Former Classmate Causing Trouble

Question:

I wrote to you a few weeks ago and now have another situation, but related to that one. About a week ago I was (finally!) released from my previous duties and allowed to begin working for a new department. Ironically, this means I’ll be working even more closely with some of the people I’ve had to work with for the past years. One good thing is that the girl who has been going out of her way to get others to help her “mob” me is leaving the company. My creepy coworker, here, let’s call him “Brad”, is the guy who’s replacing her. He’s a former university classmate; though he dropped out and continued at a lesser institution. He arrived in early 2011 to replace the aforementioned girl while she was away on a special project and they two quickly friended each other. While the Brad and me weren’t friends back then or anything, I believe we were acquainted enough for me to be shocked by the fact that he has downright refused to acknowledge me. He barely greets me, sometimes. Instead, he stares at me and seems tense. In fact, during this past year we crossed paths many times inside and outside the office and in every and each of those cases he was already glaring at me by the time I made eye contact. I can’t quite place the meaning of the glare but it’s not friendly. He seems tense. I know I wasn’t popular at uni (shy guy, few buddies) but I don’t think that’s a reason to downright hate me a decade down the road, let alone by a random ex-classmate who dropped out.

He seems to be doing a furious effort networking with everyone around me but me. I also have reasons to suspect he’s been saying stuff behind my back as I picked bits of gossip based on stuff some classmates used to say about me and that could not possibly be known by any current coworker of mine.

When I first physically moved into the office of this department; some new coworkers who had been socializing with him over the course of 2011 gave me funny, scornful looks. The team (two former coworkers) I was bound to be working with had been avoiding any communication with me (greetings included) for the preceeding months. Things seem to have kind of settled after about three days of me being there; dunno why. Most of my new coworkers have begun to greet me in a normal way. My former coworkers have begun to greet me openly too – one of them has gone a little further by being particularily polite and helpful. Brad seems to have fastened/welded himself to this last guy as part of his networking effort. Is strikinly rare to run into him alone now. Brad sits and works with them, and he sure keeps up the tense I-socialize-with-everyone-but-you attitude. This was obvious during the End of Year toast as he avoided me, but then listened to whatever I said to others with a smirk, then finally left wishing everyone a happy new year while skipping me all the shot. For the time being, this guy seems to be doing an entry level job – he’s not even on the actual payroll yet. There’s, however, a catch to my situation too: A day before moving into this particular office my current boss, and boss of the woman I had been told I’d be working for (who in turn is the boss of my two former coworkers), told me I’d be working directly for him instead of her – the reason being that he wanted to “re-arrange the department a little bit”. In theory, I was going to be sitted with Brad and my two former coworkers in a four-person cubicle. I’m sitting alone in a two person’s space at the end of the room and the woman who was bound to be my boss refuses to communicate with me.

A few days later the guy on the post directly above Brad was transferred -his desk is still empty as of today. I was worried because Brad later said something cocky about moving to that general space (when I glanced his way, he was already watching me) and I’m still somewhat worried because my direct boss, the guy wanting to “re-arrange the department” is the one who brought this creepy guy into the company. So I thought he might want to put me to do this guy’s current job (which I dread – partly because it’d be a bit of a demotion) in order to promote his buddy. His political allies have done things like that only a couple of years ago.

The evidence contrary to this fear is that, for the time being, I was assigned tasks that have not to do with this guy’s job – at least not the part of that job that I dread which is to analyze the headquarter’s expenses (I was told at the interview, months ago, that I was NOT going to be doing that). However, historically, that position ALSO included looking into some of the stuff I’m looking into now – but then again so did the position directly above. I have reasons to think someone else may be rotating into the upper position as other people seem to be exchanging tasks right now; maybe I’ll be moved into Brad’s post and he to a better position but not directly above my own. Someone HAS to do Brad’s job if he rotates, obviously – and there’s not too many people available (other than I). . . Things are good in the short term, I’m still here, he is still there, and the desk of the guy who was transferred is still empty. I have a lot of work in my hands which is a refreshing challenge as I like being active and achieving goals.

I’m worried, though, as you might expect, about this guy’s behaviour – which is suspicious at best. If he’s getting his way or at least I’m not getting mine (for now), why the attitude?, Months ago, in the interview, it was implied that I was going to be tested for the first six months – so the last thing I want is to have some kind of “problem” here. . . I need some advice navigating this situation.

Signed,

Concerned


Answer:

Dear Concerned:

I’m glad some things have changed in your organization, but sorry that you still feel so concerned about the overall situation.

My suggestions may seem too simplistic for your situation, but they may be worthwhile for you to try:

1. Write down the things that are bothering you, or review your message to us about it. Mentally categorize those concerns. *What is so problematic you cannot get your work done as long as it is happening? *What is worrisome or irritating, but doesn’t prevent you from working?

*What can you definitely control and change? *What might you be able to influence positively by communicating appropriately and honestly? *What do you have absolutely no authority to require and seemingly no influence to encourage changes?

When you consider your situation in that way you may be able to focus on doing something about the things you can do something about and finding some peace about the others.

2. I don’t see any mention of you talking to your manager or anyone else to get an outside perspective about any of this. Even if you don’t like your manager and he or she doesn’t like you, all managers I’ve ever met have liked it when someone asks for ways to improve their work–and sincerely listens.

“Karen, can I chat with you for a few minutes sometime later today? I’d like to talk to you about ways I can improve my work and ways I can be a better member of the team here.”

That gives your manager time to think about it and shows your thoughtfulness for her time.

It would appear you have nothing to lose by asking for some insights and assistance. Otherwise, you may lose your job or your standing in the group, without ever finding out if there was something you could do to prevent it.

3. You have two options for dealing with your coworker. You can ignore it and just keep working. Or you can let him know that you have noticed his behavior. I can see benefits of both ways, so you will need to consider what is best for your specific situation.

***There are several reasons to try to ignore the coworker and focus on your own work instead.

First, is the reality that from pre-school to nursing facilities, there are friendships and there are animosities. Some people let their feelings be known in obvious ways, while others say nothing but they sit and stew over it.

Keep in mind as well that your coworker can probably tell a dozen things you did during the day that were offensive, irritating or inept in his eyes and he doesn’t see that he did anything wrong. There is always some justification for treating someone else badly, even if it is just that “I’ve had a bad day so I wasn’t feeling friendly.

It may be that your coworker still is carrying a grudge from decades ago, but it may be he is reacting to something he has heard or seen that has bothered him.

Another reason to ignore the behavior is that it will invariably make him look worse than it makes you look. That’s probably why the other employees are acting better to you now–they’re sick and tired of the behavior or your coworker and won’t be led by his opinions.

**Your other option is to let your coworker know that you notice his staring and you want him to stop. It hasn’t done you any good at all to notice it but not say anything. Why not just ask what is going on and tell him to stop staring at you? You couldn’t be blamed for asking someone to stop staring at you, so you’re on safe ground to ask, as long as he IS staring and you talk to hi civilly.

I’m not in favor of being subtle or hinting when there is a long-term problem. However, you might say, if you see your coworker staring at you: “Brad, do you want something from me?” He says no. You say, “Oh, well I noticed you staring at me. Are you sure there isn’t something you wanted to say?” He says no. “OK. Well, if you want something, just ask, but don’t stare at me like you’re mad about something.”

A more direct way is, “Hey Brad, why are you staring at me like that?” When he says he isn’t staring you could say, “You’re looking right at me and you haven’t said anything, so that’s staring. If you have something to ask me, just ask,but don’t stare.”

If it continues, ask him again to stop. If he continues, go to your manager and ask what he or she suggests you do the next time it happens. That’s not complaining, it’s asking for ideas. 4. When all else is shakey, focus on your work. I don’t know if you get performance evaluations or not. If you do, ask HR to allow you to review yours, if you don’t have copies. Consider the categories upon which you are evaluated and start working every day to fulfill each of them. Document anything that particularly shows your value–or save some portion of it or make a note to yourself.

You can’t control a political move inside your organization. But, you can at least self-evaluate to make sure you offer more to the company than anyone else in your position.

5. This next thought is good advice for all of us: Purposely work to replace negative thoughts, worry, speculation and irritation, with thoughts about what you can do next that is positive. Think of your workday as time to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

That doesn’t mean you have to go around talking to everyone, chatting them up and paying compliments or showing sympathy. It only means that you can replace glancing to see if your worker is looking at you with glancing to see if others could use your help, if your work space needs cleaned, if there is a task that needs to be done, if someone needs to volunteer for something.

Think about some of the people in the world who have left their mark in positive ways. Can you picture them spending most of their time worrying about trivial, mundane issues?

How do you think someone you admire would handle your situation? I’ll bet you can only think of them moving forward and achieving, in spite of animosity or contention.

6. As a final thought: Consider the three things that build influence.. *Credibility. Knowing your job and doing it well. Being honest. Being someone who others trust. Being able to work with others and not have to be treated in a special way to get along.

*Value: Someone who is needed, who contributes to the job and the group. Someone who could not easily be replaced.

*Communication: Someone whose verbal and non-verbal communication is effective, free of distractions, upbeat and honest. Many people who are shy still learn to communicate often and in engaging ways.

All of the above suggestions may be things you have tried, but try them again. Based on what you describe there doesn’t seem to be any horrible situation going on and you are not in imminent danger of being fired. So, you can relax and keep going with your job.

Things change..often very quickly. If you’re the best employee possible, those changes might not be your first choice, but they probably won’t hurt you either. Stay open to having things be better at work and focus on every indicator of positive change that you see.

Best wishes to you with this situation!

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.