I have a coworker who has been confrontational and has had several loud outbursts in the office towards my supervisor over the past few years. This person yells, curses and ‘gets in your face’ with rapid fire questioning… like you are on trial for murder. Our boss has let her get away with it… He says, its because she’s a passionate person and means well, but the truth is, he hates confrontation of any kind, and whenever they’ve had squabbles, their stories are always different. Our boss is retiring soon and our current supervisor is taking his place. Our supervisor announced her replacement at an impromptu office meeting. The coworker in question got angry, and started shouting “that’s bullshit” over and over.When the coworker who was selected as supervisor came back to work after a week off, the angry woman proceeded to say things to her… Such as “you know you don’t deserve that job.”; “You know you’re not qualified” and “You went behind our backs and applied for the position and I have no respect for you.” She continues to snub our current supervisor who will become our new boss. And has said things to indicate that she will try to make legal trouble.On the day that the staff positions are made official, I am expecting the woman to have a complete meltdown. Despite her occasional outbursts, I don’t want to see this woman get fired… but I’m afraid that’s what is going to happen. How should I react if she has an outburst during a meeting? Should I excuse myself, or stay as a witness?Its a shame, because we used to be a very close knit office, but her attitude, gossip and comments are causing a rift.
Up In Arms
Dear Up In Arms:
Keep in mind that your coworker is not just showing disrespect for your boss and your supervisor (soon-to-be-boss) she is showing it for all of you. You know very well she is aware of how upsetting her behavior is to everyone. She just doesn’t care, because her own hurt feelings, frustration and anger are more important. She has been allowed to act like a child having a temper tantrum, so she thinks it’s her right to do so.Certainly your boss has been wrong to let this go on so long. But, it seems to me your boss is not the only one lacking in courage–every employee should have the courage to say “Stop it. That’s inappropriate and it’s upsetting.” “Stop it. All you’re doing is upsetting everyone.” “Stop. I don’t agree with you and I don’t want to listen to this kind of anger.” Or, just, “That’s enough of that kind of talk. Stop it.”No one should sit idly by and let her continue, but certainly not your boss and your supervisor.If you have a personnel section or HR section you and/or others should go to them immediately and explain your concerns. Tell them what has happened and say the emotional outbursts have already had a negative effect on the office and you’re very concerned about what will happen next. Ask for their assistance in stopping the employee from doing that again.It doesn’t sound like your boss will be much help, but you might want to talk to him and tell him that the situation is affecting all of you and you would like him to stop the bad actions of the employee.If you don’t have an HR section go higher than your current boss if you have to. Although I realize the statistical probability of violence may not be high for a woman in this situation, the fact is that it could happen. She sounds out of control and that could manifest itself in many ways, from harming people to hurting property or simply being even more unpleasant.In spite of your wish that she not be fired, I can’t think of a reason why she should be allowed to stay and poison your work environment further. But, maybe knowing that others aren’t impressed with her behavior will be enough to stop her and allow her to improve. Whether or not anything is done specifically to stop this problem (and I hope something IS done), at least do three other things:1. Begin now to strongly and firmly support your boss and your supervisor. Do not say negative things about them and encourage others to support their efforts. Consider writing a note to each, thanking them for their work and encouraging them to know that many people support them. You don’t have to be false about this or apple polishing. Simply do what they ask you to do and treat them with courtesy and respect.2. Do not listen to the nasty coworker. No one should, if she starts to talk in a way that is inappropriate.Have courage and let her and others know you do not agree with the mean-spirited things that are being said. You can say something like, “Hey you guys, no good comes out of yelling or griping like this. We’d all be better off just focusing on work and stopping this.” Then go to work. Others may follow you and if they do not, at least you have shown your strength of character.Unless you think you are in danger you should certainly stay to witness her behavior in future meetings, and to stand up and be counted. No one should endure ranting and raving by another employee. Be there to set an example of how a professional person acts. 3.Consider encouraging your supervisor and other employees to gain strength as a team. Perhaps you could meet regularly to discuss work issues. Perhaps you could cross-train to find out more about other tasks. Perhaps you could simply make time once a week or so for a half hour coffee break, shared by all of you. Let everyone, including your coworker, realize that there is value in being a positive workplace.You can take a leadership role in commending others for their good routine work as well as the work that do that is out of the ordinary. Bring a camera to work and start taking photos now and then of people and their work areas, or groups of friends, or celebrations (like promotions and retirements.) Be the one who keeps the record of important times and just the fun times.If you want to offset the actions of this employee, gain and use influence so you can have an important role. But, consider too that offsetting can’t always be done, when one person is miserable and making others miserable as well.You are accustomed to this woman’s behavior, but I can assure you, it isn’t normal and I know few workplaces that would have allowed it to continue to this point! So, I think it is crucial that something substantial be done at a higher level. But that higher level can be supported by all employee.If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens in this situation. Best wishes to you!
Tina Lewis Rowe