The office bully? Totally my fault

55H (1)I recently took a mini road trip with a colleague who needed a ride as well as a shoulder to cry on about coworker conflicts.

I can empathize. I have a fair amount of experience with people who can masquerade as well-adjusted adults in every other setting but the office, where they’re likely to pair up the emotional maturity of overtired toddlers with the aggression of lowland gorillas.

I let my colleague talk, without making suggestions, trying to focus on driving while staving off the episode of my own work-related PTSD her stories inspired.

There was a time about fifteen years ago when I thought it was a good idea to hire a friend to fill a new position in my department. She seemed like a great candidate: bubbly and fun and capable of throwing a great party. Not a single one of those made her more qualified for the job, but whatever. We had kids of similar ages, and hung out in the same social circles. She had thrown me one of the best baby showers ever, with mimosas and little finger sandwiches and not a sign of any of those stupid shower games.

And how lucky was I, to have this particular person available? She’d had the exact job for another nonprofit that had to cut her position when they lost a major funder. Presumably she had the appropriate skill set. Plus, it was especially important I get along with whomever we hired. We didn’t have a lot of space in our building, so they’d share my office. Tight quarters.

All of her references were mutual friends, and each conversation was just a gush-fest about how much we loved this gal, about how good she’d be in this role.

What could go wrong?

… let’s just start from the beginning.

Day one: I say no to her moving a cocktail cart into one corner of our office, and apparently strike a nerve. You can imagine how disappointing it is to realize you’re working for a Girl Scout council instead of a 1950s era Madison Avenue advertising agency, and that a mid day aperitif is likely to be frowned upon.

Day two: I realize part of what makes her so bubbly and fun is her really loud and explosive laugh, which undergoes an increase in volume directly proportional to my need to have a quiet telephone conversation five feet away from her big yapper.

My friend/colleague, let’s call her Sparkly, made friends easily in our office. Everybody thought she was a gas. I developed coping skills. I learned to time any phone calls I needed to make with her frequent forays out to socialize.

There was a teensy problem with that too, though. Whenever she stepped out of the room, she’d turn the ringer on her phone all the way up in order not to miss any important calls. She should have been able to hear that thing ringing from Timbuktu, although I’m not sure why that would be necessary, nor did I ever catch her running to get her phone.

It didn’t take long to notice any project I gave Sparkly would take forever to complete if not disappear altogether. This, as I discovered when I overheard one of her phone conversations, was not Sparkly’s fault. It was all the writing involved.

And laaawd, she hated all the writing.

As it turns out, an intense dislike for writing can actually be somewhat of a handicap for anyone whose job title includes the words marketing and communication. But at least I finally understood why she had such a hard time completing anything.

I’ll admit to an absolute absence of personnel management skills, that fact and others were somewhat to blame for Sparkly’s rocky first days in our office. Besides my relentless need for her to do actual work, and my complaining when her phone ringing startled me so badly I’d spill my coffee, I apparently have a terrible habit of typing distractingly loud and fast. Also, when I’m concentrating on something, I’m apparently unnervingly quiet. And that’s just rude.

These weren’t complaints she logged with me, mind you. But she was polite enough to talk loudly about my failings within earshot, so I never had to guess what she was thinking.

I don’t know what she did besides socialize all day, but to everyone but me, she had an extraordinary ability to look like she was doing her job. She could channel Tom Sawyer like a boss and had a network of people in and out of the office to help her. She churned out mountains of written material that was just copy she’d cobble together from other stuff. Even if it was out of date or completely irrelevant. It took me eight times as long to edit her crap as it would have to write it myself.

Things went on like this for a while, while I floundered for lack of management skills. In the meantime, I stopped getting invites from our mutual friends to sit at their tables for social events, or join them for drinks after dinner, which I was torn about. I hated feeling left out, but I also wanted to avoid any situation that would have necessitated spending discretionary time with Sparkly.

My boss had some inkling about Sparkly’s failings, although she did think Sparkly had incredible taste in fashion, told delightful stories, and had just the week before contributed the most incredible seven-layer dip to the office potluck.

Nevertheless, my boss agreed it was probably the best idea for Sparkly and I to have separate offices. Sparkly needed her space, after all. We’d convert the conference room into cubicles and move her and her freakishly loud phone far away. I had a vacation coming, and I’d leave Sparkly with a list of to-do items which my boss would oversee in my absence.

I was going to be out of the country for a week and a half or so, and in the dark days before smartphones, this meant I’d be largely incommunicado. I’d come back rested and ready to work on my management skills, my boss would get some insight on Sparkly’s behavior, and be ready to back me up.

I was sure things would be much better.

And we all know how I’m always right about these things. More later …


Have you ever hired a friend who turned out to be a monster? Would you say no to a cocktail cart in your office? Lay it on me.

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12 thoughts on “The office bully? Totally my fault

  1. I am hooked! Can’t wait to hear the rest of this story.

    I’m stressing out on your behalf with that woman. What is it about super social people that no one cares about their failings and any disagreement with their work ethic makes YOU the bad guy? It’s so unfair, but I’ve seen it a million times.

    I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to say no to a bar cart in my office. It could possibly be helpful to improve my positivity at work right now.

  2. A girl I was friends with told me about a job opening up at her company and I jumped on the chance as I was unemployed at the time. This friend of mine was similar to yours: bubbly, funny, but also a bit over the top and well…crazy. I quickly realized that her getting me this job was problematic because it put her on a total power trip thinking she was my boss (she wasn’t). She did nothing all day — in fact, she watched full episodes of ‘Friends’ on YouTube most days — but reprimanded me if I ever came in a few minutes late, perused Facebook or texted in the office. She loved having the power over me that she had gotten me that job and it made her feel important and like she had dominance over me. We’d have blowout fights because of it and it totally ruined our friendship. Lesson learned: no more working with friends.

    I enjoyed your story – can’t wait to hear more!
    Ali A recently posted…thankfuladjective thank·ful \ˈthaŋk-fəl\: glad that something…My Profile

    1. It’s funny what power – or even the perception of having it – does to some people. I think in my case, things would have been better if this gal didn’t think I was in a position of power. Oh, wait, that didn’t help either, come to find out …

  3. Sparkly would’ve driven me crazy too. Especially the loud laughs and even louder phone rings. Isn’t it frustrating when there’s someone who everyone likes who annoys you senseless? It was probably harder because she had started out as a friend. Oh well, looking forward to Sparkly: the Sequel.

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  6. I am looking forward to hearing the rest of the story of Sparkly. I stumbled over here from The Bloggess’s blog. I have never hired a friend but I work in a very small library where my boss who hired her sister work. It can be awkward at times.

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