I’ll admit I am incredibly naïve. I joke that I’m always so busy looking out after myself that I don’t notice other people and their ill intent. In fact, I’m not really joking. I genuinely believe that our “normal balance” is focusing on ourselves and looking out for number one. That’s where keeping your emotional boundaries with co-workers is important.
I recently had an experience with a co-worker that surprised me. Better yet, I was surprised at my own ability to sniff a rat and protect myself and my emotional boundaries. I never had the strength or the skills to do this in the past. Normally I would have been road-kill before I knew what had happened.
I put myself in the running for an Office Manager’s position at my office. This was a rash decision on my part. I admit I didn’t really think things through. But soon after, my co-worker Suzy began to act differently towards me.
During the first couple of days she was quiet and distant but, I picked up on her change of attitude immediately. Then the weekend came and suddenly on Monday, Suzie is my “best friend”.
Now, she takes time to come by my cubicle to talk to me before we begin work. She’s asking me about how I like my job. She wants to know what I think of the people around the office. You know, kind of gossipy sort of stuff, but looking back, this lady is a pro. She was sucking me in just like a deluxe Rainbow vacuum. She was chatting me up as if I didn’t notice her attitude toward me had changed.
A couple of days went by – same drill each morning. In the meantime, I made the decision to withdraw my name from consideration for the Office Manager position. Another opportunity presented itself and I decided it was better to pursue that path. I didn’t tell Suzie.
The next morning, after I withdrew my name, here comes Suzie again. She took notice that my pictures and some other things were gone from my cubicle. She begins to speak. “Oh Consolata, are you leaving us?”
Imagine her voice in your head. She has a kind of nasal-like whine in her tone. She draws out my name, emphasis on the second, third and fourth syllables…Con-soooo-laaah-taaah.
“No,” I said, “why would you ask me that?”
“Well, I just noticed your cubicle is different,” she remarked. “I just thought you might have found another job.”
“Nope, I’m quite happy here.” “Just doing a little cleaning.”
The next morning, here comes Suzie again. She comes bopping over to my cubicle and says so sweetly and with a certain amount of pity, “Oh, Consolata, me and Linda (the other girl in the office) are so bummed out you are not going to interview for the Office Manager position.”
“Really?” I say. “How did you know I’m not interviewing?”
“Well, we were just talking about it yesterday afternoon, after you left.”
“No one should have said anything to you, but since you seem so interested, I’ve decided to go in another direction.”
“Oh,” she whines. “Well we were really excited about having you as our Office Manager.”
“That’s surprising,” I said. “and my interview was confidential. “ “No one should have said anything to you or Linda.” “I’m sorry you found out.”
“Well you know,” she says, “I don’t blame you.” You kind of have to protect yourself around here.”
Then she goes on to tell me how she looks at this job as kind of a temporary place to work and how she can see that I would be unhappy there. I just kept my mouth shut and let her talk. Often you can find out a lot just by listening.
I remember leaving work that day with my head reeling from this conversation. I was so happy that I kept my mouth shut and stuck to my boundaries. For once I didn’t say every little thing that came into my head.
And then it dawned on me. This girl has evil intent. She is not your friend Consolata. Beware of Suzie.
My supervisors hired someone after one day of interviews.
Coincidentally, Suzie did not appear at my cubicle the next day. She had nothing left to say, I suppose.
Before I left the office I stopped by her desk. I leaned over close and looked her straight in the eye.
I said to her low and slow, “You know, I think there may be some confusion here. For some reason you think I’m unhappy with my job.”
“Let me set the record straight. I like working here, part-time. This is the perfect job for me. Have a nice afternoon.”
I said good-bye and turned and walked out of the door with my head held high.
Maybe I’m paranoid but I honestly think Suzie was trying to make trouble for me. I’m not sure I would have recognized that a few months ago. Thank goodness with time comes, clarity, wisdom and the self-confidence to stick to our emotional boundaries and handle people with grace and dignity.