Verbally Abusive Co-worker and Workplace Anxiety

Question:

For years, I’ve tried to get along with a coworker who only responds with negatives both about me as a person and me as a worker. I tried to make amends and to discuss what was happening, but that did not help. For 9 months now, I have avoided all contact with this person. But the sting of what happened and how he treated me remains, and makes me dread going to work. Should I find another job? Should I confront the person who hurt me in an upfront manner or just let it drop? I just don’t know how to get past the anxiety plus the shame that I feel due to what he said and how I feel about myself. Thank you.

Signed,

Sick and Tired in Wisconsin


Answer:

Dear Sick and Tired in Wisconsin:

Avoidance is one alternative, sometimes an effective one, to coping with an individual who rebuffs efforts to reconcile. From what little you say, apparently you have been able to do your job without contact with him. You have been able to perform assignments, however much you feel he demeaned you. You ask, should you confront him again about how he hurt you or just drop it? My recommendation is to drop it. Put it out of your mind and be cordial but don’t make another effort to get him to apologize or to reconcile. It is hard to forget and overlook an attack on one’s good standing. But the hard fact is that a teacher must continue to teach even when a student, parents or colleague have criticized him/her. A professional ball player must continue to go to bat even after a sports reporter or team member has criticized him for striking out. And the head of your workplace must continue to manage even when a stock analyst or member of the board of directors has said nasty things about him/her. In short, almost all of us have had to continue to do our jobs despite criticism.

You also ask, if you should hunt for work elsewhere? My advice also is a definite No. To allow this individual’s remarks of over nine months ago cause you to quit a job you have worked at for years does not make sense to me; especially since you have proved that you can do your work by avoiding him. Quitting doesn’t make sense if you like job and are in good standing except for his individual. So can you weigh what he said and decide if in any way his critique is justified? If it is, can you use his criticism to motivate a change in your behavior? For example, if he said you wasted time, can you be more focused on your assignments? If he said you have body odor, can you come to work clean? If he said you have a sour disposition, can you try to be a bit more like a cheerleader? And on the other hand, if his criticism was not justified, can you ignore whatever he said?

You have been employed in this place for years so your work must have been good enough for them to keep you. Have you not met with your supervisor to review your performance? That should have informed you about how well you are performing. If you have good performance evaluations, they should give you confidence to stay rather than seek work elsewhere. Supervisors want happy subordinates, but unfortunately they are not always as sensitive as they might be to create a harmonious work environment.

You say you are “sick and tired”. You are not a happy employee. From what you share, it is clear that you are not performing at your best. How can you when you are obsessed with a co-worker’s remarks? You must either be a basket case of shame or give yourself a good shaking, shaking off that co-worker’s remarks. No body else can do that for you. You can give a pep talk to that person who is Sick and Tired in Wisconsin. And you can, without complaining to your supervisor about this co-worker you are avoiding, bring him suggestions about how you would like to work on a winning team. You could ask what you might do to help that happen. What might you and others do to make each other’s job more effective and easier? What might you do to cut wasted supplies, wasted effort, and to make your internal and external customers delighted? What could you do to brighten up your workspace?

Do any of these thoughts make sense? If not, my hope is that they will prompt you to find something outside your unhappy work environment that you can do that helps you laugh and enjoy your life. A sick and tired person in Wisconsin needs a bit of pampering; soaking in a tub, singing in a choir, tutoring someone working on her/his GED, taking flowers to someone in the hospital, bringing Christmas in October to a shut-in, taking yoga. You name it. Working together with hands, head, and heart, takes and makes big WEGOS. Please feel free to get back to us after a couple of weeks with what you elect to do and how is works or fails.

William Gorden