update: my coworker tries to guilt-trip people

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer with the manipulative coworker who tried to guilt-trip people — doing things like storming around the office if someone turned down her offer of half a sandwich and bringing in unsolicited trays of food and then complaining no one got her any gifts? Here’s the update.

I gained massive amounts of insight from reading your replies, along with all the comments people shared. Loving how the post got such a great public response, with so many people sharing similar stories of woe.

I did try some of your response suggestions:

* In response to tantrums insisting she’ll never bring in food again: “Yes, that sounds like a good idea since this obviously upsets you.” And, “You’ve said that before but you keep bringing it in. Since it upsets you, you should stop.”

Both of which were met with a very standoffish “Well fine, if that’s how you feel!”

After that, she eased up on bringing food for about one week, then everything returned to the way it was before.

The last straw when she bought in some giant green grapes, and stood by my desk saying “let me watch you eat it” to which I had to reply that I wasn’t feeling well at the moment, but would save some of them for later.

You are very right that having ZERO emotion in your response is the way to go. I learned that as long as I spoke robotically and had very little inflection in my voice, she would stare and look stunned for a few moments – but then would sit down, and the food harassment would temporarily stop. As long as I stayed mindful of the “no reaction” response, the incidents did start to dissipate.

As for our boss, she actually refuses any confrontation or discipline at all, and rarely speaks to anybody in her department because she does not want to be bothered with us.

(There’s a high probability I’ll submit questions about issues with the boss in an entirely new post to Ask a Manager lol.)

However, I have some most excellent news – the guilt-tripper has since quit (after being disciplined by the company owner, over a different matter) – so office life is now quite blissful … although I do feel sorry for the next organization who picks her up!

Thanks again for all of your feedback on this. It’s undoubtedly helping hundreds of others who find themselves in similar situations!

{ 100 comments… read them below }

    1. Cat wrangler*

      I’d be tempted to spit the seeds at her but then accepting the food feeds her ego and carries on the cycle. Weird.

    2. Just Tired*

      One of my co-workers told me a story last week about an ex-co-worker of hers who would bring in baked goods and then sit at people’s desks and insist that they eat them while she watched. She wouldn’t eat any. How common is this behavior?!

  1. valentine*

    So glad you are free, OP, particularly from “Let me watch you eat it.” I really want to pair this person with Food or Friendship/Handful of Almonds.

        1. stump*

          A command, a threat, or a come on? Because I’m imagining several options here and they’re all wretched. D:

      1. Hills to Die on*

        That was both creepy and funny. She is dying for a reaction–any reaction! I love a good ‘won’t be emotionally blackmailed’ story. Thank you and congratulations!

        1. AKchic*

          That was my thought too. Paired with a very calm “I will not accept a single crumb from you, so please stop wasting your time and energy. We are here to work and your job is not to feed me.”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        My jaw dropped at that line. It’s so disgusting and controlling and out of line.

      3. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

        That’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. Very “Silence of the Lambs” esque.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Holy Something Or Other, that line made me squirm. Why? WHY would you say that to someone you work with?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          If you’re trying to give them knock out drops so you can put them on the corporate plane with a dozen bags of cash, as part of an elaborate scheme to cover up your own smaller embezzlement?

        2. Airy*

          If you’ve built this up in your weird little mind as a battle of noble principles which you simply must win. If she eats what you told her to eat, that proves you were right all along and everyone should apologise to you!

    1. Fuzzy Pickles*

      I… would fantasize staring her in the eyes while dropping the grapes in the trash after a comment like that.

      In reality, I would be dumbfounded.

    2. TypityTypeType*

      It sounds like a horror movie, honestly — where everyone in the audience wants to yell “Don’t eat the grapes!”

    3. Rebecca*

      I’d seriously be tempted to say “you first”, but only if I was able to pick the exact grape. Wow.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        I just remembered that some of the victims of Jack the Ripper were reputed to be found holding grapes. No.

  2. Drew*

    Congratulations on setting firm boundaries while remaining totally professional. Have a cookie…but only if you really want one!

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I think my mouth would’ve taken on a life of its own and a “is there anything else you’d like to watch me do?!” would’ve come out of it, and that would’ve been the end of me at that job.

      How incredibly creepy.

    2. Lana Kane*

      This would have seriously threatened my poker face. Seriously, kudos to the OP for keeping a straight face.

  3. Kwazy Kupcake*

    “Let me watch you eat it.” Nooooo, thank you.

    I wish I had more to add, but for some reason “let me watch you eat it” is so creepy it’s blocking the rest of my thoughts.

    1. Justme, the OG*

      That’s what I would say to my kid eating her broccoli, so she doesn’t sneak it to the dog. Still creepy in a parenting situation, super creepy in the situation from the OP.

        1. Teapot librarian*

          My cat eats broccoli! (And mushrooms. And bananas. I don’t give them to him, but he pulls the broccoli and mushroom ends that I’ve trimmed out of the sink and snacks on them!)

        2. Justme, the OG*

          He does! He was begging for my dinner one night with his adorable puppy dog eyes, and I told him that if he didn’t back off he would get broccoli. He did and liked it.

          1. JS82*

            My dog has been a food beggar from day 1. I did NOTHING to start this behavior. So one day I thought I was sooo brilliant and gave him some of the rather spicy chicken I was making. For sure he would never beg again. Now my damn dog likes spicy food. SMH. There’s no winning with him.

            1. Merci Dee*

              My cat absolutely loves chili cheese Fritos. They can be a bit spicy, too. Sometimes he’ll try to nip my fingers and steal one if I’m eating the chip instead of giving it to him. Only cat I’ve ever had that literally tries to steal food from my mouth.

            2. Recent Anon Lurker*

              I had a dog that would break into my garden for my jalapeño and Serrano peppers. Would leave all the rest alone – just went after the peppers.

            3. AKchic*

              My dog is a beggar too. She is the Lady Sad Eyes von Gimme Food for a reason. The cats aren’t much better.

          2. Lady Kelvin*

            We threaten our dog with carrots. She acts like she wants them, but then chews them up and leaves them in pieces all over the floor for us to clean up. So actually, I’m not sure who we are punishing when we give her carrots…

              1. LJay*

                A dog that lived at the riding stable I went to when I was a kid ate both of those things. Raw, too! I always thought raw carrots were a weird thing for a dog to eat.

                1. Anonymous Engineer*

                  Riding stables are full of both of those things, since they are common horse treats. I guess that dog figured out that was his best chance for variety!

                2. Lis*

                  We used to have a pony living in a field beside our house (not our pony) and the dog used to try steal the handfuls of grass we fed her from her mouth. I guess he figured if the other animal would eat it he should. He also ate broccoli oranges and other fruit and veg.

              2. Sandy*

                My ancient dog eats carrots, apples, sweet potato, blueberries and zucchini. And kale, if there’s dressing on it. He draws the line at spinach. He’s gotten more adventurous as he ages and I’d swear he probably can’t smell as well any longer.

                1. Recent Anon Lurker*

                  When I was a kid we had a lab-great Dane mix that would eat anything but black olives. He ate oranges, grapefruit, grapes, lettuce, carrots, celery, tomatoes, any pasta he could get his mouth on. But he wouldn’t do olives. We joked that he also must have been part goat.

                  (We got him from a shelter, he was the last one still there because he was the runt.)

  4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    I desperately want you to eat something I brought and I will throw a tantrum if you don’t: neurotic and annoying
    “Let me watch you eat it”: super creepy, bordering on fetish

  5. Observer*

    Now I REALLY want to know what caused her to get disciplined. Also, why the CEO is allowing your boss to get away with not managing.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Yes! If I had those kinds of managers reporting to me, they’d be getting a lot of questions about why they aren’t doing the managing that they are paid to do. We had that problem last year and I never understood why grandboss didn’t get tired of the calls.

    2. ISuckAtUserNames*

      I suspect the boss is a family member of the CEO or something similar. Sounds like a fairly small company, if the CEO is disciplining people directly, or even has enough visibility to see stuff to discipline in the first place.

  6. LKW*

    I’m glad that you’re rid of her, but I have to admit this is a semi-satisfying response. I wish you had more time to torture her by not giving in to her guilt.

  7. Kes*

    Wow, “Let me watch you eat it” is just so… weird.

    I also look forward to the post about the boss who rarely talks to anyone in her department because she doesn’t want to be bothered with them. I get that some people dislike management, but just ignoring all your employees seems like an odd approach which is… not likely to work very well, in multiple ways.

    1. EPLawyer*

      which is … not managing. You kinda have to interact with your reports in order to have anything to manage. How do you even know if work is being done? Just the mind boggles.

      As for guilt-tripper, the “let me watch you eat” was so far over the line, I think it faded out on the horizon. I honestly don’t know what I would have done in that moment. But my face would have told a thousand tales.

      1. Blue*

        Oh, same. I don’t have much of a poker face, and I suspect she would’ve gotten a pretty epic WTF face from me.

  8. rldk*

    oh my goodness gracious. that is downright creepy! i’m sorry that boss won’t be a boss, but i’m glad the guilt-tripper is off tripping somewhere else now

  9. Melba Toast*

    The “‘let me watch you eat it’” makes this seem like the office version of Welcome to the Dollhouse :/

  10. Lady Phoenix*

    “Let me watch you eat it” would be given the following response: “That is a creepy thing to say. I am going to go back into my work and pretend you did not say or act like a creep.”

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yeah, I don’t think I’d have the cajones to say that in the moment (I always think of good things to say after the fact). But I think my jaw would have hit the floor… (which would probably inhibit the eating.)

    2. hbc*

      I feel like I would get into trouble, because my instinct was “Am I auditioning for the clean plate club or a fetish site? Either way, not interested.”

  11. Rana*

    “Let me watch you eat it.”

    ::grabs grapes, shoves into wastebasket, squashes::

    ::calmly:: I’m going back to work now.

    Seriously, what a weirdo!

  12. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    “Let me watch you eat it.”

    “Only on a leap year.”

    So glad she’s out of your life, OP. Good luck dealing with your boss, hope things improve in that area as well.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I feel like the grammar is off in my reply but I can’t figure out what the problem is. Glad I could make you laugh, though! That leap year thing will be a running joke for the rest of my life.

  13. hi hello*

    Worried about your boss in the first letter (not either paying someone for time working or letting them leave early), and now they won’t manage at all… this might be a good blog for them to start following

  14. Comms Girl*

    “Let me watch you eat it” reminds me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s creepy “Bite it. You have to bite it” line in Atonement. Yeaaaaaaah, what a disturbing person…

  15. Walter White Walker*

    “Let me watch you eat it” sounds like a line from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ that got cut for being too creepy.

  16. Micromanagered*

    “Let me watch you eat it”

    Get. TF. Away. From me.

    I’m not saying this lightly… This might actually be one of the creepier things I’ve read on this site.

  17. Goya de la Mancha*

    Honestly, if someone wanted me to eat something while they were standing there watching me, I’d figure it was laced with cyanide or the likes.

  18. Pebbles*

    “Let me watch you eat it”

    Not a coworker, but I’ve had a waiter say something like that to me. Apparently he had never seen someone eat hard-boiled eggs before? My husband, sitting across from me, was also creeped out. That waiter was one of the few in my life I didn’t tip.

    OP, I’m just imaging how happy you must be to not have that in your life anymore!

    1. JSPA*

      Could be a fetish, but maybe they had a bet in the kitchen, what type of hard-boiled egg eater you were? Peel & bite, peel and cut, or (as with soft boiled) big-enders or little ender (remove one end or the other and eat with a spoon). Uncool to vocalize it, regardless, but a pretty harmless curiosity, if so.

      1. Pebbles*

        Well it came already peeled, so that leaves out the first couple options. He did ask me if I salt my egg first (I don’t). And now I’m weirded out again over multiple people possibly being that invested(?) in how I eat my eggs. I guess that’s harmless, but find a different hobby folks.

  19. autophage*

    > “As for our boss, she actually refuses any confrontation or discipline at all
    > […]
    > although I do feel sorry for the next organization who picks her up!”

    I guess the best-case scenario would be that, in the next organization that picks her up, her boss is less conflict-avoidant?

  20. Sara without an H*

    You are very right that having ZERO emotion in your response is the way to go. I learned that as long as I spoke robotically and had very little inflection in my voice, she would stare and look stunned for a few moments – but then would sit down, and the food harassment would temporarily stop. As long as I stayed mindful of the “no reaction” response, the incidents did start to dissipate.

    This. Your co-worker obviously wanted emotional attention, so depriving her of it would, eventually, have discouraged her. Did you get an “extinction burst,” in which she stepped up the activity when you stopped responding? Or maybe her attempt to force-feed you grapes would fit that description.

  21. Birch*

    This is fascinating. Did OP ever try completely ignoring this bananacrackers coworker? I’m imagining OP resolutely staring at the computer, typing responses to us here and not reacting at all while coworker shoves grapes in her face making airplane noises… and then the next day OP shows up with a beekeeper’s hat but coworker spoons pudding cups through the mesh….

  22. Sandy*

    Wow. Given all her other behavior, I think this is just an incredibly creepy aspect of her controlling nature but…yeah. Scuse me, I’m gonna call HR over. Now, repeat that.

  23. Cranky Prognathodon*

    The “Cookie Policy” tab floating at the bottom of the window makes this comment thread extra-amusing! :)

  24. Delta Delta*

    I had some of those giant green grapes. They’re so big they’re basically a knife-and-fork food. Maybe “let me watch you eat it” was along the lines of “can anyone fit one of these enormous grapes in their mouth?” But probably not. It was more likely some very bizarre power and control move. I’m a little bit of a jerk sometimes, and I’ve had those giant grapes. I’d have been tempted to say, “let ME watch YOU eat one.”

  25. B'Elanna*

    Well, at least now we know WHY she keeps bringing food in. She wants to watch people eat it. Watching… always watching.

  26. MissDisplaced*

    From the original letter
    “Oh, I see MY half a sandwich wasn’t good enough for you.”

    I’d say this person has a very unhealthy obsession with food and attention seeking. So bizarre, especially as she gets so upset over it.

  27. Quake Johnson*

    “Let me watch you eat it”

    “Don’t you have work to do?”

    Then watch her brain fizzle between wanting to watch you eat and wanting to make it seem like she’s the hardest worker ever who never takes breaks.

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