How To Deal With New Employee Who Won’t Talk

Question:

There is a new person in our office who doesn’t speak to anyone or acknowledge anyone or anything. She acts like she’s mad at the world. However, she’ll chat when she needs a ride, smokes or money!

Signed,

Irritated and Frustrated


Answer:

DearĀ Irritated and Frustrated:

Before I suggest some ideas for improving the situation, let me mention what definitely will NOT improve the situation. It won’t help for the other employees to gossip about the new employee or make remarks or generally bad-mouth her because of her behavior. No good comes of it, it creates unpleasantness that can have an effect on other things and it presents the gossipers as worse than the coworker. I’m not saying that is happening in your workplace, but it certainly does in other places, so I wanted to warn about that.

Pretend you’re at the interview for your new job, back whenever that would have been, and you have been asked how you would handle a new coworker who doesn’t talk to you or others, acts angry about everything and only acts friendly when she wants something. How would you have answered the question when you were trying to show that you deserved to be hired? What would you have said you would not do? What would you have said you would try to do? What would you have said might be the causes of this bad situation?

You may be able to develop a plan of action by mentally answering those questions now. You know your office culture, how new employees are treated by more experienced employees, the way the work needs to be done and how much support you will get from your supervisor. All of those things will have an effect on your responses.

Consider some of the following as well:

1. Be able to explain what difference her behavior makes on work. If her behavior keeps coworkers from being able to interact with her when it’s important, if other employees are distracted or if their feelings are upset by her actions, or if you’ve overheard her being rude to clients, there is clearly a link to work and it should matter to everyone.

2. Talk to the employee about it. You don’t need to confront her in a mean way, just ask what is going on. So, you come into work and she doesn’t respond to your greeting. Go to her work area and say, in a way that is not angry but rather is seeking a solution to a problem, “I said hello and you acted mad about something. What’s going on?”

You wouldn’t use those exact words, but the idea is what matters. Or, you can be more direct. “Denise, when I say hello you almost never say hello back.”

Just stop there. Don’t lecture her or complain about it, that statement alone lets her know you’re irritated or upset about it. If you stand for a moment after making a statement like that, she will respond. That will at least give you something more to go on.

You could say that same kind of thing about other behavior. “You seem to be angry at the world today.” “What’s going on that caused you to turn your back on us when we came in the break room?”

If she asks for money or a ride, you could be even more direct. “I can’t give you a ride because of time problems, but I have to tell you, I’ve noticed that the only time you really talk to me is when you want a ride or something else.”

That kind of statement, without a lecture, nearly always catches people off guard and they will respond. Then, perhaps you can talk about it directly to her.

What have you accomplished with that kind of positive but direct communication? You’ve let her know how you feel, but in a decent way. You have also given her a chance to realize how you and others might see her actions. You may find that she gives you reasons for her actions. “I don’t talk to you and the others, because from day one you all have shut me out.”

Whether or not she responds well, you have done something on your own to try to make things better. If those don’t work you have a good reason to talk to your supervisor about it.

Until you and your coworkers have tried, in a professionally appropriate way, to get more effective communication from the coworker, your supervisor isn’t as likely to intervene.

3. That brings up the supervisor. Surely she has noticed the situation. She should deal with it if she realizes the level of disruption that is present.

If your supervisor doesn’t deal with it on her own, try to talk to your coworker directly, as mentioned above. Then, go to your supervisor and explain why the behavior is a problem and ask for her assistance to getting some professionally effective communication going between everyone. If the supervisor isn’t effective about it, you may want to move up the chain of responsibility.

The bottom line on all of this is that you can’t force your coworker to talk to you, but your supervisor can require effective and appropriate communication. What you can do is communicate with your coworker openly, honestly, but courteously. Then, if that doesn’t work, you can ask for supervisory assistance.

Best wishes to you about this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.