Misunderstandings At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling shunned:

I am a seasonal worker for a government environmental agency. I work on a boat and do rather dangerous work if people are not paying attention they could very easily get hurt. It is a rather strange work environment in that if there is nothing for us (seasonal workers) to do related to the projects that hired us; we are told to go find work by asking other projects. This can be a cause of some anxiety because not all the seasonal workers are able to find work. I am concerned (it may just be paranoia) that co-workers (a technician) are talking behind my back and/or rather intentionally leaving me out of the loop (shunned may be a good word). And the big problem is that this co-worker and my boss are very close. So, If I go to discuss my concern it’s my word versus their word and could potentially cost me my job.

I believe this because a co-worker, who I was formally on good terms with, has been giving me the cold shoulder and has not been assisting me with work. I started noticing this when we were on the boat with new hires when I had to raise my voice to get their attention.

The technician later told me that I was being a bit harsh when I was talking to them and I should calm down. (Fair enough since, I’m a quiet person me and don’t usually raise my voice to politely get people’s attention.) I decided to apologize to everyone if I sounded harsh that was not my intention. I thought that was the end of it but the last couple of weeks when I find work for myself the technician seemed pissed off that I did not get work for the other people as well (even though I did try).

This continues to awkward moments of asking for help or information that in the past would have been answered nicely but were now very tense and basically being snapped at.. I believed I was being polite and considerate of the technician’s time making sure not to bother them when they were busy but this did not seem to matter. To make matters worse my boss is starting to act in a similar manner. While me and her do not interact much there just seems to be something in her voice and body language that says she is annoyed or dissatisfied. I was also taken off the main project and put on onto another projects boat for a day. I was told that it was to give me a break from all the early mornings and that the project needed the help but, something just seemed to be off when the technician gave me these extras reasons to take me off the main project boat that day I try to be objective but I keep coming to the same conclusions that either

I’m being paranoid or someone is mad about something but I’m not sure what. I have tried reasoning maybe something is stressing my co-workers and boss out. But, from watching them interact with other people in the office the change in mood does seems to be around me. Is there anything I can do to make my workplace better or a way I should go about handling the situation? It’s getting to the point I am having trouble working with people I should be able to work with. I do not feel like I can go to my supervisor about my concerns; since she is a cause of them. I am considering going up the ladder to her supervisor but I don’t want to bother him with what may simply be a misunderstanding.

Signed, Feeling Shunned

DearĀ Feeling Shunned:

These kind of situations can be frustrating and worrisome. They certainly can take the enjoyment out of work. But, you know without me telling you, the only way to find out the problem is to ask the person who matters the most; your supervisor. You don’t have to do that in a big, dramatic way, just a casual, conversational way will work if your supervisor has something to say to you. Before I mention a method for doing that, let’s consider if your suspicions are reasonable.*Have you and your coworker and/or supervisor had conversations in which it was apparent there was a strong disagreement about a philosophy, opinion or current issue? Politics, religion, social views and other subjects of all kinds come to mind. Those first three are the things that are most likely to create a barrier. Can you think of a conversation in which you expressed an opinion, failed to support an opinion, made a remark you thought was joking, or said or did something that had the possibility of strongly offending the coworker and therefore the supervisor?It may be that the subject is one that is so important to you, it doesn’t matter that they don’t agree. At least you will know.*You say you are usually quiet but you say you were told you were harsh with volunteers and should calm down. One case of that happening shouldn’t create a lasting bad feeling, so could it be that you are less quiet than you think? Again, perhaps this doesn’t apply, but it’s worth considering.Another thing to consider is whether or not there is some aspect of the way you communicate that people have teased you about or have made remarks about over time. Sometimes people have a communication habit that drives everyone crazy; they talk too much, laugh too loudly or whatever; so others avoid them. Any hint of that? *I wouldn’t think this would apply, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to consider your overall hygiene. We get so many letters complaining about body odor, bad breath, and soiled and stale-smelling clothing, that it’s apparent it is a problem for many people, yet they are not aware of it.

Is there any chance at all that you are being avoided because it’s unpleasant and embarrassing to be around you?*Have you been there long enough to get any kind of performance evaluation? If so, did it say anything that could be considered a “hint” to improve?*Do you have any friends or supporters at all at your workplace? If so, could you talk to them and ask them to give you an honest critique about how you fit in and how you are perceived?If, after considering all of the circumstances, you still don’t have a clue about what is going on and why there has been a change, you only have two options:1. Leave it alone and do your best to show your colleague and your supervisor that you are a good worker whom they can trust. Eventually their feelings may return to the good relationships you once had.

2. Ask your supervisor how you’re doing and if there is any area of work in which you need to specifically improve. You can do that without making a big issue of it. One way is to ask for approval of something or find some other reason to talk to her when things aren’t excessively busy, then as though just making regular conversation before you leave, say, “While we have a few minutes to talk, I want to make sure I’m doing OK here and find out what you’d like to see me improving. Do you have any ideas right now or do you want me to come back when you have more time?”I’ve found out over the years that the best way to get into a subject is to say the first few words then you’re committed! Just say those few words then be quiet and let her talk. It’s like the One Minute Manager in reverse.If she says you’re doing fine, use that as a chance to say something like, “I’m really glad to hear it, but honestly I feel like there’s something the matter. If there is, I want to know so I can fix it if I can. Are you sure there’s nothing that is creating a barrier between Kelly and me or you and me? “If she still says things are fine, you’ve at least done all you can do to find out the problem and you can focus on option

#1: Focus on doing good work and showing that you are a valuable employee and a valuable coworker.I often mention the three things it takes to have influence and to develop strong positioning in a group or organization:* You must be credible. You should possess the level of knowledge and skills appropriate for the situation. The more the better, if it’s used in a positive way. ** You must be valuable. People have to feel there is a good reason to link with you and to support you. Usually value has to do with what you can do for them or how they feel when they are around you. If it’s a pleasure, they’re more likely to support you and be influenced by you. *** You have to communicate effectively, directly and appropriately. The things that people notice are facial expressions, tone of voice and content. Make it a point to have a brief conversation with as many people as possible every day. Just brief conversation about work or the success of their work or your work with them. With the coworker who has seemed upset with you, ensure that you converse about work in positive ways. If he says or does something obviously shunning you, ask about it right then, but focus on just that situation not the entire history you have with him. “Kelly, I just asked a question and you seem upset about it. What’s going on?” If you’re having some problems, the steps I’ve mentioned can help smooth things out. If you’re worried for no reason, the steps will help anyway. Don’t go over the head of your supervisor, even if the workplace is casual. It will be deeply resented. Besides, your supervisor hasn’t done anything wrong, she simply isn’t as warm toward you as she used to be. Just move forward with a smile and a focus on being THE best employee possible, with the best attitude and the most sincere desire to help others. We’ll be interested in knowing if you are able to bring about some change or at least if you find out more about the source of the problem. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. 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.