Coworker Nitpicks

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about belittling

My coworker at a fast food place, the wife of the boss, is nitpicking my work and making faces at me. When I make ice cream cones, she says that they don’t conform to company standards, and throws them away. If another worker makes a cone that doesn’t conform, she does not say anything. If I hesitate for a few seconds before making a drink order, she gets upset, and says “it’s just a small orange flavored drink.” If I make a mistake taking a customer’s order, she tells me I made a mistake and makes a face at me. She also reports any questions I ask her about the cash register to her husband.

Her husband is the owner and their relationship is one where the wife submits to the husband. Her husband has told me that I am doing fine. Don’t know if she is singling me out because I am a new worker and an adult instead of the teenage coworkers. I have a college degree and am underemployed in this position, and she does not have any education past high school.

Signed, Nitpicked

DearĀ Nitpicked:

Some coworkers, who know the ropes, don’t hesitate to inform new hires of what to do. They are bossy and point up mistakes. Your boss’s wife is very good at that. She re-enforces her correction with an unhappy face. Moreover she tells her husband, the big boss, what you don’t know. So how have you responded? Have you let your resentment show or hit it with a grin and bear it? Have you felt like making a face back at her? Have you thought about any creative way to let her know she is bugging you?

You can take this until you find another job. It won’t hurt to let her boss you. By observing her you can learn how not to boss. I once was in summer stock and a director did a poor job. He was not well prepared, and when a new actor arrived from England, he took the lead part away from me and assigned it to that actor. I learned from that director how not to direct and from watching the more professional actor I learned more about acting. Each day you can soak up how to run a fast food business, and more, you can learn how not to interact with coworkers. You also can learn how to respond to authority. For example, you can decide in advance how to respond to the boss’s wife, let’s call her Sally.

When she points up the next mistake, you can have a hearty response such as, “Sally, thank you. If I do that again, please don’t hesitate to speak up.” If there comes a next time in which you make the same mistake, you can say, “Thank you, Sally. I told you to speak and you remembered.” Then the next time you do it correctly, you can say, “Sally, I did it right. You forgot to tell me that.” That is one approach. Another response might be learning how to deal assertively with a “nitpicky” coworker.

That might entail both an immediate reaction and a time out head to head talk. The immediate response to something that might be, “Sally, after a few hundred times, I might be able to respond to a customer as quickly as you do.” Or if Sally corrects you once you know how you might say, “Sally, you told me that before and couple of times, and I think I now know that dance step so please don’t tell me again. OK?” Head to head: You might need to have a time out session with her. In such at session, you might be frank to say, “I appreciate your commitment to making this place a success, Sally. I’m sure your husband does too. I’ve been here now for several weeks, how do you think I’m doing? Are there things I’m doing right and some that you see that I still need to learn? I’d like to learn them so that you don’t have to nitpick and make faces when I make more mistakes. I’ll probably make some more because I haven’t been around as long as have you. Do you understand why I asked to talk privately with you?”

Yet another way to cope is to propose how you want criticism to be given. “Sally, please don’t jump at me when I don’t do something perfectly. It’s humiliating. I know you wouldn’t like me to do that to you unless it was really serious. Also I feel like a bad girl/boy, when you make a face when I do something you don’t like. Would you try to stop that? And the next time you feel like making a nasty face at me would you like me to remind you?” A final thought for your consideration: think team and that means both a can-do attitude and process. Team work entails skull sessions and coached practice. In your fast food place, wouldn’t be nice to have skull sessions that review and praise a week that went well; one in which you high fived the sales for the week and one in which you talked about how to do better what didn’t go as well as it might? Do some of these overlapping suggestions make sense? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes big WEGOS. By that I mean work solo and you don’t have to think interdependently. But work with others and it requires give and take, assertiveness and collaboration. A positive attitude and coaching process don’t just happen. They are learned and earned with courage, good spirit and persistence.

William Gorden