Q: One of my co-workers imitates me in every way possible — not like sarcastic imitation, but she copies my overall style in clothing, shoes, hair, makeup and everything else she notices about me. She has never said anything over the edge or creepy about it; she just shows up one day to work in a similar dress to what I wore, same shoes, coat or outfits that I had put together, such as a certain color sweater with a certain color pair of leggings. I haven't wanted to say anything because I think that would assume a situation that may not be true.
I do have really good taste and style, and I suppose imitation is the best flattery. But how do I know where to draw the line between flattery and stalking? I don't want to seem arrogant, like, "Of course, you are copying me because I'm so amazing." I also don't want to take a normal but overboard situation of flattery and turn it into something it isn't. That would make things weird for both of us and for my co-workers whom I've told about it.
A: First, don't bring your co-workers into it. If they notice it and say something to you directly, that's different. You can then acknowledge that you've noticed it but hope it is just a compliment to your taste in style (even if it eventually turns out to be more). Your decision to not address her copycat behavior is a wise one, as confronting her without evidence of any underhanded motives could backfire and hurt your reputation at the company. Being thought of as an employee who emotionally acts out without proof of a threat could mark you as someone for your boss and human resources to watch.
Many young women hope to gain attention as a fashion consultant or guide, wishing to build a following on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Some may have original ideas to suggest, but some may not be as creative and find they need to copy someone who is a trendsetter in clothing brands, music, hair, technology and/or new gadgets. She may already be promoting your ideas as her own through blogging without acknowledging you as the source. And why would she? You are not a celebrity or fashion designer known for your style, ability in putting together outfits and recognizing or creating hot trends. If she has already started a blog sharing information as if she were its originator, you would never know without conducting your own research on her activities.
There are no copyright laws on adopting styles, interests and buying patterns similar to a person one admires. Some young women's goals, apart from their jobs, are to bask in the success of convincing someone to follow their fashion choices. It would become creepy if you were to discover your co-worker purchasing duplicates of most of the clothing you wear to work or if you were to find out she now goes to the same hair salon to match your hairstyle and color. This would be the proof you need to question her behavior.
You will clearly recognize those extreme actions if they happen, and that will be your signal to seek support from HR. Don't handle this on your own, as your emotional state may get in the way of a safe and positive resolution. Poor handling of the situation due to naivete could cause further harm to you and your job. If you cannot stop yourself from saying something first, be polite and calm but still serious. Accusing a person who may become unstable in a confrontation could blow up on you. Situations such as this one may cause both employees to be let go because of the potential negativity and interference with your jobs. Never assume that an employee who seems nice won't turn on you if threatened, though it's always best to start by giving the person the benefit of a doubt.
Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/at-work-lindsey-novak.