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Annoyed in Detroit
It must take incredible discipline to feel bored and unmotivated for any length of time. You have to keep thinking of ways to make the time pass. Then there are the new attention-getting schemes you must constantly perfect. Yet even as you carry out your elaborate campaign to get noticed, you feel terrible the whole time, because misery runs counter to everything you stand for.
Your coworker must be simply exhausted from all the exertion.
Your best response depends on the reason for her lack of motivation. If she has been droopy and dispirited for years, your can do little more than help preserve her illusion that the world is hopelessly flawed. If this is a more temporary temperament, something may be missing in her job, at home, or somewhere she'd rather keep private.
My dog Dickie has long been the No. 2 sales representative in the Pacific Rim for an exclusive-yet-populist line of cosmetics. A few years ago, Dickie was depressed for a week when his supplier ran out of its signature edible moisturizer/suntan lotion/insect repellent just one week before the Burning Man festival. I had to give him calves' liver tartare every day until he seemed like himself again.
I suspect your coworker's demeanor is related to her work. She is clamoring for someone to notice her suffering and ask what it's about. You probably would prefer to ignore her and hope she goes away. But the solution may be exactly the opposite.
If you tell someone she's fabulous, you can sometimes make it come true. That's how they got Norma Desmond to give herself up in Sunset Boulevard. To be sure, your coworker is masking her inner glow right now, but that's because she needs to be convinced that others deserve to see it.
Show her why you and the rest of the office are worthy by acknowledging her value. Pay her compliments; if you're in any position to do so, give her something to do. Nominate her for a task force, a safety team, or a committee. The next time she does something even remotely useful, tell her boss about it.
But of course, we can only spend so much time on philanthropy. You cannot afford to wage your reverse psychology campaign at the expense of your own credibility and fabulousness. You may simply need to move on with your work, and hope she moves on with hers.
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