My Co-worker Calls Me Rude Names

Question:

I am dealing with a co-worker (we are both supervisors) that I’ve been told is calling me rude names–my fellow teammate is calling me names.

Signed,

Distressed


Answer:

Dear Distressed:

If it is true that your teammate supervisor is calling you mean names, he or she simply hasn’t read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was a best seller written long before we were careful to not use only “he” when referring to an individual whose name we don’t know. In the heart of this text you will find this rule: Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language. It’s a book you might give your teammate supervisor. Just kidding. My point is simply that you are distressed because like the rest of us you value your good name.

What recourse do you have? First you should learn if it is true that she/he called you “rude names”, and second, if it is true, you need to think about why she/he might have done that. So that I don’t have to use the he or she or her or him each time each time I mention your supervisor teammate, I’ll use the name Kim. What is your working relationship? Are you competing with Kim? Do you want your people to look better than Kim’s? Is your work group responsible for supplying Kim’s? How do you respect and like Kim? And if you don’t, might that have been perceived? The “rude names” (to use your term) might be a personal dislike or they might spring from the fact that Kim sees you and your people as completing with hers/his. The hard fact is that there is a psychological something in us that causes us to talk down those with whom we compete. This is was demonstrated to be the case for groups of young boys by one of the founders of social psychology Musafer Sherif, and he found that the bad talk could not be changed to civil until there was an overarching goal; that is until the competing groups could not get what they wanted without pooling their energy. Also Sherif learned that this psychological rule applied to adult groups. Within a workplace, individuals and their groups sometimes become cohesive when they see themselves as better than other groups; that “we are ok and that other group is not.”

Might not the most direct approach be direct? To learn if it is true that Kim refers to you by rude names, quietly meet with Kim. Tell what you’ve been told and to ask if it is true and if so what those names mean. Rumors often are true and confronting them at their source can help resolve what motivates them. You don’t need to beat around the bush. Keep your cool, but you can frankly and firmly say tell Kim that you hope these rumors of calling you names is untrue and that you want that stopped; that you want to have your name respected. Does Kim think you don’t respect him? Why? Are there ways that your people are failing to make Kim’s work more difficult? And most importantly, can you two come together on work goals that will make both of your work groups understand that cooperation is the only way to achieve high quality performance and production goals?

Think positively about this, as just another interpersonal and sociological problem that comes with working where competition is stressed. Think about the big picture; of what you two supervisors might do to make working together easier and more effective. Think about what my signature sentence might mean for you and Kim: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Weigh these thoughts that come from afar and from one who can’t possibly know your situation as well as do you. Then act. No quick fix may be possible. But thoughtful discussion with Kim about how you communicate might transform distress to civility and respect.

William Gorden