Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker put downs:
I am a teacher in the martial arts and work with another female instructor. We have worked together for eight years. I feel that she abuses me and demoralizes me on a regular bases, although it is very sneaky and completely unexpected on my part. It will always be with a smile, but she will tell me things like I’m so gullible, she wishes I were a whole person. I’ve tried to talk with her, tried to tell her how I feel and that she hurts my feelings all the time. But it always comes down to being my fault, whatever it is. We work together every day as we have evening classes at two colleges in the same town. It seems there is just no way to get away from her and there is no one above us that I can talk to.
I actually went to counseling for a short time regarding the whole situation. It seems to be eating me up inside. It has really starting bothering me much more over the last couple of years. The only recourse I can see is to leave. I love the martial arts and teaching, I don’t want to leave, but I can’t seem to fix this. Do you have any suggestions??? I am thinking of going back to counseling. Please help me.
Signed, Always At Fault
Dear Always At Fault:
What do you say when you talk to your Put-You-Down Associate? From what little you tell us, apparently you do not assert yourself and she has an I’m OK and You’re not OK tongue that puts you down with a smile. Possible you two need a session or two in which you list the tasks, division of labor, and goals for your series of classes. In addition to that before you meet, you should write out the Dos and Don’ts of how you and she should communicate. Be specific about what you think is constructive and destructive.
At your Talk Straight Session, bring a second copy of this Do and Don’t list. Tell her that if you are to continue to work together you need to say what has been eating you. The go over each of the items and get her response or modification. The goal is for you two be effective in each of your roles and to have fun and satisfaction working together. If she will not acknowledge how she is perceived and is not willing to work as a team of equals, it probably is past time for you to vote with your feet. Start your own martial arts course or find another that can use your skills. Ego is important and finds its richest expression in WEGO mindedness and collaboration.
Second Opinion: I wonder if there is a way to reassert your power in the relationship without retaliating in kind. Her behavior does not sound powerful but rather controlling and rude. Eight years is a long time to endure this behavior from someone who is supposed to be a partner in instruction. If you love the martial arts you should not have to leave. Maybe there is another way besides walking away or just putting up with this person. Counseling can be a good way of exploring your own feelings and provides a chance to listen to yourself say what you really need in this situation. Is it peace of mind? Respect? A chance to really tell her how you feel and be heard?
The use of questions is a powerful way of resolving conflict. What does she mean when she says she wishes you were a whole person? Have you explored that with her? I also wonder what answers may lie within you and within the martial arts tradition that you practice. My brief interaction with Aikido teaches about how power doesn’t come from brute strength matching power with power, but rather blending energy and being flexible, centered and able to pivot positions and perspectives. When you feel attacked, regain your center and don’t react out of defensiveness but rather self-respect and flexibility, and show curiosity about why she sees things the way she does. What does behavior say about her lack of personal power that she has to treat others this way? I wish you insight and growth as you move through this challenge.
Ian Heisey, Guest Respondent in Community Mediation