Said I Was Unethical and A Liar

Question:

A co-worker, on the job for 9 years, (1) called me unethical in front of the rest of the staff and (2) yesterday called me a liar and insisted that I admit it, in front of the staff and our supervisor.

I have been on this job for 14 months.

I’m going to talk with the supervisor about this co-worker’s increasingly out of control behavior toward me. I want it stopped. Any advice at all?

Signed,

Called An Unethical Liar


Answer:

Dear Called An Unethical Liar:

From what you describe, it sounds like at one time a co-worker called you unethical and at another time a liar, both times in front the staff. You don’t say over what action or speech on your part provoked this; nor do you say how you responded to these accusations or what your supervisor did.

Your supervisor needs to investigate the accusations and to implement or establish policy or to make clear what are unspoken rules about how co-worker accusations should be handled. From this distance, it seems to me that the supervisor, possibly with the additional presence of a representative from Human Resources, needs to interview the co-worker who accused you of being unethical and a liar. Also to interview you and others who were involved. This need not become a long process, but the facts should be learned as soon as and as accurately as possible. Following that, the supervisor should clarify when, where and how such accusations should be voiced. Unless, others on the staff are involved in the incident, it is best that such accusations be made in private and be resolved between the accuser and accused. However in your case, since these remarks have been voiced in the presence of staff, once the supervisor has investigated and determined how it should be resolved, she/he should brief the staff what is his/her decision. Also he/she should request that the matter not be continued in gossip.

This conflict brings to the surface the issue of how such matters should be voiced and resolved. And the supervisor would be wise to set aside time for your workgroup to talk over dos and don’ts of their communication that can make for an effective working relationship. Conflict is to be expected. Conflict surfaces different perspectives. Conflict raises ethical issues. These all are fodder for discussion.

Remember this is not over even after the supervisor rules either for you or against you. Why? If wrong, apologize. Apologize if you were even in part wrong. Then you can carry a grudge both against the co-worker and the supervisor, or you can earn your way back to being a respected responsible employee. If you are judged not unethical and not a liar, you can boast, or you can offer to find ways to prevent such accusations. From here, I suspect that you and this co-worker need to spend some time, possibly in the presence of a third party coach or facilitator, to hammer out what you need from each other and who does and does not do what; to clarify your job description and to commit yourselves to cooperation.

It seems to me that your workgroup could benefit from teambuilding. See our archive for that topic. Finally, how you respond to these accusations will determine if you can work through differences and whether it festers until another blow up makes you wish that you worked somewhere else.

What do you think my signature motto means as applied to your situation? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

Follow Up: I had a meeting with the supervisor in which I attempted to discuss this person’s behavior. She turned the meeting on its end, and gave me a litany of complaints from my coworkers towards me. The jist of this (aside from some very petty complaints) was that I was not shouldering my share of the work nor doing as much as my colleagues and they felt they were having to do my work. This followed with a discussion about wanting us to work together and to build a team, work things out on our own. We outlined things that I could change on a daily basis that would improve my efficiency and then I will be given a written formal “coaching” form to improve my time management skills within a 60-day time frame. Based on the handbook, it appears that this is the first step towards what they call a “decision making leave” which is essentially quit or we will fire you.

The other person’s behavior was not addressed in the meeting, nor apparently will it be.

Unbelievable.

Dear Unbelievable: Soooo what will you do from here? Now where you stand with the supervisor has surfaced, and apparently, whether petty or not, other complaints have been voiced against you. And a plan for improvement has been outlined for or with you. You do not say what you presented about the co-worker’s lying and unethical accusation or if your supervisor sided with that co-worker’s behavior. Nor do you say if you stated to her that you do not want to be publicly attacked that way. Were you assertive? Did you have clearly in mind and on paper what happened and ask for how such incivility should be corrected and prevented? Was the accusation baseless? As you imply was it “petty”? If not, might it happen again because you and that co-worker have overlapping job descriptions and interaction?

You are now faced with whether the job you are in and company in which you are employed are worth the effort to work within the guidelines set forth. The outline for improvement implies closer interaction with your supervisor, that usually means an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and to develop a close working relationship. In short, she will be invested in you. You can hold a grudge seeing her as incompetent and “unbelievable” and that attitude will show. And she might be. But whether she is or not, you must learn to work through the anger you feel and do your best to think like a boss. What would you have done if you were in your supervisor’s shoes? Thinking about that is learning what is involved in the job of supervising and working with a supervisor, good or bad. You are getting a ringside seat to study the job of supervision. Report back again, if you like. Do tell us what you are learning from this unhappy experience. It will test if you can maintain a positive attitude when things don’t go your way. Right?

Follow Up 2 A detailed response to each above paragraph came. Dear Unbelievable Again: Thank you for sharing the details of your job and conflict. I will not post this latest material you sent us for fear if I did and it is seen it might make your work there more difficult.

Is there anything else I might say about how you could make your situation less stressful? Probably not. Other than what you already know: That you do not have to be beaten down. You can walk away from a screaming co-worker. Or you can confront her firmly, saying, “Stop!. If you want to criticize me, step aside and we can set aside a time to talk out what bothers you and I will do my best to be cooperative and correct my mistakes if I made an error.” You can accommodate and work around the petty criticisms. You can, as I said before, see if by working within the outline for the next several weeks/months with your supervisor a solid respect of her or she for you develops. You can get a hold on your fear and anxiety about living up to the expectations of your co-workers and boss. How? By coming to a reasonable confidence that you are doing all that should be reasonably expected and no more. Let them complain. Speak up for yourself. Do what you can to make others work easier and effective, but don’t become a basket case victim.

You can do your best not to become obsessed with how your supervisor sides with this ranting co-worker than rather reigned her in. You can explore other opportunities for use of your professional skills and certification. Surely your present employer is not the only place you can be hired nor are all other employing agencies filled with employees like your out of control co-worker.

You can find emotional healing and strength to deal with the stresses others put on you by nurturing yourself–good food, pampering, exercise, avocational pleasures, outside friends and love. Work is hard enough without the stresses you now feel. Some stresses you must learn to ignore. Some to confront. Some to tell you to vote with your feet. Soooo for today and this coming holiday might you put this all out of your mind and live and laugh? I hope so.

William Gorden