I deeply dislike my try-hard coworker

A reader writes:

Let me just say up front, you’re going to think I’m a jerk. The problem is, I deeply dislike someone I work with, someone everyone else seems to enjoy, but who nonetheless drains me of my happiness whenever they enter my atmosphere.

A few months ago, I was promoted to a position I never dreamed I’d get, at least not without a few more years of proving myself. I get on so well with my boss, and he trusts me enough to learn on the job. But all this excitement was immediately tamped down when I realized that many of my responsibilities would force me to interact with this person.

What’s the issue? I’m not sure this fully explains why she rubs me the wrong way, but she is what I’d call a “try hard.” She works way too hard to please everyone around her and try to become friends. I would normally welcome closer relationships with colleagues, but all of her attempts have been incredibly off-putting to me. In the office, before working from home, I had been moved to sit right next to her and, thanks to low-profile cubes, was in her line of sight all day. This meant that I couldn’t have any kind of facial reaction to an email or project without getting an unsolicited “what’s wrong?” or “tough issue?” and the like. So I forced myself to become stony and impassive. I’d formerly been jovial with everyone around me, but sitting next to her turned every interaction I had with others into ones where she would jump in and try to make people laugh or give her opinion on a project she wasn’t involved with. So whenever she’s in the room or within earshot, I become silent.

I feel like she’s sort of my own personal energy vampire. I know this affects how others see me and makes me seem newly cold and distant, but the thought of interacting with her makes me terribly unhappy.

Also, my job is a new position that takes a bunch of the overflow stuff she used to handle off her hands. And because she’s a worrier and an overthinker, she’s constantly asking me for updates and explanations on projects that have nothing to do with her any longer. Imagine a coworker who wants to monitor your work as if they were your manager, and you’ll understand my frustration. I have a different work style from her, and I can’t develop on my own due to her constant interference.

I feel like a jerk, but I also feel like she’s robbing me of my enjoyment of my job. Her constant barrage of IMs with smiley faces make me want to run and hide. She sent me and my partner a baby shower gift on her own initiative, and it made me cringe. (I should, say she’s older and I’m younger, but we’re both women, if that matters.)

I know the problem is with me. How do I stop letting this bother me without expending huge amounts of energy every day and also hating myself? She hasn’t done anything terrible. She’s just like oil to my water.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 368 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    I don’t think you’re a jerk. I wouldn’t want to work with Tracy Flick either.

    I have no advice but knowing that a lot of people would feel the same if they were in your situation may be reassuring.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        +2 – I’m hit and miss on Tom Perotta overall, but Election is my favorite, and Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Tracy is a work of art.

        1. TiredMama*

          I was wondering if anyone else read energy vampire and thought of Colin Robinson. His experience as a manager is one of my favorite episodes.

      1. pope suburban*

        Colin Robinson was my first thought too! We just watched the promotion episode last night, so my mental images were particularly vivid. :’D

    1. AngryAngryAlice*

      Yeah I wanna reassure LW that they ABSOLUTELY don’t sound like a jerk to me. I really can’t stand people like this either. I’m an extrovert, but I *hate* when people jump into every conversation they overhear even if they aren’t welcome in it, and I make sure not to do that to others. It’s become my personal pet peeve when someone does this habitually, and if I were in LW’s shoes I would honestly have to rethink that job or do SOMETHING to get that coworker to leave me alone. It sounds INFURIATING.

      LW, I really feel for you. You aren’t a jerk at all. This coworker sounds like a well-meaning nightmare.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        It is absolutely infuriating, and anytime one of my coworkers did this to me in my previous position, I would turn around and go back to work or walk away if I was at someone else’s desk.

        God, I’m so glad I’m fully remote. That was my biggest pet peeve about office life.

        1. AngryAngryAlice*

          Right that’s why I said I would do something to get them to stop. Alison’s advice is solid (as usual); a conversation needs to happen in which LW sets boundaries. But Alison is also right that this person sounds like someone who will take a mile if LW gives an inch—or worse, they’ll try even harder for LW to like them. So a conversation might not help a ton, but it’s a necessary first step.

        2. Jennifer*

          Right, but they kind of shouldn’t have to. She’s actually being quite rude. This isn’t just a matter of personal preference.

          1. Esme*

            I’m actually not sure I agree.

            In the workplace, you sometimes have to work with people who annoy you. Those people won’t always realise they’re annoying you, and sometimes you do have to use your words.

            1. Jennifer*

              In general, I agree with you, but I think there are some things that adults should realize are annoying without having to be told. I think this stuff is pretty basic.

              1. Esme*

                This isn’t about what should happen, though – it’s about the actual situation at hand.

                And people expressing annoyance instead of offering practical advice aren’t actually going to ultimately be helping.

          2. JSPA*

            If you suddenly seem sadder, colder and more remote, when you used to be upbeat, outgoing, warm and collaborative, it’s not that strange for someone to double up on directing their positivity in your direction.

            This isn’t, “my style has always been introverted, and someone is insistently trying to force me to be someone I’m not.” Coworker is not wrong about something being wrong with OP, and about OP being uncharacteristically dour and grim; coworker just doesn’t know that “everything about you grates on my nerves” is the source of the problem. And OP has not even gone as far as to say, “This level of constant interaction is distracting. I get that you want to cheer me up, but first of all, it’s not helping, and second of all, it’s becoming part of the problem. If you could dial it way back, I’ll be back on the path to being my old cheery self soon enough.”

            “I have no idea why, but something in how we communicate sets me on edge” is a real thing.

            It’s hard to come out and say it, even in social settings, or with equals, though. Sometimes you can do it, though. It’s the classic, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and for it to work, there needs to be legit goodwill on both sides.

            In some circumstances, you actually can say some version of the following.

            “It’s 100% not your fault, but you sometimes remind me intensely of a person who bullied me in Jr. High [or whatever, or “we sometimes work on very conflicting wavelengths”]. I want to assure you that I value you as a person. I have great respect for your work. I’m very glad to be your coworker. I’m actively working on hearing and seeing only you, not her, when we interact [or, “working on not getting thrown by the disconnect in how and when we communicate.”] All the same, if we can focus our interaction on the few tasks that we officially share, instead of touching base repeatedly through the day, this will become an easier and, I hope, a quicker process for me.”

            Calling out the behaviors, rather than the interpersonal gestalt is less fraught, of course. But it raises the risk that she’ll find some other way to be too present in your awareness.

            1. winter*

              OP became grim (or as she said blank) after coworker asked about their facial expressions, not the other way around.

              And I would find it quite overbearing if a coworker enquired after my mood all day. My facial expression is often grim (because that’s my face) and yet people manage to not harangue me about it.

              But “shoulds” don’t help so yeah: I do think OP should speak up, especially because speaking up can help break the impression that we are at the mercy of people – even if it isn’t successful everytime time.

    2. Threeve*

      Being able to recognize that a situation is “I find this person annoying” and not “this is objectively a very annoying person” demonstrates a maturity and self-awareness that many people don’t manage to reach.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        This x 1,000! Thank you!

        It’s also entirely possible that you’re not hiding your exasperation with your colleague as well as you think you are…in which case your annoyance will circle right around and damage YOUR reputation, which will give you TWO problems.

        Another commenter suggested that you tell your colleague that you’re focusing on a problem when she asks if there’s anything wrong (because she thinks your frowning.) You might also let her know that, when you’re concentrating very intently on something, it may look as if you’re upset or angry but you aren’t – you’re just very focused. You could then let her know that, when you ARE so focused on resolving an issue, it’s better not to talk to you because you really need to be able to concentrate. Given your other objections to her behavior, it would be wise to frame this matter as one of misunderstood and misinterpreted expressions, rather than as “And here’s something ELSE you do that I can’t stand!” (You do want the problems resolved – and you don’t want to look like the office jerk, right?)

    3. nep*

      +1 same. I do not at all get from your letter that you’re a jerk.
      Hope you’ll get some relief from this, LW. Would be a real drag to have something like this sap any joy you find in your work.

    4. LGC*

      Yeah – when I read this letter, I was about to start a fight with Tracy myself!

      I might have missed this, but it reads to me like LW…isn’t a jerk, but feels like she can’t talk to Tracy because everyone likes her and she’s the crazy one for not liking her, and the answer didn’t address that.

  2. Lena Clare*

    Ah you’re at the bitch eating crackers (BEC) phase. Ack.
    I’d really like to hear the outcome of you speaking to her to see how she reacts.

    1. Riblets*

      I love this phrase because it puts a name to a very specific feeling. Once I’ve entered the BEC phase, I can laugh it off much easier.

      1. Stormy Weather*

        Same here. Sometimes you just can’t articulate what bothers you about someone, and BEC works.

    2. Ryn*

      It’s been a minute since we’ve seen a BEC letter! I guess remote work makes it so that you don’t have to see bitches eating crackers.

      1. tangerineRose*

        When I started working remotely, one “perk” was that I generally didn’t hear from an annoying co-worker (who talked a lot and didn’t do much and sat nearby). On the other hand, a couple of other co-workers started seeming needier when I was away.

      2. ellex42*

        This is definitely the thing I like best about remote work: not having to interact with my coworkers. I’m very much one of those people who goes to work to work – not to socialize – and the work I do requires a lot of concentration. At the beginning of the year we were moved to an even more open office than we’d had before (desks instead of cubicles) and the sheer noise level was overwhelming.

        They’re (mostly) nice people…it’s just that even being around lots of other people, even if I’m not directly interacting with them, quickly becomes exhausting for me. So now the only bitch eating crackers is me, and I love it.

    3. Jack Dedham*

      I honestly felt better about myself once I heard about BEC. Like the LW, I thought I was just a jerk for disliking this person that other people seem to like. Usually when I get to BEC stage with someone, it’s because it starts off with legitimately annoying things, then gets cranked to 1000.

    4. Lulu*

      I have never understood that phrase. Isn’t someone eating crackers annoying? I mean, the sounds, the mess? Or am I thinking of a different kind of crackers than everyone else?

      1. Sophie Hatter*

        It comes from the idea that once you’re annoyed with someone, everything they do, including eating crackers, is greatly annoying.

      2. narya*

        Yeah, the phrase is meant more in terms of, when you really can’t stand someone, just seeing them do something as normal & unremarkable as eating crackers will set you off. Everything they do is just. so. irritating. Just seeing them in your general vicinity is obnoxious.

        1. Lulu*

          But someone else eating crackers IS annoying, no matter if you like the person or not? It seems to me the phrase should be something not usually annoying.

          1. Daffy Duck*

            I think means that most people eating crackers doesn’t annoy you. It may not even register that they are eating, just a normal part of life. However, annoying coworker eating crackers drives you up the wall (the sound, smell, crumbs – all annoy you) and you just. can’t. let. it. go.

            1. MayLou*

              I’m not sure which came first, but there’s one of those postcard style memes that says something like “look at that bitch over there, eating crackers like she owns the place”. It basically means imputing all kinds of negative connotations to an innocent/innocuous behaviour because of the wider context of being irritated.

          2. Janitor Al*

            The original quote was to the tune of “when you can’t stand someone, everything they do becomes offensive. You’re like ‘Look at that bitch eating crackers like she owns the place.’” When your judgment

            1. Meera*

              I’ve also seen this described as “when you like someone, they can spill their pasta in your lap and you’ll laugh; when you dislike someone, the way they hold their fork makes you want to stab them”. But BEC is the modern concise version!

          3. JSPA*

            Maybe if you have some low-level misophonia (which is actually quite common)? Otherwise, it’s just…lunch. Someone else’s lunch.

            Point is, take something that in theory could be only very, very slightly irritating at most; then imagine someone who’s always on your last nerve doing that thing; and it’ll be completely over-the-top anger-inducing. It’s a way of recognizing that the level of anger coming from you is disproportionate to the level of offense given by the other person. If you prefer, substitute “folding her used paper napkin so prissily” or “hanging her jacket so emphatically,” if cracker eating drives you spare.

          4. Eisbaer*

            It’s not, really? Unless they’re making a lot of noise or getting crumbs everywhere or something. Crackers are not usually smelly, so that’s a point in their favor. It’s just food.

        1. NowSpeak*

          I always read these scenarios from a HR perspective.

          The LW hasn’t had a quiet word with their colleague of, ‘Hey when you do/say xyz, it makes me feel abc. I know you’re probably just trying to be friendly/supportive, but would you mind toning it down a bit or stopping (in the case of the project updates) ?’. She hasn’t even had a chat to the manager and asked them to help her address it.

          Instead she has passive aggressively completely shut herself down, and become frosty, which her desk mate can probably feel and has led to an overcompensation in behaviour. The desk mateprobably places a lot of her self worth in her collegial friendships, based on what we have read.

          I feel a bad for the colleague, she obviously wants to be accepted and doesn’t know how to navigate this situation so keeps trying… And does herself a disservice. It’s nice the LW hasn’t been in that situation but a little empathy might go a long way here.

          LW doesn’t have to love her, or even like her. But she’s kind of been acting like a jerk. Not because she doesn’t like her. But because she’s not been upfront and honest and with professionalism, and has started acting this way instead of dealing with it properly.

      1. boop the first*

        Oh geez, that was my last boss… we’d be dutifully and quietly working as efficiently as possible and as soon as boss walks in, it’s like my soul gains 50 extra pounds and I’m instantly angry for no reason. Bodies are weird.

        Anyway, how I dealt with it is reminding myself that I can’t control my feelings, but I can control my actions/words. But that can also backfire, because I became the one and only employee who didn’t have daily screaming fights with the boss, and while the frequent pay raises were nice, it only made boss want to work with me more often, which is nooooooooooooooooooooooo

  3. Checkert*

    My sympathies, OP. I have grown professionally so much over the years but my baseline instinct is still bluntness, and that bubbles to the surface when buttons are being pushed continually. I’ve found that when I’m around someone like that, I have to focus nearly all my attention on any positive attribute they may have in those moments when I’d love nothing more than to tell them to eff off. Try to reframe them as a person. It works most of the time, but during the other times, I suddenly have to go to the restroom and a walk around the building if I can manage it! :D

    1. Nicotene*

      Yeah! OP you may have to consciously call out and acknowledge all her good qualities in every interaction. It’s kinda like that gratefulness training they tell you to do to shift your attitude, where every day you name five things you’re grateful for. Honestly your coworker could be a lot worse: a bully, catty, undermining you on purpose, incompetent… the list goes on.

  4. lazy intellectual*

    The coworker sounds like she is an excessive people pleaser to the point where you feel like she is almost obligating you to like her without giving you a chance to make that decision, if that makes sense. In other words, she seems to be trying to force a familiarity that isn’t there naturally. (Like a gift for a baby shower she wasn’t invited to? That’s kinda creepy.).

    Basically she sounds intrusive so I understand why you’re annoyed.

    1. Cat Person*

      It’s such human nature to dislike people who seem to be trying too hard to be liked, and I feel for the people who fall into this trap and have no chill. Sometimes we just need to back off and give people time to warm up to us and there are some people (dog people, perhaps??) who are just INCAPABLE of doing this. I think it relates to attachment styles, actually – as someone who is extremely high on the avoidant scale (link next post).

      1. Cat Person*

        Ok OP this may be totally off the wall and not helpful to you at all, but on the off chance it is helpful to understanding WHY this coworker bugs you so much, learning about these helped me realize some of my own issues with people (who I always found “too clingy”) was related to the attachment style. They say it’s developed in childhood. It’s possible the more you push this coworker away, the more anxious she gets.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory#Attachment_patterns

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, I do believe you’re right here. Certainly I have seen this with a lot of others.

          If she reacts to your horrified expression reading an email, it might be better to just acknowledge her briefly with a “nothing you need to worry about, I’ve got this”. People pleasers aren’t going to take a yard when you give an inch, they just treasure that inch.

          Another thing I thought of is that she may be worried that you uncover some stupid mistake of hers, so perhaps you could comment that the quality of her work is great?

      2. lazy intellectual*

        Personal anecdote: So I may have come close to being like this coworker for a period of my life (though not to the point of giving random gifts) and when I was a teen. Growing up, I was by nature introverted and quiet. I got a lot of comments from my parents, teachers, other adult authority figures, and some peers about how my disposition made me very unlikable, how I should “open up more”, “smile more!” (ugh), be more conversational etc. Unfortunately, I internalized the negative feedback to the point that I overcorrected in high school to the point of being a “try-hard” combined with a doormat who had no boundaries whatsoever, because I had basically internalized the message that being perceived as friendly and likable were important above all else. I highly regret this.

        I mean, I know people were trying to get at with the comments, but you can teach a kid social graces without coercing them to adopt a personality that doesn’t come naturally to them. Anyway, tangential rant over. I still hate these adults to this day. I’m pretty sure gender has an impact, as well. I doubt I would have gotten that pressure if I were a boy.

        On topic:
        Either way, I don’t think OP is obligated to like the coworker, but they should definitely set concrete boundaries in terms of frequency of communication, etc.

        1. Paris Geller*

          Ooh, I have definitely been this person for the same reason. As a kid, it was always, “why don’t you talk?” “smile more!”, “cheer up,” and so my freshman year of college I was determined to be the new, improved me. I wanted SO DESPERATELY to be outgoing and friendly and likable, because apparently I wasn’t before! And while I had several people I was friendly with, I got to my last year of college and realized I had made absolutely no new friends who actually liked me for me. I chilled out and went back to being my quiet, reserved self and found people who like me as I am. I’m glad I learned this lesson before I went into the workforce, but I can definitely sympathize with the desire!

          1. Well...*

            Off topic but this is just opening my eyes (for the millionth time, but in a new way) to how much women are policed. I was super talkative and LOVED participating in class (think: the joy a golden retriever has when pulling off a trick correctly) as a kid and constantly told to quiet down. You have no idea how much I wished my voice was quieter and I could make myself more reserved.

            Of course at times that course correction is important, but I do wonder if I would have been allowed to take up more space if I was a boy.

            1. lazy intellectual*

              This is another thing – I noticed that other girls who were more outgoing were made to feel bad for being “too loud and talkative”. It confused the hell out of me because I was like, “Isn’t that what people are telling me to be???”

              I think society just hates women existing – or at least existing independently of some subservient purpose.

          2. boop the first*

            That sounds like an awful experience! Every one of my high school yearbooks, at least one person would write about how they wish I could “come out of my shell” more, but these generic phrases just sounded like nonsense to me so I never acted on it LOL! If someone was more specific like they were with you guys, omg, I don’t know what would have happened to me.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      I can agree with this. Behavior that comes across to me as “needy” or “clingy” tends to make me want to run very fast in the other direction. Screaming optional, but desired at that point.

      I’m pretty deeply introverted, and your coworker sounds exhausting. I think I’d feel a bit sorry for her, really, because she is clearly trying hard to be liked, but I’d also be really frustrated with her frequent demands for my attention (as I would see it). I’d want to be like “Just give me a little SPACE!!! I PROMISE that if I need something, I will come to you.”

      1. Autumnheart*

        I also had a coworker who I disliked almost on sight, and she also acted this way. Tried to be BFFs right off the bat, TMI in social conversations, just came on like a ton of bricks. My response to her was almost visceral–it was REALLY hard for me to even be professionally civil, and I pretty much get along with everyone. (I have an ex on my team FFS. We’re not pals, but we can interact professionally just fine.) Luckily, she was a contractor and her stint was relatively short, but phew. The attachment style association is really enlightening.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          It is enlightening…I’m generally friendly with my coworkers. We chat about life stuff at times, and so on. But I really, really do not like to feel like someone is hovering, or pushing at me trying to get me to be friendlier than I’m ready to be…I guess I’m kind of a “make an overture to tell me you want to be friendly, and then back off a bit and let me respond.” Don’t do the equivalent of “Are we friends now? Do you like me now? How about now?”, because just the thought of it makes me want to hyperventilate.

          1. jenkins*

            I’ve had similar experiences. I can be warm and civil with anyone at work, but I need time and space to build up to real friendship. If someone grabs every possible opportunity to Be! Friends! without giving me a chance to respond and meet them halfway, I feel like I’m being manipulated and it gives me rage like nothing else. Just…give me a chance to either accept the overture or back up in a way that lets us both save face (and possibly be friends sometime in the future!).

    3. ...*

      Is that creepy? I gave a baby gift to a co worker without explicitly being invited to her shower. She seemed to really appreciate it…

      1. Washi*

        I don’t think so! Especially if you just handed it to her at the office with no fanfare. OP used the word “sent” which made me think that Jane mailed the gift to OP’s home, and that’s a little odd, and definitely very odd if she had to dig around to find the address.

        1. JR*

          If she ordered off OP’s registry (and it’s super easy to find a registry with a mainstream big box store), it would automatically be sent to OP’s house, generally without disclosing her address.

          1. Washi*

            Good point! I hadn’t thought of that. If OP had mentioned that she’s registered at BabyWorld or whatever then it’s less weird. If Jane was googling “OP Firstname Lastname baby shower registry” to find it, that’s still weird to me!

        2. Artemesia*

          I am so not a people pleaser but when a close colleague has a baby I send a small gift — usually a book toddlers love — to their home, because I think it is awkward and inappropriate to hand people gifts at work. I think the gift is not really an issue here. Lots of people respond that way to weddings and babies. If it were for a birthday — that would seem more intrusive in a workplace context to me.

          The thing that would drive me around the bend is the monitoring of facial expressions and I would definitely suggest handling that very very clearly. Maybe even at the ‘please don’t monitor and comment on my facial expressions constantly — it just drives me crazy to be interrupted constantly with remarks judging my reaction to an email or challenging moment on a project.’ She isn’t going to get subtle. This is really awful and intrusive behavior.

          The intruding into her former projects is a more common and different issue although also annoying. But I’d be meeting that with ‘I’ve got this, you don’t need to worry about it’ i.e. not giving her information. If she never gets any information and gets brushed out, you may be able to train her out of it. There is something to be said for using the same response to the same type of annoying query in extinguishing the behavior.

          The ‘we’ve got this’. can also be used if she interrupts workplace conversations but as Alison says, you don’t want to pile on so I’d focus on the specific behaviors that are most awful here i.e. the monitoring and the attempt to involve herself in your (formerly her) work. Once that is accomplished be more aggressive about the interruptions maybe primarily when it is a work related conversation rather than a social one which you may just have to allow all local comers into.

        3. Else*

          Or if it’s a book! Books are low key and always welcome, provided they aren’t L. Ron Hubbard for babies. And yeah – “sent” sounds like she looked up their registry at BBB or whatever and mailed something to their house.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I think it really depends on the relationship. If you and your coworker were generally friendly and talked about the baby a fair bit, that comes across differently, I think.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          This is where I was going – it depends on the relationship. I mean, I’ve been in workplaces where the team collectively gave an employee a baby shower gift, but individually giving a gift to a coworker you don’t know well (as is clearly the case with the OP) seems off to me.

      3. Springella*

        I don’t find it creepy either. I’m also one of the rare people here who thinks that LW is a jerk. It sounds to me like it’s LW is closely monitoring the coworker, trying to find any kind of fault and magnifying it.

        Apologies if I’m mistaken.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          The coworker is constantly interrupting the OP and interfering with her work, which I think are legitimate reasons to be annoyed, but OP’s annoyance is also exanding to more benign things, hence “BEC” territory.

      4. valentine*

        Is that creepy?
        I assume OP is not discussing personal things with this person, so they are far from being at gift-giving closeness. I wondered if the problem was the gift itself (“Every baby in my baby used this bib”), but OP’s dislike is so extreme, they possibly felt hunted down and invaded in their (former) sanctuary, in addition to or regardless of the desirability of the gift.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          I also think it’s somewhat relevant if OP’s other coworkers gave them a gift/if gift giving is a norm in the office culture. If this is the case, then I would think OP is being a bit too harsh in judging their coworker for sending them a gift. But otherwise, this seems like in line with coworker’s brand of being intrusive and trying to force a friendship that doesn’t exist.

          For the record, I don’t think the gift giving is the bad part. The random commenting on facial expressions when she’s reading e-mails, constant interference/unnecessary monitoring of projects she’s not involved in, and constant interrrupting are the main issues. Without these, the random gift-giving wouldn’t be a big deal.

  5. Nicotene*

    Haha I was this coworker to someone at my old job (not explicitly that I was trying too hard to be BFFs, just that everything about me was very irritating to them). Also, they really liked my predecessor in the role, so me being “Not-beloved-friend” was already a strike against me. Honestly we never worked it out, but it was very noticeable to me and more importantly, to everybody else in the office, and after watching us interact all day, this actually hurt her reputation. Because people could see I was being level and pleasant, and she was just very terse/brusque/basically rude to my face. Several people later told me they lost respect for her because of this. So keep in mind, for your own sake, not hers, you need to figure out a way to tolerate her and appreciate her good qualities.

    1. TC*

      I think I’ve been this coworker before too. In my defense, my former coworker didn’t just pull a funny face when reading an email, she’d moan, tsk and smack her desk, plus she wasn’t actually very good at her job at times — an eye for detail was required, so when stuff that should’ve been done slipped through, I caught the heat being the longer-term employee (I wasn’t her boss, so didn’t have much standing to tell her to shape up). There’s a lot of things I learned I should do differently, such as not trying to find the silver lining in every situation, but I hope she learns that sometimes you’ve just got to grease the wheels and get along sometimes.

      1. nep*

        Oh, man. If I had a co-worker moaning, tsk-ing, and smacking her desk over emails, that would have to be shut down. That kind of immature attention-seeking gets old reallllllly fast in an office.

        1. Artemesia*

          Oh yes, the co-worker whose sighs get louder and louder until someone finally says ‘What’s wrong Bill’ — yuch

          1. Caliente*

            Yeah – like a performance they want someone to comment on? But not the WRONG person! Wonder if OP could be doing that.

          2. Ponytail*

            Or “What are you laughing at, Chris?”. It was so often carried out, the fake, increasingly-loud, laughter, that ‘doing a Chris’ is now a codeword between me and my partner when one of us is doing passive-aggressive ways of getting attention.
            Bloody Chris. Twenty years and I still remember that stupid laugh…

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Moaning and slapping the desk is attention-seeking, whereas OP is just making a face.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      Yeah, I have to agree with you and with Alison’s advice. She needs to address her concerns with the co-worker and make sure that she isn’t letting it affect how she treats everyone else lest she become “a problem/unprofessional/not a team player, etc.” Because while that might deter the annoying co-worker, it will also deter people that she needs to work with and have a good reputation with. This co-worker indeed sounds like she’s a bit much, but you’ve got to learn to deal with her, because it sounds like the people who matter seem to really like her. And if she’s established in her role and has been around longer than you, they likely value her opinion/feelings, etc. a fair amount.

    3. Quill*

      Once I worked where a fellow lab tech wanted to be friends… and then I discovered that not only was she very unprofessional (talking a LOT about her mid-week hangovers) she was also very pushy (inserted herself into a normal lab process that I was doing under supervision because I hadn’t had any practice since college and ruining it) and had terrible taste in books and podcasts.

      I hid from her a lot.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        This made me remember the lab assistant that really, really wanted to be BFFs with me when I was a teaching assistant. Randomly inserting herself (very pushily) into conversations, appearing in my lab wanting to chat when I was teaching…. she also made me a keychain with a nickname for me. By “a nickname” I mean “a nickname she made up for me that I didn’t go by”.

        I tried to hide from her, but it was difficult when she had my schedule as an LA, as they should for the TAs.

        I’m sure her brand of friendship was totally workable for somebody, but for me it was just too much way too fast. She wasn’t mean, or rude, just way too clingy and pushy.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Ohhhh, I had a coworker from hell that wanted to be friends when I’d first started in an OldJob. She’d been the only immigrant from (home country) in the company of 100-150, until I was hired. She immediately assumed it meant we were BFFs. She’d stop by my desk every day to chat. Sometimes she’d hang over the cubicle wall, so her face would be a foot or two from mine, and say things like “I think I’m coming down with something, been having a sore throat and chills all day” (she must be a joy to work with in 2020). Our chats were one-sided, but she kept opening up more as the time progressed, and the more she opened up, the more I realized that this coworker was a terrible person. One time she opened up to me about being deeply Anti-Semitic. I said I was Jewish, so that made her stop (but not until after saying “You don’t look it at all!”) On one horrible day she stopped by to tell me that she and her fiance were looking for a school to enroll her kindergarten-age daughter in, and that they’d looked at a lot of schools but could not find one that met their simple requirement. Then proceeded to tell me that their simple requirement was “no kids of a certain race in the school”. Every school was failing. “We’d come to visit, and they would just be walking down the hallways! Can you imagine” I tried to get her to shut up, and couldn’t. Granted I was younger and more meek then. There are a lot of things I would tell her now that I didn’t dare to in my younger days. This was during her last week at work though, her position was soon to be eliminated and she’d found a new job and given notice.

        On her last day, I knew she’d stop by to say goodbye and maybe ask for my phone number. I’d prepared excuses as to why I couldn’t give it to her, then she came to my desk and asked for my home address “because my new job is in your city and I could stop by after work” ?!?!?!? What came out of my mouth was “actually, we are selling the house.” (We were not. My ex still lives in that house 13 years later.) I confess my brain was not involved in the creation of this response. It was a strictly fight or flight reaction. Never saw or heard from her again. She sent me an email to my work address from her new job, I deleted the email, and that was thankfully the end of it.

        1. Quill*

          That lady makes me want to just turtle myself into a shell, far away from all other humans.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            OMG I just remembered another one! She sat in the next row of cubicles from me, so that our desks were side by side, but with a cube wall between them. This person actually removed a part of the cubicle partition, so now there was a window between me and her. We worked on the same projects, and several times a day, like a deranged cuckoo clock, she’d pop her head through that window/hole in the wall right into my personal space because she had a question.

            I took my usual “if you ignore a problem long enough, it will go away” approach, and this person was indeed let go a few months later. Apparently her lack of boundaries extended to everyone else (including her managers) and not just me.

              1. Artemesia*

                I’d have taped a piece of foil over the hole or put up a poster because ‘it seems like our wall is broken’

      3. HS Teacher*

        You disliked someone because of their choice of books and podcasts? I can see the professional thing being an issue, but why does it matter what she reads or listens to?

          1. Aealias*

            And I LOVED Xanth when I was young! It physically hurts me to hear them, now, and I had to cut my mom off from reading them to my 10-yr-old. My daughter doesn’t need those messages, and I don’t need to hear my mother’s voice parroting that deeply creepy shit.

            Mysogynists-R-Us aside, if someone wants to be my FRIEND, I shouldn’t find their media actively off putting, that hints at different value-sets.

        1. Anonym*

          I interpreted that bit as “AND we had no interests in common,” pointing out a lack of a common basis for friendship.

    4. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup – OP needs to follow Alison’s advice and talk to the coworker first and go back to being her usual talkative, cordial self with everyone else or she risks coming off very poorly in the rest of the team’s eyes (even if they secretly think the coworker is a bit annoying themselves).

    5. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I’ve always worked places where the default culture was to be more like the coworker, and someone like the OP would be seen as prickly and standoffish and not a fit. So I found myself thinking that the coworker sounded normal and nice (if, mayyybe a little overbearing with it), and was surprised that Alison saw more of a problem with the coworker’s behavior.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I’m quite surprised at some of the responses in the comments about what a monster this coworker is! She seems mildly irritating in a very common way, to me.

        1. Caliente*

          Definitely, and honestly I give a HARD side-eye to someone like OP who cannot handle garden variety irritation to the point where OP’s entire behavior has changed because of this person! This person that you look down on is keeping you in your place and has fully impacted your life? By doing nothing out of the norm at all. Hmm…weird.

          1. OliveJuice*

            Would y’all really be okay working with someone who monitors your every facial expression and asks you about them when you’re trying to work? Or interrupts every work conversation to get in a joke? That does impact your life at work quite a bit. It’s irritating and unnecessary, not “nice.”

            I find it very interesting that people perceive someone like OP’s coworker very differently than OP or me. I’m not being a smartass, I just truly don’t get how someone like that wouldn’t get on someone’s nerves! As soon as I read the title I knew I would be on OP’s side, because “try hard” people really irritate me.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I’ve been told I have a very expressive face, and I’ve had people comment about it when I’m reading a book or emails or something. I think because they think the amount of alarm or concern, or whatever is on my face, means something concerning has happened, so they ask about it. I’ve pretty much just told them that I have an expressive face when I’m reading, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. My coworkers will sometimes see each other’s faces while reading emails and we’ll just shoot the other a questioning or “checking-in” look, and if it’s nothing, the other person just gives a quick “eh, nothing” look, and it’s over. So we’re kind of in tune to each others’ signals that something might be going on, but we’re not overtly prying — it’s all accomplished very quickly with looks and glances.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Now this is making me think about how much we look at people’s faces for information or just to see how the wind is blowing, so to speak. For me, it’s natural to notice faces and react or respond unobtrusively to what I see there. I’ve seen people looking upset at work, and they see my notice of their expression register on my face, and then they look like they want privacy and for me not to react to them, and so I leave them to their privacy. And it’s all a super-quick interaction of micro-expressions. If they look they return is more open or receptive, I might ask them something commensurate with my level of familiarity / formality with them; it just all depends on what signals pass between us in the interaction. But I do respond to “leave it” signals, by leaving it.

            2. valentine*

              Would y’all really be okay working with someone who monitors your every facial expression and asks you about them when you’re trying to work? Or interrupts every work conversation to get in a joke?
              No, so you nip that in the bud. At the very least, for the status report requests, OP could say, “I’ve got it. No worries. Leave it with me.” And next time, “Is there a reason you don’t feel you can leave this with me?” If they haven’t already, OP is in danger of damaging their own reputation.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            It is not “nothing out of the norm” to be commenting on OP’s facial expressions all day, every day. Doesn’t her coworker have a job to do? Is her job title “OP’s face watcher”?

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, I’m wondering that too. Just another reason why I despise office setups where people have to sit face to face. I much prefer sitting back to back. You can still turn around to ask a question, etc. But the other person isn’t in your face all the time.

              In this case, though, it does look like OP needs to use her words. Just because a coworker is popular doesn’t mean that the OP is odd for not liking her behavior. I just hope that the OP can be her normal friendly self with other coworkers, in spite of the issues with this one. Otherwise the change in her work personality will probably affect her success in the job.

  6. EPLawyer*

    You are not the jerk. She sounds EXHAUSTING to be around. You are bearing the brunt of it because you are near her, but I’m betting a lot of people she “just stops by to chat with” suddenly have to be in a meeting.

    use your words. Use Alison’s scripts. If she still continues, then she is definitely the problem not you.

    1. Mickey Q*

      Why do you ask?
      I’m afraid that won’t be possible.

      Or my personal favorite: I have karate practice tonight so I get to kick people in the face.

  7. Taylor*

    Totally agree with Alison. There were a few things in there that just aren’t reasonable workplace behaviors, like hounding you for project updates when she’s not involved, commenting on every facial expression you make, and interrupting/jumping into conversations.

    If you can excise those things (which are problems with solutions) and focus on resolving them with her, you will feel less like a jerk. I wouldn’t bring up “you use too many emoticons and it’s cringe city” in conversation, but “Can you please not comment on my facial expressions? It’s very distracting to me and interrupts my train of thought” is a perfectly reasonable request.

    1. Jennifer*

      I can’t imagine having to keep my face perfectly still at all times. This person is not normal.

      And sending the baby shower gift is just plain weird. The way it’s worded it sounds like she really had to dig around for information about it.

      1. Observer*

        The thing is that the OP doesn’t need to keep their face still all the time. That’s a pretty extreme reaction, especially since they haven’t ever tried pushing back.

        There is no doubt in my mind that the CW is not expecting that there is never any change in the OP’s expression. She happens to notice when they actually do something that indicates (to her) that they might be upset or worried. Going from there to “never show any reaction to anything” is what seems rather out of the norm. To be it says that the OP is at such an advanced stage of BEC that everything she does is majorly magnified.

        1. Taylor*

          I disagree…I think it’s an indication of the way OP feels about her feelings. OP used the word “jerk” to describe herself a few times. She might have erroneously thought that saying anything about this to her coworker would make her a jerk, and that her only option was to (not) grin and bear it.

          1. Observer*

            The OP is not a jerk. But it seems like major over-reaction to force yourself into being stonefaced all day as the primary response to being asked if everything is ok.

            1. MangoIsNotForYou*

              Eh, I had one of these at one job. Being asked if everything was okay 10 or 15 times a day was exhausting, and heaven forbid everything was NOT okay, because then I got to watch her try to process my emotions for me.

              My rule is that if I see a fleeting wince or gritted teeth, I ignore it. If a coworker appears to have a case of RBF, I ignore it. If someone looks generally sad and withdrawn but is otherwise conversing and acting normally, I say nothing but try to keep a friendly and approachable look on my face in case they want to talk. If someone is obviously upset and distracted, I ask if everything is okay. It’s not necessary to comment on other people’s emotions just because you can observe them.

              1. Observer*

                I agree that CW is over-stepping. But that doesn’t mean that the OP is handling the situation well, or even reasonably.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I agree. It’s a huge over-reaction. OP, you gave up entire parts of yourself hoping that she would “get the hint” and make changes. She didn’t get the hint, now you are stuck being this person you don’t want to be and she’s STILL doing her own thing.

              OP, use your words. If you and I worked together I would expect you to answer my questions honestly and tell me things clearly. IF there was a problem and you did not tell me, this would be a breach in trust to me. I would probably find you a difficult person to trust. Granted, I would not be doing the things she is doing. However, I would have to conclude that you can’t be trusted to tell me what it takes to work well with you. Typically people who don’t get their message across, either turn it inward with anger OR they turn it outward with mean-spirited stuff. Either way, I’d really want to avoid you because I would see something bothers you most days.

              Very seldom are people THIS difficult as she is. But now is the time to practice how to tell people how best to work with you. I can almost promise it probably will not be this difficult with anyone again, for a long time. It’s a good skill to have, you will get a lot of use out of it on tamer issues. And you will pick up on ways to prevent problems in other situations.

              It’s almost necessary to do this because as you can see with other methods we can lose huge parts of ourselves. In some situations, a person can find themselves forced to leave a job because of this one person. And you are cheating your own self by depriving yourself of the joy you once had here.

              My wise friend told me a little gem that I have held on to, “If you see something three times then you have a pattern. When you have a pattern you need to speak up.” So the third time she said something about your expression you could have gone ahead and drawn that boundary line, “Please do not comment on my face.” Or you could have gone with something tamer such as, “That’s just me being me. You will get used to see this.”

              The surprise that I had was it took LESS effort to say something than it did to suck it down and carry it around with me for months or longer…. And in the process of speaking up, there is less snowballing, in that the issues don’t keep compounding. The issues no longer had a hold on me. Figure out how you will break the hold these issues have on you.

        2. Amy Sly*

          She happens to notice when they actually do something that indicates (to her) that they might be upset or worried.

          I think this is right. I’m speculating here, but this whole situation sounds like Jane is naturally a very friendly and outgoing person who realizes that LW doesn’t like her. She doesn’t quite understand why, though, and her attempts to be friendly are just making matters worse. LW apparently has a good rapport with other coworkers … but if Jane says anything, LW clams up. (Been there, done that. Work can be really damn lonely when your options are to be ignored by the spontaneous conversations or speak up and kill them.) Jane sees that LW is always in a bad mood around her, so she tries to use the emoticons to say “I’m not mean; there’s no need to be mad at me!” Jane sees the looks of anger and frustration and wants to try to help, hoping that being sympathetic might help. Heck, if other people at work provided any kind of recognition of the upcoming baby, Jane may have wanted to do something similar.

          If I’m right — and I fully recognize I might not be — not only does LW need to use her words to ask Jane to stop, but she should try to approach it from a “I understand you’re trying to help/trying to be friendly, but I just want us to be colleagues, not friends” perspective. The things she’s doing are only inappropriate because they’re things that require a stronger relationship that what Jane and LW have. LW needs to explain this, not just assume that Jane will figure out that trying to be friendly is only pissing LW off if LW just pretends that Jane doesn’t exist.

          1. Washi*

            I had a relationship like this with a coworker. We’d both just started, and she was an extrovert and something of a people-pleaser whose nervousness manifested in extreme perkiness. Meanwhile, I am a classic nerdy introvert and my nervousness tends to manifest in cautious quietness. So every time she would be like “SO EXCITED TO WORK WITH YOU, AREN’T WE GOING TO BE THE BEST TEAM EVER??” I would be taking a metaphorical and sometimes literal step back, and my tepid responses to her enthusiasm just prompted more enthusiasm from her to try to get a more positive reaction from me. I thought she seemed like a shallow sorority girl and she thought I was an ice queen.

            Luckily, she backed off a bit, we got to know each other, ended up really liking each other…and now many jobs later, she is still one of my closest friends. I’m not saying that the OP is going to end up BFFs instead of BEC with her coworker (my friend had the self awareness to chill after just a couple weeks, which helped) but it may help to recognize that just responding by being more and more chilly could end up continuing the cycle. Using Alison’s scripts + making an effort to say “hey, how’s your day going” every once in a while, and being warm on her own terms might make a big difference.

        3. Jennifer*

          If someone is going to comment or ask you an asinine question every single time you have the most minor change in facial expression, I understand the need to keep your face neutral. It’s difficult to come up with the right words for this specific situation because it’s so ridiculous. “Stop looking at my face and commenting on it!” It’s so aggravating to have to explain super basic things like that to people. No adult should be behaving this way.

          This person is either severely lacking in EQ or she picks up on the fact that the OP finds her annoying and is going in overdrive trying to change her mind. I’d ask to move desks, honestly.

          1. valentine*

            It’s difficult to come up with the right words for this specific situation because it’s so ridiculous.
            *smile* “Please don’t comment on my face. I’ll let you know when I need your help.”

              1. Not So NewReader*

                It’s okay if her nose feels pushed inward, truly. If that is the worst thing she hears in the course of her working life, she will have made out better than 98% of us. On the flip side, OP is giving her valuable advice that would apply to most people. No one wants to be stared at and asked about their various facial expressions.

                My friend has to squint to read. My friend is going blind and this is her process now. To a casual observer, my friend looks like she is objecting to what she is reading, as her face is kind of scrunched up. No, she is just reading. If she has an objection about the material she will ask directly. Until she says something one has to assume things are going along well.

          2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            Indeed, and I should probably have this conversation with my husband. Since covid he’s been working at home, and the way our house is set up we have an office with facing desks. If I’m at my own desk doing something and make the slightest noise or face to react to something I’m doing (like oops, I accidentally deleted something, where did I put that file, this thing I’m reading is amusing, etc) he immediately jumps on it. I ignore him when he talks to himself out loud as he’s working, which he frequently does, but I feel like he’s monitoring me all the time. Maybe it’s because he’s normally in an office with a lot more ambient sounds and me being here is more distracting than I would have thought, but it’s annoying.

            1. AliP*

              My husband and I have a similar setup, and had something like what you’re describing going on. I put a fan in the room, which I turn on while we’re working. It makes a pretty decent white noise, so I found that we don’t hear those little human-working noises as clearly. Seems to help!

      2. Katieinthemountains*

        It doesn’t take long to check a couple places for a registry. The present would have gone to OP’s home without the coworker knowing her address. If she left it on the doorstep though…

        1. Jennifer*

          It’s still weird to do if you aren’t friends with someone. How many stores did she check before she found out where they registered? Were they registered at all? And even if she decided to be nosy and look at the registry and they were registered at a very common store, like Target, sending the gift is next level.

        2. londonedit*

          I find the idea of people having a registry for baby gifts very odd for a start – that’s not something we do in my culture. And it would definitely be odd for someone to personally give a baby gift to someone at work unless they knew that person particularly well. There’s usually a collection for a general team/office gift when someone goes on maternity leave, but it would definitely feel like an overstep if Jane from Accounts turned up with an individual gift unless she was particular friends with the person having the baby.

    2. Nicotene*

      I dunno OP just as a counterpoint, to me reading your letter I was like, “it sounds like OP has invested a LOT of time cataloguing the failures of someone who is a little irritating in a pretty typical way.” It’s pretty common for someone in an open office to always join conversations that don’t involve them – I used to have to consciously stop myself from doing the same – and the other examples sounded like someone who really wanted to be friends and wasn’t taking the hint … but not nuclear level offenses.

      1. August*

        Agreed. And I think OP realizes this to some extent, since she refers to herself as a jerk a couple of times, but I am surprised at how many commenters seem to think coworker is ungodly annoying rather than mildly irritating.

        1. LogicalOne*

          +2 (birds of a feather fly together. easier to agree with the consensus) I am glad to see your comment as I too think this co-worker is a little annoying but not overbearing.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I think it’s a function of time. The first month is mildly annoying. A year or two later is UNBEARABLE, and must start job hunting. (Other people may last longer or shorter than this time frame here.)

      2. fhqwhgads*

        The extent to which either of them is reasonable, to me, is highly dependent on the true frequency.
        If the joining conversations that don’t involve them – and thus derailing said conversations – happens daily, or really more frequently than “I can literally count how many times it happened”, the coworker is obnoxious. Hasn’t been told not to be, sure, and certainly could do with that, but it’s too much.
        Same with the face commenting. Is it every day? That’s too much. Unless OP is, say, audibly gasping or near tears, it’s not a big enough reaction to merit someone else checking in, and that shouldn’t happen so frequently.

        On the other hand, if coworker does either thing maybe once a month, or maybe at first did it very frequently but now has cut back but OP is still just as perterbed, then it would be more of an OP issue.

        1. allathian*

          I get the feeling from the letter that CW is doing this multiple times a day, which would get annoying very quickly.

    3. Leah K.*

      Yeah, I have a VERY expressive face. I already have to be conscious of it when I am listening to people speak. If someone decided to comment on it every time I react to something on my screen, that would be ALL they ever talked about.

      1. Bilbiovore*

        I was on a Zoom call yesterday and someone commented on my facial expression, “oh, I see that Bibliovore is having a negative reaction to the proposal.” Before I could say, “no, not at all.” Mr. Bibliovore called from across the room, “nah, that’s just her resting librarian face.”

        Something that would never have happened if not for the Work From Home situation.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        The commenting on facial expressions is always a really annoying and invasive behavior, but I will also be a lot of the blame on open office set ups that have low cubicle walls. People need the privacy to stare at their computers in at least relative peace!

    4. LunaLena*

      On the facial expressions thing, I wonder if Jane thinks that a sigh or irritated expression is the OP fishing for “what’s wrong” comments. If I have an audible or visible response to an email, I’m generally not surprised if my office mates comment on it (but then again, they also don’t comment on it EVERY time). In which case, I think using words along the lines of “sometimes I just say or do things out loud without thinking about it. You don’t have to worry about it if I do, if I need to vent to you I’ll let you know, okay?” might work.

      1. snoopythedog*

        This is a great script.

        I also have a very expressive face and tend to sigh or let out a heavy breath or laugh a bit at emails/small irritations during the day. I don’t do it for attention. I do try and rein it in around others (letting it fly working remotely thought!), but I like your script around “I’ll let you know if i need to vent”

    5. Roy G. Biv*

      I feel this so much – “Can you please not comment on my facial expressions? It’s very distracting to me and interrupts my train of thought”

      Once I am in the zone, if you pull me out for nonsense, such as commenting upon my facial expression that was not directed AT you, I am going to then, at least mentally, be making that annoyed facial expression AT you. Probably forever.

      1. LogicalOne*

        I would maybe make funny facial reactions just to see if this person is monitoring me. LOL.

    6. Threeve*

      I’m not particularly confrontational, but I would have thought nothing of politely shutting down the expression-commenting the third time it happened. As simple as “I just frown at my computer sometimes, I think everybody does, don’t worry about it.” From then on, no explanations or reassurances that everything was fine–simply a pleasant “just my email face” without looking up.

  8. DocVonMitte*

    I really love Allison’s response to this one. I’ve been there – it sucks to work with someone whose very presence just sort of annoys you. I hope we get an update on this one. But you are not alone OP!

  9. Roza*

    Loved Alison’s response here! I have a very similar coworker, both with the trying waaay too hard to be friendly and the being overly interested in my work (the latter actually extend to inviting herself to meetings about projects she wasn’t involved in “just to learn”, which is fine generally, but then using that as an excuse to insert herself, eg insist the meeting attendance — which she would reframe as her being an “invited participant” as opposed to inviting herself — meant she was now a stakeholder in all decisions and all project docs should be run by her, a week later our manager or some other senior person would get handed a project plan or list of ideas about my project from her…). One thing I noticed eventually was that even though I was nervous about pushing back because I also thought she was well-liked…it turned out this behavior rubbed everyone the wrong way. Even the being friendly came across as someone who’d read one too many career advancement books and was determined to check the “friendly colleague” box.

    FWIW when I tried talking to her about it (and particularly about inserting herself into my work), I actually got a lot of pushback — I should “welcome help”, she’s allowed to learn, I was being overly territorial, etc. It actually took most of my manager’s other reports complaining to her independently about it, and then said manager having an apparently stern conversation with coworker about not “cookie licking”, to get her to back off. I’m still grateful to my manager for doing this — in addition to irritating me personally, this co-worker was really starting to throw off team dynamics by making people reluctant to share info lest this person try to take it over.

    1. Taylor*

      “Cookie licking” is an absolutely fantastic phrase. At my first job we had someone who was a mid-level Human Resources representative who was terrible about doing this. The whole time I was there it seemed like her whole function was to start or worm her way onto “committees” and to stir up trouble. She was involved with everything from pension and benefit discussions to document management to IT.

      Because her title was so high up, usually when she started a “committee” or demanded to be added no one questioned it until super late in the process. After a few times of being shot down, raising alarms that didn’t need to be raised, and overstepping with legal, she was demoted when her superiors took a hard look at everything and realized that she was neglecting the normal functions of her job.

      1. clogerati*

        Wow, you just described my company’s curent HR Director. Most of my company is at a total loss as to what to do, especially since we have some incredibly green higher ups who are leaning on her “help” far too much. I’m desperate for the day that somone who can Do Something acknowledges that her behavior is out of bounds and her need to be involved in everything is affecting her actualy job duties.

        1. Taylor*

          That’s a tough spot to be in. I’m sure that she/he is probably a likeable, “Can-do” sort of person to the higher-ups , and who either foists the work on her direct reports or another department.

    2. Important Moi*

      Thank you for introducing “cookie licking” (and “cookie licker”) into my lexicon.

      I’v had this exact thing happen, but no concise way to explain it.

    3. All the cats 4 me*

      Please expand on the basis of ‘cookie licking’? My first thought was the greedy child licking all the cookies so no-one else can have them!

      1. Taylor*

        It’s the work equivalent of the greedy child licking all of the cookies, and (knowingly or not) not being able to eat them all. It’s claiming all the most interesting tasks or best shifts for yourself, signing up for a million committees you know you don’t have time for, and/or inserting yourself and claiming to be a stakeholder when you weren’t invited and your opinion isn’t asked.

      2. Important Moi*

        I went to Urban Dictionary. (It is defined other places as well.) – The act of calling “dibs” on something long before you actually intend to do it. For example, announcing that your team will handle project X when in fact you won’t even start until sometime next year.

  10. Dasein9*

    You’re not a jerk. And I’d say it’s probably wise to listen to your emotions and keep some healthy boundaries with this coworker. But it is part of our job to be pleasant to work with, so you’ll have to find the balance point and having a talk with her will probably be wise.

    One frame I’ve found useful is to ask the coworker to trust me. Literally, to trust me to speak up when I need their input on a project that has been passed from them to me, to trust me to let them know when something’s really wrong so I can be free to have my own facial expressions, etc. This gives them something to do, something to excel at, even.

    And when you return to the office, are you sure your desk is pleasant enough? Do you maybe need a plant that will go right in between this coworker’s face and yours?

    1. Crooked Bird*

      Yes to the plant! What a good idea. I like the “trust me” thing too–may not work with everybody but it’s a respectful solution that should be tried before other things, and may work.

      My personal approach with energy vampires (good phrase!) is to build a wall against them in my mind BUT paint the outside of it in bright colors plastered with happy phrases. It’s like, “Hello, Vampire! So good to see you! How are you, I’m GREAT. You are such a valued coworker! Yay!” buuut never any real responses to anything she says (unless she deserves or needs them for work.) Is something wrong? No, everything’s great! How’s X going? Great, just great! You seem distant, did she offend you in some way? No, everything’s great, your relationship’s great.

      It takes some energy to build the wall and establish the habit of keeping it painted, but after that you can mostly forget about it–and the great thing is, the vampire usually does too. I.e. gives up, because she’s not getting the actual attention she wants from your empty phrases (also don’t look her in the eye more than you strictly have to)… nor can she claim a conflict between you in order to get it, because you’re being perfectly friendly.

      YMMV. OP doesn’t necessarily sound like the type of person who’d feel like trying this solution, but who knows?

    2. Artemesia*

      Peace lilies tend to grow well and spread out. My first thought was that she needed a hedge right away. Or a desk organizer system that was quite verticle and made a visual wall with the cube gazer.

    3. Person of Interest*

      Or can you at least re-orient your computer on your desk so you aren’t directly facing each other (if you can’t switch desks altogether)?

    4. designbot*

      I like the ‘trust me’ and it goes with a message I’d consider asking for… asking for some breathing room. In a low key way, turn her people pleasing to work for you, by saying you know I’m still getting settled in this role and I find that I could just use a little elbow room to get comfortable. I know you’re invested in people and projects you handed off, but I’ll think more clearly about how I want to handle things if I can get just a little more space to do it. Trust that if I do need help I absolutely know you’re available and will come right over!
      And then maybe find some particular thing to ask for her advice on, not right then but maybe a week later. That way she believes you.

  11. wee beastie*

    I understand this frustration and agree with Alison’s advice.
    One other tip. When I was in a low-profile cube and had a coworker in my line of sight, I propped my monitor on books so I was instantly hidden. If they are to your side, maybe there’s a standing folder structure that can conveniently be propped up. Also, my office people used head phones and so you can just not answer because “oops” didn’t hear you. People tend to only interrupt a person under headphones when it’s important, not casual chat.

    1. wee beastie*

      Just to add, i’m thinking that if you can visually separate yourself, then you only need to have a chat with her about backing off your projects during hand over and that might also cut down on feel you are nitpicking. And if you see results in your chats with her, it might revise or relax your negative opinion of her to a lower intensity.

    2. Just Me*

      I was thinking this as well. Can you arrange your work area so you are not directly in her line of vision? I don’t know your office dynamics but is moving to a different desk an option? Sometimes it’s “all the proximity” that makes someone who is difficult even more so. And would headphones be a possibility in your office? Any little thing that gives you a little space might ease the situation.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I’ve done this blocking thing just because I don’t like being eyeball to eyeball with anyone (open office). My first thought too was if there was any way to rearrange your desk to face a different direction, that would help.

      Honestly, I would probably handle someone constantly commenting on my facial expressions with a cold blank stare in response, because I really wouldn’t be able to respond politely after just a couple of comments. So breaking the line of sight is a really good option.

    4. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      Are any other Brits reminded of the episode of The Office where Tim constructs a wall of files so he doesn’t have to communicate with Gareth?

      1. Artemesia*

        There was a fad in education 50 years ago for ‘open classroom’ construction — think maybe 4 or 5 teachers, each with a class in a giant hexagonal sort of great room. It was as stupid as the cube farm today — and kids or teachers who don’t function well in chaos and noise were particularly harmed. I taught high school in a district that used this in elementary school and the teacher’s response became a district joke. They built walls — out of boxes, out of bookcases, out of unused furniture and movable blackboards etc etc and soon has converted this ridiculous space back into semi private teaching spaces.

        1. Ponytail*

          Unfortunately, a local college (for 16-19 year olds) near me built a space like this in 2010. When I started working there in 2013, they had a 3 months long project to add walls because, surprise, teenagers will take any opportunity not to engage in their own work when there are 100 other pupils they can interact with.

    5. char*

      Yeah, this sounds like a good idea if the layout of your desks will permit it.

      Personally, I really don’t like having coworkers sitting right across from me in my line of sight. It makes me self-conscious. I once had a coworker who I started to find annoying pretty much solely because he had the misfortune of being tall enough that I could see his face over the mid-height barrier between our desks. Angling my monitor in a different direction and slouching in my chair helped to an extent. But honestly, it never totally got better until I moved to a different desk with higher dividers.

  12. Buttons*

    I don’t think LW is a jerk at all, Jane’s behavior is annoying and made me bristle from reading it! I tend to give people “a look” when they over step their boundaries. If I am in the middle of a conversation and someone interrupts I pause and let them say what they want to say and then turn back to my conversation. I don’t respond to them. Thankfully, I haven’t had anyone comment on my facial expressions, that would make me incredibly self-conscious.
    Don’t let her do this to you! Good luck, LW!

  13. MsClaw*

    My best advice is just not to give her anything to chew on. If she’s asking you about your facial expressions, you can just say something like ‘nope, I’m fine’ or ‘that’s just my face’ and keep doing whatever you’re doing.

    I’d take a similar approach if you can about her kibbutzing on old projects – ‘It’s going fine’, ‘We’re on track’, etc.

    As far as her jumping into conversation, there’s probably not anything you can do — especially since some people have been socialized to think they’d be the rude one for not joining in a conversation happening 4 feet from them.

    I’ve been in a similar situation where my supervisor moved into a new position, and I moved into his old role. He would still jump in to chat to answer question that I had already answered, or volunteer to do things for me that I had well in hand. It’s a tough position to be in, and I wish you luck.

    1. Anya Last Nerve*

      I agree with the “don’t give her anything to chew on” advice. I have a similar coworker, OP, and I find that if I try to address things head on like Allison suggests, it just makes things worse. She also does present herself like she’s just so nice and super helpful and I’m being a disrespectful shrew if I push back. So instead I keep my conversations short and to the point and I try to work around her as much as I can. She says, “How was your weekend?” I say, “fine, thanks.” No details. No asking about her weekend. It hasn’t stopped all of it but it’s made her less annoying to me.

    2. Taylor*

      This might normally work, but if you’re at the point where you’re tracking down someone’s baby shower date and address to send them a gift, you might be impervious to hints in general.

      1. MsClaw*

        That information may not be hard to track down at all. I’ve worked in offices where there was a central list of people’s addresses. Honestly, the fact that the OP is flipping out over getting a …. baby gift? is showing they are at the ‘bitch eating crackers’ phase where everything, not matter how benign or well-intended gets your hackles up.

        1. Myrin*

          FWIW, I don’t think anything suggests OP is “flipping out” over the gift – she mentions it in one sentence and says that it made her cringe. It just seemed like another random example of “annyoingly trying to be closer to me than I want”.

          1. MsClaw*

            ‘ She sent me and my partner a baby shower gift on her own initiative, and it made me cringe. ‘ In the office cultures I’ve been in sending a coworker a baby gift would be … normal work proximity associate behavior, not BFF behavior. *Not* sending something or opting out of a group gift, etc, would have been making a point about home much you didn’t like your coworker. Everyone’s frame of reference is different — but I think to a lot of people, even including ‘my coworker sent me a onesie’ in the list of her offenses means you’ve gotten to the point where even the most minor interactions with this person are making you crazy.

            And I get it — there are people who have the audacity to say hello to me in the corridor and I hate them for it — but I also know that’s me boiling over about unrelated things and that saying hello in the corridor is totally normal.

        2. Taylor*

          The point really isn’t how hard or easy it is to get OP’s address. The point is that instead of handing OP a gift in the office, the coworker decided to send a gift addressed to her and her partner, at their house, presumably around the time the baby shower that she wasn’t invited to took place.

          This would be like a coworker looking up when my birthday was, finding out if/when my party was, and then sending a gift to my home to correspond with the party date.

          1. MsClaw*

            This really strikes me as an office culture thing, and without knowing a whole lot more about how other people in their office behave it’s impossible to say whether sending someone a gift around the time you knew other people were sending them gifts is normal, expected, or loony is going to depend a lot on what your office is like.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              Yeah I’m guessing if someone OP didn’t already dislike sent a gift, it wouldn’t have been such an issue, or OP might have just shrugged it off. Gift / baby culture varies by office and by individual.

          2. Archaeopteryx*

            “ Sending it to her house“ Was probably actually just clicking on the registry. That’s how most people choose what to buy for baby showers and the stuff gets sent automatically.

          3. vampire physicist*

            I would add – I’ve been in LW’s situation before and the part that bothers me isn’t that the coworker knows things that might be common office knowledge – it’s that I have no intention to ever buy them a gift or be their friend or reciprocate and so the irritation comes more from a place of “why are you doing this for me, a person who would like remain professional and cordially distant from you” than “how did you get my address.”

          4. Artemesia*

            When my close co-workers had babies I sent a small gift; when I had a baby many co-workers sent me a small gift. It is more graceful to send it to their home than to hand them a gift in the office which may make others feel they need to also buy gifts. This one just says to me that there is NOTHING this woman can do now to be friendly that won’t rub the OP the wrong way. Many of the examples are genuinely awful — the face monitoring would I think drive most people nuts. But this is definitely now BEC territory.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Hard agree regarding the idea that there is nothing this woman can do that won’t bother, OP.
              This is what can happen though if we hold it all inside and don’t set those boundaries.

              In order to break a cycle like this one, I would discard the things that have only happened once or twice. Of the recurring things I would take the most frequent and/or most annoying. Of those, I would pick three and target those three. I’d aim for a period of time, 9 months- 1 year?, to see what I could do to lessen these three annoyances. And the answer can NOT entail, “learn to swallow more and more anger”.

    3. Joielle*

      Ordinarily I would try this first, as a way to do LESS communicating with the irritating coworker – but in this case OP is already basically stonewalling her, and I think they need to address the actual issue before they start communicating MORE with the irritating coworker. Otherwise, OP’s one-sentence responses will just seem like they’re being friendlier than normal.

    4. Sam.*

      This. I used to work next to someone similar. I would chat with her in the break room, halls, etc. so I didn’t come across as cold, but when I was sitting at my desk, I would give her very up-beat but unsatisfactory responses to non-work things (like, “oh, it’s nothing exciting. Don’t mind me!” when she’d comment on my face). She was smart enough to pick up on it and followed my lead. I know several of our mutual coworkers found her Extremely Irritating for the same reasons OP dislikes her colleague, but I didn’t have an issue with her because she respected those boundaries.

      I think the fact that everyone is working from home right now works to OP’s advantage, since she can hold off on addressing anything related to office behavior. Definitely push back on the constant meddling, and maybe by the time they’re back in the office, enough time will have passed that it won’t feel overbearing to also push back on those things.

      1. Artemesia*

        let’s home WFH can reset things. It is easy to brush off the intrusiveness about the projects from WFH. She gets an email query and responds ‘no worries, I’ve got this’ — with NO information. And she is protected from the constant monitoring.

  14. Ellie May*

    OP isn’t a jerk and gets to feel her feelings. I can relate – I had to manage someone I couldn’t stand. Ugh, I don’t want to go back there in my head.
    She IS being annoying and as Alison suggests, she is owed some feedback. Just remember, you can’t change her, only how you respond to her.
    My sympathies to you.

  15. MsChanandlerBong*

    It’s funny this letter went up today because I am in the exact same boat. I have a coworker who is extremely nice and chatty and “Everything is wonderful and rays of sunshine fly out of my butt all day long.” But she rubs me the wrong way. I feel like her enthusiasm and cheer are sometimes used to hornswoggle everybody into thinking she’s done gotten much more done than she really has. We have to post daily status updates while the office is closed due to COVID. Everyone else’s are very matter-of-fact. Contacted X clients. Wrote X blog posts. Updated X. Hers are multiple paragraphs about how she was so happy to work on X project because she just loves to learn and she finds the topic SOOO fascinating. Her rays of sunshine also disappear any time you give her any feedback that isn’t 100% positive. Fortunately, we work remotely, so I don’t have to worry about it too much.

    1. TL -*

      I have a very nice coworker who is … either completely overwhelmed or not good at her job (Can’t tell, not my job to anyways). Things just don’t get done, or followed up on, or communicated about. But she does have time to email you back endlessly explaining (nicely) why she was right and you were wrong if you cc her boss when asking for something.

      Our office is quietly split between those who are like, “But she’s so nice and works so hard! she’s just overwhelmed” and those of who are like, “oh, yeah, to do this I’ll need information from X – so it’ll be done around the 12th of Never.”

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        That sounds very familiar! This person is very nice and has a lot of good qualities, but she tries too hard to be friends with everyone rather than focusing on work. I also get a bit frustrated because it feels like she JUMPS on me the second I arrive (virtually) in the morning. I will sign in to Slack, and the second I am connected, I am already getting a message. It’s fine to say good morning, but I get a million questions about how I’m feeling, what the weather is like, etc. And if I do not write three or four sentences for every answer and be appropriately enthusiastic, she thinks I’m mad at her and gets upset. I’m extroverted and love to chat when there’s time, but some days are so busy that getting right to work and not stopping for chitchat is the only thing that saves me from having to work 14 hours.

  16. Not a Robot*

    So I have a co-worker like this, and I was like you..it felt like I was working with SpongeBob SquarePants. But after awhile I got to know her and realized that she was actually a nice person who really wants to be friends with everyone. Try to have an open mind. You might be surprised. I did and know she is my strongest ally at work.

    1. Oldbiddy*

      I agree. Allison’s advice was spot on as well.
      OP is at the Bitch Eating Crackers phase, and if they can accept that fact about themselves it will make their interactions with the coworker easier, not harder. Another strategy is to try “medium chill” – be congenial but impassive and boring.

    2. anonaccountant*

      I’ve had a similar experience. Obviously OP’s mileage might vary, but we got a new coworker who drove me nuts- it seemed like she chatted all day long, talked to herself, talked to the copier, was unbelievably bubbly and went out of her way to do nice (I read them as over-the-top at first) things- pick someone up a coffee, bring in a birthday cupcake, etc. For the first 6 months I found her insufferable. I’ve pretty introverted and like quiet, solitary work. I’m not even sure what happened, but after those few months she just grew on me. She was totally genuine- everything she did came from a good place, even if some things were misguided. I think maybe I got used to her enough that the annoyance cooled off and I started seeing her as a person instead of just her behaviors. She was so happy and content in her own life, and just loved spreading that around. She turned into my favorite coworker, which would have blown my mind when I first met her. I miss her the most out of everyone at my old office, even years later. Once I relaxed around her I started to appreciate a lot of things (not to say she never got on my nerves again, though)

  17. Blue Eagle*

    You are not a jerk. This idea for you may seem odd but it worked for me with a co-worker who was not as bad as yours but was a bit of an oversharer. Every so often (maybe once a week) I would compliment her on something – nice jewelry, nice scarf, good idea, good comment, etc. Then it didn’t seem like the only time I spoke with her was to criticize her when I asked her to stop doing something that annoyed me.
    Maybe it will work for you or maybe YMMV.

    1. anonaccountant*

      This is good advice, IMO, but maybe for a different reason. I think that it might help the coworker cool off a bit if she feels like she’s getting something back from the OP. In my experience, people-pleasers tend to try harder with people who they think don’t like them. So being consciously polite and maybe including her in a convo about your weekends might help her feel more secure and less shut-out. Not to excuse her behaviors completely, but if she has no idea that people perceive her as annoying, she probably feels a little hurt that she’s being frozen out for, as she sees it, no reason.

  18. MicroManagered*

    Raise your hand if you simultaneously know exactly the type OP is talking about and fear you are also her!

    1. Amber Rose*

      *Waves hand*

      I personally am not bothered by it but I have met people like this and they are vaguely annoying. I am also pretty sure I am this.

      The thing is, these kinds of behaviors are often coping behaviors. I became sensitive to people’s faces so I could avoid setting off people who were likely to get abusively angry. I became super sweet as a way of de-escalating already angry people, or at least as a way of covering my ass in case they complained. I try hard to be liked because I fear being hated, because Toxic Job really messed with my head.

      So I can’t get too mad about it.

      1. MicroManagered*

        OP, read what Amber Rose said here! It’s important!!

        People like this often learned this behavior in response to a chaotic/traumatic environment as kids. (I did.)

        1. Amy Sly*

          I know I default to “join in on all conversations.” In my case, it’s from being extroverted but having poor social skills until at least college. I desperately wanted to talk to people, but they didn’t want to talk to me, so barging my way in was the only way I’d get to talk to anyone. (Which of course became a reinforcing loop.)
          Even as an adult, I have to fight the temptation to invite myself in to things, because there’s a lonely little girl still in my head convinced that no one will interact with me if I don’t intrude.

          1. Ailsa McNonagon*

            This is important to hold in mind- not everyone has great social communication skills, and their behaviour is about anxiety rather than malice. It might still be draining to interact with that person but once you stop telling yourself that they’re being overly nice/ friendly/ enthusiastic JUST to annoy and upset you, it becomes a bit more tolerable.

            I have a long background of clinical work with autistic children and adults, and often autistic people who want to join in will struggle to read the nuance of social interaction. This makes people feel overwhelmed; it makes the autistic person feel sad and anxious that they’ve got it wrong, so they try even harder next time- and get an even less favourable result. Just remember that the person who makes you roll your eyes with their gauche ways may well be dealing with a neurodevelopmental condition you’re not aware of- lots of people understand when autistic children are having a hard time, but feel that by adulthood they should have ‘grown out of it’. It seems hard for people to remember that autistic children grow up to be autistic adults….

            1. Amy Sly*

              One of the great mental health breakthroughs I had in my twenties was that I am not an introvert. As a kid, yes, I was often alone and curled up in a book, but that was because I didn’t have friends to socialize with, not that I didn’t want to have them.

              Being an extrovert means you want to be around people because that environment energizes you. It doesn’t mean you have social skills. It doesn’t mean you have a big group of friends, especially as a kid when your social circle is basically dictated by your parents’ choices of where to live and when to have kids.

      2. MsChanandlerBong*

        This is the comment of the day. You really just made me think differently about what I said above (I have a coworker like OP’s, and I find myself at my wits’ end with her sometimes). She apologizes about 450 times per day for things that don’t require an apology, and she’s relentless about being cheerful and trying to express enthusiasm. Maybe she had a bad job environment or an abusive experience at home. I will keep this in mind and try harder with her. Thank you!

        1. Amber Rose*

          It’s good to think about! But also, boundaries are still a thing. People tell me gently to find my chill every so often and I appreciate it because I’m not always aware when I’m going overboard.

          But it’s good to have a little understanding. At the very least, you might feel a little less exasperated.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Bingo. This is a survival mechanism for her (the coworker) because of life or work or something. It really doesn’t matter where it comes from because in the end, OP will have to use her words to get to a better place in this story.

    2. Jaybeetee*

      See, I’m the Socially Awkward Wallflower. So in past workplaces, I’ve often been the one to befriend the Try-hards (who are often great people once you get past the quirks). Colleagues are secretly grateful towards me, Try-hard chills out because they know someone at least likes them, I don’t have to worry about carrying my end of a conversation. It works out!

    3. Alex in Marketing*

      Hand in the AIR.

      This gave me flashbacks to my ex co-worker who was exactly like this.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Maybe? Because I thought the coworker sounded normal and nice and the OP sounded a lot prickly and standoffish. Maybe because most of the offices I’ve worked in have a coworker attachment style of a lot of personal warmth in interactions, and a lot of casual overlap in talking about projects. Not that everyone is friends outside work or even overly personal with others, but there’s always a veneer of warm friendliness to the point that someone reacting to it the way OP did would be seen as the out-of-step one.

      1. anonaccountant*

        I agree- I’ve seen plenty of workplaces where your description is the norm. I think a lot of this is just contextual and personal preference. It’s totally fair that these things annoy the OP, and she could ask coworker to make some adjustments if that would improve her work-life, but these aren’t objectively bad actions. Just because something annoys one person doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Like, I hate mayo, but that doesn’t mean it’s awful. It just means I don’t like it. I’m sure the co-worker could write in from her perspective and OP would sound like the bad guy. They just need to communicate a little better.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this is what got my nerves jangling. I could deal with just about everything else that bugs the OP, but this would really raise my hackles. That said, it would be easiest to fix by either moving the desk or breaking the line of vision in some other way. If CW can’t see OP’s face, she can’t react to it.

    5. Fuzzy Pickles*

      So me; feel this so hard. And I have gained special hatred for the low walled cubicles because of this. I have difficulty telling if people are talking about my project because they want to include me or because they want to talk about it for another reason. When it’s the other reason, you get the double silent glance and the ignoring… That’s pretty effective on me, so I’ve switched to pretending I never hear a word unless someone faces me directly and flags me down.

      But then there was someone who was more this than even me, and started a conversation anytime I looked up from my screen. So I can appreciate the difficulty on both sides

    6. Miss Anne Thrope*

      I once got told I was a people pleaser and honestly, it made me angry. Working to get people what they need, which is what I do, isn’t ‘people pleasing,’ it’s moving the project along, and it’s building up capital so you can call it in to get s*** done.

      1. flatbush*

        “Building up capital so you can call it in”–that’s the issue. People can intuitively sense you’re keeping track of what they “owe” you and they resent it. They’d rather you just not help them in the first place.

        1. Washi*

          It’s not usually that Machiavellian. Yes, favor-sharking is a thing, but it’s way more common to be flexible and helpful to coworkers because that’s how you would like to be treated yourself.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          Think of it more as building up a reservoir of goodwill. You’ve switched shifts and stayed late to help out when asked–you’ve added to the workplace reservoir of goodwill. That’s not a guarantee that it will be reciprocated if you ever ask, but it sure increases the odds over never having done those things.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m not this bad thankfully because I just notice someone’s face and if it’s a grimace, I steer the ship away from that port more than questioning them about it.

      But I have been accused of being a “People pleaser” and recently told I “spoil” people because I tailor what we buy to people’s preferences or because I see problems and fix them before someone has to ask for a remedy. I just bought chairs for outside because people were sitting on the curbs and got the “See, I told you, you spoil people!” “it’s a workers comp issue…” but yeah, I like people to be comfortable, guilty as charged.

      But I think the OP’s case is different than most of ours. Policing facial expressions and digging at people is even too much for those of us who seriously just care or the cross to carry when we’re just general empaths.

    8. Victoria*

      Same.

      In the job I worked before my PhD, I had *that* coworker, and I didn’t want to be mean, but she would ask *so* much, nonverbals would be ignored, and she always had a response pushing back whenever I tried to set a boundary, but it wasn’t adversarial, it was like she didn’t realize I was setting a boundary and thought it was a problem for her to solve. For example: “We could just share your office, that’s fine with me!” “Jane, I don’t think we can both work effectively in this particular office, plus they have provided you your own office.” “What if I just come up to your office and we try it out?” Fortunately management shut down the shared office thing. Still, she tried to come into my office every morning to socialize with me. After telling her multiple times, politely but firmly, that I needed this time for work, I started shutting my door (she ignored and opened it), shutting my door with the lights off (she ignored again), shutting and locking my door with the lights off (she found someone with a master key to let her in so that she could spend a half an hour talking to me.

      And then when I got to my PhD program, there was a member of my program that I soon began to suspect strongly disliked me. At first, She was always nice when people were around but otherwise cold when it was just the two of us, and later, once we were done with coursework and didn’t see each other regularly, she would be really friendly if we were to run into each other on campus. But I would see photos on social media of events she hosted where our entire cohort was in attendance that I was not invited to (the only person of a 12 person cohort not to be invited). I perceive myself to be annoying and get annoyed with myself easily, so I hope that I am self-aware enough to not overdo it in the friendliness department, so I don’t think my situation is exactly like the one described, but I’ve been over it in my head and can only conclude that there must be some reason she just didn’t like me.

      1. allathian*

        The first situation seems a bit odd. Was there some reason you couldn’t say “(I’m sorry but) I really need to get started with the work, we’ll chat some other time when I’m not so busy”? That master key stuff was really over the top.

        It’s really tough when you suspect someone doesn’t like you but have no idea why. I’ve been there…

    9. Miraculous Ladybug*

      I had a weird situation at my last job where I started as Jane and then graduated to being the OP when a Jane-ier Jane was hired as my (sort of) direct report. In both of our cases, we were bullied a lot as kids and developed an extreme reaction to the idea of being disliked, and also a super-sensitivity to people’s faces and moods. It didn’t help that the workplace itself was toxic, so neither of us had any real allies!

      So glad I’m not there anymore. Jane2 cried when I announced I was leaving, and showed up the next day with a gift bag full of going away presents. It was a lot.

  19. NW Mossy*

    If we look at the situation from Jane’s point of view, the dynamic that’s emerged has some logic to it.

    Here comes the OP, fast-rising star under her boss’s mentorship, taking on work Jane used to do, and highly likely to do it very well. Meanwhile, Jane’s got some inner worry-demons of her own – she wants to be liked and tends to fret about the work. Jane’s trying to correct for her worries by drawing closer to OP, but the very behaviors Jane thinks will help are just pushing OP away. It’s like running away when an animal comes toward you – it triggers their instinct to chase, not stop.

    Counterintuitively, calmly and kindly holding your ground may give better results than continuing to run. In my experience, that gets easier to do when you realize that the other person’s behavior is much more about them than it is about you. It helps trigger the empathy and compassion muscles that allow you to see their behavior as stemming from their own challenges in regulating their thoughts and feelings, rather than they trying to wind you up.

  20. Roxie Hart*

    Wow, you have my sympathy OP. I had two former coworkers who were exactly like this, I still thank the universe I no longer work there.

    Is she a suck-up to management? If so, they probably stand by and encourage her behavior, not caring that it’s creating a toxic environment. You probably aren’t the only person annoyed at her, I think most (normal) people can see through her poor behavior.

    Is there a co-worker friend who might feel the same way so you can vent to each other? This can be risky, but you won’t be so alone.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I dunno, it’s annoying behavior but it’s not yet veered into toxic territory–mostly because OP hasn’t done anything to get her to stop. On the other hand, seeking out a different coworker in order to talk smack about this one sounds pretty toxic to me.

  21. So much this*

    What if the person rubbing you the wrong way is your boss…? Its not that bad with me, but anytime we meet at the break room it gets really… akward. Our thinking is so different! We try small talk but we never get past few minutes. Usually either of us say something that makes the other person irk… We get the work done, but anything beyond that is making me anxious. And I think it is mutual!

    I have tried to bond with her in a “professionally friendly” manner. But I feel our relationship is so distant it is harming my career…. I am at Lost.

  22. FloraP*

    Does she police everyone’s facial expressions to this extent?

    There’s an undercurrent here of ‘women should only have pleasant facial expressions and must told to smile (via emoji if necessary) if their face hints at anything short of constant good cheer.’

    1. OyHiOh*

      This struck me also. Id be tempted to post Shulamith Firestone quotes around my cube in response.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      Yup. I’ve worked in an office full of people who took it even further: if you weren’t smiling, they demanded a smile or an explanation; if you were smiling, it was “Wow, you look WAY too happy!”

      Especially exhausting was the guy who would sneak up and startle you because you “looked like you were concentrating really hard.”

      I wasn’t sad when he got fired over (surprise!) failing to get any of his own work done.

      Meanwhile, nobody ever asked the dudes why they were staring vacantly into space, or grinning after telling a joke no one else laughed at.

      1. KateM*

        “Especially exhausting was the guy who would sneak up and startle you because you “looked like you were concentrating really hard.” ”

        Wow.

  23. Leela*

    I felt so self-conscious reading this because I feel like you’re sort of describing me! (Hard to tell with a short set of anecdotes though) I can’t imagine that I’d ask for updates on projects I no longer work on from people who are working on them but I can definitely imagine that I’d casually bring it up in conversation the same way I’d bring up how someone’s weekend camping trip was, or movie they said they were going to see in theaters that I was sort of considering seeing. But I wonder if it’s landing more like how it’s landing with you here.

    The main thing I’d say is in response to this statement: “She works way too hard to please everyone around her and try to become friends.” I’d ask you to consider alternate reasons she acts the way she does. This is certainly a reasonable explanation for her behavior but there are others! In my case I’m neurodivergent, and people are still trying work out whether it’s female autism which is still extremely poorly documented and understood, or other things that result in the same behaviours. A lot of us have to mask and adopt behaviours of those around us starting as early as elementary school because otherwise we just get our named yelled out of exasperation we don’t understand because *i guess* a more neurotypical person wouldn’t do what we’re doing but nothing else makes sense to us. Or maybe she’s got something horrible going on at home and being really bubbly and invested makes the most sense to keep her mind off it. Or she’s in a ton of pain from a chronic condition and she’s had to mask and get people to like her for that reason, so when she has to take time off for pain she doesn’t just get axed for being unliked and also less present due to her condition. Or that she was raised to be extremely friendly and need-meeting by parents who were demanding, abusive, or just acted like that of their own volition so their kids picked it up. Or lots of other things.

    Not to say that means you have to endure her behaviours whether or not they work for you though! I think AAM is dead on with her response, and am certainly in agreement that it’s not your responsibility to give play by plays of projects to someone you don’t report to when you’re doing your own work, and that you shouldn’t have someone scrutinizing your facial expressions and then prodding for what could have potentially caused them. That all sounds exhausting. And I think that this is the type of coworker behaviour that’s in that awful gray area where you can’t really tell a boss what’s happening and bank on a response on your side, like if this coworker was swearing at you or stealing from you or something. I would think (and hope!) that if you did just talk to her she’d probably be very self-conscious and unaware of how she came off and backed off a bit, best of luck!

    1. Taylor*

      I think that if you’re this introspective about your behavior then the OP isn’t describing you. Like in the example you gave, saying “Oh yeah, how’s that project going?” every now and again when you remember it is different than hounding someone for updates as if you’re still involved.

      1. Leela*

        @Taylor I’d like to think that but in my experience I get a lot of “don’t you think you share EVERYTHING about yourself?” when I share like…1/50th of things about myself because it’s too complicated to share, but they assume that their baseline is what everyone is going off of. I get a lot of “think about what you’re doing and how you’re acting” and good god that is ALL that I do. But all they see is that if someone thought about what they were doing and acting, they’d act like the person demanding it does and acts, or the people that person knows, because they assume they are the baseline and other people are wrong. This is very common for atypicals as far as I understand it, but I can say that it’s certainly true in my experience

        1. Taylor*

          At least in the context of work, I don’t know if it’s a neurotypicals vs. everyone else issue or just a workplace culture issue. The very first job I ever had, all we did was sit around and talk about ourselves, all day every day. My brother is a welder and they get a TON of talking in-all of my brother’s coworkers know who *I* am, the jobs I’ve had, the schools I went to, to the point where they would pass a Taylor-based quiz, and probably know everything about the rest of our family too.

          But at my current workplace the culture is to never share anything about yourself ever. I don’t think it’s a “right vs. wrong” issue, but I am concerned enough about fitting in to make sure that I mirror everyone else. We don’t know or celebrate birthdays and the most people know about each other would be something like, “Bob has two kids who are both teenagers,” and “Pam doesn’t have kids but she and her wife have a dog,” yet we see each other 50+ hours a week. I’m very junior so I’m not going to bust in and start giving gifts on holidays or bringing in cupcakes on birthdays.

    2. Oldbiddy*

      I came here to post something similar. A lot of commenters were piling on commiserating with OP, but I feel sympathy for the coworker too. I’ve been in the situation where one coworker (who became my boss) just didn’t like me from the start, and no matter what I did, I just kept digging myself in a deeper and deeper hole. It’s really hard to be in that situation, especially if you don’t get any feedback on how to improve. At the time, I didn’t know what masking was, but I have never masked so hard and in so many different ways as I did when I worked in that group.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I do think maybe OP can find peace with this coworker by reframing it from “try-hard behavior that is irritating me” to “anxious behavior from someone who is feeling insecure.” Or maybe not, but sometimes empathy is the key. Most likely the coworker isn’t trying to do this AT the OP.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I feel sorry for the coworker because no one seems to be telling her to cut it out. I have had a few too many work settings where people would complain about one person but never say anything to that person. Then they would wonder why the situation dragged on and on and on.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I agree. I’ve seen it, too. People like to complain about someone, yet no one ever says a word to that person so it continues and then they continue to complain; it’s a vicious cycle.

  24. Georgina Fredricka*

    I think it might help to try and genuinely see the “good” parts of her personality instead of just focusing on the bad. It might make it also easier/more comfortable for you to push back on some things, if you feel like you guys are a bit more friendly. I mean, she got you a present for your baby?? While you might feel this is cringe, to me it’s very thoughtful – even if thoughtfulness is rooted in trying to make people “like” you.

    I had someone who intensely annoyed me at a prior job, and it made it easier to leave once I did. Like… so obnoxious, so I feel you, because some people agreed with me but others found her “charming.” She would make me really uncomfortable by sort of glazing over anytime I talked in a conversation. She would NEVER laugh at a joke I made – not saying I’m the funniest person lol but it’s something you notice when someone makes a point of it, but it’s very hard to explain to other people. So I get it! But sometimes they’re not all terrible.

    1. Taylor*

      The key with this is that she sent OP and her partner a gift apparently without being invited. Like she went through the trouble of finding out that there was a shower, when the shower was, and (I assume) had to locate OP’s address. That’s different than handing someone a gift in the office and saying congratulations.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Ohhh, yikes! I haven’t thought about it! The address piece is… very intrusive!

      2. Lucette Kensack*

        Where are you getting that? All the letter said is that she sent a gift “of her own initiative.”

        There are a lot of different ways this could have played out, but it’s not inherently intrusive. (Like: She ordered something off the baby registry, which automatically sends the gift to the address that the recipient included.)

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Strong agree, she could have also just handed OP a blanket at work or something, there’s really no evidence in the letter that she’s some kind of stalker.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Fair point, but people don’t normally say “She sent me and my partner a baby shower gift”, when the shower gift was handed over at work in person.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, this one made me a little sad. I wondered if she thought that this would be a fresh start because they could connect over the joy of a new baby. I had this happen IRL, I thought the child would be an opportunity for my husband and I to build a new type of relationship with … let’s call them “Friends”.

          It was anything but. The gap grew wider instead of closer. Friends had more and more reasons to be “mad” at us. Some of the stuff is for things that we had absolutely NO way of knowing. Instead of saying what the problem was TO US, they told other people. We eventually gave up. In the end, I found myself saying to these Other People, “Yes, you are the x person to tell us about this concern that Friends have. They need to come tell us and talk to us about it rather than tell everyone else.” The baby did not change our communication patterns.

      3. Georgina Fredricka*

        that would be weird but I read it as something like “everyone knew we were having a baby, and we had a baby shower we didn’t invite her to, but she handed me a baby gift anyway because she wanted me to like her/thank her.”

        Since OP is not being very generous with her, I think something that intrusive would have been explicitly mentioned here lol…

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Or she gave OP a gift because, like the person in the next post, she loves giving gifts.

          1. Georgina Fredrika*

            haha yes. I was more trying to say what I pictured OP saying, and OP seems to believe her actions are rooted in wanting to be liked. Personally, I imagine she might just be caring.

    2. Victoria*

      The baby gift thing is what has me thinking the dislike is irrational. Like, she did something thoughtful, and the response was “this made me cringe,” which seems like OP is primed to read bad intention in everything she does.

      I don’t disagree that her behaviors at work can be annoying, and I can see how that can be difficult for OP. But, I think it is helpful to separate behaviors like asking for updates on projects that aren’t her concern from attempts at friendliness.

      1. Cassidy*

        But when people try TOO hard to be liked by someone who is rejecting them in obvious ways, and then they give that same someone a gift, it’s like trying to buy a friendship. It’s clingy and needy and demonstrates a self-esteem so low it’s below ground.

        It’s situations like this that I wonder where management is. The OP shouldn’t have to fend off the co-worker; rather, management ought to know its people and keep those like this coworker in check.

        1. $2Donuts*

          OP seems immature, being annoyed by your co-workers is pretty standard considering the amount of time you have to spend with people you may have zero in common with. Lord knows how many times I’ve been “friendly” to an exasperating coworker because its way easier than constant conflict. Smart money says someone else in the office feels equally exasperated with OP but handles it more maturely.

  25. RozGrunwald*

    I really appreciate this letter. I am currently leading a small team where both of my team members – who are competent, skilled, diligent and hardworking and a lot of other positive things – drive me crazy on a near-daily basis. Some of it is behaviors like the LW describes (one team member is a total people-pleaser and gets us into some hairy situations as a result of her wanting everyone to be happy and wanting to never say no to anyone for any reason) and some of it is different behavior (withholding information so an inaccurate conclusion is reached, and then pointing out the inaccuracy with undisguised glee, sometimes after an inappropriate action has been taken). I was told the job was dangerous when I took it and that these two have had some difficulties relating to other coworkers in the past. I took on the role and now have no choice but to make it work. I also agree, this is a me problem and not a them problem and I need to develop better coping mechanisms. Alison’s response to the letter was helpful and I am picking up good tips from the responses. So thanks to the LW, to Alison and to the commenters.

    1. Manchmal*

      Are you their immediate supervisor/boss?? What you describe doesn’t sound like a “you” problem in terms of coping mechanisms, but it might be a “you” problem in terms of needed to be more explicit with your management and instructions. Tell team member A that it IS her job to tell people no when appropriate, or to NOT say yes and direct them to you for final decision-making. Tell team member B that it is inappropriate and unproductive to withhold relevant information. Call them out on their glee and make them responsible for cleaning up the mess they made by withholding. There’s so much good advice on this site about how to be really clear with your expectations and how to circle back when they run afoul of those expectations.

    2. kt*

      Agree with Manchmal — this is not a “you” problem if these employees are hoarding information and making commitments without authority. You can and should manage those behaviors! Name the behaviors and make explicit that they’d not in the best interests of the institution and cannot continue. You don’t need to manage these peoples’ emotions or psychology, per se — you manage their actions.

    3. Observer*

      Well, actually, if you are their supervisor, it IS a them problem to some extent.

      The information hoarder is in some ways easier. No one can make the excuse that she’s “just trying to help”. Shut her glee down, for starters. But then, start holding her accountable for failing to share information. If you have any reason to believe that she has relevant information, do ask her even in a general way. If she does not share and then if comes out that she knew (or should have known), you need to start penalizing that kind of behavior. I don’t mean in a childish “go sit in the corner” way. Preferably you would do something that has a direct bearing on the behavior, but if that’s not possible you can still push back on it. The main thing you are going to need is the backing of your superiors.

      The people pleaser is a bit harder. But you can definitely start by pointing out the problem, explicitly instructing her on what she cannot say “yes” to, and then if she continues to agree to things she shouldn’t agree to, it should be treated as any other performance issue.

      None of this has anything to do with their character or whether you like them.

  26. animaniactoo*

    OP, I think you have taken to heart the concept that the only thing you can control is what you do, not what somebody else does.

    BUT. Within that control is requesting accommodation. In this case, of the fact that the two of you are different and need different levels of personal communication/interest. Just say that. You understand that for her, it’s showing interest and you know that objectively there is nothing wrong with that and many people welcome it. But for you, it feels like somebody constantly watching over your shoulder and it makes you kinda nutty. So, would she please mind not commenting on your facial expressions in general, and understand that a lot of times stopping to chat or update breaks your concentration and you need to stay focused in order to be effective.

    If she doesn’t respond (well) to that, that’s out of your control. But unless you have some prior reason to think that she won’t respond well to that, you need to allow for the possibility that she will and give her the opportunity to do it.

    1. anonaccountant*

      Yes! This isn’t good/bad, this is just different styles. I’ve had coworker interactions that aren’t ideal for me (too aggressive, or too loud, too long, etc), and I just phrase it as “I know you prefer X style, but it makes me feel Y when we do that. Can we try Z?”

  27. Me*

    You’re not a jerk. I too have occasion to work with someone relentlessly cheerful and he makes my skin crawl but people seem to love him.

    The good news is I get to despise them, I just have to act polite in their presence. Fro me recognizing it’s okay not to like people and giving myself permission to do so makes it a heck of a lot easier to tolerate them.

    It’s also okay to ask for less engagement, politely of course- Hey BEC, when you comment on my face and try to interpret my thoughts while I’m working it’s distracting. Can you please not comment so I can remain focused? Thanks so much.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Ooh that’s a good point, I wonder if OP’s feeling so badly about not loving coworker (calling herself a Jerk several times, etc) because she hasn’t given herself permission to just quietly not gel with this coworker – which is actually bouncing back on her and making her dislike the coworker *more.* Like a transference, or something. It’s worth a try, anyway!

  28. ...*

    She gave you a gift and IM’ed you with emojis? Someone stop this madwoman….. Kidding aside have you told her directly that you prefer not to be checked in or IM’ed unless its important/urgent? There are always gonna be those annoying people out there, they are a fact of life I’m afraid.

  29. Elbe*

    The coworker sounds genuinely annoying. The constant demands on the LW’s attention would make anyone feel smothered. I completely understand why the LW feels like she needs space right now.

    The LW can say “this is just how my face looks” over and over. Getting a repetitive response can make people realize that they’re asking a question repeatedly, even if they don’t mean to.

    About the requests for updates, the LW can as “are you working on something that depends on [project]? or are you just curious?” Making Jane acknowledge that her inquiries don’t serve a real function other than to please her can set a good baseline for refusing to give the updates. “I’m very busy and this is taking away my focus” sounds harsh for a work-related request, but is entirely reasonable for office chit chat.

  30. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Jane sounds like an absolute nightmare. Also, in a corporate, dog-eat-dog, at-will-employment environment, someone who spends all day every day actively looking to see if I’m having “tough issues” with my work, and requesting status updates on the things I’m working on that she does not need, or is in a position to get, status updates for, would make me very anxious and worried – is she gathering material to prove that I’m unqualified for my job? is she trying to undermine me? In this case, OP took over a fair amount of work that used to be Jane’s – is Jane trying to get it back? Then on the other hand, Jane did send OP an (unprompted) shower gift, so hopefully this is a sign that she means well? Who knows!

    OP, I don’t have any advice, or any feedback other than “I’d have a hard time getting out of bed every morning if I knew I had to go to work and sit next to this person”. But I like Alison’s scripts and hope that they will work! Can you send in an update on this, please? And good luck!

  31. juliebulie*

    I worked with someone like that. I felt like a jerk for not liking him. He was like a puppy, and I love puppies! But I don’t like people who remind me of puppies.

    It took me a long time to warm up to him, but it was worth it.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I love puppies. I had a puppy. I wouldn’t want to work with one! Living with one for the 2-3 months he was a puppy was exhausting enough.

  32. Observer*

    OP, I get that your coworker is annoying. But both your attitude and response need a reset.

    Calling her a “try hard” is really denigrating. You don’t want to be friends with her? That’s fine. You’re not really interested in more than a collegial relationship with your coworkers? That’s very, very normal. But don’t put down others who have a different desire. Even if she is too much of a people pleaser, you’re description is out of line.

    In terms of her behavior, some of this is just none of your business. Put it out our your mind – you’ll be a lot happier.

    And it will put you in the position to address the behaviors that DO affect you. Because, some of the things she does are genuinely problematic. Push back on giving her information on projects that are not hers – both the bigger picture picture conversation that Alison suggests and in the moment, eg “Why do you ask?” followed by “I’m managing the project just fine. No need for you to worry about this.” if she says that she’s “just worried”.

    Same for comments on your facial expressions. You also don’t have to respond as soon as she speaks. You could lift up a hand in a “wait a moment” type gesture, and then turn to her when you are done what you were doing and say something like “I was busy trying to get work done, and I needed to not break concentration.”

    Also, while Alison is probably right about not having a big picture conversation about the interruptions, there are situations where you can push back. Like if you are working with someone on how to accomplish a certain thing and she jumps in, in a way that is disruptive or unhelpful, you can ask her to back off. For instance, she’s jumping without the background she needs to make reasonable contributions, saying something like “I know you are trying to be helpful, but you don’t have all of the information you need and we don’t have the time to bring you up to speed” is a reasonable response as long as you say it pleasantly – and I do mean pleasantly not through gritted teeth.

    If all of this doesn’t work, you’re going to need to figure something out. But becoming a stone and being cold to everyone around you is NOT a viable or reasonable response to the behavior of one person.

  33. Lucette Kensack*

    Two additional thoughts, both of which are based on a very similar personal experience:

    1) It’s worth considering whether your assessment of her annoying traits is accurate, or whether you are exaggerating them (to yourself) because she just bugs you. The kinds of things you’re describing are things that could be way out of line (she chimes in literally every time your facial expression changes) or normal and kind (she notices an aghast expression on your face and checks in to make sure that you’re all right). I have no idea where she falls on that spectrum, but because you already know that she gets under your skin it would serve you well to do some close evaluation of whether a conversation is warranted or whether the work you need to do is internal.

    2) With regards to her micro-management of your work (that used to be her work). She DOES need to stay in her lane, and directly asking her to do so may be the right strategy to make that happen. But I’d also consider thinking about how you can ensure that she trusts you with “her” work: how can you demonstrate that you’re a good shepherd of the responsibilities she used to have? When I went through a similar situation, the resolution came not from laying down the law on what was her and what was mine (we did that, with our bosses involved, and it didn’t help much), but from earning my colleague’s trust. Some of that trust came with time, but a lot of it came from really direct conversations about what was worrying her. (In our case, it was relationships she had built over a decade that she suddenly had to hand off to me; it was pretty reasonable that she wasn’t comfortable with a stranger suddenly taking responsibility for those people!)

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Well said, I think the examples in the letter are ambiguous and I’m really enjoying the diversity of responses in the comments – some people are like, “this person sounds objectively horrific” and others are like, “meh, try to adjust your own attitude, this is not a big deal.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am kind of chuckling because agreeing with OP by saying this person is horrible, is not instructive. It doesn’t give OP an idea what to do. Worse, it could throw gas on the fire.
        Going the other way, if OP tries to adjust any more she will end up with stomach ulcer because so far her adjustment has been to shut down parts of herself and turn everything inward.

        The fact remains that OP has to eat and have a roof over her head. To that end, she will need a path through this. One concern I have is how long as this gone on? Early on in my working years , I sensed that there was a point of no-return on some workplace issues, especially if they go on too long. Some issues get so big that all is lost. Seeing that scared me enough that I decided I had to learn to talk about things *in an effective manner*, because jobs are not socks. We can’t change our jobs every day with our socks.

  34. Quill*

    Honestly I think what you need on an emotional level (one of the things) is that you’re not working with a “try hard” you’re working with a “person who does not have enough boundaries for you” and honestly probably the rest of the office as well, given that she’s interrupting conversations with them, hyperaware of your facial expressions, and spends far too much time on getting updates that prevent you from working on the thing that you’re updating.

    1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      Ah, yes, totally second this! OP some of your colleague’s behaviors are similar to my former manager’s and I quickly realized the reason why her attempts at being “friendly”, “making “small talk” and “getting to know me” were so irritating were because 1. they weren’t genuine and 2. she was actually being pretty invasive.

      She sat next to me too (when were in the office) and monitored my work over my shoulder all day, if I laughed or made any sort of reaction or expression (sighing, frowning, anything really!), she HAD to know what it was about. And if she didn’t ask she was peering over my shoulder to figure it out. I felt like I was constantly being surveilled. She was also a micromanager, which I think in her case was definitely intertwined with the lack of boundaries.

      If she saw me talking to other colleagues, she’d more often than not, force her way into the convo. I noticed she always liked to interject whenever I had solo convos with my boss (work related or not). General office cooler chat about weekends or time off, always went a step too far in terms of questioning. I just dealt with it by being vague, and doing a lot of mhms or uh-huhs until she backed off. She still made attempts to be all up in my business personally, but fewer over time because I was always vague. The micromanagement did become unbearable though and I ended up quitting my job, partially because of it.

      I’d like to think that employing some of Alison’s advice might’ve made things more bearable for me, but as Quill indicated, sometimes a lack of boundaries (personally and professionally) can be cultural, which was the case for my office, and explained why no one else took issue with my manager’s behavior.

      Assess and make the decision that works best for you! Maybe talking to this person will help, or maybe this job is a bad cultural fit overall.

  35. Cedrus Libani*

    I agree that the facial expression monitoring is obnoxious and would also drive me up the wall. Does it help to at least be out of her line of sight? That’s a much easier thing to arrange than getting her transferred to Antarctica or something. (Any chance she only does this to women, such that your male colleagues won’t mind swapping desks with you?)

    I once had to arrange a desk swap for an even less work-related reason. The fellow in my direct line of sight was easily the most attractive man I’ve ever seen in person, and I was an early-twenties ball of hormones. After losing several hours of work because he bent over to retrieve something and my brain short-circuited (I forgot where I was in a long, complicated procedure), I called in a favor and switched workbenches with someone…a straight male, immune to this fellow’s distraction field. Mortifying, but it did solve the problem.

  36. Deanna Troi*

    I really like Alison’s advice. I would probably address the commenting on your facial expressions and the interrupting your talking with co-workers at the same time. I would say something like this with a smile and friendly tone:

    “I know that we’re working in close quarters and our cubicles have low walls, but it makes me feel self-conscious to have someone paying so much attention to the work that I’m doing. It breaks my focus when you ask about my facial expressions and distracts from my work-related conversations with other co-workers to have someone join in if they’re not involved in the project. I’ll let you know when I need your feedback, but if we could both give each other privacy to do our jobs, that would be great.”

  37. Esme*

    You’re not a jerk, but you’re also not taking responsibility for the situation – you do need to actually ask her to stop doing things like asking for updates on projects or jumping into conversations.

    In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have any annoying coworkers, and wouldn’t have to talk to them rather than sit there seething. But we’re in the world we’re in, we can’t change other people by osmosis, and sometimes you need both to use your words and – sorry if this part sounds frustrating – choose a different reaction.

    However annoying you find her, there’s a real risk of damaging your own reputation here. And more to the point, you are letting her rent way way too much space in your head.

  38. Scarlet*

    OP – have you ever flat out ignored her like when she is responding to facial expressions? I know that sounds incredibly rude – but I bet it would make her stop. One time I had a coworker who tried to butt in one too many times on a conversation and I just ignored her and kept talking over her, as if she wasn’t there. I know it sounds horrible, but honestly, it works. People get it – they back off.

    Now the downside to this is that this person will never be your friend. It’s insulting to be ignored and people don’t forget it. But hey, if you’re at the end of your rope and you just NEED it to stop and don’t care about the interpersonal relationship, it works.

    1. Scarlet*

      I also wanted to add another note, an avenue of advice that’s not so harsh as the last bit I just wrote.

      I myself have been guilty of “bothering” a coworker too much with IM’s and random conversations and such. Of course I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing – but I was able to put two and two together when they suddenly just stopped talking to me.

      I wonder if a good idea would be to get to know your coworker? I know my “bothering” my coworker was because I really liked and respected them professionally and wanted to get to know them better; I felt like they had so much knowledge and overall were just a really interesting person- I was just too immature at the time to realize how it was coming across. Perhaps OP’s coworker just likes and respects her and wants to get to know her better, but doesn’t have the maturity or social understanding to realize how she is being perceived? Generally the kind avenue is always the best one.

      I also read recently that the best way to garner respect is to always “assume positive intent”, so perhaps a shift in perspective is in order as well.

      Overall OP we feel you here in the comments, I really hope all goes well for you. Please keep AAM posted :)

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Honestly I think OP should bring it up at least once as Alison suggests before skipping to ignoring the coworker. Ignoring is a strategy once you’ve raised the issue and the other person can’t/won’t comply with the request, but right now I think the coworker is trying to figure out how to be friends with OP and failing. OP owes it to at least point her in the right direction.

  39. smirkpretty*

    Oh, LW, I so feel for you. I’ve been working with a 13-year-old office mate for the past 5 months. My son does his thing in the living room while I’m quarantine-working. Every time I sigh or groan or mutter or make a face, he asks, “What? What happened?” He’s curious about my work in a way he hasn’t ever been before. It’s distracting and puts me on edge every time.

    I didn’t realize how fortunate I was back in our pre-COVID office days to to work among colleagues who let each other express or grimace without pouncing.

    This is a kid who is not remotely invested in getting me to like him. He just curious. I can only imagine that additional layer of feeling someone’s desire for recognition or approval. I don’t have any advice to add to this great discussion, just empathy.

  40. SusanB*

    I disagree with everyone who is like “OP is not a jerk!” no, I’m sorry this is pretty jerky. You’re not supposed to be rooting for Matthew Broderick in Election. He’s not the good guy.

    Someone once told me: You are allowed to not like people. You are not allowed to treat them badly because you don’t like them.

    People are annoying. Part of being a grown up is existing in the world with them. You don’t have to be friends with her, but you have to treat her like she’s human. I guarantee that the attitude is making the OP look worse than the “annoying” co-worker. It’s unprofessional. It’s childish. Have a normal adult conversation with her about specific behaviors and move on.

    I can’t imagine what the comments would be like if the other person wrote the letter. “I work with a woman who treats me like shit. I even gave her a baby shower gift but she grimaces and acts cold whenever I say anything. There are many instances when she seems bothered by something and if I ask her what’s wrong she huffs and rolls her eyes and acts coldly toward me. It is making me dread going into work to be confronted daily with someone who has such animosity to me and I don’t know why.”

    It is NOT OK to act like this at work. All of these people who are like “You’re not the jerk!” are confusing the hell out of me. You may not be a jerk but this is supremely jerky behavior.

    1. Lucette Kensack*

      I agree! I’d also like to amend this sentence of yours: “You don’t have to be friends with her, but you have to treat her like she’s human.” to include “… you have to treat her like her way of being in the world is as valid as yours.”

      1. Taylor*

        The problem with “you have to treat her like her way of being in the world is as valid as yours” is that it arguably isn’t. There are several problematic behaviors here, like babysitting projects she’s not a part of anymore and interrupting OP’s conversations to “try and make people laugh” that are legitimate workplace gripes on OP’s part.

        Arguably, OP is already treating her like her way of being in the world is valid, by calling herself a jerk and refusing to say anything. The reasoning is flawed but OP has a mentality of “I have to just suck it up because this can’t be changed” when it definitely can.

    2. Important Moi*

      OP is aware of all this, hence they wrote the letter. With regards to the content of the letter and taking the OP at face value which we are asked to here (it doesn’t matter if co-worker says these things “nicely”):

      -Every facial reaction to an email or project getting an unsolicited “what’s wrong?” or “tough issue?” is not acceptable.
      -Constantly asking for updates and explanations on projects that have nothing to do with her any longer is not acceptable.
      – Irritation at the shower gift is BEC territory.

      Finally, I will concede that this letter resonated with me. Further, I’ve never been wrong about someone who was overly solicitous towards me. The interest was never sincere.

    3. lazy intellectual*

      I think people are validating that the OP is not a jerk for disliking the coworker, and that her reasons for doing so are legitimate. But yes, OP does need to communicate boundaries and implement a smooth working relationship ASAP. I mean, the coworker sucks, too. She is disruptive and intrusive, but the OP needs to do their part.

    4. Taylor*

      OP said that she just becomes silent and makes her facial expressions neutral. She hasn’t said that she grimaces, seems bothered, huffs, or rolls her eyes.

      I personally work with someone who seems very cold, but I also have worked with people who were serial babysitters of projects they weren’t on anymore and always inserted themselves into conversations…I would personally take the popsicle any day of the week.

    5. Name Required*

      When I read this letter, I felt like Jane could probably veer towards annoying sometimes but that OP is acting like a major jerk. OP doesn’t have a single nice word to say about this person in their letter — “try hard”, “worrier”, “overthinker”, “energy vampire” … Does Jane use these words to describe herself, or is OP insulting Jane in her head every time she interacts with her, reinforcing her own negative stereotype of her coworker? Why are you so upset that a coworker got you a one-time present in recognition of a huge life change, which is the common social norm regarding that life change? It’s all so bizarrely adversarial that I don’t feel like I can believe OP’s perception of Jane or her actions. Is she really micromanaging OP’s project, or is she just occasionally saying, “How’s the Teapot Design Project going? I really loved working with Client A.”

      OP, when there are people who have just gotten on my nerves beyond all get out, my favorite trick is to help reprogram my default jump towards negativity by balancing it out with something positive in my own head — i.e. Jane isn’t a try-hard, she is invested in her work relationships. Alison’s advise is spot on and might change some of Jane’s behaviors, but my fear for you is that you are so wrapped up in this existing negative feedback loop, that you won’t be able to readjust your reactions even if she adjusts her behavior. You’ll need to use your words with Jane but also you’ll need to address your default towards insulting and degrading Jane in your own head. You may think that is private, but when it effects your behavior, it is not.

    6. Wandering Xerox*

      I’m suprised I had to scroll this far to read this, but I don’t think that OP is a jerk or is necessarily behaving badly. I think OP annoyance is valid and Jane seems like she is definitely intrusive and bit overzealous, but I’ve seen this dynamic play out in the workplace several times. One person becomes fed up with someone else to the point that they become openly hostile or unpleasant towards them, which often fans out to the larger group and can lead to the “Jane” being ostracized. OP should definitely have a talk with her, but only if she can do that in a way that’s respectful and preserves the working relationship. I think Allison’s advice is spot on and agree that the present situation is unhealthy for both you and Jane.

      I also wonder how much gender has to do with this, too. In my experience, my coworkers have had much higher tolerance from intrusive and downright obnoxious behavior from men; what earns a woman an eyeroll, doesn’t garner so much as a second look from a man. (This is not invalidate the very real complaints OP expressed, just food for thought).

  41. Sara without an H*

    Too often, our first response to other people’s puzzling/mystifying/infuriating/obnoxious behavior is to start looking through the dark corners of the subconscious for WHY they do that and WHY we find it so hard to take.

    It’s really much simpler to focus on behavior. “Hey, when you do A, it creates some problems for me. Going forward, could you do B, instead? Thanks!”

    1. lazy intellectual*

      I agree, people don’t need to examine their reasons for liking/not liking xyz. The OP just needs to figure out how to work with this person.

    2. nonegiven*

      “Hey, when you comment about my face, it’s distracting and creepifying. Going forward, could you keep it to yourself, instead?”

      1. Sara without an H*

        That, or some variation, would work. The thing is to name the behavior, why it poses problems, and ask for a specific change.

  42. garretwriter*

    I look forward to the day when letter writers stop referring to a person’s age as if it somehow contributes to the problem. I wonder if that day will ever come.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      But it often contributes to people’s behavior! In this case, I think that OP is reluctant to speak up effectively because she’s on the younger side and hasn’t learned how to handle this kind of co-worker yet. (That’s probably not the message she intended with that statement, but it is information she gave us.)

    2. Alex in Marketing*

      I disagree with this. Different generations have different quirks. Certainly, there is a lot of crossover. But if you are in your 20s and working alongside someone who is in their 60s, there is a huge difference in how the two will behave even in the same position.

      Even, for example, those who were trained on typewriters prior to computers. Double spacing between sentences is way more likely to be done by someone who was trained on a typewriter. And this is DEFINITELY and age-related nuance. (And, yes, this was a point of contention at my last job between myself and another co-worker).

      1. Wake Me When Its Over*

        I’m in my sixties and worked with much younger people, no problem at all. Inflexibility can be a trait in a youngeror older person. Too much ageism on this board. Age does not necessarily equal experience or inexperience.

        1. Taylor*

          It equals life experience, which can be a big factor in the workplace even if someone’s never worked before and are older.

    3. lazy intellectual*

      It seems like the OP mentioned it because they anticipated people would ask them about it. It doesn’t seem to be a contributing factor here, unless you factor in the general trend of older people not respecting the boundaries of younger people. (Not EVERY older person, but it’s a trend.)

    4. Taylor*

      I have written in to Alison before and had my question answered. People in the comments were pretty harsh with their criticism and were offering much different suggestions before I explained my age and how much experience I had. I got a lot of “Oh, never mind, that changes what I was saying” afterward.

      Age does matter. It can contribute to power differentials and how much life and work experience someone has, and sometimes what can be expected of them.

      1. Purple Jello*

        Exactly. And sometimes someone in a markedly different age group may refrain from saying something because they think their opinion or position will be discounted. I’ve seen it work both ways: older to younger and younger to older.

  43. Flashback*

    I managed a person like this and to do this day the phrase ‘I feel like..’ at the beginning of a conversation puts me on edge. Her feelings were tied to every aspect of her job. If you didn’t help her she was working harder than anyone and you were not supportive. If you stepped in and helped you didn’t trust her to do her job. She didn’t understand that certain pieces of the work was handled by other departments. Because she knew how to do them she thought she should just do them. Round and Round we went until I finally put so many restrictions on her that she left. I can’t tell if you are her boss or just senior to her in title but I would address it early and hold the line. This is one person who will take a mile if you give her an inch.

  44. Mel_05*

    Oh sympathies! I have had this coworker and even though she was a VERY nice lady, she just drove me up a wall because of her need to comment on all the things.

    Once we stopped working in the same office I started to like her a lot. It was just that running commentary that was making me insane.

  45. Jennifer Thneed*

    LW, this is somewhat moot right now because you don’t have to see her actual face, but this suggestion is for the “After Time”, when you end up back in the office.

    First, you might not have the same desk setup, because everyone’s desks might be moved apart for safety. But if you are still in her line of sight and she reacts to your email reactions, maybe just don’t reply right away? Like if she asks you “Why the sad face?” take a moment. Because remember, you are concentrating VERY hard and you have to sort of pull your attention away. So sort of take a second and blink a couple of times and say, “Sad face? Oh! It’s just something in the email”, and then look right back at your screen again.

    If she follows up with asking you for specifics, then you can handle that with Alison’s suggestions for shutting it down. But *not answering someone* is an important skill. Just because she says something doesn’t mean you must engage with her. “Tough issue?” doesn’t require you to say anything aside from “Yeah”. “What’s wrong?” gets “Oh, you know” or “Tricky project” or “Hang on, I need to reply to this” or something. I can’t tell how young you are, but it’s really important to learn that just because someone asks a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer their question. This is true in your personal life too.

      1. Birdlady*

        I hate it when people try to guess my feelings or thoughts on something. I would be very tempted to answer “Tough issue?” with “No? Why do you ask that?!” or “Why the sad face?” with “It’s not sad… You’re reading it all wrong!”

  46. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I had a coworker once upon a time, who was otherwise a lovely person, competent in the work, and fun to be around, who used “What’s wrong?!” as a greeting. It drove me BANANAS. First thing in the morning, “what’s wrong?” Join a group at the water cooler, “What’s wrong?!” Back from lunch, “What’s wrong?!” “Nothing is wrong, Becky, we are just talking! a gathering of two or more people doesn’t indicate an emergency!”

    1. Jean*

      I had a manager at an old job who, every time he saw me, would ask me with a horrified look what was wrong. It made me extremely uncomfortable (OBVIOUSLY!) because no one else ever reacted to me like that. I finally had to ask him to stop making those comments to me because they were inappropriate and unwelcome. (I was halfway out the door of that horrible job by that time anyway, so not as afraid of rocking the boat by interacting with my direct manager in this way.) He got the message and backed off of me, but last I heard, he ended up getting demoted out of management because of numerous issues of boundary-trampling and other inappropriateness. I think some people just get a kind of sick thrill out of doing inappropriate things to others that they have power over, knowing that it’s making them uncomfortable but they can’t really do anything to stop it.

  47. Alex in Marketing*

    I have totally experienced this with someone who had many of the same tendencies. It absolutely burnt me out because I was always on edge waiting for her to do the next annoying thing, which I knew was coming in the next 30 seconds.

    I talked about these frustrations with my boss who had HR let me move down a couple of cubes and they put a privacy screen up. Yes, I could still hear her signing, interrupting other people, making comments to me, but I was able to have some distance and occasionally blame the privacy screen on not being able to hear her. It 100% did reduce comments from annoying co-worker from making remarks about what I was wearing, what I was talking about, and what facial expressions I made.

    Before anyone asks—my boss specifically asked how sitting next to annoying co-worker was going. I was honest and said she was extremely disruptive and it was difficult to be her neighbor.

  48. char*

    One thing I do when I’m irrationally annoyed by someone* is to remind myself of their good qualities. And I don’t mean “qualities that I think other people might like about the person but that annoy me”. I mean qualities that I genuinely appreciate. Sometimes it takes some thought to even figure out anything you like about them, but I find that almost everyone has SOME qualities that I like.

    Then, when Fergus is doing some innocuous thing that annoys me, I can remind myself, “well, Fergus always thinks up great puns and has really interesting stories about the places he’s traveled” – and reminding myself of his good qualities helps me feel less negative about him in the moment.

    *I’m not saying it’s irrational to be annoyed by some of the things this coworker is doing. But it sounds like OP is at the point of being annoyed by almost everything she does. Being able to shrug off the small things like smiley-face overuse leaves you with more energy to address the actual problems.

  49. Choggy*

    My (former) manager was like that, and unfortunately, she still is reaching out to me directly for updates on things that should no longer concern her. I’m now not jumping when she calls, and excusing myself from her famous last minute meetings (just to make sure we’re all on the same page!). I hope to keep distancing myself until she *gets* it. I don’t see why OP could not speak up about moving elsewhere or at least getting higher cubicle walls. Also, when she jumps into a conversation, you could ask her not to do so, or have more conversations away from her earshot. Sounds like you need to take some more breaks from her too. This would drive me up a wall and through the ceiling.

  50. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I had someone similar to this. It was because of her DEEP insecurity issues. She wanted to move up, but didn’t have the education, experience, or skills to do so. She was desperately wanted to be kept in the loop to appear knowledgeable and suspected anything odd/quiet/”Why didn’t she say good morning” as a sign of something bad about her, towards her or that she was missing out. She was always the victim.

    Thank GAWD we had a cubicle wall or she would have been watching my face, I’m sure of it. If I was too quiet, I would get asked “How you doing?” If I laughed at an email, she’d want to know why.

    It was constant, it was exhausting and it drove me insane. And if I had told her to tone it down, it would gone over very poorly because she would have taken it very personally and then blabbed it around her group of friends because she was also a huge gossip.

    I had to constantly remind myself it was not me, not my fault and because she probably needed therapy, not her fault either and to be thankful I didn’t have her life. Changing departments fixed things immediately!

    Good luck with Alison’s suggested wordings and let us know how it went.

    You’re not a jerk: you’re only human.

    1. Taylor*

      I think she probably resents the fact that her coworker is being 100% herself, and OP feels like she has to be so constrained.

      1. jenkins*

        Don’t we all have to be somewhat constrained at work though? I mean, if I was being 100% myself I’d have constructed some kind of blanket fort to work in and would require all contact to happen via email or IM, because I have huge social anxiety and I’d be much more comfortable not talking to anyone ever. I know that’s not something I can do, though! And LW’s coworker can’t reasonably insert herself into every conversation, every project and every thought that crosses LW’s mind, even if that’s what she would like to do.

    2. lazy intellectual*

      Uhh how? Like, I get jealousy can cause resentment, but the OP doesn’t seem to covet anything of her coworker.

      1. lazy intellectual*

        Should add that women can dislike other women due to something other than jealousy. Can’t help but wonder if that is a trope you’re buying into.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t see that at all. OP’s irritation seems to boil down to “stop interrupting me!”

  51. C in the Hood*

    It’s not you; she’s encroaching on your emotional space. Kind of like when someone physically gets too close to you. Your annoying person is just like mine: has to say something about every going on around her, intrude on conversations, etc. Lockdown has been a blessing for me!

  52. YoungTen*

    So Sorry about this. Its so hard when the co-worker is not an evil person but just annoying. If she where trying to get your fired, gossiping or belittling you, it would be so easy and it would all be on her. But As Allison said, we people simply annoy us, it more complicated because we may have to do some digging. Its not so cut & dry. If it wounds like I’m speaking form experience, I am! I have a coworker “Jen” who isn’t a bad persona at all. In fact, she really wants to do a good job but lacks confidence (My Bosses belittling interactions w/her don’t help ether). I still find her annoying but try to put myself in her place. Sometimes when we try to understand where behaviors stem from, we can give people some slack. Deffently address the things she does that affect your work. Some of her other traits, you may just have to deal with. I know its not fun to think about but we all have things about us that annoy others at some point. Your other co-workers may find your new behavior towards them annoying or off-putting too. Best of Luck to you

  53. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I remember an admin at a client’s office who had her cubicle covered with paper unicorns, rainbows, pink stuff and glitter – it was like a stereotypical primary-schooler’s desk on steroids. I wondered if she didn’t have some 90’s MLP merch or cabbage patch dolls hidden somewhere. The worse it was she spent all day trying to engage in conversation with someone, anyone.
    I really don’t miss working there.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      If that admin had liked cats, she would have become my new bestie forever. I love colorful things and glitter!

  54. Team Player*

    I have been working for two years with a colleague who is a lot like what OP describes, with the additional irritation that she appears to be weirdly competitive . . . without realizing it? She has said that she is neurodivergent, though I don’t know specifics. She definitely has trouble reading social cues.

    She mentioned at the office holiday party once how nice it is that we don’t have one of those “competitive relationships that women at work always get into,” which I thought was a bizarre thing to assume was standard: I almost never have competitive relationships at work, with women or men. But it started to make me think of her social missteps in a different way.

    I began to see that some of the annoyances I had been assuming were social gaffes (e.g., constant name dropping; jumping into everybody else’s conversations; running excitedly to tell me bad news about my new teapot design; hoarding information) WERE in fact competitive. She either doesn’t know how they read or doesn’t have the social skills to disguise them . . . which then, ironically, becomes the perfect disguise!

    She is a kind, hardworking, 100% honest person, much liked, and at least 10 yrs older than me, and there is no way for me to directly ask her to chill out on some of these behaviors without looking to her and everyone in my department like I am hostile and oversensitive or maybe jealous. I would be the office jerk. It just Is Not Done.

    I actually don’t dislike her as a person, and I try very hard to accept her for what she is and not let it affect how I work, but it gets really hard to be as collaborative as I am used to being. I have to work harder to protect myself and look out for my own interests. For example, it is harder to include her in meetings and email conversations and praise her work to other colleagues when I know it would not occur to her to do the same for me. And then I feel like she has forced me to compete with her.

    In the past, I’ve been very good at defusing unhealthy competition by showing people I’m on their team too, that what works for one looks good for us all. But competition that doesn’t know it is competition has stymied me.

      1. Team Player*

        Depends on the information, I would say. Not telling me something I NEED to know would be dishonest, and she’s not guilty of that.

        But there’s frequently by-the-way information that is nice (not essential) for colleagues to know, and somehow it often doesn’t occur to her to pass it along when it’s related to a project of hers that’s similar to one of mine. And I am annoyed at having to wonder about whether it’s deliberate, subconscious, or my being hyperaware and possibly paranoid.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I wonder if we worked with the same person! It is really confusing and worrisome when this kind of behaviour comes from someone whose social skills likely play a counfounding role. It’s a lot easier to deal with someone who is likely being intentionally competitive, versus someone who likely doesn’t understand how their behaviour comes across. What makes this a lot trickier is that just because someone’s neurodivergent doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re completely incapable of deploying malicious behaviour intentionally. In the case of my former colleague, I think everyone recognized that this is someone who’s probably not totally aware of how and why their behaviour can be problematic, but that recognition stopped everyone from directly addressing it.

      The part about collaboration and praise sounds almost exactly like what I dealt with with a former colleague. Keeping people in the loop, making space for others in discussions and working collaboratively didn’t come naturally to her in the same was as it probably did for others on the team, which was challenging to deal with, even after doing a lot of work on co-constructing team norms that would be mutually acceptable to everyone. Part of the challenge is that someone may agree on the underlying principle, but for whatever reason the way they put it into action will look a lot different.

      I hear you, it’s exhausting to deal with, not just on our end but also for the neurodivergent party who’s likely misreading why people are treating them as though they’re Tracy Flick. It just makes me thankful that there’s a far better public dialogue re: women and neurodivergence nowadays.

      1. Team Player*

        Thank you, it’s nice to hear I’m not alone. Exhausting is exactly right.

        She made a similar comment about the need for more investigation of neurodivergence in women. I tell myself there is a good chance that both the try-hard over-pleasing and weird competition have roots in her being ostracized, overlooked, and mocked (or worse) while growing up in the rural Bible Belt during an era with no patience for neurodiversity. Both could be coping strategies that helped her survive but that have now lived past their usefulness. Though maybe they still work fine for her, who am I to say?

        A person can indeed be neurodivergent and a jerk, and people who try to use neurodiversity to get a pass for their jerkiness do so much harm to the community. I’m pretty certain this colleague is not fundamentally a jerk, though, and I do suspect she gets exhausted trying to navigate people’s reactions that she doesn’t understand.

        I’ve definitely worked with way worse people than her, so I do my best to appreciate the good while to protecting myself from the jerk-y behaviors. I always smile and agree when someone from a different department says, “Oh, she is so sweet, everybody loves her!” And if some days that smile is more forced than other days, I cut myself the same slack I’d cut her.

  55. Caliente*

    I don’t know – the woman does sound (super duper garden variety) annoying but something about all the LW’s details in the letter make me think LW has some other issues than simply this person being annoying.
    Its interesting that LW has just, like, “laid down” and is just completely discombobulated in the face of it. When problem arise, can’t you just come up with ideas – the A1 (annoying one) is always looking at me (let me get a plant/poster/picture/angle my desk or computer)
    The A1 is constantly randomly attacking me with questions about blah blah (ok , let me offer her a half hour weekly checkin so i can deal with it then/start an email checkin, send me your questions and I’ll email), etc, etc, etc. but most of all SAY SOMETHING!

  56. flatbush*

    Wow, this so much resembles my situation about 3 years ago. With my Annoying Person, there was an added element that I thought she was kind of dangerous–she spread gossip and lied–but I was hardly about to mount some kind of case against her. I tried to minimize my interactions by being direct:

    “Sorry I’m not chatty right now. I’m often really tired when I come out of [certain type of meeting].”
    “I hope this doesn’t seem odd, but I just don’t like to talk about my personal life at work. But I’m happy to talk about [some project]!”

    Turns out she was telling everyone I was a jerk, including my boss (whom she despised and complained about constantly). She even twisted my “sorry I’m a private person” lines to make them sound vicious. I hadn’t worked there long, and she was popular–plus I’d been avoiding personal conversations with everyone so it wouldn’t seem like I had an issue with her personally–so the reputation stuck. My boss wrote me up as needing to get along better and moved me to a less comfortable workstation.

    Over the course of a few years it seemed Boss came to find Annoying Person difficult, despite her sycophancy. I slowly built positive relationships with colleagues. I’m not sure if Boss ever reconsidered the conflict I’d had, but we get along OK. Annoying Person finally quit a few months ago. The whole thing was hard for me since, like OP, I felt guilty about not liking this person who was trying hard to be my friend.

    As for advice, I’d say double down on your relationship with your boss and other colleagues. Just accept that this person is going to perceive you as a jerk, but make sure no one else does. Other than that, I don’t know, this is a hard situation. Alison is advising direct communication, and usually I love that, but a certain type of Annoying Person is totally immune to that or even offended by it.

    1. Taylor*

      I agree and empathize with you, but I’ll also say that even if she is totally immune or offended by direct communication, literally the first question anyone else will ask is, “Did you every talk to her about it?” And it will look way worse for OP if she says “No, I just doubled down on the silent treatment” than if she can say “Actually I did, and her response was X Y Z.”

    2. Observer*

      Also, the issue of freezing everyone out to not look like you were favoring people is a really good point.

      OP – take note. For your own protection, stop freezing everyone out.

  57. Heffalump*

    The advice columnist Carolyn Hax once wrote that if someone rubs you the wrong way all the time, it may be that you just don’t like them.

  58. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I had been moved to sit right next to her and, thanks to low-profile cubes, was in her line of sight all day. This meant that I couldn’t have any kind of facial reaction to an email or project without getting an unsolicited “what’s wrong?” or “tough issue?” and the like. So I forced myself to become stony and impassive.

    I’ve only read some of the comments so far, but wanted to respond to this as I experience some of the same.

    I didn’t change my nature to “stony and impassive” though (mostly because I felt I wouldn’t be able to keep that up, more than any ideological reason!) — I addressed it by just acknowledging the question: “oh, nah, sorry, there’s nothing wrong really I just get frustrated with clients and their demands!! Sometimes they send something and I’m literally just drinking my coffee and they’re already asking this thing that was already in the document I sent them and they didn’t even read it but just replied because they assumed it wouldn’t be in there!!!!1!!” and then I’d say to the person that I appreciate they are seeing my frustration and sorry I’ll try and make it a bit more low key in future but they don’t need to worry about it.

  59. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP, your coworker sounds like a buttinsky and a buttkisser.

    Very annoying to almost anyone! If someone was monitoring my facial expressions, I would feel like I had to smile 24/7/365 or risk getting written up for not being a good team player.

  60. DoctorateStrange*

    I’m pretty relieved to see that we all had this coworker at some point.

    Mine would try to be cute and quirky by making noises or funny voices. And, no, it wasn’t actually cute and quirky. She would pretend to snort when laughing. Constantly. She would move about exaggeratedly as if she were at an imrov show and not at work. One time, a coworker’s house flood and the next day, she asked “Hey, how your house, your wouse?”

    Like, she was friendly but then do these sort of things nonstop that it made me dislike her company.

  61. Frenchie*

    Wow. She sounds really annoying and creepy. Set them boundaries and be yourself. Good luck!
    LW 2. Ignore this guy. It doesn’t sound like you are dressing like Carrie Bradshaw. He might just be judgmental if he’s not used to dealing with professional women as equals.

  62. Batgirl*

    OP you are doing waaay too much emotional labour if you’ve “forced myself to become stony and impassive”. Poor you!
    Yes she’s asking for a lot of emotional labour. Yes she’s not reading your corner of the room. You still don’t have to do the emotional labour just cause she asked!
    She says: “Oh no, sad face! Whatever is wrong with your most recent email?”
    You say: “Nothing, I must have wind/someone else won the lottery/Nope!/Honestly I’m usually fine when you say that, I have resting grumpy face, thx. ”
    She says: “Tell me all about your projects this instant!”
    You say: “No thanks, I’m good”.
    She says: “Hey come to my babyshower!”
    You say: “Sorry, can’t make it!”
    She says: “Hey OP’s desk neighbours, let’s have a good old friendly chinwag until her ears bleed!”
    You say: “Guys I’m trying to concentrate/Oh What a good time for earplugs!”
    I know it must seem like she’s slowly creeping up on you with the unstoppable tentacles of unsolicited friendship, but I honestly think you can turn that down easily and guilt-free.
    Keep it short, keep it cheerful, keep it boring and unrewarding and you can circumvent her heat seeking tendencies without setting off anxiety that she’s offended you and must appease you.

  63. Same Boat*

    Ah, I relate to this. I have a coworker who the first time I met him, while I was training him I wrote an email in front of him to a client, explaining to him what we could do to resolve the client’s issue, and he asked me if I “wanted” to reword something in the email – not something wrong, just something he would have worded slightly differently. I just looked at him and said no, I wrote what I meant to say. I took an immediate dislike to him after that. He’s the type to take initiative to do things outside his duties which is helpful plenty of the time, but he also often does things without asking that he doesn’t know the process for or someone else is already on top of and causes more problems than it solves when he does it wrong, and it drives me crazy. The problem is now any time he makes any minor mistake that I wouldn’t bat an eye at if another coworker made it, I get disproportionately angry if he’s the one who made the mistake. He also talks to clients in a very formal tone when the vibe of our office and other admins is warm, friendly, and personable, and I get very annoyed every time I hear it in a way that is really unwarranted. I’ve been working hard to try and stay calm and polite with him instead of snapping, which I’m not proud to say I’ve done a few times which is very out of character for me, especially since he’s really a kind and friendly guy, aside from the that first incident of “correcting” my email.

  64. pcake*

    Anyone who’s literally keeping track of my facial expressions will be told as nicely as possible that she’s being very intrusive by doing that, and I’d like her to stop.

  65. ragazza*

    I had a coworker like this–emotional vampire is exactly the right word. And she rubbed most people the wrong way, not just me–I literally saw people turn and go the other way to avoid her if she was coming down the hall, hanging out in the lunchroom, etc. She had that type of personality that just demanded attention, but in her case it wasn’t insecurity–in fact she was overconfident, to the point that she would tell other people how to do their jobs and would ignore formal processes in favor of her own (flawed IMO) judgment. So talking to her wouldn’t have gone over well. I know–I tried. And yet she still works there. Blows my mind. She’s not even that good at her job.

  66. Treebeardette*

    Op I would say you carry half the burden of this problem. People will be overly friendly and cherry. It’s normal for people to give gifts for a new baby. It’s normal for people to jump into a convo that is in public. Sure, if it’s about a project, then ignore her. But every day talk? You can’t just freeze her out of your and your co-workers life. That is a jerky thing to do.
    Set the boundaries that you need to set like facial expression monitoring. But beyond that, let it go. Besides, I think you are giving off the wrong idea.
    I had a coworker who is opposite of me. I’m stupid happy cherry rainbows and unicorns. She isn’t. She didn’t respond to me well and instead of coming across that I was annoying her with certain problems, I always thought she was a bitter person. Then I saw her act pleasant to everyone else and realized, she didn’t like me. That’s was immature of her and it rubbed others the wrong way. Don’t be like that because it can affect your relationship too.

    1. Argh!*

      I think this is the dynamic that soured my relationship with my former boss. She’s a rather dour person in general, but does relax sometimes. She dresses like a colorblind lumberjack, and I dress like a woman who makes a professional salary. She has gray hair and never wears makeup. I dye my hair and wear makeup. She has a very limited number of topics of interest to her. I’m interested in everything, and I love to meet new people.

      Sadly, she had power to punish me for not fitting in. I can’t help hating her. Someone who makes a six-figure salary should have more insight and more supervisory skill than she does. She doesn’t believe in anti-bias training and insists that she is a fair supervisor (she isn’t). Fortunately, I’ve been demoted and now report to someone with a more outgoing personality. It’s a fair trade-off.

      1. Treebeardette*

        Lol @ the colorblind lumberjack phrase.

        I agree with what you are saying. My coworker wasn’t my supervisor but she tried her best to make me look bad. Thankfully my old supervisor saw it after a while. But my new supervisor avoids her.

        I think an essential skill every adult needs is to learn to work with someone who is completely opposite. Unfortunately too many turn to bullying.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        I see a bit of lookism/prejudice in your lines and snobbishness. “She dresses like a colorblind lumberjack, and I dress like a woman who makes a professional salary. She has gray hair and never wears makeup. I dye my hair and wear makeup. ” That is a serious “I’m a real woman” attitude.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. Especially as I usually dress like a colorblind lumberjack (I’ll happily combine a pink top with orange socks at home) and very rarely wear makeup. I’m also going gray in my late forties and that doesn’t bother me in the least.

          I realize some people enjoy dressing up and spending a lot of time on their hair and makeup, but that’s just not me, and I’m happy working in a field and an environment where that doesn’t affect my professional standing.

        2. Name Required*

          Yes, it’s strange that the example of unprofessionalism chosen was the boss’s appearance. If that’s what someone is fixated on as an example of someone being a good boss — whether they dress fashionably or not — that’s not a very credible example.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        I worked in an office that had casual Fridays. Previously I’d been in a much more formal office – think, suits and ties for men and the equivalent for women – and had businesswear and weekend wear but not much in the way of “business casual” and literally did not own a pair of jeans or khakis. The job also paid horribly and I didn’t see the need to spend money on business casual clothes I didn’t want to wear when I already had perfectly fine office clothing.

        I wore the same clothing on Friday that I did Monday-Thursday, and apparently in the eyes of my supervisor, that was an unforgivable sin and she brought it up EVERY SINGLE FRIDAY and make snarky comments about my clothes and appearance the entire time I worked there, so I feel you. I 100% do not care what other people wear as long as their clothing isn’t posing a hazard to themselves or others, so I have no idea why this became such an idee fixe with her.

  67. Purple Jello*

    Okay, but how does she have time to watch OP’s face when reading emails. How often does she comment? If OP is being silent and just making faces, and this happens frequently, then it would be very annoying and a bit creepy.

    Alison gave good advice, and OP needs to deal fairly and evenly with the Tries Hard co-worker because people will be watching

  68. Argh!*

    This sounds like the classic extrovert-introvert conflict, with job duty reduction and resultant anxiety thrown in.

    Extroverts need to know what’s going on in the minds of everyone around them. They feel uncomfortable and maybe even hurt if they don’t see their interest in others reflected back on them. Just as introverts find extroverts annoying, extroverts find introverts annoying — annoyingly cold, uncommunicative, etc. The outreach, questions, and interest in LW’s job are the appropriate amount for Jane — it’s how she would want to be treated.

    What stands out to me is that LW really needs to have a good relationship with this person because of the deep job knowledge and institutional memory they possess. The boss won’t necessarily want to be bothered by updates or questions at any random moments, and may not even be available. This is the one person outside of the manager that LW needs to invest in.

    This person may have busy-body, worry-wart, control-freak aspects to their personality in addition to the extroversion, but simply telling them not to be the person they naturally are won’t help. I agree with Alison’s suggestion to let it go when she joins in on conversations without an invitation. If LW does have worse issues with this person in the future, those other coworkers will no doubt have noticed this happening and empathize with LW, perhaps even offering useful advice. Those other coworkers may also have figured out how to deal with this habit, and LW might be so annoyed as to overlook subtle cues and techniques those people have mastered.

    I bet there’s some anxiety that may diminish with time, too. If someone has been invested in a work duty or project, they may be looking for cues in facial expressions, and I bet that’s the cause of those interruptions. As LW demonstrates competence and the projects become more distant from this coworker’s daily life, I bet most of this clears up on its own, but a simple “I really need to focus here. Can you wait until break time to ask about this?” repeated over several days should work. I had to do this for someone and it worked, though I did have to be willing to be tolerant during parts of each day for peace sake. We’re all in this together, and we need to accommodate others as much as they need to accommodate us.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      The coworker isn’t just “extroverted” – she’s boundary-crossing. This comment makes extroverts sound bad. I know extroverts who understand social boundaries very well and don’t automatically assume someone hates them by creepily studying their facial expressions while they open their e-mail.

  69. eeniemeenie*

    I want to validate your dislike of this coworker who sounds genuinely annoying lol. I had a colleague who would unnecessarily comment on facial expressions (“oh, you look stressed”, “are you annoyed?” etc.) and this is really grating. It puts you in a position where you feel like you need to expend emotional energy either rearranging your facial expression to neutral or responding to your colleague’s observations.

    You’re not a jerk because someone rubs you the wrong way. It’s okay to have negative feelings about other people – what matters is how you treat them.

  70. Fancy Owl*

    If you talk to her and the behavior doesn’t stop or you just don’t want to have a confrontation because you don’t think it will go well here’s my technique: I found that it didn’t help me to fixate on how the person annoying me shouldn’t be annoying me and I shouldn’t have to deal with it for because feeling like I was in the right didn’t change anything. Annoying person still annoyed me. I also didn’t find it helpful to try and stop finding them annoying. What did work was to tell myself that interacting with the annoying person was just a feature of my job, a series of interactions I had to check off for my day. I was an actor playing the role of “person who doesn’t find coworker annoying.” And I found myself getting emotional distance because during interactions with annoying coworkers, instead of thinking omg this is so annoying I would be focusing on “what should my character say that would be polite but not encourage further conversation? If this fails to slow them down, what should I say next while staying in character?” It didn’t always work but it helped.

  71. Danielle*

    I do NOT think you’re a jerk. I had a colleague just like that and she drive me insane. The little cards on holidays. The constant sucking up. Ugh. One thing that did help was finding out that other people also disliked her for those reasons. One other helpful thing was knowing that she was like this because of a toxic work experience she dealt with at her last job. It didn’t make her easier ti deal with, but it sometimes helps to know why the goody two shoes is acting like that. Good luck!

  72. LCH*

    For the comments on facial expressions, I’d probably respond to “what’s wrong” with “what do you mean?” If she comments on your expression I’d ask why she’s watching my face. I’m just trying to work over here.

  73. Ailsa McNonagon*

    I’m sorry for the OP, I’ve been in that situation with someone who was Just Too Much and it was difficult to navigate.

    I became Head of Llama Grooming a few years ago, and inherited Joan and Bette. Joan was an older woman who had previously been the Head Llama Groomer, retired and then come back as a part-time assistant groomer. Bette had interviewed for the Head of Llama Grooming job unsuccessfully on three separate occasions- I knew it was going to be tricky! Joan was exactly how you’d imagine, and I could easily deal with her upfront snarkiness and refusal to do things that I wanted her to do (‘Well, when I was the manager, we didn’t groom llamas like THAT!’); Bette, once she realised that I wasn’t going to scream and verbally abuse her like Joan had when she was the manager, basically became my Number One Fan.

    Bette would do too much to be ‘helpful’; if I did our weekly llama grooming figures she would ‘check’ them (annoyingly I did make a few errors that she caught, which only reinforced her belief that I needed her to do this); if I set her some tasks she would over-deliver to the point where I would have to undo most of what she produced; she would ask me which tasks I had to do that day, and then do them herself; she would read anything on my face that wasn’t a big smile as me being angry with her and would literally tremble; she would swing between Pollyanna cheerfulness and being desperately anxious and sad. Bette really struggled to get along with other colleagues- and they were horribly cruel about her behind her back, which I did my best to stamp out (Bette was the scape-llama even when she wasn’t at work!). But I could understand WHY they were cruel about her, because she was so in-your-face, in a way that was difficult to deal with in the moment as she was extremely sensitive to criticism, actual or perceived. I spent some time coaching her and she did improve, but it all broke down one day when she had an interview for a Deputy Head Llama Groomer’s job (same company in another location); I heard through the grapevine that she’d burst into tears halfway through and told the interviewer that she knew they weren’t going to give her the job because they hated her- it was awkward.

    After that, Bette was so insecure and anxious it was hard to manage. If I had a day off she would phone and message me up to twenty times- to let me know a delivery of grooming combs had arrived, to let me know she was going for her lunch, to let me know if the Capybara Wrangling team were taking too long on their breaks, to let me know what the weather was like (I lived about 10 minutes from the workplace). She would ask me ten or fifteen times a day if I was angry with her, she would follow every utterance with ‘Sorry!’, she would cry if anyone wasn’t being nice to her… I had a lot of clinical experience working with autistic adults and children, and it became clear that Bette had some difficulties with social communication- so I hauled out my clinical skills and managed her in the same way I would have worked with an autistic patient; I tried to make things as routine and regular as possible, gave Bette very clear precise instructions about what I needed her to do and how it needed to be done, gave her lots of feedback about what she was doing well and ways she could improve.

    This made everything escalate.

    Now Bette felt understood she started telling me that she loved me, that I was the best boss she’d ever had, that I was the only person that understood her; the phone calls were now every day and twice on Sundays. Towards the end of the year, I was offered a Director of Dromedaries role with another company that I had really been hoping to get, and when I told Bette I was leaving she cried (Joan shrugged and said ‘I knew you wouldn’t stay long’). I prepared Bette for my departure as much as possible, including walking her through a mock interview for the manager’s job. Once I’d left Bette’s anxiety went through the roof and she would phone me five and six times per day, late at night etc. In the first week of my new job I had 17 missed calls, forty messages and two hour-long conversations with her…

    Things really came to a head when I reinforced the boundaries I’d put in place when I WAS the boss; I’d always told Bette that we couldn’t socialise outside work because I was her manager and it would look like favouritism, so once I was no longer her manager she assumed we would be BFFs. I ended up having the kindest, most respectful conversation I could about why her behaviour made it difficult to be friends, and I asked her to respect my boundaries. She was hurt and furious, blocked me on her social media and told colleagues that I was ‘fake’. Bette did eventually get to be Head of Llama Grooming at the location she’d interviewed for, and I don’t hear from her any more. I was sad that things ended on a sour note, but sometimes someone is A Lot- for whatever reason. Bette was clearly super anxious and there was only so much I could do about that.

    I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that what might come across as really intrusive friendliness might be the outward symptoms of really bad anxiety. Being kind, respectful and firm is really the only way to deal with a situation like that and not be absolutely drained yourself. Firm, clear, kindly stated and frequently reinforced boundaries are the only answer!

  74. DollarStoreParty*

    Not a jerk. I’ve worked with this person, low profile cubicle and all. Not only would she comment on my facial expressions, she’d critique my phone calls and ask questions about personal matters she’d overhear. Not just me, other coworkers as well. It got to the point that we’d go into a conference room to make calls we didn’t want her to overhear. We had a phone line we were all responsible for answering, and she made sure she’d get to it first then ask who was calling, but not tell anyone who was calling when she transferred the call. She was just being nosy. My dad had a thick accent, and when he’d first call she couldn’t understand him and made him repeat “her father” over and over again. He was so annoyed, especially when I had no idea it was him calling when I picked up the call. She just wanted to monitor who was calling me.

  75. Dragon Toad*

    We all get that one person, OP. I’m totally with you.

    My person…. first, body odour. I could tell when they entered the office, even with my back to the door and without hearing them make a sound, because I could SMELL THEM on the other side of the room. Eugh. Second, no understanding of personal or physical boundaries. Showing them something on your screen? They’d lean in so much that their breath was on your cheek and their spittle was on your hand. They also told me, apropro of nothing, in DETAIL, of the rash on their butt. Just as an example.

    The worst part was how scatterbrain they were and how blase they were about it. Also how totally inept they were at reading people. I get asked to come in on my day off to help with a project – “it’ll only take a couple hours anyway to get done”. I end up there for about two hours without even starting work, because this person for whatever reason could/would not give me the information needed to help with the project. I don’t know why, they just wouldn’t do it. I’m about ready to throttle them, “Dragon Toad, don’t stress, it’ll get done, don’t worry”. Yeah, I’m not worried, I’m furious at you for wasting my time. Or the numerous times they genuinely forgot the fact that they hadn’t actually worked a day, often due to being seriously ill, and put in for pay. Those were fun times, sorting those out.

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