Undermining Temp Coworker

Question:

We have a temp that came in about a month ago or so and she is professional, seems nice, gets along with everyone, etc. I liked her up until today. She, another coworker and I were at lunch. The other coworker is overweight and she is also important to the temp’s training. The temp’s cubicle is between mine and the other coworker’s and she told me she hears me eating all day, which I do not do and I told her so to which she responded “Okaaaay…”.

It’s the other coworker who she is probably hearing. She told me she was surprised I was not fat. Those things are not nice to say to anyone. I feel she said that to me because she didn’t dare say it to the other coworker and that she was trying to undermine me to feel good about herself and she may be after my job. She is one of those brown-nosers who brings in food and decorates, etc. It also seems like my manager falls for all that and encourages the competitiveness. I don’t need all that. I just want to work, get along well with everyone and go home.

What I’m really asking for is an effective way to deal with this person so that it does not escalate and in such a way that maybe I can turn things around and still put her in her place. Some people are adept at that. They can do it with one remark. I’m always the one who is targeted by people like that even though I am friendly and nice and mind my own business. I don’t know why that is. Do I have a sign on my forehead that says “B**** Magnate”? Please help me to deal with this person so the onus is not on me, too.

Signed,

Feeling Targeted


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Targeted:

You say the temp is professional, seems nice, gets along with everyone and you liked her until today when she said something that offended you. Would you want someone to completely turn against you because of one ill-judged remark?

I agree that it would be irritating to have someone make a coy remark and say, “Okaaayyy” in that way. But, rather than try to get even with her in a devious plot, why not just move on and do what you say you want to do, which is come to work, do your work and go home?

You can easily deal with something similar next time by simply saying, “Jan! I don’t know what you’re talking about because it’s not true. But don’t you think if it was true it could really hurt my feelings for you to say that?” If your other coworker was the target let her deal with it herself. She may not have applied it personally and wasn’t hurt by it as you were.

As for whether or not the temp is after your job: Whether she would like to be employed full time or not, it is highly doubtful that a long-term employee would be fired for no reason, so a temp could be hired full-time. If you’re doing good work and not creating problems your job will be stable. If you have worries about your job, you should talk to your manager to see ways in which you could have more value or improve.

I don’t want to sound harsh, but you seem to be on a path to start an office feud that is unnecessary and will only make you look badly. It’s so typical of such feuds for them to start over a piddly thing that should be dealt with directly at the time. To try to find a way to put the temp in her place is not friendly, nice and minding your own business, which is how you describe yourself.

Instead of focusing on a coworker, make it your goal to gain influence and a great reputation because of what you do and what you offer to the company. If the temp employee seems to be taking a verbal shot at you often, confront her about it. “Jan, I wouldn’t normally react to comments like that, but it seems you’ve made a remark about me every day this week. I don’t like it and and I’m wondering what’s going on.” Then just stop talking and let her make explanations or apologize or whatever. She’s probably not expecting you to say anything back and it will remind her to watch what she says.

I can understand that you don’t want to be walked over by anyone. But, I hope you will not do or say anything that puts you on the offensive against someone else. When you do that, you will be noticed, but it won’t be for the best reasons.

Give this situation a few days to see what happens. If it escalates you may have more to warn the temp coworker about. If it doesn’t, you may find you go back to feeling more positive about her–or at least you will be able to work with her acceptably.

Best wishes to you with this. I know it’s challenging, but you have it within you to deal with it correctly.

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.