Defamation and Sabotage Campaign

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about conflict with coworkers:

I previously wrote about a very uncertain situation with me changing departments and an ex-classmate coworker “Brad” who seemed out to get me. I also said there was a coworker who seemed to strive to be professional and helpful despite the situation, let’s call him “Chris”. Well, I have a clear picture of what’s going on now. . . Helpful, professional and holier-than-thou Chris has been doing the following things: a) About three weeks ago. A communication problem between Chris and another coworker caused a mistake in our budget composition which would have taken a lot of work to correct. In a conversation with him and his supervisor I came up with an alternative way to correct it which saved us all that work. I told Chris to meet with the boss we have in common to clarify the situation and let him know what we were going to do – then I went to the bathroom.

I come back from the bathroom and Chris is already at our boss’ cubicle. I sit with them and ask Chris if they are discussing the subject we’ve talked about and he ignores me – then goes on to explain on “how he got the idea that solved everything”. Chris actually stated my idea was HIS three times lest there was any ambiguity. . .

b) About a week later Chris called me yelling that he was having problems with a process I had implemented for the new ERP in 2011. I was busy with something else and there’s a whole other department (I left behind) in charge of that process but since I’m regarded as an expert in the matter I discussed with him a few ways round that problem. The problem had arisen because the consultant working with us either dismissed or denied an issue we tried to look at months ago. We then agreed to follow the matter up later with the consultant in question.

I’m working and sharing a cubicle back at the other end of the office with a young manager (about my age) who is not officially my boss but whose indications I follow anyway – let’s call him “Nathan”.

Not long after meeting with Chris, Chris storms in our cubicle and brings up the whole issue with Nathan. Again, stating about three times that the ideas I gave him were his own. Nathan and I make eye contact. This time, in replying to me, he added “maybe you didn’t understand the process quite well” – which is terrible because I’m the only one in the department who understands the process; in fact, Chris had just then asked me to explain it to Nathan when he himself found out he couldn’t (this is a process that uses about 200 accounts to re-distribute expenses from about 30 “departments” to about 30 “projects” in a convoluted multi-step sequence).

c) Nathan and I are working on a project for which we’ve been staying late for a while now. I do the bulk of the “hard” work while Nathan compiles it, lays down the schedule, corrects errors and is our nexus to the higher management. A woman came by our cubicle when Nathan was away, asking who was in charge of the project because she needed some info. Not acquainted with me, she spoke with Chris (whom she ran into). Chris did not introduce me nor let me get a word in; seeing me, he stated that the project was being done “a little bit by everyone” and pointed away to his cubicle.

The woman was charmed by Chris’s talk on how we are all facing new challenges and so on. . . but had to walk away empty handed as Chris could not really help her. When Nathan came back I took the risk of escalating things and succinctly told him what happened. d) I’m finding out now that Brad stared at me most likely because Chirs prodded him. While Brad is also competitive and backstabbing, he’s too sloppy, his reports contain egregious mistakes and, when he tries to show off, it backfires because he misunderstands things and basically states them the other way round than they really are.

During February things eased between me and Brad as I helped him with a number of things. This is when Chris shed his facade. One day when I was helping Brad find the answer to a problem by actually going through the numbers. Chris arrived, interrupted, stated he had spoken with someone who promised he would find the answer for him, then shook hands with Brad while giving me a strange look and saying “See brad, I’m the one who solves everything for you”. e) Chris seems scared or angered (I can’t quite place it) if I’m not isolated. When I walk in a social setting and greet everyone Chris glares at me as if it caused him pain. One day I committed the error of making a joke about Brad’s backfiring attempts to show off.

The next day Chris and Brad were both early– an hour earlier and Brad looked furious at me – obviously Chris had told him what I’d said, most likely embellishing it. This act of setting people against me matches things I overheard him say years ago like telling others that, if I’m studying Chinese (I am), it’s because I’m looking out for number one. . . or discussing aloud that I was about to be fired.

Now Chris and Brad move as one person – leaving the office together each day. f) Chris, when running into me in places like the elevator, coffee space or bathroom, has asked me what exactly am I working on. Each other day he wants to know how many extra hours I worked – always acting like a concerned coworker who wants to help. Finally, he asked Nathan for a copy of our complete project. Last Thursday, upon leaving, Chris and Brad asked Nathan to stay late with us working on the project – the request was rejected for obvious reasons. _____________ My main problem here is that Chris is launching his campaign from a positional advantage. He has a network who supports him while I’m almost isolated. He has been in this particular office for longer. Part of his advantages are due to having been hired by a incompetent boss who bullied me and wanted to stall my career; Chris tasks were originally in my development path. That boss was fired shortly after I transferred elsewhere in 2009.

Now I’m back in an ambiguous role/position. Chris, who has escalated his acts big time since I’m on that project, seems to be spreading gossip about me. I have no proof but people have been giving me terrible looks since recently and I haven’t done anything special (all I did was work with Nathan, really). While I sit at one end of the office, Chris sits between Brad and my boss (boss of Nathan and Chris himself too). While I can’t overhear every detail I can hear Chris complaining and whispering to everyone. . . he does it about each time we have one of the incidents I described above.People from another department, sitting close to Chris have stopped greeting me back.

People from my department around Chris seem uncomfortable too. So basically Chris has an advantage spreading gossip and spreading his own “version” of things as I’m physically and socially isolated and he is not. My boss (who sits besides Chris) has put me on trial to see how I perform, before deciding whether to promote, demote or even fire me. Partly because I’m new in the department, partly because, most likely, “someone” gave a bad reference.I need a strategy to protect my work and standing throughout.

Signed, Insomniac

Dear Insomniac:

After reading former questions and our responses in the past, it seems to me that you are still immersed in conflict and not doing anything productive to stop it. So, while it may be true that others are in the wrong about how they are acting, you are playing right into their hands. Thus, I’ll provide the same essential advice this time as I have in the past and believe if you would follow it, you would have a better work life or at least you would get these things out in the open rather than having them submerged.

1. Try to stop focusing on relationships and motives and facial expressions and all of that and focus solely on your own work and your relationship with your boss. It sounds as though your job is on shaky ground. If that is so it isn’t solely because someone gave a bad reference. If you have been producing work, reviewed by your manager, and it has been done exactly right time after time, that work would be proof of your value. If you have been asked by others to help them and you can show that you have done so, that too would prove the quality of your work. If you have communicated effectively with your boss, your boss knows something about the kind of person you are. If the cubicles are together so he or she can hear how you communicate with others, your manager knows about that as well.

You should have ample documentation of your work, no matter what someone else might say. If you have the expertise that it seems you do, but not one person is honest enough to acknowledge it or be friendly, and they only want to listen to gossip about you and glare at you for what they hear, then you probably will be much better off elsewhere. I don’t think it’s likely that an entire office would turn against you in that way. So, perhaps taking your focus off those extraneous things will help things calm down.

The bottom line for that first thought is this: You only have three options: 1.)Quit. 2.)Continue as you are now. 3.)Stop what you’re doing and do something else. The something else that I think would help the most is to leave others alone (which should be easy, given what you describe) and work more closely with your manager. If you have projects with others, that’s one thing, but stop rescuing them when they have problems. Let them go to their manager and ask for help, just as you should.

2. Ask your manager for a meeting in which you can get some things cleared up and feel better about work, as well as get on track for the promotion you seek. One way to approach such a meeting is to tell your manager ahead of time that you want to discuss four things related to your work. 1.) What would he like you to continue doing exactly the same way? 2.) What would he like you to do more of? 3.) What would he like you to do less of? 4.) What would he like you to stop doing and never do again?

If you give your manager a day or two to think about those things and if you just accept that what he says is the truth from his viewpoint, I’ll bet you find out some useful things.

3. This next suggestion is prompted by what may seem like an odd comparison, but one that I feel compelled to make. If you recall the movie, The Sixth Sense, Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis) is helping the young boy, Cole Sear, who says he sees dead people. Dr. Crowe spends the movie helping Cole accept his “gift” rather than being afraid of it. I spent most of the movie thinking, of Dr. Crowe, “Good grief, why doesn’t he SAY something to people who are angry with him or who he is concerned about, rather than just standing there and taking it but never responding?????”It wasn’t until toward the end of the movie (spoiler next)that I realize Dr. Crowe is one of the dead people the young boy talks to. In the movie Dr. Crowe only realizes it at that moment as well. But, the realization allows him to let go and move on to his own peace. Be thankful you are alive and apparently healthy and have many years of vigor and vitality left! BUT, as I’ve read your questions from the past until now, I’ve had the same thought about you as I had about Dr. Crowe. “Why doesn’t he DO something at the time, instead of letting it happen, feeling badly, then writing about it months later?” For example, if someone takes credit for something you did, and it’s important that you have your contribution established, you could say something right then. “Hey, Chris, wait a minute. I don’t mind sharing credit, but I’d like to at least have my work acknowledged. What about the fact that when you asked me for help an hour ago you said you didn’t know what to do?”If someone glares at you, you could easily ask, “What’s the matter? Are you mad at me about something?” If someone is whispering about you, you could and should get up from your cubicle and go to where they are. Tell them you heard your name and would like to get any problems out in the open.

You mentioned the woman who needed help, but Chris gave her a song-and-dance and she had to leave because he couldn’t help her, only you could. But you were right there, so why didn’t you say something to her? You said she didn’t know you. Well, you could have introduced yourself. You felt isolated and left out in that scenario, but you didn’t do anything at the time. One thing done at the time is worth a dozen things done a month later.

Doesn’t it seem you could have said something to someone to start a resolution, at least once? You could even have said to someone who used to talk to you but who stopped, “It seems like you and some of the others are angry with me. Not only do I not know why, it really bothers me to think you might believe something bad about me that isn’t true. Could we talk this out, please?”3. This last suggestion is tied to the first and may seem counter-intuitive, but I’m convinced it’s important for you. Leave people alone. Be courteous, be friendly, always give a brief smile as you interact with them, but stay out of their cubicles and their space unless invited in. And, if they invite you in by asking you to please help them, ask them to help you first, by getting permission from your manager for you to use your time that way.I realize you apparently work in an office where projects mesh together, so you’ll be working with people regularly. I’m talking more about helping people with their problems when you could be doing your own work.

As you’ve described the times you’re helping people, it always ends with someone else stepping in and you being pushed out. Maybe that’s a hint. If you were genuinely helping someone and were not offensive in your manner, hygiene, conversation or anything else, believe me, no one would want you pushed out. If you’re not really helping or if you have something going on that makes your presence a problem, THEN they might not mind you being pushed out of the picture. So, you may want to consider every aspect of the situation before you assume it’s all about others and their reactions.I’m not saying it’s all you, either. But, I’ll bet there’s something else going on that you don’t want to acknowledge or that you are completely unaware of. Find out.

Your work is obviously important to you and you want to save your job and move up in the company. If you are a truly excellent, credible and valuable employee someone there is valuing your work and you as a person. If no one is, you’re either in the wrong job or the wrong company or there is a problem you need to deal with quickly.I hope you will stop observing what you think is unfairness and find out if your manager sees it the same way. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s your gateway to where you want to go. If he shuts you out, you’re out.You’re starting a new workweek and I hope you will use this as a time to start over. Be courteous and smile as you briefly talk to people, but don’t push your way into anything to which you are not specifically asked to be part of it.

Get an appointment set up with your manager and use that meeting to figure out where you stand with him. Share your frustrations about work, without naming names if that’s possible. Ask for his insights.In the meantime, leave the drama of “he said”, “I said”, “they said”, “they had this expression”, “they did this” out of your work. You can’t control one bit of what they do, but you can control your use of time and energy.I don’t expect things to improve overnight because there is such a negative history there. But perhaps after a few weeks of that, you’ll find that people are less uncomfortable with you and less likely to believe stories they hear. I hope that is the case. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops. I hope you will also be able to report, “Here is what I did about it.”Best wishes!

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.