She may very well be thrilled by her behavior. She may not even realize she’s doing it. You could just let this go because you actually have ideas and a sense of humor. That’s why this bothers you — you want credit for who you are and how you think. I understand. But at some point, your magpie colleague will have to figure out who she is and how to express original ideas, or she will back herself into a corner of her own making. You can only hide behind the words of others for so long.
I am a bide-my-time kind of person, which isn’t necessarily the best way to deal with this sort of thing. You have to decide how much of this behavior you can tolerate. It may be petty to correct your co-worker, but at some point, something’s gotta give! Pull her aside, privately, to voice your concerns. Frame it as: “You have a tendency to repeat my ideas and jokes. I am flattered, but would prefer you not do this.” Or you could gently ask her why she does this maddening thing. If all else fails, the next time this happens, simply ask, “Girl, what are you doing?”
A Nemesis Lurks
Recently, the director of my department left. A co-worker and I both applied for the job. I got it, and now my co-worker radiates animosity toward me. We are complete opposites, so some of my decisions have irked her. I’ve mostly been able to deal with her anger, but I’ve also assumed she wasn’t angry at me but at the situation. However, her attitude is starting to affect the entire team.
Other employees feel silenced by her, and in trying to help them feel safe and that their voices are being heard, I’m aggravating her even more. Yet she acts like everything is normal. What do I do here? Her attitude is negatively affecting everyone. We’re also hiring new people, and I do not want new employees coming into this environment. I don’t have any kind of disciplinary power, nor am I sure that is the right decision.
— Anonymous, South Carolina
Everything is not normal, and it’s time to stop pretending that it is. Your co-worker is jealous and resentful; it happens in competitive environments. But her behavior is unprofessional. It is affecting your staff. She needs to process her negative feelings and, at least at work, move forward. I am not clear on why you don’t have any disciplinary power as a director or why it is acceptable for one person’s resentment to affect an entire team. It isn’t. I have all the empathy in the world for someone who doesn’t get a professional opportunity she covets. She is entitled to her feelings, but she is not entitled to act on those feelings in ways that create a toxic work environment. Disciplinary action may, at some point, be necessary, but there is a lot of distance between here and there.
Try and talk this out with her. Think Festivus — allow her an airing of grievances. Ask her what her ideal path forward looks like under the current circumstances. If that clears the air, consider ways you can give her more responsibility without diminishing your authority or exploiting her labor. I will assume she is good at her job because you did not speak to her abilities. Can you incorporate some of her ideas in your decision making? Or allow her to take the lead on a project? We all want to feel valued at work, and when we don’t get a promotion, it can feel like a rebuke. She just needs a reminder that she is valued. But if after these attempts her attitude has not improved, it will absolutely be time for disciplinary action of some kind. I wish you and your entire team the best as you navigate this thorny situation.
Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at email@example.com.