Needy Co-worker

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker who needs much assurance:

I work with a woman who needs constant reassurance and expects “Thank you” for everything she does. She gets very hyperactive over minute details and tries to make sure things are done her way. She occasionally oversteps the boundaries of her position. If she is not getting enough positive attention, she will ask why I am mad at her or if she is doing something wrong. Her extreme neediness gets in the way of getting work done. Do you have any suggestions on how I can deal with this situation in an amicable way?

Signed, Amicable Me

Dear Amicable Me:

You don’t say if you have confronted her. Have you ever spelled out what you do and don’t want from her? It takes courage because you don’t want to hurt this soul who needs so much reassurance. But apparently from what you say, boundaries have not been clearly established and the way you and she communicate has been via unspoken and unclear assumptions. Can you clarify the what, when, where, who, how and why of talk and other means of communication are needed to do your and her jobs; not be laying down the law, but by collaboratively hammering out what each of you want and don’t want?

Rather than get mad, she probably will be upset to tears. That is the risk you must take if you don’t want her neediness interfering with your work. To prepare for such a time-out confrontation, log instances of times her neediness has frustrated accomplishing a task. Doing this will help you distinguish between if her behavior interferes with work or rather it simply annoys you. In either case, before a one-on-one with her, consult your supervisor. Possibly your supervisor will recommend a three-way meeting could better address this or will advise that you meet with her alone. In either case, collaboratively spelling out do and don’t preferences for how you communicate and refrain from that can be educative. If you both are in a work group, that same kind of spelling out communication rules can be team building.

Rules once made should include a follow up review of them. From time to time, work groups and even two-members whose work requires interaction should answer such a two-sided question as: how well are we communicating and are there ways to improve on that? The focus should be on doing what you each were hired to do. That focus will not make saving face of your reassurance-needing coworker easy, but it places the emphasis where it should be. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that entails the job at hand and respectful give and take.

William Gorden