My Friend Became An Irritating Coworker. Now What?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to deal with a friend
who is also an irritating coworker.

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Question: 
A couple of years back, my friend was not in a great place mentally so when a job came up at my workplace, I got her in.  She worked as a caterer/ school kitchen assistant before, so I thought a change into office administrative work would help her.

Why does it irritate me so much that she soon became a different person–patronizing me, thinking she is more than she is, strutting around the place. I can’t bear her presence in my workplace and I’ve always loved my job. It’s making me crazy.

Answer:
Your essential question is, “Why does it irritate me so much…..?” One reason is because nothing is more irritating than feeling that you’ve done a good deed by helping someone but the person involved acts like she did it all herself.  (Maybe what you are now seeing of her personality indicates why she wasn’t in a good place previously!) Also, since you had tenure there, it was probably irritating when she quickly started behaving as though she had more status than you. Almost all tenured employees feel that people–even friends–should pay their dues before they start acting very comfortable.

On the other hand, if your friend quickly became skillful at the work, she may feel she has proven herself and doesn’t need to act humble about having the job.  Or—which would be very difficult for any of us to handle–maybe she thinks she now exceeds you in the skills of the job. Maybe she has been encouraged in those thoughts by others.

Or, being charitable, maybe this is the first time in her work life that she has felt truly successful–and her pride in having accomplished something significant has clouded her judgment about her interaction with others, especially you.

Whatever the causes of her behavior and your reactions to it, it is having a negative effect on you. You need to find a way to neutralize the effect enough that you can once again love your job and look forward to coming to work.  I wish I had a quick and sure answer for you about that, but there are hundreds of variables that would make a difference in what you can or should do.  Consider some of these thoughts as a way to see what you might be able to do–maybe not immediately, but over time.

  • If you still are seeing a lot of your friend away from work, could it be that you’re simply over-saturated with her personality? You may need to separate work and private life. Find something you need to do on your own–exercising or Yoga or studying or visiting someone regularly may be ways to keep your distance, several nights a week.  If you two aren’t spending time together away from work, it will still benefit you to increase the things you do to recharge, refresh and renew yourself.
  • Is there anything at all you could change about your work, to give you something upon which to focus instead of the behavior of your irritating coworker/friend? There is a large part of your brain staying sensitized to her every move and remark. The only way to change that is to fill the space with something else. Perhaps there is a new software program or you can learn more about existing computer programs or office processes. Maybe there is something that has needed to be done in the office and that you can take over or at least support. Break the habit of being hyper-sensitive to the irritating things she says and does by being too busy mentally and physically to notice most of it. (It will take a while before you stop thinking about the fact that you don’t want to think about her….but it will happen.)
  • Do you know your supervisor or manager enough to seek counsel from that person? It could be there are some aspects of your friend’s behavior that has bothered your supervisor too and she would like to know the negative effect it is having on you and possibly others.  At least your supervisor or manager knows the work and the work culture and might be able to recommend something helpful.
  • Give your friend and others something to aspire to when they see your behavior. Whatever you have been like before now, work to be an example of confidence mixed with appropriate humility. You can be the one who is well respected but who doesn’t strut or flounce around the office to show off.
  • Have you ever, in the last couple of years since this has been going on, said anything to your irritating coworker/friend about her behavior and how it makes it you feel? Probably not–and I can understand how that happens. It’s not easy to confront someone any time, but your situation would make it especially difficult. You may want to at least let her know about some of her more extreme behaviors by saying, “What was THAT all about?” Or, “Oh my goodness Lisa!” If she says or does something aimed at you, you certainly should say something directly: “Are you aware of how that sounded?” “Don’t. I hate it when you use that tone of voice with me, like I’m stupid or something.” (Or whatever you’d say.)
  • Interrupt her behavior by asking her a question or engaging her in a discussion that requires her to think about work rather than about herself. For example, if she seems to be strutting around, ask her about a work project. She will have to stop to respond and will have to use more logical thoughts instead of self-centered ones.

Those are all only general ideas, but perhaps they will inspire some of your own that can help you feel good about work again.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out. You did a good thing to help your friend, so I’m confident someone with your strength of character will find a way to overcome the irritation, stay strong and feel positive.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors