’ve found myself on what turned out to be religious stations while visiting various parts of the world. Usually took a long time to figure out; the music was just music.

      8. Jadelyn*

        That’s honestly why I haven’t just tried to ask if I can pick the music sometimes, because my musical tastes aren’t particularly mainstream either – I like goth and symphonic metal mostly, with some trance and other electronica thrown in. So no matter what we’re listening to, one or both of us is going to be way outside our preferred musical zone. But there might be office-appropriate stations on Pandora I could offer as an alternative, that should stay in the inoffensive zone, I would think.

        (Also, I googled Pogo and that’s a fascinating concept for music. I’ll have to pull up his YouTube stuff after work!)

        1. Chinookwind*

          “So no matter what we’re listening to, one or both of us is going to be way outside our preferred musical zone”

          Or you could go with a compromise of a mix of your favorites and hers? Then again, I have an eclectic music taste that ranges from goth to country to Christian rock to Disney to heavy metal and all things in between and one never knows what will happen when you hit shuffle :)

          1. Chinookwind*

            Example: Spoken word of John Paul II mixed with Christian song followed by Bare Naked Ladies followed by Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo then Nickleback then Disturbed. I mean, you two could make a real awesome playlist of you collaborated..

      9. Jennifer Juniper*

        Also, curate your playlist carefully because you are at work. Anything with overt lyrics about sex, blasphemy, drugs, violence, or profanity should be avoided, as those elements are not appropriate for the workplace.

      10. Londoncallingbutafterhourswhenratesarecheaper*

        From a distance, this isn’t a secular versus non-secular music taste issue.

        It is an issue of one employee playing music on loop all day, and the other employee having to sit there and listen. Either they get 50-50 on the play time, or they both wear headphones.

        Yes, it would be nice if they could agree on a mutual playlist, but that is not the point – one person shouldn’t get to decide what the lighting is, or what the music is, or how the office smells.

      11. Anonymosity*

        With you on the loop of songs. I once had a job where an easy-listening radio station played in the back office all day. It was one of those where the DJs talked as if they were smiling 24-7. Their soft rock playlist for the week must have only had about twenty songs. I will be happy to never hear “Maggie May” again in this life or any other.

      12. Something Clever*

        Better yet, how about Lily uses earbuds and her phone/device? And LW uses something similar, if desired?

    3. MommaCat*

      I had a coworker play the “top 40 hits” station whenever she had control of the radio, and even the songs I liked I had started to hate by the end of the third day. After that, I would change it as soon as I heard a song for the second time that day.

      1. CastIrony*

        You remind me of my job, which plays the local radio station all day. I learned the hard way that the more popular (newer) songs will play about 2-3 times within an 8-hour period. I don’t blame you wanting to change the song at all!

      2. CheeryO*

        Yeah, any song that you’re unwillingly subjected to multiple times per day gets old really fast. I used to sit by someone who played the local country music radio station all day, and I still want to vomit whenever I hear the five songs that they seemingly exclusively played for those two years.

        1. Erin*

          I love country music, but radio country music is the worst. All the songs sound exactly the same even have similar lyrics and rhythms. Someone online spliced the last 12 #1 country hits into one song and it actually made sense musically Andy lyrically. Same thing with top 40 music. I can’t listen to it it all blends together and one annoying auto tune song. It drives me crazy especially working retail where we had to play the disc corporate gave us at a certain volume and it was usually top 40 from 6 months ago.

          1. Queen of Cans and Jars*

            My office is next to a production room where the folks in there listen to radio country, which is bad enough, but one day, I had to listen to “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” 4 times in 8 hours. FOUR TIMES! I mean, even a good song gets old that many times. It did give me plenty of time to ponder how on earth Luke Bryant is even considered country music. I LOVE country music, but Tyler Childers, Margo Price, Lindi Ortega, Sturgill Simpson, ie, ACTUAL country music.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              I even like a lot of Luke Bryant music, and that song is the #1 reason I haven’t been listening to country radio in the last couple months or so.

          2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            Corporate discs are the worst! In collage when I worked at Pier 1 they would sometimes send a disc with as few as 12 songs on it and tell us that it was the only music we should play for the month! 12 songs! The better managers would switch them up with old discs as often as they could, but we still grew to hate every single one of those songs.

            I actually used to do synchronized swimming and I would tell the new girls never to choose a song for a number that you liked. Because by the time you’ve done the number you will have heard that song so many times that you will hate it forever.

            1. Leslie knope*

              I worked at H&R Block and the fact that I still don’t know the name of the songs they made us play drives me bonkers.

            2. booknerd*

              another former synchronized swimmer! This is so true, though I think our worst music choice as a team was YMCA. I was neutral about the song to begin with, but loathed it by the time the season was over, and have spent the last 20 years of wedding receptions/dance parties dreading the inevitable moment when it blares through the speakers.

            3. Dorothy Zbornak*

              Yes! I worked at Hallmark for a summer and we had 2 CDs we were allowed to play: one had classic rock hits, but like, not good ones, and the other was Michael Buble. It was the absolute worst.

            4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I often wondered how retail employees survive all-day muzak. It is even worse than I thought! I assumed there was a radio station a store could tune into. Not the same 12 songs, egads!

              1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                It depends on how tightly they want to control their brand. Pier 1 was big on that.
                These days I think some of these places have corporate-approved Pandora stations set up – but back in the 2000’s it was tiny CD’s all the way. It does not improve moral.

              2. Solana*

                I worked in retail where we could only play promo CDs. So you’d hear the same songs for MONTHS at a time until we got new ones. Sometimes we’d get lucky and get something awesome like Lindsey Stirling or the electric cello videogame themes, but most of it was pretty bad. I was ready to scream every time I heard, “Hello from the other side,” and then I went to the Bahamas on vacation and heard that song blasted in the resort. Couldn’t even escape it going to another country!

              3. spinetingler*

                My local Goodwill has the best bg music – a really eclectic oldies (60s/70s mostly) mix. Almost makes me want to quit my job to work there.

                FYI: retail stores cannot simply tune in a local radio station (well, not legally). Playing music in a business constitutes a “public performance” and the musicians (through the performing rights organizations BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) have to be paid. Most businesses use a commercial music service (such as Music Choice via direct TV, XM-radio commercial, etc.) if they don’t have some custom system (like the CDs other folks have mentioned) where they have negotiated royalties directly with the artists or their representatives.

            5. Anonymosity*

              Same with skating. Only we got sick of each other’s music too, especially for the Christmas show. The one that made me want to melt the ice and drown myself was “Suzy Snowflake.” UGH.

            6. kitryan*

              I only had to work one holiday season in retail and lucked out – the holiday music for The Gap in 2004 was actually not bad at all. When a particular coworker and I were working the dressing rooms, (and there weren’t customers) we’d dance when one song came on. A friend was working at Crate and Barrel (I think) for a couple holidays and was *not* so lucky.

        2. A Queen Victorious*

          This was me for the first four years of my working life. Everyone else in the office just LOVED country… and I can count on one hand the number of country songs I find tolerable– anything country-er than bluegrass my ears want to run for the hills.

          Unfortunately, in an office of six people… 1 vs many meant it was All Country All The Time. Now I want to scream if I hear even a single bar of Raising Cinderella. Or that fucking song about driving a tractor down the road like an asshole.

      3. OlympiasEpiriot*

        There’s a whole slew of songs from the 1970’s that it took me almost 30 years to acknowledge were great just due to the fact a school bus driver played one of those Top 40 stations every. single. day.

        (As she has “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” stuck in her head. Which is later…no longer on buses with radios.)

      4. Cheryl Blossom*

        My job plays the radio all day, but at least the station does a “no-repeat workday” thing! I only hear songs once a day, even if they play certain songs every day! Plus, it’s a nice mix of genres.

        (It’s the commercials that make me want to strangle someone)

    4. Jen*

      I was raised Christian but I could never stand Christian rock. I grew up in an area where it was common and I always hated it.

      It is never particularly good music and from a religious standpoint very unsubtle. I don’t have a problem with stuff like bands from U2 that has religious references but doesn’t beat you over the head with it.

      I would likely also wimp out of mentioning religion and just ask for the music to be off though. I have never found those conversations to go well and occasionally turn into a religious discussion I don’t want to get into.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, “I hate your music taste” is always awkward, even without the added religious bits. Just ask that she wear headphones.

        1. Erin*

          I would go with “can please we listen to something else for a change? I’ve noticed the same 30 or so songs on rotation and I’d like a change of pace. It’s giving me retail flashbacks.”

      2. Lady Jay*

        Yeah, Christian rock is some of the worst from an aesthetic standpoint. I am Christian, was raised in the heyday of Christian rock, and just *never* liked it, even as a teenager.

        I think one possible polite way to go about this, besides asking for the music to be off, is asking for the music to be wordless. That way, you can lay the blame on the distraction factor of lyrics; and even if your coworker has a moral objection to, say, Lorde or Jay-Z or whoever, she probably doesn’t have one to Bach.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I’m someone who, if I’m listening to music while concentrating, either needs music that I know insanely well (usually musical theatre soundtracks) or music without words. I have lengthy classical playlists titled things like “Concentration Music” or “STFU and work songs”. I like Ludovico Einaudi for that sort of thing.

          If I had a coworker who was constantly playing music with words, I really would have to ask for lyric-less songs, because I’m point-blank unable to focus otherwise.

          Movie soundtracks, game soundtracks, classical, orchestral. It’s great for concentration, and not too big or unusual of an ask for OP since it’s a real issue for a lot of people.

          1. OyHiOh*

            Einaudi and Philip Glass, and old school instrumental bossa nova hit my work-brain sweet spot. Feels like a coffee shop.

        2. Jadelyn (OP1)*

          Oh, good point – I actually do use no-lyrics music (though I go with techno more than classical) when I’m trying to focus, since anything with lyrics I find myself singing along to which is very, very distracting. That would sidestep the religious issue nicely.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        I found this question a bit amusing because I have found Christian rock to be pretty good working-on-spreadsheets music, even though I’m not a practicing Christian. I was raised Christian (though of the WASPy sort that didn’t do religious rock or pop), but somehow my brain filters it as bland and generally positive background listening. Like listening to boy bands without the angst – I definitely don’t think the musical quality is very high or the theology of the lyrics is particularly sophisticated. Music I actually know and like is more distracting when I’m working.

        I recognize that this is a weird quirk of mine that would generate a lot of raised eyebrows among people who know me, so I stick to headphones for sure.

        1. SubjectAvocado*

          This is my background with Christian music as well! I actually had a boss in high school who suggested we play Christian music over the stereo since it would be more positive and less likely to offend than secular music. Not sure I totally agree now, but at the time it seemed to make sense given the place where we were living. It was viewed as just positive, unoffensive music that easily faded into the background. Personally, I’m from a pretty niche Christian sect (that most Christians don’t even consider Christian) and my parents never wanted me to listen to mainstream Christian pop or rock, so I never developed much of a taste for it. Any religious music I listen to is pretty specific to my church. And, of course, always with headphones in the workplace. ;)

        2. Cheryl Blossom*

          I listened almost exclusively to Christian music growing up, so even most of the songs that I now find a little (or a lot) cringeworthy I regard with a certain amount of fondness.

          And you will pry Skillet, RED, Switchfoot, and Reliant K from me over my cold, dead body.

          1. Kat in VA*

            The good thing about those bands is the lyrics are a little more generally spiritual, versus what my daughters refers to as “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” lyrics.

            I would love to be able to blast RED’s “Let Go” through my speakers at work. Or even “Monster” by Skillet. Since both made the top charts on the airwaves, no one would even bat an eye (if we allowed that kind of music). Both songs’ lyrics could be applied to life situations other than just religion.

            I should note that I’m an ex-Southern Baptist, now-atheist. Some of the lyrics to the JIMB songs are just really cringe-inducing. To each his own, I suppose.

        3. Specialk9*

          There’s Contemporary Christian Music (because rock is evil) that’s often just kind of like bland lukewarm pop. But this co-worker doesn’t seem to be listening to anything that enjoyable.

        4. kitryan*

          I’m Jewish and almost all modern clearly Christian music is just alienating. It’s like the musical version of the coworker who, when I’d come back after my grandfather’s funeral, told me something along the lines of ‘she knows I’m Jewish but she always found Jesus comforting in times of loss’. You know they’re not trying to be offensive but it’s just so kind of icky.
          Now, anyone who likes it is more than welcome to it, just adding to the ‘but not in the workplace-and definitely not so repetitively’ chorus.

        1. Lara*

          Relient k, Audrey Assad, and The Gray Havens are it for me (and I don’t actually know if any of them even count as “Christian Rock” but they’re the only Christian artists I actually keep on my playlists with any frequency).

        2. AngelicGamer the Visually Impaired Peep*

          … my world has been rocked. I LOVE Skillet and did not know they are Christian rock. Mind, blown.

        3. Jadelyn (OP1)*

          Lol, I actually really like Skillet, despite my overall dispreference for Christian music. It’s mostly subtle enough in the theological references that I can reinterpret their songs as love songs or other things, and the music itself is really enjoyable to me.

          1. I regret everything*

            Hoo boy do I have a story about Skillet. It makes me cringe to this day. Before they were very big they played at a tiny club near me that was not a Christian club. It was…not the right crowd for them, let’s just say. Afterwards I was complaining to my friend about “that God-awful Jesus band,” without realizing that the lead singer was standing right behind me. With his finger raised as if he was about to tap me on the shoulder. I have no idea what he was going to ask, but his face man, his face. I am so sorry, random musician dude, it’s just not my cup of satanic tea.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I expect anyone in a religious band knows what your average non-religious music fan thinks. He’d probably heard it before.

          2. kitryan*

            There are a couple of bands that broke into the mainstream that I liked before I found out they were considered ‘Christian’ music. For example, Sixpence None The Richer – They’re pretty subtle – at season the albums I have – and because I already liked them, I can still listen :)

            1. spinetingler*

              Kings X is another.

              Well, I guess they’re not really mainstream, but they did have at least one hit.

      4. memyselfandi*

        I’m with you on the Christian rock. There is so much lovely religious music out there that isn’t that. I was going to suggest something like a Palestrina mass, but I note that the OP said she is pagan, so maybe she would prefer something secular. ;-)

    5. NVHEng*

      Also a Christian, also can’t listen to a song more than a couple of times before my brain can’t process. My script has always been some variation of “The words get stuck in my head and make it hard to focus. Can we alter the playlist to classical music only?” This won’t address the religious aspect of the situation though, and as a Christian I would prefer to know why you are bothered. I know some who would take it as an opportunity to try to save you though, so your knowledge of Lily will be important here.

      1. NVHEng*

        Forgot to add that skipping the religious aspect of this to go to “no words” might result in a playlist with instrumentals of old hymns, which could be no better if you know the words and have bad memories.

        As others have said, headphones only may be the way to go here.

        1. Nea*

          I was thinking that “no words” would be a way out. The other person can’t complain of secular content and LW doesn’t listen to Jesus Jesus Jesus all day long.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Doesn’t even have to be classical. Movie themes would be perfect (the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack is one of my favorites for background music). And I think “I’m sorry, I thought this would work but it turns out music with lyrics is too distracting” is a graceful way out.

          1. Jadelyn (OP1)*

            Thanks for the rec! I have a couple playlists on YT that are from video games – I like the Subnautica and Mirror’s Edge soundtracks, instrumental and very helpful in focusing.

          2. Solana*

            Oh, their concerts are amazing! I used videogame music to study from middle school through college. (Though I’d always have to stop and listen to the Lunar 2 final battle theme every time it came up.) My favorite album of all time is the Sega CD version of ‘Ecco the Dolphin’. Beautiful, enchanting music, and it is on youtube. Okami is great for Japanese themes (and ‘The Sun Rises’ is as good in the morning as a shot of caffeine), Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for beautiful gothic themes, and even some Old West themes from Wild Arms.

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        If Lily tries to “save you,” OP1, document the date and time. Then tell her that religion is not appropriate in the workplace. If she does it again, take it to your manager, and then to HR if your manager doesn’t do anything.

    6. Guacamole Bob*

      Also, it wouldn’t totally solve the problem, but if Lily pushes back could you at least raise the idea of alternating who chooses the music? Having it be “well she gets in first so 100% of the time she gets to pick” is pretty unfair.

      1. Lia*

        I’d do this if forced to share offices. The coworker I used to share with was a country fan, and I am …not. At all. So we alternated between country and alternative/power pop/punk.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Yikes! I would start by checking the employer policy on religion in the workplace. Then if there are any state laws regarding this.

    7. AnotherAlison*

      Hmmm, OP, maybe Jesus is trying to tell you something. ; )

      I was never really on board with religion, even though I was confirmed as a teenager in the Methodist church. I had to attend church through my confirmation, and that was it for me. Never been back since. So, I get where you’re coming from, but you have to admit that it is an amusing twist to have a Christian music listener, which is a fairly devout type of Christian, and a witch partnered up at work.

      1. Jadelyn (OP1)*

        Jesus can keep talking all he wants, I’ve told him I’m not interested. Even if the universe/gods/God/Jesus/whoever is trying to tell me something, that’s what free will is all about – I can choose not to listen. :)

        1. Specialk9*

          This is all reminding me to add pagan holidays to my calendar so I can recognize my new employee’s holidays.

    8. Snickerdoodle*

      I’m glad to hear that. I’m not religious at all, so Christian music would be really grating to me, but I was thinking that surely lots of religious people wouldn’t want to listen to religious music all the time. There must be other stuff she listens to that they can both live with.

    9. Ann O. Nymous*

      Also, OP1’s officemate is being kinda rude regardless of what type of music she listens to — OP1 says that they jointly agreed to play music in their offices, but it seems like the officemate is ONLY playing her own music because she comes in earlier, rather than letting them switch off every day. That’d be pretty rude even if the officemate insisted on listening only to gangster rap.

    10. Bunny Girl*

      I am Christian and I didn’t even know that kind of music existed. There are alternative rock and heavier styles of rock that are considered Christian bands that you honestly wouldn’t really recognize as being religious unless you really did some digging into the lyrics and the band itself. There was a radio station that I listened to for a good six months that played exclusively Christian rock and metal and I wasn’t aware of their religious message until I happened to catch a talking portion of the show. That’s honestly what I thought the LW was talking about until she went more into it.

      1. Jadelyn (OP1)*

        That’s why I got specific in my letter tbh – I wouldn’t mind if it were something like Skillet, which was mentioned upthread. Subtle enough not to be JESUS JESUS JESUS, I can live with, even if the original intent behind the lyrics is religious. But “come to the altar” and “the precious blood of Christ” is…a bit heavy-handed to just ignore for me.

        1. Bunny Girl*

          I appreciate your going into detail! I thought you were talking about more like As I Lay Dying or Sent by Ravens or something along that line. But yeah, had no idea this existed! I hope this gets resolved soon for you.

    11. Manchmal*

      I think the OP should not mention the religious content of the music, but just say that the repetition and/or style is getting irritating. She could ask the coworker to mix it up (but surely it will be more of the same) or better, she should assert herself and ask to have parity in terms of number of hours they’re each controlling the radio. Maybe coworker gets mornings and she gets afternoons. Or, she could say that she needs some quiet time during the day, and could the coworker play music out loud for no more than an hour or two before switching to headphones.

    12. Dust Bunny*

      I had a job at a water park where they played the same assortment of songs over and over all day long. We could tell what time of day it was by how many times we’d heard “Kiss By A Rose”.

      It was in 1995 and I still cringe when I hear any of the songs from that playlist. Individually, most of the stuff was . . . not the worst. Not my thing, but not awful. But hearing them over and over all summer was excruciating.

      Could you find some middle ground here with, say, clean pop songs or Classical instrumentals? I listen to music all day long but a) I don’t usually share and office, and b) I would gladly negotiate a playlist if somebody had issues with what I was playing.

      1. NVHEng*

        Off topic but a +1 for never hearing Kiss from a Rose or Waterfalls ever again, due to listening to the top 40 playlist during the summer of ’95.

        1. all the candycorn*

          This is also off-topic, but I was once at a waterpark that was playing a steel drum version of “Hotel California.”

          Such a lovely place?

    13. SanDiegoSmith82*

      Another Christian here- one who primarily listens to Christian Radio- BUT- on headphones, in the car, and OUTSIDE of the office. And even then, I have days where I don’t because of the loop and the same songs being played over and over and over.

      But, seeing as OP posted further down that she’s in a primarily Christian office- I can understand her desire to avoid conflict. Some Christians are not as level headed as we might think, and would consider the request to be persecution and ground to attempt to convert the OP. I’ve met those types, went to church with them, and promptly began to avoid them at all costs. One thought that any and all secular music (including old school jams/do wop/harmless Disney songs) were of the devil. As a Californian Christian- Disney and Christians go pretty much hand in hand- so that in itself was a sign of her being completely looney… but I digress. Just ask politely for her to consider wearing head phones if she’s not willing to turn off Klov/Air1 once in while. Preferably before they start the Christmas music, cause that will drive you insane.

    14. chickaletta*

      You could always up her one. Suggest you listen to other Christan bands and then play August Burns Red (they have a nice version of How Great Thou Art), or if you really want to be controversial you could go for As I Lay Dying. ;)

  4. Les G*

    I feel OP1’s pain, but I’ve also seen these kinds of conversations go real south real fast. Amazing how many folks tend to think a pagan poly atheist Jew (not that I, uh, know any *blushes*) is being those things *at* them. So just take the easy road and say you’ve changed your mind, find music distracting, and want to switch to headphones for both of you. Problem solved, no hand-wringing or shared playlists (barf) required.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, I admit I’d probably duck the issue entirely by saying, “Whoops, turns out I’m distracted! Can we go with headphones for both of us/nothing but instrumentals?”

        1. The Other Dawn*

          One would think so, but sadly, it’s not. At my last two companies someone would play their radio in their cube for all to hear. And it was always on the “top 40” stations, which meant MANY repeats of songs I hate (I’m a hard rock/heavy metal fan). At the first place I just shut my door or asked the person to turn it down to 1. At the second place I was stuck in the cube farm and had to just deal with it since it was coming from two different people (same station), and the singing that went along with it. I just tuned it out as best I could and in my head I silently made fun of the employees who were singing along.

          1. Why The Singing*

            I just did a full-body shudder at the mention of people singing along at work. *Multiple* people singing along. I love music, I love listening to people who are talented singers, and more than both of those I need to be in absolute 100% control of when I am hearing both of those things happening. Having to listen to coworkers belt out tunes at work? I’d be climbing the walls within 10 minutes.

            Sadly, for OP1, I don’t know if headphones are the best solution–she said the earbuds hurt her ears, and even if she gets more comfortable over-ear headphones, that doesn’t solve the problem of not being able to hear the rest of the office. I don’t really have any suggestions, I’m afraid. Just solidarity–I get twitchy when my cab driver has Jesus Rock on.

            1. Bagpuss*

              I assumed that it would be the coworker ho wants to listen to music who would be doing so via headphones, not OP (unless she wanted to listen to different music of her own)

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            I have a coworker who plays classic rock, loudly enough that you can hear it outside of their office. And I like classic rock, it’s a station I would chose to listen to in the car, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it at work. My door is closed a lot. They ignored requests to turn it down, so someone tried turning it down when the listener was out of the office, and the next day there was a post-it note on the radio saying do not touch. Look. If your coworkers are sneaking into your office to turn your volume down, IT’S TOO LOUD.

            1. WellRed*

              In response to that post-it, I’d go in there every chance I got and change the volume, change the station.

            2. Pebbles*

              We went into a person’s cube and unplugged the speakers. For someone working at a computer company with computers all day long, it took an embarrassing amount of time for them to figure it out and plug them back in. We had to repeat this a few times for the person to “get it”…and this was after verbal requests had been made and ignored.

            3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              He was offended that someone tried turning it down when he was out of the office?? instead of profusely apologizing to everyone for leaving it on when he was out? Ugh, he seems nice.

              1. HappySnoopy*

                I think that they just turned the volume dial even though the power was off…but it could read either way

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Ah. My mind immediately went to “he was out and left the music on” because I worked for a guy that used to do that. Always the same CD of his favorite Canadian band. He’d put it on and go to a meeting. We were in an open office.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  No, you’re correct. He left, but left the radio turned on while he was gone. With a note that said ‘don’t touch.” Yeah, he’s a dick.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            Oh no no no no no no no.

            Rule #1 in a cube farm: you do not play anything out loud. Headphones always.

      1. Washi*

        Same. Especially since agreeing on music you both like might end up being both awkward and extremely difficult. I’m imagining her trying out different songs on OP and the OP having to say things like “nope, still too much baby Jesus in there” and having to try to explain how religious a song can be before it bothers her.

      2. Jules the 3rd*


        I’d just go straight to ‘it turns out that’s a lot more distracting that I thought it would be. Can we stop playing music out loud please?’

        Headphones make for good office mates.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Yes, I like this kind of “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of approach that also removes reference to LW’s objection to the content of the music.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree with this. I’m probably a bit biased here because while I occasionally listen to music at work, I have my own office and sometimes I use headphones. I think other people’s music is really distracting, no matter what it is (I have never figured out why it bothers me so much). I also don’t think anyone wants to indulge whatever music I’m craving on a given day.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        You’re not sharing the space – as long as it doesn’t get outside your office, whatever you want is good.

    4. Nita*

      Yes, agreed. Someone who listens to the same five hymns on repeat might be a little… obsessive… about religion, and asking her to specifically cut out the religious music may have unintended consequences. Like her dialing up other ways to “save” her office mate’s soul, subtly or not so subtly. Of course this is the sort of thing that a good HR department would shut down, but who knows whether OP’s HR department is any good. Might be simpler to just claim OP has been finding music in general distracting, and avoid the whole mess.

      1. Annie Moose*

        That’s a somewhat uncharitable view of OP’s officemate, I think. Many Christian radio stations have a relatively small pool of songs they pull from, so repeats are quite common (even secular radio stations repeat the top five songs all the time). It doesn’t sound like the officemate literally is only listening to a small handful of songs, just that the radio station she listens to tends to repeat the same songs multiple times throughout the day.

        1. Annie Moose*

          Ah, I reread, and it does specifically say it’s a playlist–but also that it’s only repeating two or three times a day, which means it’s a 3+ hour playlist. That’s not that short or “obsessive” in my opinion.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            Years ago, I worked in retail. We had a series of 5 CDs that played all day, every day. After a while, it no longer matters. You begin to know ALL the songs and the order in which they will play. You may start out liking those songs, but there’s a point when you loathe every single one of them.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              oh retail… yeah, my Friday Morning Jimmy Buffet sessions are still indelibly etched on my mind, 20+ years later. I didn’t mind the first 10 times I heard ‘son of a son of a sailor’ but after 200….

              1. Genny*

                Mine is “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield. I’ve lost track of the number of times that played while I was opening the fast food restaurant. Fortunately, it still brings back at least somewhat fond memories of that time.

                It’s quite possible LW’s coworker isn’t even really “listening” to the music, hence why it isn’t driving her up a wall. It’s just kind of there for her, while for LW it’s annoying because it’s not her cup of tea.

      2. Jadelyn (OP1)*

        Well…we *are* the HR department, and I like to think we’re pretty good. :) I’m the HRIS Admin and she’s the HR Assistant. So we don’t “go to HR” the way regular employees do. That said, I’m fairly sure Lily’s not the type to get aggressively conversion-minded, but I also agree going the no-words/headphones route would be a lot simpler just in case.

          1. Specialk9*

            I’m sorry, but what the flip. Someone in HR, who knows better, is playing overt God music out loud, at work, in a shared space, with a co-worker who is known to be not of that religion – which should never be at work anyway. WTF. This is super not ok.

            1. Kat in VA*

              Just wanted you to know that the phrase “overt God music” gave me a giggle.

              We have a gas station that I like – I buy cigarettes and Red Bull, no less – that has very overt Christian pop/rock songs playing out at the pumps.

              I’m going to say to my husband next time that “I’m heading to the Overt God Music Gas Station, need anything?”

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I think the same thing: ask the coworker to turn off the music or wear headphones and then you’re fine. I would lose my mind no matter what kind of music I was listening to if I had to listen to the same playlist three or four times a day; you can mention that nicely to coworker too without mentioning the religious aspect of the music. But as a recovering Catholic I totally know what you mean about listening to religious music, OP. Definitely not ok at work.

    6. Jadelyn (OP1)*

      That’s exactly my worry – I’m not trying to be pagan *at* her, or anyone else, but I’d prefer she not be Christian *at* me in turn, which is what the music is kind of doing. And that’s a hard conversation to get through unscathed, as people often get very touchy about feeling like their religion is being attacked.

      I think I may end up going the no-lyrics or headphones route when I talk to her. Would probably be simpler.

    7. Kat in VA*

      I’ve noticed a certain segment of people who get very, very offended when they discover I’m an atheist. I don’t hide it, but I don’t go around blaring it either. They get even more offended if the conversation turns and they discover I was a Southern Baptist.

      Look, I think religion is great if you think it’s great, and I think all the great religions boil down to one simple rule, for the most part, which is “Don’t be a dick.”

      So if your religion, whatever flavor, helps you to not be a dick? Awesome, I am ALL for it.

      Where I draw the line is when someone’s religion is used to legislate me personally or what I do, or judges me as less than because I don’t go to church or talk to God or offer up 10% of my salary to a religious institution or whatever.

      I do have to gently remind people that I’m not being an atheist AT them, I’m just…being an atheist (and I’m forever grateful for that turn of phrase from Captain Awkward – it has been literally invaluable in managing some unnecessary confrontations.)

  5. Lunch Meat*

    OP1 – If you wanted to avoid the religious angle, you could say, “Could we switch to instrumental music? I find that easier to keep in the background and focus on work.” To be clear, you shouldn’t have to avoid mentioning the religious angle and she should already be aware that music may make people uncomfortable. But it’s an option.

    1. Scotty_Smalls*

      Yes, if it wasn’t discussed at the beginning, then you can say that lyrics are distracting for you.

      Also, I kinda find it weird that even for Christian music she has such a small playlist. Maybe she doesn’t want to illegally download and these are all she can afford?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        There’s a kinder way for asking folks to limit speculation. It’s really unkind/uncharitable to describe it as “the contest for best poverty fan fiction.”

        1. Les G*

          Folks turn legitimate questions into opportunities to let their imaginations run wild and, more to the point, a chance to show how aware they are of [insert possibly-vaguely-relevant social issue here]. It doesn’t seem particularly kind to the OP, not least of all because it so very often carries a whiff of “you weren’t woke enough to think of this, but…”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t want to derail, but my core concern is that folks are policing speculation in an unkind manner, which discourages people from participating in the comments. I think it’s 100% valid to point out that someone is engaging in speculation that is not helpful to OP or does not change the advice, and/or that speculation is inconsistent with the commenting rules. But your response is rooted in assumptions about Scotty_Smalls (and their intent) that are also speculative and not very generous.

            I know the existence of speculation has been making regular commenters feel frustrated, but I think we’ll be more effective at curtailing speculation if we all take a beat to be kind when checking one another. For the most part, we all do better in the comments when we assume good intent, first.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Honestly, I think it’s more than just regular commenters being annoyed by speculation. I do think that there’s an element of virtue signaling involved that is toxic to communities generally, and it’s valuable to flag it when it happens. But I’ll leave this here for Alison after this.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I removed a thread here about speculation. I agree that we don’t need to speculate on why the coworker has a small playlist (plenty of people just have small playlists because they don’t care that much about variety!) but I don’t want to derail into an argument about it.

      3. Natalie*

        Even if it was discussed at the beginning the LW can still bring it up. Just acknowledge that you had previously thought it would be fine, but now realize it isn’t. People agree to things they later find out don’t work all the time.

        1. Seriously?*

          Yep. OP tried it and it doesn’t work for her. Originally agreeing to something does not lock it in forever.

      1. RoadsGirl*

        I also think the religion aspect is totally unnecessary. This doesn’t need to devolve into a religious argument with hurt feel-bad on both sides. The music is distracting, leave it at that, no further analysis required.

        1. Seriously?*

          Especially since the religious aspect is not the only issue. The OP actually does prefer no music but can tolerate non-religous music with less repetition. It is easier to just ask for what she actually wants which would be no music or headphones only.

      2. Temperance*

        LW1: I disagree with the majority of the comments and agree with AAM. I was raised that kind of Christian, and it’s very possible that she doesn’t ever listen to secular music (or “worldly music”), so Contemporary Christian might be all she knows. Either way, that’s not your problem. Your beliefs are as valid as hers and listening to that stuff constantly would make me nuts, too.

        1. Larina*

          Came here to say this! I spent a long time self selecting out of pop culture because I thought it was what God would want me to do. And I know I’m not the only one.

          Best bet is to request headphones for music from now on. It will prevent you from being annoyed at any of her other music choices (every time I walk into Chick-Fil-a, I have christian music flashbacks because they play instrumental versions of a lot of popular christian music) and give you the chance to not wear headphones in glorious silence.

          1. Temperance*

            I was one of the few kids at my church whose parents didn’t police all of their television access, book access, and music. We were still pretty limited thanks to Focus on the Family, but my parents didn’t restrict any reading materials or music. I am weirdly grateful for that.

          2. Specialk9*

            Not that I was tempted to go to Chik-fil-A due to their homophobia, but holy cow they play instrumental Christian music? UGH.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        You can say that you hadn’t realized that the lyrics would distract you until you tried it. But now that you have, you’d appreciate sticking to instrumental choices. Do you have a local classical npr station?

        (Now that I think about it, I actually find medieval chant pleasant in the background–but I don’t understand Latin, so it works like other wordless music.)

        1. Elsie432*

          I have a friend who created a Pandora station that’s nothing but medieval chants. I don’t know if streaming is an option in OPs workplace, though.

    2. Music buying librarian*

      This is absolutely what I was going to suggest! I love working with music on, but I find if the song has lyrics my e-mail might derail from what I actually want to type into the words I’m hearing in the song. And forget about having a conversation on the phone. There are SO many contemporary instrumental groups available now though, some people might think that instrumental music is stodgy, but groups like The Piano Guys, 2Cellos, Brooklyn Duo, Midnite String Quartet and many more take pop/rock songs and reinvent them as instrumental works. Can you tell I love this music genre?!

    3. Bea*

      My head would explode into a million pieces with instrumental music. I can’t handle the stuff. I would much rather cut to the chase and say “I need a variety, can we listen to a wider assortment?”. Then see if we can rotate more things into it.

      I had the worst time scrubbing an old office Pandora station of all the club music and electronica awhile back to cease the torture of the musical choices of the person before me.

      We added our favorite bands to the list to generate throughout the day. Even if she has her bands on there it’ll mix through and blend easier.

  6. Seal*

    #1 – If the OP’s officemate wants to listen to music (regardless of the genre) in their shared office, they should be using headphones. If they’re not willing to do so, then no music.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree. I would not want to open the can of worms with the religious aspect and just say that I’m finding the music more distracting than expected and ask her to use headphones. That seems less likely to cause aspersions of religious discrimination, too.

  7. Mookie*

    “Physically” draining is interesting and provides good information about this person, if nothing else. “Thanks for the book report assignment, but I’m full up at the moment. Cheers!”

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I totally vote for treating this as awkward, rude, and totally hilarious. My literal reaction to your letter/coworker was, “Wow.”

    If your coworker keeps bringing it up after you’ve used Alison’s scripts, and if you are mean like me, you can offer to make her a tinfoil hat so that she doesn’t feel your empath-powers so acutely. /sarcasm

    1. Tisme*

      I’ll sit with you.

      It’s a good job she’s not my colleague, my go to (I’ve not been sleeping well, last few days because pain & other reasons, none fun…= I’m grumpy) would have been a long lecture on empaths, from the ‘feels only’ to the ‘can alter others feelings temporarily, say anger to happy, long enough to flee bad person’ types. Then telling her she means empathic vampire and moving onto a long lament on my failing that test and all the others, even to being a feral, even though my first instinct in a is to bite in a fight, or you know just annoying people…/S

      Like I said I’m grumpy this week and if someone wanted to throw nonsense at me in an area I’ve been ‘playing’ in since childhood… well let the lecture on SF/F character power traits begin.

      But since LW, you are a non grumpy (pain addled) person, then please follow Allison’s scripts and ignore this person. I can offer no sensible advice I’m afraid, but offer my best wishes.

      (Tis a good thing I’m not currently working, my patience is running on near empty.)

    2. Liane*

      Mine was also “Wow!” and I am an empath who often feels drained, usually by people somewhere on the Annoying To Ass spectrum, where this coworker is.

    3. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      “Thanks for thinking of me, but if I wanted assigned reading I’d go back to college.”

      I just…I can’t imagine ever walking up to ANYONE, much less a colleague, telling them that I am deeply uncomfortable around them for vague and nonsensical reasons, and then assigning them a spot of reading. WTactualF??

      1. Kat in VA*

        I read that whole exchange as “Here’s something about you I don’t like – that you weren’t even aware of – and I want you to fix it by reading this book so I can be comfortable around you.”

        I have a headache today, and if it had been me with the headache, I probably would have laughed, given her both middle fingers, and walked away.

        I knew a woman who deeply disliked me because my face reminded her of someone in college who had stolen her one-and-only true love. I learned this from her son – our families were in a rural area and our kids were friends. There was literally nothing I could do to change that…sometimes people are just gonna hate you no matter what. However, what would have pushed it into a similar weird zone is “Your face reminds me of a woman who hurt me in the past, so you need to change XYZ about your appearance or I’m going to continue being frosty to you.”

        Same reaction, same laugh, same middle fingers, same walk away.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Exactly. “Oh, that’s because I’m a vampire! Sorry about that! It’s my nature.”

        I would laugh so hard.

    4. Lucille2*

      Yeah, I really don’t get where CW is coming from. I always understood that it was empaths who felt drained by the presence of other personality types. Initially, I thought CW was implying OP was a narcissist, which would also be offensive.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      I think that CW doesn’t know what “empath” means, and I agree with whoever said she probably was thinking of “emotional vampires”. I wonder what the actual book is? And also, WTAF? That’s something you discuss with a close friend, not a random co-worker who you can just keep out of their way.

      Anyway, if someone *else* is an empath? That is NOT going to affect me. It’s the reverse, that I will affect HER. People can surely be idjits.

  9. Totally Minnie*

    OP4, if it’s okay with you for your coworkers to know but you feel awkward telling them yourself, think about telling just one person. Choose someone you’re close to who you think will manage it discretely, and have them be your messenger.

    1. Marzipan*

      I was just about to say the exact same thing. Pick a sympathetic and sensible person, tell them what you want people to know and how you’d like them to react (which can totally be ‘#4 doesn’t want to talk about it at the moment so please don’t ask about the separation or bring up Husband in conversation’ and then have them get everyone else on board.

    2. Catwoman*

      +1 You can also stick to vagaries like, “Bob and I are going through a difficult time right now, so I’d prefer not to talk about him in the office. Would you mind to give a heads up to Alice and Susan? I’m really sensitive about this at the moment, and I don’t want to make them feel awkward if I react strongly to innocent questions.”

      1. JSPA*

        Hope this doesn’t count as a nit-pick, but I’d want to know… “vagaries” does not mean “vague statements” or something of the sort. (Better to find out here than someplace where it matters.)

        plural noun: vagaries
        an unexpected and inexplicable change in a situation or in someone’s behavior.
        ‘the vagaries of the weather’ “

  10. Book Worm*

    I’d just politely tell her the music is distracting you from your work and ask her to wear ear buds. I’d leave religion out of it since it has the potential to be very messy. It doesn’t matter if you agreed to music before. You’ve now found it “distracts” you. Good luck.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      A vote here for over-the-ear headphones for long spells. If you can afford the indulgence, noise-cancelling headphones can be pretty impressive, allowing in speech (“Hey Jane, do you know where the Salsa Numbers are?”) but cutting background chatter. They might avoid OP’s feeling of being too cut off from her surroundings and so anxious.

      1. BF50*

        Over the ear headphones bother me almost as much as earbuds. What works for me is to rotate between a pair of earbuds and a pair of over the ear.

    2. Shamy*

      This is what I was thinking as well. My other thought was to focus on the repetitiousness of the playlist, but now I think that could backfire since then the coworker could just make a longer playlist which wouldn’t solve OP’s ultimate issue which is with the religious music itself. You’re right that earbuds are the best option.

    3. Former Librarian*

      Exactly what I was going to say… just tell her sorry, you find music with vocals terribly distracting and ask her to wear headphones or earbuds. Or maybe you can suggest something without lyrics, like Bach or Mozart or pretty much anything classical or ragtime big band or soft jazz… There is a lot out there. Good luck!

      1. Elise*

        Yeah, most areas have a classical FM station that you could put on and no one would have to think about the playlist. I listen to ours all the time as I notice that I can waste a lot of time looking for the perfect playlist on Spotify… :)

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5, “humility” or “being humble” is not a new hipster buzzword for “team player.” It usually means exactly what Alison has described, and in my limited hiring experience, it has been a quality that played a strong role (and is sometimes the deciding factor) when I’ve made offers. I think approaching it from a less combative or dismissive perspective may make it seem more rational, even if you don’t agree with using it in hiring.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      In my field I get the sense that sometimes it’s code for “no assholes please”. Some tech companies are really trying to move away from the Uber-style Lord of the Flies corporate culture.

      1. Calpurrnia*

        My techy company just put “no jerks allowed” explicitly in their company policy, and doesn’t try to talk around it using coded language. I’m really not sure why something straightforward and sensible needs to be disguised.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          “Jerk” is fairly subjective. One person’s jerk is another person’s “I just like to hug.” Sounds like this company is trying to weed out a specific type of jerkhood.

        2. pleaset*

          Used properly, humility is not the same as not being a jerk. It’s about not just how someone treats others overtly, but also about how willing they are to listen and to question their own assumptions.

          This is extremely valuable, and is missing among too many leaders and experts, particularly among men and also among people who have been very successful in one domain and are moving into another.

    2. Chaordic One*

      In my unfortunate experience at a nonprofit it seemed to be code for “don’t think you can negotiate to have a manageable workload or to be paid fairly.”

        1. ChachkisGalore*

          Or the employee who held the role previously (who was most likely a woman) was way too “uppity” so we’d like the replacement to “know their place”.

          I don’t know. I have a viscerally negative reaction to “humble” or “humility” in a work/job ad context. Maybe listed as a core value of the firm, but listing it as job requirement (or as any sort of descriptor of the ideal candidate within the job ad) is so off (to me – I can see others feel differently). There’s just so many other, more professional, descriptors that can be used.

          1. spock*

            I had a similar reaction, not that humility speci bothered me but I started thinking of who wouldn’t be considered humble and definitely “uppity” women came to mind. I think it’s fine among many other things in an ad but would make me wary as a core value.

          2. Observer*

            Any good quality can be used as an excuse to mistreat people. But humility really is important. Even – perhaps ESPECIALLY – in a work context. If you think you are smarter than everyone, that you are always right, that you are more important than everyone around you, you are going to be a very hard person to work with and you are going to make mistakes or do things that are not optimal because you are not going to hear the things you need to hear.

            You can be humble without being a doormat.

            1. ChachkisGalore*

              Going by the dictionary definition – I agree it’s fine (a positive attribute – as you describe).

              Going by the culture specific connotation that I feel comes along with it… I would run away screaming from any job ad that included it. Words are a lot more than their dictionary definition, and this is one that I feel is quite loaded. (again – I do understand that others don’t seem to have those same negative connotations attached to it that I do, and I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to be picky about jobs)

              1. Wendy Darling*

                It’s funny because having worked in a field that currently has a track record of rewarding extreme self-confidence/arrogance and “assertiveness” to the point of aggression, when I see humility/being humble in a job ad it’s a positive sign for me — it’s a flag that they are making an effort to be not that, and I’ve definitely avoided companies and bowed out of interviews in the past because I felt like the company culture rewarded bullies and douchebags.

                I’m sure if I worked in nonprofits where the culture is super different I would feel differently.

                1. ChachkisGalore*

                  Hmm… You know I actually work a very aggressive/male dominated field. Maybe part of my issue is that I can’t even fathom “humble” being used in the job description for an exec in this industry (bc it’s so at odds with the very widely accepted definition of success within it), but absolutely can imagine it being used in support staff or low ranking role description.

                  Someone else mentioned below that they see it differently if used for a higher level role, rather than a lower ranking role, and I think that’s where I ultimately land too. Something about specifically spelling out to a person very low on the power ranking scale that they need to be humble still seems pretty red flaggy to me (because of the connotation I think it has in that context). However, maybe it’s not quite as problematic as I was first imagining if the role is higher up on the food chain.

            2. Lissa*

              I think you’re right, yeah. I also think people are reacting in very opposite ways based on their experiences – personally to me I read it as a way of saying no arrogant assholes, so I’d be signing up! Whereas other people would be running screaming because they think it’s “doormats only.” I think it’s probably pretty impossible to know what the person writing the ad meant of those options, though – could be either, or some third thing, or they just liked the sound of it. Which may mean it’s not a useful thing to put in job ads I suppose, since it could mean anything…

            1. Chinookwind*

              Can you explain why is screams cult? My experience with humility is that it can only be done by people who are particularly good/smart/rich/whatever but choose not to act like they are “whatever-est” and are open to others. You can’t be dumb or gullible and humble because you have nothing to be humble about. It is a trait that can only be used if you are someone who could be at the front of the line but chooses to let others ahead of them. (Does that make sense?)

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                You asked for it, so here it is!

                I am an ex-fundy. I also come from a long line of women with low self-esteem. Fundy culture did not help there, since it actively condemned any assertiveness or anger, especially for girls and women.

                I have been diagnosed with Dependent Personality Disorder by two different shrinks thanks to all of that.

                So, if I ever saw the word “humble” as a job requirement, I would see this as “company is full of fundies or New Age cultists” and run away screaming.

            2. Specialk9*

              Oh my gosh yes. More broadly, evangelical Christians push this whole ‘humility as a biblical virtue’ thing. To me the word is hugely loaded with a certain kind of aggressive Christianity, and for funsies it applies a lot more to women than to men.

              1. Something Clever*

                Yep! A great example is when a woman plainly states what she thinks, and someone else (usually male) snarkily responds, “Gee, Something Clever, why don’t you tell us what you REALLY think?” This happened MANY times in a church group my husband and I attended. I can count on one hand with finger left over the number of times I’ve heard someone say that to a guy. But women are frequently called out and shamed for saying what they think.

    3. TL -*

      I can understand using it as part of a core values statement (especially for a non-profit) but I find it a weird thing to include in a job ad.

      I’m not humble but I’m pretty good at taking feedback, I listen to others, and I’m great at letting other people do things they’re good, especially if it means I don’t have to do them. I also happen to be confident in my abilities and don’t mind saying so if appropriate.

      I would honestly assume humble was code for “some of the people are jerks and will take credit for your work and you need to be okay with that. And while companies shouldn’t hire jerks, I also feel like it’s weird if someone feels the need to code for “don’t be a jerk” in a job ad – that’s a bit like saying “must wear clothes to work.”

      That’s not even getting into any of the gendered issues around what cocky looks like versus just confident or the Christian connotations of language like ‘humility’ and ‘humble.’

      1. CoveredInBees*

        I know at least one non-profit that insists on putting their core values in their job ads. Above the job duties list. This is one of the reasons it took them 6 months to replace me after I left, having given a month of notice.

      2. Gadget Hackwrench*

        Honestly, to me the term humble does not bring religion to mind, but honors societies, wherein is definitely meant to mean not that one is willing to let others take credit for their work, but that one should not get self important just because they’re being inducted into a group that is meant to represent the best of (engineers, artists, teachers, whatever the group is.) Perhaps the person writing the article is a member of a similar society?

        i.e. The National Theatre Honor Society’s Motto: “We seek to become humble artists by the one and only road of labor and service.” The word “humble” is generally understood to mean being open to constructive feedback (not a sourpuss when getting “notes,”) respectful of the order of roles (it doesn’t matter if you’re the star, an actor should not be telling other actors what to do, that is reserved for the director) and not asking for special treatment (don’t be a primadona.) In that context, I think it would be an acceptable behavior to ask for.

      3. Rhoda*

        And it’s weird to use the word “humble” to describe yourself. I think other people can describe you as “humble” or “modest” but it doesn’t make sense to describe yourself as humble.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              In that context, especially as it’s a translation, I’d read it more as something like ‘unremarkable’ or ‘lowly’. As in a humble station rather than a humble personality.

      4. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        I’m arrogant and overconfident and that allows me to take criticism on board without a whole lot of fuss or feeling bad. It allows me to say, “Yeah, you know, you are right. I completely messed up A, B, and C and totally forgot about D, E, and F. My apologies. I’ll figure out a way to make sure this doesn’t happen again”

      5. Chinookwind*

        TL- what you describe as yourself as is exactly what I think of when I think of someone with humility. The irony is that those who brag about being humble are proving that they aren’t as humble as they think they are.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Ah. You’re describing real humility as opposed to being a doormat. The churches I was in tended to confuse humility with spinelessness.

          And my family was not fundy. I was the only religious nutcase.

    4. Ainomiaka*

      I have never seen this in a job description ever. And I guess this shows the line of my not believing in power dynamics like Alison encourages, but I would 100% consider this a red flag.
      Though I would probably still interview and ask about it. I’d be particularly concerned if we’re talking about an entry level position or someone else low in the power hierarchy. It could be they’re trying to change a toxic culture, but I have seen too many places that would use this to look for people that won’t argue against toxic b.s. And you don’t change a toxic culture by looking for humble people at the bottom, you 1?{%6€€change it by having some controls on the people at the top.
      Now, I’m at a point in my career where I can afford to risk not getting any one particular job I apply for-I know some people can’t afford that.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Aww, that’s kind of adorable.

          Yeah, I’d see it as a yellow Caution flag for a lower-level position, but a plus for management. For management, it might be more of a “we don’t tolerate power-tripping jerks,” which is a very good thing.

    5. CM*

      I get how the word “humble” has religious overtones, and use of it together with “ego-less” would make me wonder too. But I agree that humility is a word that I see more and more in job descriptions, performance reviews, etc. — it’s basically about being able to accept criticism and negative feedback without getting defensive, and being willing to listen to other people and not automatically assume that you are right. The comments from people who are suspicious of this make me wonder if companies would be better served by emphasizing humility more in higher-level positions. I can see how in lower level positions, it could be seen as code for “we will dish it out and you have to take it.”

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        I actually yelled “AAH!” at the computer when I saw the word “ego-less” because it sounds like that workplace where the OP’s boss thought he was a Mayan shaman. I can see an office retreat featuring a group ayahuasca vision-quest as a team-building exercise…

    6. LQ*

      I would say that humble goes a long way at my workplace. You don’t have to push hard for promotions or raises, they usually sort of show up on your doorstep (not as quickly as one might like…) when you do a really good job. Accepting failure, not knowing things, and making and owning mistakes is looked upon very well. Here at least, ambition would be sort of an opposite. We don’t include it in our job descriptions, but there’s a lot of descriptive language in descriptions and especially in interviews that try to get at that notion.

      1. Paulina*

        Unfortunately work cultures that prefer employees to not push for their due also can embed existing biases and privileges. If I don’t explicitly talk about my qualifications for a promotion, they’re likely to get overlooked. Meanwhile, my male colleague is automatically considered, despite having far less relevant experience, and then also gets credit for his apparent humility at acknowledging that he has a lot to learn.

        “humility” as code for “listens to others and take feedback” is fine. As code for “don’t put yourself forward, hope you get noticed” is not.

        1. LQ*

          Totally agree. We have more women than men in our workplace (and in most of the higher up jobs though not all) but the women definitely get punished more for “ambition” around here than men do. It’s a boys will be boys when they push for a raise. (though no one would say that) But as someone who is excruciatingly bad at taking credit and asking to be recognized I’m far more comfortable with that part of my job here than elsewhere. I have a million and one ways I’m a flawed human and employee and this is one I found an environment that won’t punish me for it so I don’t care that it is an imperfect workplace with regard to this thing. My flaws fit better with the flaws here than they do most anywhere else.

          Which I think is kind of the point of finding the right job for you. Where do your flaws match their flaws. If an employer wants humble? Eh, either it’s super religious (in which case it’s not for me) or it’s probably going to expect people to own their mistakes (in which case, yeah I can do that) and maybe on the other hand punish people for being ambitious (which I’m totally on board for).

      2. BF50*

        The thing is, in a lot of jobs, you know what you are doing even more than your direct manager, and doing something very well might mean that things run smoothly. That is what you want, but isn’t always something that is noticed unless it is 1) pointed out or 2) in sharp contrast to something else not being smooth.

        To me, it just seems that being humble at work, even with the best intentions, is something that holds people back individually, more than it helps the company as a whole. I would not accept a job that specifically said they are looking for “humble” in their job description.

    7. Doug Judy*

      To me when I hear humble I think: ability to take feedback, realize you do not know everything, value others strengths and opinions, and not be afraid to raise your hand and admit when you mess up is what they mean when they mean humble. You can be confident, assertive, and humble.

      1. pleaset*


        It might not be a good thing to emphasize it for lower-level positions, but for many higher level positions, it could be really important.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Totally agree. I don’t list being humble or humility in the job description, but what you’re describing is what I look for when I think “humble.”

    8. Dasein9*

      The word “humble” is always “‘umble” in my brain-pronunciation and reminds me strongly and viscerally of Uriah Heep in David Copperfield. Thus it raises red flags for me.

      (I read that book 20 years ago, too. Dickens is just that good and the Uriah Heeps of the world are just that real.)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Oh, Dickens is SO relevant. The “self-made man” from Hard Times who…. really isn’t? He is EVERYWHERE. Obnoxious, clueless, unacknowledged privilege portrayed spot-on.

    9. AnnieSVP*

      I do think the use of the word humble is expanding due to the book “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lencioni. That’s how it started to come up at my company. His thesis is that the ideal team player is humble, hungry, and people smart.

      1. Pebbles*

        Yes, this! Our newish CEO assigned us this book to read two months after his company bought ours. We are all to be humble, hungry, and smart. Except he doesn’t know what the word humble means apparently because every all-company meeting he talks about the great things he’s done and introduces people based on how they relate to him.

        (And the book itself is terrible writing. I mean, the first 2/3 of it are this “story” that’s supposed to introduce you to what the ideal team player looks like and in every fourth sentence is the word jackass. As in, don’t be a jackass.)

    10. HariMadSol*

      I suspect your interviewer has read the book “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.” This is a light read if you want to check it out. The book advocates for looking for three qualities in employees, beyond technical skills and experience: to be “smart about people” (meaning, you can engage well with others), to be “hungry” (likely to go the extra mile on an important project or to make an effort to help others), and to be “humble,” which is also defined as “unpretentious” and “down-to-earth,” or “approachable.” It would be nice if just saying “don’t be a jerk” was enough to stop people from doing it, but most people who are behaving like jerks have no idea that they’re doing it. This book, and probably your interviewer, is just trying to define what behavior fits with their culture so they can weed out jerks.

  12. Totally Minnie*

    OP1, I’m also a person who has left a conservative religion, and I can imagine how you must feel listening to that music all day every day. Before you have your conversation with Lily, I’d recommend asking yourself some questions about her other workplace behaviors.

    1. Does she talk about her faith a lot, or is the music her primary mode of expression?
    2. How does she respond if someone questions her work? Does she get defensive at all, or is she open to hearing other people’s ideas and making changes?

    Once you’re clear on that, I think it can help you decide how honest you want to be here.

    I sincerely hope that if you tell her you’re not comfortable with religious music, she’ll immediately understand and switch to something else. A lot of people would. But there’s a subset of religious people that would take this badly. If you have any indication that she’ll respond defensively, or by trying to explain why you shouldn’t be uncomfortable and maybe you should try going to church with her, I’d recommend a white lie. Tell her the music is more distracting than you expected, or that you can’t listen to music with lyrics while you’re trying to concentrate, but I’d hate it if this conversation turned you into a project for her.

    I’m not saying Lily will definitely respond badly, and I’m really hoping on your behalf that she doesn’t, but it can’t hurt to be prepared.

    1. Manatees are cool*

      Empath is a bit of a witchy thing. It’s not just feeling empathy it’s literally experiencing another’s emotions like mind reading but you aren’t getting the thoughts as well. They can also take emotions away and absorb it into themselves which is what the person is saying OP is doing. However if OP was doing that they would be exhausted.

      1. MicroManagered*

        That is what I thought! I have heard of (and have been told even) that I am an “empath.” Personally, I don’t take that in the supernatural or sci-fi sense, but more of just a word to describe a person who is very sensitive and accommodating to others’ feelings, at times to their own detriment (see also: codependent). But the thing about that is, it’s draining to the so-called empath, not the people around them!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Given the history of witchcraft as a charge levied by the community at any older woman in charge of her own property, I’m sincerely worried about the “empaths drain you! Like black cats, sucking out your life” as some sort of ostensibly wiccan/pagan/etc belief.

      2. JokeyJules*

        Am an empath, can confirm.
        It can be exhausting if you don’t know how to manage it. I just pick up on other people’s energies and i guess general “vibe”? It’s hard not to somewhat absorb the other energies and general aura of others because it’s super obvious to you. Kind of feels like there’s an elephant in the room except you don’t know what the elephant is and usually it’s Bob from Accounting’s feelings… It’s weird to explain something you inherently feel…
        Except I try to keep it to myself if I’m picking up on something, and go about my merry business. Otherwise, it’s exhausting to be feeling your feelings and also other peoples feelings. My feelings are more than enough, thanks.

        OP, if you are an empath that was so “draining” to this person, you’d know it without them having to tell you. I think they’re just rude.

        1. ragazza*

          “Kind of feels like there’s an elephant in the room except you don’t know what the elephant is and usually it’s Bob from Accounting’s feelings”–this describes it so well!

          1. JokeyJules*

            thanks! while living in a world with unexplained extra feelings, i’m trying to learn how to express it all accurately

            1. Anonnie Annie*

              It’s weird, isn’t it? I’m pretty good now at separating my emotions from those I pick up from others, but it takes mental discipline and really being in touch with your core self. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why certain people really put me off or confused me, then I learned that it was because there was often a huge discrepancy between how they were truly feeling and the “public face” they were putting on. Often I’d respond to the Private Feeling instead of the Public Face and people would get a bit freaked out. I try hard not to do that now.

              I encourage you to read the Happy Sensitive blog. Her descriptions of empath sensitivity have really helped me put words to things I’ve been experiencing my whole life.

              1. ragazza*

                Yes! I have the hardest time with this at work. I sense a lot of inauthenticity there and I’m also very bad at hiding my own feelings. I’ll check out that blog.

        2. Anonnie Annie*

          I am too. I wish it was as clear cut as Troi on Star Trek, but it’s more like just having another sense than you have to interpret and make sense of than getting clear messages or anything. I try to explain it to people as having like really, really good hearing. You aren’t magical or special, you just hear more sounds and get more auditory information than most people do. Most people pick up on “vibes” but it isn’t a very strong sense for them and doesn’t intrude on their lives unless it’s an unusually strong vibe. Being an empath, “vibes” can most definately intrude on your life and other people’s emotions can get mixed in with your own. You can control it, but it is very much a personal thing and does NOT require input and effort from other people to do.

          I most certainly keep this to myself and only my partner knows that I am blessed/cursed with this sensitivity.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I’d consider the possibility that you’re extra sensitive to scent, and so picking up emotional cues via chemical cues.

    2. Lissa*

      It’s a thing a lot of people think they are, but I don’t usually see them thinking it of other people. Not gonna lie, my experience with this type of person is someone who claims to be an empath and therefore they are always correct about what they are picking up. So thinking they know more than me about what I’m feeling, or more likely to be good at reading people than others. Having someone insist they know that you’re actually really angry/sad when you’re not is a great way to make you start feeling it though!!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Per my scent comment just above–people can go into a room where a stressful exam just took place, and they pick up the anxiety (from the subtle scent left by stressed people sweating), and they explain their anxious feeling–but not by the chemical traces of people who were here 30 minutes ago. They feel anxious, so there must be a reason, so they each come up with a story to explain the reaction–humans do this all the time, coming up with logical reasons for our emotional reactions. (For example, we easily move between valuing experience and valuing fresh blood, based on how much we gut-instinct like a given political candidate.)

        So yeah: Just because someone is sensing something, and comes up with a story for it, it doesn’t mean the story is right. (“I’m sensing your profound irritation… it must be Fergus!” “No… no, it’s not Fergus.”)

        It’s sort of interesting to me, someone who doesn’t do effortless bonhomie but admires the quality in others, that what would normally be counted as a measure of social intelligence–good at reading people–seems to express itself in such an irritating way for ’empaths’. I think tons of charming people are very good at reading slight reactions, and adjusting their behavior (a little warmer, a little cooler, etc) to make the person they’re talking to more comfortable. Other people’s reactions are a data point to them, but not a burden.

        1. Tex*

          To your last paragraph, it might be caused by the introvert/extrovert divide. Both sense people’s feelings but an extrovert can be socially adaptable and reflect it back whereas the introvert just absorbs it.

  13. Book Worm*

    Being humble or having humility = the opposite of an arrogant know it all. Someone who can listen and learn from others. Nothing to do with not being reasonably assertive.

    1. Julia*

      In most cases. But it’s still pretty weird in a job posting, just like “must be a hard worker” would be. Like, isn’t that kind of a given, and when someone explicitly states it, you wonder why?

      1. Reba*

        With the added requirement of “ego-less,” I agree — it makes me think that they are reacting or overcorrecting (?) because of a previous bad experience with another hire.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I think like other phrases, it can mean all sorts of things depending on your last bad experience. “We want someone who is humble, unlike Jane,” can mean “someone who won’t push back when we ask them to go from 60 hrs/week to 80” or “someone who won’t have the entire office distracted by their plan to have her abducted by sloths.”

    2. Scarlet*

      But I find the “ego-less” aspect more disturbing. I’ve heard it used in spiritual contexts, where certain philosophies encourage people to “let go of their ego”, but in a work context, it really strikes me as odd.

    3. TL -*

      My understanding of it is more aligned with the dictionary definition “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s importance”
      That’s not actually super helpful at work, when I do need people to let me know what they can do well and what “doing things well” looks like.

      1. Anonanonanon*

        I agree, I understand what they’re probably trying to convey, but I have a similar interpretation of the word “humble”, and have usually only heard the word in the context of conservative religious values/discussions.
        Of course, I can’t think of a word that more accurately conveys “don’t come in thinking you’re all that and no one else knows anything” so…

    4. Erin*

      Humility is relative. It’s not a good metric to hire someone by. One person may think someone is humble and the other may think they’re arrogant and it’s all a matter of opinion. It’s not specific and can be proven like must have license to practice law in the state of Michigan or measurable like must come to work on time 98% of the time.

      1. OP #5*

        These comments are helpful, thanks. Although I still wish I’d asked for their clarification (and I’ll make a point to if it ever comes up again), I’m going to take this as a sign that it probably wasn’t a good fit culturally.

    1. Bowserkitty*

      I was thinking this myself. In which case, she should be handing that book to a bunch of others…

      Maybe she has already!? I wonder if anyone else has received this book in OP’s office.

    2. Julia*

      Maybe she wanted OP to read the book to understand her better? But the letter makes it seem as if co-worker had called OP an empath.

    3. Never*

      Came to the comments section to say this. I find the most ridiculous part of the situation is that coworker doesn’t actually know how empaths work.

    4. uranus wars*

      I was thinking either I have spent the last 5 years not understanding what an empath is or this co-worker is the one not getting it. And who is inappropriate.

    5. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      The only thing that would make sense is if she think’s their -both- empaths, cause two people in a room who pick up on/are reactive to other’s emotions can turn into something of a feedback loop. But that’s (a) not clear from the letter and, (b) still really doesn’t warrant dumping homework on someone else because you find them draining!

      1. Anonnie Annie*

        That’s what I was thinking, but again, if you don’t want to participate in an “energy loop” or whatever you want to call it, it’s like any other situation you don’t want to participate in. You find a way to extricate yourself. You don’t expect the other person to just magically stop doing whatever it is that they’re doing and then get mad when they don’t.

        The coworker behaved in a highly appropriate manner.

    6. Anonnie Annie*

      Yes, if the coworker *is* an empath, then she would be “drained” because of that, and it’s on her to deal with it. Some people are emotional vampires, but if you encounter them, there are ways to handle it and none of them require any action or effort on the part of the “vampire” person. Personal responsibility and all that. Like if you hate horror movies, it’s up to you to make sure you don’t get roped into watching one, not expect everyone else to magically know your preferences.

  14. Mark132*

    In regards to letter #3, is it really evil of me I had a fantasy of thanking her for the book and then as she was watching immediately throw it in the trash (maintaining eye contact the entire time.) I wouldn’t, but I’ve got much better stuff to do rather than read some new age woo, so I would likely return the book later with an explanation that I’m not interested in reading it.

    1. Snickerdoodle*

      LOL; I’ve done that. It was glorious. But as a rule, it’s better to politely-but-firmly resist. If they push back, then you toss it in full view anyway.

    2. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, don’t… actually throw it away in her line of sight. That’s needlessly aggressive and antagonistic. Just tell her you’d rather not read the book, or that you’re not interested, or whatever. There’s no value in being vicious.

    3. BeenThere*

      Can I just slowly (with my fingertips) push it across the desk until it falls off my desk and into the trash can…. all while maintaining eye contact with the giver??

  15. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP3… from headline I thought question would be along lines of “my coworker says I talk too much to her and gave me a (random) book to read so I could read during breaks and not disturb her.”. Which could have been rude, depending on previous conversations!

    This is bizarre and worthy if the amused reporter of strange humans internal dialogue! Your office mate is right.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        I don’t think I could take an interviewer or position that wanted me to be ever so ‘umble seriously :D

  16. Jennifer*

    The pagan OP has my sympathies for many reasons, but it reminds me of having to listen to the same really bad country music station all effing day because a coworker refused to use headphones and refused to have quiet. I am fine with country music usually but this was BRO country and I do not need to hear “IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT! IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT!” blaring at me 4 times a day on Monday morning. Also, I do not want to listen to the radio station any more for 9 hours a day because they replay the same songs over and over every hour and a half.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      Ugh. You’ve got all my sympathy. Coworkers who know their office mates don’t like something but refuse to stop doing it are terrible.

    2. Jen*

      Any genre over and over can get to you. There was this one pop song with these high arpeggios (which for some reason uniquely carried) and hearing it from two doors down a few times a day just broke me after a while. I had to ask coworker to remove that song from her playlist. Some songs are just uniquely distracting.

    3. Marion Ravenwood*

      I like country music, but that would drive me insane. It’s partly why I don’t listen to a lot of the Spotify country playlists any more, because it’s the same darn songs all the time…

        1. Emily*

          That’s a fun one!

          I didn’t think I liked country music very much, but then I discovered a sub-genre of songs about women taking revenge on men who had wronged them (or in Maddie & Tae’s case, just making fun of some of the bro-country tropes). It turns out that when country music isn’t about pickup trucks and patriotism I enjoy it more.

    4. Bea*

      Even using Radio dot com to play another markets station works well since they often have different tracklists they pull from.

    5. Trig*

      Worked retail. One coworker with a forceful personality chose the local pop station to play ALL. DAY. Radio stations, I think, are designed for commuters who tune in for an hour or so at a time, not people listening all day. The morning program, noonhour program, and evening program were basically the same songs. Weekends were the worst. There was a top 25 song countdown followed IMMEDIATELY by a top 10 countdown!

      I don’t hate pop, but I sure hated that station after that job.

    6. AKchic*

      At my last job, Negative Nancy was also Country Carrie. All she listened to was country music (or the occasional club dance or rap song, which was interesting… I guess she needed a reminder that she was a baaaaad bish).

      I started memorizing the lyrics. I actually started psychoanalyzing the lyrics. Her favorite was the one where the guy was singing about how upset he was that his lover didn’t appreciate his erection for her, so guess he should just find someone else because she obviously doesn’t love him.

      Between her constant negative attitude (and personality), her physical displays of negativity (oh yeah, slamming doors, drawers, pounding…), her sighs, groans, moans of frustration, then the constant eating (she was on a “diet” that she created because she thought she was a nutritionist based on a few diet books she read) and she was a very loud eater – slurps, lip smacking, open-mouth-chewing, loud burps, gulping (every 90 minutes for a meal/snack), and her constant attempts to act like she was my supervisor and nobody to consistently reign her in, I was more than happy to jump ship. I tried to ignore it. But 3 years was more than enough time and I was burnt out on the job as it was.

      1. Lissa*

        I NEED to know what song that is and look up the lyrics! I have heard some terrible (and great!) country songs but haven’t really listened to it in the last five years or so. I want to know soooo bad.

        1. AKchic*

          I had to go look up the lyrics to find out what the song and singer information was. I absolutely cannot stand country.
          Luke Bryan, “Do I”.

          If I ever hear that song again, I swear I will Hulk out. One of the most self-indulgent, pity-party BS songs I’ve ever had the misfortune of listening to (at least once an hour for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 3 years).

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Normal usage… someone who is good at picking up on others body language, etc, and understanding how they feel.

      Usual SF usage… someone who can “read” emotions. One step away from telepath.

      This usage (I believe from context) – an empathic vampire who, deliberately or unknowingly, fulfils their own emothional needs by directly draining the emotional energy of others. This can be mundane (my mother is soooo needy it’s exhausting to be around her!) but here I think from context coworker means the (bs) version of literally being a psychic leech.

      I don’t know how I’d respond… maybe gift her a copy of aam or Derren Brown?

      1. voluptuousfire*

        I think the better term for the way this coworker sees this LW is energy or a psychic vampire. I’ve heard this used as referring to people who essentially suck the energy or life force out of other people.

    2. Never*

      Simply put, someone who feels other people’s emotions, not just their own. Often used in conjunction with Highly Sensitive Person.

      1. Anonnie Annie*

        This. It’s just heightened sensitivity to the emotions of others. You feel others’ emotions as your own. Which can be highly confusing and yes, very draining. Think of it as having really, really good hearing, or any other sense, like an amazing sense of smell or being what they call a “super taster”. It just means you get more information coming at you, which you have to process and interpret, and it can be quite overwhelming. It’s not magic. It doesn’t mean you are “special and gifted” and therefore better than everyone else. Anyone treating it as such should be regarded with skepticism and caution.

  17. Marion Ravenwood*

    OP1: I agree with the suggestion of asking colleague to wear headphones or switch to instrumental/classical music. I also would absolutely not bring up the religious element, but then I am very conflict-averse and wouldn’t want to take the risk of it turning into a whole thing about religious freedoms etc.

    OP4: I’m sorry you’re going through this. I agree with the suggestion to tell a trusted colleague (maybe your manager) to be the messenger about what’s happened and how you want people to deal with it. This was the approach my team took earlier this year when a colleague’s husband died, and I think it worked well because it meant there wasn’t conflicting information going around and the colleague wasn’t overwhelmed by having to deal with lots of people asking her questions.

  18. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW#1 Ask that you each choose the music on alternate days. Or you get to choose for the morning, she gets to choose for the afternoon. Or ask for instrumental music, ie classic music because you find it hard to concentrate with lyrics. Or she could wear the headphones. It’s certainly not fair that one person control the music for the room. Being Christian music should not be the deal breaker, I’d feel the same way about jazz, an old office only had jazz on all the time.

    1. Susan Calvin*

      That seems like a recipe for mutual resentment, to be honest, unless OP continues to try an be the bigger person and hold back where their colleague doesn’t (which would cut down on Christian rock airtime, but would saddle OP with the task of carefully curating a sufficiently large playlist, which in sum seems like a marginal improvement at best imho)

    2. Marthooh*

      I’m not making a recommendation here, but I just googled “pagan rock music” and it is apparently a thing…

      1. Susan Calvin*

        Oh, it’s extremely a Thing. In my experience more as a genre of metal rather than rock, and not necessarily religious per se as much as inspired by the relevant mythology/history, but I do doubt that the coworker cares *why* that growly dude with the loud guitars in the background is singing about praising Thor and raiding monasteries.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      But there’s so many kinds of jazz! It’s like saying you don’t like orchestral music, which can literally be anything played on orchestral instruments, from Bach to sacharrine pop arrangments.

      I used to think I didn’t like jazz, when it turned out that I didn’t like “smooth” jazz. But jazz you can dance to? Yes! Big Band Jazz? Give me more! Glenn Miller’s Chattanooga Choo-Choo? Swoon… (a great example of the last is linked in my user name)

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        (Whoops! That was actually “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo”. Sorry about that.)

        Oh my. I guess I hadn’t seen that specific video before.

        If you do watch it, keep watching at the end of the song and you’ll see the whole thing performed a second time. This time, the orchestra is offstage and we get to see the enormously talented Nicholas Brothers singing the song and then doing a soft-shoe routine to it. One of their trademark acrobatic moves was to leap, landing in the splits, and then jump right back up again and keep dancing. (Sometimes they returned to their feet without the help of their hands which is super impressive, more than it looks.)

        And as to the slightly-odd staging, it was so they could just clip that bit out for copies of the film that were shipped to theaters in the southern states. I’ve seen that more than once. See my username link for another Glenn Miller-Nicholas Brothers wonderfulness in ACTUALLY “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. This one is even more oddball, because it’s a clip from a movie (like the other one was) and in the storyline, Glenn’s band is practicing while they’re waiting on someone, and they’re all dressed in regular clothes, not performance outfits. However, when the camera pans over for the 2nd rendition, the Nicholas Brothers and Dorothy Dandridge were fully kitted-out in fancy stage outfits. But again, continuity was not important because that bit could be removed for the South without losing any plotline, or shown by itself as a short in theaters that showed “colored” movies.

  19. ChaoticGood*

    OP1 – I’m a gay man, and in my experience the kind of person who plays religious music at work is *not* going to respond well if you ask for secular music. Your best option is to just say that the music itself makes you unable to focus and that you’ll need to change course on what you agreed to earlier, and she’ll have to use headphones.

    Can I ask you something, femme-to-pagan? Do you “pass” as not-pagan? Because I don’t pass as straight. The moment you ask the Office Religious Person (and there’s always one, I’m never ever safe from workplace discrimination) to turn down her music, it’s seen primarily as *you* discriminating against *her*. So there might be no way for you to avoid the religious angle, because that person will bring that vibe, even if you avoid it. I’d advise laying some groundwork with HR, in case they’re on her side.

    Good luck.

    1. DreamingInPurple*

      Seconding (thirding, fourthing…) asking Christian Music Co-worker to use headphones as the way to go. Not only do you stand a better chance of avoiding any complaints of discrimination (especially if she’s been reasonable before), but logically it’s the only way for both of you to get what you want. She gets whatever music she prefers, and you have the choice of no audible music or your own music on your own headphones. This seems like a much better choice than asking her to change the type of music she’s playing.

    2. LabTech*

      This. I really can’t imagine the coworker responding anything but extraordinarily badly to being asked to not blast Christian music while specifically citing the religious content.

  20. Nobby Nobbs*

    Ugh. Even most Christians would want to throttle OP 1’s coworker after about the second day of nonstop Christian Rock. (Not that I’d probably count as one of “most Christians” since I’m queer as a three dollar bill and uncomfortable with overt displays of religiosity for the same sort of bad blood reasons as the OP, but still.)

  21. BRR*

    #1 If you think your coworker might react poorly to requesting secular music, I think you can say that you gave music a shot but you prefer quiet and ask for headphones. I’ve also had luck saying music tastes vary and proposing something else.

    #4 I think a useful tool will be changing the subject after your quick reply of he’s fine or were separated. Instead of leaving the conversation hanging, switch with a “anyways about that teapot report” or “how was your weekend?”

  22. Lilly*

    Humility is on of the core values at our firm – it is meant to explain that we are willing to admit when we don’t know or have made a mistake.

    1. BadWolf*

      Yes, at my job, I would use humble in reference to someone saying, “I don’t know the answer” instead of making up something. Or “Hey guys, that issue you are seeing is something I did, I’m fixing it now.” Or being able to say another coworker is right after you disagreed about something, etc. Or that you give credit to others that helped you, like “Thanks to Fergus pointing me to Document A, I was able to complete work for Customer on time.”

      Not that you’ll never talk about your accomplishments or dare to ask for anything.

  23. Delta Delta*

    #1 – joining the chorus of people suggesting a suggestion to switch to music without lyrics. That way you both get some background sound but there’s no argument about religious vs not religious, etc. If you’re not both familiar with other genres, it could also end up being a neat way to discover you both love jazz flute or classical guitar or something totally new to you both.

  24. Be the Change*

    I once had the experience of driving from the far corner of Kenya to Nairobi with a group of missionaries. Lovely people, but 18 hours of CCM (contemporary Christian music). I thought my brains would ooze out my ears. Since I was a guest I couldn’t even ask for a change.

    Good luck, OP, I hope the reaction to your request is “Oh sure! No problem.”

  25. Carlie*

    Asking for instrumental music won’t work – there are so, so many instrumental versions of hymns and praise songs available and I guarantee that is what the coworker will shift to. If the OP has a history in the church, they will recognize those songs too, and the worst part with instrumentals of songs you know is then your brain fills in the words yourself whether you want it to or not. Then the situation is worse – the OP is still hearing it as religious music, but can’t now object without it explicitly being about the religious nature of the tunes. Better to go entirely music-free.

    1. Anonanonanon*

      YES! I had exactly the same thought- it’s almost MORE distracting to hear an instrumental of something I know the words to.

    2. Snickerdoodle*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking; it’s too easy a loophole, and the songs are instantly recognizable. It’s like instrumental Christmas music or patriotic music; it’s there even without the lyrics. I think they should seek a compromise like the classical station or possibly adult contemporary (I’m a punk rock fan and could never listen to adult contemporary all day, but it’d be better than Christian rock), but it really sounds like the coworker is the one who needs to wear headphones or just give it up altogether as the OP said headphones don’t work well for her.

    3. Jessen*

      What about explicitly going to classical? I know I have issues if I know the lyrics, even if they’re not being sung. On the other hand, I could see admitting that OP knows the lyrics to be an issue too.

  26. MicroManagered*

    OP3 Even if we suppose for a moment that you are a so-called “empath,” making an unsolicited, negative generalization of someone’s personality and giving them a book to read about it is 100% bizarre. This is about your coworker, not you.

    Sidenote: I need to know what book it was. My curiosity is killing me!

  27. Argh!*

    Re: LW 5

    The only person I’ve ever heard mention “humility” in the workplace is my grandboss, who is a member of an extremely fundamentalist sect (women shouldn’t work or cut their hair or wear pants, nobody should wear jewelry, etc.)

    This kind of language in an interview would be a red flag for me.

  28. Cassandra*

    Solidarity and strength to you, OP4, I’m dealing with this presently too.

    If even some of your colleagues are people who Notice Things, and if you have worn jewelry typically recognized as wedding jewelry (in the US, usually one or more rings on the third finger of the left hand), removing these may be enough to tip folks off. That’s how it’s been at my workplace — a few knowing glances, but everyone is letting me decide when/how to talk about it.

    (I’m not, by preference. Work is where I get to be wholly free of it. It helps that my workplace is not super-big on interactions with employees’ families, though they’re welcomed politely when they do appear.)

  29. OhGee*

    LW2, your approach isn’t likely to help you, especially at small companies, in part because you don’t know whether the culture has changed significantly since the person you contacted left. I know that at my company (staff of less than 20), one person can have a huge positive or negative effect on workplace culture.

  30. LadyPhoenix*

    LW1: Politely ask if you guys can switch to headphones, she since her music is distracting you. I have this habit of listening to songs on repeat ad nauseum, so I just wear headphones.

    Also, I listen to heavy metal (Nightwish and Within Temptation) or stuff with language/suggestive themes (Marina + The Diamonds, Avenue Q, Sweeney Todd, Heathers, Homestuck). If people WANT to know what i’m listening to, I will lend them an earbud—otherwise the headphones are ON.

  31. Anony McAnonFace*

    LW1 I don’t have anything to add, except as someone with “bad blood” with some angles of Christianity, hearing music like that actually starts giving me anxiety bad enough to make me need to leave a room (which has always been my strategy for avoiding it without offending)

    I have nothing but sympathy. Good luck keeping the conversation on topic, I really do hope it remains civil and you update soon.

  32. Persimmons*

    LW3, this might be just a desk tidiness issue. Do you leave your Sacred Chalice of Rixx or the Holy Rings of Betazed lying around?

  33. High Score!*

    OP1, As a not religious Christian who avoids church bc of how pushy and judgey followers get about their beliefs, if just tell her that the music is more distracting than I thought and I can’t work with it. Sorry I tried.
    That way you don’t open yourself up to religious conversions and “I’ll pray for your salvation” discussions .
    Good luck!

    1. PersonalJeebus*

      This is what I would advise, too! “Sorry, I thought I’d be okay with music at work, but it turns out it truly is distracting. Headphones please!”

      Because if OP1 asks the coworker to try different music, and the secular music turns out to *still* be distracting and/or repetitive, will OP1 really feel okay about asking for yet another change?

      Just get rid of the music altogether. OP1 was too accommodating about it in the first place. It’s certainly reasonable to ask for secular music only when at work, but it’s every bit as reasonable to ask for no music at all in a shared office. And it’s less likely to hurt the coworker’s feelings. “It’s not your music, it’s how my brain processes stimuli!” Also has the benefit of being basically true, since OP1 says they prefer silence.

  34. Anonymous Ampersand*

    I personally went with emailing my team to say I left my husband. I got one email from each team member saying oh my god I hope you’re ok but I could read those when I felt strong enough. If I’d not wanted replies I think they would have respected that. But obviously year team may differ.

    Sending strength.

  35. LGC*

    LW3: To quote another advice columnist, life is a rich tapestry.

    Your coworker sounds…very confused and should probably be reading fewer books (at least of that type). But I need someone to explain something to me – how can someone being an empath be draining on someone else? I’d think being the empath would be more exhausting!

    (I’m making the obvious mistake of trying to understand the crazy coworker when the correct answer is “she crazy,” but bear with me here.)

    1. ThatGirl*

      I love Nicole Cliffe, but she stole that line from the Simpsons (Marge’s therapist says “yes, yes, it’s all a rich tapestry” to her).

      1. zora*

        I don’t think the Simpsons invented that phrase, it’s a common idiom used by many over the years, including Maya Angelou and Ranier Maria Rilke.

    2. It's me*

      I almost wonder if the coworker is the empath and she phrased it poorly when telling OP that she was draining. I think that the OP might be giving out vibes that drain the empath coworker and figured if OP learned a bit about it maybe she could be less draining? I am taking a huge stab in the dark here, but that’s my guess.

    3. Anonnie Annie*

      For another empath to be “draining” to the coworker, the coworker herself would need to be an empath. Which considering her actions she very likely believes herself to be, rightly or wrongly. If you are empathic and don’t realize it, you likely have absorbed many emotions from other people and carry them around like they are your own. This is just as chaotic as it sounds and if someone else who is empathically sensitive encounters you, they may pick up on that chaos and absorb it themselves, which is indeed draining. The solution, of course, is for the empath to train themselves to handle it, just like any other aptitude one wishes to develop.

      The term the coworker probably meant was “emotional vampire”. We’ve all encountered emotional vampires; people who inexplicably take more energy to deal with than they should and leave us feeling drained after an interaction. It’s a form of boundary violation, except it’s emotional energy boundaries instead of physical ones. And just like dealing with any other type of boundary violator, you don’t just magically expect them to stop (they won’t). You take action to establish and reinforce your own boundaries, which is a personal thing and doesn’t involve the other person.

  36. Adlib*

    I have a coworker who does what OP #2 mentions ALL THE TIME. She did it when interviewing for her current job, and the previous person was definitely hesitant to share details or else she wouldn’t have taken the job. I believe that previous person said “I’ll let you draw your own conclusions” which would send up a huge red flag for me.

    She is currently interviewing for other jobs (because of what I just mentioned above – her management is toxic). She continues to do this and tell me about it. Some people are open with her, and some aren’t. I still don’t love the idea unless it’s done how Alison suggests in her answer.

  37. Casual Fribsday*

    I played an album like OP1’s coworker at work once (it sounds to me like OP is talking about praise & worship/contemporary worship rather than Christian rock or hymns). And despite the fact that I was (a) completely alone in the entire building and (b) I work IN A CHURCH, it still was uncomfortable and I stopped it after four songs.

    And that’s how I learned no matter how bored I am, I should not grab a CD from the library that I remember from childhood and play it at work.

  38. Casual Fribsday*

    OP5, humility is one thing (I think of it like Alison said, as the opposite of arrogance), but if an organization told me they wanted ego-less employees, I might run screaming from the room. I am not a fleshy automaton. So you’re not alone in thinking that’s super weird.

  39. Northern Gal*

    OP #1
    There’s nothing wrong with someone listening to Christian music at work, and they should be able to if that’s their music preference. What is kind of annoying though, regardless of the type of music – is listening to the same songs over and over again. It’d also be nice if she’d let you take a turn/let you play your music also. Or everyone sharing an office should listen to their own music through headphones.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      There’s nothing wrong with someone listening to Christian music at work, and they should be able to if that’s their music preference.

      Except that it’s a shared office. Her music preference shouldn’t be the only one that counts.

    2. Jessen*

      Eh, you shouldn’t listen to music at work without headphones if it makes other people uncomfortable, or is likely to make other people uncomfortable. If you’re in the sort of office where playing music is common (I’ve worked in some where headphones weren’t really workable), it should be the kind of thing where everyone agrees on it. I’d say that applies especially either to music with religious themes – in favor or against – and to music with bad words or crude content.

    3. MLB*

      Would you say the same thing if she was listening to rap music filled with derogatory lyrics and lots of cursing and it offended OP? Because based on the logic of your first sentence, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that either.

      I always listen to music at my desk. I’m currently in an office so I keep it low enough so only I can hear it, but in the past I’ve always used headphones. Yes OP agreed to her playing music in the office, but now it’s perfectly reasonable for OP to ask office mate to use headphones if that’s the type of music she wants to listen to.

      1. JS*

        But you shouldn’t be allowed to police music either if you are going to allow it. It should be all or nothing. I mean there is a host of genres she could be listening to people could find annoying. Its much easier just to cut out music and everyone bring in headphones.

        1. Jessen*

          Why not? It’s the sort of thing you talk over with everyone. There’s a whole host of genres that could be annoying, but it’s unlikely that all of them are going to bother someone. I’ve worked in a lot of offices where headphones were not allowed (and for good reason – the shouting at the person who’s wearing them anyways gets really disruptive) and it’s really not an issue unless people make it one.

          1. JS*

            Well I’m saying it because you cant please everyone so its better not to allow any music if you have people that aren’t OK with anything that may pop up. Also I have never had a problem with headphones in the office. I don’t see why someone would shout instead of tapping the person on the shoulder or just using an instant messenger.

            1. Jessen*

              Because in a lot of offices (like mine) getting up to tap someone on the shoulder repeatedly would be disruptive, and people who have headphones in don’t hear their instant messenger chiming. I’ve worked in places where being able to talk back and forth with your coworkers was important to keep everything functioning, and you need basically constant coordination that makes getting up whenever you need to talk to someone else impractical. I’ve also worked jobs that were physical labor rather than desk jobs where headphones might be a safety issue.

              Usually you can manage to please a reasonably sized group with a little discussion. It’s not like music is some free-for-all where you can’t predict what will come up. Most people aren’t going to object just to music they dislike, unless it’s played all day every day. We’re talking literally “this takes like 2min of discussion” to work out something everyone is happy with, in my experience.

        2. Lora*

          Yeah you can.

          Employee: “Hi, welcome to the office New Person. I have a radio that I listen to, I usually keep it on NPR / Classical / Top 40, but if you’d rather hear something else or if it bothers you just let me know.”
          New Person: “ehhhh I’m not a huge fan of [whatever], could you do headphones instead?” or “actually I listen to Justin Bieber, so how are we gonna do this? Do we trade days or what?”

          And then you just negotiate: Amy gets to pick the radio station Monday, Bob picks the station Tuesday, Charlie picks on Wednesday etc. Or everyone gets new headphones. Or something. If it rises to the level of management has to step in to pick the radio station, they will be really annoyed and start thinking annoyed thoughts about people’s judgment.

          1. JS*

            But why get into all of that? Especially the picking and choosing of days, etc, I’m not saying it couldn’t work its just not worth it as it could get petty really quickly and be “a thing”. Or if everyone in the office likes NPR/Classical/Top40 BUT the new person and they express that and its changed, you have everyone now dissatisfied with the new person.

            Have one big playlist where everyone can add songs to, choose one radio station to keep it on, or just have everyone use headphones. Keep it simple!

        3. Kate R*

          Hard disagree. It’s not about the music being annoying. It’s that it’s not work appropriate. Just like how dresses might be within your workplace dress code, but plenty of dresses are still far too casual for a work environment. Unless you work for a religious organization, it’s fair for your colleagues to not want to listen to religious music all day. I agree with others who say the same for music with derogatory or crude lyrics. In my experience, work place rules are hardly every all or nothing…or at least never all. There are always constraints within the allowances.

          1. JS*

            Your comment is more based on work appropriateness which its going to be different depending on your organization, the majority with in, where you live, all different factors. It’s very subjective. While crude lyrics of someone killing or doing drugs wouldn’t be appropriate that wouldn’t be a blanket band on all metal or hiphop just like not all Christian songs are explicitly Christian and say God or Jesus, same with any other religion, Switchfoot’s album in ’06 debuted at #3 on Billboard, it is mainstream. You say its not all or nothing but you are pretty all or nothing about religious music saying its not appropriate.

            If you are going to allow communal playing of music everyone is going to have to be able to put music they like.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, actually the OP has a right to say that she doesn’t want religion coming at her all day long. It’s just like she could say she’s willing to chat with the coworker during the day, but she doesn’t want to be proselytized to.

    5. Observer*

      You seem to have overlooked that this is a shared space. I don’t care what kind of music it is – if it’s in your space, play whatever you want. If it’s shared space, it needs to be acceptable to whoever is sitting there.

  40. Bea*

    It’s a playlist she’s using? So is it a steaming service like Pandora or Spotify? If it’s a service, I suggest asking to put together a joint list for work. That’s what we have done previously when having a joint office space. Then it’s not repeating constantly. It’s a million times easier to drown out the music when it’s not on repeat.

  41. Polymer Phil*

    OP 5 – I’ve worked at companies that told us some variation on “be a good little worker bee and don’t push for a promotion” because we have a glass ceiling for people without PhD’s, we prefer to fill management positions with outside hires, etc.

  42. gwal*

    I don’t love it when the advice recommends passive-aggressive or coded-message language, which is how I feel about “or we can always switch to headphones if you’d prefer that.””

    What about more direct wording for that segment, like, “or would you please consider wearing headphones since we have such differing taste?”

    1. MLB*

      I prefer a more direct approach too. Just because you’re at work doesn’t mean you have to dance around the issue. I also don’t like making up excuses, but in this case, not knowing how office mate would react to OP’s religious beliefs, I’d go with “I know I said it was okay for you to play music, but I’ve found it’s distracting to me getting my work done. Can you please use headphones now?”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not intended to be passive-aggressive. It’s intended to be genuine: If you want to keep playing music out loud, let’s change it. Or, if you don’t want to change it, let’s switch to headphones.

      1. gwal*

        Thanks for the reply! I see what you are saying, and that makes sense.

        I am still not convinced that “we can always switch to headphones if you would prefer that” is direct enough for my taste, personally. It kind of implies that the acceptable options have been determined by the LW/speaker and the “we” is in there to soften what is actually a request of the music-listener. I may be more sensitive than most to this issue, but I always really prefer interactions to be frank in their intentions and wording to minimize the room for misinterpretation or over-generalization.

  43. Jaybeetee*

    LW1 – In an OldJob, our team worked in three open-plan offices, and desks were reshuffled periodically due to circumstances (team growing or shrinking, etc). Soooo there was the “main” office, with the most people, that somehow agreed to have “country-western Tuesday” on the radio. Which I suffered through at the time. Then four of us were in a separate area, and for the ENTIRE month of December, one of my colleagues brought in a stereo and an assortment of Christmas carol CDs. And played them. All day every day. About two weeks into December the rest of us wanted to strangle her (I don’t even know, in hindsight, why none of us asked her to knock it off – we were being too polite for our own good).

    I wonder if your colleague could be introduced to Skillet or similar? ;) I didn’t even know they were “Christian” rock when I first started listening to them. It seems there’s an entire genre of “Christian” music that goes out of its way to be marketable to the mainstream and dials down the “God” stuff.

    1. Trig*

      > It seems there’s an entire genre of “Christian” music that goes out of its way to be marketable to the mainstream and dials down the “God” stuff.

      And that’s how 15-year-old me was fooled into buying a Creed album. Somehow I totally missed that messaging. Raised hippy dippy United Church protestant, I was so oblivious that the name of the band didn’t even tip me off.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      I like traditional Christmas carols. However, hearing them nonstop would make me murder your co-worker. And modern Christmas music would make me burn down whatever establishment was playing it.

  44. Tammy*

    OP5- Definitely ask what the company means by “humility” (or any other word) if this comes up again! You’ll probably learn a lot about the company’s culture and values that way.

    I’m serving on the steering committee of a large initiative at my company to update and refresh our corporate core values, and we use the word “humble” in them. But we have a lot of language around what we mean when we say “humble” and it’s definitely not about being meek and submissive. We talk about humility at work as meaning that we recognize and respect others’ viewpoints, are open to new information and input, and value “winning” only when we’re all winning as a team. So for us, humility isn’t about being a pushover – it’s about being team-oriented, not a know-it-all, and valuing the collective good of the company and our customers over self-seeking behaviors.

  45. JS*

    OP #1 – Contrary to the advice of Alison I would just tell her “no more music” and you changed your mind and its too distracting. Keep the focus on WORK. Unless you have a very solid relationship and have spoken about your beliefs with her before since if you are focusing on the Christian aspect it can be seen as an attack.

    Although its within your right/expectations to want secular music in a secular workplace you also don’t want to spoil your working relationship with Lily. The fact that Lily feels comfortable to play non secular music at work says a lot about the culture and environment you live in, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was in the south or midwest. While her reaction could be perfectly reasonable and adhere to the request, she could be put off by you now and at worst spread gossip about you. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if she did mention it to others even if it wasn’t intentionally in a gossipy manner but in a “weird I’ve played the music for so long and she just now has an issue with it” which to be fair, it will come off a bit weird. Once you realized she would be playing it and it only you should have spoken up.

    Alternatively, I would suggest making a joint/shared spotify playlist. That way you both can add songs and you can add enough to dilute the Christian music if you truly wouldn’t mind the songs in rotation but just need variety not to go crazy. I’m Christian myself but I would not want to listen to Christian music all day either so I sympathize here.

  46. Lia*

    OP4, I had several separations/reconciliations with my ex over the course of about a year until I gave up and threw in the towel, and we divorced. And as it was my second divorce (first since joining my org, at least, though), AND I tend to be a rather private person, I kind of …did not mention it. HR knew as they had to take him off my insurance, but that was it. I did quit mentioning him at all, so “what did you do this weekend?” might be “my daughter and I went to X”, instead of “Ex and I did Z”.

    Eventually, I did tell one (gossipy) coworker who noticed I had long since quit wearing my rings and she took care of spreading the news.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I have on at least one occasion intentionally spread information across the department, by pulling one person aside, telling them, and asking them not to tell anyone. It does work.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I go back to the church that I left nine years ago, every year for their annual ethnic festival, and this year was when I finally told the priest about my 2010 divorce. He asked if we still lived in the same house that he used to visit us in, and I said, “no, same city, different street.” and then added “(ex’s name) is still in that house though. He’s doing fine. We had him over for Thanksgiving.” The priest had this “okay, got it” look on his face, and that was it. I’d been dreading telling him for eight years…

  47. voluptuousfire*

    For OP #2, I’d fight fire with fire and pull up Spotify and play pagan bands like Inkkubus Sukkubus or even black metal. Behemoth may be a good choice.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Next week, Alison gets another letter. “Dear Alison, my officemate said she was fine with me playing music, but last week, without talking to me, started playing her own music over mine, and it’s music I don’t enjoy and is actually offensive in terms of my religion. I assume she’s playing this music because she doesn’t like mine, but because she hasn’t actually said anything, I’m not sure how to broach the subject. Hermione is a great coworker and we usually get along really well, so I don’t want to sour things between us, but this is not working for me at all.”

      …or LW could actually handle the situation in an adult manner, using one of the suggestions Alison or other commenters have offered, and avoid making things worse.

      1. Observer*


        Fighting fire with fire is sometimes a good idea. It’s almost never the right idea for first choice.

  48. Elizabeth*

    1. I’m a Christian, but I would never blast religion music all day without asking people around me if it’s okay. Honestly, I think your coworker was pretty insensitive to do that. Unfortunately, Christians are the worst at A) assuming everyone is Christian too, or B) believing that, if they’re not Christian, they should be. Your own beliefs, being pagan and wiccan and all, swing pretty far in the opposite direction of Christianity, so I really hope your coworker remains respectful and doesn’t judge you.

    3. I’m also an empath and, well…this was just weird. An empath is someone who has the ability to perceive the mental and emotional state of other people, and they are very in tune with how others feel. Empaths don’t drain people, THEY get drained from absorbing everyone else’s emotions. So, her comment that you drain her because you’re an empath makes no sense at all. It’s possible that she’s an empath, but that’s not what she said.

    Anyway, yeah, I agree with Alison. Just ignore it and remain respectful but distant.

  49. RussianInTexas*

    OP#3 – I would try to keep a straight face. I would probably fail, but I would try my darnedest.
    OK, who am I kidding, I would totally laugh for a very long time, and would not be able to take your coworker seriously ever again.

  50. Hiring Mgr*

    On #1, rather than make it about the music specifically, I think you might have more success with Lily if you frame it as part of the eternal battle between Christianity vs Witchcraft. This way, you will make it seem as if you are only small pawns in a greater struggle, rather than a personal thing between just the two of you. /s

  51. linnette*

    OP1. I agree with the people that say you just need to tell you cube mate that if she wants music, she needs earphones.
    You tried it and it doesn’t work for you. If she suggest you use earphones, say that you aren’t the one who needs music to work, you shouldn’t have to adjust for someone that does. The office doesn’t come with music.
    OP3. Do a quick think on if you have ever done anything to somehow offend this person. Try not to go over 5 minutes. If you can think of something, apologize and give her back her book.
    Got nothing?
    If you can’t think of anything out of normal, then just give the book to HR and let them deal with it. Your co-worker is a grownup. If she can’t explain what her problem is with you but has to give a you book to read, she really doesn’t understand it as well as she thinks she does. With people who o are in our lives, not just sharing the same building, first comes talking, then comes book references. This assumes you are actually friendly co-workers, not just people who work at the same company.

    OP4. I am sorry and I don’t even know you. Assume that most people are coming from that vein. Have a designated hitter to give out basic info and that you don’t want it interrupting your work life would be my best advice.

    Good luck all.

  52. Kenneth*

    OP#1, as an atheist, I think the only sane way out of this without it potentially escalating to a possible religious office war is merely asserting that she wear headphones. It’s rather inconsiderate that she doesn’t already do this. The content of the music itself may or may not be bothersome, but she should’ve just taken as default that she should wear headphones in a shared office. If she takes offense and tries to bring it around to the *content* of the music, emphasize the desire to use headphones to avoid bothering you. Again this is mere office courtesy.

    If you want to emphasize the point, especially if she refuses or becomes combative, play whatever music you want over hers.

    I can also readily empathize with your plight of the ear buds. I’ve never found a pair that were comfortable for any more than maybe… 15 minutes. I’ve tried several, including so-called “comfort foam” or “comfort pad” options that still left my ears feeling sore. So find a pair of comfortable headphones you can use at the office for your own listening pleasure.

  53. Mediamaven*

    For LW2 – From an employers perspective I very much don’t like it when a prospective employee reaches out to current or past employees on Linkedin to get intel. I had a person who I hadn’t even interviewed yet reach out to a handful of current employees to find out about our workplace and they immediately told me and let me know it made them feel very uncomfortable. I also know that others have contacted past employees and got a skewed view of the office place because those people were not successful in the role etc… I have no way of explaining any particular situation if they don’t raise the specific conversation, and there are always two sides. I think the best thing to do is to ask if you could speak to others in the organization. I often make this recommendation and offer up employees for them to chat with and it tends to work well.

    1. pleaset*

      “made them feel very uncomfortable”

      They should work on this. If they don’t like it – fine. I wouldn’t either. They can just decline.

      Someone asking shouldn’t make them very uncomfortable. They can say no. There is no pressure or leverage putting them in a tough spot.

      1. Mediamaven*

        They don’t need to work on it. They are very capable, professional young women. The person who I was scheduled to have an interview with messaged like five of them and said I have an interview with your boss in an hour and I want to know what it’s like working there. Tell me what the culture is like. Do you enjoy it. It was very aggressive, assuming and they were all sitting together getting these emails. Not everyone wants to speak about their personal experiences with their workplace with a complete stranger and the delivery was very off putting, especially because I hadn’t even spoken with her yet. It wasn’t appropriate and they felt I should know before the interview. They are not the ones with a problem.

  54. Sunny*

    The woman at my Post Office plays Christian music all day and it kind of annoys me because it’s a federal institution.

  55. Observer*

    #1 – If you can’t come to some good compromise with your coworker, try switching to headphones rather than earbuds. A good set are generally much more comfortable than earbuds. If it really needs to be earbuds, some are more comfortable than others, so do some investigating.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat, I TOTALLY agree that this should not be necessary, but I’m being practical. Sometimes you need a plan b, not because it SHOULD be that way, but because you need to protect your sanity.

  56. Thisoldgame*

    I’ve had a similar experience to OP1, I started a new job and was managing someone twice my age who had apparently made a big stink about it, and my boss thought she was trying to establish her “dominance.” My last name is very obviously Jewish so I guess this was one of her grand ideas. We made it a week before I asked her to use headphones, she wasn’t happy but she did do it.

  57. Absolutely Anon*

    OP #5: I’ve heard a lot about being humble and ego-less from colleagues who strongly identify with their collectivist, high power distance cultures of origin. With the people I’m thinking of, there is a subtext to their understanding of humility and ego that gets translated into ideals that aren’t necessarily productive. I’ve noticed that some of these colleagues are extraordinarily uncomfortable with others not in formal leadership positions taking any sort of initiative, and are also uneasy about individual versus group professional development.

    Someone up thread said that they need their colleagues to let them know what they can do well and what “doing things well” looks like – this is often at odds with the way some highly-collectivist people think a humble or ego-less person should act at work. They may experience a lot of cognitive dissonance in their value judgments of people (including their subordinates) in lower-level positions growing and gradually demonstrate increasing competence, so it’s something to watch out for.

  58. Justin*

    I’ve noticed that some jobs seem to want people with certain personality traits, which is reasonable to a degree, but sort of unrealistic. You can make a point not to hire people who flagrant jerks or flakes, but how do you really hire “humility?” And anytime I’ve taken a job that claims to want some good trait I almost immediately meet someone who is the opposite of that trait, because sometimes you just have to hire for skills, experience, and a basic level of professionalism.

    1. lizzyD*

      I’ve been seeing “humility” a lot too, on business websites. But do arrogant jerks really see themselves like that anyways? Will they really look at the job posting and think, “Oh, they don’t want know-it-all aholes applying. Shoot, that counts me out.”
      There are interview questions that flag people like this though. Usually the type that start with, “Tell me about a time….”.

    2. Lucille2*

      I think it’s becoming a bit buzz-wordy in job postings these days. I’ve worked with a few too many know-it-all type programmers who’s arrogance will be put up with far too long because of their brilliance. Most team-oriented environments would do better with someone who has a bit of a learning curve, but knows what they don’t know, vs. the brilliant jerk who is unwilling to compromise absolute perfection to meet business demands. “Humble” oversimplifies and is too open to interpretation, but this is how I read it.

  59. Mayor of Llamatown*

    #1: Once upon a time I worked for a manager/VP who was very Christian but not in-your-face with it – he quietly listened to Christian music in his own office with the door closed, had a Jesus fish on his car, etc. Eventually a coworker joined the team who was a part-time pastor and very, very vocal about his faith. He and this VP mutually bonded over their religious beliefs in a way that was friendly but didn’t rise to the level of preferential treatment. It was akin to the way two people interested in model trains might bond over that.

    When said VP retired, our team wanted to get him a joint gift. Coworker instantly asked that we all pitch in on a fancy leather Bible with VP’s name and a Bible verse engraved on it. Interim!VP vehemently disagreed, knowing that there were people on the team who would be uncomfortable with that gift, and told Coworker so, suggesting Coworker buy the Bible himself as a personal gift. Coworker threw an actual hissy fit (whining, huffing, pouting) and claimed that Interim!VP was discriminating against his faith.

    Knowing that I am a practicing Catholic, Coworker came to me to vent this frustrations/get me to join in on his side. He insisted that it was “persecution of Christians”. I gave him a history lesson on all the ways Christians have persecuted other faiths for the last couple millenia, how the relatively minor persecution of Christians in the first few centuries CE was not a sound logical backing for his argument (thanks, Jesuit college professors), and told him to go respectfully ask our Muslim and Wiccan coworkers what they thought on the subject and report back. He was not pleased. We did not get a Bible for Retiring!VP.

    This adds nothing to the advice except commiseration. Even Christians get exhausted by Christians. You may be doing more people in your office a favor by speaking up. If Lily is a great coworker, she will understand polite requests.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      (speaking as a former Christian) Why did Coworker think the VP even needed another Bible to begin with? He already probably had a stack of them. I left religion nine years ago and I still have a few different versions on my bookshelf. I’m glad your team got him something else, hopefully a nice gift that he enjoyed and was able to use.

      I also liked the talk you gave him, as well as the interim VP’s suggestion that he can buy his Bible of choice for the retiring VP himself.

      1. Johan*

        Yikes, the talk not only was condescending, it was incredibly inaccurate. All you have to do is go to Wikipedia to see get a glimpse of the scope of persecution of Christians — and recently (the 20th century’s Armenian genocide, Assyrian genocide, Greek genocide) to today.

    2. spinetingler*

      You could also have suggested to him that the only proper Bible to give him was the Catholic version (I’m 99% certain that your pushy co-worker was of one of the more fundamental versions of Christianity).

  60. Existentialista*

    OP #4 – Having worked for a boss who went through a painful separation and divorce and never said one word to us, her direct reports, until a year after it was final, I would highly recommend that you say something vague, at least, like “I’ve got some personal stuff going on right now, I don’t want to talk in detail about it at work, but in case you notice anything different about me, or if I’m away, that’s why.” In my boss’s case, we were in the middle of a very tough, high-profile project, and she would disappear for whole afternoons or days, with no explanation and no follow up. We felt resentful because she had dumped the pressure of the big project on us to manage alone, and we went wild with speculation about what might be going on (she’s having an affair, she’s interviewing for other jobs, she has taken another job and is working there intsead, she has cancer, on and on). I would have very much appreciated a few words from her, even vague ones, as one human being to another.

  61. HannahS*

    OP1, I’m agreeing with everyone who’s saying that you should just have her wear headphones. In my experience, a lot of Christians often don’t have the same threshold for what’s considered Christian as I (Jewish) do, because they’re in religious Christian within a larger historically Christian country and culture. Example: I have gotten into arguments about how Christmas carols, in my opinion, are Christian music because they’re about a Christian holiday, while others have argued that since they aren’t explicitly about Jesus, they’re secular. Or that a song written and sung by a Christian band about how “You love and forgive us” etc. isn’t really Christian, because it doesn’t explicitly mention Jesus, so it’s universal. You don’t want to have those arguments. Just ask her to wear headphones.

  62. AKchic*

    So much to unpack here…

    LW 1 – follow Alison’s advice. I’m so sorry. As a fellow person who is decidedly negative toward the majority of Christianity, I can relate to this.

    LW 3 – uh… if you’re an empath, your coworker shouldn’t feel anything at all. It should be *you* that is emotionally strung out and drained. Perhaps she is thinking that you’re a succubus or emotional vampire? Otherwise *she* is an empath, but if that were the case, she would be asking you if you’re okay and trying to “fix” you and your emotional state. (Side Note: Some of these so-called “empaths” are anything but and I have a really hard time keeping a straight face when any of them start in on their acts)
    Alison is completely correct in saying that you can ignore this book “assignment”. Feel free to bin the book, but personally, I’d hold on to it and document the incident just in case. You never know if the coworker’s treatment will continue or escalate, and if it does, you will want to bring as much as possible to HR/management so they can see what they’re dealing with.

    LW 4 – I am sorry about your separation. You say that you and your coworkers talk about a lot, you’re all friendly, that you have previously discussed your spouses and to not discuss yours would be out of the norm. I think that it’s okay to say “we’ve separated and I’m not really ready to talk about it at work yet”. You can still be friendly at work and with work friends while setting boundaries about what you’ll talk about.
    You can even say that because the two of you work at the same company, you two agreed that you weren’t going to discuss the details of your separation at the office to keep it from spilling over into the workplace and keep it from getting “awkward” for coworkers so they don’t feel like they have to choose sides. (For this one, perhaps discuss it with your soon-to-be ex so the both of you are on the same page, first)

  63. OP3 (the empath?)*

    Thank you for answering my question and also thank you to everyone who took the time to comment. Per your advice, I documented and reported the conversation to HR and our functional manager for their situational awareness. In the meantime, I will avoid this individual whenever possible. Fortunately we work in different physical locations on very different projects, and our encounters will continue to be limited to monthly staff meetings.

  64. Nom Nom De Plume*

    LW3: You could have a little fun with this. Whenever you run into said coworker, look at her intently for a moment, then give her a gently amused smile. Do it with just a touch of otherworldliness, and she’ll end up adding telepathy to your presumed psionic abilities. For bonus entertainment, picture her in a thought-shielding aluminum foil hat.

  65. Sylvia*

    Q1 – rock music – oh dear.
    I literally cannot work when there is music with lyrics in a language I know. It uses up the ‘language portion’ of my brain, and I can’t make words happen. Doesn’t matter if its an instrumental version, my brain is supplying the words, and that memo I was supposed to be writing – not happening.

    If you can make this specifically work related and not religion related, maybe it will go over better. At least it might cut down on the “I am so sad that you don’t like my religion, let’s talk about that” conversations.

  66. Shawn*

    OP #3…I am also an empath and it is up to ME to protect myself from those I find draining…not the other way around. Sounds like she has some work to do on her own, something that she should NOT be putting on you! You might want to turn around and instead, give her some meditation CDs on how to deal with herself.

  67. Silicon Valley Girl*

    LW4 – I’m in a similar situation, going thru divorce, moved out of our house this week, selling it next week. My coworkers & I are friendly but not close. We’ve generally talked about our spouses & living situations, but it’s not like they know my STBX’s name. I did tell my manager what was happening just so she’s aware that I may be distracted or need a few days off here & there to deal w/moving, etc., & she was very supportive (we are closer than most of the ppl I work with due to the cross-functional nature of my work). I don’t plan to say anything to my coworkers until maybe until I’ve moved into my new house, as I expect that will change my commute, which might impact my schedule. So I’m keeping it all on a need-to-know basis.

    1. uranus wars*

      This is pretty much where I am at work – friendly but not overly so. I moved out in mid-January, told my boss because I needed a few days off to move but lots of people still assume we are together and if they say “how is Jupiter” I just say “he’s fine” and leave it at that. It does help that I am not overly close with anyone so they don’t ask too many questions beyond that or “how was your weekend?”.

      In general, I don’t care about people knowing any acquaintance conversation tends to turn to “Oh, I am so sorry” or “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone who appreciates you.” The reality is probably that they just don’t know how to respond but they also have no idea what our issue was or who appreciated who. And saying that it was my choice only leads to more conversation, it doesn’t end it.

  68. PersonalJeebus*

    I’m confused by letters asking about word/language choices. “When an employer says X, to me it means Y, why would they be focusing on Y?” The obvious answer is: They probably don’t actually mean Y; have you considered other possible meanings? Try the dictionary! It usually has lots of options!

    “Humble” can cover a lot of ground besides “being a doormat.” OP5 is thinking zebras (spiritual leader) when they should be hearing horses (don’t be like those overbearing people who used to get you down).

    I don’t want to be mean to OP5, because their anxiety is clearly real, but it sounds like they’ve spent so much energy working on themselves that they’ve gotten tunnel vision. They’re so wrapped up in their own narrow interpretation of the word “humble” that they can’t easily think of more common meanings, like the obvious ones Alison proposed. At least they realized after the fact that they should have asked the interviewer to be more specific. If you can’t place yourselves in the employer’s shoes (because really, why would a hiring manager actually want you to relinquish all credit for your own work? that’s pretty out there) then you’ve got to ask them to spell it out for you.

    I hope OP5 can soon move past their apparent fear that it’s common for employers to expect them to be a doormat.

    1. MD*

      Because dog whistle language has commonly been used in our culture, like “polished” for “not black” and “family values” for “sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory toward single parents.”

  69. Kathy*

    The difference I say in the divorce scenario is that they both work at the same place. I would want it out that we are getting a divorce. My reasoning being what if my ex (or me) shows interest in someone else on the job; or we are seen in public with someone. Co-workers assume we are still married and this could lead to a lot of misconceptions in the workplace.

  70. PersonalJeebus*

    I once got into an Uber (in a smallish town in the middle of the California desert) and the driver was playing Christian folk/rock music. On the one hand, I was seriously displeased that a cab driver would expect all their customers to listen to this. Some customers, of course, would be fine with it or even enjoy it–but some would be extremely uncomfortable, and why would you risk alienating your customers?

    On the other hand, I was a little amused by what I saw as a huge social faux pas, and I wanted to make my poor wife feel less awkward (she is a butch lesbian immigrant of color and terrified of a) conservative American Christians and b) all confrontation ever), so I started singing along to “Our God is an Awesome God.” It made the driver smile and my wife laugh.

    But still, ugh.

  71. Specialk9*

    This right here. I can tell when something bad is churning behind a smile. Eg I’m rarely surprised by divorce or suicide, and have learned to trust my instincts.

    But that doesn’t mean I know what that hidden thing is, and have to do SO MUCH thought management to keep from jumping to the worst (They hate me! They’re going to start shooting etc), and to watch myself for implicit bias (am I reacting to what’s actually here or to some hidden social conditioning about X kind of people?). It’s pretty flipping exhausting, actually, and took decades to figure out. I don’t exactly know other super-empathic people to ask for advice.

    But it’s 100% my thing to manage, nobody else’s. (Well, me + therapist.) The idea of making it someone else’s problem is laughable / pissing me off. She’s a loon, this co-worker, and a jerk.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I like this distinction.

      I find human interactions usually should lie in a middle ground. Feeling your emotions even if they are irrational or unwanted, while taking ownership of any actions they bring on. Empathizing, but not so much that you wipe yourself out, or that other people get exhausted by having to manage their emotions so they never leak onto you. (I just paid a medical bill over the phone, and could tell that the receptionist was kinda tired and short-tempered, something that dissipated over the course of the call. And was almost certainly not about me, but about what she was doing just before I called.)

  72. Anonymosity*

    The person who wants to play music all the time is the one who should be wearing headphones. I cannot work with other people’s music playing. That’s a total deal breaker for me. I can only concentrate when I have mine on, with no vocals. Christian stuff or country would be a huge no.

    It’s not reasonable to inflict your music on other people all day. If they’re allowed to wear them, then they both can do so and listen to their own playlists.

  73. Pear*

    Tangentially related to #1, one of my newest co-workers has complained loud and long HOW QUIET OUR OFFICE IS AND HOW SHE CANNOT CONCENTRATE because it is SO QUIET.

    So today, she brought in her very expensive Bose stereo system with three foot high speakers and her very own curated playlist – which had a little bit of hard rock, a little Yanni, a little zydeco, a little of this and that..

    I have a hearing loss corrected by (recently acquired and I’m still getting used to) hearing aids. The microphone sits behind my ear. I will not speak for everyone hard of hearing, but music with lyrics makes it very, very hard for me to concentrate, on work that needs a lot of concentration. To be fair, I have also been known to walk out of stores and restaurants that play music too loudly.

    Fortunately, this co-worker only works part time, and when she left, I asked whether I could turn the music down. And my co-workers said, “Just turn it off.” And my boss came out of his office and said, “Oh, thank god you turned that off – I was getting a headache.”

    When I asked them why they didn’t say anything – I did not say anything to co-worker because I thought it was Just Me – they said, “Oh well, she complained and complained about it, so we just let her do her thing.”

    My boss will not allow headphones – I wouldn’t be able to wear them anyway since the microphone sits behind my ear and not IN my ear – so I guess this is the new normal or somesortacrap.

    However, I take small comfort it is NOT Just Me, even though I own up to the fact I really loved the quiet. I will miss it.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Your boss is being bizarre. Sane options would be:
      a) Allow headphones, and then your coworker can listen to her playlist quietly.
      b) Ban headphones, and then do not allow music in the office if it is distracting to people who need to focus.

      Banning headphones but letting people subject everyone to their music because they complain and complain… no! Manage!

  74. zdoge*

    For #5, I would definitely clarify with them more before assuming “humble” = “doormat”. Like everyone else has said, it could mean a whole range of things, from being skilled but not ego driven all the way down to doormat. I wouldn’t assume the worst (but would double check before accepting an offer just in case).

    My current job has a huge emphasis on hiring good people, even if they need a little training. I thought it was fluff at the interview but it really worked out amazing. We work in medical product design and being able to empathize and have a desire to do the best for the patients seems to attract people who care about others (including not being jerks to their coworkers). It’s honestly the best place I’ve worked, it’s awesome to have zero coworkers with drama. There’s a few loud talkers who can be annoying but everyone is super cool and it makes things so much nicer. It’s a pretty diverse group as well, so it’s definitely not some hivemind of gender/ethnicity/age/etc.

  75. AppleCore*

    For OP1, to sidestep the religious issue, could you instead explain that music with lyrics is distracting to you and for her to play instrumental-only music? She still gets to pick the music that way and can still play religious music, but you won’t have to hear the religious messages.

  76. Former Computer Professional*

    Am I the only person who read #1 and thought of The Dead Milkmen’s “I Dream of Jesus”?

  77. OldJules*

    Humility I think could be a new buzzword frequently used by organization which uses Servant Leadership model.

  78. Noah*

    In my experience, workplace humility mostly plays out as people not being tied to their own ideas and their willingness to jump in and make anything work, even if it’s not how they originally wanted to do it.

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