my coworker treats me like a child

A reader writes:

I have been in a new job since March and receive good feedback from the company on a regular basis. I have past experience in a similar role, in the same industry for seven years, as well as being in supervisory positions for 10 years before I was laid off. Basically, management thinks I am doing a good job, and I have lots of experience.

My problem is my coworker/peer. She has been with the company doing the same job for nearly a decade. She provides lots of unnecessary personal feedback. She knows my background and that I have a lot of experience in my current role. I have spoken to her about the issue many times.

Examples of her unwanted/unneeded advice: making sure I put my chair under the conference room table after meetings (told me this after I pushed my chair under the table), greet customers with a smile, wash my personal cup out after use, how to use basic office equipment, close the door behind me, when to take lunch, as well as to follow certain steps that go against the training I received from management. I promise you, I do not need to be told to wash my cup or push my chair, or when to take lunch, but the advice comes anyway. It is said in a condescending fashion and starts with “I know I am not your boss…”

She also offers poor customer service advice and gets upset/angry when I ignore it. (For example: Don’t be nice to the vendors, you need to be demanding and pushy….don’t try to build business relationships….customers are never right, etc.)

I thought the issue was handled a month ago when we had a lengthy discussion about it. It started again just the other day, and I just don’t feel I should need to go over this every month.

I need to work closely with her, as she is a wealth of information regarding our vendors and clients that is not in our system! Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her.

Am I going to have to constantly deal with this? Typically I would ignore it but I need to work with her. How can I help her understand the difference between helpful and nuisance? She has provided me some wonderful beneficial vendor/client info, but the personal advice is wrong, horrible, and demeaning. Is she threatened by me?

Help me nip this in the bud! She is embarrassing me in front of clients! There’s no HR team. It’s a small family-owned seven-person company, and only three of us are not family.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Distractinator*

      My immediate response alternates between a sarcastic “Thanks, Mom!” and “you’re not my real mother!!” Obviously my inner teenager and I have a lot to work out.

      Reply
        1. Baker*

          An age-based insult “might be good”? I don’t think so. To be sure, with seven employees, federal ADEA would not apply, but state or local law might. While the coworker is a [glass bowl], insults based on a protected class are not OK -especially of there are other older workers in the workplace.

          Reply
            1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              The woman in question has been with the company for a decade. She could easily be in her mid-30s. Obnoxious behavior happens in all age groups.

              Reply
    2. OhNo*

      Oof, yeah. Especially with the reminders to wash out your cup and push in your chair… All I could think was, “Does this woman think she is the LW’s mother?”

      Reply
      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        I’d be tempted to reply back to the push in your chair and cup washing reminds with “Like I planned to do anyway? Sure,” In a dead flat voice. Some of the others stuff like the being demanding and pushy with vendors I’d just look at her with my jaw dropped and say “Wow, what bad advice.” out loud. Repeat as need.

        Reply
        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          And even “can’t you see I just did it?” since she’s reminding OP to push her chair in when she’s just done it.

          Reply
  1. Zephy*

    It’s a small family-owned seven-person company, and only three of us are not family.

    Here is your problem. I know this is an old letter but I hope OP got out.

    Reply
    1. Heidi*

      I think I might know the answer to this, but did the OP ever say if the coworker one of the 4 that are family or one of the 3 that aren’t?

      In any case, I hope OP knows that coworker is embarrassing herself more. An adult telling another adult to push in their chair and smile at the customers who are never right is going to come across as really strange.

      Reply
    2. Former Child*

      Since she’s a wealth of info. about vendors, etc., is it possible to talk to one of the owners about how she’s obnoxious to you — BUT you have tried to get her to document all this valuable info., so you’re proposing that she be assigned to put together that info. for the company? And be praised for THAT expertise, instead of the “wash your cup” kind?

      Then you can get the info. before you have to do the pushback that the answer outlines so well. And she gets some praise for giving it all up.

      If you had to work w/her to get all that info. written down it still might be worth it, from what you say. And it makes you look like the grownup.

      Reply
      1. Momma Bear*

        I would take the information and put it in the system myself so that there is a repository other than Coworker. Anyone that “important” needs to have the info out of their head in case they get hit by a bus or something.

        I agree to push back with responses that are firm and direct. I hope OP got out of there, or at least got this coworker to stop.

        Reply
        1. Admininja*

          Yes, exactly. “That’s good to know. Thanks for the info about Bob from Acme Tech.” *Updates client records* It might not be feasible to get all the info that way, but you (likely) don’t need her permission to update the system. Add your own observations and discoveries, & pretty soon you have a database.

          Reply
      2. Artemesia*

        People like that actively resist creating information resources because they view owning the information as essential to their job security and personal importance. It makes sense to record the information as you extract it bit by bit though.

        Hope the OP has long since moved on from this place; small family owned businesses are the worst.

        Reply
        1. BeenThere*

          Bingo! They also often create diversions by reaching people other things so they can be seen to be sharing knowledge while hoarding all the good stuff.

          Also saying you don’t need to build relationships is a super red flag to me, she sounds like she is trying to get you to pay attention to the wrong things.

          Reply
        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          As someone who was previously such a repository, it can be simply that you never get time to write all these things down. I hadn’t even realised how much customer info was stored only in my head until I had an assistant.
          It’s typical of small companies where resources are stretched thin.

          Reply
  2. H*

    1. I wonder what the age difference is between you 2? I wonder if they think they are taking on some mentor role for you when you never even asked for it.
    2. Sounds like you have to have another upfront conversation about this and just say what you said in the letter “Hey I appreciate your input on clients and your experience with them however when you say things like XYZ it makes me feel like 123… I don’t think that is your intention but can we only discuss the following items”.

    Reply
    1. Amethystmoon*

      Good point. Sometimes also, managers tell senior staff members to train or coach newer people, but the senior staff member might not know the best way to go about it. Not all companies are good at training people how to coach or mentor others, and they might be just going by how they were trained when they were younger. (Not that their previous trainer was great if that’s how that happened, but it is possible they just don’t know any better.)

      Reply
  3. Ashley*

    Respond to her in a direct and blunt way that will likely make her feel uncomfortable.

    “I don’t need instructions about how to put away a chair/clean a cup/etc”

    Don’t laugh or smile when you respond. Speak in a flat matter-of-fact way, with a neutral voice. Respond like this every thing she does this.

    Reply
    1. BatManDan*

      Yup! The “I appreciate it, but…” approach will negate itself – all she’ll hear is “I appreciate,” and at that point, the OP will have brought the continued behavior on herself. Flat, blunt, repeated EVERY time. It’s the fastest way to extinguish behavior.

      Reply
  4. EPLawyer*

    Oh heavens the information hoarder who sees her self as invaluable to the company to keep her position.

    Normally I would say when says I know i am not your boss, I would tell her, you are right you are not. But she has info you need. Although how valuable can it be if she thinks building business relationships is a bad idea and you have to be pushy with vendors? The ONLY solution is as she gives out these droplets of info about vendors, etc., input it into the system yourself. Then as time goes by, you will need her less. THEN you can get snarky.

    Reply
    1. All the words*

      ” input it into the system yourself”

      Seconded! Information hoarding makes me super cranky because I’ve *never* seen it done with good intent.

      Reply
      1. Beany*

        Definitely. Even if her intentions are benign, information hoarding puts the company in the dangerous “what would happen if she got knocked down tomorrow” situation.

        Reply
    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I had something a bit like this many years ago, when I was a long term substitute teacher in a high school class. One of the other teachers in the same department was constantly telling me stuff I already knew. I made the mistake of telling her this. Later, when I had a question, I got the “Oh, you already know everything!” response, but no actual help. It is a tradeoff. In a permanent situation, the solution definitely is to learn all this stuff yourself, so you can ignore her.

      Reply
    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I was going to recommend something similar – any information that dribbles out to you gets put into the system. However since info hoarder has resisted doing this in the past I would also recommend recording it somewhere else as well so that you still have the information recorded when it “magically disappears from the system” you don’t have to go back to asking hoarder.

      Reply
    4. Amaranth*

      It might help OP to approach this as a fresh start with these folks – not in a clueless way that annoys the clients, but as ‘I wanted to introduce myself and take the opportunity to take a fresh look at the account and see if there are any procedures you’d like to discuss/change/help us both save time and money.’ I’ve taken over lots of accounts where the previous person just wasn’t trying any more, or they’d said certain processes weren’t possible, apparently because it would create more work for them.

      Reply
  5. H*

    I actually overheard a colleague with less seniority than me training a new employee where I work PRN now but I used to work their fulltime and have been in the field longer… I thought she was so overbearing with this new employee and bit too demanding and also acted like she knew it all. I almost wanted to step in to prevent the above situation but was like “you are here on an as needed basis so just relax and keep your head down” HAHA

    Reply
  6. V$*

    I don’t know. This has been happening for a while, right? I would ask my coworker “Why do you say that?” every time she reminded me to do something that anyone with a brain knows should be done (aka push in your chair). She says “don’t forget to rinse your mug!” and you say “Why would you remind me to rinse my mug?” and then…. say nothing. Just look at her. Eventually any *sane* person will realize that you are not the person to be making these comments to.

    Reply
    1. Ms. Ann Thropy*

      Or, in response to every bit of unsolicited advice, look around and then ask “Who are you talking to?”

      Reply
    2. Lana Kane*

      The petty ahole in me would want put down the unwashed cup and walk away right there.
      I’d probably do that after I’d put in my notice :)

      Reply
      1. Pennyworth*

        Me too – I would also want to pull the chair back out from under the conference table if she told to push it in after I had done it.
        The only possible solution to her behavior I can think of is to take her super seriously, and go to her with a list of all her petty instructions and say something like ”I’m going to be trying to make sure I do everything right. Could you help me by not saying anything in the moment and at the end of the day you can tell me if I missed anything? I think I will learn to do stuff without prompting and become more productive that way. Ask for feedback, thank her for the ‘training’, and hope she lets it go.

        Reply
    3. Chickaletta*

      I like this response to this kind of person. It’s the verbal equivalent of putting a mirror behind the customer service desk so people can see how they’re behaving.

      Reply
  7. Not So Little My*

    I’d be more worried about this co-worker than Alison’s advice seemed to lead to. I think the information hoarding is the key that this person is defensive of their job, and I think the LW should watch out for indications that the person was going to sabotage or undermine them or even try to get them fired.

    Reply
    1. Lana Kane*

      “And I’m always having to remind her to wash her mug and tuck in her chair! I mean, really!”

      Reply
  8. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I had one of these years ago. A boss came out to tell me that very clearly the coffee creamer had expired. So, into the bin it went. Coworker saw this, pulled them out of the trash and said, “Oh she probably just got one bad creamer. They can’t all be bad.” She would do this with anything I discarded or recycled. I did the whole “apple spoils barrel” thing but she wouldn’t have it. I got fed up and said, “Well then let’s see,” and poured a random creamer into her coffee she’d just made. Choose your own ending but you probably know what it is.

    It’s sad but these types usually see all their worth in the world wrapped up in the job they’re doing. If they’re not instructing, managing, handling, they can be very insecure. I later learned that Coffee Creamer Cathy had a rather overbearing (thankfully not abusive) husband and two late teens kids at home that never listened to her. Sad, but not an issue in which I needed to be part.

    Reply
    1. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

      Whew, this!

      My last manager was like OPs coworker and while I applied some of Alison’s advice, with marginal success, I eventually gave up when I realized the core problem was that she was deeply insecure.

      I later learned she’d failed her way up the management chain (via a series of departures), and micromanaged and constantly gave a barrage of unsolicited advice because it made her feel capable and worthy. She didn’t know anything about the strategy, trends, or resources in our field but she sure did like to tell us how to execute on them and why her opinions were better. I felt bad for her.

      Reply
    2. greenpancakes*

      >>It’s sad but these types usually see all their worth in the world wrapped up in the job they’re doing.

      Yes, and I think they also have a hero mentality–“this place would fall apart without me.”

      Reply
    3. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      It was nearly impossible to discard an empty cheap ballpoint pen where I worked, because the housekeeper kept “rescuing” them and putting them back on the desks, with a reminder that we’d accidentally dropped it in the trash and needed to be careful. Those bizarre self-appointed responsibilities can drive other people up a wall!

      Reply
  9. meyer lemon*

    Maybe I’m projecting, but I’m picking up on some strong know-it-all energy from this coworker. When she tries offering unsolicited advice, I might try redirecting her to information that I actually need and see if that trains her into being less condescending and more helpful. It is very weird that she feels the need to train other people to wash their mugs, but maybe she can be rehabilitated.

    Reply
    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’m feeling like she’s very similar to my older sister, who seems to sincerely believe that she needs to tell other people (age makes no difference) how to do everything.

      It’s annoying as hell, & all you can do is ignore it as much as possible & do what seems best. (Tbh, she can have good advice, but doesn’t get that she needs to be asked for it.)

      Reply
      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Oh, & she isn’t an information hoarder. In fact, she reins in her bossiness (having been raised with this, I’m not on the “ban bossy” train) & is actually quite good at her job. She saves this behavior for those of us she cares about.

        Reply
      2. Le Sigh*

        Is she by chance a long-lost sibling of my dad? The person who asks you to do the dishes and then hangs out in the kitchen to “chat” but is really there to correct you every time you add a dish (even if you’re actually doing it the way he wants you to, because you were raised by this man and you know better than to deviate from his very carefully laid out dishwasher efficiency maximization plan)? And include a monologue about why that’s more efficient?

        I love him dearly, but I try to do the dishes after he goes to bed.

        Reply
    2. Chickaletta*

      Yes, she reminds me a lot of a previous coworker of mine who could never be wrong. She would contradict herself in the same argument before admitting the other person had a point.

      Reply
  10. It's All Elementary*

    There are some people who just cannot help themselves. They. Just. Can’t. And will somehow explain in such detail and for so long why it’s sooo important for them to explain the office politics that other employees just give up trying to make them stop. It doesn’t matter the education, or experience, or professional reputation of the “newer/younger/transferred” employee. The know it all employee will find some reasoning (and explain that reasoning in excruciating detail) as to why they should and will continue to share their knowledge. This person has gotten away with it for so long they will not stop.

    Reply
    1. GraceRN*

      Ugh yes! I’ve worked with a few lovely people who excel at streaming out unsolicited advice. They can’t control themselves. They’re doing it out of an unhealthy emotional need to feel in control, to feel validated, needed, and relevant. Their habit is so ingrained, they don’t even have an active or conscious thought process that says “OP is like a child, she doesn’t know to wash her mug so I need to remind her.” They just can’t control themselves.

      Unfortunately, in my experience, any efforts to push back would have been labeled as being “ungrateful” and ironically, “well she thinks she knows everything already!” Ignoring it didn’t work either. The only thing that worked somewhat better was saying without smiling: “I don’t need help.” or “I got this covered. If I need help I’ll reach out.” Sigh. Just thinking about these folks make my blood pressure go up.

      Reply
    2. Oska*

      I’ve had to deal with so many people like this that I’m starting to wonder if it’s a tiny power trip for them. Especially when it comes to people who need to tell you to do the thing you’re either about to do, or just did. Because if they have told you what to do and you did the thing, then you *obeyed their order*. It wasn’t your choice to do it, it was theirs, they made the choice for you, and you did what they decided you should do.

      Or maybe it’s just a reflex on their part. But with people I spend a lot of time with and get this from a lot, it gets weird, to the point where I snap at them sometimes. Which, as the LW has experienced, works, but only for a little while. And it’s just as tiring to call them out on it every time as it is to just try to let it roll of your back. I wish I had a solution that actually works. :\

      Reply
  11. First time listener, long time caller*

    If somebody repeatedly told me to push my chair in or wash by glass, at some point I’d just start glaring at them and not responding. I’d also probably stop pushing my chair and and start leaving a filthy glass on my desk (and drink out of a separate, clean one).

    Reply
    1. irene adler*

      Yep!

      Once, in response to the ‘wash your mug’ directive, I picked up my mug, hit it against the metal post by the trash can, and then tossed it in. Rendered it unusable.

      Go “mommy” someone else.

      Reply
    2. Cat Tree*

      I like the strategy of a slightly confused look and saying “hmm, that’s an odd thing to tell me”.

      Reply
  12. LoV*

    I admire your restraint. If someone told me to push my chair in after I pushed it in, I’m pretty sure I would deliberately pull the chair back out.

    Reply
    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’d push it in more, so it was wedged in under the table.

      I have a sister like this. It really exacerbates my contrarian tendencies.

      Reply
    2. Mental Lentil*

      I would pull it back out as I said “Oh, I’m sorry, did I do it wrong? Here, could you please show me?”

      Every
      Single
      Time

      Reply
    3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      This would be my inner child response as well. While making eye contact like a naughty cat.

      Reply
  13. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    Ugh- your coworker sounds like Self-Appointed Hall Monitor I used to work with. Alison’s advice is spot on. I think that is a good way to handle this person. Do people like your coworker really think anyone thinks highly of them? They think they’re being good employees but in reality, their colleagues, and often bosses, merely tolerate them. They are not truly liked or respected.

    Reply
    1. Nanani*

      Indeed. Such people are the Clippy of physical offices. “It looks like you’re trying to do your job. Would you like a template of chair-pushing and mug rinsing?”

      Reply
  14. Renata Ricotta*

    I consider myself a generally chill person who is unruffled by a lot of eccentricities.

    This would make me lose my mind basically immediately.

    Reply
    1. Isabel Archer*

      Agreed. Reading this made my teeth hurt. I’d probably start doing it back to her, about literally everything.
      “Bernice, you should really save all your documents in folders. And name them.”
      “Bernice, I see that you just came out of the restroom…did you remember to wash your hands?”
      “Bernice, be careful not to drip any soup on yourself.”
      “Bernice, it’s cold out! Why aren’t you wearing your heavy coat?”

      Reply
      1. Bagpuss*

        I love this approach.

        And then when she gets annoyed you an say “But you’ve been giving me unnecessary instructions about really basic tasks – I assumed it was just your way of making conversation so I thought I’d join in. Lets both agree to stop doing it”

        Reply
    2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I am generally a chill person too but someone sent a department wide email asking for desserts for a treat day and it set off a chain of reply alls. I am currently telling myself I can’t send out a reply all with a link to the difference between reply and reply all while I’m listening to the ding tone for new mail in my inbox repeatedly.

      Reply
      1. Persephone Mongoose*

        And this is why I BCC everyone every time.

        I realize this isn’t practical for everyone or for every situation, but man, at least I can retain some control over the Reply All minefield!

        Reply
  15. Archaeopteryx*

    re: the information hoarding – I would advise documenting everything you learn from her via having to go to her with questions, and maybe occasionally asking questions “just out of curiosity” or “for future reference” that you then jot down her answer to. She’s likely resisting the idea of professionalizing the way this info is tracked/stored out of a desire to seem important, so she might be willing to answer your questions if it flatters her to be the go-to. That way, you can slowly build up a reserve of info that you’ll have access to (and be able to one day put into the programs yourself).

    Reply
  16. Clorinda*

    Just ignore the petty stuff (easier said than done, I know). And start documenting that institutional knowledge she supposedly has. You’ll probably find it’s not nearly as valuable as she thinks–outmoded ways of doing things, contacts who have long since moved on, detailed knowledge of how to fix the copier that was replaced three years ago. Then ignore, ignore, ignore.

    Reply
  17. Chris too*

    I wonder what annoying coworker’s background is. Maybe she spent 20 years teaching nursery school.

    Reply
  18. Elenna*

    Why are today’s letters full of terrible people?
    Okay, it’s probably because nobody writes in to AAM to be like “my boss and my coworkers and my company are great, everything is great”. But still, today feels worse than normal.

    Reply
  19. Krabby*

    “I’m wondering what I could have done or said that makes you think I could /possibly/ be in need of such basic instructions?” Said incredulously/offendedly and then leave without waiting for an answer. That would be insanely frustrating though.

    Reply
    1. tangerineRose*

      Yeah, this. Or “I’ve been washing my dishes before I use them again for quite a while now. Why do you think I don’t know to do this?”

      Reply
  20. Properlike*

    Funny that this pops up today, when I’m leaving a position entirely because of an information hoarder in an organization who can’t be challenged but loves telling everyone else what to do.

    Reply
  21. Esmeralda*

    For the stupid stuff like mug washing, chair pushing: Try to cheerfully respond something like, “Yep, my mom taught me that already”. (I’d be tempted to say, Thanks Mom!, but don’t do that!)

    For the vendor info: jot it down or even input it into the system.

    Reply
    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I agree about the vendor info, etc. Take notes on everything. If it’s something that isn’t in the system & should be, add it.

      Reply
  22. Mental Lentil*

    Annoying coworker: “I know I’m not your boss…”

    Me: “Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. Can you repeat the question?”

    Reply
  23. Batgirl*

    This isn’t always possible, but the most low energy way to deal with a bossy boots, is amusement. You’ll exhaust yourself trying to teach or retrain, or explain to them, so don’t take them on as a project! Let them fail, and otherwise just treat them as entertainment wherever possible. You’d have to rewire their whole brain to change them! It’s best if you can just cock an eyebrow and go “Really”. Then just do whatever you want. It’s true they might get upset, but just return the unsolicited advice at that point “you’d probably be less upset if you concentrated more on your own work and less on mine. Obviously I’m not going to action the preferences of a peer.” Shoving back in the moment can also be done with varying types and degrees of response. Take the time to stop and think about your response: “Do you see that the chair is already pushed in or was that not the point?” Or just closing your eyes, exhaling and not bothering to hide your annoyance. Freezing for a moment of silence and letting the silence extend into awkwardness is also underrated, before quietly declining. If she’s actually showing you up in front of clients that is a solid thing to raise with superiors. You can in the moment just cut her off: “Let me stop you there, coworker, that’s not actually correct/ what we had in mind. It’s actually…” Go to the bosses and ask for her to be retrained or to be told to simply stop showing off at the cost of your business reputation.

    Reply
  24. Not a boss*

    When she says ‘I know I am not your boss respond ‘No you are not. We’ve already talked about this and I’m not doing it again. All conversations going forward will only be about work’. Then when she starts get up and walk away. First loop in boss and HR and tell them unless they intervene you will be taking this route. You can also add things like ‘listen, I learned this when I was 5 so can you stop being patronising and stop this crap? If not we need to go and discuss it with management and HR’.

    Reply
  25. Khatul Madame*

    I remember a client sent me an email recounting a procedure for sending out meeting notes (or some other communications), wherein they included “Correct all typo’s” (sic).
    Another client kept talking about what our process should be, listing all phases and ceremonies that take place in the course of our work.

    That was the ammunition in case they needed complain to management “We have to keep reminding them to proofread communications/follow the process”.
    What a fun project that was.

    Reply
  26. Susana*

    I know it’s hard, because you have to work with her. But next time she starts with, “I know I’m not your boss…” can you just quickly interrupt and say, “No. You’re not.” And then turn away?

    Reply
  27. Kat*

    You could let karma take its course. Anyone hearing her tell you to wash your cup and push in your chair is not likely to see you as the one with the problem. I ran into a woman like this who was younger than me (that was really weird!) It was her way of acting like an experienced, valued employee when she was really under-skilled and faking it on “feminine wiles” (as she put it) with the men plus the mom act with women. She ended up fired for pushing it too far.

    Reply
      1. Kat*

        She asked the boss to bend the attendance rules for her in a company that’s pretty strict. She told me she used feminine wiles like she had told me to do, so of course he said yes. When he was out of office she asked his backup manager for even more flexibility. HR caught the anomaly on their attendance reports. She swore that both managers had said yes and told HR that they were wrong, knowing that her boss would stand up for her because of their close personal relationship. He didn’t. (What I suspect really happened is that the manager wasn’t the blunt sort to say “Hell no! Absolutely not!” so she took his softened denial and the relationship that wasn’t as close as she thought as something like “I can’t exactly say yes against company policy, but since it’s you, I won’t exactly say no,” and abbreviated it to “Yes.” And then she bamboozled the stand-in manager.) That was the end of my office mom lecturing me like a little girl on how if I watched her closely and practiced for a long time I too could learn to build office relationships.

        Reply
  28. greenpancakes*

    I worked with someone like this and it was difficult. It was confusing and hard not to take personally–I wondered if she thought I was dumb or incompetent.

    In retrospect, I wish I could have let it roll off my back more. She often made the day more difficult than it needed to be, but I ended up feeling sorry for her after she quit. Her work life is probably difficult if she carries on like she did in every job. Not to excuse bad behavior, but this is a sad type of person to be and there is some probably-sad reason why she is this way that doesn’t have anything to do with the people she targets.

    Reply
  29. CatMintCat*

    I teach 8 year olds. I don’t tell them every time to tuck their chairs in, because it’s expected that they do it (and they do). At eight.

    For an adult? Crazy making.

    Reply
  30. Nanani*

    ” It’s a small family-owned seven-person company, and only three of us are not family.”

    Is the problem colleague in the family? If yes, she will not change.
    Keep looking for another job, or find a mental framing that helps you ignore it.

    Reply
  31. Anonymous Today*

    Does the annoying co-worker have children? If so, I would be tempted to ask if I remind her of one of her kids. Why else would she tell a grown person to remember to push their chair in, wash out their mug, etc.?

    What would be funny is if she said that yes, I actually do remind her of her daughter, Lisa. That would give e te opportunity to sing that song* every time and I’d sing it like a dirge.

    *”I’m Not Lisa”

    Reply
  32. Raida*

    I would respond with “I’m not discussing this anymore. If you have a problem with how I’m using my personal mug or chairs, you can speak to [Manager] about it.”

    Reply
  33. willow for now*

    “Pretend she’s talking to an imaginary grade-schooler who accompanies her everywhere.” I love this!

    Reply
  34. Viv*

    “I need to work closely with her, as she is a wealth of information regarding our vendors and clients that is not in our system! Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her.”

    This is why she is acting out, as long as you seek info from her she will carry on as she does as she has that over your head. From now, you need to collate your own records and if it’s missing, tell your boss what you need to do your job. When this lady realises her intel ain’t so valuable or secretive, she’ll have nothing to lord over anyone and will probably leave you alone. Get proactive about beating her at her own game.

    Reply
  35. Ermintrude*

    I’d be like, “What did you think I was going to do instead?”
    Even my own actual mother (who I love dearly, but argh) isn’t this awful.

    Reply
  36. anon for this*

    I was forced to quit when someone decided to bully me this way. In the end, her insistance on policing my mug washing and chair pushing in left me in tears every day and I ended up out on sick leave until I found another job. It’s not funny or cute or in any way acceptable. I’d disagree that this level of policing is a personal matter, though if the OP manages to shut it down with the advice given, that would be great. If I supervised someone who did this they would be GONE if they didn’t cut it out immediately.

    Reply
  37. Gigi*

    I’ve worked for government my whole adult life. I’m thinking seriously of retiring at 50 and starting something new in the private sector. If there’s one thing I’ve gotten from this blog, it’s that I’ll avoid small, family-owned companies like the freaking plague.

    Reply
  38. MCMonkeyBean*

    “Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her.”

    All the other stuff is over-the-top ridiculous (I cannot even imagine one grown adult telling another adult to *push their chair in* wow) but the above seems like the biggest problem. If they hadn’t already brought that up with their boss I would suggest they do so.

    Reply
  39. Quesadilla*

    I worked with one of these! He genuinely was my mentor, and an expert worth listening to, but chose to behave like this instead. I think basically he spent so much time with his very young kids and his possssibly slightly infantile wife that his brain was just used to that being the way to talk to everybody. Plus, everyone on the team other than the two of us were students just beginning their journeys in our field, with whom he had good teacher-style relationships. And my main problem was him explaining stuff to me that is very, insultingly obvious if you have our expertise – but would not have been obvious to these early undergraduate students. The guy didn’t go so far as to tell me to push my chair in or clean my mug though….. I might have pushed something else on hearing that. He also used to crouch down to talk to me if I were sitting on a chair, the way he would have got on eye level with his toddler.

    I left the company because I correctly determined that I would not be able to advance in an environment like that. Doing much better now!

    Reply

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