Supervisor Says Rude Co-Worker Can’t Be Stopped

Question:

A couple of months ago, I had what I thought was an innocent conversation with an acquaintance regarding future employment. I told this acquaintance we have an employee that is getting married next year and her fiance is in the military and stationed in Florida. I stated I didn’t know what her plans were but if she moves to Florida after her wedding this position might be an option.

My co-worker took offense and has now been ignoring me for over 2 months. Unfortunately we share an office and needless to say this past two months has been very uncomfortable in the workplace. Now she has escalated her behavior to making annoying noises(talking to herself, bouncing her pencil over and over on her desk) and ignoring me when I ask her to stop.

My supervisor says he can not discipline someone for being rude. Is there anything that can be done to correct this situation? I’ve tried talking to her but the more I tried being nice, the ruder she became.

Signed,

Trying To Make It Stop


Answer:

Dear Trying To Make It Stop:

I don’t know the size of your company or the culture of your office, but I can assure you that an effective supervisor most certainly can and should deal with conflict in the workplace, as well as with rude behavior! If there is someone above your supervisor, consider asking your supervisor to meet with you and that person to talk about this matter.

While you are considering that, these thoughts might be of help. 1. Obviously your conversation was repeated, and maybe exaggerated. Or perhaps it was not as innocent sounding as you recall! If you had prior conflict, talking about her moving and leaving might have added additional problems. If there had been a good working relationship, it would seem this could have been talked about early on. Unfortunately, at this point, just being nice to her will likely not make things better.

2. Perhaps your supervisor will have more courage to deal with this if you make a link between what is happening and your work effectiveness. When you write or talk to him about this–and, you may want to put it in writing–tell him that the behavior is very distracting and is taking the focus away from work and putting it on the problems. If you are feeling it, likey the co-worker is as well. It’s hard to do good work while remembering to be rude to someone you dislike! Mention that fact to your supervisor. Paint a clear picture of two employees who should be focused on work, but instead are focused on the conflict with each other. And, you can mention that as a supervisor he will have less problems if he helps you resolve this once and for all. If your co-worker has ignored you when you have asked her about work questions, be sure an mention that. Point out the delays, problems or concerns this could cause for the business. Keep a link to work with all you mention. That might be the most compelling reason for the supervisor to be involved! 3. Decide what you want to have happen. The first thing is you want her to respond to you appropriately when you talk to her. The next thing is that you want the distracting behavior to stop. Be specific. You want her to stop doing things that are noisy or discourteous, or that are repetitive to the point that it’s distracting. You could give examples. Say that you want things to go back to the way they used to be when the two of you did your work without bothering the other person.

4. You might also ask that she talk with you in front of the supervisor about the conversation related to her work. If that happens, reassure her that you meant nothing negative by your remarks. If you did mean something negative or if some aspect of your remarks were rude about her, get it over with and apologize. Just gutsy up and do it. Say, “I’ve thought about it and realize I was wrong. I’m sorry. I won’t ever do that again and I shouldn’t have done it then. I can understand if you can’t forgive me. But I would like for us to find a way to work in the same office without spending out time in the middle of this kind of unhappiness. I’ve asked Don (the supervisor) to witness this, so he knows I’m apologizing and asking you to put this behind us, so we can focus on work again.”

Or something like that.

If you didn’t mean the comments as negative, or say it in any way that could be quoted against you, say so. But, you may want to add that you now realize you shouldn’t have mentioned her job at all and that it wasn’t your place to do so.(I don’t see any major problem with it if you really were just chatting. But obviously something more was read into it than that.)

5. All of this is dependent upon your supervisor having any strength at all in his role. If he has a conflict with you, he may not be anxious to help. If he feels sympathy toward the other employee that may also make a difference. But, if he simply doesn’t want to be involved, you may need to find a way to make him be involved. Talking to his boss about how this is hurting the workplace might help. If you need to deal with customers, mention that you haven’t so far let any of this have an impact on customers, but you worry that sometime that might happen. Or, you might want to talk about how it affects other employees who are aware of it, if that is the case.

6. Finally, what can YOU do in relation to her? I’d say, try to ignore her behavior, without being mean about it. Make her efforts to distract you go to waste. She’ll get very tired of it herself, if you don’t react to it. I realize that’s much easier said than done!

Converse with her about work issues, as though there is no problem. Continue to be courteous, but you don’t need to go overboard about it. Make general remarks, but avoid too-personal comments, if only because they might seem insincere.

Just be the kind of person that if someone was video-taping your activities they would see you as focused on work and being a good team member, while your co-worker is focused on other things.

This would be a good time to ensure that your desk area is tidy and good looking, that you are getting your work done well and that your appearance, behavior and performance overall is as close to perfect as you can make it. You want to be seen as a valued employee who is an asset to the office, so if decisions have to be made, they will be made with that in mind.

If you have had similar things happen in the past, or if you have others with whom you are in conflict, that will remind you to work on those relationships and the things that damaged them. I’m not saying that is the case–it’s just something to consider.

I hope these thoughts will help you as you develop a plan of action for this frustrating situation. It likely will never completely be put away, but hopefully it will calm down to the point that it won’t be a daily problem. And maybe she WILL be moving!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.