Office Dynamic Dilemmas

Discussion in 'Dancers Anonymous' started by pygmalion, Jan 12, 2013.

  1. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    A thread long overdue, this is a place to share ideas and/or get input on work or career-related questions, situations, problems or successes. I'll start.


    Whine. (Yes. I know this is not the whining thread. So sue me.)

    I think I may have created a monster. It's a long a complicated story, but I'll try to keep it simple. I mentioned this lady before; she's the one who, the day after a pot luck at work, claimed all the leftovers and started heating them up for a second group lunch the next day without my permission even though I'd already given the leftovers to a single Mom. That went over like a lead balloon, so I figured she'd gotten the message -- if you want the leftovers, ask; don't assume. This was a couple months back.

    Fast forward to last Friday. This lady and a few of her friends decided to share a very low-key, low-cost, snack. She specifically asked that people not go to any expense, but, if they had something to share, bring it. No problem.

    On the day of, on impulse, I told her that I had a couple of unopened tubs of hummus and some yogurt dip in the fridge that I would be willing to open. I'd already bought them and stored them in the fridge, planning to have them for lunch for a week or two.

    On Friday, I opened the dips, but I left early to go to the movies, so I didn't get a chance to take care of my dips. When I got back to work this past week, the leftover dip was in the fridge. Problem? There was also a note on my desk. "P. You know that leftover yogurt dip? I'd like to have it. Okay?" Uhhh... well. At least she asked this time. It was really awkward, though, since I had been planning to have that dip for lunch for a few days, NOT give it to this lady just because she wanted it. I decided to just avoid the conversation by pretending I hadn't seen the note. (I was out of the office a few days and, as usual, my desk was covered with all sorts of stuff people dropped off in my absence. I couldn't see the surface of my desk. It is very plausible that I might not have seen the note.)

    Anyway. So I took my dips home and decided to just carry individual servings in for lunch each day, even though it's a pain.

    So. Yesterday I happened to run into this lady right by the big communal fridge. She said,"Uhh, you know, P. When you were out of the office, I left you a note and told you I wanted that yogurt dip. Uhh ... where is it?" Meanwhile, this chick is rifling through the fridge, looking for it! I kid you not. She just assumed that, since it was left over and she wanted it, I was going to give it to her. I was relieved to be able to say, "I took it home." I'm so glad I thought to take it home, to be honest.

    Questions: Am I blowing this out of proportion or is this woman being rude (in the context of American culture; she is a Southern American woman.)

    Not that it makes all that much difference in the larger scheme of things. I just see this whole possession of leftovers thing as having the potential to steal my joy at doing pot lucks. Not to be parsimonious or anything but, when we do potlucks, most people bring a $5 or $10 dish, at most. If I'm planning the pot luck, I usually fill in all the blanks -- to the tune of $50 to as much as $150. I don't mind spending the money; I entertain because I enjoy it. But, since it's my resources that are being spent, I think I should have the right to determine where my leftover stuff goes. (I prefer to give the leftovers to single Moms, first. There are quite a few single Moms where I work and I know that many of them consider those leftovers to be a blessing. After all the single Moms, myself included, are taken care of, everything else is up for grabs.


    Thoughts, anyone?
  2. Peaches

    Peaches Well-Known Member

    No, I don't think you're overreacting.

    But I do think she is being perfectly consistent (in her bad behavior). If you want the situation to change, I think you need to look in the mirror. I don't mean that in a rude way. I mean it in the "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten" sort if way. Or, to put it another way, you can change your attitude or you can change your behavior.

    She has show that she's going to be a pill about this. So, how do you want to handle it? Tell her explicitly, "my leftovers are mine, not yours. Don't touch. You helping yourself is no different than rifling through other people's lunch bags. Stop it." Or, "I took the leftovers home. They were mine." Or, "Hiw I deal with my leftovers is my business. You are not entitled to them."

    Or go no confrontational: immediately take them back to your desk, repackage them, and give them away or take them home. If stuff has to be refrigerated, is there another fridge you could use? Then either bring in a little each day, or see if the different packaging is enough to make it look like its not the same leftovers and, therefore, safe to be left in the fridge.
    Purr likes this.
  3. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Yep. You're right. I created this monster. Right or wrong, my behavior has given her the impression that it's a free for all. As much as it gets my goat, I'm going to have to 1) choose to live with the status quo, 2) confront her directly and tell her to cut it out or 3) change my behavior so that these situations don't arise. Those are the only choices I see. *sigh*

    Ticks me off that she doesn't live by Da Rules. lol. But I suppose that's reality.
  4. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    I'm going to play devil's advocate...yes, she was "somewhat" inconsiderate in the first instance where she took things that were initially open to the public, but provided by you, by not asking if there was a point in time when they ceased to be open to the public except for specific people whom you deem to be most needy (as is your perogative, but isn't neccessarily obviousness)...one might assume that once things were open to everyone and not used, that the leftovers could be available to anyone who wanted them....it is a forgivable offense

    I give her credit for apologizing and asking the next time around.....I think the second time, when she saw that things were leftover and heard nothing from you but saw that they had not been given to anyone else, it isn't so unreasonable that she would ask or not understand why it was not available to her when she has seen you be generous to others....she may not grasp your differential between her percieved need and someone else's....particularly absent your candor on the matter

    this isn't much different from the candy dish issue IMO.....I think if you are going to be generous, it is a shakey thing to try to micro manage the way in which it plays out....but if you truly want to control how those things are played out, I think you are going to have to take more direct responsibility for that rather than get annoyed with others who are not behaving in the way that you see as decent or acceptable....because, those sensibilities are neither uniform nor universal and aren't going to be learned from one instance to another.....


    it is just an alternative perspective.....I am not there everyday...I don't know what I assume are scores of other aspects of this that inform your behavior....but, what I do observe is what looks like a pattern of you doing something that you see as a giving of yourself, followed by you being disappointed in the behavior of others surrounding that....and, since you can't change anyone but yourself, if you are going to minimize your own disappointment and /or frustration, you are only in control of what you modify in yourself...or you accept an ongoing scenario as a greater good without holding others responsible for your annoyance...easier said than done...but 12 steps 101
    danceronice likes this.
  5. i agree with all sides :D (my office strategy, hehe), but what about bringing some extra containers when you bring in the pot luck offering. at the end of the common sharing time, you could package and gift to whomever you intended... or take it back home.

    it seems that potlucks frequently highlight different cultural expectations. i went to grad school in hawaii, in a department with many more foreign students than "american" students. when we decided to do a communal thanksgiving dinner for the foreign students, we all agreed what the menu would be. when it came to cooking, we were surprised at the different definitions of stuffing, gravy, green beans, potatoes, etc. i think this might be an analogous situation of a common word meaning different things in different regions of the country

    at that same grad school, we would do communal bag lunches. everyone would bring their own lunch, but would bring extra of a favorite food, to share. possibly, a variation of that could ease your recurring tension. or perhaps you want to refrain from participating until enough time has passed that the irritation won't seem to be recurrant.
  6. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Yep. I think that there is a cultural component here.

    I'll never forget when I was little -- about four or maybe five. There was a scary old lady at church, Sister J, who always, always had a pocketbook full of candy, it seemed. Every Sunday, she'd give me and twin sis a piece of hard candy. Yum. until one Sunday, she didn't. Even though I was quaking in my boots, not, long before time to go home, I walked up to her and just stood there (looking cute, no doubt.)I wanted that candy. She stood there for a minute, too , then said to me. "Hmm. I guess your Mama and Daddy haven't taught you yet. It's not polite to ask. You should wait to be offered." When I told my Mom later why I was upset and embarrassed, she backed sister J. Mom said I should have waited to be offered.

    ETA: I guess I should add that Sister J did give me the candy -- one for me, one for twin sis, but it didn't taste good that week, for some reason.

    Lesson offered. Lesson learned. In my culture, what this woman is doing is the height of rudeness, not about unclarified expectations. The unspoken expectation is that you will wait to be offered. Period.

    This is why I asked. I take responsibility for setting up a scenario in which this woman would overreach (by my culture's definition.) That doesn't stop the fact that, based on my upbringing, my boundaries are being breached.

    My questions were about whether other people here share that same cultural slant. Answer: Not necessarily. That's good to know, actually. She's not trying to be rude. That helps me frame her behavior while I change mine.
  7. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    If something in the communal fridge is yours, you write your name on it, or you don't expect to see it there when you want it.
  8. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    I think alot of people come from a culture where, if you don't ask for it, you definitely WILL NOT get it...and, IIRC, you asked her to ask before taking.....so, I am thinking that she may have actually been trying to be polite after having previously offended you
  9. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member


    I have seen a lot of different "codes" around shared office fridges, I have to admit.

    The fridge where I work is HUGE -- one of those clear-doored commercial fridges. About 7 feet tall by maybe 6 feet wide by about four feet deep, maybe bigger. It was bought a year or two ago, when the company had a big drive to save energy and improve safety by removing small, personal fridges from the building. So, to answer Peaches' question no, there's no other place for me to store my stuff.

    Anyway. The code with this fridge (for most people it seems) is it's yours if you put it in there. Otherwise, not so much. There are occasional incidents where something gets taken, but those incidents are really not frequent. And I've never known anything to get taken if, like you suggest, things are labeled.

    I never have understood the "If it's in the fridge, it's up for grabs," approach, though, to be honest. Surely I know whether I purchased something or not. If not, it doesn't belong to me. Pretty cut and dried, I would think. But apparently not. *shrug* I know it can be a crap shoot when you put stuff in a group fridge, but, in the time I've been bringing in a tub of hummus and using it for lunch over the course of a couple weeks, I've never had a problem, even though I never label or disguise it. I bring it in, eat some every day I want, then toss the container when I'm done.

    In the instance I mentioned, btw, my dips were in a Kroger grocery bag, tied shut and labeled with my name. No questions about ownership there, except in the mind of my coworker.

    The problem, IMV, is a mismatch in expectations around potlucks, not the fridge. She thinks that, once you've donated something to a potluck, it belongs to the group. I think that, if you've donated something to a potluck, it belongs to the group for the duration of the potluck.

    Incidentally, at least some others in my workplace share my view, because, at the end of our functions, everyone who brought something gets first dibs to take their own dish home, if there's anything left. That's the unspoken agreement that MOST of us buy into. You brought too much shredded lettuce? You take it home, give it away or throw it away.

    I created this problem by making enough food for an army and then establishing a track record of giving food away. There's no reason to expect that anyone else would automatically see that there's a system in place (My stuff; my system. I don't really care what anybody thinks about that. lol)

    However, when and how I was raised, all of that is immaterial. You don't assume; you ask AND give the other person an out to say no. Or else you're considered rude. End of story.
  10. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member


    Yeah. I agree, and I actually thought about posing this question (slightly differently) in the parenting thread, because I see a couple different philosophies, both with a lot of merit.

    One is about how to negotiate other people's boundaries politely, whether, what and how to ask. The other is about "Nothing ventured; nothing gained."

    Both are reasonable approaches, IMV. Honestly, I have tried to teach DS a combination of the two things. Short answer for me (that is probably not relevant to the workplace as much as life in general) is that it depends on the two parties involved (among other things.)
  11. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    And moving right along to office fridges, this convo reminds me of the episode of Hill Street Blues where one of the characters (Ed Spano's character maybe?) the one who keeps stealing other people's stuff, starts complaining about the sour apple juice somebody had left in the fridge in an unlabeled cup. He took a swig, then found out that it was somebody's urine sample, waiting to be delivered to the lab.

    What a hoot! I used to love that show.
  12. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    I have to say, when I worked for hospice, folks didn't label stuff... and folks didn't take stuff that wasn't theirs other than possibly a dash of milk if it was around, for coffee....but even that was pushing it..I worked there about 10 years and I don't recall much of this sort of thing...folks would get into tiffs but usually it was about patient care or getting paperwork done...almost no squabbles about things like how to navigate one another in the office...i think it may have been because nearly everything seems petty compared to treating terminally ill patients and we just didn't have much time for knickers getting bunched up in the office...mercifully, now,other than staff meetings, I almost never see my co-workers ...I guess I will have to consider myself fortunate because I am sure these sorts of issues aren't uncommon...I mean, peaches talks about this sort of thing weekly
  13. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    My perception is that the department I am in is dysfunctional from the top down, starting with the exec who heads things up. And doo-doo flows downhill. So you end up with people squabbling over stupid stuff.

    Add in the fact that most people where I am seem to function by a similar unwritten code and you're left with no easy way to deal with the outliers. Whether an unwritten code is a good idea, I don't know. What I do know is that the lady who claims ownership of my leftovers and the lady who used to eat enough candy for multiple people are NOT the norm. Everybody else seems to know without being told where "reasonable" limits are. These two? Not so much.

    I really enjoy reaching out to people and sharing. But I have no desire to support somebody else's $50 a month cheap chocolate addiction, just because I want to keep an open candy dish on my desk. That was ridiculous! Everybody else takes a piece or two, every day or two at the most. She was literally eating three to four 12-ish ounce bags of candy a week, all by herself, without ever offering to pony up some cash. I was very relieved when she abruptly left, because I honestly could not figure out a way to get her to stop without either getting really nasty or removing the candy altogether, thereby punishing everybody else for (what I perceived as) her greed. (But which, in all honesty, could have been an addiction or some other hidden issue.) I'd already tried joking, teasing and the direct approach. Rude was my only remaining option.

    Short story. People are crazy. lol.
  14. Peaches

    Peaches Well-Known Member

    What if you do your usual cook for an army thing for potluck a, but only provide a portion to the group, saving the preemptive "leftovers" for your needy coworker in a completely separate container? Then whatever is left of the communal pot luck food, well, maybe you get to take it home, maybe Ms Nibbles has her afternoon snack. But the coworker in need will still get some.
  15. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    *giggle* Ms. Nibbles. I like that.

    Yeah. That's pretty much the conclusion i came to. That and have potlucks on Fridays, so the whole "leftovers for the group lunch the next day" will be moot.
  16. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    Reminds me of the worse aspects of house sharing...far worse than what your are describing. follow Peaches's advice..'my stuff is my stuff even if its left over from a potluck...'
  17. Purr

    Purr Well-Known Member

    This is what I do when we have potlucks at work. I'm happy to bring in an item(s) to share, and if the item(s) are gone by the end of the potluck that's fine, but if there are any leftovers they're going home with me. So I'm help with the clean-up, and I immediately box up my item(s), so there's no question where they're going.

    If someone brings in an item(s) that I'd like to take home, I ask before I box it up. A lot of time I ask twice, like are you sure it's ok I take this home.
  18. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    Or the Dilbert where Alice puts battery acid in her sandwich to find out Wally's been stealing it from the fridge.
    pygmalion likes this.
  19. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member


    Yep. That's what most people I know do.

    And, since, after the potluck is over, my contribution reverts to my ownership, I don't see it as lacking candor or as micromanaging to keep it, toss it, or give it to whom I please. It's my stuff. I get to do what I want with it. I don't owe anybody an explanation or excuse.

    Other people own the thoughts in their heads; I don't. If they're thinking, "Oh well. She's just going to give it away anyway, so she may as well give it to me," that is certainly understandable. But, in my mind, that does not excuse their claiming my stuff without my permission.

    Call me crazy. You won't be the first or the last. lol.

    As I said in my very first post about this, I see how my actions created or at least contributed to this situation. Now it's up to me to change things in ways that make me less uncomfortable.
  20. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    okay A hijack..

    when Word was a simple bit of software I used to know how to create a simple shortcut to save typing in a long oft repeated phrase..but Darn* me if I can find out how now. took me 15 minutes to find the Options. Can anyone tell me how? I think its Word 2010. as bout as user friendly as a rattlesnake

    *use your imagination...;)

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