There's someone I deal with regularly -- let's call her Betty. Betty and I are closely related and we work together on various projects that she directs. Sometimes I run into a difficult situation with Betty that I haven't been able to figure out. It usually goes like this:

Betty: How's it going?
Me: Frustrating. My widgets are all out of sequence, so I'm putting them back the way they were.

Betty: I didn't get them out of order.
Me: I didn't say it was you, I'm just frustrated that someone got them out of order.

Betty: They were all jumbled up when you left for the weekend.
Me: That's not good, since I had just put them back in sequence. I'll talk to the rest of the team and see what happened.

Betty: Don't do that. Nobody else would have touched them.
Me: Well, there's only me, you, and other people. If it wasn't me and it wasn't you, then it was someone else.

Betty: I don't know why you had them out of order. You're making a big deal out of this. Let's just get stuff done.

This interaction doesn't sit well with me because:

  1. I come away feeling like I'm the bad guy for making accusations against Betty, when that wasn't my intention at all.
  2. It makes me feel like I must be interfering with work to just be a troublemaker.
  3. I end up doubting my own memory of events, which is deeply unsettling.
  4. Thinking about the interaction later, I end up angry at Betty.

Is there anything I can do to improve the way Betty and I are interacting? We're going to be working together for another few months at least, and we'll be close relatives till one of us dies, so this is a very important relationship to me.

(Also I could use a better title for this post.)


2 Answers 2


I may be inferring here a tad based on my own experiences, but I have found that people who don't want you to bring something up to a group and trying to pass off guilt with "I didn't do it" even though you never told her you thought she did is a clear sign THEY actually touched it. They don't want you to bring it up because then everyone else will say "it wasn't us" which then points you back to Betty. She tries to then sweep it under the carpet by saying "hey quit making this into a big deal and get back to work".

The conversation seems awkward for sure, and if the dialog is what is being said, there is definitely something she seems to be hiding (maybe going through your desk etc).

With that being said, I don't know for this particular situation that you could have replied differently as it was factual and to the point. It's also hard when frustrated to provide different responses, but maybe a simple response such as

Oh, good to know you didn't touch it, I can cross you off the list of suspects! (jokingly).

Since this particular conversation didn't seem to go fairly well after she made that comment to you, I would cut it off with a mild joke and then change the subject. I would talk to your boss/manager instead bout the possibilities of bringing it up to your team instead at the next meeting, that way it does not come off as you accusing her.

Now, as for her responses to you, they kind of trigger a flag for me. As someone who used to be in an abusive situation, this seems to me as early stages of Gas lighting. Particularly in this link, point numbers 2, 7, 8 for your situation.

2 because you clearly remember having things sorted and she is saying you didn't. You even mention in point number 3 of your post that you are doubting your own memory.

  1. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.

You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

7 Because she is trying to confuse your memory of what you did and didn't do.

  1. They know confusion weakens people.

Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything. And humans' natural tendency is to look to the person or entity that will help you feel more stable—and that happens to be the gaslighter.

8 "I don't know why YOU had them out of order. You're making a big deal out of this." when again you clearly had them organized and even stated such, so she is trying to confuse and project to you. Also blaming you for making a big deal about someone violating your workspace is projecting too.

  1. They project.

They are a drug user or a cheater, yet they are constantly accusing you of that. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter's own behavior.

  • 1
    +1, also for th gaslighting. That sounds fishy. Although there is another option to explain her uneasiness: she knows who did it, but doesn't want to tell.
    – user2135
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 18:29

Assuming you don't need Betty's permission to either put them back in order or talk to the others, I suggest telling her less. I might rework that conversation like this:

Betty: How's it going?

Me: Frustrating. My widgets are all out of sequence, so I'm putting them back the way they were.

Betty: I didn't get them out of order.

Me: I was quite sure of that already. (Smile.)

Then just calmly rearrange your widgets. You're not making a big deal and you're getting stuff done. If Betty continues to discuss it:

Betty: They were all jumbled up when you left for the weekend.

Me: That's interesting. Thanks for noticing. I have no idea what happened, but at least I know when it was.

You're not bringing her into your investigation of the jumbled widgets, which might require her to defend herself, defend others, or minimize the importance of the problem, none of which you will like. And at least in theory, Betty will prefer it too.

  • 2
    Thanks, avoiding further investigation would probably do a lot to minimize conflict. The part where you suggest I say "I was quite sure..." wouldn't work for me, though, as I'm pretty sure it was Betty, and I'd very much not prefer to lie.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 21:38
  • 2
    Ah, well perhaps "I was quite sure you would tell me that" :-) Or indeed just "Ok." Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 21:40

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