Close To Being Fired Because of Office Liars

Question to AskĀ  the Workplace Doctors about boss believes lies:

I work in a small medical office, no HR Dept. Several coworkers have gone to the boss and told lies about me. He believes them and says I am the cause of the troubles in the office and will let me go if things don’t change. In the past he has acknowledged he knows they are liars and instigators. He will not let me defend myself in any way. What can I do?

Signed, Frustrated and Hurt

DearĀ Frustrated and Hurt:

Your situation certainly doesn’t sound pleasant; and it describes many small medical offices where employees make life miserable for each other. However, looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, it seems you only have two fundamental options to choose from. Once you’ve made your choice, you can move forward with a plan of action.

1.) Find a better place to work. It certainly doesn’t sound like you are enjoying your current work. When you leave, the doctor or office manager (whoever it was who talked to you) will find out the truth of who was working, who was creating problems and whether or not you leave a vacancy that is hard to fill. I realize that it’s not easy to leave one job and hope to find another one. But, if there are medical offices in your area, nearly always someone is leaving and someone is being hired. So, perhaps this would be the time for you to find a more congenial group to work with.

2.) Stay and resolve to do what it takes to get along. If this is your only source of income and there is no other work available, you will either have to find a way to deal with what you view as bullying and lying, and find a way to work with the others, or you will be fired. You know you would hate to have that happen! It could be your boss is bluffing, but he might not be. So, it seems it would be to your benefit to accept that, in your opinion, your boss is wrong about you; but you are going to eventually prove that you were telling the truth and others were not.

YOUR PLAN OF ACTION: Once you decide to go or stay, your next step is to develop a plan that will get you where you want to be with your work and your life. Take the time to write a description of what you think would be perfect at work, with the same employees working there. They probably WILL be working there, so you might as well put them in your description. *How would you like to interact with them and have them interact with you? *What would the workplace look like, sound like and feel like? *When you leave the office and go home, what do you want home to be like? *How do you want to spend your free time? *How do you want to feel as you walk out the door to go back to work?

Those are all worthwhile questions. Your world is more than work. If time away from work is problematic too, it’s bound to have an effect on work relationships. If your life away from work is close to perfect, that will give you a good foundation for using the same life-skills to improve things with your coworkers. We often recommend that people who are having trouble at work start or increase an exercise program and improve their eating habits; it all fits together.As far as workplaces go, based on the thousands of letters received on this site, all employees want the same things: A clean, safe place to work where they are paid fairly and where they can feel pride in what they do. A place where everyone is pleasant, cooperative and kept busy enough to feel useful but not so busy there is no calm time. A place where people treat each other with respect and don’t force their feelings, beliefs and preferred styles on coworkers. A place where there are smiles, laughter and professional conversations, rather than frowns, remarks behind the backs of others, grumbling openly or subtly and very little focus on professionalism.Sadly, many people want all of that for themselves but not for their coworkers. They want a perfect workplace but they want everyone else to change to make it that way. It is the classic case of seeing the splinter in someone else’s eye but not seeing the 2 x 4 beam in your own. Also, most of us resent the injustice of being blamed or chewed out for something that we sincerely believe is not our fault–even though we most often have contributed to it in some way.A very unhappy employee told me not long ago, “I wouldn’t bad-mouth her if she wasn’t bad-mouthing me. She bad-mouths me so much worse than I ever bad-mouth her that there is no way I should have gotten in trouble for all the bad-mouthing. But, until she stops bad-mouthing me I won’t stop bad-mouthing her.” (If it wasn’t such a sad work situation I would have smiled at that many uses of the word “bad-mouth”!) I think her desire to stay out of trouble is doomed to failure if she keeps that approach.

MOVING FORWARD WHERE YOU ARE: Let’s say you have considered how you want to live and work and you are committed to doing even more than your share to improve things. How can you overcome this recent situation? I can imagine it was hurtful to have someone you’ve known well talk to you in such a harsh way. He probably dreaded doing it. Few managers want to deal with the conflicts in their offices, so things must be bad for him to take that action. Actually, many doctors and medical office managers contribute to the conflicts in their offices by the way they work with staff, but that is another issue! You say he told you that things have to change. I don’t know what the recurring conflicts involve, but usually in small medical offices it is over who is responsible for what work, resentment about personal remarks and gossip, irritation over habits and workplace idiosyncrasies, and establishing who has the most status (tenure, training and clout with the doctor). Often age differences contribute to the situation, but usually it is just part of all the other issues.What do you think the boss was referring to by “things have to change”? You may need another written list for that or you may know the two or three things he has as a priority. I think you will have to assume that it will be up to you to make the initial changes. One thing is for sure: If your office is going to improve, someone has to start it and stick with it.Ideally there could be a meeting with all employees where everyone agrees to stop the bad behavior and replace it with better behavior or at least to be open and more direct about concerns. A meeting such as that can be a good beginning for what Dr. Gorden refers to as WEGO: Working together with heads, hearts and hands.

However, I doubt relationships are good enough at this point for that to happen or to be effective. That is why I say I think you will have to think of it as being up to you. Think of yourself as setting an example every day.*A file folder is on your desk and Lisa was supposed to put it away but you have the time to do it and the file cabinets are nearby. What example could you be about work? *A file folder is on your desk and Lisa was supposed to put it way. You can’t leave your desk and the file cabinets are in another area. What example could you be about how you handle the file? (What about just putting it in a safe place on the desk and going back to work?) *Several people are remarking on how unpleasant Mr. Jones, a patient, was this morning. What is the example you set for talking about patients? (Focus on work and see if you can redirect the conversation. There is no point in preaching to them about it, just don’t participate.) *Several people are talking about another employee’s work and they say the coworker is lazy. You don’t believe that’s true. (Don’t argue and be unpleasant, just state your opinion and give an example to prove it, then get back to work.) *They say the coworker is lazy and you agree. (Don’t say anything, just keep your focus on work.) *You say hello but no one acknowledges you. What do you do? (Focus on work.) *A coworker says something snide to you. What do you do? (Try “How do you mean that?” Or, “Are you joking or are you serious?” Or, “I didn’t mean to sound offensive when I made that statement. Did it sound that way?” Or, “Are you OK?” “Sounds like there is something more going on. Is there?” ) When you ask those kind of questions in a civil tone, it immediately makes you sound like a problem-solver instead of just someone who has a comeback or who hunches over and gets angry. Then put your focus on your own work and let that situation move into history. *Two other coworkers are talking about fun times but not including you in the conversation. How can you set an example of reacting without either pushing your way into the conversation or seeming to be ignoring them or being sulky? (Acknowledge their conversation with a few smiles and let them see you are an interested listener. Maybe you can ask a question about the topic. If they continue to shut you out, go back to work.) You can see a common theme:

You are there to work, not to socialize, make judgments, take control, put someone else in their place, fight for your own place or do anything but get the work of the medical office done. It’s possible to do more than stare at your work area all the time. But, your main focus should be on doing your own work and anything else you can do to help others.Especially keep your focus on patients because they ARE your work and they need you and the others. Many people in your office just want to take care of their appointment and leave. Others are feeling sick, feeling worried, having severe financial problems, in the midst of depression, or feeling unloved and uncared for. You and the others should look for chances to show concern and caring, even if your work doesn’t usually involve patients. Even if you feel you are doing that now, put more emphasis on it.

A story from two weeks ago: I was with a guy neighbor who was getting some in-office work done. A woman from a back office area left something on the front counter, looked out our way and smiled. She didn’t know my neighbor or me, but she went to the little window area and said, “How are you today?” I said fine and my neighbor said, “Not so great, but I’m hoping I’ll be better when I leave.”

She leaned forward more and said, “Ohhh, I hope so too! You have a great doctor, so you can feel good about that!” My neighbor said he agreed, that the doctor was good. She said, as she walked away, “I might not be around when you’re done, but even if I’m not here to tell you, you know I’ll be thinking about you and wishing you well.”

We both said thanks. I looked over to say something to my neighbor and he had tears in his eyes! We were both a bit embarrassed and I asked him if he was having pain and he said, while wiping his eyes, “No more than usual. It’s just nice to have someone in these places act like they give a damn.”A tremendous lesson there about how desperate all of us are to be cared about and cared for. You have a unique chance to do that and in the process create an aura of caring about you that can get you through tough times.YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE: A challenge you will have is to not talk negatively about those who have lied about you or bullied you. If you do, it will be repeated and you could lose your job. You also will undo any good efforts. Often in such offices, people think they have allies as well as enemies. No one is a good enough ally that they won’t quote you sometime to someone, even if they don’t mean to cause trouble. So, don’t get involved with negative talk.

If someone starts it, just say, “I’ve sworn off talking about them, so I can’t comment.” Laugh about it and let your friend know you understand the temptation but you’re not going to do it.Another challenge is that you will want to give up. You’ll try everything for a few weeks, then you’ll get tired of trying. If you want your job and if you want things to improve, you can’t give up. You may need to figure you’ll always be setting the example. That wouldn’t be a bad thing! I often mention what it takes to have influence: You must be credible (about work and personally), you must be valuable, and you must communicate effectively. Communicating effectively takes directness, honesty, appropriateness and messages that make people feel better more often than not. You will never have influence with some people, but you can increase your influence with many people through your behavior.

While you’re at it, make sure you give yourself a thorough analysis in a mirror. Are you exceptionally well groomed? Very clean? Clothes appropriate, clean and well-pressed and cared for? Do you look like a poster-employee for a professional medical office? Have you noticed there has been a huge downward slide in medical office attire and appearance, as casual work-attire gets even more casual? Set the example of how the most professional of the professionals would look.

WHAT IF THINGS BECOME INTOLERABLE? All of this response has been related to you and your actions. What if, in spite of this, after three or four months you are being subjected to intolerably bad treatment? I don’t know what that could be in your setting, since apparently they aren’t screaming at you or calling you foul names or anything of that nature. But, let’s say you don’t like it and it’s not getting better. What then? At least at that point you would have well established your efforts to do great work and not get involved in office conflict. Your doctor might be much more likely to listen to you at that point. If not, you are no worse off than now, and can be looking for other work knowing you have done your best.Best wishes to you with all of this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.