Everything I Need to Know: Revealing Weaknesses

AdviceTime for “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Romance Novels,” where romance heroes and heroines demonstrate the way out of sticky situations.

Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:

I have a work problem, not a romance problem, but I’m wondering if you could give me some advice. I have a work colleague who is driving me nuts. She and I have the same job, but I’ve been working at our company for about a year longer than she has. At first we got along great and I really liked her, but lately she’s been very different and I don’t know what to do. There’s a lot of little things that bother me, but I don’t want to get too specific because I think she reads your site, too – and because I don’t want to get fired.

When she first started, we found we had a lot in common. We had lunch together, we would go for drinks after work, and we’d email or IM during the day while we were working. I can’t figure out why or when it changed, but now she only IMs me or emails me to ask what I’m doing – then she wants to know who gave me that assignment and what I’m doing with it. We used to talk about what we were working on before, but now it’s different, more like she’s criticizing me or trying to find out what I’m doing.

Then, a few weeks ago, I had a new idea for an annual in-house event that would save the company (we’re a really small group) some money but would be a lot of fun. I told her my idea, and she told me how great it was, went on and on about it, and I thought it was going to be great fun to plan it with her. But while I was writing up the idea in an email to our boss, she got up and went into his office and told him – and took full credit, without telling him it had been my idea in the first place. Now I’m stuck planning it with her, and she’s acting like nothing’s wrong while I want to either pound her face in or ask what the hell’s wrong with her. I thought she was my friend. This event isn’t even a big deal! It’s not like we make money off it; it’s really a dumb thing to be so sneaky about.

Little stuff like that just bugs me, and I can’t figure out what to do. There are, like I said, only a handful of us at the office since it’s so small, and I can’t really avoid her. Also, because it’s a small operation, it’s not like there’s a promotion she wants or some bonus that I’d attain and she wouldn’t. I have no idea why she’s acting like this, and I wish she would stop. Do you have any suggestions? Should I confront her or what?


Hurt and Confused

Dear Hurt:

Wow. What a complete doucheboot.

Most of the time, I talk about heroines in general, and what they, or heroes, would do in a situation. But for your question, there is only one heroine you need to listen to: Princess Christina, the heroine of Julie Garwood’s The Lion’s Lady:

“She was such an angry, bitter, self-serving woman. Foolish, too, Christina thought, for she didn’t even try to hide her flaws form her niece.  Such stupidity amazed Christina. To show weakness was to give another power. “

Page 54, The Lion’s Lady

She’s given you a huge amount of power by being so clear and obvious about herself. She couldn’t have spelled out her weaknesses better if she’d painted them on the side of a bridge: she’s envious of you. She feels threatened by you and so she’s acting accordingly to undermine you in front of your boss and your peers, stealing ideas that were yours and expecting you to do the nice thing and not say a word about it.

It’s hard not to say, “That was my idea!” but the point isn’t who gets the credit. The point is how you deal with this person going forward.

Consider Princess Christina’s example above: your coworker has given you an inordinate amount of power over her. Use it. You now know she’s not above stealing from you, and putting her desire for attention and praise ahead of your friendship.

So what should you do? First: disengage from her when at all possible. This person is not acting like your friend and should not be treated as such. Second: professionally, watch your back. She may be envious of your confidence, your talent, or your intelligence, but she’s acting on those feelings in a way that’s really shitty – so don’t expect her to be kind or even professional. I don’t know how crucial it is for you to be the source of the event idea, or whether you need to clear that up with your boss – or if you can. But obviously, don’t tell her any more of your ideas!

You don’t need to confront her – what would you say? “I know you’re a complete asshole” is redundant and obvious. She knows it was your idea, and she knows you are aware she stole it. Confronting her just feeds her need for more attention and gives her a reason to create more drama with your fellow coworkers.

She’s revealed herself marvelously for you – so pay attention and learn from her display of weakness. Eventually she’ll reveal herself to other people as well, but in the meantime, distance yourself from her as much as you can, and find better friends elsewhere. People like that ultimately show their behinds in grand fashion, and behaving in an immoral fashion is usually a repeat event.  I’m sorry that she’s betrayed you over something like this, and done permanent damage to your working relationship.

Consider it a lesson learned, and an opportunity to find new and better friends. Her behavior definitely isn’t heroic, but you’re definitely due for some excellent friends who, like you, wouldn’t stoop to backstabbing over something so silly.


General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    JaniceG says:

    Sympathies. I agree that it sounds like jealousy. Ignore her as much as you can – answer as briefly as possible and if she tries to worm work information out of you that isn’t relevant to her own job, just say “Is there some reason you need to know that?”

    One more thing: if your company is really that small, I assume that before this great event occurs you will be in a meeting or have some occasion to discuss it while your boss is around. I’d work the following phrase into a conversation with the backstabbing beyotch that the boss can overhear: “You might remember XXX from when I first mentioned the [event] idea to you.” :->

  2. 2
    SidneyKay says:

    First of all I wouldn’t tell her anything.  I also, would not put anything in writing that went to her.  And, depending on your relationship with your boss (I have a good relationship with mine), I’d go in and tell him/her what happened.  Unless she quits or gets fired, she is going to be a continued thorn in your side.  Or, if you’re brave enough, you could just confront her and ask her what’s going on.  I am not confrontational, I’m more of the sneak behind your back person.  As Barney used to say Nip it, Nip it.

  3. 3
    J-me says:

    I learned a while back that the workplace is no place to make friends. Keeping coworkers at arm’s length and discussing new ideas/brainstorming is something done in groups of three or more so that there isn’t the possibility of backstabbing. Impolite digs or comments made in meetings will only make you seem like you are the jealous one. You might use the event as a take off and propose any other cost-cutting/streamlining ideas that you’ve had directly to your boss. Moving forward, it might not be comfortable in your workplace for a while in your, at least for the next few weeks, but it can make you a much better professional in the long run.

  4. 4
    joanneL says:

    Woot! (on the quote from Garwood’s wonderful Christina)

    Dear Hurt: Everything that Sarah said and one more suggestion: In the work environment, no matter how friendly you are with co-workers, keep your big girl panties on.

    The work place is not the spot to be sending personal messages or doing anything else that puts your professional life in the same seat as your personal life. If you have an idea that would benefit your employer then take it to your employer and toss it around her or him. It’s (hopefully) something that will help you & your company and that makes the company aware that you are putting them first during the work day.

    It’s nice to be nice and it certainly makes the day more pleasant if you’re friendly with those you share time with, but remember that for those 8 hours a day you’re on someone else’s dime and the company deserves your most professional behavior.

  5. 5
    Caroline says:

    I second the advice to make sure you wear your Big Girl Panties. Remember that those who take the high road may take longer to get to the destination, but the view is so much nicer, and eventually, you arrive without any muck and guck on you.

    That said, be professional. Never let her see you sweat. If you are so upset and frustrated and want to kill her for some stupid office political b******t, then I suggest taking it out on a treadmill, weeble-wobble punching bag, or kickass game like Halo. In the long run, keeping your chin held high, not stooping to her games, and trying your best to work professionally with this woman will stand you in better stead than attempting to save face by one-upping her. Just do your work with a smile, make your tasks SHINE with professionalism and excellence, and cover your a** with a paper trail. My experience has been as soon as you take the bait and try to publicly “fix” whatever situation has happened, it ups the ante for the person doing to pot-stirring, and you both get labelled as such.

    Also, wait it out. if she is like this, and attempting to step on you to make her way up the ladder, it means she is unhappy doing the work she does. She’s worried for her job, or isn’t challenged by it anymore. Give it time, and she may find another position in the company to sink her teeth into, or even leave.

    So sorry a burgeoning friendship has gone this way. It is never easy. its a hard lesson to learn for sure.

  6. 6
    Ros says:

    Probably the best thing to do is to write a public letter about the situation and send it to a blog you know she reads, in the hope that she’ll recognise enough of the details to realise it’s about her.  That’s bound to clear the air between you.

  7. 7
    hollygee says:

    She is trying to push you out so she can be the senior member. Don’t let her maneuver you into that.

  8. 8
    Laurel says:

    I’ve worked with people like this before. I set traps for them. If they behave, nothing happens. If they revert to type, they reveal themselves to their coworkers.

    If you discuss ideas/work with her, do it AFTER you have emailed your boss with the idea. Do not tell her your boss is in the loop and if you mention anything to your boss make it casual, like:

    “I thought I would run it by Susie Cupcake, too, and see if she would like to help on this. It’s just the sort of thing she is really good at. I’ll mention it to her this afternoon.”

    Then let her look like a gigondo buttmunch when she goes to pitch the idea like she just thought of it after you were team player of the year making her look good to her coworkers.

    I have employed this strategy to great effect over the years. Don’t worry, though, I only use my powers for good.

  9. 9
    joykenn says:

    Laurel has a good idea but I’m betting that great money-saving ideas aren’t just bubbling up in your mind every minute and that waiting for the perfect payback is meanwhile causing you to stew and worry.  OK, meanwhile.  First stop all the IMs, its unprofessional and not helpful.  Stop the after work drinks and the coffee breaks but stop them sensibly,…“sorry XXX but I’m just to busy right now for coffee, too much work for right now”.  No dirty looks or sly digs—that’s what we mean by putting your big girl pants on.  Your the professional she’s the doucebag, remember the difference.

    Next, ignore her with a smile.  She’s probably going to try to undermine you by making it seem to be your fault, your pettiness that is causing workplace friction.  Don’t play her game!  Smile, greet her each morning, then ignore her.  She’s a colleague, not a friend so distant but vaguely friendly like you would someone you meet in the hall but don’t know too well.

  10. 10

    This sounds more like women’s fiction / chick lit than romance :)

    There’s not much I can add to what everyone else has already said, except sympathies – it really sucks to work with someone like that. I’ve had work relationships turn sour and it makes for a a LONG. DAY.

    Second (third?) all the suggestions to distance yourself, don’t confide, and only reveal ideas AFTER you’ve presented them to the higher ups. Act professionally and protect yourself as much as you can.

    Any chance you could find a new job??

  11. 11
    robinjn says:

    She is not worth your time.

    I’ll say it again, she’s not worth your time. By allowing her to get you so upset, you have given her tremendous power over you. How much energy has she sucked away from you as you fret and worry and wonder if you did something wrong to lose her friendship?

    Forget revenge tactics, forget trying to figure her out or make it up to her. Forget HER. Go on with your life and keep doing your job well. Have pride in yourself, and know that you are a good person, and who cares what she is; she’s not important.

    Walk away mentally and it will be a lot easier dismiss her manipulations and pettiness. Remember that people like her are deeply insecure, and you don’t need to be. If she’s so small as to need to take credit for your work, okay, that’s done and you know you won’t make that mistake again.

    She’s not worth your time.

  12. 12
    Poison Ivy says:

    Yes, rotten people do reveal themselves over time. But I’ve got news for you. Before they get their inevitable comeuppance, they also get undeserved accolades, raises, and even promotions to jobs that don’t exist yet in your cozy little company. They can even get you fired. 

    So the ladylike response of taking the high road and waiting it out is a dangerous choice. Pulling back from your too-trusting friendliness is of course step one. But then setting traps is a good idea. Your goal is to keep your job and be happy in it. 

    And by the way, if your supposed friend reads this thread and worries enough to come to you and apologize, ask her to tell your boss the origin of the idea. Be gracious, but firm. And watch your back.

  13. 13
    Barbara says:

    I completely agree with those who recommend that you behave your most professionally. Be cool and polite. Volunteer nothing.

    I have seen people like this come and go at my employer (and I’ve been here for over 10 years). Set the trap for her. If she falls into it, let her :)

    Revenge is like lemonade—best served cold.

  14. 14
    Henofthewoods says:

    Are you sure you can’t come up with one idea that sounds good to her until after she has told it to the boss and you torpedo it?

    My mean streak just wants a little fun.

    Try to be to busy for her. I disagree with the people that say every idea about the company should immediately have gone to the boss – sometimes you have to think and discuss an idea and a good work environment allows for that. The people who are actually doing a type of work should want to look at their work and make sure that it is being done in the best way possible. (Whether that is plant cell tissue culture or real estate paperwork filing, there is always the chance that the procedures could be a little better.)

  15. 15
    Pam says:

    There are a couple of faintly similar situations in my workplace that have gone on for years.  Everybody knows about them, but no one does anything about them, because most of us are “too nice.”  I can’t offer solutions, but only a couple of survival techniques.

    1.  Keep your nose clean.  If she’s jealous, overly ambitious or just insecure, she’d probably love an opportunity to nail you.  So don’t give her one.  Make sure you conform to stuff like workplace computer policy religiously, ‘cause you never know who’s looking over your shoulder.  (See big girl panties, above)

    2.  While you should certainly avoid contact with this woman as much as possible—neither confiding in nor trusting her—try not to allow that to isolate you from others in the workplace.  Try to reinforce positive relationships with other co-workers as much as possible.  It’s so easy for a difficult co-worker to undermine one’s self-respect; remember that she is the problem, not you. 

    3.  Finally, be proactive about developing your own skills and knowledge base.  Take advantage of opportunities for continuing education or advanced training in your field.  Not only do classes enhance the skills you already have, but they can be fun and may open up avenues you haven’t even thought of.  Maybe in some fields, the best defense is a good offense, but I think striving for personal best is a much better strategy in the long run.

    3a.  Look for a little book titled The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton.  It ain’t a romance, and it may not precisely describe your work situation, but you may find it a comfort just to know that you aren’t alone in suffering from workplace bullying.

  16. 16
    XandraG says:

    People get away with crap like this because they’re not confronted on it.  If you are the type, and the opportunity comes up privately, as in she asks you why so chilly, consider telling her up front.  “I thought it was really crappy that I told you my idea and you took credit for it.  It makes you untrustworthy, and I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.” 

    Be prepared for backlash, but the reason why people get away with douchy things like this is because no one calls them on it, and they continue on with believing it’s “just the way the game is played.”  If you are in a position to change the rules, though…then change them.  as another poster said above, karma can sometimes take awhile to kick in and by that time, the damage might already be done.

    But yes, this person is no friend of yours, and if she’s reading this blog, shame on her.  Don’t take credit for somebody else’s work.

  17. 17
    Bianca says:

    What a vile woman.

    I agree with the trap-setting.  It’s an effective and easy way to thin the herd and force backstabbing two-timers to reveal themselves to the office.  Though, if she is reading this blog, she’ll be kinda onto you with the trap idea, so use judiciously.

    Otherwise, if you want my advice, be very cool and rigidly polite to her.  It would be a mistake to be friendly to her anymore or to smile at her or “kill her with kindness.”  That’s showing her that you’re not even going to acknowledge her horrendously douchey behavior, which might make it easier for her to do something again.  Shove your hurt feelings aside and put your game face on, never EVER confide in her again, never reveal what you’re working on to her and proceed with caution around her.  If it were me, I would confront her.  Politely, of course, revealing that I know what she did and that I thought it was very unprofessional of her.  YMMV, of course.

  18. 18
    RStewie says:

    That’s a pretty foul play, to take credit for someone else’s work.  You definitely want to avoid this person in the future, although at a smaller company it’s usually impossible.

    So I’ll reiterate what others have said:  Stay away from her.  Don’t discuss future ideas or plans with her. Don’t let her know about your workload or projects.  Stay polite and proffessional.

    And I’ll add:  Secure your position.  The best defense is a good offense, and if you are great at your job, reliable, quick, and effective, then you will succeed. 

    I come in late every day (I know, I know…it’s just an awful habit) but I maintain my position because I am the BEST at my job…and I also am the last to leave every day.  I have answers, I provide quick turn-around on projects, I get along with everyone, and I Know My Shit.  So what if I’m strolling in at 735 instead of 730?  My coworkers appreciate the fact that I’m reliable and decisive, and if anyone complains to my boss (they have) he can point to the quality and quantity of my work to justify my position. 

    Make sure you have the same back-up, and it won’t matter that this chick is trying to take you down.

  19. 19
    sexybee says:

    While I agree that her behavior was totally over the line, I have to wonder if something other than jealousy was the motive for her strange behavior.  Is it possible that she is in trouble at work?  If so, she might be emailing to try to find out if her work has been reduced or to get you to start talking about personal problems so that you look bad.  Similar thing about trying to make herself look better with the boss so she doesn’t get fired.  I mean, that doesn’t excuse her behavior—if she was actually your friend she should have told you about her problems, and stealing people’s ideas is not acceptable ever—but her pattern of behavior does strike me as one of someone who’s desperately trying to hold on to her job in all the wrong ways.

  20. 20
    Laurel says:

    Let me add one thing to the trap idea:

    Poison Ivy is right. We all like to believe that people who behave this way eventually get found out but in truth they often don’t. I’ve seen them get promoted and damage the careers of others. Setting a trap is about self-preservation. Revenge is just gravy, not the objective.

    You never talk down a co-worker, it makes you look like the one who is jealous and petty. Be professional, recognize her achievements, be the guy that works well with others.

    The best thing about the set-up I suggest is it will only damage her if she tries to damage you. If she cleans up her act and flies straight, no harm done. If she is reading the blog then more the better. She will think twice before trying to take credit for the work of others, which is really the whole point.

  21. 21
    Narwhallove says:

    I just wanted to say that this is proof that women support one another. Hurrah! If only this happened all the time, and if everyone didn’t always assume otherwise were true.

  22. 22
    Jackie says:

    Thank you soooo much for mentioning my fav character! 

    So, I would recommend reading Julie Garwood Lion’s Lady and see all the ways the heroine treats her enemies – except for bodily harm that is!

  23. 23

    Hurt and Confused,

    In the event that the sage advice gushing forth from the wisdom-soaked chambers of SBTB doesn’t work for you, I might suggest that you rework your letter, replacing the follow phrases:

    Change “office” to “triad”
    Change “colleague” to “primary hump”
    Change “boss” to “third”
    Change “IM” and “e-mail” to various lovemaking activities
    Change “in-house event” to “polyamorous boinking session”

    Then e-mail it to Dan Savage, and see what he says. I usually find the advice on Savage Love to be pretty solid.

  24. 24
    Beki says:

    I am with Xandra G when she says “People get away with crap like this because they’re not confronted on it.  If you are the type, and the opportunity comes up privately, as in she asks you why so chilly, consider telling her up front.  “I thought it was really crappy that I told you my idea and you took credit for it.  It makes you untrustworthy, and I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.” “

    Bluntness (and severe politeness) will take a backstabber completely off guard.  There isn’t anything you can do with the current project idea (except work your ass off on it since you already had such great things planned for it) but absolutely, positively NO MORE sharing of ideas with colleagues unless there are more than two of you in the conversation AND I would make damn sure to have an electronically dated document to back me just in case.  Kind of a poor man’s copywrite on the idea. 

    Be professional.  Do not expect to make real, lasting friendships in the workplace.  And for the love of god don’t trust someone again who has already been showing signs of flakiness toward you.  You are the better person and not nearly that desperate for friendship, right?  I mean, look around here at all the other women backing you up.

  25. 25
    Elysa says:

    Handling the workplace sabotage has been well covered, so I’d like to address the reason someone might pull back from a friendship…

    I’ve had a few situations, mostly in the workplace, where a burgeoning friendship has turned into “OMG let’s be BFF and I’m.gonna.take.up.all.your.free.time.I.don’t.care.how.you.feel.”

    So yeah, I’ve pulled back.  Waaaaayyyy back.  Now I don’t even start.  I now favor formality in the workplace even though I’ve been called a bitch for it.

    Not saying the letter writer did anything of the sort here. Just want the fact that women can be needy and overwhelming and stalkerish added to the discussion of workplace friendships.  Nobody should ever ever be judged for investigating a potential friendship and then deciding against it, for whatever reason.  After work drinks and IMs are not a commitment, are they?

  26. 26
    AM says:

    Ditto Roz.  Sarah’s advice was spot on, but this really shouldn’t have been posted if there’s even a chance of the person in question reading it.

  27. 27
    Diane/Anonym2857 says:

    I dunno… on one level, there’s a certain brilliance to be found in the passive-aggressiveness of putting it on a public board where the other person will read it.  This way HC has a way of letting the other person know she’s on to her, without actually having to confront her head-on.  Perhaps reading the scathing opinions of people she admires criticizing her actions will add to the smack-down of this already desperate and insecure coworker.  Also, think of the mind games that can now take place:  every time HC asks her something, sends an email, calls her into a meeting with the boss, or in any way includes her in the course of business, this gal will have to wonder “is this it? Why is she being nice/including me/cooperating now? Is this a setup, or just day-to-day work?”  The seeds of parnoia and doubt have been planted.  The gal may just implode on her own without any additional effort on HC’s part. 

    Then again, that brilliance might just be the flash of the nuclear shock wave, and the resulting explosion decimates everyone in the area.


  28. 28
    Jessi B. says:

    Totally had a similar situation several years ago, except the women wasn’t just stealing good ideas but was blaming her mistakes on me as well. I found out later, after quitting the job from a friend who started around the time that I quit. I would just warn you to really work on impressing the boss and keeping their high opinion of you up so that she doesn’t harm your career. Good luck!

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