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Advice re Work Stuff aka AITA?

I don’t know if AITA is really the right framework, because it’s more like AITUP (Am I The Unreasonable Person). Also, whether or not I am an Asshole or The Unreasonable Person, I do know that I am a verbose person and so I appreciate anyone who reads any of this, much less the whole thing! IT IS WAY TOO LONG. But I partly just needed to write it out.

I’m also planning to hit up Ask A Manager (which I learned about from GT!) but I guess this is my rough draft/prerequisite so that I can best phrase my inquiry to her by learning what people here think. And also so I can get everything down to organize my thoughts.

Background on me - I am 38 and am a lawyer. I have been a lawyer since I was 26. During that time I have worked at multiple firms ranging in size from 15 lawyers to 30 lawyers, to firms with around 500 and 1000 lawyers, both multinational law firms with many offices. I spent the most time in the large firms, for about 8 years of my career in the middle. Particularly at the large firms where multiple junior attorneys are hired out of law school every year, I was known as a good mentor by people both above and below me in seniority, and was a popular attorney to do work for. (This is not to say I am a perfect mentor or even perfect for anyone, but rather to note I have a lot of experience mentoring different people.)

Background on my current workplace - I am currently at the 15 person firm. I am thrilled to have escaped the 1000 lawyer firm, and there were a ton of benefits associated with that. My current firm doesn’t believe in working people to death, although like any litigation practice the hours are sometimes horrid and schedules are not entirely predictable. There is room for advancement and leadership and (generally, with a notable exception) the group is not internally competitive, and instead it’s a very team-based approach, which is important to me. It’s casual in terms of both attire and how people interact (which I find a positive as to attire and a mixed back as to interactions). The downsides: NO BOUNDARIES. It’s hard for me to deal with. My boss texts me! Everybody is friends with each other to varying degrees, and one of my best friends works at this firm and recruited me (I’d worked with him at a prior firm and we have been friends outside of work for 10+ years). I don’t always want to have super casual interactions and I REALLY hate “good-natured ribbing” 90% of the time regardless of who it is directed to (that is more a personality type thing for me but I also find it totally annoying in the workplace).

The issues:

My firm hired a junior attorney right out of law school. I interviewed her and was really excited to hire her. She has been with us probably about a year. She was great at first - super enthusiastic and (unlike the attorney she was replacing) really open to feedback and learning on the job. Since we are small, we don’t really have formal training. Luckily, I have a lot of experience working with junior attorneys. The other lawyers at my firm (apart from my boss) largely do not have any such experience, or have very little. My contemporaries at my firm have spent the years I spent at the 1000 lawyer firm at this tiny firm, so while I was assigning work and supervising multiple layers of lawyers, they were just working as a team. I also tend to be super friendly and welcoming in the workplace, and I made a special effort to be so with her, especially since she was the only first year and everyone else has significantly more experience.

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The problem has come because there are a few problems all of which have coalesced to make a situation that, at least for me, is uncomfortable and stressful.

1. The junior attorney (“JA”) personally identifies with me in a too-personal way. She moved here with her husband and doesn’t really have friends here, and has bonded with me. She has bonded with me TOO much. I am an introvert and find it really exhausting at this point.

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2. JA is unbelievably nosy and has stated explicitly many times that she just wants to know everything is going on even if it doesn’t affect her. I have repeatedly advised her as a mentor that she doesn’t want to be perceived as nosy in the workplace because it will hurt her career long-term and will make people cautious to share things with her (side note: you really don’t want this as an attorney! Our job is often to deal with sensitive information without revealing anything.)

3. JA is extremely sensitive to my opinions about her and is having trouble productively handling criticism of any kind (even extremely softly presented feedback on how to improve her work—none of which is controversial and is mostly just on-the-job learning).

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4. Our office is really casual.

5. There are no other attorneys at her level for her to model her behavior from.

6. I am a private person and an introvert.

7. (I should perhaps not include this, because I think this is the part where when I say AITA everyone will say that I am indeed the asshole, but since I am trying to see what of this/how much of this is me, I will add) Overall, she has the judgment of a child in terms of how she behaves in the workplace. We had a high school intern who behaved significantly more professionally. I know I am an asshole to describe the behavior of someone in their mid-to-late 20s as a child, but I’m at a loss as to how else to characterize it. Maybe immature is a better word, but it doesn’t feel immature - it feels childlike.

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For example, she and another lawyer at my level were in my office talking about an issue. I was in my office chair facing both of them, and at that point turned slightly to the left to talk directly to the other lawyer at my level. I had taken off the ring I was wearing and she interrupted me and the other lawyer by leaning forward, picking up my ring off my desk (which was even with where I was sitting, not between us) and saying, “Where did you get this ring?” First off, are you really at work in a work conversation interrupting to ask where I got a ring? Second, why are you picking up my stuff??

Another example, my friend colleague was going to the doctor after work. As he was leaving, another attorney was talking to him about advice on specific office she had a good experience with. JA walks over and tries to insert herself into the discussion. JA: “What’s wrong with you? Why are you going to the doctor??” (She then looks at me as though I’m going to tell her why he is going to the doctor. I did not.) And then, when those questions were (rightfully) ignored, “Well, you can go to the veterinarian!” And then looking around waiting for people to laugh. (They didn’t.)

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This is why I say she is like a child. These are both things that I’d expect from a kid visiting the office. I don’t expect them from an adult, married woman, even one in her 20s.

The result of the confluence of these factors is that JA is driving me absolutely batty.

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I am generally a very private person, and so my threshold for feeling like people are inappropriately prying or pestering me about personal stuff is definitely low, but over the years I have adopted lots of deflection techniques and have also generally straight up told people I am a private person. The techniques are not working. Telling her I am a private person is not working. It sticks for a small amount of time and then she goes back to prying.

While I know people have different prying thresholds and mine is low, I am not the only person who has noticed the prying in a negative way. (Note the “why are you going to the doctor????” above, for example.)

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The worst part is that, as I mentioned above, I have repeatedly told her that this is going to be a negative on her career - but she treats it as though it’s just a personal preference of mine, and worst of all, has several times joked about it in a way that shows she’s just not taking it seriously at all. For example, I was out of the office for a week - during which time she pestered my friend colleague about the sale of his house/purchase of a new house, while literally saying “[ArganBomb] would be annoyed at me asking this” and doing online research trying to find his new house online so she could pester him with “is this one your house? is this one your house?” Then when I got back, she regaled me with this story as though it was a funny story and something to be proud of. And please note the “why are you going to the doctor???” example happened THIS WEEK.

At the same time, I have to walk on eggshells with her in terms of feedback. Her work on my projects is not good lately, in part because she’d rather be working with another colleague on her projects. I have kept feedback at a constructive criticism level, and framed as positive, because she’s so sensitive and if I ever said “this isn’t even close” I think she’d have a mental breakdown in my office. But for example, she sent me a case for a research project yesterday that it seemed like she didn’t even read, because while it had a keyword in it, the context was nothing like the issue she was meant to research. I wrote back and said “It seems like this case is discussing X, but not Y. What do you think?” and she immediately came over to my office and said “oh yeah I see that now on rereading.” Which, fine. But in my career, that would make me try to be more careful. And the day before, I met with her for 30 minutes to discuss a draft she’d sent, and before the meeting I prepared a version with my notes for each piece of how to revise. (This is not even 5 pages long.) And then later in the day, she comes over and tells me “I accidentally threw away my notes from our meeting but I think I got everything and I’ll just send you what I have.” Uhhh. What?? So her work is just getting worse, likely as I said because she isn’t interested in the work I have. (Well, I’m not super interested in the work I have right now either. That’s why they call it “work” and pay me to do it!) Yet despite not taking work feedback to heart, she takes it really personally and is constantly saying, “I’m new” and “I’m green” as though I am weighing in on HER and not her work. And again, I always phrase work feedback in a positive or neutral way. Like, “What I like to do for an argument like this is ____” or “One way that we successfully do this is ___” so that feedback builds on what she’s done as opposed to saying hers is not good enough.

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On the personal feedback level, she interprets every single breath I take as a referendum on her. She interrupts me too much during the day, and is often interrupting me when I work. At such times, I’m often shorter in my answers - not in a rude way, but literally just providing a very short answer before trying to move on. Routinely, I then later learn from her that she thinks I am annoyed with her. Yet her reaction when she thinks I am annoyed (which in most cases, is not “annoyed” but simply “busy”), she then keeps coming back trying to seek reassurance, which actually IS annoying.

So just for an example, here is an exchange from this week that sums this up. She stopped at my office, “How was your evening?” Me (in the middle of unpacking my laptop and getting my notebook out of my bag), “It was fine.” Her (laughing), “Fine?” Me (looks up), “Yes?” Her, “Just fine, that’s it? So matter of fact?” Me (raises eyebrows), “Yes. Just fine. That’s it.” Which yes, I was annoyed by this. But instead of just moving on with her day, then later in the day she was pestering me with worries that she “offended me.” She is always using the “offended” language - “Oh no, I offended you,” or “I thought I offended you” etc. Which is weird to me because “offended” seems really different and more extreme?

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So far I have just tried to strike a balance. I’ve been really positive when she’s made an effort not to pry (generally she will say “I’m not even going to ask X” and I will say, “Great, good job” or something). She rarely is able to not pry without mentioning it.

For work feedback, I get it. It was really hard for me to get better at accepting criticism without taking it personally, and I still work on that today. So I’ve talked to her about that and even explained that I’ve had to work on that in my own career but that it’s been really valuable to do that, and that I spent far too much time as a junior attorney worrying about what senior attorneys thought of me. I further emphasized that everyone at the firm remembers being a first year and that no one is expecting things to be perfect because we know she is learning on the job. But she still gets stressed and upset when there is feedback, and on the “she’s too bonded” to me note, she talks to me about why she always feels like she’s disappointing us and it relates to feelings about her dad.

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Finally, on Friday, I had a long conversation with her about the eggshell issues (I didn’t call them that). She got freaked out because she thought she “offended” me by asking if another colleague was okay, and I responded, “She’s fine, everybody is stressed because there’s too much to do and not enough people to do it.” She looked at me like I’d slapped her and followed me to my office worrying about having offended me and repeatedly interrupting me to say, “I’m just going to be strictly professional with you. Just strictly professional.” I finally got her to pause and was able to basically say “it seems like no matter what I do or say, if I look off to you or take a breath at the wrong time, you worry you’ve offended me, and it creates a lot of stress. It’s safe to assume that if something is wrong, I will talk to you about it. So I know it can be tough, but when you feel worried you’ve offended me, please try to just feel it and let it go rather than stewing.” She expressed that she thinks she’s just being “[state she moved from] nice” and she’s often so worried she’s offended us. I tried to give my own examples of having similar fears about my boss when I first started until I realized that depending on her own stress level, tiredness, whether her shoulder hurt, etc., my boss reacts differently. I said I had to learn to trust my boss to tell me if something was wrong, and otherwise I assume that if she seems annoyed or short that it’s not about me.

Now comes the main AITA part. A colleague of mine thinks I’m being really unfair to her and that all of this is my problem and JA is acting and behaving fine. This is the colleague who has work right now that JA finds more interesting, and she and I also really have different workplace styles/different personalities overall. So other colleague, who is very extroverted, blames all this on me being an introvert. While it’s definitely true that my personality finds JA’s behavior a lot more annoying, I can also tell you that there is no prior firm I’ve worked at, from 30 lawyers to 1000, where JA’s behavior wouldn’t be seen as a problem. While my friend colleague and I both find her behavior not right for any firm, even a casual one, this other colleague thinks we are just annoyed by her on a personal level and it’s our own issue. Basically it boils down to whether it was wrong of me to try to give JA feedback on this to try to change her behavior, as opposed to dealing with it internally as my own issue.

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So, anyone who read any or all of this...what do you think? Is this just my personality? I do acknowledge that I can get annoyed easily, particularly about interpersonal things when people are in my face a lot, and the same is true of my friend colleague who also finds JA to be really grating. Are we just the weird ones, and her behavior seems fine?

And in addition - if you are JA or have been JA or have worked with JA - how do I get her to stop taking every breath someone takes as a personal attack and then being clingy until she’s reassured that it is okay?

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ETA: AITA = Am I The Asshole, and I got the acronym wrong!

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