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I'm not really sure where to go.. so maybe this place and help a bit.

I've been at my current job for over two years now, we're a small jewelry company. The business changed hands to a individual (rather than a corporate) back in the summer of 2019. The boss and I get along just fine, she's very involved in the company and is there daily.

We were still part of our previous owner (a corporate entity) when we hired a graduate from a local college, as we had a few people leave due to moving to other states or jobs. It was actually my suggestion to hire more help because we were very short on hands. I figured I'd be training her to do my job, as I was planning to leave as well. But the end result was I found affordable housing where I was after two years of waiting.

My interactions with this coworker are limited as I work in my own room (dust and machinery with polishing) and I work part-time at somewhat different hours, she's kind of in a central design position despite being one of the newest people there. She has a degree in jewelry and metalsmithing. I'm not a social person due to mental health related things, but I've been at this job for long enough and I get along really well with everyone.

Except this coworker it seems.

We had a small tiff that ruffled feathers maybe two months ago? I realized I had been exceptionally ill behaved after I spoke about it in therapy (weekly thing) and I did actually apologize, and I was authentic about it. I don't want to scare or disturb people, and I know I act rather atypical due to my mental health.. but not in a bad way. But even though she accepted the apology, things got slightly better and then just stopped getting better. She gets annoyed when I'm around her, especially if I talk to her.. or try to.. she tends to ignore me when I'm trying to reach out. She won't use the polishing room, which is were I work, if I'm in the building. She seems to think it is 'my space' and like I'm going to yell at her or something, which I've never raised my voice at her at all.

The most recent issue happened on Monday (Dec 2nd), we have to quality check every piece before it goes into polishing. We've been missing our prep person due to emergency surgery for about a month, so its usually left to me to do. I try to save some pieces, using methods that the coworker that has an issue with me has detailed.. but then when I return a piece that wasn't able to be saved.. she said she goes through stages of sanding and polishing. Not one step like I had been told. I said I didn't know and was only doing what seemed to work. Our boss suggested she trains me how to do it and she immediately comes back with that she won't teach me because she doesn't feel comfortable with teaching it, because its just super complicated.

So the pieces I had pulled that didn't pass the quality check, the boss also asked the coworker's opinion. She started to pass things that had defects, so I looked at them again and found the defects that I had failed them for. And when I tried to show her, she said she was extremely uncomfortable and physically ran out of the building. And stayed outside for about 10 minutes.

Which left me and the boss standing there, unsure what just happened and what caused it. Because my boss saw the entire thing, I did nothing that was alarming or otherwise to make her feel uncomfortable. Although it left me feeling like I had done something wrong.

The boss talked with her, I'm guessing.. as I went back to do the polishing.. and then later talked with me. Being unsure how to resolve this, because the environment is supposed to be a team environment. And it always had been. The coworker says that she doesn't want to talk to me to work things out, so I can't get feedback on what I'm doing that bothers her. So the solution for me now is to not interact with her, no confronting, and pretty much just.. not exist.

The coworker ultimately works in all places in the building, so I'm not sure how I'm supposed to avoid her or not cause her to feel uncomfortable. I bring my dog to work, as does my boss, and I'm not sure how to go about even that part because my dog likes hanging around with this said coworker. So wherever my dog is, theres a chance the coworker is nearby.

Sorry that this is a lot to unpack, just hoping someone has some advice..

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    Hi Joe, no theres no HR department. And I've chatted with my boss, who saw the entire situation this time, but she has no idea how to handle it or if she can handle it.. Thanks. – Pal Dec 4 '19 at 2:15
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    There is a lot of story here, can you trim it down to just the key facts and a focused question? – alroc Dec 4 '19 at 2:28
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    "I realized I had been exceptionally ill behaved after I spoke about it in therapy (weekly thing) and I did actually apologize, and I was authentic about it." I don't know if you realize, but we won't be able to give you good advice until you've told us what actually happened between the two of you. Until then, we can only speculate in all kinds of directions. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 4 '19 at 2:29
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    Your coworker does not seem to have a very good quality of work - passing on items that had defects etc. Her behavior is rather unprofessional and unreasonable without stating a reason as to WHY she does not want to work with you. I think you should ask your boss to intervene at this point – Anthony Dec 4 '19 at 4:33
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    Are you male or female? Was the "small tiff" anything that could be interpreted as potentially sexual in nature? There could be gender-related dynamics at work here. – nick012000 Dec 4 '19 at 7:50
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I realized I had been exceptionally ill behaved [...] she approached me out of the blue and told me that I was doing my job incorrectly. And that I had to do the polishing using the tools she does, although said she wasn't going to teach me at that point either. I got defensive and showed her the casting imperfections that I could remove from polishing and the ones I couldn't, as she was under the impression that I was causing the imperfections she was seeing. I wasn't being agreeable at that point because she was trying to tell me how to do my job

That's not being exceptionally ill-behaved. Granted, it sounds like you could have handled it better, and you later apologised as a result, but she wasn't exactly innocent in the whole exchange. Anyone approaching me out of the blue and telling me I was doing my job incorrectly would likely also get a short shrift.

From your description of the incident, there's nothing there I can see that warrants her behaviour. It's also not really your problem, but your manager's, so I'd just pass the situation onto him then ask what he wants you to do:

Phil, I'd appreciate your advice and guidance on how to handle this. I'm happy to talk things through with her to try to work it out, happy to meet with the three of us, happy to just listen to her for a while, or anything else you can suggest. I just can't see avoiding her permanently as a viable solution, so we need to do something to fix this.

...then see what he comes back with.

If I were your manager, I'd be calling her in for a 1-1 and asking her to explain what's going on. It could be there's problems that need uncovering, they may need dealing with sensitively and confidentially, and you may or may not be the cause - but there needs to be some explanation. I'm all for being supportive, understanding and being mindful of personal difficulties - but randomly disappearing, and refusing to work with a colleague is not acceptable behaviour unless there's at least some explainable element to it.

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  • I can be very snappish when I'm defensive, or my body language can be really stiff, although I'm very well aware of what is socially acceptable to say when I disagree with things... And this coworker is taller than I am, so I'm not even towering over her or anything. But yeah, I'll give your suggestion a try because I'm finding it hard to even get up in the morning to go to work.. the anxiety is just going to be too much at some point. – Pal Dec 5 '19 at 23:59
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It's possible that there's gender issues at play here that you might not be aware of.

You mention in the comments that you're a transmale, so it's possible you may not be aware of certain gender dynamics that cismales grow up understanding. In particular, there are many women who are simply afraid of men, especially angry men. When you had your "small tiff", it's possible that she was reminded of a previous abuser, or that you otherwise seriously frightened her in a much more serious way than you anticipated.

Speaking from experience as a cis-male, you simply need to be aware that people may interpret your actions in a potentially sexual way despite you lacking any sexual intentions. For instance, when I was training to become a high school teacher, I was advised to never allow myself to be alone in a room with a student - especially a female student - to prevent any potential accusations of sexual abuse.

It seems entirely possible to me that she's afraid of you, and believes that given an opportunity to do so, you might abuse her, whether physically, sexually, or both. Whether or not you intend to do so is irrelevant - you present as a man, and that can be enough to make women perceive you as a potential threat.

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  • Lovely, thanks. Never had issues before and I've never been an offender of any type, I have no record of any sort. I don't even like people being within arms length of me. I've been abused in many ways as a kid, the concept of an accusation of being an abuser is very foreign as I'm actively ensuring I don't do the same things as which has been done to me. And I'm not going to act like I'm a potential threat just because of my gender. She interacts just fine with other actually cis male coworkers. – Pal Dec 6 '19 at 22:52
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so I'm not sure how I'm supposed to avoid her or not cause her to feel uncomfortable.

Just do what your boss says except "not exist" part

So the solution for me now is to not interact with her, no confronting, and pretty much just.. not exist.

Best I can make from this is you do not talk to her about work or just any casual talk. At least you do not initiate any talks. Other than that, because of your office space, pet love, etc. whatever minimal you have to interact, you do it. Just do not discuss.

If there is a work meeting where you both are invited, just ask your boss that if you should go or not.

If you have to ask her something about the work, communicate to your boss instead.

If she bumps into you at water cooler, just acknowledge and move on.

If she pets your dog, let her do it but you do not talk.

There could be still other situations where you are forced to interact withe each other, all 3 of you just have to be mature about it and handle it. You just have to do best you can and not take "do not exist" too literally.

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  • "If she pets your dog, let her do it but you do not talk." : well I disagree with that. If someone wants to pester me by an ignorance strategy, he/she can dream of touching anything belonging to me. It's too bad there isn't any HR for OP because with that kind of strategy it might be consider a legal issue (form of harassing ?). – Walfrat Dec 4 '19 at 11:59
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    @Walfrat. I agree this is not ideal. Whether there is a policy or not, this is just ridiculous and inefficient. All I am saying is what is the BEST OP can do under given circumstances – PagMax Dec 4 '19 at 12:08
  • I know, my point was more about setting the proper limit of interaction, letting her pet your dog when she behave like that seems too much for me. Like your letting her "winning over you" (no sure about the expression, I'am non-native writer). – Walfrat Dec 4 '19 at 12:57
  • I honestly hate causal talk anyway, I rarely start discussions without reason or prompting.. But I have no issues with being professional in the face of this coworker, I still rather work as a team. Because until she came along, we were a team in that office. But I have no issue with her petting my dog, my dog ends up coming back to the area I'm in after she says hi to everyone else. – Pal Dec 6 '19 at 0:06
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"It's not me, it's you" have never been truer than in this case.

We all commit all sorts of faux pas in the workplace, especially when someone comes out of the blue and confronts you as she did. It's part of being human, and until we will all get replaced by automatons, clashes like that will keep happening. And when they do happen, you have to apologize, talk it out and move on with your life.

You did just that, but she decided that instead of behaving like an adult and moving on from the situations, she would rather do nothing and use it to try to ostracize you in the workplace. What's bizarre is that your boss, despite witnessing the whole situation, went along with that extremely poor idea, which is in direct opposition to all of you being a team. I have no idea why he did so, and it's not important. What is important is what I said at the very beginning: "It's not me, it's you", and you should keep that in the back of your head when speaking with your boss about the situation.

And you absolutely should do that ASAP, explain that it's impossible to work with someone, and yet treat them like thin air, and you are very uncomfortable with going on like this. I seriously cannot imagine how this will end if you allow it to go like this, with someone's unwillingness to behave like an adult at a workplace, or at least I cannot imagine it in a way that will end well for you. As right now you are the social pariah, not her, despite her actions being the unreasonable ones. Yes, you did wrong to, granted, but that's in the past, now it's her about 99.9% in the wrong. And you should not let that put your work in jeopardy.

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  • It will end with OP fired to protect the feelings of the newcomer. – user102507 Dec 4 '19 at 17:55
  • @Geronimo I wish I had your magic 8-ball. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 4 '19 at 18:30
  • Yeah, it honestly seems like I've been more unwelcome by a few other coworkers that get along very well with this new coworker. But I also get along with people now that were a bit chilly towards me at first. My boss has told me a few times before that I need to grow a thicker skin, which sits poorly with my perception of good and bad things to do in social situations. Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean I need to be impervious to insulting or emotional stimuli. But the fact my boss has no real idea who to hire in my place makes it unlikely for me to be fired on that front.. – Pal Dec 6 '19 at 0:16
  • @Pal That is very much my worry, even though she is in the wrong right now, you are the one who is getting the stick for it, and you do not do yourself any favors by playing along and acting like she doesn't exist. So gotta proverbially man up and bring it up with your boss so this can be handled properly. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 6 '19 at 0:29
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So the solution for me now is to not interact with her, no confronting, and pretty much just.. not exist.

I don't think that's a good idea. This is what I tried when I was in a similar position and in the end I ended up leaving the company because things just got worse. I would suggest to either try to figure things out between you two ASAP (which you have already tried) or push your boss to take actions. Behavior like this creates unnecessary stress and pressure for everybody involved.

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