Should I Stay Quiet When Others Are Outspoken?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a dominant coworker: I’m a quiet person and afraid if I speak up about this bully, I will be fired.

My workplace environment is getting very difficult, mainly due to one coworker. This person is: A dominant personality who is overbearing, loud, excessively confrontational, and will not take constructive criticism, but feels free to criticize everyone else. He’s the most proficient person I’ve ever met at getting his face in front of upper management, and will even resort to “stealing” ideas/opinions from coworkers (in a very subtle manner) to up his standing with the boss. This person has been at the job for over 14 years, while I have been there only 3 years. Unfortunately, I seem to have been a target of his wrath since I arrived mainly because I have more education than him and he saw me as a direct challenge to his position. Therefore, his negativity is directed at me, and others would have difficulty in understanding my position.

There does not need to be a competition between him and me, yet he seems to conduct himself as though there is. I did, initially, indirectly mention to him that we should not be in competition, and his response was that he wasn’t because, “You’re no threat to me” (this was said with sharpness and a smile–that’s the type of personality I’m dealing with). This person is tolerable as long as he gets his way, is considered “the man” by all others, and has the final say in all matters. As soon as he feels this is not the case; he goes on the attack.

I am the odd man out in this workplace as far as politics, tenure (most have been here for over 10 years), religion, and ethnic background. The people at this workplace are very vocal and unified about their political and religious beliefs. I have very different beliefs than theirs and I do not vocalize anything at work. It is assumed that everyone believes as they do. When they start talking about these issues, I simply turn to my monitor and start working. While most colleagues are relatively friendly, if my beliefs were known, that would change. Any advancement at work would stop, and the atmosphere would become intolerable.

This does lead to some of my frustration, i.e., I feel as though I am not standing up for my beliefs, but I’ve thought about this a lot, and see no other options; I would be a target for all kinds of abuse if my position on these issues were known (these should not even be an issue in the workplace). In any case, the above environment also keeps me from confronting the aforementioned individual. Specifically, he is in “good” with the boss and other colleagues since they have all been around for so long and all think the same way (they basically feed off of each other), and if I were to confront him, it would immediately get relayed to the others, and I would be cast as the villain and isolated even more.

A lot of this does have to do with personalities in that I am relatively quiet and passive, while this individual is not. In a confrontation and/or argument, I would lose in both the event itself and the aftermath (i.e., the powers that be would no doubt side with the other person). I know this and I’m pretty sure he knows this. While I know in most workplace issues, voicing ones concerns is typically the best option, I honestly think that if I were to do that, it would be the end of my position–while they couldn’t legally let me go, they could and would make life completely miserable to point of me having to resign. So, I deal with this by treading very carefully in what I say in the office, being very careful with any suggestions I may have for this individual, and just trying to be nice. I hope you respond that I am on the right track. Clearly, given my frustration, I do need other ways to cope/deal with these issues. Perhaps I need to modify my behavior. I’m not sure.Thanks for any further suggestions.

Signed, A Quiet Person

DearĀ A Quiet Person:

What a shame it is that you feel you must keep your mouth shut and tread water. But from what you describe, I can see why you have come to this decision. That probably is best for now. Meanwhile, you may scout other work possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be great to be in a workplace that was a fun place to work; one in which people were free to joke, to applaud each other, to dance, to engage as a team seeking to delight internal and external customers? There are a few best places to work for. Each year such a list is published by Fortune and other sources.

A few workplaces are owned and managed by individuals who think their way is the only way. Often those souls are sincere well-meaning individuals who are convinced they are religiously the chosen people. I have answered a number of questions pertaining to such work environments. I will attach an article I wrote summarizing my thinking about this topic for your information. It may speak to your situation. If so, fine. If not, you may pray for me.

I value those who are devout and those who are not. Those who devoutly see themselves are right and others as sinners seem threatened by voices that do not confirm their faith. Since you have been in your work situation and have assessed a quiet get along role for yourself, I can propose nothing better lest it be in quiet ways to do what you can to be a joyful supportive worker; one who is there to make others’ work easier, more efficient, and more effective.

Often that means helping your co-workers see what the other folks are doing; a practice that entails hearing about the success of other organizations and having delegations make informational tours of those sites; what is called benchmarking. Such practices are linked to continuous quality improvement and team building. Many Q&As, about making the workplace more effective and a genuinely enjoyable place to work, are posted in our Archive.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOs. And even in your situation, in small ways I predict that can happen.

William Gorden