Mr. Genius Is Not That Smart

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about verbally abusive new employee:

Six months ago my company hired a man on recommendation of a coworker. Maybe two times every week, this particular person verbally abuses my coworkers by telling them things about themselves that he does not like. He also uses the computer system like his personal toy, and so he makes some mistakes as well. He goes to the boss and complains that he was not trained on something, never admitting he really violated the procedures. Since this work has many pieces to it, when a mistake is made, he often comes to me without saying hello, and just juts his arm out and says “Can you tell me why this happened”?

The coworker also lets us all know that we are not “geniuses like he is”; therefore he wants nothing to do with us. Often, he takes 15 or 20 minutes extra at lunch because no one calls him on it. In addition, he told us that if he really had his way the whole office would be totally silent so the genius can work. Management is aware of these obnoxious behaviors, but does not put a stop to any of them. So we are going to have to work around these behaviors the best way the team can. I have been ignoring his obnoxious behavior and I concentrate on my work instead. I think the whole issue boils down to rudeness, and we need to tell him to stop it.

What is a good way to handle someone who is willing to verbally abuse my teammates just because they are working there, such as they are overweight, etc.? It is difficult to see teammates abused. He’s willing to karate chop us all. I don’t get too much of the abuse, probably because I have a lot of experience and he needs to have someone available for system questions. I am willing to say something if he starts in on me, but really want to avoid an ugly exchange with this person.

Signed, Should I Confront Him?

Dear Should I Confront Him?:

A new coworker freely expresses his negative opinion of those in your work group, those you describe as teammates. So far, I’ll call him Jim, hasn’t criticized you, but you think he’d like to karate chop all of you. You have concluded that “we need to tell him to stop it” because “management is aware of these obnoxious behaviors, but does not put a stop to any of them.” How might you do this while avoiding an “ugly exchange”? I don’t know if that is possible. Jim apparently has not been told how he comes across or if he has he doesn’t care. He might only learn by returning ugly for ugly.

Here are several alternate approaches to stopping it; some of them are ugly: List the times and language Jim has used to dice coworkers, and to whom and about his remarks were made. Note the context that provoked them. What effect did they have?

Two or three of you coworkers corner Jim. Tell him to stop it. Likely he will say, “Stop what?” Then like a pack of Chihuahuas surrounding a bear, bark out the language he has so freely expressed. Tell him if he can’t say something good about anyone, he should bite his tongue. I predict Jim will realize he is outnumbered and will hesitate before he again opens his mouth. You might inform your boss that this is what you have decided to do.

Take Jim to lunch. Tell him that you and your coworkers want a friendly and cooperative work environment. Ask what is bothering him and how you might make his work more effective and stop his verbal abuse. Here is a time to tell him why he is an object of gossip and that you want that to stop. You can also inform him you have observed he over stays his lunch time. Say he is expected to put in the same hours as the rest of you. Tell him you hope he can get over his animosity, quit complaining, and enjoy his job, and that you’ll do your part to do that if he does his.

Suggest to your boss that she/he coach your team. It is evident that you are not being coached. Coaching entails weekly skull sessions to engage all those in your team to generate ways to cut wasted supplies, energy, time, and money. Most of all it entails discussion of how your team fits into the system and how it might be better configured to deliver quality products and service to internal and external customers. Such sessions therefore entail clarifying job descriptions, assignments and how they are given.

It entails applauding what has been going well and what needs to be done to make each others’ work more effective and easier. It means discussing those things that distract, discourage and cause conflict. You say Jim thinks there is too much noise so he probably would be willing to talk about talk; how you talk to and about one another. It means hammering out do and don’t communication rules that make work more efficient, effective and appreciated. It is a boss’ job to see that working with coworkers is not unpleasant. It is a coworker’s job to help the boss do her/his. I recognize your empathy for coworkers, but they are adults and don’t have to be the butt of verbal abuse. They too have voices. Working together with hands, heart and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and isn’t that what you want. Can you see that as your goal and help Jim to see it as his too?

Follow UP: Thank you for your answer. There was indeed an ugly confrontation with “Jim” and another employee in which he said, “I can talk about anyone, anytime I want to and I don’t care what anyone says about me.” I e-mailed my manager with the details because this confrontation was very loud. Anyway, to make a long story short, “Jim” has now been warned by the management. After he was warned by management he came to my desk, even though we are only acquainted through work, complaining that he was very angry with the way he had been treated by the management, especially when he was only joking allegedly. He had said he is joking several times after nasty remarks have been made.

Could you give me some more ideas of what to do in this situation? I think I am just going to be courteous and then if there any confrontations involving me, write those down Reply: Yes, you are wise to be courteous to Jim. You don’t say how you responded to his complaint about being warned. If he comes again to vent, don’t allow him to involve you in his gossip about being warned. Keep you response simple to him, “I’m focused on doing what I’m hired to do, and if you have something that I need to do that concerns that, we can talk about that.” Then if he raises that topic again, simply add, “Jim, let the past be past, I’m focused on the future.” Sometimes responding in a broken record fashion about business makes the point that you don’t want to gossip about something else. Be courteous and business focused and Mr. Genius should be able to follow your example. My best to you.

Click on my co-doctor’s name to see her site for more advice and inspiration; Tina Lewis Rowe spells out how to deal with many workplace issues–from handling the work kitchen refrigerator to interpersonal complainers.

William Gorden