Non-communicative And Manipulative Co-worker

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an non-communicative and unfriendly coworker:

I have a co-worker who I think is extremely non-communicative and unfriendly. Recently, she has been wearing sunglasses in the workplace and I am very annoyed by her behavior. My own solution to her strange behavior is by ignoring her and limiting my interaction with her. Honestly, I think that she is a very manipulative and very unhappy person. Would like to have your input on this strange situation.. Thanks.

Signed, Silent Treatment

Dear Silent Treatment:

Limiting interaction??? You have chosen the withdrawal treatment to your non-communicative sun-glassed co-worker. That should solve your problem. Right? Possibly, but yet you complain and you are unhappy about this co-worker you think is unhappy. Is there another way? Maybe not.

Some people choose ways to hide from others. Sunglasses and silence might be her ways of protecting herself. But that makes you feel she is controlling you. So should you toughen up and respond in a similar non-communicative way? Let me share with you a few lines that were sent me by a golfing buddy and you may decide that you too should wear sunglasses and give her the silent treatment. But that might result in more than mere discomfort of feeling she is manipulative.

What do you conclude from this short story? The Silent Treatment A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. Suddenly, the man realized that the next day he would need his wife to wake him at 5:00 AM for an early morning business flight. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence (and LOSE), he wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5:00 AM.” He put it where he knew she would find it. The next morning, the man woke up, only to discover it was 9:00 AM, and he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to confront his wife as to why she hadn’t wakened him, when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. The paper said, “It is 5:00 AM. Wake up.”

Men are not equipped for these kinds of contests. My golfing friend concludes that silence doesn’t work against wives. Might you conclude that sunglasses and silence costs your workplace as well as it costs you discomfort?

So you will have to decide whether to break the silence. How? You have two to three choices:

1. Ignore the sunglasses and silence. Greet her pleasantly with a few words of small talk that does not require more than a grunt of response, such as, “Hello, Sally. Did you see the rain, dear?” or “Hi, Sally. The traffic was fierce for me. How was is your way?” A few lines of small talk a time or two each day might loosen up the non-work side of your relationship. Don’t expect much of an answer at first. Simply be pleasant and ignore the grunts or silence. But do not ignore task needs. Be direct about what you need from her regarding your job. Forthrightly, clearly ask for what you need from her or need her to know.

2. Privately, confront her silence. Tell her how you feel and state explicitly the kind of working relationship you would like have with her, such as: “Sally, I’d like to tell you what is bothering me. Do you have a few minutes? We could talk privately in the hall or conference room at noon.” Once you two have taken time out, say, “Have I done something that bothers you? I have wondered about that for two or three weeks now.” Allow her time to either tell you or to deny that she is troubled by you. Then proceed to say what you would like. Do not bring up the sunglasses or non-communicativeness at this point. Rather tell her more how you feel and what you want, “I feel that you must not like me and or think in am difficult to work with because we don’t talk to each other in a friendly way or in a cheerful way about our jobs. How do you feel?”Then state what you would like, perhaps in the form of a request, “Sally, is it ok if I say, Hello and a few words about my day in a friendly way? And especially, I want to be able to know what I can do to make your and work go better. Maybe all that will be is the freedom to mention what I’m doing or to ask a question. Or to offer to help on something or ask you for help. Does that make sense to you? What kind of communication would make your day go well? What might I do to make your work easier and more effective?” Use your own words and be prepared for a non-communicative response. She may say, “Just keep your mouth shut and don’t bother me.” That is possible; however, I predict that this breaking the ice might crack the gulf of icy silence that makes working with your co-worker unpleasant and probably unproductive.

3. Focus on your work and what your work group is supposed to do. What is implied by your unhappiness about your co-worker is a clue that you do not have a civil, respectful, engaged team at work. You are working solo. That can’t be pleasant, motivating or productive. Surely, a cooperative working relationship is better than withdrawn silence. Think about ways that your products/service might be better–cutting wasted time, supplies, effort.

Think about what would make working together more productive–what you need to know about each other”s jobs and how you might deliver better quality to internal and external customers. Talk to your supervisor about these ideas and suggest that she/he schedule times for your work group to talk about these matters. If you can make a case for improving productivity, communication probably will be close to the top of an agenda for teamwork. Skull sessions almost always entail talking about talk that makes working together instrumental to improved productivity. If your boss doesn’t take to transforming your work group to a team, don’t give up. In small ways, be a cheerleader for your silent sun-glassed hidden co-worker. Does any of this makes sense or might these thoughts spur you to see your self as creative rather than a victim of co-worker? Feel free to report what you think and do. Think WEGO. Follow UP: Thanks for the answer. Additional problem that I have is that, my boyfriend works with me in the same company and he is actually a close friend to my non-communicative co worker. I am totally uncomfortable about her when she chooses to be friendly to only one of the couple and unfriendly toward the other one. I have tried solution # 1 for a while and she is still non-communicative. The only time when she can be friendly and communicative with people is when she brings her dog to work and she becomes more friendly toward people. Solution # 2 is kind of impossible…she is actually unfriendly to most people in my group and she chooses to only friendly to very few people. They (including my boyfriend) are like her little comfort/buffer zone at work. I think confronting her with her behavior might become a deaf ear from her side. It is interesting that you mentioned that her behavior is like controlling how I feel. I have never thought about this in that way. Sometimes I just feel manipulated by her behavior and not knowing what was that all about. Thanks By withholding the boyfriend information, you caused me to focus wrongly. If I had known you were uncomfortable because your boyfriend was friendly with this woman who is cool to you, my answer would have been different. Rather it would have been to talk to your boyfriend and tell him to cool it with Ms. Sunglasses or to tell your self to not allow jealousy to hurt your relationship with him or both. In short, ask yourself if your boyfriend could be happy if you were talking with another man who stiffed him.Unfortunately, most of us are not mature enough to not allow jealousy to color our feelings.

So look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are feeling excluded by Ms. Sunglasses because she has captured your boyfriend’s friendship. And then work those feelings through to conversation with him about how you feel and possibly what will result is that your boyfriend, Ms. Sunglasses and you need to take time out to frankly deal with this Dear Abby issue. I think that it is possible to keep your boyfriend and to come to a civil working relationship with Ms. S., but that will depend on each of you and all that is needed is one to make that difficult if not impossible. My other suggestions about making the coolness a task-focused matter still stands. Are you concerned enough about civility and productivity to focus on that instead of the boyfriend? Probably not. After all the heart comes before the head.

William Gorden