52

Background:

I've recently started working on a new project, in a team of around 10 people. I'm the only female on that team, but the guys are awesome and it's a great, fun group of people to work with. Once a week, we work at a location where there's another team of around 10 people, and we all have lunch together. One big happy group of 20 people.

In the other team, there's another female (also the only one on that team). She's a little older than me and married with kids (I'm 27 and single). She's the type of person that makes me feel a little hesitant from the minute we met, it's almost like she's too eager to become friends and tries to force herself into whatever I’m doing. Whenever I walk to get a cup of coffee/water, she stands up and walks with me, trying to strike up a conversation. When there's lunch break, she tries to 'claim' me for conversation as well, and I always feel a little suffocated and singled out.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind talking to her, but since there's 20 colleagues and a lot of them have interesting hobbies/stories to tell, I do want to have a conversation with more than 1 person at a time when we're having coffee or lunch.

Problem:

Whenever I'm having those conversations with people other than her, she tends to talk herself into it as well. That's usually not that uncommon for people to do, but she always manages to do so in a way that I find pretty awkward, since it's almost always focused on something she, her kids or one of her family members did, it’s always only tangentially related to the thing we're talking about and it’s always directed at me personally.

As an example: At lunch, my group was a little earlier than hers, so I was already in a conversation with 3-4 co-workers about the kinds of stories we like to read. When she arrived at the lunch table, she sat next to me, listened for a few sentences, then blurted out something to me about borrowing books at the library for her kids that wasn't really related to the whole 'what do you like to read' conversation.

I'm not averse to engaging her in the conversation, but I really wanted to keep the conversation on the level where I can get to know my co-workers a little better, so I tried to engage her in the conversation by asking what kinds of books she likes to borrow from the library, hoping we could continue the topic with her in it as well. She mentioned a few books she had read, and I and the other co-workers picked up the conversation from there, discussing similar books/writing styles and whether or not we liked them or preferred other stuff. The weird thing is that as soon as the conversation moved on, the female co-worker fell silent again.

After that, conversation changed to other topics, and she tried another two or three times to engage in it, but always the same, by making an unrelated remark (kind of gruff too, she sounded somehow a little angry and upset or tired of the conversation), and then falling silent again. It's almost like she wants my undivided attention, because she's very (almost too) chatty and friendly in a one-on-one conversation whenever we have these, and I've since learned she does like to read and could certainly have contributed to the lunchbreak conversation by being ‘trapped’ at the water cooler with her for fifteen minutes. It feels like I’m being forced into being friends with her, and that’s she’s trying to single me out from the guys, preventing me from getting to know them better.

Question:

I’d like the female co-worker to feel free to participate in any conversation I’m having with the guys (like any other normal person/colleague), so I'd rather not ignore her. But I also want her to know I’m not hers to claim, and give off a signal (doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal) that she’s claiming me too much and I’m not appreciative of her forcing a friendship/derailing conversations/singling me out like it feels she’s doing now.

How can I handle this co-worker awkwardly forcing herself into conversations in such a way that she doesn’t feel excluded, but also not encouraged to continue their behaviour of trying to get my undivided attention?

  • 3
    This situation reminded me of an answer I read on another stack, describing the "Queen Bee" effect (point 3). – pipe Jul 13 '18 at 13:43
  • @pipe, this is quite different though, in that she wants my attention, not be the only female receiving male attention. In fact, she doesn't seem to care about the other co-workers at all :/ – Tinkeringbell Jul 13 '18 at 14:26
  • 2
    @Tinkeringbell If she is an introvert, it may be that she does care about the other co-workers, but finds it much easier to focus on a single person (in this case, you). Have there been any instances you can think of where she seemed to engage with someone other than yourself? – Beofett Jul 13 '18 at 20:10
  • 1
    @Beofett not really, no. Everytime we are in the same space, she seems focused on me alone, and not on anyone else present :/ which is what made this jump out as quite unusual and annoying. I have no clue of how she was before I came to work there, but I get the impression from co-workers she wasn't really interacting with them (they often react like things she says is new info, when this could've easily been known from a few introductory small talks) – Tinkeringbell Jul 13 '18 at 20:35
85

You're basically describing a fairly typical introverts' behavior, so I'm going to try and give some insight into what she's doing, and why. It could be wrong, but since you've described every introvert I've ever known (myself included), I don't think I am, and it may help.

Introverts frequently have a much harder time in large group social settings than small 1:1 settings. You're the only female on your team, she's the only female on hers. Boom, there's an instant 'in' for her to try and get over the discomfort that this type of scenario describes.

She likely seems too eager because becoming friends with someone she can most easily identify with is IMPORTANT to her, where it's less likely important to you.

Many of us overdo this, because we don't like these types of settings, we don't practice it as much. Some of us work at it but some of us will only engage when we're forced to (such as via a work function). I've been actively working on this for the past 20 years or so, so much of this is coming from my past experience, rather than current.

The short answer, and the one you actually asked for, is probably simply to tell her what she's doing bothers you. She currently sees you as her lifeline, someone who she has something in common with and as her 'in' to the rest of the group. If you tell her that she's consuming too much of your time, she WILL stop seeing you as that lifeline and will stop. She's latching on to you because she believes you have something in common and she feels like you're the best way to feel comfortable in a larger group. If you display that you aren't, in almost any way, she'll back off.

However, if you want to get her to change by being better in group scenarios, there's a few ways to go about this.

  1. Ask her if these settings stress her out.
  2. Relate to being the only female on the team, and see if she opens up about how 'you understand!'
  3. Ask her if any of her other team members have children (I'm betting they don't, or they don't talk about them much. If they did, they would be the one she'd most relate to)

If the answers to those questions reveal that she is, in fact, uncomfortable in these settings and is just looking for a way to be included, try introducing her. Not like, "This is Mary who you've worked with for a year", but something like "Mary was telling me the other day about her interest in bees. Dave, you said you used to keep bees, isn't that right?"

If she feels included, she'll stop trying to force herself into feeling included (awkwardly). However, it's often very difficult for parents and single people to have much in common, and that may just be the unfortunate reality of this particular situation if people don't want to talk about what matters to her because you don't have many shared interests.

19

Reading your question, I almost felt like it's about me. Maybe if I describe how I feel during this exact behaviour, it will help, though I can't tell you how to change us, introverts (ambiverts?) - if I knew, I wouldn't be one, to begin with :) . Consider this as a partial answer, and an extension to @AHamilton's one.


Let me take up your co-worker's viewpoint. I see a chatty group of people at the table I'd like to be friends with. They don't know me, I don't know them too much. I'd like to change this, so I join them. They welcome me - as usual - and keep on their chatting about that topic - apparently books. Great, that's something I have experience on. Still, I'm silent, as usual.

There can be multiple reasons for this. At first, I'm just observing, listening to the conversation, thinking on my related memories. Then, I either just can't remember anything I find worthwhile to tell, or while I do have ideas, I overthink it. How to tell it? Should I even talk about it? Do they know that book? Do they even like that genre? Will they be interested anyway? Won't it just be another awkward situation like the one you described? etc. Anyhow, while my mind keeps going, the conversation just moves on, and the opportunity to talk about this specific thing just passes. New topic, new things to think on...

And when I manage to decide in time to talk, there's the other problem. The group just keeps talking and talking. I don't want to interrupt anyone (partly because I tend to feel myself inferior in these situations), and I just can't find the good moment to start speaking. When one has finished, someone else starts immediately. Indeed, that's how talking in a group works, and that's why I suck at it.

The result is me sitting there, listening to the conservation, maybe laughing along, showing some reactions, but without saying a word. This doesn't go well, I must join the talk to be a part! I start to feel awkward. My mind revolves around the same topic I've been thinking on for the past 2-3 minutes, but was just too shy to bring up (see above). I start signalling, more and more, that I have something to say - opening my mouth, even starting to actually speak, but I'm just too silent, someone always interrupts me. I must be recognized, I must be louder, come on!

Finally they realize me. They fall silent, listening. I, somewhat nervously and frustrated because of the above, tell my story/opinion, one I found in slight despair, one that doesn't really fit the topic - I never was good at determining whether it is or not - and that I already overthought a bit.

They listen, patiently smiling at some point, maybe even laughing sometimes - but I feel I'm nowhere as interesting as some of the louder guys there. They react, maybe take up the topic somewhat - but I feel that I wasn't good, they didn't like it as much as I imagined, etc. (Basically I feel they feel just like what you described.) Damm, it happened again. I fall silent. The cycle restarts.


That's not some story I made up to fit your question, I promise. This is my actual behaviour in a chatty group. Strangely enough, in the meantime I'm also really good in one-to-one conversations. In a trio, at most. And I know that, so I try to turn the above situation to something like this. Where I can be more than awkward. I start to speak with someone directly, one-to-one. Sometimes this works, and we have a good time. Sometimes it doesn't, the partner wants to keep being in the group chat (like you). I look for someone else, or, again, try to be a part in the group in my awkward way.

6

AHamilton's answer is fantastic. Here are some other things in addition to his answer:

She could be in a relationship where her husband gets jealous easily. Or, she may be just be uncomfortable around men. You may want to get to know her a little better to discover if there is something more to this behavior.

You could introduce her to other people and find something they have in common. Lets say she is a fan of Tour De France. You could introduce her to "Phil" who is also a fan, get the conversation going, and then walk away. For introverts, Phil might be working closely together and never really know each other!

If she is the uncomfortable type you could introduce her to one of those guys that are very non-threatening. If she does have a jealous husband, you should encourage her to invite him out.

0

There are reasons for every Behavior. After observing the situation, it is required to find out better solution so that atmosphere would become more pleasant and healthy. Few of the observations are written as below and accordingly reached up to the conclusion. While observing, I have taken your sentences into consideration in order to figure out her nature and situation.

Comparative Observation -

_______________________________________________________________________
|Her nature                    |           Your nature                 |
|______________________________|_______________________________________|
|Introvert                     |        Extrovert                      |
|------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
|Self-Centered                 |        Not Self-centered              | 
|------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
|Stubborn nature               |        Doesn't look like that         |
|------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
|No Patience                   |        Doesn't look like that         |
|------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
|Like to enjoy with 1,2 person |        Like to mix with group         |
|______________________________|_______________________________________|

Conclusion - Her nature is more on negative side. You both have opposite nature. It is difficult to have friendship. I fear, sometime relation will burst. Instead of making the situation worst, please talk to her on this topic politely. Talking directly and politely is better than facing any worst situation.

You can arrange meeting with her in some free time and politely discuss the matter. Initially, just talk with her on funny jokes or talk on some interesting stuff. And later, slowly capture the proper moment so that she will not get hurt and you can tell her the fact.

Please tell her politely

We all are teammates and colleagues. In any work situation, we always help each other. So, I prefer to talk with everyone in equal manner. You and other team members are equally important to me. We are working professionally. I observed few negative things in your behavior. ................. (tell her everything). We all deserve everyone's attention. So better to follow healthy atmosphere instead of troubling each other. I hope you can understand the situation. I would like you to be always there with all of us in work and would like to enjoy together.

I hope this answer would help you.

-1

The only way to get someone to act differently with you is for you to change your actions. I prefer to provide direct actionable advice. There is a communication tool called acknowledge and redirect. Acknowledge is to paraphrase what that person just said (listening shows you care) and then finish the acknowledgment by redirecting the conversation. An example response would be: "I'm sure your kids are great readers but I was just talking to Jim about what books he likes to read. What about you. What are your favorite books?" Also if she stands up and to get coffee with you then acknowledge her and give instruction (redirect). "Thanks for the great conversation but when I'm finished getting coffee I'm going to go talk to Jim. After I'm done, I'll find you so we can finish our conversation. DO NOT try to change or analysis her. If what you're doing is not getting the results you want then do something else.

-1

I agree with the other posters that she is most likely an introvert. Introverts feel like fish out of water in groups but love one-on-one relating. I am an introvert and if I were in that situation I might try to bond with the other female in the group. Sometimes, we just don’t know what to do in those situations and end up doing embarrassing or inappropriate things.

Once at a conference, I entered into an empty room with one female sitting at a long table, taking notes. I came in and sat directly beside her although the entire room was empty. In my mind she was an introvert sitting there alone, and would enjoy another female to bond with. She didn’t look up or say anything to me, and I realized that I had made a stupid mistake. My intentions were good though.

It’s interesting to read your perspective on it, and I’m sorry you’re having such a bad experience with that. I could see how you would want to interact with the other people and not be forced into a friendship. I bet she’s not really seeking a friendship with you but just someone to connect with while there.

Maybe since she’s married/kids she’s uncomfortable befriending the men. She probably dreads those meetings and feels very awkward.Sometimes I stay totally quiet in meetings so I’m amazed that she’s trying to participate.

But that’s not your question. As far as giving a signal – You could position yourself somewhere that she can’t really sit next to you, or try to avoid going for water and things to where she’ll follow you. So for example bring some bottled water along in your purse.

You could greet her warmly with a bright smile and say “hello how are you today!” but then move instantly away. Then, maybe give her ‘little bits’ of friendship throughout the meeting rather than ‘big bites’ she’s wanting. That might be a happy medium?

If she pulls you aside, maybe say “excuse me Amy I have to go talk to Stan, but it was nice seeing you today! Could we talk next week? “. It kind of sets of boundary, without seeming mean. Then next week if she approaches you the same way, limit the conversation to a couple minutes, and excuse yourself again with a kind smile or touch. Keep this pattern up until you’ve made your point (that your friendly but want to interact with everyone).

Well I hope that helps helps a little. The other posters gave such great ideas to help her connect with the others within the conversation. I’m a life coach for introverts, and some of my clients are big ‘talkers’. I’ve learned to gently set boundaries so they can’t monopolize my time. Best wishes!

  • Please don't vandalize your posts. I've rolled back the edit you made, please keep it this way. – Tinkeringbell Jul 20 '18 at 5:23

protected by Community Jul 20 '18 at 5:20

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