Ignore manipulating coworker’s actions to put yourself back in the power seat

Dear Joan:

I am employed at a medical office.  I have been there almost five years and enjoyed my job until recently.  I was "friends" with a co-worker for four years.  There was not anything I wouldn't do for this person for the first three years.  

She started having marital problems that led to constant phone calls and crying on my shoulder.  I started avoiding her calls and telling another co-worker that I was tired of it.  (I realize now that was a huge mistake)  Well...she is very co-dependant on anyone who will listen and has become close with the co-worker I told about the calls. 


She now ignores me.  I have tried a number of times to apologize for what I said.  I do not want to be friends anymore, but she is making work very uncomfortable.  She will make copies of something and give a copy to everyone but me in front of the staff. 


I just bought Christmas presents for everyone and included her and she brought cookies in for everyone and made sure I realized I was not included.  I have to go to her to order supplies and when I tell her what we need.  I do not even get a nod or some kind of notion that she hears me. 


I do not know what to do.  The boss is aware that there were tensions months ago, but my co-worker has not talked to me in four months. 


The boss (the doctor) tells the staff to "deal with it, get over it, or go home" He does not handle management duties well.   I am close to wanting to quit because of one person.  However, I do not want this person to get the best of me.



You are already letting her get the best of you—that’s why she is still giving you the cold shoulder. In short, it’s working. She has you on the run. She is in the power seat and as long as you let her make you squirm, she will remain in control…a thrilling feeling for someone who usually feels so weak and dependent on others.


The answer to this conflict lies in your own confidence and strength. Do you really need her approval? Can her childish behavior really control you? Do you really care if a needy, manipulative co-worker likes you? Should you really feel so guilty about what you said about her? Frankly, who wouldn’t be tired of her crying on their shoulder and taking so much time away from work making personal calls?


You have nothing to be ashamed of and don’t need to apologize again. If she were more mature she would realize that her behavior at work was over the line. While it’s understandable that anyone would be emotional and upset about a bad marriage, the constant phone calls and discussions with co-workers is inappropriate—especially if it goes on the degree you describe.


The only way you can break her hold on you and regain your satisfaction on the job is to see her for what she is and simply ignore her petty behavior and treat her like you would anyone else. For example, when she passes out a memo to everyone but you, say in a neutral tone, “You’re one short. Do you have another copy?” “No? Okay, I’ll share with Janet.”


The more childish she becomes the more adult you should act. If she brings cookies for everyone but you, who cares? Don’t you think the rest of the staff recognizes her petty behavior for what it is? By reacting to her childish behavior you look as weak as she is. Manipulation only works if the other person lets it work.


Don’t comment about her behavior to others—take the high road and go about your business. If someone says anything about her to you, simply brush it off with, “I really don’t have any opinion about her. I’m just here to do my job.” For example, when you go to her to order supplies, come with a sheet of paper with everything itemized. Speak to her like you would to anyone else. If she doesn’t acknowledge you, who cares? If you don’t let her get to you, the pouting game won’t be fun anymore.


Remember, you can’t control any one else’s behavior. The only thing you can control is your reaction to it.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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