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One of the women in our department is always trying to get everyone else involved with her squabbles. Whenever I see her in the break room, she starts telling me about how someone else has insulted her or been mean to her. She keeps talking about it until I agree with her just to get her to stop. And it’s not just me. Recently a mutual co-worker did some work on her car. She wasn’t happy with the result or what he charged her, so she sent him a nasty email and copied the whole department! None of us wants to get involved, but we’re afraid if we don’t say something, it will look like we’re taking her side. What should we do?
A.Your co-worker sounds like one of those people who is operating under the delusion that everyone loves a victim. Unfortunately for her, the reverse is usually true. While most of us are glad to lend an ear or a shoulder to a friend in need of support, we usually tire pretty quickly of the “poor me” anthem. We like it even less when we feel like we’re being drafted into someone else’s war, which is exactly what she trying to do. You need to make it clear that you will not be her ally in conflicts that don’t involve you. Since she chose email as the means of enlisting support, you might send her an email, copying the co-worker she’s angry with, and stating very briefly and professionally that you are sorry that the two of them have had a disagreement, that you respect both of them as colleagues, but that since this is between the two of them, you do not wish to be included in any future discussions about the matter. If she (or he) tries to engage you in conversation about it, simply repeat that it doesn’t involve you and you do not want to discuss it. Then either change the subject or leave. If she sees she can’t get you on her side in this battle, she probably won’t try to recruit you for her next one.