Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sniffing out the new pack

In my head, I often compare people to dogs. While there are always exceptions, certain breeds tend to exhibit certain behaviors, and in general, dog behavior is simpler to observe and analyze than people’s behavior. But sometimes people aren’t as complex as they think they are.
Having started a new job, I have the opportunity to be thrust into a new pool of unfamiliar personalities, politics, and power structures. An Org chart won’t tell you who is insecure, who is widely believed to be incompetent, who is overly aggressive, or who will smile to your face and talk about you behind your back. You have to find out these things on your own. Observing behavior is useful and entertaining, but some of the behavior I’ve been witnessing is already starting to drive me nuts.
There is a woman here who has a job in documentation. She is older than me, childless, married, and very conservative. She is tall and slender, kind of dry and brittle looking. She likes to stop at my cubicle to say hello and ask me how I’m doing, and then launches into a narrative about something that paints her in a dismal light. None of the information she shares has been solicited in any way, and much of it is deeply personal and rather embarrassing. Without “testing the waters” to any degree, she lets people know that she’s deeply religious, follows Glenn Beck, and hates the current administration and recent legislation. I know details about her extremely troubled and dysfunctional marriage, her husband’s Internet activities – including his search for a Chinese bride – and their financial situation.
It is clear that this woman walks around most of the time with her tail between her legs. She is exhibiting a chronic submissive posture, hoping to elicit others to like her, to include and accept her, or to simply not attack her.
The problem, of course, is that we are not dogs.
 While I flatter myself that I am an Alpha Female, I am by no means in charge of our team at work or even of her. I want my peers to respect each other, and treat each other as equals, but the excessive groveling behavior is irritating. It makes me want to avoid her and not engage her in conversation, both of which I have to be careful with, so as not to be seen as unfriendly or “not a team player.”  (which in the kind of office setting like mine can be the kiss of death)
Is it wrong that I so want to bite the scruff of her neck and shake her til she pees herself?  Yeah, it probably is.


  1. Sounds like she's been beaten up many times before. I would resist the urge to join "the pack" and do further damage. Armor-up with some Teflon and carry on.

  2. Ugh, she sounds irritating has hell. I'd want to shake her too!

  3. It's tough, but sometimes interesting, to learn the dynamics of a new place of employment. The worst, for me, was around Christmas time, when you had to figure out who the folks were who liked to trade gifts (you always want to return the favor) and who didn't (you don't want to feel cheated). After a year or two, I just quit that game.

    BTW, could you please get that chinese mail-order bride URL from your work-friend? Thanks.

  4. It's always a guessing game trying to figure out personalities and all the political games being played in a new workplace. It sometimes makes getting any work done a real challenge. Yes, this woman's behavior sounds very annoying, and I can see why it is difficult to know how to react to her. I kind of feel sorry for her too because it sounds like she leads a very lonely life. It's one of those times when you're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  5. Can't you just go pee in her cubicle?

  6. I'm always glad when someone tells me he likes Glenn Beck. Saves me the trouble of having to figure out that he's a moron.