I work in a legal/corp environment with cubicle desks. My coworker to the left of me is an older woman (early 50s) and can be a bit of a tattle tale/goody two shoes type of person. She's nice on the surface but can be a bit nit picky on things and always likes to brag how she's been in the field for so many years and knows more than the attorneys we work for.

I'm fairly new to the company (about 7 months) and she is the one that sort of trained me with the office systems, so we established a sort of friendship and get along well which is why it surprised me how she reacted to this situation.

Before I came along, there was this other coworker who would always spray Lysol and people started complaining especially my coworker. The office manager sent out an email that we were not to spray things to avoid peoples sensitivities.

I never use any such things even before said policy went into effect but this time right as we were getting ready to leave for the day (about 15 min before) I used a hand sanitizer/spritz that I had received and didn't realize it would have a strong scent. She asked me if I'd sprayed something and I said "Yes. Did it smell bad!?" She then went on to lecture me how we cannot spray anything not even deodorant etc. I apologized and told her that it was an honest mistake and I just didn't think it'd have a strong scent but that I was sorry and would not even bring it back. In a very snotty voice she told me that she would have to let the office manager know of this.

This was my one and only time doing this. I apologized and didn't in any way do it to be defiant. I kind of just by inertia used it. Absentmindedly and I told her I was sorry.

I am a bit hurt by her nasty reaction and even proclaiming to go to the office manager. I mean I accepted my error and she wouldn't let it go.

I am not sure if she actually will talk to her but should I wait until the office manager asks me what happened?

Is this coworker blowing things out of proportion?

  • This woman sounds like a difficult individual. If she thinks she knows more than the lawyers who've gone to school for years, and built a career out of knowing the law then she's suffering from some delusions of grandeur as well. These sort of people are very dangerous if they decide to turn on you. You've been lucky to have her on your side so far, but you should always keep in mind who you're really dealing with.
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 9 '16 at 15:03
  • You're dealing with a battle-axe. Don't walk on eggshells. People like this need to have their sensibilities offended in a small way on a regular basis lest they get overly sensitized and then meltdown if something big happens.
    – teego1967
    Jul 9 '16 at 17:04
  • 1
    Maybe. It's also possible that she has respiratory issues. It may not be simply a matter of "hey, that stuff smells bad". It may be "I have severe asthma, that stuff is going to send me to the emergency room". If so, it would of course be handy to know about her medical issues, but then you get into issues of privacy. Every dog gets one bite. Cut her some slack. Jul 9 '16 at 17:23
  • Assuming that you are on reasonably good terms with the office manager, you should go directly to him/her and ask their advice. By doing so, you will show that you are not afraid of being wrong, that you are honest enough to "confess" and you will reduce the wind in her sails when she complains.
    – Resigned
    Jul 11 '16 at 20:42

In the end does it matter if she was or was not overreacting?

Overreacting Scenario

Lets assume that she was overreacting. How would this impact what you would say to your office manager? You would tell him/her exactly what you told us. It was an honest mistake and you had no malicious intent. As for your coworker, since you have to work with her, it is up to you two if you will let this change your working relationship with each other. An apology from you can go a long way even when you are not in the wrong. Also, bringing in donuts or some other treat for the workplace can also help mend relationships (as long as you know what your coworkers tastes are).

Not Overreacting Scenario

The only difference between this and the other is the apology and making amends part. Instead of the apology being done in spite of being in the right, it will be done from a place of being in the wrong. The words, tone, and actions accompanying it would not change. Only your perspective on it would.

In the end your office manager will decide whether or not she was overreacting not us, since (s)he will hear both sides of the story and will have better context of other workplace factors (like a person having allergies). Either way your actions and how you handle it does not change if you decide your working relationship is more important than who is right and who is wrong.

  • 1
    "I apologized and didn't in any way do it to be defiant. I kind of just by inertia used it. Absentmindedly and I told her I was sorry." - The OP already apologized. At this stage it might be wise to just not press the issue anymore. The coworker was already upset, so it is best to just let the issue dye down after a couple of days (i.e. the weekend) versus trying to get absolution from the coworker over the incident in a way of saving face with her. If the relationship is that critical to success, then I guess it could be done but it might make her perceive the OP as a kiss up (good or bad).
    – G.T.D.
    Jul 9 '16 at 18:02

And I quote:

people started complaining especially my coworker

On the one hand, she's a sweet old lady. On the other hand, she's a complainer (even before it starts to involve you). Plainly, you overlooked her tendency until it got you into some mess.

In relative terms, she didn't overreact. You underestimated. Sometimes the things we are surprised about in people have been in plain view all along.

  • Like another member mentioned, it might be a seriously threatening health issue. I would not say that lodging a complaint warrants someone being labeled a complainer. I agree there are points of interest in the story, but from the tone of OP...it does sound like there was a overreaction from the coworker, no matter why the reaction was such (i.e. revengeful old hag or sweet old lady who is worrying about her health). I would say he/she did not underestimate but was not aware of his/her coworker('s perspective) on the issue.
    – G.T.D.
    Jul 9 '16 at 17:56
  • I think you have enough here in the comments and in the comments of the other answer to write your own response without having to critique anyone else's.
    – Xavier J
    Jul 9 '16 at 18:47

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