Dear Dr. Darcy, I recently started my first real job. I was nervous at first as the team is made up of mostly men who are much older than me and I wondered how they would treat me as a young woman. They've all been great and the only problems I've encountered thus far have been with the only other woman on the team.
I thought we were getting along well for the first few weeks but she is very passive-aggressive. One minute she will be undermining me, making a sarcastic reply to one of my questions in front of our coworkers and the next asking me to go to lunch with her. I am newer than her to the company and the role and she appears to delight in telling me what I'm doing wrong at every opportunity, also in front of our colleagues.
She also seems to get very jealous whenever I am praised for my work. I do not feel competitive towards her because she is the only other woman and it annoys me she obviously does feel that way towards me. I'm a quiet person and avoid conflict but I'm worried I will have to look for another job if her childish antics continue.
Another example from this week is when she started acting in a standoffish way towards me because someone had called me to say they would be late for a joint meeting we both had with them and they had not called her. I had more contact with the person so it made sense for me to be their main point of contact.
What can I do about this woman without leaving or making a formal complaint? Help!
This woman sounds hateful. She would never get away with her behavior were she dealing with someone older. She’s taking advantage of your age and your desire to have peace over pride. That said, this is no longer a pride issue. If you’re seriously contemplating filing a formal complaint and/or leaving, you need to put on your big girl pants and deal with this woman directly.
Part of the problem is that you’ve let her get away with her bullshit for however long you’ve been in this job. It’s easier to set a boundary from the beginning than to set one when you’re already into a relationship. Nonetheless, based on her history, I’m confident that she’ll give you another opportunity (and several thereafter) to correct her behavior.
The next time she is even remotely rude, condescending or passive-aggressive, you need to send her a look (in the moment) that communicates the absurdity of what she just said. Then, when she tries to speak nicely to you afterwards or when she asks to have lunch with you, respond with the following:
“I’m confused…(pregnant pause here – look her directly in the eye). Why would you [insert offense here] and then attempt to have a civilized relationship with me? It’s a little crazy-making, and quite frankly, I’m not interested in having a pretend relationship with someone who treats me the way you do.” And then go back to your computer and end the conversation. You’ll have to hold this boundary because no doubt she’ll test you to see if you mean what you say.
You think you're avoiding conflict by failing to set boundaries when in reality it's the avoidance thereof that leads to conflict - and I'm betting that this is a pattern in your life. You have to reframe the way you view conflict. Begin associating it with allowing yourself to be bullied - not with setting boundaries. We teach people how to treat us. You’ve ‘approved’ her behavior for as long as you’ve been working there by letting her get away with it unchallenged. My guess is it will take a month at the most to teach this dog a new trick. The question is, can you behave like an Alpha long enough to make it happen?
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