Dear Workplace Doctors, You have a great website, and give smart advice which is why I am writing. I am not sure what to do about an incident at my work. I lost my temper and spoke rudely to a co-worker. I feel there are issues with this person that should be addressed by management but I am afraid I have handled the problem poorly. This person is unpleasant to be around all day. He slams his phone down loudly, he pounds his fist on his desk and he mutters ominously all day long. Literally all day long. He is very dramatic and makes problems out of nothing. At least twice a week he has a “problem” at home that he resolves at work loudly on his cell phone. All this is nerve wracking and makes it hard to concentrate on work. I mentioned my annoyance to the manager who shrugged it off and refused to discuss it.The worst part for me is that this person is higher in rank than me and feels that he needs to supervise my work. He reads my emails while I’m on break, rearranges my desk, assigns to me tasks he does not want to do, and gets in the middle of pretty much everything I do. If I complain to him on this stuff he retaliates by giving me his work to finish or assigning me unpleasant tasks. He critiques my work every morning as soon as I come in. I don’t have 30 seconds to turn on my computer and he is yelling at me about some petty thing. Yesterday, I ignored him completely and left the area. When I returned (I can’t stay in the copy room all day) he continued his tirade as if I had not left. Finally at the limits of my patience, I told him to stop talking to me. which meant nothing to him.We then had a pretty nasty exchange which ended with me shouting. Drawn to the area by all the noise, the manager told me to stop talking and sent him to the cafeteria. At this point I was so upset that I wasn’t able to explain to the manager that this person is annoying and controlling and instead of worrying about what I am doing all day he needs to work on his own shortcomings. The manager was polite and kind but now I am in the wrong for being rude and yelling. And, on top of that I have to go back to work Monday and deal with this co-worker who I am certain will retaliate as soon as he gets the chance. I just want to do my work and not be “supervised” by him all day. How should I handle this? Thank you for any ideas.
Frustrated and Irritated
Dear Frustrated and Irritated:
It appears you have many more things bothering you than being supervised by a co-worker. I can imagine how irritating it all is! Your first step for solving this problem is to develop a brief but complete statement that fully expresses the issues that need to be resolved. Without that complete statement, you only will have a jumbled assortment of concerns. I do think you need to take serious action to get this resolved, not just smoothed over.The issue of whether this person is a co-worker or a supervisor is confusing. If this person does not have organizational authority over you, do not allow him to exert it. Before you accept an assignment, tell him you will talk to your supervisor about it. If he looks at your email or rearranges your desk while you are gone, and he doesn’t have authority to do that, report him immediately. It sounds as though this has already gone on too long! I know you spoke to your manager. But maybe he took it as just low-key complaining or venting. You will need to be persistent and insistent about getting something done once and for all.I think you will do well to go back to work ready for action. Far better to do that than to try to pretend things are OK when they are not. Or to be on the defensive about it. Getting ready for Monday will likely ruin your weekend; but I imagine your weekend has been rather upset anyway!Here is a possible plan:First, develop a list of specific things your co-worker has done or said that you know would not be acceptable by your company’s standards. If all he has done would be considered OK, you won’t have any leverage anyway! Use the following format: What happened (including the month or week it happened, if possible) how you felt about it or the affect it had on you and your work, witnesses; if not to the specific thing, at least to some aspect of it. If you don’t have witnesses, that’s OK, but it is very helpful. As you make this list, see if it really shows a problem, or if the frustrations you have are spread out over a long time. One employee complained about all the awful things her co-worker did. But her list only had five small things; and two of them happened in 2005! So, stick to recent events. Or say that such and such behavior happens about three times a week (or whatever the time frame.) Next prepare a written memo to your manager, requesting assistance. You will be attaching your list to illustrate your points. Consider the following, though it probably isn’t exactly right for your situation:”Greg’s behavior and communications are inappropriate, distracting and contentious, and have become intolerable. His actions create a work environment that is emotionally threatening and stressful. He treats me rudely and without respect, yells at me, reacts to the many upsets in his personal life by yelling on the phone, slamming the phone down, pounding the desk with his fist and otherwise disturbing me in a very unnerving way. He mutters under his breath almost constantly and is more often than not nagging, accusatory or angry in his dealings with me. Instead of being able to focus on my work, I frequently must answer his interrogations, respond to his anger with me, or do work assigned to him that he gives to me in retaliation for something he’s upset about. I am requesting an investigation of his behavior. I would also like to ask that something be done to help me have a better place to work. I am very willing and eager to talk about any aspect of this situation, and can also provide witnesses to his inappropriate actions.The following is list will provide specifics to show exactly what I have been dealing with. There are dozens more incidents than this, but these provide examples: ” (That’s where you will use your list of his behaviors. Make sure you are specific, and as factual as possible. Do not exaggerate or say what you think he meant, only say how he said something; the tone, facial expression, etc.. Then, say how it made you feel. Paint a good picture for anyone reviewing this, of a situation where he is clearly distracting you from your work focus, if that is the case.) I’m not suggesting that you build a false case against this person. I’m assuming though, that you are being truthful that he is causing you severe problems and that you are not in the wrong yourself. Given that, it is right that you should get all the facts out in the open.At the end of your memo, consider writing a list that looks something like this: 1. What you want him to stop doing and not do again. 2. What you want him to do more of. 3. What you want to have stay the same.Then, you can add a note that if your manager sees ways in which you need to improve, you are open to that as well. But, emphasize that you are not behaving as this person is, and have a record of good evaluations and good work. If you have had particularly good evaluations, mention those, to show that you are a valuable employee.Close by saying something similar to this: “I will wait to hear from you about this matter. In the meantime, I will do my best to deal with Greg’s offensive and frustrating behavior in a professional way. If something occurs, I will try to deal with it directly. If that doesn’t work I will come to you immediately.”(Or something like that, in words you’re comfortable with. You may want to change the entire tone of the memo. I wrote that only as an example of one way to write it.)Then stick with your commitment. Don’t jump on very small irritants. But the next time your co-worker does or says something inappropriate or distracting ask him, in a courteous or at least civil way, to stop. If he doesn’t, go to your supervisor. I think it’s been established that you don’t care for your co-worker much, so it isn’t as though you have to try to preserve the friendship!I’ll return to my first comment now. If this person is your boss, you will need to do as he asks, unless it is clearly unfair or inappropriate. But if he is not your formal boss, you have much more leeway. For example, I doubt it would be considered insubordinate to question his authority. You may find your best communication approach is to be reserved and only civil. If he starts questioning you and you feel you have answered sufficiently, turn away and say, “That’s all I can talk about it now. I have work to do.” Or, “Please Greg. We’ve talked about it enough. I’m getting back to work now.” Be good enough in your style that anyone witnessing it could clearly see you are doing your best.You know you should not have gotten in a yelling argument. Now you may look like part of the problem. But, explain that in the memo or face to face with your manager. Just say you had tried everything else to get your co-worker to stop harassing and criticizing you and nothing worked, so you were getting more and more stressful, and that is why you reacted as you did. That’s probably the truth anyway.There is one thing I will warn you about: Your manager may try to shrug this off again or accept a half-hearted effort by your co-worker to act better. If that happens, you may have to decide if you want to go higher up with your complaint. That could get uncomfortable but it might have to be done. If your company has an HR section, maybe you could ask their advice about it. The important thing is to not let things slip back into business as usual with this person.I hope this was helpful to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens, whether or not you decide to use this approach.
Tina Lewis Rowe
Dear Ms. Rowe, I wrote you awhile back about a problem at my work, the question title was I lost my temper now what? I want to thank you for your advice. I could tell you put some thought into your reply and I appreciate it. I did use your suggestions, I organized my thoughts and would not let them smooth the problem over, and the manager agreed to talk to Greg about the fist pounding etc. Greg did stop the behaviors and it was like a dark cloud had lifted! I realized how intimidated I was by his behavior. Able to finally think and concentrate on my job without him acting awful I realized that the problems there go way deeper than unprofessional behavior. For example, they are an aftermarket auto parts store. I sold a customer some expensive brake rotors but our supplier did not have them in stock. Greg asked me to repackage some very cheaply made ones and pass them off to the customer as the expensive ones. I refused, he did not insist and the matter was dropped. At that point I realized that I only wanted out. It is a very small company, no HR department and Greg’s lack of ethics and common sense were disturbing. I wanted to find another job before I left but shortly after that Greg started his muttering and tantrum throwing again. I emailed the manager and was very direct with him about Greg. I told him that Greg did not seem able to handle his position (yes, I found that I did report to him). I also suggested that I report to someone else that was not Greg. The manager actually deleted the message from my sent file while I was at lunch, told his boss that I made too many mistakes and his boss fired me. I considered informing the big boss of what really is going on but you know… it occured to me while I was in his office that I am LUCKY to have been let go. So I said okay and got out of there fast. I am now considering whether or not I should tell them that I got several orders that I did not have a chance to fill before I left, if I don’t call they won’t know and will lose the sales. I could then ask for written references ( I say written references so I have some control over what is said) but I actually feel that they are pretty close to sociopathic and I’m not sure if I want to have any contact with them. You said in one of your responses to me that I might not want to be really drastic with them because it might be a safety issue. I didn’t see it at the time but you were so right…anyway I really do appreciate the advice and thought that you might find my story interesting. Kim
Dear Checking Back:
Thank you for contacting us to let us know what happened. I agree that likely you are much better off being away from that situation. It doesn’t sound as though it would have ever improved very much.I do think you will feel better about yourself and they will feel better about you, if you let them know about business that is pending. You never know when even a semi-positive reference will be what you need—as opposed to a clearly negative one. And, it would certainly show your character if you follow-through in a situation where others might not.I would mail or fax the information to them, so you have a record of doing it. And I think I would send it to the person who approved firing you. If you send it to your supervisor the person higher up might never know you did the right thing. It sounds to me as though your immediate boss wanted to cover for Greg, at your expense. So, he may not mind making you look even worse if he has the chance, as a way to verify that your firing was appropriate.This has been an unnerving experience, I’m sure. I’m glad you had the inner strength to handle it well. That will also allow you to move on and more forward. Best wishes with all of it!
Tina Lewis Rowe