my coworker talks non-stop and we can’t take it anymore

A reader writes:

We have a coworker (we’ll call her Serena) who does. Not. Shut. Up. I don’t want to be rude, but there’s really no other way to put it. I’ll explain.

She has information, a story, or life experience for EVERYTHING. We haven’t discussed nuclear fission yet, but I’m certain Serena would have done it. Every conversation within earshot, she butts into. She offers advice at every turn, often unsought, and physically can’t stop interjecting something into every conversation. It doesn’t help her voice is loud and carries throughout the entire building.

She also comes across as a know-it-all and tries to explain some of our jobs to us, though she’s new to our industry and each of us are experts in our various fields with years of experience.

It’s exhausting.

Serena’s coworkers (I’m a different department) have brought it up to their manager who says, “I expect people to manage their issues between themselves.” He works off-site so is not subjected to it. For clarity, he didn’t hire her, a previous manager did. The grandboss was also informed, and has done nothing. He “knows it’s an issue, but hopefully she’ll find another position somewhere else.” But Serena is not the type to find another job. She says this is the best job she’s ever had so she’ll stay until retirement. And we’re a long ways away.

Our HR is new and young and knows she won’t get backed up by the manager or grandboss if she were to say something to Serena.

It’s gotten so bad that people are starting to take very late lunches just so they won’t have to be in the same room as Serena. Not that it matters, as her office 20 feet from the break room and she’ll “casually” walk into the break room to fill a glass of water to eavesdrop or come out of her office to join in on a conversation if she hears one that interests her. If we close the doors, she’ll prop them back open so she doesn’t “feel cut off from the break room.”

I legitimately feel bad for her department coworkers. They can’t have work conversations lest she come out of her own office to join in. They can’t escape. At least the rest of us are in separate parts of the building.

One of her coworkers has mentioned that it sounds like her husband isn’t the greatest of supports, and maybe she is trying to create what she lacks at home. If she were neurodivergent we would be sympathetic (many of us are), but when we’ve had conversations about neurodivergence, she’s been quite derisive of these diagnoses (although she has plenty of advice!), so we’re assuming she’s at least never been diagnosed.

We’re at our wits’ end, and our mental health is struggling. Our work is stressful, and the camaraderie that used to make it bearable has all but evaporated.

Other tactics we’ve tried:

• Keeping up pace of conversation so she can’t break into it (she’ll wait for you to take a breath to interject, or she’ll interrupt)
• Giving short answers. But she doesn’t take the hint (not sure if she is unable to recognize hints or just ignores them)
• Going outside for breaks (not feasible in winter and we can’t all be outside)
• Pointedly and silently looking at our phones (she does this too and then starts reading posts out loud to everyone)
• Going as a group to lunches/breaks (she gets louder to dominate the conversation)

Is there any way we can help her to help ourselves?

It’s interesting that your list of tactics doesn’t include saying something directly to Serena!

I get why — it feels rude to tell someone you want them to stop talking or to butt out of a conversation. And often hints like the ones you’ve used do work with people. But when the hints fail — and especially when the problem is this severe and you’re this desperate for a solution — the next step has to be to say something directly. For example:

When she interrupts a private conversation:

  • “I’d just like to talk to Jane about this, please give us some privacy.”
  • “We’re having a private conversation — can you shut the door?”

When she tries to tell you how to do your job:

  • “Oh, I’m not looking for input on this.”
  • “Let me stop you there — I’ve got this covered.”
  • “I don’t need any advice on this.”

When she’s monopolizing a meeting:

  • “I’d like to hear from other people.”
  • “You’ve been sharing a lot during this meeting, let’s give some airtime to others.”

When she interrupts:

  • “Can you please wait for Jane to finish?”
  • “I’d like to hear what Jane was saying.”
  • “Please don’t talk over me.”

Other situations:

  • “I came outside for some quiet — please don’t read things out loud.”
  • “It’s distracting to have you standing here while I’m meeting with Jane.”
  • If she opens the break room doors so she doesn’t “feel cut off,” close them again and say, “We want them closed for privacy.”

You are going to feel unkind doing that, because we are socialized to use a much softer approach or even not to speak up at all when someone is being rude. But a softer approach doesn’t work with Serena and no one with any authority is willing to intervene, so it’s this or continue to let her drive you all bananas. In the bluntest terms: you need to choose between (a) feeling slightly rude in the moment but having a chance of improving things or (b) nothing changing.

Frankly, I’d argue that as awkward as you might feel setting these boundaries, doing so is a kindness to Serena in the long-term. Right now everyone dreads having her around; if she changes some of her behavior, she’ll have a much better chance of getting some of the connection she’s presumably looking for. It’s a kindness to clearly state what you want her to do differently.

In fact, if someone is willing to have a big-picture conversation with Serena about the pattern, they’d be doing her a favor.

As for Serena’s boss saying people should “manage their issues between themselves,” are the issues with Serena at the point where they’re affecting people’s work? If so, that’s not an interpersonal issue that people should manage among themselves, and they might try saying, “This is impacting the team’s productivity and we’re at the limits of what we can address ourselves.”

By the way, your grandboss sucks. “Hopefully she’ll quit at some point” is not a management strategy; it’s negligence.

Read an update to this letter

{ 356 comments… read them below }

    1. NotBatman*

      As someone with Serena-ish tendencies: I’ve greatly appreciated it when people have given me gentle-but-blunt feedback like “B, I know you have a lot to say during meetings, but if you could be conscious not to use too much time that’d be great.” or “Hey, this is a just-us conversation” or “Can you keep it brief?” I’m a work in progress, like every person, and feedback helps me know what to work on.

      1. Katrina*

        Same here! I’ll make multiple leaps between topics in my head while still feeling like it’s all one topic, so I can go on for a while. I’m also a poor judge of my own volume. I’ll slip into my “teacher voice” where the whole room can hear me and just…not notice.

        Thankfully, I’m an introvert, so it’s not an issue at work that often. It sounds like Serena is an extrovert who thrives on talking to people and has no clue how much she is draining them in the process. And trying to explain with hinting that clearly doesn’t register with her is about as effective as trying to explain the problem in Spanish. (Or, y’know, any language she’s not fluent in.)

        If she understands the problem and ignores it or cannot keep herself from talking despite knowing the damage it causes, that’s a different conversation.

        1. AnonORama*

          Yeah, if people are nice about it (not, for example, my abusive ex-boss who said “people are lining up outside my door to complain about your voice” — spoiler alert, they weren’t) I’d much rather be told I’m being too loud or breaking into convos where I’m not needed or wanted. It feels gross in the moment, but it’s better to have the boundary when you’re not fantastic at finding it yourself, as I’m not

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        This! The people who were willing to tell me (with kindness) that they were having a private conversation were doing me a service not just then and there, but also in the long run because I realized that saying, “am I interrupting or may I join you?” is a really valuable skill in general but also one that helps me feel a lot more comfortable joining a group.

        1. I’m screaming inside too*

          I love “am I interrupting or may I join you?” I think that’s something that the LW and her coworkers could include when having the polite-but-clear conversation with Serena about her overbearing ways. It gives them a concrete suggestion and gives her a way to understand when it’s okay to join in.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            It opens up all kinds of answers, too, from “We’re working right now, but will be done in 10 minutes if you want to come back” to “oh god, please interrupt us; we’ve been at this for an hour to no use” to “nah, we’re just hanging out! Pull up a chair.”

        2. Generic Name*

          Be aware that even asking questions like this aren’t foolproof. There are people out there who will lie to your face (maybe they think they’re being nice?) even when asked a direct question like this. I had a former coworker blow up and told management that I’m “a distraction” even though I always asked if he had time to talk when I had a work question. Obviously that was a him problem, but it still caused me problems at work.

          1. Dawn*

            In fairness, and acknowledging that 100% you know how this went down better than I do, that does depend somewhat on how many work questions you had.

            To give a ridiculous example that I’m pretty certain was not your situation, if someone asks me every three minutes, “I’m sorry, do you have time to talk?” is still being disruptive even if the question is theoretically polite.

            1. I am Emily's failing memory*

              Same caveat about not knowing exactly what was said, and Generic Name’s coworker may well have been talking two stories out different sides of his mouth. That said, there were times in the past that I complained to my manager about constant interruptions from a handful of coworkers that were eating up too much of my time, but I still helped them whenever they asked because they were not asking too often or about things they should have been expected to know – it was a situation where I had more tenure and institutional knowledge than the people coming to me for help, and I was often the only one who had it – so it was legitimately the best thing for the department for me to provide the help. When I complained to my managers it was never that Bess and Ace were coming to me too much, it was that I couldn’t provide the amount of help they needed and get all my own work done, and I needed them to help me solve that problem by taking something else off my plate, or maybe even taking something off their/the department’s plate – that even if I was only carrying 10% of the total workload and Bess and Ace had ample time to do the 90% that was on their plate, it might still be something we need to say we don’t as a department have the bandwidth to take on because the 10% is too much for me.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                Yeah. This is perhaps also a case where colleagues might be asked to list all their questions on a particular subject and set up a meeting to go through them, rather than pinging you every five minutes when a new question pops into their brain. I get that with clients sometimes – one has pinged me three times this morning alone. She’s a new client so I’m being patient for the moment, but I shall probably soon ask her to make a list and send me everything in one go to limit the number of interruptions.

            2. Generic Name*

              Ha very true. I asked questions, I dunno, once a month? Definitely not every day.

      3. Arglebargle*

        As a loud-ish know-it-all myself, you are doing her a disservice by not firmly correcting her. Sorry to sound like a dog trainer. But I would never have changed my ways without input.

        1. snow Day*

          And speaking of training, one phrase I read from Brene Brown about feedback was “It’s not mean, it’s clear instruction “. Really useful advice.

          1. Eowyn (OP)*

            snow Day, I’m printing off this phrase and STAPLING IT TO MY FORHEAD for future reference, lol. Thank you so much!

        2. umami*

          Heh, when my spouse starts talking too loudly (which is his default setting as a retired professor) I just motion down so he gets the hint. I’m right here, you don’t have to yell at me dude.

      4. Revnorthwest*

        Yep. I love what Breen Brown says, which is “ clear is kind”. She writes “ I first heard this saying two decades ago in a 12-step meeting, but I was on slogan overload at the time and didn’t even think about it again until I saw the data about how most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind, when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair.

        Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.

        Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind.

        Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.”

        For me this has been transformative in how I talk to ppl. Not mean to be mean but clear to be kind.

    2. Cait*

      This is where radical candor comes in handy (and I really recommend the book by the same name). It can apply to both personal and professional situations. Basically you want to aim for “compassionate candor” rather than “obnoxious aggression” or (on the opposite end) “ruinous empathy”. Basically, there is a happy middle ground between letting her continue to drive people insane in an effort to not hurt her feelings and finally becoming so fed up you scream, “SHUUUUTTT UUUUUUPPPPPP!!!”

      Doing nothing and hoping it fixes itself is the easiest reaction but does nothing to solve the actual problem. I think that’s where everyone in this office is stuck. But if one person just demonstrates that it’s okay to set reasonable boundaries with Serena (with wording like Alison suggests) then maybe more people will feel comfortable setting the same boundaries and soon Serena will have no choice but to adapt to this new norm rather than having everyone else have to adapt to Serena.

    3. mlem*

      Having scripts is essential, because otherwise, you’re stuck there with your brain just repeating “shut up shut up shut uuuuuuuupppp” and you know *that* would be rude to say aloud.

    4. Hyein*

      Yeah, I am a naturally loud person who can sometimes get way louder than is appropriate without noticing. I recently went out to lunch with a friend, and afterwards she asked why I’d been so loud in the restaurant. She said that she’d been trying to talk very quietly hoping I might take the hint. Of course, I did not notice this at all. I would’ve much preferred she just told me how loud I was being, even though I know it would’ve been a bit awkward.

    5. Ellen*

      I have a Serina, and I told her outright that I did not want to talk, I like quiet during my break. she spent literally the next 15 minutes talking about it loudly. my whole break. “Ellen likes it quiet, don’t you Ellen, yeah, sometimes I like quiet, too. I think we’ll do, but you especially want to be left alone right now, which is fine…: for my whole 15, my lunch break, and I skipped my last break.

      1. I have RBF*

        Aaaauuuugggh! I probably would have snapped and said “I said I like quiet during my break. THAT MEANS SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

        If I was not at that point I would have gone elsewhere in the building, and if she followed me I probably would have accused her of stalking me.

        I hate people talking AT me.

      2. HotSauce*

        I keep a pair of Loop earplugs in my desk drawer for exactly these situations. When I’ve told you I need quiet so I can concentrate or unwind or whatever & you continue to talk then I’m going to put them in. If you find that rude, well, I find it rude to continue to babble when I’ve asked you very nicely and pointedly not to do it, so I guess we’re even.

      3. STAT!*

        That is so rude & aggravating. Was she doing it sarcastically, or just because she doesn’t understand that “I don’t want to talk” is not an invitation to monologue?

        1. Tired but Happy*

          I had someone do this, at multiple jobs, because I use lunch to decompress.

          Got the chiding comment about how I am on my phone and nobody wants to talk anymore.

          At my last job I took it and grumbled. This time I asked them to knock it off and I was talking with friends and needed quiet time at lunch.

          And then the person did a “Ooooh TBH needs QUIET TIME” and everyone in the lunch room looked up and glared at the person and they slunk off elsewhere.

          I have confronted this person (and management about this person) and unwanted comments and they have blissfully stopped.

          1. Tired but Happy*

            They were also a mini Serena and would say Good Morning or Hello every. single. time. they saw me, disrupting my work and getting annoyed if I didn’t respond.

            I gave you one polite response, pal, that’s what you get.

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      I work with a Serena, and the only thing that works even temporarily is to flat out say, “X, please stop talking.” Nothing “gentler” or less direct gets through.

      He also is clearly desperate to join in and make friends at work, but the sheer overwhelming OOMPH of his constant and loud chatter does the exact opposite, just like in the letter.

  1. soontoberetired*

    This is great advice, these kind of scripts I used in the past while working with someone really similar to Serena but not quite as bad. The problem I had is other people were afraid to be blunt with her but blunt was the only thing that worked. they just disengaged entirely. She was also a yeller and would yell and berate people to get her way,l and the more you caved to her the worse it got. Be blunt!!!!

    1. KatEnigma*

      We had one of those. “But she won’t take no for an answer.”

      “Untrue. No is the only thing that works. You have to directly tell her when she is overstepping, etc.” In that case, I am almost positive it was undiagnosed neurodivergence that accounted for “doesn’t understand indirect hints” and not the behavior we were trying to stop.

      1. Ultra Anon*

        Yeah, sometimes if you add to the “No” it just gives leeway to continue to argue the point.

    2. Quinalla*

      I’ve worked with someone similar to this and I felt incredibly rude with how blunt I had to be, but yeah I reframed it as being kind as others either wouldn’t say anything and just avoid him or were higher ups and gave him a severe dressing down because he had not a political savvy bone in his body. He did not understand when higher ups said to be open and honest that there were a couple things that they actually did NOT want to hear about, that has actually changed since then, but he did not get it.

      Another person was even more like your Serena with the eavesdropping and butting in. I wasn’t dealing with it, but was advising the person who was and said that they had to be straightforward about it and also try to get to the root of what was driving it as that would go a long way towards the person more easily changing vs. a don’t do this anymore.

      I’m full time WFH, so I’m dealing with different communication, etc. problems now – usually people not communicating enough, so it’s nice to talk about something else :)

  2. Kowalski! Options!*

    It’s dumb to expect the solution to rely on Serena quitting. Serena’s not going to quit; why should she? *She’s* getting what she needs out of the situation, to the detriment of the well-being of the other employees. YBITA.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Any time a coworker is a serious problem more than once, the real problem is their boss.

          1. Prospect gone bad*

            NO. I’m in management and we need to document and document and have conversations and consultations, most people online act like you can just fire somebody who is the problem. Usually it’s a year long process. I feel like the United States is only “employment at will” for a narrow range of jobs

            One may be annoyed at their coworker who keeps making the same mistake, but then they’re blindsided when somebody complains about them, because most people don’t see their own shortcomings. So in a sense, the current way of doing things makes a lot of sense

            1. NeedRain47*

              It’s a year long process b/c hiring replacements is hard, because someone might have a six months PIP, because it’s emotionally difficult for managers and they don’t like it, and (mostly) because people are scared of lawsuits. In reality the US is employment at will for almost everyone/everything. They could fire me today just b/c it’s tuesday and I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on to fight it. This is true for most people.

            2. Dawn*

              Needing to “document and document” may be the case in your situation, but it’s not the case in a lot of situations. And even in countries that aren’t America – I’m Canadian – the more egregious someone gets and the more often their behaviour comes up, the shorter that process gets.

              Most of the time “we need to document and document” is also a sign of bad management because it indicates that the employer is so afraid of the possible consequences of firing someone that they can’t take action when it’s necessary.

            3. Zarniwoop*

              The problem here is management doesn’t want to do the work of documenting.

            4. anna*

              A year long process? That’s a problem with your company. Good companies don’t take a year if there’s a clear problem. A year definitely is not any kind of norm.

          2. House On The Rock*

            Perhaps if their boss is the sole owner of the company who is extremely tolerant of potential risk and the “serious problem” is universally accepted. Otherwise, no, this is wildly inaccurate and reductive. Performance management is difficult, almost never transparent (for good reason), and involves multiple levels of an organization.

          3. Rex Libris*

            Or their boss is giving them time, coaching and action steps to address their behavior and hopefully keep their job, rather than just firing them the second time they screw up. Which would you rather work for?

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’m all about work from home, until I see evidence that it is not working. Ladies, Gentlemen, Workers of the World, I give you Exhibit A. OP’s manager.
        All I can think is, “Dude. You have ONE job.”
        Your boss sucks and his boss sucks.

        1. Margaret Cavendish*

          Seriously. “Hopefully she’ll quit some time” is…really something, as a management strategy!

          1. She of Many Hats*

            Happens way too often in regards to bad employees. “If I ignore it long enough, it’ll go away”.

            1. MassMatt*

              …when the reality is often that the bad employee drives out the good ones until you are left white a whole department of people that don’t have better alternatives. Or just don’t care about much of anything.

            2. Elitist Semicolon*

              I had that manager. They were also the “we don’t want to renew this person’s contract but at least they’re the devil we know; someone else might be worse” manager. Which meant that we got stuck with a co-worker none of us, including the manager, could tolerate.

              1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                that is next level!
                ow, it hurts when I do this.
                Stop doing that.
                I can’t…until tomorrow.
                Oh, cool. So you’ll stop tomorrow.
                Why would I stop? I’m so good at it!

          2. MigraineMonth*

            I’m imagining the boss applying this same strategy to other areas of his life. “I broke my leg, but eventually I’m going to die anyway, so I’ll just ignore it until the problem solves itself.”

        2. Sleeve McQueen*

          eh, I imagine that sucky bosses are equally capable of sucking in person. It’s not the location, it’s the sucking :)

    1. Boolie*

      Agreed. Being annoying isn’t a fireable offense, sorry OP. Then we’d have like 50% global unemployment.

      1. Cat Tree*

        There’s a huge range of options between “firing” and “literally nothing except hoping she quits”.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        In an at-will work environment, it certainly can be. Doesn’t seem to be based on any discriminatory reasoning in this case whatsoever, which is the only thing legally prohibited in at-will workplaces.

        That being said, it doesn’t really matter so much as it seems like it won’t happen regardless.

      3. HotSauce*

        It’s wild to me that people would rather have this woman fired rather than a single person sit down with her and tell her in a very straightforward way what she’s doing wrong.

        1. JB2*

          Seems to be a running theme on AAM that people can’t / don’t want to be candid and actually talk to people about problems. I think we’ve got some kind of cultural aversion to it. I’ve seen plenty of workplaces were people weren’t allowed to discuss their complaints because they were seen as being weak or incompetent. (Like, even if a problem could be easily corrected, they were expected to continue to suffer with a problem because speaking up would mark them as inept or a troublemaker.) I’ve also seen workplaces that conflated criticism with aggression. Like, if you told someone their idea wasn’t workable they would take it as rudeness and a personal attack. It got so bad that people couldn’t provide normal feedback without risking someone feeling ‘disrespected.’ Either way, these systems ended up producing bad results because people felt like they had to just tolerate problems.

          1. Dawn*

            As somebody working adjacent to customer service I can also tell you unequivocally that we’ve developed this aversion because, one, a lot of people react terribly to being corrected, and, two, sometimes their response to that correction looks like expressing that terrible reaction with firearms.

            And it happens far less than watching the media would have you believe, but it happens often enough that people get justifiably nervous, especially if you add in the wrinkle of being a minority to some extent or another.

          2. Always a Corncob*

            I mean, you’re answering your own question here. People don’t want to be candid about problems because that can get them labeled as the troublemaker and make them a target for the person being addressed. And as Alison says, people are uncomfortable being blunt and are trying to avoid what they see as rudeness. Plus the manager is giving very strong impressions that he won’t back up the employees. It’s more complex than just “people can’t be bothered to address issues.”

        2. Katrina*


          It’s really disheartening to see people “hoping” she’s fired. Just…why? Isn’t the ideal solution that someone speaks with her without softening the message, and she improves?

          It’s not like the inability to read social cues is a conscious decision or a personal attack. The behavior needs to change, yes, but so far, not one person has told her that. Everyone’s just scratching their heads wondering why giving her the same hints over and over isn’t producing a different result.

      4. JB2*

        >Being annoying isn’t a fireable offense, sorry OP.

        This is not correct.

        In practically every state in the union where at-will jobs are the norm, *anything* is a fireable offense. The entire point of at-will employment is that the boss can fire you for any reason or no reason at all. The only rule is that the firing can’t be motivated by unlawful discrimination.

        So you might trivialize the behavior by saying they are merely, “being annoying,” but consider what that might actually mean: The employee lacks interpersonal skills and doesn’t comprehend business norms or culture. If their behavior is so obnoxious that it actually interferes with work, the manager should be counseling them on their behavior and firing them if they can’t adapt.

          1. ?*

            This blog is written by an American and read mostly by Americans so most comments here are referencing an American legal landscape unless they say otherwise.

    2. JB2*

      The boss is abdicating their responsibility to counsel and develop employees.

      They should be having some sort of scheduled feedback sessions where they receive guidance on how they are doing and how they can improve. That’s part of leadership. Imagine if the employee turned in shoddy products or buggy code. I would expect the supervisor to point out the deficiency and show them how to improve. If an employee has a terrible attitude, lacks interpersonal skills, or behaves in a manner so obnoxious that the other workers want to quit, I would also consider that a problem that needs to be corrected.

      We’ve got this weird idea that a person’s conduct and behavior is somehow irrelevant, which is absolutely false. It’s like we’re expected to be robots when we are at work, and just ignore anything that can’t be quantified as a business output. The problem is that things like culture, environment, and interpersonal skills have a *massive* impact on people’s productivity. This has been tested and demonstrated over and over.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “We’ve got this weird idea that a person’s conduct and behavior is somehow irrelevant, which is absolutely false.”

        Agreed! I’ve also heard comments about bad managers like, “Well, she’s mean and unapproachable, but she gets the work done.”

        No, she doesn’t. Someone who is mean and unapproachable is not doing an important piece of their job properly.

    3. Eowyn (OP)*

      Kowalski! Options! you’re completely correct, this is a stupid/cruel/jerkwad thing for our grandboss to have said, and it took me aback when I heard it. Though the productivity issues I mention in my update lower down in the thread do need to be addressed with Serena, I don’t think she needs to be fired or quit like our boss seems to hope. I think she’s got great potential given the right management, and truthfully (and eye-openingly) more directness from us as her colleagues. But yeah, the “ostrich in the sand” management style of the grandboss is 100% awful. Would not recommend. ;)

  3. Chick (on laptop)*

    Even if Serena were neurodivergent, that’s not a get out of jail free card for irritating, anti-social behavior. It would be a kindness to directly tell her she is being rude & alienating people.

    1. EMP*

      This!!! And if she is/were, bluntly setting boundaries can be way more comfortable for everyone than hoping someone who struggles with social cues “gets the hint”.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*


        Trust me – a lot of the time I worry about overstepping or talking to much. I can relax so much more with people who will TELL ME.

      2. NothingIsLittle*

        I’m neurodivergent and the most helpful feedback I’ve ever been given by a teacher was that my workshopping comments were too blunt and it made me unapproachable/intimidating. I never in a million years would have guessed that I was being too blunt and it was immensely helpful to have someone I trusted come out and say it to me.

        100% it would be a kindness to tell her regardless of her status so that she’s aware that she’s alienating people. I know there have been times where I got louder or spoke more because I thought I was being friendly when it was actually just annoying.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Oh yeah, “I just tell it like it is.” “I just have to share.” “I just…”
      No. You don’t get a pass on social rules because you say so.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          That’s the one.
          “I hate fake people.”
          Well, I hate A-holes, so here we are.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      100% THIS! If Serena can’t figure out subtle clues, then it’s time to smack her over the head with a clue-by-four. I wouldn’t be softening the message, either. Hopefully she’ll go to the grandboss and be just as rude to them. Hopefully that’ll clue grandboss into firing her!

      1. Tio*

        “smack her over the head with a clue-by-four” is an amazing phrase I will be using now

      2. Zarniwoop*

        Or maybe clue her in and she’ll change as soon as someone actually talks to her. Lots of examples of that in the AAM archives.

      3. NothingIsLittle*

        What an incredibly unkind thing to say! Per the OP, no one has actually bothered to tell Serena that she’s talking too much and it sounds like her rudeness is related to tone. There are plenty of people in this world, neurodivergent and otherwise, who wouldn’t pick up on the hints mentioned (myself included) and wouldn’t realize their tone came across badly.

        Do you genuinely think it’s appropriate to punish people for things they don’t know they’re doing wrong?

        Maybe she’s just rude and doesn’t care that she’s making people uncomfortable, but given the volume of people in these comments saying they’d have trouble understanding the cues listed it seems just as, if not more, likely to be accidental.

    4. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      So true. I’m neurodivergent and I actively seek feedback in the moment because trying to mind read is so so so hard and exhausting and causes me so much anxiety. I am on medication and in therapy and working my ass off to keep my brain chemistry from inconveniencing others; it feels fair to ask that grown adults ask for what they need from me and I think they would if they knew it’s a real kindness to just tell me directly and honestly if something I’m doing isn’t working for you. Then I will have all the information and can decide what to do with that.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        It’s infuriating, but also probably a dose of necessary perspective, for those of us whose neurodivergence manifests as decades of kicking ourselves for fumbling social situations to come across someone who just. doesn’t. care. Those times I misapplied my mother’s advice to “just join their conversations!” in elementary school don’t feel so shameful now.

      2. Modesty Poncho*

        Yep, I try hard to solicit advice and make things easy. Just last night I was chatting with an acquaintance and got excited talking about my enamel pin collection, and as I was scrolling through my phone for pictures made sure to tell her, “Please, stop me if you don’t want to see, it’s okay.” She enthusiastically agreed that she wanted to look so I showed her, but I really do try to catch myself getting over-hyped and make sure if I can’t read the room, I’m at least asking for the audiobook.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I love “if I can’t read the room, I’m at least asking for the audiobook.”

          I have friends with social anxiety who worry a lot that they’re offending me or talking too much. The solution is exactly the same: I tell them clearly (and kindly) when a conversation/relationship is going badly, so they can trust that if I don’t say something, it’s because everything is okay.

      3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I agree. like you don’t have to be mean but be clear so I’m not bothering you. I don’t want to bother others but sometimes do

    5. marvin*

      I do empathize with Serena, and find it kind of interesting that the rest of the office will only accept neurodivergence as a reasonable underlying cause for this. I realize that this is quite annoying, but I think it must be pretty tough to be so desperate to connect but also constantly driving everyone away, whatever the reason.

      Obviously that doesn’t mean that everyone is obligated to let Serena explain their jobs to them forever, but I do think it would be a kindness to enact some boundaries with her. This may seem counter intuitive, but I would also consider putting aside a little time to actually try to connect with her. It’s possible that it would help satisfy her need for attention and it might be possible to actually find some points of connection with her if you disrupt the needy dynamic. Obviously this is not necessary to do but who knows, maybe it would help reset things.

      1. Always a Corncob*

        I also found that interesting. Even if Serena is neurodivergent, her behavior is still alienating her colleagues and making them avoid her, and they’re not obligated to put up with her behavior, whatever the reason. So it doesn’t change the need to take action, and I doubt it would change Alison’s advice at all. Whether she’s neurodivergent, lonely, oblivious — it doesn’t matter. Getting hung up on the reason for her behavior is a distraction from the only factor you can control (your behavior in response to her).

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, some people are just socially awkward and desperate to connect to other people even if they’re neurotypical. A diagnosis isn’t an excuse for being a jerk, or at least it shouldn’t be.

    6. JustaTech*

      Yes to this!
      I used to have a coworker who was like Serena – just a firehose of words. Any phone call with Jim was at least an hour, and you’d say maybe 15 words (even if he’d called you to ask a question!).
      It got so bad that people at his site would call each other’s desk to give themselves an excuse to get away from him. And they weren’t subtle about it.
      The worst part was that Jim *knew* people didn’t like him and that he was being excluded, and I could tell it hurt his feelings. And he wasn’t a *bad* guy, he wasn’t arrogant or pompous, he just really wanted to share *all* of his thoughts.
      But he never had a manager who was willing to manage him in any way (because it took a lot of time and effort), but especially not in a interpersonal-relations kind of way. So no one ever told him flat out “Dude, Jim, everyone avoids you because you talk too much.” (Including me.)

      Do the whole universe a kindness and *tell her*!

    7. ferrina*

      Very true. I’m also neurospicy, and have a tendency to talk too much. ND can be aided by different strategies than neurotypical folks, but that’s usually on the ND folks to communicate which strategies help them. One of my friends who is autistic used to say “I’m really bad at reading hints, so please be really direct with me.” And he was super open to feedback- he took feedback better than anyone else I’ve ever known. I’ve tried to model my approach after his (even if I’m not disclosing my diagnosis- I can say “sorry, I’m a big talker”)

    8. KatEnigma*

      No, it doesn’t explain or excuse the bad behavior in itself. But it might explain why nothing short of bluntness has yet worked.

      I have been the one to have to step in and be very direct where everyone else had tried everything except bluntness. And then people were amazed that I got anywhere, but I had to explain that tone makes a big difference and you can be direct, in a kind way. But that she wouldn’t respond to hints or social cues, so they had to be direct!

    9. I Wish My Job Was Tables*

      I came down to see if someone mentioned this. It would be a real kindness to be blunt with her. Kind but blunt.

      I had a sibling with a more extreme version of what Serena has. On some level, they understood they had a problem but changing behavior was hard. The family started responding to them directly instead of tiptoeing around them, which was the impetus to get them to work harder on changing their behavior. We used a lot of similar language to what Allison suggested – lightly kind but direct.

      Changing the messaging in their head from “this is a problem affecting me alone in my bubble” to “this has serious consequences outside myself that prevent me from having the life I want” made them work harder to get better. Hopefully this helps Serena too.

      1. Cee S*

        This! I’ve neurodivergent people in my family, too, but their parents tip toe around the behaviour. They received counselling throughout the childhood and adolescent years. Their parents keep thinking that the world should be more accepting instead. I was trying to be kind and direct when they asked me for job advice and was backfired.

        The parents tip toe around because they could have a meltdown for being upset. We don’t have the physical abilities to deal with a melthdown.

    10. Cee S*

      I know someone who would talk over other in social settings. A few people in the social circle have picked up such a tendency especially in a group more than 3 people. She told us how other people constantly tried to talk over her while she had not finished yet.

      One day, her manager told her in private how she consistently talked over her co-workers and her clients. She was very upset about the comment and told us how rude her boss was. We tried to tell her that it’s her who talked over people but we got interrupted again.

      She was let go from her job one day for not achieving the sales target. She told us how she was bullied at work. My friends drew the connection between the private convo and the layoff.

      For a long time, I suspect that she were neurodivergent in some way. I’m not in a position to tell her to seek counselling.

  4. Observer*

    OP, please note that Allison’s suggestions are a lot more polite than what you are doing.

    But, also, start doing what she suggests. Either it will help in which case, great. Or it won’t, in which case you go back to your boss and say “It’s find to work things out with each other, but that requires everyone to be on board be willing to work on things. We’ve been doing our best and talking to her, but she’s not doing her part. *We* can’t make her change.”

    Also, start documenting when she creates work problems. Like if she interrupts a conversation with a customer, interferes with your doing your job, etc. It should not be necessary, but I think that you are going to have to show your boss very clearly that this is NOT just “people not getting along”.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yes! You are all “hinting” at Serena in solidarity and avoiding her; that’s really unkind, although it may feel kinder to you in the moment because you don’t have to deal with her reaction. “Serena, you’re interrupting my conversation with Jane and I’d like to finish it” isn’t less kind. “Serena, you’ve done a lot of the talking today and I wanted to hear from Jane” isn’t less kind. “Serena, would you mind keeping your voice down?” isn’t less kind than everybody hoping Serena quits!

      1. Rose*

        Avoiding unnecessary conversations with someone who is actively obnoxious and explains your job to you isn’t unkind.

        1. jane*

          Not in a vacuum, but directly and politely addressing an issue with someone is kinder than not directly addressing it and hoping they’ll notice everyone is avoiding them.

          A caveat – Serena would drive me CRAZY and I’d probably end up avoiding her too

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            I have the same caveat.

            From the distance of the internet, I’d advise OP to speak with Serena about this. But as a person, I don’t know how comfortable I’d be telling someone, essentially, that a habit / trait they have is annoying to me and everyone around them and they need to cut it out.

            And if someone said something like that to me, I’d be mortified and upset. So, yeah. I’d probably say nothing and avoid her to avoid everything I said above.

            1. marvin*

              I don’t think it would be kind to tell Serena how annoyed everyone is–that would be unnecessarily upsetting. But if you’re at a point where everyone is doing synchronized phone watching and room leaving events, it’s way past time to decide to either use your words or live with the status quo. I say this as someone who hates confrontation, but it really is okay to tell someone you’re not available to talk with them at the moment.

            2. Observer*

              From the distance of the internet, I’d advise OP to speak with Serena about this. But as a person, I don’t know how comfortable I’d be telling someone, essentially, that a habit / trait they have is annoying to me and everyone around them and they need to cut it out.

              I would not be comfortable at all. And I *totally* sympathize with the OP’s not having spoken to Serena till now. But it’s still the more polite and kind thing to do. And it can be valuable to hear that when your insides are telling you that it’s so rude.

          2. Modesty Poncho*

            Oh, noticing is the easy part. The really rough thing is to not address it and hope she’ll understand WHY everyone is avoiding her, and solve the problem without any clues. I’m sure Serena knows everyone avoids her, which is likely part of why she seeks them out instead.

        2. Kittyfish76*

          Agree. We have someone like this at my workplace. If we were “kindly direct” with her she would be offended and report us to management.

          1. JB2*

            “she would be offended and report us to management.”

            And? So what?

            Why do you care if she is offended? If the person’s behavior is already intolerable, what do you lose by offending them? Not much.

            And what is management going to do about it? Imagine if an employee showed up and said, “Bob didn’t let me into his personal conversation,” or “Frank told me I talk to much.” My response would be something along the lines of, “GTFO.”

            I’ve actually seen employees complain to HR that they felt this or that person was somehow freezing them out by being unfriendly or giving other people too much attention. They got laughed out of the room because “Bob doesn’t want to be my friend” isn’t an actionable problem.

            As far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty good litmus test for an employer. If the boss is actually going to discipline people for offering feedback just because the village idiot thinks it hurt her precious feelings, then that’s a boss you probably don’t want to be working for.

          2. House On The Rock*

            Yeah it’s not a one size fits all solution, unfortunately. I’ve known Serenas who genuinely appreciated direct coaching about their behavior. I’ve also known ones who lashed out at responses similar to what Alison suggests, complained to HR that they were being treated, and caused a ton of drama and churn.

        3. Sleepy Snoopy*

          On the surface it doesn’t seem unkind, but her coworkers are doing her a disservice by not addressing this with her. This is going to snowball into a bigger issue all because no one in this office will do Serena the kindness of setting boundaries and explaining her behavior is disruptive. They’ve done everything except just talk to their coworker about this.

          Who knows, she might turn around and say “WELL THAT’S JUST HOW I AM!” but no one has even tried to talk to her one on one before going up the chain.

          1. Sleepy Snoopy*

            I hit post too early, oops.

            Honestly, I think this whole situation reeks of unprofessional behavior. I won’t go into detail about Serena’s because I feel like it has been covered enough. LW and their colleagues need to be able to put their foot down and say things like “Serena, I really need to work on this spreadsheet, my deadline for it is today.” or “Serena, I’m on lunch break and decompressing, if you need something from me that’s work related, I’ll come find you when my break is over.” Avoiding a colleague in a work environment is not feasible for the long term, they need to be able to work with her and it will take adjusting on both sides.

        4. JB2*

          The problem is that in the long run, Serena will suffer for it. People think they are choosing the “kind” option by avoiding conflict and sparing Serena’s feelings. But think about what happens over time… Serena gets frozen out of relationships, gets passed over for promotion, misses opportunities for networking and development, and misses out on information she might need to do her work. Imagine what happens if a year goes by and Serena realizes her career is stagnating and people are actively avoiding her. Are we supposed to think that benign neglect is “kind” when we could have just helped Serena solve the problem in the beginning? Is a boss being “kind” when they refuse to give feedback that could help an employee be more effective?

          1. Sloanicota*

            Imagine if you realized one day that all of your coworkers talk behind your back about how annoying and obnoxious you are, have coordinated strategies for ignoring and avoiding you, have complained to your boss about you, and have written to an advice column that got hundreds of comments about how to handle how annoying you are! But have never asked you not to butt into their conversations or speak more quietly or whatever – because they’re too kind to do so!

        5. Dr. Vibrissae*

          It is unkind if no one has ever told her directly why she’s being avoided.

          There’s every chance that Serena does recognize those ‘closed doors’ and ‘group breaks with everyone but her’ as people avoiding her, and the reopening the door and saying she feels cut off is her hinting to everyone that she sees them and thinks they are being rude in return.

          Maybe she’s a jerk who is never going to stop butting into conversations and sounding like a know-it-all even after directly being told to cut it out or maybe she’s just really bad a social skills and her only go-to tactic is talking loudly about ‘subject at hand’ or maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. But the current situation of ‘everyone in the office hates her and avoids her but hasn’t said what she has done to bring this on’ is surely less kind than saying ‘Oh, I don’t want your advice on this.’

    2. Alanna*

      Thank you. Something about this letter really rubs me the wrong way — I understand that Serena is very annoying, but this isn’t being handled in a mature or professional manner.

      Is Serena’s behavior actually affecting the business — is she derailing meetings, being rude to clients/customers/partners, and interrupting people when they are trying to work? Or do you just not like her and don’t want to have to interact with her, and are annoyed that she’s joined a team that previously got along well? It’s a little hard to tell from what’s described here — it sounds like she’s annoying the heck out of people on their breaks and is eager to join in conversations that are happening near her. But I’ve worked in offices where strolling up to a casual related conversation and joining in was the norm.

      1. Olive*

        Something that might help is if the office has some clearly defined inclusive social times. There’s always going to be some tension because some people believe that they should never have to be social while at work, but it’s a lot easier to tell someone that a conversation is private when you’re not also feeling guilty that they’re being shut out of everything at all times.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          That would likely just result in Serena monopolizing those times, too. Why would her co-workers want more of that? I mean, I don’t disagree with you that they might feel guilty about telling her she’s interrupting, but they also need to consider their own individual responsibilities/time and not try to accommodate others’ responses to Serena as well. This isn’t the sort of situation where “take one for the team” is appropriate – no one person HAS to talk to Serena to make up for the other folks who have politely declined her input.

      2. Ariaflame*

        There is a difference between joining in and taking over.

        Stress that affects morale can absolutely affect their productivity.

      3. K8T*

        Agreed! I’m not fully on OP’s side since they’re just shunning her instead of taking any progressive action. Based off the letter she does sound annoying but sometimes just fully interacting with this kind of person every so often sates their need for attention.

        I’m also thinking of all of the LWs who ask how to connect with coworkers and the exact advice is to join conversations, ask about people’s lives, etc. Again – if this is what she’s doing she still needs to adjust her behavior but sometimes a little grace can go a long way.

      4. MsM*

        If she’s explaining people’s jobs to them, that suggests to me she’s interrupting actual work conversations.

        1. K8T*

          So then OP & co need to be adults and tell her that. If Serena reacts poorly then they can go to their manager and say hey we tried, ball’s in your park.

          All of this could potentially be resolved by a 2 minute conversation. And inb4 “what if she blows up comments” then at least they got the convo started.

          1. JB2*

            Yes. I’m scratching my head over the absurdity of staying quiet and hoping the problem solves itself.

            “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas!”

      5. Thegreatprevaricator*

        I don’t like the ‘we’ where the letter writer doesn’t work directly with Serena. Who is we in this situation? Is the problem universal or just a problem for the ‘we’. And I think it is unkind to clearly be extensively discussing what a problem Serena is and *not addressing it directly with her*. Why is the letter writer taking it on themselves to address this?

        I am getting mean girl vibes from this. Obviously I lean much more Serena, but also this is a poor way to treat a colleague. People are annoying. Find a way to co-exist and give them a chance to amend their behaviour.

      6. Kella*

        I do wish OP had given some more specific examples of how conversations with Serena went. But just based off of what OP has written here: Interrupting (as in someone else is in the middle of talking and you start talking before they are finished), talking loudly in order to dominate a conversation, giving unsolicited advice, explaining people’s own jobs to them when she is less experienced, opening doors *so* that she can eavesdrop, being derisive of neurodivergent people– all these behaviors aren’t just annoying, they are disrespectful. And none of those behaviors are required to join in on a nearby conversation.

        As Alison alludes to, it’s pretty normal for people to shy away from direct strategies in situations like this because we’re taught it’s rude to directly tell someone that their contribution is unwanted. And given that their managers have refused to help it all, it sounds like Serena’s coworkers simply do not have the tools for dealing with the situation, not that they are intentionally using immature tools to hurt or undermine Serena.

        That said, hopefully OP will use the scripts they now have thanks to Alison to address the issue directly, and perhaps even share those scripts with their coworkers. And hopefully Serena will listen to being directly addressed.

  5. EmbracesTrees*

    I honestly feel really badly for people like Serena. They clearly are missing some filters or other-awareness that most of us have or learn.

    That said, the behaviors are incredibly irritating and would also make me boil over. I agree with Alison that saying something can only lead to a more positive situation — even if she gets angry and yells or becomes passive-aggressive, she’ll be aware that what she’s currently doing isn’t tenable for her coworkers.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Well, and honestly, everyone is jumping through hoops to avoid giving her the feedback that might be able to help her course-correct! It is sad actually.

    2. Julian*

      I might have had some sympathy for Serena before she spoke derisively about neurodivergency. Honestly, that feels like the most egregious offense, and the one the LW has the most standing to shut down in the moment.

    3. ferrina*

      Eh….sometimes. Overtalkers are like everyone else- some are considerate and some aren’t.

      The considerate overtalkers are often bad at reading social cues and don’t realize that they’ve lost the audience. This is especially common with folks that get really interested in sharing their knowledge (can be common with ADHD) and struggle with self-editing. These folks feel bad when they realize that their audience isn’t enjoy the monologue, and they will apologize and try to do better (though it may take several tries before they find the right strategy, and even then it may not always work- it’s a process, but you’ll usually see it trend toward getting better). They also tend to be thoughtful in other ways, and will try to make time for you to talk as well.

      The inconsiderate overtalkers don’t care if their audience is bored. They just want to opine and be heard. They may try to dictate their audience’s response (“no, you’re supposed to feel X”). They may apologize, but make absolutely no effort to control their actions. You may see them improve for a week or two, then they will go right back to their patterns. They may even be selective in who they have for an audience- they can hold it in when it comes to their boss, but will demand their coworkers constantly listen (though they may not). One group of this is the conversational narcissists- that’s a fun one to look up (and I think we’ve all known one). I’ve got no sympathy with this group- too many of these folks have wasted too much of my time already

      1. Sloanicota*

        It’s interesting to me, I mean, even narcissism is a mental disorder right? I only know a few people who probably meet that diagnosis and they really don’t seem like the happiest people. It can’t be fun to live that way (well, I’m sure there are some people who enjoy it, but the ones I know don’t seem to). On their best days they do know they overreact to stuff and that people avoid them, but they seem incapable of change.

        1. Boof*

          Narcissism is a personality disorder, ie, a pattern of maladaptive behaviors; it does not have a psychopathology the way schizophrenia or bipolar disorder does (at least, not that we currently understand, and it doesn’t really make sense for it to have a major physical basis). That’s not to say there can’t be causes for having a personality disorder; maybe they had narcissistic parents, maybe they were bullied a lot as a kid and their coping strategy was to believe they are actually better than everyone, who knows. They can get better but it’s basically only with intensive behavioral therapy. And usually someone has to want that sort of therapy / admit there’s a problem to benefit from such therapy.

      2. Philosophia*

        Thanks for this analysis. I’d add a middle category of Oblivious Overtalkers. The ones I have in mind are repeatedly obsessive about sharing, seldom pick up on the signs that their audience isn’t enjoying the monologue, and can’t ever seem to find a gear between all and nothing—which is a shame, because what they’re saying can be interesting in smaller doses.

      3. Caliente Papillon*

        Idk. My thing is these people who can refrain from C with one group/person but not another/others. If you know not to do it to some people you know it’s problematic. If you can control yourself amongst some people then can’t you control yourself around others? Therefore you’re just doing it to people you feel you can get away with doing it to.
        To me abusive folks are quite similar- they know who isn’t putting up with that crap and they know who will, but if you can not do something to Sone people then you cursory have control and are doing it on purpose tho those you feel you can AND you know it’s a problem if you’re not doing when you know you can’t get away with it.
        I’ve literally had people pass me by, like look at me and walk past and then irritate a friend of mine (who is a bit if an abuse victim, like she’s always having a problem with someone). I find it fascinating. And I’m not even a mean person, I’m just not here for your BS lol. People do approach me to chat, comment on things I wear a lot, but not jerks.

  6. She of Many Hats*

    I would strongly suggest getting the “handle it yourselves” in writing from the bosses before initiating Allison’s advice for boundary setting because Serena will very likely go to the bosses and HR complaining about being shut out and ostracized by her department or team. You want evidence that you followed protocol bringing the issue to them and are following their direction to resolve the issue yourselves which you are through firm, concrete boundary setting. Heck, even respond to the bosses with “then, here are the steps we will be taking to resolve the problem.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think what they are doing now, actively avoiding her without naming why is much more actionable than, “Serena, I need to speak with Jane about this project now. If I have any questions for you about it, I’ll stop by later. For now, please go back to your desk. Thanks.”

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      OP (and any adult) should not need their boss’ opinion before saying “please let me finish talking” or any of the other things Alison suggested. These are standard things that professional adults do all’s needed, even with someone who *isn’t* a Serena. This morning I was working on an urgent, time sensitive request and a coworker stopped by to chat — I didn’t need my boss’ express permission to say “I’ve got to get this to Legal, I’ll get back with you later.”

  7. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    As someone who WAS a Serena, I did this because I was raised in an environment where silence was viewed as super scary or indicative of abandonment. My value came directly from what I could bring (in talk) to any interaction less I be forgotten. A peer or someone slightly older taking me aside and gently explaining, “You should feel comfortable here, and your contributions to the work are so valued, but frankly you seem to want to fill every opportunity with talking of some kind. it’s becoming distracting and doesn’t help you look very self confident. We need you to keep contributing but could you work on being more aware of time and place?” Then provide suitable examples!

    1. I edit everything*

      Yeah, I’m getting the same vibes from the LW’s description of Serena, and a conversation like the one you described would probably be a good place to start. She sounds insecure to me, and some reassurance that she’s good at her job or valued in some way might help calm her anxiety.

    2. Smithy*

      Completely agree with this, and also that professional versions of this can also happen over time. Essentially professional environments that intentionally or unintentionally cultivate a culture where the “squeaky wheel gets grease” at any cost, and overtime poorly cultivate behaviors of speaking up for the sake of speaking up. Combine this with a current workplace with an offsite manager and hands-off grandmanager, and can see this kind of non sequitor speaking getting magnified.

      All of this to say, for those trying to set boundaries they don’t usually set and without the power dynamics of being a manager – I do think that setting yourself up as much as possible to feel as “less rude” as possible will be helpful. Having the excuse of a deadline or official business you need to focus on to shut her down, being in a meeting room/office with a door you can shut if she tries to walk in because you have a hard stop at noon, etc. Those moments usually make enforcing boundaries a lot easier than moments like breaks or feeling like you can engage in any office chit chat in an open cubicle space for the first time.

    3. Cyndi*

      I definitely agree with providing some examples! Posts about loudly awkward coworkers/bosses always make me a little anxious, because when these people are directly (and rightfully!) called out on it and overcompensate by withdrawing from others, that apparently also comes off as rude, like someone is sulking? But that’s exactly what my instinct is, too, not out of hostility but to “play it safe” and avoid causing further discomfort.

      tl;dr I might just be projecting here! But I still think at least a general idea of “here’s what WOULD work better” is usually really helpful in this kind of conversation.

    4. Rose*

      This is one very specific motivation of many. Just because it was your reason, doesn’t mean it’s Serena’s.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah. I’ve also seen things like this backfire- “Teekanne aus Schokolade told me I shouldn’t talk in the office!”

        You also have to have a certain level of self-awareness for this to work. It sounds like you were self-aware and appreciated the feedback, but there are plenty of other people who would take this as a personal attack and lash out.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I think the advice applies regardless as to the reason. Teekanne is simply providing the context as to why they were a Serena and how someone else helped them to stop being so Serenish.

      3. I&I*

        Teekanne never said it was; they were just providing some experience that the OP was free to find useful or discard. Also disclosing some vulnerable experiences, which should surely be treated with respect. Sorry you were raised around such stress, Teekanne. xxx

        As an approach to Serena, it seems like a good one regardless of her motivation. It lets her save face while being clear about the fact that she talks too much and needs to dial it back.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      I know someone who was told a slightly less softer version: “You don’t have to keep speaking up to stay relevant.”

    6. Bibliothecarial*

      I like this too – it works no matter what Serena’s motivations are. Though I don’t think it is Op’s job to mentor Serena; OP should stick with setting boundaries. I will keep your script in mind for folks I mentor!

    7. Eowyn (OP)*

      I really love this idea. Thank you so much for this, I am 100% using this too!

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        And show Serena her thoughts DO matter by asking her opinions from time to time especially on her work/area of expertise. She’s very lucky to have someone who cares as much as you do, OP!

    8. VLookupsAreMyLife*

      @Teekanne aus Schokolade any suggestions for how to manage that compulsive need to speak up when it’s not warranted? I’m struggling with this as part of raging imposter syndrome & haven’t found a strategy that works for more than 15 minutes or so.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Honestly, a couple therapy sessions helped me the most to identify the source of the compulsion for me (hint: imposter syndrome isn’t the source, it is also a symptom) and to cultivate a few self-regulation skills. I learned how to identify the feelings that fueled the compulsion, triggers, and to lean into the fear of “what would happen if I don’t say anything”.

        We all have different backgrounds- for me it was really related to the huge, highly -intelligent and chaotic family I was raised with. Nobody had ever managed to learn active listening skills, and only focused on the next thing they were going to say, which meant nobody was ever getting heard at all and everyone was always talking. Communication really sucked and people felt left out because they simply couldn’t tolerate silence, as it might mean someone was upset with you. (Passive aggressive).

        For someone else it could be a fear of being left out, or a myriad of other things I’m not qualified to know. A therapist can help you identify the source and develop some automatic skills pretty quickly.

        And as always with therapy and developing emotional strength and resilience, it’s not about tricking yourself into anything but in learning how to feel very very uncomfortable for a while until you can process that you’re safe even in this discomfort. Then do things get much better (just like at the gym!)

        1. STAT!*

          One of the best things I’ve found about getting older is being comfortable with socially awkward situations – even enjoying the novelty of the feeling! I find the discomfort passes pretty quickly, & I feel much less compelled to rush in & “fix” it.

  8. MegPie*

    I have a rule for myself that if I don’t have the guts to address something like this directly with the person that’s bothering me, I just have to live with it not go over their head. I would hope folks would give me the same courtesy if I was being annoying.

    1. CheesePlease*

      While your grandboss sucks, as a manager it feel condescending to go to an employee and say “Hi Serena, I’ve heard some complaints from others that they don’t like your behavior in the breakroom” if the issues don’t impact productivity / work at all. Those are issues I would expect adults to manage between themselves, and then ask me for support if they have already tried.

      Just like if someone’s music was too loud in their workspace, I would expect a coworker to say “Hey Dan, would you mind turning it down some? It’s hard to concentrate” before asking a manage to ask Dan to turn it down.

      So yes, if you’re not willing to say “Hey Serena, I was having a private conversation with Steve” or “Thanks but I don’t need your help with this, and if I do I will be sure to ask you” then you will just be left with work-arounds to her behavior and no real resolution.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I want to follow up on this, because it’s giving me a new information. I feel that a manager should be able and willing to step up and advocate for an employee. I feel that Serena’s excessive (and pathological) speaking is more than an irritating quirk.
        But is it? And if so, does that matter?
        Alison always says that the first step is to speak to the person. And she admits it can be hard for some people.
        Your statement “Those are issues I would expect adults to manage between themselves, and then ask me for support if they have already tried,” finally hits me with how it is important to advocate for myself first.

        1. CheesePlease*

          It can certainly be uncomfortable to advocate for yourself! But when I first started as a manager, I did want to help resolve employee complaints about coworkers. However, after a few times of seeing how the “problem” employee reacted upon learning other coworkers disliked something about how the worked, and those individuals were too uncomfortable to speak directly to them, but rather wanted a manager / supervisor to intervene, I opted to step back until they had attempted a resolution. I didn’t want to be a referee.

          Mind you, I was at a manufacturing facility a lot of these complaints were I don’t like their music taste at their work station, I don’t like sharing a work bench with them, I don’t like it when they speak to another coworker in another language I can’t understand etc. Probably smaller complaints than Serena creating an uncomfortable environment for everyone.

          Even so, seeing an employee willing to have a direct discussion means I know as a manager they did everything they could within their power to manage a situation they have a problem with, if that situation is strictly interpersonal and does not violate a company code of conduct, impact productivity etc.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            “Probably smaller complaints than Serena creating an uncomfortable environment for everyone.”
            Or you stepped in to explain you could not step in until the person spoke to the coworker first.
            And this statement is to compliment you, not criticize OP. OP went to management and was not supported and told, “this is something you can do yourself. It’s important that you try to resolve this between yourselves to create a good working relationship.”
            OP was told, “yeah, boy howdy, she sucks.”
            You lead; OP’s managers retreat.

      2. Olive*

        I do think there’s a role for a manager here because things have gotten to the point where official guidance and behavior modelling may be necessary. There’s a good chance that almost everyone has reached the BEC point where their ideal amount of interaction with Serena is none. And while forced socialization should be an a minimum, an office where Serena is iced out of every interaction is going to be toxic.

        On the other hand, there’s usually someone or a few people who end up bearing all the burden of being nice to Serena because they’re too kind and conscientious to completely ignore her (even if they set boundaries around some interactions). It’s like a game theory situation where the coldest people “win”. A good manager should be balancing keeping Serena from monopolizing every conversation and making sure that she’s being treated with respect.

      3. Unkempt Flatware*

        I recall advice from Allison about how a manager would address this situation and it was something like, “you have some very bad habits that are impacting your relationships and ability to succeed in this role” and then explaining said bad habits and how they’ve impacted their relationships with peers.

      4. Observer*

        While your grandboss sucks, as a manager it feel condescending to go to an employee and say “Hi Serena, I’ve heard some complaints from others that they don’t like your behavior in the breakroom” if the issues don’t impact productivity / work at all.

        That sounds good in theory, but there HAS to be limit. To take the extreme – a lot of illegal harassment doesn’t doesn’t have overt effect on work / productivity.”

        I do realize that managers do have to use some sense and discretion, but the reality is that a well functioning workspace needs people to behave in ways that most people can be comfortable around. And in many cases, if someone cannot / will not behave in those ways, yes management DOES have the standing to say something.

    2. Jenna Webster*

      Unfortunately, the way most people deal with it is by looking for another job, so this manager who is unwilling to deal with a real problem will lose good employees over it. It’s fine to tell people to handle it themselves, but when people are aware that the other person won’t respond as a mature adult, they are more likely to just realize their manager doesn’t want to manage and either remove themselves from the situation – or maybe find other less productive ways to handle it.

      1. Alanna*

        Looking for another job because you have an annoying coworker is a massive overreaction. Dealing with people who are rude or lack social skills or just don’t interact with others the way you want them to is part of life.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I disagree that it’s a massive overreaction. If you can’t change the situation, the only thing you can change is yourself. That might mean removing yourself from that situation rather than subjecting yourself to an environment that is this frustrating. OP wrote into an advice column over this with language suggesting they are at the end of their rope. That doesn’t sound like a minor annoyance to me.

          1. hbc*

            But they haven’t tried to change the situation. I get that some things are hard, but apparently no one has even tried “Hey, we closed that for a reason, thanks.” If she actually refuses to let people keep the door closed, that’s a tangible thing to take back to the boss.

            There are even some better indirect (i.e.: cowardly) strategies I’d try first before uprooting from a job I otherwise loved. For example, have your meetings have agenda item owners and limit “contributions” to one sentence per item unless explicitly requested by the owner.

          2. boyyou*

            I agree. I work with a Serena, and she knows she is obnoxious but her behavior doesn’t change. She’ll even say, jokingly(!), from time to time, “I really need to stop interrupting” but she doesn’t stop. She’s been spoken to by co-workers and a former supervisor about interrupting and talking over people, and she reacted by making really ugly accusations including racism and intolerance. She’s calculated and manipulative, not clueless.

            Our “Serena” also tells people how to do their jobs and pretends to be an expert on any and every subject. She interrupts ABSOLUTELY EVERY CONVERSATION. People do actively avoid her, it does interfere with other people’s work, and staff have given up even trying to speak in meetings because our Serena will interrupt them every time.

            Management has never held her accountable for her actions, and after years of this she knows she’ll get away with it, staff are burnt out from working near her, and at least two people have left in part because of her (see above: false accusations with no consequences) – it IS toxic.

            OP has my full sympathies here. It doesn’t matter what Serena’s diagnosis might be, it is not OP’s responsibility (nor is it any other co-worker’s responsibility) to kindly set her straight every time she behaves obnoxiously. Management needs to enact some consequences, or NOTHING will change.

              1. STAT!*

                “She’s been spoken to by co-workers and a former supervisor about interrupting and talking over people, and she reacted etc”. Seems to me like people have tried to set her straight.

        2. MsM*

          Leaving because leadership’s reaction to “this has become enough of a problem that it’s affecting morale” is “well, it’s not impacting me, so we’ll just wait for it to go away on its own” doesn’t strike me as an overreaction.

        3. ferrina*

          Disagree. I know someone who got divorced because her husband wouldn’t. stop. talking. It may sound petty, but imaging hours on end without being able to hear yourself think. It’s maddening.

          If you were on the fence about staying or leaving, this would make the difference. Even if you weren’t ready to leave, you certainly wouldn’t be doing your best work in an environment where you were constantly annoyed. And I would certainly feel no loyalty to a manager who allowed my coworker to interrupt others all the time (assuming OP had already talked to Serena directly, which it sounds like she hasn’t)

        4. Observer*

          It depends on how annoying.

          Getting away from people who are rude or make your life difficult is often a perfectly reasonable way to deal with a situation. Of course, in a case like this, talking to the person really should be the first step. But if that doesn’t work and management won’t act?

          It’s not a “massive over-reaction” to leave a situation where someone’s behavior has a massively negative ongoing effect on your day to day. And it sounds like Serena’s behavior could very well be doing that.

      2. mb*

        To be fair, according to the letter, not one person has actually addressed the situation to Serena directly. I understand that it’s hard for some people to speak up for themselves and/or to say something uncomfortable but it’s imperative that adults in the workplace can address interpersonal issues directly and with tact. An example was used in another comment of asking someone to turn down their music directly before going over their head.

        It’s also possible that Serena has picked up on people avoiding her without understanding why, and thinking that she just needs to put even more effort into connecting which only escalates the talking and interjecting. This may be an issue of ‘trying too hard’ and not being able to read social cues correctly.

    3. Smithy*

      I think this comment is also a very good reminder that while Serena may be bothering the OP and some people on her team a LOT, there are likely others she’s mildly irksome to. And in the grand scheme of issues they want to change at work, she ranks at about 25 on a list of 30.

      This isn’t to say that the supervisors/managers couldn’t be providing more guidance and generically – this kind of boundary setting is difficult. Particularly after COVID, some people’s social behaviors and social cues aren’t as sharp as they used to be. But it also may help the OP contextualize why this isn’t rising quite as high on the priority list for everyone. For some people, even on Serena’s team, while having conversation shut down – they may not hate coming into the office, putting in their earbuds and only talking when absolutely necessary. Even if it’s not their favorite, some people and for some jobs – that’s not the end of the world. But for other people (particularly depending on their job duties) – this type of environment can make their work duties really difficult and having any kind of mini work break almost impossible.

    4. Olive*

      I’m guessing that one of the reasons that it hasn’t been addressed directly is because socializing at work depends so heavily on unspoken norms.

      Because work is generally not private, there’s a perception that it’s “against the rules” to tell someone that they aren’t welcome in a conversation. Everyone ends up hoping that other people will understand when they aren’t invited and behave accordingly.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I think you make a good point, and I think it applies especially when it’s a social conversation instead of work-related.

    5. Aggretsuko*

      I would personally agree with this, but also I duck confrontation and I would bet an enormous amount of money that nothing could get Serena to shut up short of injury to her jaw.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “I would bet an enormous amount of money that nothing could get Serena to shut up short of injury to her jaw.”

        I agree! In fact, I was friendly with a co-worker who was a Serena. I liked her but was grateful I didn’t have to sit near her! But someone who did sit near her complained to the manager, who met with her and told her she was being disruptive and should stop talking so much.

        She told me all about it, in tears. I felt so bad for her. But she didn’t change! I think it’s very rare for these people to change.

  9. Angela Zeigler*

    On one hand, I sympathize with her for possibly being desperate for conversation/comradery, as was mentioned in the letter. Especially if they’re an extrovert and don’t have an outlet through family or friends.

    On the other hand, I completely understand how this could drive everyone else a little mad.

    I’ve dealt with someone like that before (though they had some combination of autism with narcissistic tendencies) and it can very much disrupt a group dynamic. It’s debilitating if you can’t even ask someone how they’re doing lately since this other person has to disrupt and shift the focus away to themselves. It can really break up a group by causing people to shy away since they don’t want to be involved in awkward discussions. It was hard to keep people in the group after a while.

  10. Cmdrshprd*

    It does seem like boss generally dismissed saying anything.
    “As for Serena’s boss saying people should “manage their issues between themselves,” are the issues with Serena at the point where they’re affecting people’s work?”

    It seems reasonable even if a coworker is affecting people’s for a boss to want coworkers to manage the issue between themselves first. Especially if OP/coworkers have not directly asked her to stop.
    I think if I was the boss, I would ask/say “Have you directly asked her to stop?” and if people said no, I would tell them to do that first. Then if Serena does not stop I would be willing to intervene. But going to someone’s boss first when people have not been direct with the person seems like putting the cart before the horse.

    Just to be clear this is for smaller interpersonal issues like Serena talks to much, one ups people etc…..” If it were something more serious like sexual/racial/religious or other kind of protected class harassment that is a different story and going to a boss first is the right move.

    1. Sloanicota*

      The boss could certainly bring up Serena always getting up from her desk to join other people’s conversations. That seems like it could be a productivity issue, and it is a clear and actionable request to make.

      1. EPLawyer*

        When does Serena get any work done if she is talking all the time? Surely the boss has noticed THAT part.

      2. Alanna*

        I think it depends on office norms and Serena’s performance. In any office I’ve worked in, telling someone not to get up and join casual conversations happening near them would be very heavy-handed and at odds with company culture.

        I could see being corrective if there were hierarchy issues — “hey, if the CEO and a VP are talking, even casually by the coffee machine, you should just leave them to it” — but even in that case, I’d do that as a kindness to the employee (you don’t want the CEO to think “oh, there’s that weirdo again”) and not as a major performance issue.

      3. Cmdrshprd*

        But OP does not really seem to have an issue or deal with Serena’s productivity or lack of. That really seems like trying to grasp at anything to get Serena to stop doing X without having to just directly ask her to stop doing x.

        What if Serena is really productive and gets her work done on time, then is what Serena does not an issue? I would think it is still an issue. There is nothing wrong with asking Serena to mind her own business more. Trying to find other reasons/ways to go about it seems like a lot more work than just being direct and asking her to stop. It seems like burning the house down because the carpet got a wine stain on it.

      4. ferrina*

        I was wondering about this too. It seems like there would be no way she’d be able to stay productive if she’s literally chasing people down to interrupt their conversations. She’s getting up to open the door so she can monitor conversations and interrupt them? She’s already half-focused on something else all the time.

  11. Looper*

    Please speak directly to Serena and name the problemand your preferred solution. And please cease making conjectures about her marriage, neurodivergency status, mental health care, or anything else. Sometimes people are just annoying and it doesn’t need to be pathologized.

    1. CommentKoi*

      This exactly. The reasoning behind her behavior is not the problem nor anyone’s business, just the behavior itself.

    2. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

      I am giving the OP the benefit of the doubt and assuming they’ve seen the comments section on this site enough to know that sometimes it turns into “let’s talk about how it’s possible this person is neurodivergent –I’m not saying they ARE– but IF they are, here’s what you should do…” It’s totally reasonable for them to anticipate that it might happen with this letter and want to forestall that.

      1. Eowyn (OP)*

        Mac is 100% right- I’m a frequent lurker of the AAM comments and knew that ND was likely going to be a discussion and tried to head it off. I probably didn’t do it well enough. But you’re all correct, direct definitely needs to be my (and our) new way. Thank you!

      2. bighairnoheart*

        This. As soon as I read that, I thought it was meant to head off commenters speculating.

  12. SA*

    My motto is “You can’t complain about what you aren’t willing to address”. Every person who is bothered by her interruptions and intrusions has an obligation to tell her about their frustrations.

    If someone doesn’t know they are doing something annoying, and people don’t tell them, they will keep doing it.

    Serena, I need to talk to you about something and it’s quite awkward. I’m not doing this to hurt your feelings but I have to tell you that I’m very frustrated with your communication style. Last week you interrupted a private conversation I was having with Beth, and shared your feedback. I was taken aback and didn’t address it at the time although I should have. I would appreciate you waiting to be invited to the conversation before sharing your thoughts. Going forward, I will be very clear with you when I’m frustrated with your communication style rather than getting annoyed and avoiding you. That’s really not the best solution for either of us so I’d like to try and work this out amicably.

    1. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

      This is a great script, but the only issue is that it only gives her one example that doesn’t cover the myriad of ways she bugs OP. I suppose, you could address one type of problem at a time though. She just sounds challenging all around!

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’m definitely in agreement that you can’t complain about what you aren’t willing to address, but I’d wager LW and their colleagues think they *have* addressed it by going first to the boss and then to the grandboss, who didn’t do what they wanted (talk to Serena) and instead told *them* to do what the colleagues don’t want to do (talk to Serena).

      They didn’t get the answer they wanted from higher ups, so they probably think they’ve addressed it and come to a dead end. They’re wrong, but I can see how if you think management is supposed to deal with stuff and they haven’t, there’s nothing else to be done.

    3. Mid*

      Yup. That’s my motto as well. Also Brene Brown’s “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Being clear and direct with someone is the kindest thing you can do, instead of simmering in resentment without addressing the issue.

      Serena might continue to steamroll everyone in conversations. But you won’t know until it’s addressed. (And making derisive comments about neurodivergence doesn’t mean someone isn’t neurodivergent.)

      And I’d also suggest trying to be warmer to her in situations you do want to talk to her, to show that you don’t hate her or want her to be silent all the time, that her contributions are welcome in some situations. Just not all of them. This is, of course, extra and not strictly necessary, but is the kinder route to take.

    4. Sloanicota*

      This is a good start on the script that needs to happen. I might wordsmith it a bit (I don’t think I’d lean on “frustration” so much as just focusing on my need for privacy / airspace, but that’s just me) and OP might want to do the same, but it’s definitely the right direction; first, OP could lay out the big picture pattern as described here, and then use some of Alison’s suggestions in the moment to get to specific things like interrupting or talking over people. I particularly appreciate that you are using “I” statements, because if OP tries to invoke how “everyone feels,” IMO that’s likely to just lead to a derailment while Serena tries to deal with everyone talking about her.

    5. KatEnigma*

      And follow through!

      With my “Serena” it was “Serena, we talked about this. You are overstepping. I need you to stay in your own lane ” “You aren’t part of who is responsible for making these decisions, so I need you to step out of the conversation.” – repeated from time to time, in a neutral but firm tone.

      Before I came, she had run off soooo many people, and everyone else just avoided her or let her have her way, and had for at least 10 years!!! No one had tried talking to her, ever.

    6. Khatul Madame*

      Very good! How much of this script do you think the LW will get through before Serena interrupts her?

    7. Not Totally Subclinical*

      Every person who is bothered by her interruptions and intrusions has an obligation to tell her about their frustrations.

      If no one’s spoken with her before, absolutely.

      Even if I’ve seen multiple someones talk to Serena about a problem and get ignored, yes, I should still talk to her about my problem before going over her head so I have the documentation that I already tried.

      If, however, I’ve seen multiple someones talk to Serena and receive vitriol or retaliation in return, I am under no obligation to subject myself to the same thing before I can complain about her behavior.

      1. boyyou*


        Signed, Someone with a “Serena” in my workplace, who has run amok with Serena-behaviors for years without consequences and makes the nastiest false accusations when spoken to about it.

  13. I edit everything*

    I wonder how clique-ish the workplace was before Serena was hired, and if she’s the type to insert herself more the more excluded she feels. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s possible that the more included she is, the less she’ll feel the need to push her way in, if she’s acting from a place of insecurity. If there’s some part of the business she’s good at, go to her for advice sometimes. “Hey, Serena, you usually have a good take on this kind of thing. What do you think about X?” And if the workplace was kind of cliquey and exclusionary when she arrived, that would only exacerbate her insecurity and need to push her way in.

    1. LawBee*

      It doesn’t sound like she gave them a chance to include her. She includes herself, and it’s probably past the time where people want to talk to her.

      It’s hard for Serena probably. Or not, maybe she’s just a talker and super social and needs redirection.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Definitely one suggestion for dealing with anxious or pushy people can be to carve out a space for them and assure them they’ll be able to share/contribute then. In theory, this should allow them to be more willing to cede control of other spaces. In theory.

    3. Serin*

      I was thinking about the way Captain Awkward often tells people that if someone is demanding too much of your attention, it can be helpful to set up a reliable time when they can be sure of having your attention — so in this case you might say to her, “I like to take a walk around the block every Monday at coffee break time. Would you like to join me on Mondays?”

      I think if you were going to do this you’d DEFINITELY also want to prepare yourself to be very explicit with her at other times, for fear she would translate “I’m invited to a Monday walk” into “I’m invited to all of everything ever.”

      1. SaltedCaramel*

        Yeah, but given how exasperated OP sounds, I don’t think anyone would actually want to do that. I bet everyone at that company thinks Serena took up too much of their time already.

  14. learnedthehardway*

    Serena’s manager needs to make this a performance management issue – because it is just that.

    It’s ridiculous that her manager thinks this is an interpersonal issue. It’s clearly much bigger than that. Serena has a communication problem. ie. she communicates WAY too much, does not respect her colleagues’ input or need to get work done, and has a need to monopolize conversations. She has a serious lack of self-awareness, and it is going to cause her real problems in her career. Regardless of the reason for her behaviour – it is her managers’ literal job to manage her performance, and that means confronting the issues, setting expectations, and helping her figure out how to meet them.

    1. L. Bennett*

      I don’t know that I agree with this. We don’t know that it’s affecting the way that Serena or anyone else does their job or the quality of their work. We just know that the coworkers are annoyed. I think it would be really hard for a manager to come in (when none of the coworkers have directly addressed the issue with Serena) and say “you’re talking too much and I need you to tone it down because you’re annoying people”.

      What expectations would you even set and how would you enforce them as the manager besides the employees coming and ‘telling on’ Serena when she is being socially awkward? If it was a thing where it was affecting Serena’s or the other employee’s work, the manager could have concrete things to point at, but based on the info we have, this truly does just seem like an issue where the employees find Serena annoying. I think that’s a really tricky situation to manage without seeming like you’re taking sides and bullying Serena.

      Since the manager did not witness these behaviors, all the examples would be coming from the coworkers. Serena would then walk away from that conversation feeling like she’s in trouble at work, and that her coworkers are complaining about her to the boss instead of the people who are annoyed directly asking her to stop.

      I think bringing the manager into this is a nuclear option and it would further isolate Serena when the kinder thing to do would be for the coworkers to set boundaries with Serena.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        What’s described is definitely affecting the work. Constant interruptions, inability to relax on breaks, and dread of interacting with a coworker will have an impact. If the grandboss “knows it’s an issue” then it’s not a case of being unable to articulate a problem. I don’t agree that going to the manager is a wild escalation, because a good manager can help an employee deal with something like this, they aren’t obligated to immediately write Serena up. A good manager would ask, “Have you talked about this with Serena? How did that conversation look?” and go from there to provide guidance like Alison’s or take further action.

      2. Alanna*

        Yeah, I’m struggling with this too. On the one hand, interpersonal skills are job skills. It’s tough feedback to give, but “When you do X, it makes people feel Y, and it’s making it more difficult to do Z” is sometimes important for a manager to say.

        On the other, interpersonal skills go both ways, and being able to be professional with someone you dislike is also an important interpersonal skill. It’s not a manager’s responsibility to shield their employees from every negative thing that might happen at work. Sometimes you have to work with people who annoy you.

        I think if I were a manager in this office, I would address work-related behavior with Serena — if she’s talking over people in meetings, interrupting, being consistently condescending to new hires, whatever. But break rooms and casual conversations are outside the manager’s ambit. People should be able to either have perspective or problem-solve on their own (take your break at a different time, go to an offsite coffee shop, sit in your car, whatever).

        I also might be more concerned about how much behind-the-scenes complaining and gossiping is going on. Even though I might seem sympathetic to Serena on this thread, I’ve absolutely been guilty of this behavior myself. Even if the other person is clearly in the wrong to begin with, once coworkers are bonding over putting someone down behind their back, it incentivizes you to notice and dwell on everything you don’t like about them. I can’t emphasize enough what a toxic cycle this is and how important it is to break it. My more level-headed colleagues who, like me, can’t ignore people’s foibles tend to adopt an attitude of amused detachment that serves them well. OP, I would really encourage you to cultivate it.

  15. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, I hope you and your colleagues do what Alison suggests. It feels awkward to say those things at first – boy, do I know – but speaking up like this is a work-related skill that will serve you well. Also, be prepared to repeat yourself. Relentlessly.

    Sadly, my team’s Serena did not respond or even react to our repeated requests to respect our privacy, etc. One of our senior team members eventually exploded: ‘Can you PLEASE wait until someone asks you a question before you chime in?’ That was not nice at all, but it got Serena’s attention.

  16. NYC Taxi*

    It’s not only the management that is inept. The whole office culture sounds awful. Instead of all the passive-aggressive behavior that does nothing to address the issue, talk to her directly.

    1. Robert Smith's Hair*

      We are not taught to have direct conversations! Like Alison said, her suggested scripts will feel unkind. Most folks don’t want to be the a-hole who comes off as a jerk to a coworker. Although we are well beyond this, it’s not surprising b/c we aren’t taught this.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Also, some people really don’t respond well to direct communication. Speaking up is very scary and riskful. And what if you end up being the one in trouble instead of her?

      2. LL*

        They don’t need to say things as bluntly as suggested in the article. It’s not a literal script. They just can’t keep expecting Serena to be aware of shit they haven’t told her.

      3. Eowyn (OP)*

        100% this! I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been taught/coached/mentored in having those direct conversations (I’ve only ever read about them, but never practiced them myself), and I’m new in my career and don’t want to be seen as “causing drama” or a “difficult woman.” And now I definitely see it’s resulted in me taking passive-aggressive actions with Serena which is what I don’t want to do. Our office is mostly young women and we haven’t been taught these sorts of things or have seen older career women labelled/derided as “dragons” for being more blunt, so Allison’s advice is really eye-opening to me! It’s going to be a tough lesson and I’m sure it’s going to take me a while to get used to it, but I’ll definitely work on being more direct.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. It obviously depends on the office culture and also on the cultural environment in general. This is also somewhat gendered.

          I’m in Finland, and we’re much more direct than what seems typical in the US, and it seems like women being direct isn’t such an issue here as it seems to be over there. I’m middle aged, and I used to be a passive-aggressive people pleaser well into my 30s, but now at 50+ I own my “dragon” status. I’ve found that I like myself a lot more now that I no longer care so much about what other people think of me. The older “dragons” in your office may feel the same way, or not…

          Have the older employees at your office expressed annoyance with Serena’s behavior? Or is she more restrained in their presence? Regardless, if you have a good relationship with them, maybe you could enlist their help in getting Serena to modify her behavior?

          I’m a senior individual contributor with no interest in going into management. I like my job and I’m committed to doing well at it, but it’s a job and not a career, and I’m not in an at-will environment. Which means that I could afford to be more blunt than probably most readers of this blog, but thankfully I also work in a professional environment where people treat each other with friendly professional respect for the most part.

          1. Jopestus*

            As a younger finnish male engineer i find those “dragons” way easier than those who try to be pleasing to people. Dragons are blunt -> they will tell you EXACTLY what they want. -> the job gets done and over with.

            Jatka samaan malliin vaan.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Yes, women are socialised to only be passive aggressive, that’s the worst we’re allowed to get. We are taught to endure rather than to effect change, with homilies such as “Boys will be boys”, “take the rough with the smooth” “like it or lump it” and “don’t be such a tomboy”.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      When bosses refuse to do anything people worry that if they try to, they’ll get blamed for causing drama. Passive-aggressive weirdness is often another sign of bad management.

      We had an intern who said some really inappropriate things and I called her out on them a couple of times, but I could do that because I knew our supervisor (we had the same supervisor, but I was not responsible for the intern) would back me up instead of blaming me for overstepping or “hurting her feelings”. If I didn’t think he would have done that, yes, I would have kept quiet and avoided her.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Sadly, there are plenty of places where if someone hurts Serena’s feelings, they would be considered the bad guy and even possibly be scolded by the higher-ups if Serena makes enough of a fuss about it. Some places there’s a strong culture of keeping-the-peace (although there is no actual peace, because everyone is miserable, but there’s a surface-level appearance of peace) and going-along-to-get-along. But, OP will never know if things could be better if nobody’s willing to try.

  17. MelancholyMeandering*

    The behavior described here is *exactly* like a cousin of mine. What we’ve learned is that you have to be super direct. And when we are, my cousin is usually grateful we’ve let her know and fixes that behavior! She hasn’t gotten offended by us being direct either. Obviously, everyone is different, but I think the direct approach is definitely worth a try!

    Talking like this can come out of a place of anxiety, and it sounds like silence can be scary for her. She may feel like constantly being part of the conversation is a confirmation that she belongs and that people like her. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with– it is so exhausting, especially when someone is acting like they have expertise in everything– but she’s most likely trying to reassure herself rather than explain to someone else. I would go with a lighthearted “Serena, of course I know this! It’s my job! :) Which I better get back to, so let’s stop talking for now.”

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think the easiest one to be direct about is the door thing. This sounds like Serena has never realized she’s annoying people enough that they are deliberately shutting the door to try and keep her from interfering in their conversations; if she did, I can’t imagine she’d jump up and deliberately prop the door open while pointing out that she doesn’t like to be shut out. A more direct conversation is in order there. “Serena, I really would like to just have a one on one conversation with Jane right now, so I’m going to shut the door so we aren’t disrupting the whole office; the break room is the only place to have a personal conversation and we’re not trying to invite everyone in at the moment.”

  18. Lavender*

    I used to have a coworker like this. Meetings and informal conversations that should have taken fifteen minutes would take upwards of an hour because she wouldn’t stop talking. (And she’d just keep repeating the same points over and over, so she wasn’t adding anything even remotely meaningful to the conversation.) If our boss was there, she’d say something like, “Martha. MARTHA. I understand you have a lot you want to say about this but we really need to move on.” It was trickier when our boss wasn’t there, because the rest of our team was at the same level in the hierarchy so nobody felt like they had authority to speak up.

    I love Alison’s advice. It can feel awkward to speak up about this stuff when you’re not the person’s boss, but in this case Serena is actually the one making things awkward, not OP.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Ah yes, the “out loud thinker” who circles the point over and over again. I have a friend who used to say, “Martha – land the plane!”

      1. Shopping is my cardio*

        I have an acquaintance (boy did I have to google the spelling of this word!) like this. People run for the hills when they see her coming, at get togethers, parties, neighborhood bon fires.. People will literally turn their backs and walk away from her. She talks talks and talks, going over every detail. For example: I picked up the phone to make a reservation, but then the dog barked. I had to calm down the dog, so finally I was able to call the doctor’s office but they didn’t have any appointments available so we went over our schedules a few times until we found one hour where we were free… and on and on and on… It is exhausting so I cannot imagine working with someone like that.

      2. Lavender*

        It was the WORST. She’d also do this weird thing where she’d keep asking us for our opinions on an issue even after we’d already given them. Example:

        Martha: What does everyone think about rescheduling the Teapot Festival for next week? I think it’s a good idea.
        Everyone else: Sure, that’s fine.
        Martha: Okay, but does anyone think it would interfere with the Llama Grooming Conference? I’m fine with rescheduling, but I just want to hear everyone’s thoughts.
        Everyone else: No, it’s fine. Rescheduling is a good idea and it won’t cause any major issues.
        Martha: I just don’t think we should do it if it will create problems. Again, it’s fine on my end, but I want to hear from everyone.
        Everyone else: It’s fine! Go ahead and reschedule it!
        Martha: Okay, I’ll do that if that’s what we end up deciding. I just want to hear everyone’s thoughts before we make a decision.

        It was infuriating. We all agree, so let’s agree and move on! (I suspect she may have gotten feedback in the past about unilaterally making decisions without getting input from the rest of the team, but jeez.)

        1. Goldenrod*

          I had a similar issue with someone who was in a lot of meetings that I (unfortunately) took the notes for.

          She just. Could not. Finish a sentence. When you are taking meeting notes, you get to really love linear speakers, whose sentences have beginnings, middles and ends.

          This colleague would start a sentence…then think of something else…then contradict herself…then go sideways into another topic…all without ever finishing a sentence. She’d also use a LOT of slang (these were nurse meetings, sometimes technical, so they could be hard to follow, as a non-nurse). The slang made it so confusing.

          One time, her boss lost her temper and interrupted her by shouting, “Finish your sentence!!” :D

          1. Sloanicota*

            Ha! I am also a notetaker (professionally at times) and it’s amazing to write down verbatim what people – especially some people – actually say. People will circle the point, allude to the point, return to the point, then trail off meaningfully several times without ever finishing a danged sentence!

          2. Lavender*

            At my former workplace, someone else on the team tactfully pointed out that our meetings were frequently running over time (without explicitly naming Martha as the cause). She suggested that we assign a timekeeper at the start of every meeting who can keep an eye on the clock and make sure we stick to the agenda.

            Martha was totally on board with that idea! So on board, in fact, that she volunteered to be the timekeeper at nearly every meeting! And to be fair, she DID stick to the agenda, but she would talk nonstop for each scheduled agenda item and then say, “Well, we’re out of time, let’s move on” before anyone else could get a word in edgewise. Or she’d spend a half hour at the start of every meeting discussing the ins and outs of what was on the agenda and how much time we needed for each item.

        2. Serin*

          Oh, lord, my late father-in-law was like this with advice.

          “You should get the living room painted.”
          “You’re right, that’s a good idea.”
          “Because the paint is getting kind of old and faded.”
          “Yes, you’re right.”
          “Like right here, see? Where the afternoon light hits it …”

          You could literally be on the phone to the painter, setting up an appointment, and he’d still be telling you why it was a good idea.

          In his case, I think he had a mental list of opinions, and by God he was not going to let the conversation go until he’d aired them all.

  19. Lobsterman*

    I don’t know what sounds more exhausting, Serena or the passive aggressive office culture.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Naw, it’s Serena. The office culture is what gets created when coworkers know their bosses won’t do anything about it. If they push back and Serena pitches a fit, will the bosses blame the original coworker for “creating drama”?

      1. hbc*

        I don’t understand this line of thought. If you think Boss will respond to a pitched fit, why would you approach him like a scared little bunny? Either you escalate with him because you know it will work, or you stop worrying about when (not if) he ignores Serena’s fit and tells her to work it out with her coworkers.

        And if you really think that asking firmly and nicely for help will get you nowhere but a tantrum will get him on your side, then Serena is not the problem but merely a symptom.

      2. marvin*

        I don’t think it’s fair to blame Serena for things she hasn’t even done yet. If they try to address her behaviour directly and she reacts badly, then they have a problem. But there isn’t any reason to assume she will.

  20. MassMatt*

    It’s amazing how frequently people seem to resist talking directly to a coworker about a problem. This letter outlined a whole list of things people in the office were doing and never mentioned it. “I fidgeted in my seat. How much CLEARER could I BE?!”. Stop using avoidance or charades to get your point across and use words.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “It’s amazing how frequently people seem to resist talking directly to a coworker about a problem.”

      Normally, I agree with this. But this problem is really tricky. I would have a really hard time saying to someone, “you talk too much” especially when it’s likely to be someone affable, someone you like as a person, but they just have this compulsion to talk. There’s no way to say it without hurting their feelings. That’s pretty hard.

      I agree with Alison that the manager should have handled it – when it gets to the point of disrupting work, it’s a manager issue.

      1. Sloanicota*

        But I think that’s the point: you don’t say “you talk too much” – because you’re not the arbiter of the Most Appropriate Amount of Speaking. You say, “Serena, I really need to finish this sentence, can you hang on for a second?” You center your own needs and boundaries and make a direct request.

  21. Admin Lackey*

    I’ve had to take this approach with a few people and it really does work, though it often takes a few tries. I hope Serena takes it gracefully, but with the classmate I had to do this with, she pouted, made some passive aggressive comments, and then stopped talking entirely. Be prepared for that as a possibility and know that even if that is what happens, you haven’t done anything wrong.

      1. Admin Lackey*

        Oh, I agree, it’s just that some people can make a big show of how they’re not talking anymore and lw shouldn’t feel bad if that’s what happens

  22. NeonFireworks*

    My workplace had a Serena for years. Loud, gossipy, pushy, and gullible. Everyone else at the time was quiet, discreet, and more scientifically-minded. There was also a tendency she had to react really childishly when someone else was the center of attention. She was hard to take.

    I spent years trying to avoid her, but eventually at a point where I was a level up from her, she was assigned to a team with me and two other people (there was no getting around this for me). She spent the whole first meeting talking over me and sneering about my choices. One of the two other people emailed me later saying that our Serena had been so unpleasant and unprofessional that they were thinking of asking to be removed from the project.

    I gritted my teeth and wrote an email to our Serena gently explaining that we needed to see better behavior from her for the project to continue; otherwise I’d have to put it on hold. I thought she’d explode or break down crying. Our Serena surprised me by taking it well, reflecting on what had happened, and expressing a desire to improve. The rest of the project was a bit rocky, but nowhere near as bad as the beginning. A couple of years later, Serena got bored with our workplace and left.

  23. Blackbird*

    I know it’s not really the point but I feel for Serena too- it’s not easy being the only one who doesn’t know you’re not liked. And as a big talker myself I think she probably doesn’t mean any harm, although obviously her behavior is annoying (and it sounds like condescending too!)

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I know several people who are loud-talkers, and it’s definitely not fun for them. They don’t mean to do it, don’t realize they are doing it, and are always feeling badly for doing it again.

      1. Alanna*

        I’m a loud talker and it’s awful. I do it when I get excited or absorbed in something, so if I’m shushed, it’s crushing — even though I absolutely want to know, theoretically, if I’m breaking social norms.

        1. allathian*

          I’m not loud, but I tend to ramble on. Because I don’t want my coworkers to be annoyed with me, I’ve asked them and our manager to be direct when they need me to stop talking in meetings. With some constructive feedback from them, I’m improving. I’m a fairly direct person, and I can take it if someone’s direct with me, at least as long as they don’t go out of their way to be insulting about it. The people I work with are far too professional to do that, and for that I’m grateful.

          I’ll admit, though, that sometimes their requests for me to zip it do sting, especially if I’ve rambled on so much that I haven’t actually stated my main point… But as I said, I’m improving, and it’s not like I always hog the conversation at every meeting, but it’s happened often enough that I appreciate it when my coworkers and manager give me direct feedback on this.

  24. Dust Bunny*

    ND person chiming in yet again: ND isn’t a reason not to cut her off. ND people can and should learn to rein it in–it’s not a pass to steamroll people and take over conversations. If she’s functional enough to do this job she’s functional enough to learn not to butt in.

    Unrelatedly: Her unsupportive husband isn’t her coworkers’ problem, either. It’s nice of y’all to wonder about that but, remember, she’ll get a lot more support at work if people can stand to be around her.

  25. A lawyer*

    I had a coworker like this once. I started off being polite and waiting for her to finish, then I started going back to work while she continued talking, then I would try to gently (then not so gently) hint to her verbally that I needed to get back to work. Unfortunately it turns out the only thing that worked was to interrupt her and say very bluntly “OK, thanks, please get out of my office.”

    1. AngryOctopus*

      I meet with my boss once a week and we often meet in the cafe (for coffee) and chatting about work. Sometimes we chat with a coworker, but my boss is very good about saying “Okay I’m going to kick you out now so we can talk science”. I’m sure something like that would feel blunt and rude to say to Serena, but you’ve got to go that way. She’s not taking any passive hints on board, and it’s ultimately MORE unkind to try to hint that she should shut up. Following Alison’s scripts will be a good start for you.

  26. beans*

    It really, really, really (contrary to many of the comments) doesn’t matter *why* she does this.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with interrupting her the very next time and saying loudly and clearly, “Serena, please stop talking over everyone else. It’s exhausting, stressful, and unnecessary.”

    You just have to use your words.

  27. Delta Delta*

    If none of these things work, you need a five year old. Nothing like a kindergartener to say what everyone is thinking. Bring a kid for BYKTWD, unleash Serena, and wait for the kid to pointedly eye-roll and say, “you talk WAY too much.” This might have mixed success and can be employed only if a) nothing else worked and b) someone has an especially up-front kiddo who can reliably bring the truth.

    1. Except...*

      My daughter, bless her little almost-five-year-old heart, is the only person in the family who can get my father to shut up.

      She’ll sigh VERY dramatically and say “Pop-Pop, you’re loud and talk a lot”. He thought we were prompting her to do it. Nope. She’s just observant.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I think the issue is that nobody is being direct with Serena.

      You’ve heard of “explain it like I’m five”? It’s time for “explain it like they’re five” — be direct, be clear, and be brief.

      All of which are things that five-year-olds are good at.

    3. PhyllisB*

      Yep. I remember bringing my nephew on an outing with one of my coworkers and her kids. My nephew kept talking and talking and talking…one of the little girls was just sitting there looking at him and finally she said, “doesn’t your throat get dry when you talk so much?” He just said no and kept going. My friend and I cracked up, then I gently reminded him to give the others a chance to talk.
      All I can say is the apple didn’t fail far from the tree, my whole family is a bunch of Chatty Kathys.

  28. Joielle*

    Not exactly the same situation, but I have a relative who can be really oblivious to social cues and so I sometimes have to be blunt with her in a way that feels unkind. She irritates me overall but I’m not willing to stop attending family functions over it so I kind of have to deal with it. Once I was complaining about her to my partner and he said “Well what’s the worst case scenario? You make her mad and she stops talking to you? Sounds like a win-win to me!” Which is honestly so true. If you can accept that she doesn’t need to like you, she just needs to stop talking to you so much, it will give you the freedom to be honest with her. Hopefully she’ll take it well, but if not, that’s ok too.

    1. Thursday Morning*

      Oof, I also have a relative like this and need to get to this point! Everyone is aware of the fact that her behavior is grating, including herself, but she’s getting on in years so there’s not much hope she’ll change and everyone else has just resigned themselves to it. I know that means I need to be the one to assert boundaries when I’m uncomfortable, but it feels so abrasive and I’m so afraid of making the gathering awkward since it’s very much NOT a “call people out on their BS” type of family! Maybe I’ll gain more confidence in the future.

  29. bunniferous*

    This problem calls for being direct. There are some people-I am married to one-that just aren’t able to take a hint. Someone needs to take one for the team and have a talk with Serena. And if that doesn’t immediately take care of the issue, then y’all just need to have an intervention. But my guess is if someone kindly but directly names the issues it will go a long way into getting Serena to not talk so much.

  30. Lissa Evans*

    Managers who won’t manage don’t always like the results. In my last place, we had a situation similar to this where someone kept inserting themselves in the situation. Their 3 closest colleagues finally just stopped talking when she joined in and waited for her to finish and then walked away and handled their conversation by email. They thought it was funny, but it was awkward for everyone else.

  31. Joy*

    I worked with a male version of Serena once and it was exhausting. No matter the topic or who was talking, he’s butt in and act like an expert on the topic. One day we were talking about NASA and he piped up “My wife works on the Canadarm” (I’m Canadian – the Canadarm is a robotic arm used on the space shuttle, we’re very proud :). I’d had it with him by this point, and not believing him I said, “Oh yeah? What company does she work for?” He named the company and I looked it up, sure enough his wife (who I’d met) actually did work there. Of course I picked one time when he wasn’t exaggerating to challenge him!

  32. CommentKoi*

    I completely agree with Alison on this one. Say something to her directly, in the moment, every time. She doesnt take hints, so stop hinting. Remember, you’re not the one being rude – she is. Shutting down her rudeness is not rude in itself; it’s the correct response. And you still don’t have to be unkind about it! There’s a difference between “I don’t have time to discuss this right now” and “oh my god shut up already”. You can be professional and still direct.

  33. theletter*

    She might benefit from a ‘win friends and influence people’ training, which centers on building relationships based on other people’s desire to talk about themselves, over their desire to be won over by your accomplishments and knowledge.

    A lot of people probably figured this stuff out early on – I remember in middle school, feeling desparate to talk to people, unsure how to get an ‘in,’ and looking back on it as an adult and realizing most kids probably felt the same way, but we rarely get explicit instruction that that the ‘in’ we crave is actually gained by providing an ‘out’ for others. It’s a solid advancement for extroverts and game changer for introverts.

  34. Melissa*

    I talk too much. Not to the same extent of Serena (at least I certainly hope not!) but I do talk too much, and sometimes I jump into conversations I haven’t been invited into. I didn’t recognize this habit until I was many years into my career, and I was retroactively MORTIFIED. I realized that the short answers, people staring at their phones, etc., was their way of trying to get out of conversations. If, at the time, someone had said to me, “Actually, Susan and I are having a conversation, can you come back later?” I would have been humiliated, but it also would have made me evaluate what was happening regularly. NOBODY ever said anything directly to me! I really really wish they had, as I would have gotten over that momentary humiliation, and I wouldn’t now be looking back at 20 years of work with the slow dawning awareness that I was annoying people.

    1. ActuallyAllie*

      I did this too and some of it was from my inability to read body language. Not everyone gets it- so it makes much more sense for people to just be direct.

  35. onetimethishappened*

    I think its really important that someone addresses this with Serena. Oftentimes people like this, really do not realize what they are doing until someone points it out. This will probably require several attempts. Its ok to kindly bring this up with someone.

  36. Serin*

    As my mother loses short-term memory, I’ve noticed that conversations with her don’t have the same rhythm they used to, including those slow-downs, periods of silence, and moments of catching your breath before changing topic. I think she’s picking up social cues that say the conversation needs to start winding down, but then she’s forgetting that because she’s talking about something else.

    So I’ve had to start being very explicit in phone conversations: “Well, I’ve reached the end of my telephone tolerance for today, so I need to wrap it up now.”

    This is easier than it would be with Serena because (1) she’s aware her memory is slipping, (2) we have a very good relationship in general, (3) we talk at a predictable time so we know when the next conversation will be, and (4) I don’t have to do it when I’m annoyed with her.

    Even so, saying what I need out loud is HARD! It would be exhausting to have to do it at work, and you probably won’t be able to do it just once, either.

    I do agree, though, that the current method (quietly excluding her and hoping she’ll notice and figure out how she needs to change) is unkind AND has already been shown not to work.

    1. L. Bennett*

      “Well, I’ve reached the end of my telephone tolerance for today, so I need to wrap it up now” is a phrase I’m going to use with my sister (who does not suffer from short-term memory loss but can just sometimes be exhausting and go on for ages).

  37. Blah blah blah*

    I work with one of these people. Has to loudly “talk through” everything. Last time, she was interfering with my patient management, spent an HOUR chattering about a choice between two antibiotics, then had LOUDLY show off about her patient to one of our internists. Director loves her, I told to butt out of my patient management. She’s just showing off.

  38. SaffyTaffy*

    I’ve posted before that I used to share a desk with a Serena, and that saying “I need to focus on this, I’m so sorry, please let me concentrate,” caused her to run sobbing out of the room and talk to our manager.
    I recently have been battling another Serena- I sit at a front desk in front of big glass doors and can be a captive audience. At first I tried being glib, “Wait, you’re leaving? You just came in here to tell me all that, not ask how I am, and you’re leaving?” and “Are you really still talking while I’m on the phone with a student?” But recently I said, flat-out, “I really need to keep my workspace quiet, Serena.”
    It worked, but she’s furiously gossipping to people about what a b-word I am. Nobody else likes her, which is how I’ve found out about it! But it’s not ideal.

    All I’m saying is that the scripts are professional, AND there’s a good chance Serena is going to respond poorly.

    1. ragazza*

      Yeah, I wish I had these scripts for when I worked with a Serena, but she was so arrogant I’m not sure they would have been effective. I mean, she outright told her boss she wasn’t going to do what she was supposed to do in her job because she knew how to do it better. (She didn’t.) And then when I left she emailed me good-bye and said she’d be happy to teach me how to do my job better! Um, no thanks.

    2. DisgruntledPelican*

      I mean…I certainly don’t think she should go around calling you a bitch, but I don’t understand why you thought the two nasty snappish remarks were preferable to your final, perfectly kind and direct request. Perhaps she wouldn’t be so furious if you’d tried that first.

    3. Lucky Meas*

      I mean, you responded pretty rudely at first, I kinda understand why she thinks you’re rude…

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        No, @Lucky Meas and @Disgruntled Pelican, like I said, those rude responses didn’t change her behavior. The assertive and polite response was what was considered rude, and it’s what got her to move on to someone else. The rude responses didn’t even register to her.

  39. SMH*

    Draw straws or decide which of you will have a meeting with Serena. Maybe an unofficial second in command of the boss but anyone can do this as long as they are clear.

    Meet one on one and away from others and say ‘I need to give you feedback and I hope you realize I am sharing this because I want you to succeed. You are overwhelming your coworkers including me with how much you talk. We need you to read the room and not involve yourself in every conversation. Please try to pick up on ques from others but also be aware of how you are impacting others. ‘ Normally a manager would ask for her to agree to do this going forward but I don’t think you can request her commitment only bring it to her attention.

    Now she may go to coworkers and if they all state she’s fine and doesn’t talk that much then the person who speaks to her is the bad guy. That can’t happen. They have to be willing to say that she talks to much. Good luck OP. This would drive me up the wall as well.

    1. Alanna*

      I’d really recommend against the “we” approach. If you need Serena to stop, or be less, say that on your own behalf. Your coworkers can do the same on theirs.

      “I’m giving you this feedback on behalf of everyone except you, because we’ve all talked behind your back about you” is middle school behavior.

  40. Myrin*

    I have a coworker who is a milder version of this – I actually wanted to say “much milder” at first but thinking about it, I can really only say that because I see him at most once a day and I honestly can’t decide whether those who work more closely with him wouldn’t describe him in similar terms.

    I honestly like him and his often-over-the-top demeanour makes for some great stories to tell my family but damn, there really is no topic he doesn’t have something to say about, no keyword he can’t relate back to himself somehow, no conversation he feels he can’t butt into, nothing in his line of sight that can’t be commented on, and so forth.

    Completely unintentionally, I’ve handled him “correctly” twice in the past:

    1. A coworker, Beak, and I were having lunch in the breakroom and talked about a topic literally no other colleague could contribute to – our shared major at university. Serenus circled us like three times trying to figure us out and then loudly remarked on something only very vaguely related, but right at that moment, there was a little commotion in the kitchen adjacent to the breakroom, meaning I didn’t hear him clearly, and also Beak said something I felt strongly about and needed to immediately refute and I accidentally ended up completely ignoring Serenus. I’ve observed situations where that didn’t work even when done intentionally but it did work in that situation, although it was probably helped by the fact that he could immediatey go and investigate the kitchen commotion.

    2. I was again talking with Beak and again in the breakroom and we were getting into a bit of an intense discussion (not in the sense of “tension started to emerge” but in the sense of “this is becoming more deep than just superficial talk”) and Serenus just appeared next to us and just straight-up tried to interrupt us and inject himself twice. I have a loud and pretty commanding voice and am not used to being interrupted so by instinct alone – and I really think that was key here because I probably would’ve stopped myself out of a misplaced sense of politeness had I taken the time to think – I whirled around to him and said “Dude! We’re having a conversation here!”, turned around again and ignored him while continuing my discussion with Beak. Serenus seemed affronted at the moment but the next day, he came over to me and talked like normal and it really was the first time I saw that often-repeated thing in action where people like that weirdly care very little when you’re actually blunt with them, and it’s really taught me to be more like that in the future, ideally stemming from intention rather than instinct.

  41. Kid Delicious*

    What do you do if that person is your manager?

    I have multiple, scheduled one-on-one calls a week where she does 90% of the talking. Conversation is usually work-related but rarely things that directly impact me or my work: complaining about her projects, co-workers I don’t know, or simply beating to death a topic I feel has already been covered – sometimes I get my takeaway in the first couple minutes, only to have her continue on the subject for another 30 minutes.

    As the direct report, it doesn’t feel like a good use of my time when it’s 60-90 minutes of me nodding along and saying “yeah, sure.” It feels like a bad date.

    I’ve tried putting an agenda together, but that just extends these interminable meetings even further. Sometimes I shelve actual questions after we’ve been on the phone for an hour, because I’m drained from listening along.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Ugh, if it’s your manager, it’s a totally different dynamic. I’d actually like to hear Alison’s thoughts on this, because if it were me I’d probably start to feel like it was just part of my job to listen!

      1. Kid Delicious*

        I have submitted this before, but I don’t think Alison has it picked up. Maybe my cue to try again!

        My manager does live alone and doesn’t have much in the way of family or a significant other around, so I feel like that definitely plays into it. I can 100% sympathize with that, but
        as you said, I don’t think it’s my job to listen (that much at least).

    2. metadata minion*

      How much you can push back depends a lot on your office, but this seems like a *lot* of one-on-one meetings even if they were on-topic. Any chance you could convince her to reduce the number?

      1. Kid Delicious*

        Yeah, it used to be once a week, but when a colleague left and wasn’t replaced, our three-person meeting stuck but with just the two of us. I’ve considered asking to cut them down, but I don’t know how to broach that subject without coming off as “I don’t think our conversations are helpful.”

        1. Annie*

          Maybe “I don’t think our conversations are helpful” is exactly what your manager needs to hear! Try using those exact words.

        2. MsM*

          “Hey, Boss, as I understand it, the priorities for this week are X, Y, and Z. Do we actually need to meet to discuss any of those, or can we just reclaim that hour to get down to work?”

          And if you do find yourself stuck in the meeting, “Boss, I feel like we’ve gotten off on a bit of a tangent here. Was there anything else we needed to cover on Z, or shall we wrap things up?” Or, “So just to reiterate what I’m hearing, the plan for tackling X is A, B, and C. Have I covered everything, or is there anything we still need to clear up?” Or even “Boss, sorry to interrupt, but I’m not sure what this has to do with Y, and I really needed to ask you about something on that.”

          1. Kid Delicious*

            Thanks, these are good ideas. Honestly, I think I’ve tried variations of these approaches. With two of these meetings scheduled every week, it feels like it’s a lot to push back. One-off cancellations or reschedulings I can do occasionally, but don’t know how to take the hour of the claendar permanently.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      Have you written in about this? I’d really be interested to hear Alison’s advice.

    4. Felicity Lemon*

      My former manager was notorious for this — not scheduled meetings, but swinging by my office or, during COVID, calling me (usually close to 5pm) and then delivering a monologue.
      In the office days, I learned that I just had to be assertive about leaving — to the point where I would physically gather my things while she was talking, and then just make my way towards the door, finding a break in the monologue to say that I needed to get out of there on time (I had the very real excuse of needing to pick up my kids from daycare), but we could talk tomorrow about whatever had brought her by in the first place. On phone calls, it was usually just mute and distract myself (doodling, knitting, dishes, whatever) until she talked herself out. Figured as long as it wasn’t impacting my free time or my productivity, then being paid to listen to her was just (an unfortunate) part of my job.

      1. Kid Delicious*

        Yeah, I don’t have kids which is a more-than-reasonable excuse. If it’s truly the end of the day, I have said I have a commitments or something. But I don’t want to do that too often and make it seem like I’m dipping out of work. And other times, it’s in the middle of the afternoon.

        I personally have a hard time multitasking during these calls (like doing my actual work while listening to her) but maybe I need to just do it – if it comes off as distracted, maybe she’ll get the memo that I have other things I could be doing!

        1. Felicity Lemon*

          I had a very hard time drawing boundaries with her at first — it felt so rude to me — but I have a co-worker who is very blunt by nature who was good at it and who coached me, and in time I got more used to it. And yes, multitasking with a few well-placed comments like ‘mmm-hmm’ or ‘that sounds awful’ or whatever, got me through a lot of calls with her!

    5. allathian*

      Oof, I would find this so, so hard to deal with. Social isolation is horrible, but I must say that I don’t have a lot of respect for managers who expect their employees to fill their needs for socialization because it’s not an equal relationship, unlike functional friendships.

      Thankfully my managers have always respected my time.

  42. Margaret Cavendish*

    I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now OP, but you really do need to address it with her directly! And you need to do it fairly soon, while you still have a certain amount of patience and empathy, and you can speak to her kindly about it. The alternative is letting it build up and build up and build up until somebody snaps and goes “Serena we are SO SICK OF HEARING YOU TALK just shut up shut up SHUT THE EFF UP ALREADY!!!!!”

    Which is not a good look for you obviously, and it’s more likely to get you in trouble than to actually solve the problem. It’s better to have a slightly uncomfortable conversation with her now, than to have a massively uncomfortable conversation with your boss later!

    1. ActuallyAllie*

      I just replied about the blowing up at her. It’s coming from someone and it’s better if they talk to her before it happens.

  43. ActuallyAllie*

    OP- I know you likely think you’re being kind by not bringing it up with her directly and trying to go through a manager. You’re not, especially as that manager has stated they won’t do anything.

    I was somewhat of a Serena once. In my case- I have bipolar disorder and a months long manic episode where I Could. Not. Stop. Talking. My coworkers were annoyed by it but rather than say anything, they went to my manager… who didn’t tell me because he felt awkward about doing so. It all came to a head one morning when a coworker blew up at me and screamed at me in front of the entire office to shut up.

    It was humiliating.

    More so because once she calmed down she told me about the months of complaints. You have no idea how upsetting it is to hear that everyone has been gossiping about how much they hate your personality for months while you had no idea.

    As far as neurodivergence goes, you have also no idea whether she has it, only that she’s derisive when someone brings it up. Lots of women go undiagnosed with neurodivergence until they’re well into adulthood. As I’m sure you’re aware, sometimes divergence can take the form of telling a story related to the story someone just told you… which can look like one-upmanship if looked at through an unkind lens.

    Does that excuse or explain all of her behavior? No. But going the behind-her-back or body language route is honestly cruel. Talk to her directly about what you’re seeing.

    1. Cee S*

      I am glad that you received a diagnosis and are aware how your behaviour could be annoying. Some people I know are in constant denial about their mental health or neurodivergence even if they received a diagnosis. We’ve talked to them that they have been in the “wrong”. They blew up and told us that people were mean.

  44. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    I cannot believe this behavior is not affecting Serena’s productivity and the productivity of everyone else in her department. Perhaps she doesn’t have enough work. Maybe assigning more work to her and giving her strict deadlines would help. I can see why she wants to work there forever. I don’t think she does much actual working at all.

  45. anon123*

    Thank you for posting this. I am neurodivergent and crave social connection, and I don’t get much outside of work. I have been known to be annoying and too talkative and this was a good reminder to tone it down.

    1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

      Aw, this made me feel so much kinship with you. Just a reminder that the problem may not be that you need to tone it down at work, so much as you need/deserve as much time and space outside of work to find community with folks (especially other ND nerds) who will love your enthusiasm and investment in making connections. (I say this as someone who has definitely been one of those people who had often gotten into cycles where I interested all my social energy into my workplace, which left me with no energy for socializing outside of work, which in turn made me lonely and try to put more energy into those workplace relationships… you see where this is going, I’m sure. Anyway, my point is that if you can work on redistributing your energy at all, sometimes that can help more than just thinking about it as cutting off the flow completely.)

  46. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

    I am confused about the empathy for neurodivergence statement…even if she were neurodivergent (and you can certainly still be sympathetic and/or empathetic to that) it doesn’t change the fact that her behavior is clearly disruptive. Yeah, you might have a different conversation, or even have a different tolerance…but it would be extremely strange to just let it go. I’m hoping that’s not what OP meant.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think because it’s the difference between “Serena is difficult because she’s neurodivergent” and “Serena is difficult because she’s an ass”. It changes how you feel about the situation and how you view it, but it still doesn’t change the needed outcome.

      It just might make it a little less irritating on your end.

      1. AnonORama*

        She may be an ass, or neurodivergent, or both. Not mutually exclusive! But either way, it’s better if someone approaches her kindly now than to wait for someone to finally just go off and/or have her find out that people have considered her a missing stair they’ve had to jump over for months.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          True, but it changes how you look at the situation.

          Your comment makes me think that the grandboss has just assumed that Serena is an ass and is okay with her being a missing stair and is just waiting for her to quit.

          Which is sad. Yes, adults should be able to figure out a lot of things on their own, but sometimes they need somebody from outside to help them figure it out. NASA didn’t just tell the Apollo 13 astronauts “You’re grown men. You figure this out.”

          It looks like OP replied below about this, so this is a bit of a diversion. But Apollo 13 still applies. Sometimes people need help figuring things out.

    2. Redactle*

      I think OP included it to try to get ahead of the inevitable ‘but what if she’s ND’ digression in the comments

      1. Eowyn (OP)*

        Also 100% this. We knew people would mention ND since we ourselves would ask in the exact same situation.

    3. Eowyn (OP)*

      Hi! Definitely not what was meant. We don’t want ND to be a “free pass.” But we do want to be understanding and inclusive since we know that not everyone in the world is understanding or accepting of ND diagnoses. But we thought that if it was ND, maybe there was a chance to better communicate with her about her behaviour without inadvertently stigmatizing her or making her feel like she’s being targeted for being ND. Sorry I wasn’t so clear!

  47. Kevin*

    Setting boundaries is always good.

    If Serena is smart and self-aware she might understand if someone makes a pointed remark about her comments (such as mentioning in her presence that it’s time for Serena to one-up everyone else’s experience) but that would be more rude than simply telling her straight out that she does not need to comment on everything.

    As to why she acts like this, it’s possible that she does not feel respected for her work, or is lacking in support/respect at home. Either way, she’s looking for something but just using the wrong skillset to get it.

  48. learnedthehardway*

    One of the things I’ve found from dealing with my neurodivergent kid (not saying Serena is, but the approach might work) is that being direct is really important. Name the behaviour, explain why it is a problem, and then give the person ideas for how to correctly behave. Nature abhors a vacuum – you can’t just tell someone what they are doing wrong. CORRECTING behaviour means telling people how to do it right. So that means having some suggestions.

    Of course, this works better coming from a manager, parent, therapist, mentor or coach than from a peer, but sometimes peer leadership is a thing.

    I would agree with the poster above who suggested that you get your manager’s approval before doing this, as if Serena is NOT open to peer coaching, then she’s quite likely to complain to management.

  49. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    We have a Talker like this, but to add a twist, she complains about other people, who, in her opinion, won’t shut up so she can talk. I’m HR, so I have called her on it (not politely) more than once. She said to me on one occasion “You act like I am the problem.” I looked her right in the eyes and said, “Because you are the problem, and we have had this conversation more than once. You have no business complaining, because you are just as bad.” She walked away in a huff and didn’t speak to me for a week (until she needed something). She hasn’t improved much, but at least she no longer complains to me about other people talking too much.

  50. Out of the box*

    Gather actual data.
    I know that this is asking someone in her office to spend time doing this, but then there are cold, hard facts to give to both Serena AND (later if needed) her boss AND the grand-boss.
    1) During the day, how many times did Serena go to the break room? How many times did the next most frequent flyer go there?
    2) How many times did she drift out of her office to interact with others?
    3) In any given meeting, how many times did she speak, how many others spoke (and how many times was the next most frequent), and what was the total number of minutes she burned during the meeting?
    4) What percentage of her day (roughly) was interacting with folks on stuff that was NOT HER JOB? Note that this translates to the percentage of the day that she’s not doing her job.

    None of this is designed to make her leave but it will absolutely inform any discussion of her being a big talker. If you tell someone they talk too much, then may not know the norms against which they are being compared, or the degree of “too much” you’re talking about. Knowing how much of her day is being spent on other-than-her-job is a powerful piece of information to give her and to pass up the chain if it comes to that.

    1. Book lover*

      I don’t think I would react well to a report of mine coming to me with a list of times her coworker was in the breakroom. It would look to me like a waste of that coworker’s time and a focus on the wrong things. What I care about is, is Serena meeting her deadlines and doing her work well? Are the other team members meeting their deadlines and doing their work well?

  51. Marcella*

    I feel like there’s an increasing trend of managers not wanting to actually manage. They’ll supervise, give instructions and hold reviews, but will go MIA when their team needs help managing a situation. And frame that as a “development opportunity” or something.

    anyhow, I had a boss like this, though more prone to long monologs than conversations. She even refused to use her own office, wanting to sit in the cubicles with the rest of us so she could talk constantly. Even when a physician told her to give her vocal cords a rest…. couldn’t do it. I wound up quitting, it was just too much.

  52. Book lover*

    I am on #teamboss here. If I manage a team of professionals, I expect them to be able to handle this very common and very human type of friction on their own and like adults — which means kindly and firmly telling Serena how her behavior is affecting them. I’m especially not going to wade into breakroom dynamics!

    1. Emily*

      I get that in theory, but the longer this goes on for, the higher the chances that someone handles this by either quitting or having some kind of interaction that is really not kind, at which point the manager (and/or HR) winds up having to get involved anyway. If the manager can reduce the chances of those outcomes, they should — even if they believe that it shouldn’t be necessary.

    2. MsM*

      I don’t know why people keep framing this as entirely a social issue. LW says that Serena is offering unsolicited opinions on work stuff she’s not qualified to be weighing in on. I think there’s room for a manager to jump in there and make it clear that when her colleagues are speaking from their areas of expertise, she needs to be listening and learning and wait for the proper opportunity to provide feedback if appropriate, not looking for the first potential break in the discussion to interject or talking over people. Maybe not until after the affected members of the team have tried addressing that with her directly, but if she still needs coaching – and it seems like she does – then coach her.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I hope you have the discernment to know what the real problem is, then, when someone finally pushes back and Serena comes crying that she’s the victim.

      1. Marcella*

        exactly. Serena goes to HR to say she’s being bullied and the team member is scolded for how they handled it.

  53. LL*

    Someone just needs to talk to her. I don’t think the blunt things suggested in this article should be the first step if no one has even told her she’s hurting y’all’s feelings. She probably thinks she’s being friendly and doesn’t realize she isn’t.

  54. Total*

    This office has to be in the UK, given the almost pathological avoidance of having a direct conversation.

    (And yes, I’m always amazed at how often Allison’s advice boils down to “talk to the problem person”)

    1. Eowyn (OP)*

      OP here- this comment made me laugh so that I had to just reply! Canada, so the pathological avoidance is also strong here. We apologize for everything and are sorry for not speaking up when we have an issue!!

    2. Cee S*

      I live in Canada but have worked for American companies. Americans could appeared as more outgoing and talk a lot. That said, they aren’t afraid to say what they think. To navigate such a workplace, I learned to speak up instead of quietly doing my own thing.

  55. Csethiro Ceredin*

    I shared an office with a Serena, years back, and I feel you, OP. I know how hard it is to essentially tell someone that their personality is a problem.

    Maybe your boss would be open to some kind of physical space change if he won’t fire or speak to her? Could she work from home? Otherwise I’d lean into the fact that she seems to want to be the Voice of Authority and if she starts consistently getting shut down with “oh, we’re not looking for more input on that” or “I do this every day so I’m good, thanks” maybe she won’t get the validation she is looking for and will desist.

    My Serena wasn’t senior to me but was in a hard-to-fill position that had a certain cachet, 25+ years older, and I was young and had a hard time being direct with her. I was doing a pretty complex writing task and couldn’t wear headphones, and had an enormous workload. She didn’t try to share “wisdom” but had decades worth of hardship stories, some genuinely pitiable but all things she was doing nothing at all to address. I started saying “I’m sorry, I’m frantically busy, I REALLY can’t chat” and then she would go back to her desk and start quietly crying and I’d sit there feeling guilty and helpless and angry and confused.

    I went to my boss and he gave me some ideas of things to say, similar to Alison’s. They worked in that she talked to me less, but she strongly projected that she was Very Hurt about my relative silence so it was still uncomfortable. We then did some reworking of the office space and she got a small office to herself, which made a big difference. Eventually she left, thankfully, but the whole thing feels squicky even now, because I’m sure she knew people didn’t want to talk to her, and I still don’t know if bluntness would have helped.

  56. Jamie (he/him)*

    A long time ago I was doing consulting work as a contractor in a small office that was part of a huge corporation. They were a vital admin cog, but basically forgotten and unmanaged and unloved.

    One of the people in the office kept a running commentary on everything they were doing, every single thought that ever occurred to them, a constant stream of words just pouring out of them from 9 in the morning until 5 in the evening.

    Everybody in the office wanted them to not be in the office as often as possible, so sent them to various conferences and meetings and discussions elsewhere in order to have a brief respite from the stream of consciousness that was slowly killing them.

    They came back from one meeting, which was unsuccessful because they’d steamrollered their way through it with a constant babble as usual, and announced as part of their very long recap of the meeting about how someone there had shushed them.

    “I didn’t know what to say,” they said, appalled.

    Because my mouth engages before my brain does – this is why I’m a consultant not an employee – I said:

    “Really? What would that be like?”

    And the rest of the office vocally agreed with me. There was some applause. It was awful and embarrassing and I’m going bright red thinking about it even now, a decade+ later.

    But they reined the babble in from then onwards, because nobody had ever told them to their face that they might like to STFU now and again in a whole **two years** of them working there.

    They still talked enough for everybody else, but the dialling back of it was enough to improve the lives of everybody there.

    I did myself out of a job, mind: I was there to improve their efficiency (albeit with databases, not with interpersonal relationships) but their efficiency and accuracy went up so highly so quickly that a six month job turned into a two week job. My consultancy firm got a bonus, mind!

  57. Goldenrod*

    I think this is a massively common problem – the coworker who won’t stop talking – and it’s a great argument for working from home!

    I had a co-worker once who would narrate out loud every single thing she was doing all day long. Another I stopped ever asking, “How was your weekend?” because it would inevitably turn into an endless monologue about how she organized her knitting drawer, etc.

    It’s quite difficult to tell people to stop! Although I totally get that direct messaging is called for here. I’ve had some luck with talkative co-workers by saying, “Okay, I really need to focus on work now.” But the really extreme cases…that’s harder.

    1. Moonstone*

      WFH has been a gift to me! I previously worked somewhere that was so quiet it felt stifling and when I left there for a new job I was hoping for a livelier environment. Well, be careful what you wish for because I ended up in an office with people who could talk the paint off walls. It was unbearable at times; I would be railroaded into conversations where they would talk at me about all sorts of things and it was impossible to get away from it. Chatting for a bit before getting down to work is fine! Being steamrolled by non-stop chatter is not. So when we started working from home in March 2020 I felt liberated and could be so much more productive. There are rumors we may have to go back to the office so I need to ramp up my job search because, after all this time at home, I’ve come to know I don’t want to return there.

    2. Oska*

      I just realised I might have caused someone to stop their narration habit. When I started my current job, I sat in a four-desk setup with low walls between. When sitting, I could see the top of the others’ heads, so we could easily hear each other.

      Since I was new, I was a bit on alert. I’m easily distracted, and was sort of “focusing on focusing” on both my job and if anyone needed to give me info or ask me to do something. The person sitting next to me talked to themselves a bit – softly, and not actually distracting, just sort of “hm, I need to set up a meeting for that”, “that’s settled”, “I should ask about that”. But I’d think the loudest ones (still not very loud) were for me and go “what?”.

      We’ve had desks next to each other for ten years now, and I only now realised that she only did that the first while I worked here. I wonder if she thought I found her annoying. D:

  58. Eowyn*

    Hi commentariat! OP here! Thank you to Allison and everyone for such insightful advice. This is all amazing! I figured I’d better give more context and address some of the concerns that have come up:

    I tried to keep my question as brief as possible so I probably left out some stuff that in hindsight would have been important, and a few things have happened in the weeks since I wrote in.

    Allison is 100% right: I would have felt super rude/cruel confronting her directly. Being a young woman, I realize I’ve burdened myself with the worry of being labelled a “b-word.” And in our office, the minute that you have that reputation you can’t shake it, and it gives marks against our careers. I’m working on that, but it is really difficult when you haven’t been taught how to be direct and the C-suite managers above you are all men who don’t understand (or frankly care). That’s where AAM has been so invaluable for me!!

    Some more notes:

    •One person (in her department, not her manager) apparently did speak to her directly and the behaviour did not stop, according to that staff member. I wasn’t aware of this until after writing the letter, and I’m not sure what was said, but knowing this staff member it was probably very direct.

    •Update to being direct though, and I suppose a win for my own courage?! I did eventually have to do it, but not in this exact same context. She had been commenting on the clothes I was wearing over the last couple of weeks (pants, as I’m a woman that typically wears dresses/skirts), saying things like “you wearing pants is throwing me off” and “do you have something important today? You’re wearing pants.” I tried to brush them off and just explain “I just decided to wear them today” or comments like that, since it wasn’t a huge deal in my mind. But the comments got too frequent that I felt I had to speak up, and some of the advice on AAM did say that “direct is best,” so I decided it was now or never. So I did go to her directly to privately tell her that her comments were unwelcome and needed to stop. Technically she has stopped as she has been avoiding me entirely since then. She has since commented to her coworkers that “I’m not allowed to say anything to [my name] since she gets easily offended.” I bring this up to demonstrate that there have been some direct comments made since writing in and what her reaction has been. It’s not my responsibility to police her response I realize, and her choice to avoid me is her problem as I have treated her with the same professionalism since, but it does provide nuance to the conversation and explains why so many of us were afraid to be so direct. Again, back to being “labelled.”

    •Other commenters mentioned it “isn’t our responsibility to diagnose the reasons” or “it shouldn’t matter if she is ND or not.” While I agree in principle, we were trying to figure out the reason why in hopes that we could find the solution or make ourselves more understanding of where she was coming from. We think she has potential, really!! And if there was some way of understanding and then changing our behaviour to help, that’s what we were trying to do. If it was abuse, we would discreetly let HR know so she could get help. If it was neurodivergence, we would have given space to include her (after all, as I said, most of us are and have figured out ways to give each other space). This was more about trying to find kind ways to be more inclusive if we could and see where she might be coming from. But I really appreciate those who have said sometimes the best solution is just being direct. Honestly, I never thought of being direct as being kind, and I really REALLY like that advice. You’re all correct, in not being direct we are not being as kind as we really want to be. We were trying to avoid an “explosion” reaction, but we should have just taken the direct route from the start. I’ll try working on that myself while at the same time trying to help my coworkers do the same.

    •Are we cliquish? I think there’s a chance of that happening in most workplaces, ours included. But I will say that we try very hard to include everyone in our breaks, lunches, etc. because we’re such a small building that has to work so closely with each other. But I will definitely be looking more closely at our dynamics over the weeks to make sure of that too.

    Some have wondered about productivity and if her actions are causing performance issues. Short answer: yes. She’s missing deadlines, making critical mistakes on important documents, departments don’t want to work with her anymore, and she is often found arguing her point incorrectly with experts in other departments who are telling her what the processes/standards are. But unfortunately as many have indicated, the manager and grandboss SUCK (ie: don’t manage a thing because they don’t care to), and so that’s not something any of us have control over. And in all honesty, maybe some of the resentment towards her is better suited to seriously AWFUL management, and I really appreciate everyone’s insight into that. I’ve known our C-suite has been toxic for a while and we all know that Serena won’t be managed by her boss or the grandboss, so it’s likely that is also feeding our frustration.

    I am really getting an eye-opening through everyone’s advice, and I sincerely appreciate it! I’m young in my career and obviously have a long way to go and much to learn, so really thank everyone for all the advice and insight! I will definitely provide an update once the initiative to be direct is taken. Thank you all!

    1. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

      Thanks for the update! It’s always great to have the OP chime in.

      I’m wondering if you can recruit fellow colleagues to help support more direct communication. Like you could tell one or two people that you trust what you are going to do and ask for their support if they hear side comments. You could do the same for them if they were willing to be direct as well. That way they could be prepared to help keep your office reputation good. For example, a conversation could then go like this:
      Serena: “I’m not allowed to say anything to Eowyn since she gets easily offended.”
      Coworker: “Hmm…what an odd thing to say. My experiences with Eowyn have always been professional and cordial.” [Coworker then walks away – no argument, just a “that’s not my experience”.]

      Maybe that would work to help mitigate worry about getting an office reputation?

      Also, great username! ;)

      1. MsM*

        I kinda suspect worrying about “getting a reputation” because Ms. “why are you wearing a perfectly normal article of clothing?” is unhappy with being told to mind her own business is probably not going to be too much of a concern.

        1. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

          I was directly responding to OP’s comment of: “Being a young woman, I realize I’ve burdened myself with the worry of being labelled a “b-word.” That was the reputation I was referring to. I should have addressed it a little clearer I guess.

      2. Eowyn (OP)*

        Thank you Elbereth Gilthoniel, I like this idea too! And it might go a long ways in helping each other avoid those dreaded reputations we all are afraid of getting while supporting each other in being direct with Serena. Thank you!

        PS- I like your username too! ;)

        1. NotOP*

          Service announcement: this is the OP posting, and also as plain Eowyn. That is all :)

    2. L. Bennett*

      “She has since commented to her coworkers that ‘I’m not allowed to say anything to [my name] since she gets easily offended.'”

      Ah! You must work with my mother.

      She sounds like she legit sucks, OP, and even from your original letter it was clear she’s super annoying. Also thank you for the insight on her performance and your bosses reactions. You’re right – they definitely suck and should address the issue if it’s affecting everyone’s work (and Serena’s own work!).

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Hoooo boy. Sounds like she’s gonna throw a huffy fit and slander/badmouth anyone who talks to her about this :(

    4. yala*

      ‘ She has since commented to her coworkers that “I’m not allowed to say anything to [my name] since she gets easily offended.”’

      Uuuuuuuggggh, I haaaaaate when people do this.

      At least it says more to them about her than you, because it’s petty, passive-aggressive nonsense that’s transparent af

    5. Zarniwoop*

      You were direct and now she’s not talking to you. Sounds like a win!

      She’s complaining about you to the rest of the office. Given how the rest of the office feels about her, who do you think they’re silently siding with while listening to her?

      1. Eowyn (OP)*

        It is definitely a win, yes- though it took every once of courage in me to do it, and there’s still the overall bigger issue that I still need to address using the above advice. I think the rest of the office is definitely on my side (a lot have said they found her comments about my clothes off-putting too), but we’re now working on a way to be more direct in the moment so it doesn’t have to come to “sides” in the future! We didn’t want to be rude, but we ended up being inadvertently passive-aggressive which was equally not as kind. Lesson 100% learned.

        Fingers crossed, and hopefully I’ll have a positive update in a few weeks!

        1. allathian*

          Good luck! I hope that if the whole office switches to being more direct in shutting her down, everyone will be tarred with the same brush and eventually she’ll have nobody to complain to.

          That said, given how toxic your office culture is, perhaps it’s time to polish your resume? Not because of Serena, although I understand that her behavior could be annoying enough on its own, but because the leadership at your employer is toxic. If you stay there long enough, it’s going to skew your professional norms. What they’re doing isn’t normal and you deserve better.

        2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Ok, I say this as someone who definitely in the past would worry myself to ruin if anyone was saying “Eowyn gets offended” about me. I have always said I don’t want to be “liked” I would just prefer everyone feel “neutral” about me. You have got to find a way to not conflate this with getting a rep for being a bitch.

          Your whole office uniformly dislikes Serena, who also seems to be not very good at her job. She also talks. Constantly. So, in the first instance most people probably just tune out on what Serena says anyway, but even “I can’t say anything to Eowyn she gets offended” registered with your colleagues, exactly what weight do you think your co-workers will place on that?

          The most charitable read of Serena is that she interprets social situations poorly, so what stock would one place in her proclamation that you are easily offended? The least charitable read is that Serena is an ass, in which case your co-workers may believe that you were offended by something Serena did, but not because you have a low threshold for being offended, but because Serena is an unrepentant ass.

          Save your worry about your reputation for when people whose judgement you trust or whose judgement is trusted by others have criticisms about you. And also try and embrace that you (and I, and all the commenters, and DEFINITELY Serena) have and will do annoying/dumb things (because we are humans) and people WILL talk about it behind your (and my, and the commenters’, and holy shit DEFINITELY Serena’s) back (because THEY are human). And then they will move on to the next annoying/dumb thing someone does.

          I know the whole passive aggressive office culture might leave you feeling that it is totally possible someone (everyone) is nice to your face and secretly thinks you suck because “that one time I didn’t put Cheers at the end of my email”, but look at how much grace you and your co-workers tried to give Serena when it seems like she is just a mean spirited pain who is bad at her job? Unless you run a puppy mill on the weekend, I doubt anyone at your job is going “That Eowyn’s kind of bitch, right?”

  59. Happy I’m Retired #500,000,000*

    We had someone like this. On days when I worked with her I would ask her to limit her conversation to work when it was busy. Since I was a supervisor I applied this to her conversations with everyone. I told people they needed to remind her “it’s busy now” and we need to focus on whatever. It got nominally better but didn’t stop until people got so fed up they were being unkind about it. Which is sad but sometimes when you’ve tried everything else you just need to say STOP. Although it felt unkind she worked there for 25+ years.

  60. Waving not Drowning*

    I’ve worked with a Serena, and it’s exhausting! I can say the work g day waa never dull! At times, we’d literally hide in another office (person in there encouraged it) do we could just sit in the bliss of silence..

    While we didn’t complain directly to our manager (he was a bully and we avoided him), others did. He ignored the complaints until he finally came into our shared workspace to deliver some announcements, and our Serena interrupted him/spoke over the top of him 4-5 times in the 15 mi
    mins he was there. He requested a meeting with her. She came back and was in tears for the next 2 days, and kept telling everyone she doesn’t talk too much, how could he say that!

    We were fortunate that she was on a contract that was not renewed. But it was absolute hell while she was there!

  61. SJK*

    So on the chance that you have addressed this directly to Serena (because going to a grandboss without having tried to direct route is too wild to me), I wonder how firm you/the other department have been with your boundaries? Did you address it with her once but then just acquiesce the next time Serena butted in? In which case, I guess the advice is still Allison’s advice, but just to be more consistent and maybe even being more blunt about it.

    One thing that might help with regards to the manager: does Serena’s need for constant interaction affect her work? Is she ignoring her own work? And is that work being pushed on to other co-workers? Because that could be one avenue. Or are her interruptions affecting the actual work of the department? And (unfortunately) not just moral or lack of focus, but in a way that’s more quantifiable? If so, on either accounts, that may be a way to approach the manager again.

  62. Rachel*

    I would go back to your manager and explain how Serena makes you unproductive, not that she’s annoying.

  63. No name please*

    I wonder if its possible, OP, that you and your co-workers can approach her as a group and explain the constant chatter and eavesdropping needs to stop and that from now on, all of you will tell her to bluntly stop. And then do it.

    The worst that happens is she stops talking to you all, right?

  64. LobsterPhone*

    This is my colleague almost to the letter, with the exception that she has a few more years experience in our industry than I do and boy do I hear about it at every opportunity. When she interrupts me I ask her to please let me finish – this will last for that one discussion. When she ignores someone’s expressly stated ‘no’ I’ll tell her that the person has said no, can you please stop – she says ‘oh did they’ and keeps going. She’ll debate every comment you make and solve every ‘problem’ she sees whether it’s a) actually a problem or b) just something you happened to mention and didn’t require input on. I’ve raised it with every manager we’ve shared (three or four) and managers from other teams when their staff have come to me in exasperation – the last time I did this I was told that there’s no point in correcting her because she’ll never change. Some people are completely impervious to feedback of this kind because the need to be right/share info/solve a problem/be seen as kind, etc overrides everything else.

  65. Jason Frerichs*

    Why not just tell her she’s obnoxious and everyone thinks she’s annoying af? Why are people so timid?

  66. Meow*

    Pretty much agree with Alison’s advice. I want to highlight that the solutions (or “soft approaches”) that you used are good to do at first, but if they fail, it’s okay to be direct/blunt, even if it feels harsh.

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