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How Can a Person Appear Very Caring & Empathetic, Yet Rude & Disrespectful at Random the Next?

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I have a coworker. Who at times behaves very caring and empathetic. She can be very helpful and encouraging, and yet rude and disrespectful the next. I don’t know how to handle such a person because she makes these rude comments at random and unprovoked. One day at work I was doing work and she walked by and said, “You need to change your hair, you need a new look” i said my hair is fine” and ignored her and kept working. Then another time I was having a conversation with another coworker of career options as I am working in the medical and she overheard and walked by and said, “She doesn’t even know what she wants to do with her life” I try keeping my distance from her. I thought perhaps she might not be too bad when she did not engage in her critical ways. She even came to me one day and asked me to look over a paper she was writing for school and I helped her and she got a good grade. I began to think, “hmm maybe I was wrong about this person. Then today as I was walking by her and another co worker chatting, she said out loud, “Why don’t you let down your hair so we can see how long it is?” Oh maybe because it is not your hair.” My hair is really thick and curly so I wear it in a bun for work. I felt my self overwhelmed with irritation and just walked away. Then later on she came by saying, “Oh I hope you are not mad, I didn’t mean it that way, and I like you and think you are a nice person.” Finally I said plainly, “your comment was just nasty, and I am really tired of you making negative comments to me. Then she continued denying it and saying, “Well if you want to insult me back you can about my weight, because I gained 19 pounds this year.” I just said. “Why would I do something like that? I have never gone out my to insult you. That’s not my style.” I left it alone after that. Then later on she did it again saying to another coworker, “Oh she is smart, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do.” Finally I said I know what I want to do, I do not discuss my goals. I’m just tired of dealing with this person. But I see my faults, I shouldn’t share to much with any of them, and I should have been more direct in letting her know I don’t appreciate her comments. Any advice would help

How Can a Person Appear Very Caring & Empathetic, Yet Rude & Disrespectful at Random the Next?

Answered by on -

A.

There could be many things going on with your coworker. The problem is that you have no idea what they are. She may have a psychiatric illness the causes her to behave in an unusual way. She could be on medication that changes her personality. She could’ve had a head injury. She could be experiencing extreme distress at home or is fighting with her husband or her children or her parents and is taking it out on her coworkers. It could be any number of things but it’s likely that you’ll never know what those things are because they are of a personal nature.

Many work relationships are with people considered acquaintances. Acquaintances are people you interact with at work or at school but with whom you do not have a deep connection. Without that deeper connection, you may not be privy to what’s going on in their lives or what they are like outside the work setting.

Her behavior likely has very little to do with you and more to do with whatever personal problems she’s experiencing. Her behavior may be an expression of her personality. Some people have unusual personalities and act in ways that appear odd to others. It’s also possible that she’s attempting to connect with you but is struggling. She may not have good interpersonal or social skills and comes across as abrasive. Not everyone has good social skills. For instance, people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulty with social and interpersonal skills. Part of the problem is that they can be blunt in their responses and interactions. It can take a great deal of time and effort for individuals with ASDs to develop good social skills. Some do better than others, often depending upon their ability to access good treatments.

If it’s causing problems at work, there are several possible solutions. If these issues are disrupting your work, you may want to discuss your concerns with your supervisor. Your supervisor may be able to intervene.

Secondly, you could try to avoid her or ask to be moved to a different part of the office or a different office altogether. I don’t know if that’s desirable or even a possibility but it may be something to consider.

It’s important to keep one thing in mind: it’s unlikely that her behavior has anything to do with you personally. In other words, it’s likely not personal. She doesn’t know you very well and therefore her comments can’t be very personal in nature. If the two of you were good friends and she was making these statements, then her comments would likely be of a personal nature. Because this is a coworker and basically a stranger, her comments to you likely have very little to do with you and more to do with whatever’s going on in her life. In that case, it may be best to ask for advice from your supervisor or let it go and not think too much about it.

Thank you for your question. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

How Can a Person Appear Very Caring & Empathetic, Yet Rude & Disrespectful at Random the Next?

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2019). How Can a Person Appear Very Caring & Empathetic, Yet Rude & Disrespectful at Random the Next?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/10/15/how-can-a-person-appear-very-caring-empathetic-yet-rude-disrespectful-at-random-the-next/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Oct 2019 (Originally: 15 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Oct 2019
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