Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Morning Quickie: “Can I Tell My Co-Worker She’s Too Overbearing?”

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I work in a small office of about fourteen people, and, for the most, part everyone gets along quite well. “Rachel”, however, is causing everyone a lot of stress due to her overbearing communication style.

First, Rachel is a loud talker. If she is speaking, especially in our small break room, no one else can. Literally, you can’t hear anyone else speak. She’s also a “one-upper.” Any problem you manage to bring up, she’s had it way worse. (Or, failing that, she has a distant relative who’s had it way worse.) She’s the type of person who asks about your weekend only because she wants to tell you about hers.

Additionally, she makes every single conversation topic about her or her child. One example: I was once chatting with a colleague about a book we had read and, as I opened my mouth to tell him what I thought of the book, Rachel walked in and (loudly) began giving her opinion on that book, other books by the author, and the TV show they had made from the book, and she finished by saying she didn’t really like that author anyway. I was so shocked I left the room without saying anything.

The thing is, she’s not a mean person. She’s intelligent, she does her job well, and, if you can avoid getting trapped in conversation with her, she’s okay to work with. I don’t think she’s aware of what she’s doing or why everyone leaves the break room when she’s in it.

My question is this: Is there any possible way to kindly tell Rachel what she’s doing? I can’t imagine that pulling her aside and explaining would end well. I think her conversation tactics are probably due to some level of insecurity, so I’m hesitant to be too blunt. I don’t want to meet rudeness with rudeness, especially at work. Do we simply have to deal with it? Do you or your readers have any suggestions aside from flat-out avoiding her (I do this already, but again, small office) to make it less painful? — Tired of My Loud, One-Upping Co-Worker

You cannot tell Rachel that she’s overbearing or annoying. What you can tell her is that her voice is too loud in your shared spaces and it’s affecting people’s ability to concentrate on work and decompress for a few minutes in the break room. When you focus on how her behavior affects your ability to work, rather than focus on how her personality simply rubs you the wrong way, you limit the likelihood of: a) alienating her; b) being ignored; c) getting your tires slashed or becoming a target for Rachel’s work rage. In fact, unless you are the boss or the HR contact, I’m not sure it should even be you who talks to Rachel about her loudness. Go to your supervisor and ask if he or she can talk with Rachel about her volume in shared spaces. Do this in person and not over email as emails can always be leaked, as we’ve all learned. Continue avoiding Rachel in the break room and consider meeting with likable co-workers away from the office, for happy hour or whatever, for the chance to blow off steam and connect in uninterrupted. Rachel-free glory.

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11 comments… add one
  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy February 1, 2016, 11:19 am

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    Ele4phant February 1, 2016, 11:30 am

    Agree with Wendy. When her behavior impacts your (or your coworkers) ability to get work done, it should be addressed (although Wendy’s right, it should be by hr or her supervisor not a peer). If you just find her personality obnoxious, well that’s life. Your not going to click with everyone you work with. That’s just life. You don’t have to be her friend outside of work, just put up with her or put on head phones when she’s bothering you.

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    jlyfsh February 1, 2016, 11:44 am

    I’ll post this again from the forums: We have a very similar co-worker where I am at. In general a nice person, but we all avoid her whenever possible. And we let each other know when she’s in the break room so the rest can avoid it until she’s gone. I think at this point she gets that people avoid her and hasn’t asked anyone why. Honestly she knows she slightly abrasive and talks too much based on her own comments.

    We have a small office as well I think 12 people now. When I can’t avoid her I usually say I have to get to the restroom if she tries to corner me in what I can tell is going to be a lengthy chat, or that I have to jump on a conference call. The thing about my coworker is she likes to poke at people and get a reaction, she tries to get people to debate her. The easiest way to make her bored with you is to refuse to engage and move on.

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    keyblade February 1, 2016, 12:26 pm

    I agree with Wendy. Also, while my working background is limited, it has been my experience supervisors hate getting involved with this shit. If Rachel is intelligent and good at her job, the manager probably has very little interest in her social manners around the office.
    If it were me, I would probably find subtler ways to try to redirect the conversation or work on being more assertive. I wouldn’t personally pull her aside for a private conversation in self-improvement.
    I haven’t done this before, But I might try speaking up in the moment. She comes barging in and interrupts a question being directed at you? I’d look a little wide eyed and I’d say “Excuse me! I was about to say…..” She talks over someone you were listening to? Turn your eyes and attention back to the conversationalist and say “I was interested in what you were saying”. If it’s a getting a little loud, “why don’t you speak up and ask the room, “Is it a bit loud in hear for anyone else? I think I’m sensitive to volume, could we be a little quieter?” Just be sure to be courteous and kind so she doesn’t come to the conclusion that you have something personal against her.
    I have no idea if any of this will work, though.

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      keyblade February 1, 2016, 12:33 pm

      sorry for the typos.

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray February 1, 2016, 1:19 pm

    I agree with Wendy’s advice. *If* you’re going to say anything, link the complaint about her conduct to how it is affecting your ability to get work done. I’d probably not go through a supervisor, though. For example, if her loud talking is making it hard to listen on your conference call, just tell her. And I’d probably be overly apologetic about it just to keep the convo light, but that’s just me. Something like “Hey, this is awkward but I wanted to say something; I was having a hard time concentrating on my call because I could hear your voice… Would you mind trying to keep it down?” Actually, that sounds lame. I’m trying to make up a scenario but surely you have one that will sound more… natural. Point is, talk to her yourself and really try to link it to something tangible and work-related. No one responds well to criticism that basically says “hey, you’re generally annoying, stop it.” (Of course you wouldn’t put it so bluntly, but that’s the message you’d give if you didn’t tie it to something specific about work.) Besides, it sounds like this coworker is not very socially aware, so she would be unlikely to take your general complaint about her behavior, internalize it, and realize she’s annoying anyone and know what to do to fix it. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I think if I were in your shoes I probably would not say anything. Your coworker sounds very socially awkward and unaware. I would try to change how you view her. Instead of being annoyed that she’s not more like you and the others in your office who have better social graces, think of her as having a personality disability that she can’t control. Obviously you’re not the only one she’s like this with, so it’s not personal. By talking to her, you’re not likely going to be able to turn her into this socially aware person who becomes pleasant. I think instead you’ll just make her feel bad. And I’m sure she’s already semi aware of the fact that she has difficulty bonding with others. … I’m kind of rambling here, but hopefully there’s some sense in whatever I just said. I’m really hungry. And thirsty. My Monday morning has been exhausting.

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      Sue Jones February 1, 2016, 1:23 pm

      She may have a hearing problem. My husband also has kind of a loud voice. He got hearing aids and (when he wears them) his voice gets a lot quieter. But really, in a work situation one has to learn to work well with all kinds of people.

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    Jane63 February 1, 2016, 1:38 pm

    Over the last 30 years I have worked in 5 different offices and every office has had one person like this – some 2 or 3. My current office has only 6 people – and we have one. Sometimes I walk away while they are talking, sometimes I start day dreaming, sometimes I actually listen. Depends what kind of mood I am in. My advice is to come up with your own personal style for dealing with people like this – they are everywhere. Oh, and don’t let them get to you. Wasted emotion on your part.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark February 1, 2016, 6:08 pm

    You’re all too FUCKING polite.
    .
    Try this.
    .
    “Hey Rachel! Guess what? We’re ACTUALLY trying to have an intelligent two way conversation here. Next time we wanna hear one of your endlessly droning loud as all fuck monologues, we’ll help you mount your one woman show.”

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    • Cassie

      Cassie February 3, 2016, 1:27 pm

      Cue the meeting with HR about creating a ‘hostile work environment’.

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    Teri Anne February 1, 2016, 6:24 pm

    I am like Rachael because I tend to be long-winded, and have a loud voice. My supervisor told me I need to improve, and I tried my best although I was very confused as to exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I did get feedback that I had made a lot of progress.

    Global statements like “you need to be less overbearing” or “stop talking so much about your family” will only confuse Rachael, because she will have no clue on what she needs to do. Simple and clear statements like “please can you speak more softly because I cannot concentrate” will provide her with clear guidance. If she corners the LW in conversation, a simple “I am sorry I cannot talk because I am busy” will serve better than snarky comments like “some of us are actually working”.

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