For the last 2 months, I have been working as an intern as the youngest member of the team. I would describe myself as gentle, kind, soft-spoken, introverted and helpful. However I tend to be a little aloof sometimes as well.

Intially I got along okay with the female colleague that is 15 years older than me. She is my seat partner, only seperated by a cubicle wall. She gave me snacks and provided useful tips and her experience in the corporate world. I could see that her intention was good and sincere, but was unsettled by how much she wanted me to implement the changes she suggested.

However, recently her communication towards me has changed, she has become more socially aggresive and frequent in mentoring me. Although she had always had been extroverted with a really strong personality, I find that some of her words towards me such as "being simple-minded", "naive", "brain loads in slow mb" seemed condenscending and are based on assumptions on my character, thinking process and knowledge. However, with some positive notes, she has acknowledged my creativity and altruism. Though I am guessing she sees kindness as a weakness for me. She also mentioned that she wanted to mould me to be like her.

She also has a tendency to nitpick everything I do,even some non-related to work like ordering at eateries and washing my coffee cups. As I do agree that I am inexperienced in working corporate, some of her feedbacks had been helpful but it really took me a long time to move on at being hurt from the comment. She has mentioned that I will probably hate her for saying all these, but she said that no one will ever tell me all these, and plenty years down the road I would be glad to have known this, and that made me wonder that perhaps this was not all too bad.

The issue now is:

  • I am conflicted on whether this is something healthy and normal in the workplace. My gut instincts know this may not be a healthy dynamic currently, as I felt unsafe and attacked.

  • Another thing is how to approach the situation while maintaining professional relations with her(we do eat lunch at least once a week in a group). Depending on who is eating with us and the dynamic, she may or may not convert to her nitpicky and condescending style of communication. I know practising boundary is one thing, but along with my lack of assertiveness and the intense feeling of intimidation from her presence alone, I find this really difficult.

Any third-person pespective and insights would ge greatly appreciated

  • 11
    "brain loads in slow mb". What does mb mean ? Commented Jun 29 at 9:35
  • 1
    This sounds culturally dependent; what part of the world are you in? Commented Jun 29 at 23:05
  • 3
    Singapore, so there is a combination of conservative values observed more so in older adults and western ideas
    – sora
    Commented Jun 30 at 11:32

5 Answers 5


She gave me snacks and provided useful tips and her experience in the corporate world. I could see that her intention was good and sincere

[Is this] something [that is] healthy and normal in the workplace.
My [instincts are saying "No"] I felt unsafe and attacked.

I'd say you're being mothered.
This is different from being mentored - the difference being she appointed herself without getting your buy-in. (Plenty of males do the same.)

No, I would not call it normal workplace behavior.
Having said that, I also would not call it unusual.

My guess is that she's trying to, 'make you the best you that you can be'. This is awkward, because she appointed herself to the position.

In fact, 'having a mentor' can be like you current experience.

However, recently her communication towards me has changed, she has become more socially aggresive and frequent in mentoring me.

When she taught you useful things - you learned/changed/adapted.
She took this as buy-in from you into the mentoring relationship she was offering.

It sounds like the whole relationship took a turn for the worse when she figured out you were not eager to change into her.

You're an intern, and you've been there two months. We don't know how much longer the internship is scheduled to last.
Next time she suggests something, maybe you could say something like this:
"While I appreciate and have implemented a number of your suggestions, sometimes your ideas don't feel like they fit who I am. I may regret it later, but right now I need to choose my own path, and do what feels right to me."

Finally, tell your boss about this!
Begin the conversation with the fact that a lot of her suggestions were good and you have learned a lot from her. Be sure to mention that it is beginning to feel like nit picking and isn't doing good things for your confidence and your attitude.

  • 5
    This. It is Mothering 100 percent. Commented Jun 28 at 23:35
  • 2
    ahh I see, thank you for your insights, I can really see what is being described here. The internship is scheduled for 10 more months so is total a 1 year internship. Otherwise, I really appreciate you taking the time with this
    – sora
    Commented Jun 29 at 12:23

This may be culturally dependent, but I think this is not normal workplace behavior. You may wish to look for a book on the topic of civility. Try to dela with it in the least impactful way possible but do protect yourself.

The phrase "being simple-minded" towards you is definitely out-of-bounds, possibly intended as humor, but this would be wrong.

Document what you can.

As often said on this stack exchange site, you may wish to look for another job, depending on your circumstances.

Best wishes for a positive outcome.

  • 1
    Hi there, thank you for your insights and your well wishes, the topic of civility does seem very important to look into. Cheers!
    – sora
    Commented Jun 29 at 12:14
  • 1
    Yes, I think with the right response this person will lose interest in you. But it might be challenging to do that gracefully. Commented Jul 8 at 1:09

(This is irony at its best. The colleague's unwanted advice about everything from soup to nuts may not be as good as the advice and the viewpoints of internet strangers.)

You cannot expect to "get along" with every person you will encounter in life.
As nice as that would be, it just ain't gonna happen.

From this one-sided telling, we, the readers, cannot assess if your colleague is, in fact, trying to dominate you, or if it is you being unprepared to adjust to the rough-and-tumble that is "the big wide world out there." You're bound to encounter a full spectrum of personalities, and you shouldn't expect to turn to social media looking for solutions and sympathy when you meet someone who grinds your gears.

Learn to discern constructive criticism from overbearing manipulative commentary.
Acknowledge the former with gratitude, and push back against the latter.

Ultimately, it is you who is going to have to make your own way in the world.
This situation provides you with an opportunity to work out where you fit in the scheme of things.
Your colleague's "theory lessons" apply to her life path, not yours. Tell her so.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. They're how you learn and grow.

Suggested exercise:

You know your viewpoint is reasonable and rational.

Take an hour, this weekend, to become(!) your colleague, and write as much as you want about the office relationship, from her perspective. That is, see yourself as she sees you. Choose, perhaps painful to you, words and phrases so that they promote and justify her side of the story.

Not one of us is 'perfect'.
We get along, and succeed, when we work with each other's strengths and accept each other's weaknesses and deficiencies.

  • Yes, I can see this situation being a little bit of both situations, with domination by the colleague and me being unprepared for "the big world out there". I do appreciate and relate to your balanced perspective here. Also the exercise seems interesting and I will try it later. Have a great weekend ahead!
    – sora
    Commented Jun 29 at 12:19
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    @sora I'm at "the other end"; retired. Were I to have followed in the footsteps of mentors, over the years, I'd be both effusive and sombre, talkative and laconic, obliging and isolationist, committed and lackadaisical, empathic and apathetic... I've had feedback that sought to fan certain flames that were not part of "me", and other feedback on other occasions that sought to douse certain flames that were decidedly(!) "me". Stay polite. Stay respectful. Stay true to yourself. Jobs and mentors come and go, but your "self" is present your entire life...
    – Fe2O3
    Commented Jul 2 at 1:51

Your colleague means well. We are all naive when we start in corporate jobs, and having someone to keep us away from pitfalls can be extremely helpful, especially, I think, for young women. Even something as trivia-seeming as washing coffee cups can be quite important in some offices.

Now you are starting to find your feet, and perhaps a wider circle of acquaintances, your colleague probably feels you are not sufficiently grateful to her for her help. I think your best approach is to reassure your colleague that you value her help, including by pointing that out to others.

In cases where you think your colleague is belittling you, push back so she knows, but do it in a friendly way.


If she is not your boss then smile and think "underestimate me, that's going to be fun" and reply in a "maybe" way".

Rationale: while some of her comments (naive) etc transgress a boundary which normally should not be transgressed, her option may no matter so much to create a conflict over it, so just ignore/tolerate it. You may or may not - depending on you boss discuss the issue in an indirect way with them if it makes you uncomfortable or - more important - if you feel that her not taking you serious affects business.

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