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I've been at an internship for the past 9 weeks. At the beginning of the period, I became close with two other interns, Alex and Sue, as we all started on the same day. However, as the internship has progressed both Alex and I have realized that we don't enjoy hanging out with Sue. She has a toxic personality and what I would consider to be narcissistic tendencies. Interacting with her in group settings is always fairly awkward - she always interjects herself into other people's conversation, tries to be the center of attention as much as possible, makes incredibly forced jokes and gets upset when nobody laughs, etc.

Over the past week or two, Alex and I have been trying to distance ourselves from her. We've been messaging her less and have been hanging out without her. However, Sue hasn't really gotten the message. Just yesterday she was asking us when we were going to visit each other after the internship ended (neither Alex nor I want to interact with her after this internship).

How can I make it clear to her (without being overly rude or hostile, as she still is coworker) that I would like to have a strictly professional relationship with her? I would expect repercussions in the workplace to be relatively limited as we do not work in the same department or on the same floor, and don't interact in the workplace unless Sue makes an effort to come find me and talk to me.

  • Building off of @scohe001 's question, if/when the internship ends will you still be in an environment where you have to interact with Sue? – BFG95 Jul 23 '18 at 17:53
  • @BFG95 3 more weeks, and I won't see her once the internship ends but we could potentially both end up working full time at this location again (wouldn't see her again until next summer if that is the case though). – theasianpianist Jul 23 '18 at 21:13
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I think you're handling it fine, it sounds like you'd like Sue to "get the message sooner" but you can't control how another person interprets your actions. You can of course be very direct, but this approach involves more pain, confrontation and drama than slowly letting things fizzle.

You've set some boundaries, and now you just need to come up with polite ways to deflect her requests to interact on your personal time.

It's important to note most people with normal boundaries recognize they're not entitled to access their colleague's personal life. You can politely say no, but if she keeps bugging you, it's on her not you. All you owe her is a string of polite and professional "no"s.

Useful phrases may include:

  • "sorry I'm going to have to decline the road trip, I usually have a lot on my plate in the summer - but I do look forward to seeing you if we bump into each other on the professional circuit"
  • "this won't work with my schedule, I'm going to decline the offer."

After you say no, change the topic by asking her a question so she answers that. Like "where are you thinking of applying to for jobs?" / "what's the best roadtrip you've taken" etc.

Note, it's not a lie to say hanging out with her won't work with your schedule / you're busy, since there's a million other things you'd probably rather being doing, even if it's just hanging out at home.

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Side Note: I'd suggest asking this in the Workplace Stack Exchange to get a more professional perspective for this type of coworker conflict avoidance.

Regarding dealing with Sue, if your description of her having a toxic and narcissistic personality is true, I can't imagine she'd react well to you saying, "I don't want to interact socially with you in the workplace". Sue could report to your supervisor regarding you "making the workplace hostile". Especially if there's a full-time offer from this company in your future, any conflict like this could jeopardize this.

My recommendation is to take the passive route and avoid her at all costs. Stop messaging her about plans during and after work hours. If she interjects in a conversation, excuse yourself to the restroom or back to your desk. If she seeks you out to try to chat you up at your desk, just say you have a lot of work to do and can't talk much.

Speaking for experience, I was stuck with someone very similar during a six month school project, and they made working on said project super uncomfortable and borderline unbearable. My suggestion is to do the bare minimum to maintain an amicable relationship with Sue, and leave it at that.

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