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Show compassion for ‘copycat’ co-worker … up to a point

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  "There is a new woman in our office who has started to copy everything I do. She tries to dress like me, look like me, and act like me. After complimenting my clothes, she asked where I bought them. A few days later, she showed up in a duplicate outfit. She looked in my purse to find my make-up, then went out and bought all the same brands. Today was the last straw. I had an apple for a snack yesterday afternoon, so this morning my coworker showed up with apples. She never brought apples before. I am getting so irritated that I can’t stand to be around this woman.  What can I do about this?"  —Don’t Need a Clone

Answer: Your copycat coworker sounds both weird and annoying. But since you have to work with this pathetic person, you might as well view her imitation as a bizarre form of flattery.  

You can’t stop her from choosing clothing and makeup similar to your own. And you can hardly tell her not to eat apples. However, you absolutely must prevent her from going through your belongings.

If you have any further evidence that she is looking in your purse or examining the contents of your desk, make it explicitly clear that this is not acceptable.  If your desk has a lock, start using it.

Should she ever start doing really creepy things like calling you at home or showing up in unexpected places, you should immediately talk with your boss or human resources manager.  Your unwelcome admirer probably isn’t a stalker, but you can’t be too careful.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Bastian December 17, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I have one of those….but the seniority is different….I’m the new girl and the “old” girl has copied my hair, make up, clothes, attitude. I take pride in being different, it’s what makes me unique….she is infringing on my personal space and it makes me feel uncomfortable-It could be flattery but in all honesty I would rather she compliment me and just go on her merry way.

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Carolyn Wilson July 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Susannna..I cannot believe your workplace copycat..i share the same story..minor deviations but hence i’m looking for an answer. I been working at the same place for 28 yrs. and this co-worker has been copying my style for 28 years. Now that I am in menopause status..lol..i feel like retiring.early bc she actually makes me sick and I literally cannot take it anymore. More recently, I purchased reading glasses with a chain..thought nothing much except that she wont copy this, well this past Thursday she walks in my cubiicle with glasses and a chain..I probably looked like i saw a ghost, i was speechless..My question is how do you address such a trivia issue ..i know it’s spiritually, i know she’s jealous, i know she’s fashionably challenged bc left on her own style, she really looks a mess..her mom and aunt drives the same car type of car I drive, she is now eating what i eat for lunch..her relatives have items like mine..i have prayed and reasoned with myself that it is nothing but mere jealousy but I’m really getting tired of her..i just don’t get it..is it a mental illnes and she never compliments me..further she came into my last apartment many years ago and ditto hers the same..i vow to never ever let her into my newly built home…her actions are causing me to heavily dislike her alot..she’s not the only one in my life but the biggest copycat..My family is not tired of me talking about her but they say take it as a compliment..but i really can’t..she follows everything after me except Jesus Christ, Bible study, sexual immorailty- she’s seems demonic 2 me in a sense..write me back to let me know how you are doing with your issue, maybe it could give me some hope…

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Susanna April 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I have a copycat who does not wear the exact same things I wear, but copies the style of clothing I wear. I know this sounds like it could be a coincidence, but when she started here, she wore baggy, shapeless clothes, flat shoes only, and no colors at all – only beiges, browns and blacks. Now, she’s pretty much imitated my much more tailored style and wears heels and pencil skirts regularly. She also shops at the exact same stores I do, even though one of them is online. I know for a fact, she did not shop here before, as when she first started here, I asked her what stores she liked so that I could buy her a giftcard, and none of my stores were on her list. It’s not just me that notices her change, it’s my coworker too. If she liked what I wore, and would say “Hey, that’s really cute” or something like that , it would be one thing. But she never says anything about what I wear and just shows up wearing something similar the next week. She’s even tried to copy my hair color, but it looked awful on her because her coloring is so different from mine. Anytime I talk to anyone she always tries to get in on the conversation, and she copies my figures of speech and my mannerisms. She and her husband bought the same car I did (color & everything) a few months after I got mine. When I went on a major vacation, she and her husband went on one 5 months later, even though they never go anywhere. I know it sounds petty, but to go through it day after day is really aggravating. I’ve wondered if there isn’t some mental disorder that makes people do this. I’m almost hoping she’ll see this post and recognize herself.

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Law Firm Manager June 29, 2011 at 11:59 am

Copycats exist in every work place. A coworker gets a cup of coffee. You decide to do the same thing. You are a copycat. A coworker decides not to work hard. You decide not to work hard. I mean hey why should I work hard when the other person is a slacker? You are a copycat. A coworker says I am going to go to the local event. What a great idea, I had no idea about the local event. I will go, too. You are a copycat. You see someone wearing clothing in an amazing color of burnished ochre and happened to find something the same color and you buy it because it is such a pretty color. You are a copycat.

Granted, having noted this, there are varying degrees of copycats. The question becomes why is this person copycatting you to such an extent? I would state from the onset that you don’t want to go into analysis over this frustrating issue. However; there are two choices, social discomfort and mental illness.

Social discomfort – Ignoring that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; (notice I omitted using the words annoying, weird, bizarre or pathetic) the copycat may simply have absolutely no fashion sense and focused on someone who does. You. I am sure it must be more than strange to find someone wearing the exact same clothing as you. Prepare a mental agenda of thoughts, and speak with the copycat. Explain in a gentle manner that you noticed that she was wearing the exact same thing that you wore and wondered why, as people may think it unusual that you both purchased the exact same article. You may find that she is struggling to find her own identity and can give her a few tips. The first is to try not to buy the exact same thing as you or any other employee does. There are demarcation lines with this. Bottom line, Kmart is Kmart. The same articles that are there for one, is there for all. The same dress suit is a different thing all together.

Take the negative and make a positive. (What an amazing idea office coach!!!!!!!) This does not mean you have to be friends with the copycat but organize a dress up/down color day at your business. In my younger years we used to do this all the time. The colors for Friday are black and pink. Our group was challenged to find clothing in our wardrobe with those colors. We would all have lunch or dinner together after as a bonding initiative. Some of us look horrible in colors selected so we would opt out of the dress day but opt in for the dinner.

Mental Illness –The copycat may be going through a depression or some other type of psychological and/or personality disorder which is creating a problem with “boundary identification.” The copycat is “mirroring,” to an extreme. At this point, you MUST involve your Supervisor and/or Human Resources Department.

How do you make this determination? Here is the part that sends me on the pathway to the second option.
You state the copycat looked in your handbag to see what makeup you use. IF this is true, and you have verifiable proof, it is a caution sign. Obviously, no one should go into a coworker’s personal possessions without consent. Anyone who would, in their own mind, justify such an action, is in need of help. It does not matter if you had your handbag open in full view, a coworker does not have the right to go through your personal possession. There is a boundary issue. The Human Resources department should be advised of this and consider getting advice from their EAP or counselor/therapist to obtain proper criteria to handle this issue.

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Susan June 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

She said she “looked in” her purse, which is not the same thing as “went through” … it may sound weird in context with the other copycat moves, but if they were friends it would be ok to comment on something you saw in someone’s open purse… reporting her to HR seems rather extreme and could cost her her job.
In my daughter’s middle school “copy cats” are usually just insecure girls trying hard to fit in with the right clothes, hair, makeup, even the food they pack for their lunch!
I know the workplace isn’t middle school, but I feel sorry for the socially awkward and would have patience … unless, as Marie said, it gets wierder/stalker-ish. I would also mention, re: the clothes, “I appreciate that you like my taste in clothes, but next time, why don’t you at least buy a different color so we don’t look like twins if I happen to wear that outfit the same day you do… it embarrasses me.”

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Melanie June 27, 2011 at 10:04 am

OP should not wait for stalking to begin to report the co-worker. She should report to management that co-worker went through her purse. Co-worker should be disciplined for that.

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