Q: I can't be too detailed for fear of the person recognizing the situation. We are a group of professionals (I'll call us consultants) who work out of the same office but each of us has different clients. I assume we are all equally as competent, but one woman in our group is painfully arrogant. For example, if any of us casually ask her a question, she answers us in a tone that conveys she thinks we are stupid.
Also, she is dreadfully boring and always over-describes everything and gets offended if we engage in what anyone else would call normal conversation (she demands solid attention while she lectures us). Imagine a carpenter who feels the need to describe every nail he hammers into each piece of wood — how he chooses the nails, how he determines the pressure in hammering the nail — and then wants to describe the grain of each piece of wood.
When any one of us gets trapped into a work-related conversation with her, having to listen to her sends the listener into a state of desperation for escape. The other colleagues have warned me that under no circumstances will they allow her to accompany us for lunch. This means that if I want to go out with them, we have to rush out before she can ask to join us. It sounds petty, but our lunch hour is for blowing off stress, and being in her presence is a stress inducer.
I feel guilty by not including her, but I have no choice. I sometimes think I should explain privately why people avoid her, and give her the ugly truth. At least she can then choose to change her behavior. It will hurt her, but part of me feels she needs to know how she turns people off.
A: You are assuming she is unaware that people run the opposite direction to avoid her. But all of you are professionals and are likely to be intelligent and aware of your own and others' personalities and behavior. You are also likely aware that people can't change their personalities; if they could, the field of psychology would disappear, as would all the diet gurus and fitness coaches and aids to help people achieve their wishes. A person who decides his or her behavior is unappealing could simply change it overnight. Clearly, that does not happen often.
Your guilt is creating your problem. If this boring and arrogant person is not capable of seeing that people dread her presence, then she is going think of you as the horrible person who took her aside to tell her all of her faults. If you think you feel guilty by not allowing her to join the group for lunch, think of the guilt you'll feel after you wound her psyche. She will then have to come to work and face the person who inflicted emotional pain and embarrassment on her. And she will probably report you to the boss or to HR.
To the contrary, consider that she may be a narcissist who isn't capable of caring what you think or feel about her. If hitting her with the truth stirs up tremendous anger, you may be the one wanting to leave the job. You also don't know to what extremes her anger will take her, nor will you want to find out.
It sounds like you and your friendly colleagues would do best by avoiding this unpleasant and insulting person, and instead spending your lunch hour unwinding. If she ever confronts you and your colleagues, demanding to know why all of you avoid her, postpone saying anything, explaining you need time to think about it. Your group may want to briefly meet with your boss to explain the situation. It's possible your boss may agree with you and will call on the human resources department for help.
But it's likely that she is not sensitive and does not want to hear your opinions on how arrogant and boring you think she is. Her treatment of you seems to show she already knows it and doesn't care.
Email career and life coach [email protected] with your workplace questions and experiences. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.