Hostile Or NOT????

Question:

There is an employee in a work area near mine who is always rude and puts down almost everyone. If someone complains they usually get the excuse of “that’s how she is.” Everyone bows down to her and tries to make her happy. She prides herself on being mean.

She is especially mean to one person and he has complained and nothing happens. She was informed of the complaint and now tries to turn it around to make it sound like he is doing the same things. It has made it to the point he dreads coming to work. What should he do?

Signed,

Wants To Help


Answer:

Dear Wants To Help:

The issue of having a nasty co-worker who is tolerated by supervisors is very frustrating. But, in fairness to supervisors and managers, there are some reasons this occurs:

1. Employees complain about a co-worker verbally, but do not put it in writing, with specific dates and times and witnesses when possible, and they don’t ask for an investigation, they only complain in a general sense. Or, they only hint around.

2. Sometimes the complaining employees are known by managers to have some issues themselves, so it becomes one person’s word against another. In the worst case I knew (mentioned below) the major complainer had been complained about by others, so it was hard to know who was worse.

3. Other employees don’t want to get involved so they don’t volunteer supporting information or say they didn’t hear anything, if they are asked.

4. Cliques have formed so that one group is always complaining about another group or an individual, so it is difficult to establish the truth.

5. People have become so extreme in their views that everything becomes a reason for conflict. After awhile, managers and supervisors get tired of hearing it and shut it out.

6. The complained about employee is a good worker and the issues complained about seem to be minor. 7. Supervisors and managers feel that co-workers should stand up for themselves if someone does something they don’t like, rather than saying nothing, but hoping bosses will do it for them. Years ago I worked with a rude co-worker who made snide remarks to me about all kinds of personal and work issues. I fumed. I steamed inwardly. I occasionally sort-of complained to the boss, who shook his head but did nothing. Years later I saw her and she was talking about our work together. She laughed about how she had me going all the time with her remarks. I told her it was a shame she had thought it was funny because it both hurt and distracted me from my work. She laughed and said, “Well, if you didn’t like it you should have said something. I only picked on people who would let me. But honestly, I was just joking with you and didn’t mean anything by it.” I still think she was obnoxious, but looking back on it I SHOULD have said something to her directly back then.

None of those reasons help when things are unpleasant, but it gives you the possible viewpoint of supervisors and managers. Consider your friend’s situation. I can understand your anger about a bad co-worker, but look at the phrases you used to describe her: “Always rude to everybody” “everyone bows down to her and tries to make her happy.” “prides herself on being mean.” Those might be true, but they tend to sound exaggerated and overly negative. She is probably not rude to the highest bosses. She probably has some people who like her or go to lunch with her or at least smile at her, so she isn’t disliked by everyone. I doubt that everyone bows down to her. You don’t and apparently your friend doesn’t. I doubt that managers bow down to her either, even if they don’t curb her behavior as they should. Whatever she says, I doubt also that she prides herself on being mean. She might pride herself on being honest or direct, but she probably doesn’t think she’s hateful or mean, since almost no one does. The meanest woman I ever met in a workplace–if the person in your office has the initials P.C., that’s her!–seemed to think she was just being business-like, direct, honest and no-nonsense. And, she could list the times others had hurt her feelings or treated her meanly when she was being nice. But, we didn’t see her that way and felt as though we had to do an exorcism to get her to quit! So, you don’t know how this co-worker sees the whole situation.

Here’s what I would suggest to your friend: 1. Avoid the problem employee as much as possible. Make sure he doesn’t do anything that could be viewed as negative to her or about her. Which means, reduce or eliminate gossip about her.

2. His only conversation about her to others should be focused on how to make things better. He should let co-workers know that if he has to complain again, he’ll list their names and expect their help to make a difference. That should always be his focus–not wanting to get the woman fired or disciplined, but wanting to improve the workplace for everyone.

3. The very next time something happens that frustrates or irritates him he should evalute it as a manager would: Is this something he can handle on his own or does it require intervention? If it’s an unpleasant remark, he should say something right then, preferably in front of witnesses: “Peggy, that’s the kind of remark that is so upsetting and irritating. This is the last time I’m asking you to stop saying things like that. Next time, I’ll go to HR again, only next time I’ll have witnesses that I’ve warned you.”

Or, he could say nothing right then, but send her an email saying the same thing. That way at least he has a printed copy. Or, he could say something and do a follow-up email. The key here is to have the strength and courage to speak up when something is said or done that is hurtful, frustrating or irritating. I’ll bet almost no one says anything productive to her at the time she says or does something bad. If they say anything at all, it’s probably equally rude. Your friend needs to have a plan of action and a few well-rehearsed remarks that will sound good when they are reviewed by HR later!

4. The other thing for your friend to consider is how the actions of the co-worker are affecting his work. That is a key issue! It is much more likely to get attention if your friends says, “Her remarks and actions are hurtful,irritating and frustrating and keep me so distracted I can’t do my work as well as I’d like.” THAT puts the negative impact on business, rather than personalities.

If your friend can state times when the co-worker has created so much upset that people were talking about it or worried about what she’d do next, etc., those are things to mention as well. Supervisors might be able to tolerate conflict–but they can’t justify tolerating something that hurts business or the work product.

5. If it appears the actions of the co-worker can’t be handled at least temporarily by your friend, he should then write a formal complaint. He may have done that last time, but he needs to do it again. If she did a counter-complaint about him, he can mention that at the beginning: “I know Peg has said I do things to her. However, I am not going to let her untrue accusations intimidate me into not complaining about this recent event. I would like an invesigation of this situation, to finally come to a conclusion about whether or not the behavior of this employee is what is desired for our workplace. I don’t believe it is and I would like your help to make things better, whatever that takes.”

Then, he needs to say exactly, almost like writing a dialogue, what was said, how it was said, the expression on her face, the circumstances and so forth. Next he can say how it made him feel and how that kept him from being focused on work as he would like.

Then, he should close with another request for an investigation: “In the past there has been a basic review of these complaints, but I am now requesting a thorough review of the conflicts between this employee and others. I have attached a list of witnesses who can be contacted about their experiences. I am available for another interview and will be developing a list of incidents so it can be used in the investigation. This is a serious situation in our office and needs to be handled for the good of the company and the team.” That might not be what he’d say, but the idea is to be specific and courteously insistent. He doesn’t want just one incident investigated at a time–that could go on forever. What he wants is for the entire conflict situation to be investigated and action taken if it turns out there is a chronic problem.

If he has tried to get along by doing specific things to help, he would want to mention that as well. If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program, he might want to seek help from them about conflict resolution or stress related matters from this. Then, he could mention that in his letter. If he has read books on dealing with conflict or communciating in difficult situations, he should mention that. He might also want to mention his good work evaluations, to show that he has been a dependable employee and has not had a history of problems. He might want to say that if there is something he needs to change he is willing to work on that and would appreciate any trainig that might help if is supervisors or managers feel it is needed.

His goal is to show that he is not the problem, she is. (I’ll take your word for it that is the case!) Then, the letter should be sent to his supervisor and manager, with a request to forward it to HR if that is appropriate. If no action is taken, or the action seems to not include an investigation, he might want to go to HR anyway–or higher in the company.

In one organization I know, an unhappy employee found that talking to supervisors and managers did no good–he had to go above regional offices to a district office. In his letter he included the messages he had sent to the lower levels and showed that no action had been taken. They sent it back down to be handled by the locals, but that got some action!

6. If your friend is genuinely so unhappy he doesn’t like coming to work, he needs to stick with this. He won’t be much worse off. What will hurt him is if he goes about it in an under-handed way, or backs down when they interview him, or gives in before it’s done. Courteous, professional but adamant, should be his demeanor.

I hope these thoughts will help him develop a plan of action that makes things better permanently. You can support him best by keeping him focused on what he has done to make things better, not just on what has happened that has irritated him. A lot of good lunch times and coffee breaks can be ruined that way! If you wish to do so, let us know what results he gets over time. 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.