Talked About By Coworker At My New Job

Question:

I have been at my job for about a month and from the moment I started an employee who has been here for years decided she didn’t like me. My office is only a few doors down from hers and I can hear her openly talking negatively about me. It makes me very uncomfortable. Today one of my co-workers (one of the few who will actually talk to me because she has made it so no one else in the company talks to me) told me that this lady has openly expressed her dislike of me, what should I do?

Signed,

Feeling Alone and Disliked


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Alone and Disliked:

It’s disappointing and frustrating to start a new job and feel that someone is against you for no reason you can figure out. It’s like starting at a new school and having one person trying to turn everyone against you right away. Let me share some thoughts that might help you through this uncomfortable time and help you come out looking great in the eyes of others.

1. First, keep at the front of your mind that this is just the first month. If you’ve been there six months and things are just as bad, that would be something to worry about. But in a month there is often the settling-in process for both you and coworkers. Someone who has been there awhile may have more credibility than you do, but soon that will change, if you show yourself to be a good person and a good team member, no matter what your job title.

2. I know it’s a temptation to discuss the other employee with people who might sympathize, but do your best to avoid that temptation. It won’t win over anyone and might alienate you from them further. When someone else brings it up, try saying something like, “You know, I decided as much as I would like her to like me, I can’t force her to. So, I’m going to just focus on my work and hope that everyone will realize I’m really OK and I’m a good addition to the office.”

If you’re ever quoted, that sounds much better than almost anything else.

3. Put effort and purpose into slowly gaining influence at all levels. I often mention the three things required for influence:

You must be credible. (Do your job very well, be truthful, be correct in your judgments most of the time, have the personal appearance and demeanor of someone who is successful.)

You must be valuable. (Dependable, offer something that others want, provide something that feels good to others or that makes them be more effective, help build the team or individuals, help the group work better.) You must communicate effectively. (Be friendly, speak appropriately, be balanced between talking and listening, make personal contact, use positive non-verbal communication as well as verbally, be a good communicator in meetings and in groups.) Those three things can do a lot to bring you into the group and make you highly successful in the process.

4. Reach out to others rather than waiting for them to come to you. I often use the analogy of flossing teeth. You don’t have to dig at your gums, you just gently floss around them and stir up the bacteria so it doesn’t settle and make your gums tender.

Remember the dental office sign, “Which teeth do you have to floss?” The answer is: Only the ones you want to keep. The same thing applies at work. With whom do you want to communicate briefly, positively and effectively? Only the ones you want to influence.

That doesn’t mean being the happy-tooth person who flits around saying hello to everyone, but it does mean some effort has to go into smiling as you walk by a desk, waving in the hallway, asking if you can help, thanking people for their help to you, asking for input or suggestions, sharing ideas, etc.

As time goes on you will have more time to gain influence and you will make allies who will support you in spite of what anyone else says. You will also gain a measure of peace about not having everyone like you. The coworker you mention may never be pleasant, but she will be in the minority.

5. Develop a strong working relationship with your manager. Give it awhile, then ask your manager how you’re doing. You shouldn’t ask that question often, because then it looks like fishing for compliments; but, in the first few months that’s a good thing to inquire about. If you feel very concerned about remarks being made by the coworker, you may feel at some point that you have to bring it to the attention of your supervisor or manager. One way to do that is to ask, “Do you have suggestions for how I can be better accepted in the office?” Ask sincerely and honestly and it might open the door to explain that at least one employee seems to dislike you a lot.

Make sure you’re doing your job well. One way to make sure you’re on target is to ask HR for a copy of the performance evaluation you will be given at some point, if the company uses one. If they do and you can get it, look at the categories and decide what would fulfill those categories to a high level. Then, keep that in your desk and check it weekly to see what proof you have provided that you are an excellent employee or what your manger could use to justify the highest ratings.

Often employees complain about their poor evaluations, but even they must admit that it would be hard to justify anything higher, based on the things they have done or that the manager knows about. You need to be able to show that you are fully complying with requirements as well as the preferences of your manager.

6. You say that your coworker talks about you where you can hear it. That is extremely tacky and unprofessional! There are several options for dealing with that, all of which have worked in some workplaces, but might not work in your work culture or your specific office. Options:

*When you hear your name, get up and go to the location and say, with a smile, “Did I hear my name?” If she says no, you can say something like, “OK. I thought I did. If you want to talk to me about something, let me know.” Often that clears a room, makes some people feel ashamed and shuts up the talker.

If she says, “Yes, I was talking about you and here is why.”, at least you’ve started a conversation that might be helpful.

If she seems to confront you in a very hostile way, ask her to go with you to the manager’s office or to HR. She’ll probably refuse, but you should go anyway and ask for assistance in getting the conflict resolved.

*When you hear your name, listen for what she is saying and see if it gives you a clue as to the source of her grievance. Then, take that seriously and self-analyze to see if there is a nugget of truth from which you can learn.

*Make a note of what is said by the coworker and mention it as an example when you go to the manager or HR to ask for assistance.

*Let it go and figure that unless every employee there is equally tacky, they will soon feel ashamed at the bashing activities and will avoid the coworker rather than you. I can’t imagine a decent person standing around listening to negative talk that they know the subject can hear! Whatever you decide to do about the talking, keep your composure and show yourself to be better than those who are mean-spirited and gossipy.

The bottom line on all of this is that I think time will take care of it for the most part. While you’re graciously waiting it out, gain a reputation for excellence and professionalism. Show by your actions that you are not just nice, you’re great at your job and a great addition to the office. That may take longer to achieve with some people than with others, but the truth of it will soon show.

Best wishes in your efforts. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.