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Extremely Passive Aggressive Japanese Coworker

interioround

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I hate the passive aggressiveness in Japan.
I'm a 30 year old woman working in the entertainment industry.
I have a female Japanese coworker who's a full-time general admin staff who has up and stopped talking to me for a few months now.
We actually used to be on quite friendly terms although she treats me like an enemy now. I don't know what happened, I barely even work with her.
Unfortunately, she's quite popular in the office and has been there for a long time.

At first I thought I could handle her silence/passive aggressiveness by just focusing on my work.
I have also not been interested in making amends with her since I now know she a nasty person who pulls stunts like this, and that's why I'm just trying to focus on my work instead.
However, she keeps amping up her passive aggressiveness. She full on doesn't talk to me and now when we have meetings with clients/partners she singles me out by not bringing me tea while she gives everyone else one.

I have found the whole situation extremely bizarre. Normally, I would talk to someone, but our office is quite toxic in general and my Japanese boss has a high temper and doesn't usually like to get involved in drama. I don't want to make the situation worse.

Any advice? Sigh v.v
 

Majestic

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You have an HR department you can bring this up with? If not, you could mention it to your immediate manager?
 

thomas

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It sounds like a situation that needs to be addressed quickly. I would also suggest to involve your manager and find out what enraged that lady in the first place.

Are there no other trusted colleagues you can confide in?
 

interioround

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Yeah, it's an American company and the HR is in the States.
TBH, I've never had good experiences with HR. I always feel like they don't actually care about solving problems like these.
 

interioround

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It sounds like a situation that needs to be addressed quickly. I would also suggest to involve your manager and find out what enraged that lady in the first place.

Are there no other trusted colleagues you can confide in?
Everybody I know likes her. I think there are some people that are confused about why she's treating me this way, but I'm worried that the moment I ask anyone what her deal is that it will escalate the situation.
 

TGI-ECT

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My view is that unless we are actually in the environment where this troubled human interaction is taking place and can get a feel for / a sense of what's going on we are not going to be doing you much good by giving advice.

But from a technical point of view, is this affecting the work? Is it causing work not to get done? Those are the questions any good manager is going to want to address first, so it might be better for us to be asking those questions.

Entertainment field means you need to be interacting with customers and so I would again go for the technical questions: Have any contracts been adversely affected because of the human relations problems you are highlighting to us here?

Going technical first seems the best route to take here in this community because we aren't there.

Now if any of the answers to any of the questions above are 'Yes' then there is room to maneuver. Except you then have to decide if you have that room to maneuver. You have to analyze whether she could outmaneuver you.

Just a few thoughts.
 

joadbres

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I hate the passive aggressiveness in Japan.
I'm a 30 year old woman working in the entertainment industry.
I have a female Japanese coworker who's a full-time general admin staff who has up and stopped talking to me for a few months now.
We actually used to be on quite friendly terms although she treats me like an enemy now. I don't know what happened, I barely even work with her.
Unfortunately, she's quite popular in the office and has been there for a long time.

At first I thought I could handle her silence/passive aggressiveness by just focusing on my work.
I have also not been interested in making amends with her since I now know she a nasty person who pulls stunts like this, and that's why I'm just trying to focus on my work instead.
However, she keeps amping up her passive aggressiveness. She full on doesn't talk to me and now when we have meetings with clients/partners she singles me out by not bringing me tea while she gives everyone else one.

I have found the whole situation extremely bizarre. Normally, I would talk to someone, but our office is quite toxic in general and my Japanese boss has a high temper and doesn't usually like to get involved in drama. I don't want to make the situation worse.

Any advice? Sigh v.v
We are often not aware of the things we do that rub others the wrong way. It could have been a single incident, but it could have been a string of related incidents, or even a string of unrelated incidents that caused her to feel animosity toward you. It could be related to a cultural difference - perhaps some type of expected behavior in Japan that you are unaware of. Or maybe she thinks that because you are a foreigner you get special treatment in some ways, and she is resentful of that.

One thing you could try is to simply invite her out for drinks some night -- just the two of you. She will probably be caught off guard by this, but it would be hard to say no, especially if you give her a choice of several different days to go out.

If she accepts and you do go out, don't bring up your concerns for at least the first half hour, and maybe even not at all. Start out with casual, comfortable small talk on a variety of topics. One way you could bring up the issue, if you want to, is to simply and innocently ask her (without revealing your concerns) if there is anything you are doing in the office that is contrary to Japanese culture that you should be aware of. This would give her the opportunity to raise any issues she has.

Even if she does turn down your invitation, it will be harder for her to continue to dislike you at the current level. Maybe things would gradually get better after that.

It's worth a try, and there is not much downside to trying this approach, I think.

Good luck, and I hope this situation is favorably resolved soon for you.
 

TGI-ECT

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I suppose it is a good thing to be a trusting soul by nature, but I am not. I would view that idea of a one-on-one in an out-and-about environment as possible trouble.

If that is really a bad person, that bad person could claim all sorts of bad things happened when taken out for drinks.

Yes, if the trouble isn't so toxic that maybe some talking could smooth things over; yes, it would work. But I smell a level of toxicity has developed that has taken the problem beyond what a gesture such as just having a few drinks out could fix.

Then again, that is why I stated that we have no feel for what level of trouble has developed. But I just got a sense from what was offered as an explanation that the situation was a fair bit bad. And that leads me to believe extreme caution must be taken in all manner of things around that individual.
 

Vincent3

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But I smell a level of toxicity has developed that has taken the problem beyond what a gesture such as just having a few drinks out could fix.
I agree. It sounds like the gesture would be thrown back in your face, or even spun into an accusation against you.

If she's ignoring or avoiding you in client meetings, that's something that should concern management. They aren't obligated to resolve the root of the relationship problem, but to remind her that she needs to keep it professional and civil at work.

I suggest keeping a record of any of her passive-aggressive actions. List the date, time, place (meeting, copier, etc.), and details of what she did. Keep the list in your bag or on your phone, not in your desk. If management notices and starts asking questions, or if she tries to blame you for whatever is happening, you want to be able to respond with details that were recorded at that time.

What is the language situation at the office? How much interaction did you and she have? Are you American?
 

TGI-ECT

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That log book idea is absolutely outstanding. Excellent thinking!
 

Buntaro

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Any advice?
V.V.,

I have a Master Degree in Counseling and Guidance and my area of specialty is The Toxic Personality. I understand the problems you have as you deal with a toxic workplace and toxic personalities at work. There are different possibilities as to the cause of all of this, so let’s take a look.

One possibility is that she thinks you have a toxic personality. So in this situation, I think you first need to take a look at your own personality and see if you act in ways that other people think are toxic. I work at a large company and there are a few people at work who have toxic personalities. In particular, there are two fellows I work with who I feel have extremely toxic personalities. I avoid them in the same way your co-worker is avoiding you. (But I don’t go quite as far as serving tea to everyone except these two guys.) The point I am making is, when these kinds of problems arise, the first step is to look at ourselves and see how much of this is something that we create ourselves.

Another aspect is that any toxic behavior you may have may be only one part of the larger area of being needy and engaging in needy behavior. You might want to look at yourself and see if you are acting in any way that is needy and has offended her. Once again, your first step is to look at yourself and see if you have any toxic or neediness issues.

The next possibility is that she may have a toxic personality and a big part of this is because she is engaging in toxic behavior. This can be an especially big concern if you have ever tried to point out any examples of her toxic behavior to her. (People with toxic personalities will become angry if their toxic behavior ever comes up for discussion, and they will retaliate with even more toxic behavior.) Another point is that people with toxic personalities refuse to accept they behave in toxic ways, and they especially refuse to accept that they should be treated different than people who do not have a toxic personality. (I feel they should be treated differently.)

Then there is the issue of culture. There are huge differences between Japanese culture and western culture, and I can only wonder if there is a cultural aspect to your situation. As you have pointed out, a Japanese person is more likely to be passive/aggressive than openly aggressive. (I happen to feel that being passive/aggressive is better than being openly aggressive, and I see this as a strength of the Japanese culture.)

Next is the issue of talking about all of this with your boss. It sounds like your boss may also have a bit of a toxic personality. But you may want to at least bring up the fact that you are concerned there is a problem between you and this woman you work with. But in many companies this is a bad idea, and this is probably true at your company too. For one thing, most supervisors have no idea how to handle toxic behavior problems between employees. Another problem is discussing toxic behavior with a boss who also has a toxic personality — this may be a very bad idea, as you are suggesting. (I am in the same boat as you in that my supervisor and the owner of the company where I work both have toxic personalities and they both contribute to the toxic atmosphere in my company, so of course they would never do anything to make things any better, and my discussing these things would them would only make things worse.)
 
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TGI-ECT

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That was a very instructive post, Buntaro, but I see the program only allows me to place one of the two I wish to mark that with ― I'd like to be able to mark it as "Like" and "Informative" ― but either way, that is not only informative but very well written.

And it is interesting that you have a management individual who must know what is in your résumé still displaying character traits he/she must know you can easily identify. Either that is a really smart human purposely doubling the message he/she is outputting, or it is a not-so-smart human.

Myself, I'd prefer to be working with the "really smart" case.

As for owners, I view them as a different kind of human that can't be expected to behave properly, no matter what. Sort of like what we have sitting in the White House at present. But they can't help it.

And I don't think Counseling and Guidance classes can really cover that owner-type personality properly, unless you have an exceptional instructor/professor.

Anyway, a great post there.

But I still hold to that log book idea as a great safety idea.

QUESTION: thomas (other admin) does this site's search engine allow for searching just for posts with the "Informative" tag placed upon it?
 

Glenski

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She full on doesn't talk to me and now when we have meetings with clients/partners she singles me out by not bringing me tea while she gives everyone else one.
So what? If this is the extent of her passive aggressiveness, how does this affect your work?

No tea? Just sigh heavily when it comes and mutter loudly enough to her, "You didn't bring mine again."
Not talking to you in meetings? Well, if you need to talk, just interrupt her and get your 2 cents in.

An American company in Japan will have problems with its HR, I presume. But I definitely hope you have better ammunition than the two details I copied/pasted above, because on the surface, that's not enough to go on.

BTW, Are the HR staff all Japanese? How is your command of Japanese language? Is English the office's official language? Lots of unspoken details here.

But best of luck.
 

Buntaro

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It has been my experience that keeping a record of a co-worker's passive-aggressive actions probably does not do any good. I did this once with a toxic co-worker of mine. But when I brought it to my supervisor's attention, he refused to see it and all it did was make him angry. I am sure that, if a supervisor ever asked about such toxic behavior, the offended worker would be able to come up with several examples off the top of their head. But having a previously-prepared list may actually backfire, giving the impression that the offended worker is out to 'get' the toxic co-worker.
 
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Glenski

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I agree with Buntaro about keeping a record. Let HR people do that if they deem it necessary.

Have you even tried discussing the issue with this woman?
 

TGI-ECT

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I am a fair bit confused on a point related to accuracy and how one is expected to maintain accurate accounts of what is taking place over an extended period of time, if one does not keep a written record.

I do not believe Vincent3 nor myself wrote any recommendation to display the record to anyone.

Advice is being offered here that keeping a record in one's own mind is a good idea. Is that seriously good advice?

Or is that advice based on an idea that no record at all is necessary?

Yes, I am a fair bit confused.

But I'm not so smart and so that is why I did the edit, thomas.
 
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Glenski

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My feeling is to keep the record for your own sake, not to show to someone. It would look to some people like you had a grudge and were recording secretly for an ulterior motive, not merely to provide instances of the problems you face. If someone is on probation at work, they will KNOW that someone is keeping records, or potentially doing so. Of course, if HR or anyone else confronts you with something like, "So, just how did she act?" or "When did X happen?", you could refer to your notes somehow.
 

Vincent3

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My feeling is to keep the record for your own sake, not to show to someone.
That was my point. I wouldn't disclose the log itself, but have it as my personal reference.

The unfortunate reality is that keeping a log of an employee's behavior is fine for management, but presumptuous for the rank-and-file. I should have made that clear. Thanks for the catch.
 
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Deibiddo

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This kind of thing happened to one of the Japanese managers at Coco Juku once. The area manager was part of nichii gakkan but oversaw the school as it was in her area and she expected the school manager to be her servant basically. The school manager turned down her request to serve the nichii gakkan customers tea(!) because she was busy doing her own work so the area manager came in herself. From then on, she froze the school manager out and never told her about meetings and other important information. Because the school manager could no longer do her job, she left.

It seems to be quite a common pattern in Japan, like murahachibu is an ingrained social practice lol try and think about what might have caused it, but also be prepared to deal with the person having some ludicrously unreasonable opinion that they expect you to agree with. They're obviously trying to make your life difficult and it's ridiculously petty serving everyone tea but you, in front of everyone too I assume, so it looks like they're quite confident making their thoughts known. It appears they want you to leave, or accept their ****.

They also might sabotage your work so try and secure it. This seems to happen a lot, one guy I know who worked for Toyota in America had a woman who would hide other people's documents then place them on his desk to frame him - "Look, the stupid gaijin had it all along!" Luckily other people saw through it, but they wouldn't confront her about it. I swear there's someone at work deleting my students' data as well, it just so happens when a particular staff member is around that it 'disappears' from a secure server. Another woman I know who worked at nova complained that female teachers got many times more childrens' classes than male teachers, so guess what, she got days on end of them (that manager begged her to come in when the company crashed too).

I'd ask someone else to find out because you going near is probably just going to wind her up. I'd also try and make good relationships with other coworkers as a kind of buffer
 

interioround

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Thanks everyone for the advice.
I've now just tried to be friendly with her when the opportunity arises. For a while, she will go back to being nice but for example she'll be nice to me on Friday and then on Monday she's back to being cold with me when I walk in the door.
I opened a conversation with her for the first time in a while. She seemed happy to talk with me and pretty soon after she asked if I was going back to the States to pick up some things for her. (I don't want to buy **** for someone who's been a complete ******* to me)

Haha, she's a psycho...But only to me! Yay!
 

EmoMorph

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I’m generally just a lurker here but this topic is one I’m passionate about as I absolutely hate passive aggressiveness, especially in the workplace, and used to work in HR.

Everyone‘s advice is very good. Definitely keep a log book of all the incidents, as you will need this if anything escalates.

My best advice? Turn that passive aggressiveness on its head. Absolutely go out of your way to be nice to her. It’s important how you go about this - be careful not to make it appear condescending or antagonistic in any way, or retaliatory for her behaviour. You have to want to be kind, which is very hard when someone is being rude.

But it is very hard to continue to be passive aggressive and rude towards someone who is going out of their way to be kind to you. And any incidents involving other people around will then appear strange as you are being so kind and she is...not. If you’re right and some people have also noticed her behaviour, it will become all the more stark if you’re being kind to her.

Thank her for any work she does, compliment her (honestly!), help her out with something. If you know that she will do something like serve everyone else tea except you, offer to help her with it before she gets the chance.

I do stress that doing this must not be hostile or antagonistic in any way, which is very hard as you’re rightfully annoyed by her behaviour and have every reason to dislike her. And it’s easy to be snippy or short with people we don’t like.

Unfortunately, in situations like this, going straight to HR won’t do much for you. In a perfect world, yes, but in the real world...no. You’ll either look like the bad guy, or be branded a trouble maker, or unable to handle your own small problems and get along with others - especially if she is well liked in the office.

And, of course, remember that: You can always walk away. Figuratively and metaphorically. Learn to let it slide like water off your back. Who cares if she’s so petty she has to act in this way? Or, if the whole place is making you miserable and not want to go to work, start looking elsewhere. It sucks and some people would say you’re “letting her win” but this isn’t a competition. This is your mental health and happiness. And a job, no matter how good, is not worth that.

Either way, I wish you the best!
 

Psea206

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I hate the passive aggressiveness in Japan.
I'm a 30 year old woman working in the entertainment industry.
I have a female Japanese coworker who's a full-time general admin staff who has up and stopped talking to me for a few months now.
We actually used to be on quite friendly terms although she treats me like an enemy now. I don't know what happened, I barely even work with her.
Unfortunately, she's quite popular in the office and has been there for a long time.

At first I thought I could handle her silence/passive aggressiveness by just focusing on my work.
I have also not been interested in making amends with her since I now know she a nasty person who pulls stunts like this, and that's why I'm just trying to focus on my work instead.
However, she keeps amping up her passive aggressiveness. She full on doesn't talk to me and now when we have meetings with clients/partners she singles me out by not bringing me tea while she gives everyone else one.

I have found the whole situation extremely bizarre. Normally, I would talk to someone, but our office is quite toxic in general and my Japanese boss has a high temper and doesn't usually like to get involved in drama. I don't want to make the situation worse.

Any advice? Sigh v.v
It sounds like your entire employment situation is pretty bad. Do you have any reasonable prospects if you look for a new job?
 

Vincent3

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You have to want to be kind, which is very hard when someone is being rude.
One way to get there is to approach interactions with her compassionately. Maybe she's had some misfortune in her life and is somehow connecting it with you. That interpretation sounds like a stretch in this situation, but approaching it that way might help you stay in the right frame of mind. You certainly shouldn't be apologetic if you didn't do anything wrong, but just regroup in a way that gives her the space to get past whatever is bothering her. I'd suggest keeping any interaction with her professional and cordial. Avoid any personal chit chat. If she initiates personal chit chat, handle it carefully. This compassionate approach aligns with some problem resolution systems, so she might respond positively to it regardless of what the issue is. But of course the compassionate approach goes only so far. If your coworker crosses a certain line, then the compassionate approach wouldn't be appropriate anymore. Either way, continue to keep a log.
 
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