My Co-worker Has Become A Stalker

Question:

How can I deal with a co-worker who has taken detailed interest in everything I do and say? She tries to out do me with work. She gossips about everyone to me. She tells me silly things, like my husband buys me lots of jewelry and that she thinks about me when shopping, i.e. the type of coffee and shoes I might like. She takes my work off me, applies for jobs that she knows I am applying for, and then asks me to check her application. She watches me walk to my car then comments on what I am carrying, type of car I drive. This is becoming very irritating. Can you advise?

Signed,

Annoyed


Answer:

Dear Annoyed:

You have titled your query as My Co-worker Has Become A Stalker. Yet your description is that she is simply obsessed with you in an admiring fashion. Therefore, I’m treating your question in that way. If indeed you feel threatened by her verbally or in any behavior, your problem is more than what your description to us indicates. You have well explained your annoyance with Ms. You Are The Focus Of My Attention (YATFOMA). However, you have failed to detail how you respond to what irritates you. You silence on that likely indicates that you don’t want to hurt YATFOMA’s feelings and that is understandable. Probably your work area is too small to have much privacy and also likely your work assignments allow time to focus on personal matters.

Perhaps you have analyzed why your coworker has developed a habit of talking to and about you. Do you think it might be because she craves and lacks the kind of attention she gives you? Might it also be that her life is not so exciting and that vicariously she “lives” your life, just as if she were not working might “live” the life of afternoon soaps? Whatever the cause, I suspect there is no advice that will correct your irritation without irritating your coworker. Are you willing to confront her and firmly share with her what bothers you? Or might you enlist Human Resources for a transfer to different work area? Habits are not extinguished quickly, especially a habit that to some degree likely provides YATFOMA interpersonal assurance that she is OK. Some irritating habits of others are neigh impossible to change, even such neutral sayings which a coworker might repeat within almost every sentence as “you know” or “you know what I mean.” Therefore, you undoubtedly have weighed what you might do what would work while not harming your coworker’s sense of well-being. There probably are several approaches to this matter short of telling her to shut up each time she says something that bothers you, but I will suggest only one: Privately meet with her and candidly engage her is establishing explicit rules about how you two communicate. This might begin with, (addressing her by her real name, such as Sally), “Sally, I would like to talk with you about something that bothers me, might we meet privately for lunch? Because my problem involves you, I can’t solve it alone.” Although you might soften confronting her with what she would never expect with such phrases as, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but.”, you must be forthright. Tell her what has grown to drive you up the wall, just as you have spilled forth in this note to Ask The Workplace Doctors. You might have such a list with you of instances you have logged the past week. Possibly begin with times you have caught her gossiping about you with others. She should understand that gossip about you is not acceptable. Then you can see if she will join with you in hammering out such rules of what and when you talk about non-work topics, such do/don’t rules as: Dos: · A cheery hello and goodbyes. · Briefly discuss assignments that involve each other. · Think and talk in staff meetings about ways to cut wasted supplies, time, money, and to innovate. · Talk during breaks about safe topics such as the weather and news of the day. · Occasionally, lunch to talk about important matters, such as seeking advice regarding one’s career. · Signal each other if the rules are being broken, with such as raising one’s hand in a stop sign. · Meeting after a week or two to talk about how well you each are following the rules you’ve made and seeing if any of them need amending or deleting. · Give your rule-making secret and give it a fair try; say a month and then meet to review it. Don’ts: · Ask or comment on personal matters during work, such topics as dress and grooming, family, hobbies, cars, etc. · Gossip about one another any time. · Interrupt each other during work to talk about personal matters. · Copy each other’s dress and shopping. · Copy each other’s job applications. The very act of enlisting Sally’s in communication rule-making should demonstrate that you don’t want to cut her off, but that you have increasingly been troubled by her chatter and gossip. Please don’t expect this approach to be the only way to cope with your irritation. You might think of more creative and civil ways. My signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS takes on special meaning as you seek to save her embarrassment and seek to meet her ego needs in a collaborative way.

William Gorden