D ear Amy: I’m a 29-year-old attorney. My 60-year-old secretary is Eeyore. She is a very nice woman but is also one of the unhappiest people I’ve ever met.
Every conversation we have involves 20 to 30 minutes of her whining about her life, how much she hates her job, how much she hates working for our firm, how much she hates the partner we work for, how stressed out she is, how sick she is, how sick her cat is, how sick her hamster is (yes, her hamster, seriously).
I have actually started to avoid using her to help me with assignments.
I do not know how to approach this. She is so easily offended that I do not think any conversation would go over well.
As with many industries, secretaries are very powerful inside the law firm. They can make your life easy or terrible.
I want to remain on good terms with her so that she continues to do a good job on my assignments. At the same time, I need to be able to tolerate her enough to give her assignments.
We all work long hours. We are all stressed out and tired. Our firm IS terrible and the partner we work for really is Satan.
But no one else whines like my secretary does.
Do you have any advice on how to handle this epic Negative Nancy?
— Over It
Your co-worker is already making your life terrible, so you will have to convey that there is a new sheriff in town. Do NOT commiserate with her. When she complains, maintain a neutral, impassive attitude. Don’t comment. Just say, “We need to stick to the business at hand here.” If she is offended, so be it. Do not avoid giving her instructions and assignments. When she completes a task, thank her. Always be polite.
It is extremely unprofessional for her to complain about your workplace or your satanic boss (certainly at work). If her job is intolerable, she should look for work elsewhere.
If you have a human resources department or a system in place for submitting performance reviews, your secretary’s manipulative behavior and the impact on her (and your) performance should be reported honestly. She should be told that her job is on the line.