Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being ignored: They say I need to improve; however, they won’t say what I’m supposed to improve.

I have spoken to the department heads and HR, but can’t get any help. They insinuate I am the one with the problem. They say I need to improve; however, they won’t say what I’m supposed to improve.

Signed, I’m The Problem

Dear I’m The Problem:

From the little data you provide, there is no way anyone from a distance could know if you are or are not the problem. What’s apparent is that you are frustrated with something related to your job; possibly you think you are unfairly treated by coworkers or your immediate supervisor. If you were running a business that was not profitable and asked a consultant for advice, you’d probably be asked to provide a look at the books and business plan. Also before being given advice, consultants would investigate the operations, supply lines and distribution channels.

You probably have conducted a similar review of yourself. You’ve looked in the mirror asking why others don’t you as you see yourself. I expect that when you were told you were the problem, you felt defensive and challenged your heads and HR to spell out why and in what ways you should improve. They stiff armed you; implying you should know. You won’t like it, but also I don’t think it would be too wild a guess to say you probably do know what they want you to improve.

Is the problem rooted in the way you interact with others? Do you come across as arrogant– a smart ass who puts others down? One who is short tempered? One who has not built bridges of cooperation? Whether their or my supposition that you know what they think you need to improve is right or wrong, the fact is that you will continue to rub people the wrong way or at least not the right way unless and until you change. The obvious path for someone who has brought complaints above and has them shoved back in her/his face is to have a candid unscheduled performance review; one that includes a self-appraisal and a collaborative mapping of what needs changed, when, where and why. And a time line for that is set up ƒjust as a time line would be to complete a project–Project You!

A less obvious path is to reshape the way you approach your job and engagement with others. Rather than to find fault or complain, you determine to add value to others; by finding ways to make their jobs easier and more effective. Am I wrong to wonder if that would be a change for you? This might mean you would bite your tongue when you felt like making a cutting comment. It might mean you would be a cheerleader for the good work of others, even those you dislike and a boss that doesn’t listen to you. It might mean that you would think lean; how to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and wasted money.

I know it’s unfair to imply or insinuate you need to change when I don’t know you or the context of what you asked for help. But possibly these thoughts will provoke you to enlist someone who knows what is going on to think and plan with you how to problem-solve. Does that make even a little sense? Work is harder when interactions with those above don’t listen and/or if they listen they judge rather than join you in searching for ways around or working through a problem. So hopefully the time you took to send your query is not completely wasted.

If you don’t see a situation-specific answer, it might be because you didn’t take the time to provide s situation specific picture of what has been going on in and about you. If these few thoughts that have taken me more than an hour to spell out do ring true, then neither you nor I have wasted a lot of time. Our archives house thousands of Q&As. They address almost every imaginable problem and I recommend that you scan and study the advice provided in them, especially by the wisest individual I know, my associate workplace doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe. Feel free to update us on how you have chosen to respond to being told “you are the problem.” Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is my way of suggesting that there is hope for you and me when we determine to do our part to for the good of all concerned.

William Gorden