'Prickly pears' can't be changed, can be avoided


June 19, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

If you ask her for a favor, her martyred sighs echo in your ears for days. If you don't ask her, her feelings are hurt.

If you invite her to come along when the gang goes to lunch, she says: "Oh, no, thanks anyway. You're just being polite . . . " If you don't invite her, she sulks.

If you work on a project with her, she volunteers for all the high-profile parts, then implies every day that you aren't carrying your share of the load. If you insist on a more equal distribution of the work, she accuses you of being a glory hound.

If you share good news with her, she's depressed because she doesn't have any. If you spare her your good news, she feels let down and left out.

If you share bad news with her, she backs away lest you lean on her too heavily. If you don't share it, she says, "How could you have kept this from me? I thought we were friends!"

If you and another co-worker laugh, she assumes you're making fun of her.

She's a prickly pear, and you have to work with her.

"Occasionally, you've printed letters in your column from people who can't get along with a colleague at work. I must admit, up until six months ago, I had a rather superior attitude about this sort of complaint.

" 'Why don't they just rise above their petty differences and get on with their work?' I thought -- until Diane came along, that is. She's 5 feet tall, pretty, has a wispy little voice and is the most manipulative, self-centered person I've ever encountered.

"She's got everyone in the office (including good, old, superior me) jumping every time she raises her little finger. If we don't, she sulks and whines until we have only two choices: give in, or throttle her.

"The men in our department have been taken in completely by this unbelievably helpless, unbelievably powerful woman. All she has to do is bat her eyes and pull her 'poor little me' act, and they fall over themselves rescuing her -- including our boss, who keeps reducing her workload and increasing ours! Any suggestions?"

Some prickly pears have a chip on their shoulder; others constantly need a shoulder to cry on. The rules for survival are the same, regardless of which type you're unlucky enough to encounter.

First, give up right now the notion that you're responsible for this person's happiness or unhappiness. You aren't powerful enough to make anyone unhappy who isn't already. You also aren't powerful enough to make anyone happy who doesn't want to be.

Second, give up your desire to "fix" this person -- make her see the light, change her ways, be more productive, adopt a healthier attitude. No one can "fix" another person.

Third, disengage. It takes two people to create an unhealthy relationship, and while you can't "save" this difficult person from herself, you can save yourself by refusing to respond.

Fourth, stay busy. Strict attention to one's own work is one good way to freeze a prickly pear out, and demanding that she speed up her production because she's holding you or others up is practically guaranteed to make her shun you like poison ivy.

Finally, stop comparing. It might seem as if she's getting her own way, but keep two truths in mind: No one can fool all of the people all of the time, and while you only have to deal with her at work, she has to live with herself 24 hours a day. Who says there's no justice in this world?

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