Follow up to cubicle complaint – silent treatment

Question:

Thank you for the comments from my previous enquiry. You asked for more information so here goes: I moved into his space after his previous cube mate left unexpectedly. We were friendly at first but he grew increasingly distant. Yes he talks to others and is quite charming and obsequitious on occasion. No one would think such a nice guy could be the cause of any problems, and I don’t feel like carrying on a conversation with myself every day. Sometimes I will ask him work related or open ended questions; he is either curt and abrupt or atother times has more to say, (especially when he is reporting a new achievement he has scored. Lately he has taken to spending most of his time on the phone talking loudly to his girlfriend or hisbrothers, they speak in Lebanese and it is very disruptive and annoying. He also comes in later, stays later and takes overly long lunch hours. I can’t believe people around me don’t notice. Instead of causing more bitterness, I have taken to wearing headphones and trying my best to focus on the job. Still it is lonely, since I am new to the workplace, and I feel we are both stuck with each other and uncomfortable. I don’t want to lose my job. Is the head phones the best I can do for a solution? Please advise, Anne Ottawa, Ontario

Signed,

Frustrated by cubicle co-worker


Answer:

Dear Frustrated by cubicle co-worker:

It seems you must take some specific action if the situation is going to tolerable. I had the following thoughts as I reviewed both your letters: 1. It may be that your co-worker fits one or more of the following… *He did not want a cubicle partner and hopes you will leave. *He did not want someone of your age, gender, ethnicity or personality, and hopes you will leave. *He doesn’t deal well with your style, as you don’t deal well with his. *Something happened between the two of you that alienated him–justifiably or not. *He has always been this way and no one has found it to be problematic–or at least has not complained.

2. You can either continue what you are now doing..which does not seem to be a very pleasant solution for you, and gives far too much power to a co-worker. Or, you can insist upon a change. I use the word insist to imply that you DO have a right to expect that are treated with courtesy and that you are acknowledged and communicated with in an appropriate way.

3. You likely can’t do anything about his work habits, since you are not his supervisor. However, if any aspect of his habit of coming in late or leaving early, or having long phone calls, has a negative impact on your work, you are certainly justified in bringing to his attention or to the attention of your co-worker.

The biggest step for you now is to talk to your boss and ask for advice. There is nothing about that which would cause you to lose your job. Consider asking to move to another cubicle if there is an opening. Ask your boss if, knowing the co-worker as he or she does, there are ways you could communicate more effectively. Be insistent that the way it is now is very uncomfortable. You can do that without complaining–you are merely expressing a feeling about work, and looking for ways to improve it.

You might also consider being open with your co-worker, as I mentioned in the last response. Tell him of your feelings and concerns and ask if there is a way the two of you could feel more like you are sharing the space instead of you feeling like an intruder.

And that is really the bottom line I think. As it now stands it is HIS space and you are in the way, apparently. It should be space that is shared by both of you.

If you can wear headphones while he’s on personal phone calls, that would at least help during that time. But, you should not have to wear headphones all the time. It’s not pleasant for you, makes you look different than others, and is distracting for you about work. Further, it may give others the impression that you are shutting them out–which is just the opposite of what you want.

I also think you should reach out more to other employees. Build friendships on either side of your own small cubicle area. Let your co-worker see you as someone who has friends and is friendly. The last thing you want is to isolate yourself to such an extent that your co-worker is seen as the nice guy and you are seen as the difficult person!

Best wishes as you develop a plan for this situation. I know it won’t be easy. But, this is when your work and life experiences will help you. You can become a role-model for how to deal with awkward co-worker issues.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let me know how this progresses.

Tina Lewis Rowe