Columbia University Medical Center
Ranked #1 in Psychiatry
U.S. News & World Report
Ranked #1 in Research Funding
National Institutes of Health
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell

Ask the Experts

Question:

I work with a person who gets offended over the most petty things and fumes about it for days. I am the teacher and she is the assistant. She is very sensitive to any criticism and won't speak for days. She also has rigid rules about what she likes and hates, eats, touches etc. What is her problem ???

Answered by: John Markowitz

It sounds like there's a dispute smoldering between you and her. I'd have to know a lot more about this woman to make a diagnosis like borderline personality disorder. There could be a number of things going on. "Rigid rules about what she likes and hates, eats, touches, etc." could for example reflect obsessive compulsive disorder. Or not. But it's clear that the two of you are having difficulty communicating. Some basic questions: 1. How long have you been working together, and how long has this been a problem? (How much longer will you be working together?) 2. How exactly have you criticized her? Do you praise as well as criticize her? I presume that she is relatively new to teaching, and that some criticism comes with the territory as part of the learning process. Does she understand it that way? 3. Have you tried to gently address the problem with her? Is there a nice way to ask her what the problem is? As her superior in the classroom, you could say that you're concerned that there's a tension growing between you and that you'd like to resolve it. You need to set up some guidelines for how the two of you will function. Hopefully your assistant has some strengths as well as difficulties. Perhaps you could couch criticisms in the setting of strengths, so that she doesn't hear what you're saying as blanket condemnation. I hope that these suggestions are helpful.