Why Should I Step Back After Doing The Work?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to respond to being shut out on a project after doing all of the foundational work.

I’ve led the development of an application from project conception to many successful deployments in my department while also actively working as senior programmer. I’ve had the support and respect of the project leadership and sponsors from the beginning. However, over the years another team in another department attempted to develop the exact same application and failed many times. I have now been asked to collaborate with this team, and was told by my manager that the team will now take over the project going forward.

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Who Looks Out For Nurses? What Should I Do About the Bullying Culture?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about
the bullying environment of a hospital 


Who–government, attorney, someone–who stands up for nurses? I was bullied, to the point of crying in front of patients. At the nurses station, I could not chart. I had been knocked down and finally could not get back up.  I attempted suicide, but managed to only give them more reason to talk. Now, I’m blackballed. I lost my home, everything in it, my dignity and reputation.  That’s what hurts the most. I was an ICU awesome RN.

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Where Is the Line Between Complaint and Information?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about issues that need answering and in particular about complaints:

I’m in a situation where all of the lower-tiered techs complain to me about their issues, but when I’ve historically brought it up to upper management they blatantly seem to not care. We recently got a new supervisor who is doing her best, but she often says complaining doesn’t solve anything.  read more

Why Am I Being Moved Around at Work?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about possible reasons for several instances of being relocated within the workplace.

A month ago, I started a new job as a cashier and still haven’t created many contacts with my colleagues. However, they were all friendly until something unusual happened. I was sitting back to back with a male colleague and we had spoken to each other a little bit, when the manager saw us and said something to our supervisor. A minute later the supervisor came and asked my male colleague to move.

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Don’t Want to Hurt Coworker’s Feelings

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about not wanting to work with a coworker:

A male custodian spoke with me today about his job situation. He has been working closely with a female custodian since he began working here several months ago. He wants to work independently now because she is depending on him for more than he is required to do. He feels uncomfortable telling her he doesn’t want to work so closely anymore. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. What should he do?

Signed—Wants Not To Hurt Feelings read more

A Problem Workplace–But Two Coworkers Are The Worst


This has been going on for a while. And I admit that I have irritated my coworkers which I have been seeking therapy for. I had a baby this year so the hormones have not helped. This is going to be long. First, a little background: Recently we just had a manager get terminated because she was not only discriminating against certain employees but she also got caught in borderline illegal activity. This has resulted in her telling other things about me that were not true and her telling them about some personal medical information, as well as some complaints about some unethical workplace issues I had. Okay, now with that background I need some advice with an ongoing issue.

There are two men at my work that have been repeatedly and viciously attacking my character to other employees and my immediate supervisor. It has gotten so bad that I had dropped to part time and got another part time job. I finally broke down and reported it to the franchise owner as the things that they are doing are not being corrected or they keep repeating the behavior. She brushed it off as this was something that I needed to just discuss with my therapist and that I was overreacting. But, since then it has escalated to the point of borderline sexual harassment and baiting me to try and say something bad about my coworkers.

This is what happened last week: I was in the breakroom as I had finished with the daily cleaning, didn’t have any clients, and wanting to just play some Scrabble on my phone. As I was getting into my game one of the two men, man A, told me he was worried about another heavy set male getting fired. So, of course I asked him why he thought that. His response was because this man had given him a massage and he thought he was breathing too heavy. (Now at this point I immediately recalled a conversation where the manager and my immediate supervisor had asked my opinion on this exact situation since I have been a massage therapist for 10 years and I used to be the immediate supervisor.) So, my response to man A was “maybe you could coach him?”

He started going into it more in depth. Also, I told him about another man where this had happened and the man had to be terminated because too many female clients felt his heavy breathing was inappropriate. Thus, I told him that he should maybe notify his friend that he was doing this and make him aware of it. So, I left it at that. Next, he started a conversation with man B about the comic book he was reading. The comic book is a graphic one and this is where it gets strange and borderline sexual harassment. They were talking about this crazy character in the book. And man B told him “that was crazy looking.” So, they started talking to me about the comic and cool this character was. So, for whatever reason(stupid me) I ask to see the character. And man A gave me no warning and showed me an obese, giant, nude, male alien character. If you need a reference the character is in Saga Volume 2. The drawing definitely had a penis and scrotum as well as being quite disgusting! Plus all this was caught on camera!

My husband wants me to file a complaint with my work but I have been down this road before and everyone looks down upon you for it. Also, these two men are well liked among the other coworkers. Also, I feel that since I asked to see it that that would look bad on my part if I complained. Now what’s really weird is man A has shown me this character before. And I don’t think he realizes that I remember him doing this before. Also, they both had a good laugh about it.

Finally, this does not just stop there. The same guy who showed me this and tried to bait me into saying bad things about my coworker has also purposely not finished his work. We are to not only change linens on the massage tables but we are to also disinfect our rooms, change the garbage, make sure we remove towels from the towel warmers, and wipe any greasy hand prints off the walls when we finish our shift. So, the evening before my shift, he gets the room I’m assigned. I constantly come into garbage not changed, hand prints on the wall, smeared lotion on the wall (more than what would be a normal amount), and litter on the floor(more than normal amount). One morning, I brought the franchise owner into the room to show her how bad the room looked after three months of enduring this. She told me it would be handled. So, I thought ‘great.’ I figured it was handled! Nope, three shifts later and the room was even more disgusting than the previous times! We just recently had a meeting so I am hoping this gets resolved!

I love my career there however this has gotten to a point where I have asked for a transfer. It was denied. I have talked to managers and the owner, but no resolution. It is getting to the point where I’m going to quit and the franchise owner will lose me, a 3 year employee with many awards(most requested therapist 2 years in a row and therapist of the year), ten years of experience, and I rarely call off in an industry that is plagued by call offs.

I am seriously wanting to confront this person head on as I use to be his direct supervisor! However, I don’t want to cause a bunch of unnecessary drama or gossip as it runs rampant at this place! The franchise owner is already under a ton of stress due to the manager she just had to fire as well as the 5 employees that just quit! Please, help me.


It sounds as though your workplace is very unpleasant! It may be that some of your colleagues are caring, compassionate and professional—but obviously several are not. If you live in an area large enough for this massage franchise to operate, there are probably others as well. It sounds to me as though you should do as Dr. Gorden often suggests, and “vote with your feet” by leaving the miserable people to their misery. If you choose not to do that, your best solution will be to rewind, reset and renovate your own work life. You can’t change the other employees and apparently your manager has done all she intends to do, so it will be up to you to look at your corner of the world and deal with it effectively.

There are three steps to make things better: 1.) Focus on your own life and work. 2. Develop a reputation for being a highly professional colleague who adds to the workplace rather than detracting from it. 3.) Use the first two steps to gain more influence, so you can be the standard for professionalism. That is a big vision for what you can do and be—but it is achievable. Working to achieve a great vision is soul-satisfying, in and of itself—and, based on your comments, you have been missing that in your work life.

Let’s look at those steps individually:

1.) Focus on your own life and work.
If you are seeing a therapist, you have a tremendously valuable resource for helping you deal with your situation. I especially hope you continue to seek guidance from your therapist and your physician, about how you are feeling, physically as well as emotionally, as you deal with the challenges of being a new parent. You are probably aware, from you reading and research and from first-hand experience, that the first three years or so of parenting can be tremendously stressful and tiring. Both parents can feel under constant pressure as a result. Combined with work, it is almost too much to expect—but our work culture does expect it. Even the parents themselves seem to think they can function as well as always, with only a short amount of time off. Any problems you have had may have been caused or made worse by the mental and physical fatigue that tends to be ever-present.

Of course, even stress and fatigue are not excuses for repeatedly irritating others or being considered a problem, but if you feel you have had more problems since the birth of your child, you probably can attribute it to some of the aspects of being a new parent.

Given your training as a massage therapist, I’m sure you also know all of the elements of a healthy lifestyle and how important each of those elements are for your overall well-being. Renew your efforts to keep your body fit and healthy. At the same time, develop a menu of positive things you can do to relax and refresh your mind and emotions: Get more sleep; do things and talk about things that are not related to work; nurture your spiritual life; keep your home tidy and clean; pay extra attention to grooming and personal presentation; shower love on your husband, baby and family and welcome their love in return. In short, wrap yourself in the protection of a well-lived life.

2.) Develop a reputation for being a highly effective colleague who adds to the workplace rather than detracting from it.
You mention that you have irritated coworkers in the past. However, a former manager created problems for you as well. There are also two men who say things about you to others and then say bad things about other employees to you. There was a situation that involved one of the men showing you a gross comic image. A final issue is that one of those men does not clean up the room you will be using on the next shift (apparently on purpose). There are probably many other irritants growing out of all of that. As I said at the beginning, it sounds as though your workplace is unpleasant. If energy is passed from massage therapist to client, I can only imagine how negative some of that energy is!

You can begin today to change parts of the situation. You’ve already identified the people who are most problematic for you and others. Don’t engage in conversation about anyone with them ever again, unless they change their pattern of behavior. Be like one of those skillets on TV commercials, where nothing sticks to you, and let them slide out of your life mentally, every time they start to stir up trouble. Find something else to do. Don’t engage with them about anything other than work. I do think it’s better to not have a “holier than thou” attitude about it, but you can redirect their attempts to gossip and still sound civil to everyone listening. Have a menu of responses tucked away in your brain for those occasions.

“I haven’t heard about that situation, but I don’t need to know. I’m really working at staying focused on what I’m responsible for and not getting involved in the things I’m not responsible for. So, help me do that by not telling me about Jon and Rita.”

“Stop! If you’re going to tell me something Lisa said about me, I don’t want to know. Please, just don’t say anything more to me about it.” (Cover your ears, if it will help!)

“I’m sorry to hear about that, but unless we were there, we don’t really know what happened, so I’m not going to assume it’s true. Besides, there’s more enjoyable things to talk about, like…………”

Another antidote for negative conversation at work is to talk about improving work, sharing ideas for new procedures, problems in similar workplaces, new products, experiences that have been interesting or helpful, etc. Most gossipers run at the thought of talking about how they can improve their work! Have some magazines about products or methods involved with your profession and have a page or article to which you can refer when you want to introduce a new topic or when small talk is devolving into petty talk. You can offer to loan the magazine or make a copy of the article.

Whatever you do, do not get caught up in the reports made by coworkers about other people or situations. If they lied about you, they could be lying about anyone else. Or, even if they told the truth about you, it was ultimately hurtful and harmful.  You don’t want to support even truthful talk about others, if it is negative feeling and serves no good purpose.

3.) Use the first two steps to gain more influence. You can set the standard for what a professional in your workplace should be like. If a video was made about the ideal massage therapist in a franchise operation, how would that person act and talk? How would they deal with conflict and solve problems? Let that person be you and let others slowly realize that you fit the description of a true professional in your work. It takes three things to have influence: You must be credible, you must be valuable and you must communicate effectively.

You can work on each of those three things simultaneously and set the standard for everyone else to follow. From what you say, many of your clients already think of you in that way. Probably many colleagues think so too. However, any of us can benefit by being more credible, more valuable and a better communicator.

That brings me to how you could handle the situation of the naked comic image—and I did research it and agree the figure is grotesque. However, it is in a widely acclaimed graphic novel series and is not considered pornographic—it is “adult themed.”  It seems to me that your situation involves disrespect and inappropriateness more than sexual harassment. I think you are correct, that in this case the men could say you weren’t forced to look at the image and that you had reason to suspect it would be bizarre, based on their comments as well as the nature of those adult graphic novels. This is one of those times when what you would get from a complaint would not be worth making it. They aren’t going to fire those two men, so you would just be made more uncomfortable.

It often is helpful to ask, before looking at or listening to something considered funny, “Is this going to be G rated? If it’s PG or X rated, I don’t want to see it.” Or, “Before I look at it, is it anything I’ll be embarrassed about? I don’t want to look at something crude or rude.” That is another time when a menu of responses is helpful. I wouldn’t normally mention that, because most of the time it isn’t necessary. However, I expect you may have something similar again, if those two guys are around.

Fortunately, you won’t be as likely to be in that situation again, if you don’t engage in casual conversation with those men. If you are professionally civil, you won’t seem unfriendly or as though you’re shutting them out of work conversations. But, don’t let them get into your life and mind by talking to them any more than necessary. If they improve one day, you can rethink your approach. They won’t be around forever and you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t let them get the upper hand.

You also said the two male coworkers have been spreading stories about you. The only way you would know that would be for someone to tell you. If it was your manager, ask her to work with you to stop that kind of hurtful behavior. If you were told by other employees, keep in mind their report might not be the entire truth. The old adage is correct: “It takes two people to  make you feel bad—an enemy to say something behind your back and a friend to make sure you hear about it.” Don’t even let friends fill your mind with unpleasant thoughts. Just redirect them and make it clear you are doing your best to stay focused on your family, your work and your clients.

You don’t seem to be in a situation where you will be fired for the things the men are saying about you. Over time, if you make it a project to focus on your own work, be a valuable member of the work group and work to gain influence, you will be able to overcome idle talk. If any part of what they say is true, work on that first.

The third issue you mentioned about the men was that one of them doesn’t clean up the room after using it. In fact, it seems he messes it up more than needed. What a juvenile thing to do! Really, anything bad that happens to him as far as his job goes, is well-deserved. I don’t know why people would like him and the other man, if they know he does things like that.

You say you had a meeting about it, so hopefully the matter is settled. However, if it happens again, take several photos, some of them close up. Then, take several photos showing how it looks when you leave it. Use those to ask your manager to direct Coworker A to clean the room correctly.

I would think your business would have a checklist for each room, so the therapist could never say he or she had thought it was cleaned. They could look at the checklist and look around the room, to ensure they have done all that is required. If there isn’t such a checklist, consider developing a draft and asking that it or something like it, be place in each room.

Your final comment was that you have considered confronting the employee directly. Replace that with “communicate with the employee directly.” But do it in writing, if possible, so you will have documentation.

First, let your manager know that you are going to send an email or leave a message for Employee A. Then, make your message a request—making the assumption that it will be seen by others and you want your words and demeanor to appear professional but not falsely sweet. Something like, “Hi Kevin, when I got here this morning, I saw that there was trash on the floor, lotion on the wall and two towels still in the warmers. Cleaning it up made me have to rush to get my first client started on time. Please help me by following the process we discussed in our meeting last week, in which we agreed that each of us would leave the room clean, picked up and ready for the first client on the next shift. I’ll be sure to do the same. Vanessa”

You may be thinking that since you’ve talked about it before, you can’t easily send something that sounds so mild. However, it can be more effective than other approaches, because it gives the other person one more chance and is clearly something that can be forwarded to higher levels. If you talk about it, the words are in the wind, but if you put it in writing, there is no doubt about what you said. If he approaches you about it personally, stick to what you wrote, rather than getting involved in a back and forth argument. Just repeat the thoughts in your message. If nothing is being resolved, suggest that the two of you talk about it to the manager again. (Or if you haven’t talked with the manager about it, suggest it as the best thing to do.)

The Bottom Line: All of this is a lot of words of advice and I realize that you may have tried some parts of it already. However, I don’t think you have tried all of it, and all of it can be useful. Start by promising yourself to not talk about work at home to same degree as you have done in the past. Give your family and yourself a break. Then, focus on work at work, not the human drama that is swirling around you. Talk to your manager when it seems to be a good time and find out if she has ideas for things she’d like to see you change or do more of or less of. Remember, your goal is to establish the standard that your manager can use for comparison, when considering the work of others.

These suggestions put a lot of weight on you, but you are the only person you can control. You can guide others by being a good example and you can inspire others by supporting their positive efforts. I hope you can lead the way to a better workplace.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how and when things start smoothing out, what worked and what didn’t. Best wishes to you.

Tina Rowe
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Constant Criticism and Anger at Work

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an employee who criticizes how things are done:
I have an employee at work who is constantly criticizing how things are done. She is a perfectionist in her tasks and indeed does a very good job in her duties, often staying until late and performing way beyond the standards that she is asked for.

However, whilst doing so, she is constantly complaining, especially to a small group of people, about how others do their work. Even though of course everything can always be improved and done at a higher level, as a manager I don’t see any clear reasons for complaint. All the opposite, I feel that everyone is working well and that the job is certainly getting done; many times even way over my expectations.

I know this employee personally, and I am aware that this negativity and expression of anger is not confined only to the workplace; it’s constantly applied also to her personal life.

This constant bickering I see is debilitating the team. People are starting to be snappy and on a bad mood and critical of each other. She especially has a small group of people that she complains to about the rest of the team on a regular basis. I see how this group has started distancing themselves from the rest and all have started to behave in a similar manner.
She has even started having confrontations and arguments with other people in the team.

I have listened to her complaints many times, but I just see that even when corrections are made, the criticism never stops; there is always something else to complain about.

Thank you for your advice!
Signed, Never Stops
Dear Don’t Say Never:
You describe a destructive pattern of work group communication, that you have observed has escalated from one to others in your group. You are wise to consider what are its causes and how you as a manager might engage this woman and the work group to communicate constructively.
Let me assure you upfront that when I post your question, in order to make this Q&A anonymous, I will delete the detail you include regarding the type of place of your employment.

You have not provided instances of criticism made by this perfectionist employee—the when, where, and about whom nor the language she uses. But you say it is constant and continues even after corrections are made. You observe it is primarily told to a cluster within the work group about something she sees done wrong and sometimes entails confrontation/arguments with those not in her small group to whom she voices her complaints. So far apparently the complaining and now bickering has not bled into the customer base of your business, but I sense you see that it can.
Your challenge as manager is twofold: one of substance—developing a workplace climate that is harmonious—and two of process—how to do more than listen to complaints and correct them. I will suggest several options, some that you may have already tried or are considering and some that might overlap or be different. There’s probably no sure way, but they should allow you to reflect on ways to manage other than to bite your tongue.

Option 1. Give orders. Let’s call her Sarah, “Sarah, stop it.” Apparently, to date, you have not made yourself clear how disturbed you are about her pattern of constant criticism (in your question you have used the word constant five times—that’s evidence of how much it disturbs you. Does she know you see her criticism is resulting in bickering, in a climate, as you say, that is “snappy” and in which there is “a bad mood” and members are “critical of each other”? Straight-talk with her, particularly if it is softened with your genuine appreciation for her excellent work and willingness to work overtime, could cause her to say to her mirror, “Sarah, Sarah, who’s not the fairest of them all, could it be me?” Of course on the other hand, it could cause her defensively to criticize you for blaming her for hostility in the group.

That a risk, but you have found that correcting her complaints about how things are done or not done doesn’t stop the complaining. Norms within a work group, like individual habits, have been stamped in by repetition. “Stop it orders” should make it out of bounds. Bossing can correct bad habits of communication, just like laws of making threats can deter making threats. It’s the responsibility of a manager to make clear what is not acceptable. It’s up to you. If Sarah can be made to understand that as manager, you are displeased, she then has the option of stopping her constant complaints or at least to make them less visible to you. So what are your other options?

Option 2. Counsel this employee. You might wait until she voices another complaint and then use that occasion to engage her in reviewing several such instances and whys of her complaints. Or you might log complaints that Sarah has made and the consequences of them and call her in to talk about what’s really bothering her. In such a meeting, you could discuss how she sees the operation of your center and her role in it. Such a conversation might begin as partially, but not entirely non-directive, saying, “Sarah, how do you see things going?”

In response to this kind of open-ended question, she likely will not hesitate spill her candid analysis of what’s wrong and who’s to blame. Here is where the counseling does not remain non-directive, because she needs to hear your analysis—such as you have described in this question you have submitted—that her constant complaining has soured the climate and has become detrimental to the work group and your center. Counseling is different than reprimanding; however, as manager, she should know your concern about her part in creating a bad climate.

Manager-associate collaborative problem-solving should result from such a session and follow up sessions. That could center on how to make your center one of the highest possible quality. At the same time, it could begin mentoring her on how she might shape her job to be more in line with her dream job—one in which she is happy and fulfilled, or find one that is. Initiating questions as to what do you want from your job now and what do you see as your career-direction are too often unasked by a boss. Unless she raises the issue of negativity and anger her life outside the workplace, it is best not brought into the conversation.

Option 3. Focus on work group team communication. Rather than ordering stop it or counseling her, approach the goal of how to make your work at the center more effective and doing the work to make that happen more satisfying and less frustrating. Notice that I see you use the word group three times and when you have used it you speak of two different clusters of those who work in your center. You refer to team twice and when you mention team you imply that includes the total work there, and that’s the way it should be. Achieving an effectively working team doesn’t just happen. It usually entails proper hiring, clear job description, coaching, training, goal setting, practice-practice and more practice, and celebration of success. In my on-site interviews of quality improvement from coast to coast and abroad and in my corporate training, I have seen and used varied approaches to team building. I’ll mention only three: conflict-managed, value-centered, and communication rule-centered.

Conflict-centered approaches to team building entail engaging a work group in what is causing it to be displeased. For example, beginning about a decade ago, the U.S. Veterans Administration focused on measuring the degree of incivility within its work groups. In a series of sessions, a facilitator engages a work group in venting and collaboratively analyzing causes for incivility and defining solutions. I met with the planers of this program and have followed its deployment. The program that developed for this approach is titled Civility, Respect, and Engagement in the Workplace (CREW) (http://www.va.gov/ncod/crew.asp) and has been deployed in 1,200 VA work groups. This site reports “civility impacts a variety of factors that are of importance to administrators, clinicians, and non-clinical staff, including higher overall job satisfaction, increased intent to stay in the current position, reduced sick leave usage, fewer EEO complaints, and better patient care outcomes.”

Conflict-centered team building has the advantage of surfacing various kinds of problems such as difficulties with management and certain employees, ineffective systems, unclear and poor job descriptions, and most of all verbal abuse and dissatisfying interpersonal communication. Conflict is seen not only as a problem, but as an opportunity.

If your center takes a conflict approach it could follow similar steps of collaboratively surfacing problems, analyzing causes and spelling out action. Such an approach, as is also true for a sports team that is not playing well, requires a series of sessions.

Value-centered approach to team-building has been used by a number of companies. All levels of natural work groups meet as they might in a staff meeting to list and prioritize the values that they see as important to their organization. These lists are exchanged and floated up to the highest levels that then reflect on their meaning. Values are articulated in a mission statement and managers with work groups collaboratively develop ways to apply them.
Your center might take a value-center approach. Inevitably, what’s not working interpersonally would surface and collaborative problem-solving could result.

Communication Rule-Centered team building engages talk about talk. Spelling out do and don’t rules about how a work group might communicate most effectively surfaces what is frustrating and what can prevent that. Such rules can entail
–How assignments are best made and when to meet for them.
–Who does what.
–Who approves/disapproves of work and how corrections should be communicated.
–What gossip is destructive.
–Email and phone protocols.
–Space allocation, grooming, and annoying behaviors.
–Insensitive and uncivil communication.
–Procedural language about how an agenda is formed, and how a meeting is efficient and productive.
–Importance of good manners, especially of making requests, avoiding bossing, and expressing gratitude.
–Special practices that foster well-being, (I’ll mention one article published by The Greater Good Science group at the Berkeley University of California, such as The Benefits of Feeling Awe By Jeremy Adam Smith | May 30, 2016. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_benefits_of_feeling_awe?utm_source=GG+Newsletter+June+1+2016&utm_campaign=GG+Newsletter+June+1+2016+&utm_medium=email)

Collaboratively making do and don’t rules, I predict, will reframe how your group sees itself—to that of seeing itself as a real team rather than as divided by one cluster gossiping about the other. The communication-rule making approach to team building is educative, establishes standards and expectations, and enables a team to review if it likes/dislikes and follows its rules.

The three approaches to team building overlap somewhat. The very process of collectively deciding on what might be the path to communicating effectively transforms how a work group and organization functions. As I sum up in my signature statement: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden
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What Can I Do About A Coworker Who Says My Work Overshadows His?

A Question for Ask the Workplace Doctors:
What can I do to get along better with a coworker
who accuses me of overshadowing his work? 


I have been working with this group in a creative arts position in a company working on a group project. It is very team oriented, and a very competitive workplace. At the same time we all, for the most part, work together like gears with little friction. A coworker I am going to call James has told me numerous times that he is tired of creating work just for it to be overshadowed by something I have contributed, and wants to surrender working for the company because he feels anything he contributes will be looked at as inferior compared to mine. I have tried all types of methods to support James and help boost his confidence in his abilities, by bumping it above mine to be reviewed instead of some of my ideas, working with him under the guise that I want to learn things from him, and constantly make positive, but not overbearing compliments on his work on a week to week basis. [Trying to make sure I don’t smother him].

I treat him like any other of the co-workers, but recently he made an outburst about me overshadowing everyone else. He makes a point to say that I want to disrupt his vision and the vision of others from the project, but I rarely contribute as much. I am quite passionate, and I love doing my job. My work is rarely rejected, but his is constantly scrutinized for its mistakes. I am kind of lost on how to try to give this person space, I am never near James and I do my best to never criticize his work unless he specifically asks me to do so. He is starting to cause a lot of drama in the workplace, constantly putting himself down, I don’t know if it’s suicidal ideations if he is going through personal emotional issues or what have you, but his lack of self-confidence in his work is lowering the overall morale of the group. He will sometimes refuse to share work, insisting that I be given the task instead because I will “Obviously do a better job”, and constantly makes remarks like “I don’t want to do that, she can do that perfectly why should I waste my time?”

I have had sleepless nights over this. His ability is very much below the caliber of what we expect of people in his position, but we tolerate him within the group, expecting him to improve over time. He has also been grandfathered into the project, so the probability of them letting him go unless he leaves, is very low.

Before I pull my hair out, how can I do anything to correct this? I want to focus on my job. He makes it very difficult to do so.

This is not a problem you can solve on your own—and continuing to try to do so may result in you being considered part of the problem. The role you have taken, of giving your coworker, “James”, extra support, pushing his work forward, complimenting him, pretending to need his help, etc., could be viewed as patronizing and feeling sorry for him, instead of working with him as an equal. Your very first action toward improving this situation is to leave James alone to focus on his own work, except for needed teamwork and the daily cordial greetings you give everyone else. Shake off the idea that you are somehow responsible for helping James feel better about himself and his work.

I notice you don’t mention your manager or team leader at all, but all teams have someone who reviews work and makes decisions about assigning work and evaluating employees. That is the person who is responsible for dealing with this situation and also the person to whom you should be speaking about it. It’s a positive thing on your part that you have tried to solve this problem without involving a boss, but the description you provide of James indicates he will not respond to your efforts and may resent you more as a result.

Go to your manager and explain what you’ve told us and ask for assistance to stop James’s remarks, which are hurtful and disruptive. Put your emphasis on three main things: 1.) James’s continual negative remarks to you are distracting you from your work. 2.) You are concerned about James’s emotional stability and what he might do if he becomes even more upset. 3.) You would like to have some feedback about your performance and behavior, so you can be sure you have not inadvertently behaved ineffectively as part of the team.

By taking that approach you will hopefully receive reinforcement from your manager, so you won’t have to feel that James may be, in any way, even partially correct. In addition, your manager may come to realize, if he didn’t before, that there is a serious conflict going on that could threaten the stability and work of the team. He may be aware of undercurrents but not realize how severe the situation is.

Start anew, with the idea that James and you both are being paid to do a job and he has had the same opportunities you have had. If he has not, it is up to him to work with his manager to correct the situation. Do your job to the best of your ability, working with team members in a positive way, but do not sacrifice yourself or your work to make James feel more important. Your work is your work and you should not feel apologetic that it may be better than that of others.

The very next time James makes a statement about your work, get up—which always gets attention–and say, “James, let’s go talk to (the name of your manager) about the situation.” Or, “James, if you’re not happy with things, the person to talk to is (name of your manager). I don’t want to hear those kind of remarks again.” If you want to be even more forceful, you could say, “James, this is getting really old. We both have work to do and if you’re not happy about yours go talk to (the manager), not to me.”

The problem is, you’ve let James vent and whine to you for so long, he thinks it’s OK to do it. It will be uncomfortable for you and a bit shocking for him, when you tell him to stop, but I hope you will do it—and stick with it.

Do not try to convince him he is wrong, because he won’t believe you. Do not tell him about all you have done to make him feel better, because that will only upset him more. Just pass this problem to the manager, whose role it is to keep the team working together.

If coworkers have expressed concerns to you about James, suggest they speak to the manager as well, so he or he realizes it is not just your concerns he should be dealing with. It may be they have known of the issue, but were trying to stay out of the way of James’s unhappiness. At least they should take a stand to not let a team member be accused unfairly of being a problem.

It has become so habitual to deal with James that it will probably make you think of his issues more, as you try to clear out the mental clutter of his accusations, but keep at it. Find something more important that requires a lot of focus and effort or link with another teammate about something else, and let James work through his concerns and feelings of inadequacy by himself.

Do not respond to his complaints in any way except to tell him to talk to the manager or to get up and take him to the manager’s office. If he makes statements in front of others, consider asking them for their thoughts and force them to take a stand about his disruptive comments.

I hope these thoughts will encourage you to be confident about your own work and less stressful about the whining and rude comments by your coworker. Keep moving forward and let your light shine fully!

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things work out over time.

Best wishes,

Tina Rowe
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