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TL;DR: How do I to tell a judgemental person with unsubstantiated statements, making it a clear and definitive statement, that she may not move things around in our office?

That person (I'll call her "Alice") isn't business-related but is family-related to my business partner.

"Alice" always criticizes, not directly with words, but rather with small actions.


Background: I run a small business with a founding partner (FP) I've known for years and worked with before. We did everything by ourselves but one thing: we needed legal and business/marketing advice from someone, and my FP's mother-in-law ("Alice") had that name in her professional address book. She introduced us to the person, all went fine, we thanked her. Before we opened, we had all the stuff put in the office, from desks to PC to flowers and paintings, well, everything to have a nice and functional environment/workplace. 6/8 weeks later, we set up a small and friendly Opening Party, inviting family, friends, and some neighbours.

What Alice did (twice! before the opening date, and at the opening party) was moving things around, saying it's much better here, it'll look good here, or you can't have this here!. And so on... No matter why we want and need things organized one way, for customers or ourselves, she'll step in and mess the whole thing up.

What I did:

  1. say nothing, and put stuff back to its place.
  2. say nicely (kind of slightly joking tone) "we need it here for [ X ] reason, you know...", and put stuff back to its place.

Notes:

  • I didn't know her before my FP suggested he asks her for help once on our behalf.
  • We often have customers saying that our office is cute, feels warm and welcoming.
  • To me, Alice's one of the most selfish, arrogant and disdainful people I've ever met. Her words and gestures carry the highest level of lack of respect I've seen in one's behaviour. No need to say I avoid her anytime I can, as I believe she's not, as she thinks, the best person in the world, the only one that Earth is worth feeding, with such a good taste, and the only one who knows perfectly how it works and how things should be done.
  • This happens at the workplace but is more related to IPS as it's not about customer/staff relationship, which I can handle in a professional manner.
  • FP is 100% with me and will let me handle it my way.
  • "Alice" works at a place very close to our office. Her daughter (FP's GF) comes to pick him up for lunch, or after work. They find it convenient to meet at our's. GF thinks her mother's the best on earth, nothing wrong with her...

So far, I just talk to my FP and my GF about her, and they both agree: roughly, no comment about such a personality and behaviour...

Alice is irritating, and now, next time she comes around and starts over again, I feel like I won't be able to remain calm and (at the very least) restrain myself from throwing her a pointed/acerbic comment. I even thought about telling her that she's not welcome to visit us anymore. As I don't owe her anything (but respect?), and I don't want to hurt my FP feelings or put him in trouble, I'm looking for a good/better way to handle this irritating situation.

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You tell a judgmental, arrogant or selfish person the same way you tell anyone else. You sit them down in a private conversation, and you lay out the situation. In this case, the problem is that she's a guest in your office and you want her to act as such, so I'd suggest something along these lines:

Alice, I notice that you've been moving things around the office. This needs to stop. The office has been arranged to our liking. Leave everything where it is.

That's pretty straight-forward and honest. It's purely focused on Alice's behavior and clear about what your expectations of Alice's behavior are. There's also not a lot Alice can say to that that would not be much more rude than you are being. (If you're considering it rude at all; I wouldn't.)

  • +1 That was my thought, and what I was about to do. I'll wait some little more time, and see if anyone around here comes with another suggestion. But I think you (and some others) are right, and kind of show me I wasn't wrong/rude. – OldPadawan Aug 23 '17 at 13:47
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    To add to this, your partner needs to privately talk to Alice and let her know that her behavior is unacceptable. By staying away, he gives Alice tacit approval and a reason to think that you are the unreasonable, offending party. This is a joint business and both stakeholders need to enforce the rules. – oddgirlout Aug 23 '17 at 14:25
  • @oddgirlout : you're right too! but that would be in a perfect world :) He already tried that many times, about many purposes, but can't get anything from her, to whom he's (as well as me and a couple of billions people) completely unworthy and useless... I don't want him to go deeper into troubles with her. – OldPadawan Aug 23 '17 at 15:39
  • I understand" not wanting to get him into trouble" - we try to protect our friends -, but your partner is letting his personal relationship dynamics creep into your work environment. You both have a problem with Alice's behavior, but only you are working to fix it. He needs to do his part, especially if Alice feels like she deserves special privileges because he is dating her daughter (which is my guess). – oddgirlout Aug 23 '17 at 16:23
  • Last talk with FP: do as you wish, and if you feel like it (like everyone suggests here: ENOUGH!), I'll be with you anyway... So be it! :) – OldPadawan Aug 24 '17 at 13:20
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Alice's one of the most selfish, arrogant and disdainful people I've ever met. Her words and gestures carry the highest level of lack of respect I've seen in one's behaviour.

Sounds narcissistic to me.

she's not, as she thinks, the best person in the world, the only one that Earth is worth feeding, with such a good taste, and the only one who knows perfectly how it works and how things should be done.

Oh yes, definitely.

FP is 100% with me and will let me handle it my way.

Good.

GF thinks her mother's the best on earth, nothing wrong with her...

I would bet that when GF is present, Mother-In-Law-From-Hell is all sweetness.

Rational argumentation and logic have a low chance of success, because (read the following using Dolores Ubridge's voice): She's always right. She's trying to help! It's just that your tastes really are that bad, and you need to be educated... She can deflect any argument using this logic. She can also say "Oh no, I would never behave like that!" (and she probably believes it, too). If you say that the clients and everyone else who walks into your office loves the place, the problem is simply that they're all wrong, and really, everyone should listen to her.

Anyway: what really happens during your interactions is that she attempts to assert control and dominance over you. If you let her annoy you without applying a proper counter, she's your daddy.

The ultimate weapon against a narcissist is contempt. They're the center of the world... and you simply don't give a damn... Boom, it's like kryptonite.

This efficiently dodges her "I'm always right" argument. Maybe she's right. You don't care.

Next time she lectures you about your lack of taste in office decoration, just put your hand on her shoulder, and while looking at her in the eyes without flinching, just say the magic words: "You know, in fact, I don't really care what you think."

Considering the description you make of her character, you should find it in you to do it. I suspect you will have fun.

You can add "My office, my rules."

However, she will NOT like it. There will be fireworks. Keep repeating "Nope. Still don't give a damn." to anything she says (unless she switches the subject to actual interesting conversation, of course). If you feel extra evil, offer a glass of water when her face goes purple.

Tried and tested on a real-life narcissist mother-in-law during a family dinner: it works. Her father was my instant buddy.

And the funniest thing is that the next day, she didn't even hold a grudge. She simply flagged me as someone she can't exert control over, and went seeking easier victims.

  • You're right on many point, thanks. I'll just not be that rough (the I don't give a *** about what you say kind of stuff, although I love the idea :)). One mistake only: I would bet that when GF is present, Mother-In-Law-From-Hell is all sweetness.: nobody else on Earth exists but them 2, everybody else is just... not here? – OldPadawan Sep 25 '17 at 18:19
  • Heh. Well, it could be worse, the GF could be your GF... Shudder ;) Your buddy must have an, uh... interesting relationship! – peufeu Sep 25 '17 at 18:27
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I see what you're dealing with. Usually this happens when the person is over-qualified (in your case, for giving legal and business advice) and feels like they're entitled to doing more than just what they were hired for. It starts out with moving small stuff, but it can escalate to her considering herself an FP too.

Try looking for a replacement. If you could find one, then you can address her with harsh criticism; If she listens and obeys, it's all good then. If she doesn't, she can leave and you'll have a replacement.

If however no replacements could be found, then I suggest you give a more calculated, less harsh remark.. Or you could bring it up numerously as a joke (For example: What financial or legal case could possibly justify you moving the flowers around ?). The repeated but light reminder should hopefully get her to think something like "You know what, he's right; I have one job to do here, and moving stuff around isn't part of it".

Personally, I have no tolerance for people like this, I would feel no guilt for giving a harsh criticism and later let her go, no matter the consequence of that.

protected by Community Apr 4 '18 at 6:52

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