OT - co-worker problem

  1. You have chosen to ignore posts from mezzogal1124. Show mezzogal1124's posts

    OT - co-worker problem

    Hi Ladies,

    I know this is OT but I couldn't find a better forum to post it in and you all give such great advice! I'm facing a difficult and distressing situation at work. I had to select someone to work with me on a special project. My department head suggested I choose between two colleagues (let's call them Rich and Sue), both of whom have done similar work in the past. I chose Rich because I felt his skill set was particularly suited to this project. Despite going out of my way (both in person and in an email) to express to Sue that this wasn't meant against her personally and that I value her talents, she interpreted my decision as a disrespectful attack against her. 

    Over the past month and a half, Sue has:
    --left me a nasty voicemail;
    --blatantly ignored me in front of clients and stormed out of a room when I asked her something;
    --called one of my former co-workers to tell her what a horrible person I am; and --walked into my office, told me off, and then marched out and slammed the door.

    I’ve reported Sue to HR 4 times during this process. "HR" (I use quotes because we don't actually have a proper, neutral HR department) at my workplace is very ineffective. It's a small institution and they tend to take a "kumbaya" approach to conflict resolution because everyone's working in such close quarters.

    Despite the fact that the department head and HR person have already told Sue that she must conduct herself in a professional way with me (this is after I initially reported her, about a month ago), her behavior toward me has deteriorated. The HR person's proposed next step is to have a meeting with Sue and me to "find common ground in our relationship moving forward." While I recognize that Sue thinks she's right just as much as I do, as far as I'm concerned this isn't even about who's "right" anymore -- it's about her hostile conduct toward me. She was told to be professional, and has proven herself incapable of it. 

    Needless to say, this has taken a toll on me. While I’m not an overly sensitive person, I DO care what others think of me and always do my best to conduct myself with kindness and respect.  I know I’m not at fault and that her behavior is ridiculously inappropriate, yet no matter how much I logically justify that to myself, I still feel very angry and hurt.  Friends and family quote Eleanor Roosevelt to me: "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent," but that doesn't seem to help.

    Are there any books/resources/ways of thinking any of you could recommend on dealing with irrational people?

    Thanks for reading (if you’ve made it this far). I truly appreciate your thoughts.
     
  2. You have chosen to ignore posts from kargiver. Show kargiver's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    I'll have to think about this more, but in the meantime I'll say that any human in your boat would feel hurt, angry, and at a loss as to what to do.  Just because you know what you know, and yes, you are correct about the situation, doesn't mean you don't or shouldn't have FEELINGS.  OK?

    P.S.  Let me sleep on this and get to you tomorrow.  Sorry you are dealing with this, and my comment earlier was aimed at stopping your adding insult to injury by beating yourself up for being upset.  No need for that.
     
  3. You have chosen to ignore posts from pingo. Show pingo's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Mezzogal, I am sorry you have to deal with this. It is always difficult in a small company (or a small department) when employees do not get along. It is felt all over, no one is a "winner" and the morale goes down.
    I am just wondering, how Sue got to know that she was not chosen. Did your boss actually publicise, that you had chosen Rich over Sue?  That is a very big mistake to start with. He should have called you in alone and quietly explained about the project and that you had two people to chose from to help you. Then your boss should have called Rich in and simply have told him, there is a project he and you would be working on together. This way Sue would not know, she was not chosen. But apparently that did not happen.
    You did the right thing to get HR involved. For the three of you to meet face to face, seem like a good idea at this point. 
    Keep your head high, you are not the one a fault. Good luck!

     

     
  4. You have chosen to ignore posts from WhirledPeasPlease. Show WhirledPeasPlease's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Well, at least this has confirmed your decision that Sue wasn't the right person for the job. She can't conduct herself in a professional manner when things don't go her way; toddlers often have the same problem. 

    But that's irrelevant because you're just feeling c r a p p y that she's taking it out on you. It sounds like talking to her won't work because she's just unreasonable. 

    Here are some book ideas:

    How to Deal with Difficult People by Ursula Markham
    Dealing with People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst by Dr. Rick Kirschner

    The Downtown Crossing Borders has a pretty substantial section on business communication, if you want to check that out. 
     
  5. You have chosen to ignore posts from ALF72. Show ALF72's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    A similar thing happened to someone in an office where I used to work. It's a PITA.  Go to the 'meeting' w/ HR to 'work it out' together. It will amount to nothing, I guarantee.  If you are lucky, maybe she'll stop being a w-anker.  If she doesn't, then you need to get your boss involved.  She needs to be told in no uncertain terms that she needs to act in a civil fashion.  Unfortunately, unless she gets torn a new one by the boss, this doesn't sound like it's going to happen voluntarily. 
     
  6. You have chosen to ignore posts from kargiver. Show kargiver's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    I second WPP's suggestion of How to Deal with Difficult People; it's a classic.

    I'm betting this is not Sue's first time behaving this way?  Seems like this is a reaction of someone with a marked lack of self esteem.  Of course, this is not your fault, but it is your turn to have her problem directed toward you.  Your boss created this particular situation by not keeping the fact that it was your choice to work with Rich over Sue to himself.  Since this is really a problem within Sue's psyche since well adjusted, "normal" people could have handled Rich's getting chosen constructively, there's nothing anyone at your office, including you, can really do to solve her underlying problem.  However, as others have said, of course, she needs to be told in no uncertain terms that her unprofessional behavior is unacceptable (regardless of the cause).  But, that hasn't worked yet and it probably won't in the future.  So in conjunction with being corrected, she needs to be redirected, and that's ALL up to your boss.  Sue needs to be busy doing something else.

    As to how to deal with this since you cannot fix her or the problem, I'd say come up with a short, simple phrase that you repeat incessantly during conflict after every comment she makes.  That's my favorite tool for dealing with difficult people as it is HIGHLY effective and relatively easy even under pressure.  It's wonderful for non-confrontational people, too.  If you take her insecurity (the root of this problem) into account when you decide what to say it will be even more effective.  Something like, "Sue, I respect you and your work very much."  Leave out anything about the decision to work with Rich and how it didn't mean anything against her because the more you repeat that the more she'll disbelieve your sincerity.   Say your phrase even when it makes no sense as a response to whatever she's said.  People who are angry and irrational do NOT HEAR YOU so no matter how ridiculous you might sound to YOURSELF, the person who isn't hearing you has no idea you're repeating yourself and not responding in kind to their rants until it dawns on them that that's all you're saying and is all your going to say no matter what they do.  At that moment you have them under control. 

    Sounds nutty and too simple to work, but it's not my creation, it's a proven communication techinique with "difficult people."

    P.S.  I forgot to let you know that you also say the phrase the same, quiet way each time.  Do not change your tone or inflection...nothing.  Pretend you're a robot programmed with only that one phrase.
     
  7. You have chosen to ignore posts from dkb6248. Show dkb6248's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    If she worked at my office she would have been fired by now. 

    I like everyone's advice so far, especially Kar's about the short, repeated phrase.   You do not need to justify your decision to this woman.  You have already been justified by HR.  It sounds like there is a lot more going on in her life that she is upset about than just not being picked for this project.  Her reaction is manic...seriously - threatening voicemails?  (To make light of the situation, she reminds me of Molly Shannon's character on the Seinfeld episode where Elaine makes fun of her because she doesn't move her arms when she walks, so she flips out on Elaine by leaving her creepy voicemails and trashing her office).


    I don't like that your manager made it known that you picked Rick, assuming that's what happened.

    Sounds like you have followed the appropriate protocol in addressing this matter.  I am sure it will all work out in the end, and I am sorry that you have to deal with this unnecessary stress.

     
  8. You have chosen to ignore posts from easydoesit2. Show easydoesit2's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    I hope you don't mind a male's perspective. Brief background; my degrees are in management, and I've been a supervisor, manager, and a police officer.  That said, my advice is to document the daylights out of everything in excruciating detail: who said what to whom, when, and with what result. Make it factual and keep your opinions out of it. Also, bear in mind that you have rights!  Make sure HR knows that very clearly. You have a right not to be treated with disrespect and threatening behavior. A "hostile work environment" is against the law, for the company AND the aggressor. Point out to HR the potential impact on the company when she acts up in front of clients: would you do business with a company that tolerated public tantrums?  Bottom line is, tell HR you have done as much as you can, or will, to make it agreeable to her how you carried out the assignment the company gave you: choose one for the project.  It is now THEIR problem, and you demand they do something to insure and protect your rights.
     
  9. You have chosen to ignore posts from Prill. Show Prill's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    It is w*ssy kumbaya HR people that give us HR people a bad name!

    Is there anyone higher that you can go to? Can your direct manager speak to HR about the seriousness of this situation (and you & your manager point out potential legal issue/hostile work environment, loss of clients etc)?

    It is people such as this that are infuriating in the work place (I can picture her now, the "woe is me" type, who feels "picked on"... shudder). With people like this, sitting down in a one-on-one intervention style conversation rarely works - as again, they feel that you (and your manager, and probably HR) are ganging up on them.  She needs to be treated formally, through a correct and documented performance management protocol.  How to actually get this to happen is another issue, but all you can really do is keep your head down, do your own work and ensure that your manager (and, in turn, HR) is aware of the seriousness of the problem and the impact it is having on you (and probably on others too).
     
  10. You have chosen to ignore posts from kargiver. Show kargiver's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    As an addendum to my "phrase" advice, I wanted to explicitly say that I did NOT mean for that to be the solution.  It's just a method of your getting through your days with her while others (your boss, HR, above HR, etc.) are solving the actual problem. 
     
  11. You have chosen to ignore posts from pinkkittie27. Show pinkkittie27's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Go for the conflict resolution meeting.

    I agree with Kar that your first step is to stop apologizing. You have nothing to apologize for to Sue, so don't let her make you feel bad. Just repeat something like the "respect" phrase.

    As long as the conflict resolution revolves around her hostile behavior, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
    I would speak to HR beforehand that you have concerns about the conflict resolution staying focused. Sue sounds like someone who likes to create a scapegoat or tormenter to focus and project her unhappiness onto, so that she doesn't have to blame herself. That would be you in this case. In any meeting with her, she'll be very eager to make you responsible for her behavior. It's important that both you and HR refuse to accept any excuses like that about the way she's been acting.

    The object of such a meeting should be to discuss how her behavior towards you is affecting you and how you hope it might change. Nothing more, nothing less.
     
  12. You have chosen to ignore posts from lucy7368. Show lucy7368's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Easydoesit is right - document, document, document.  You're way beyond who was right and who was wrong initially, because her behavior is extreme, unprofessional, and unacceptable - ESPECIALLY in front of clients.  I don't care if you just caught your coworker boyfriend naked in the broom closet with the janitor, a jar of whipped cream, and a Tina Turner wig, when the two of you go before the client, you leave it outside.  Period.

    The best thing you can do is stop apologizing, take some deep breaths, and do the best you can to not let it bother you.  Think about how unhappy her life must be if she is behaving this way. 
     
  13. You have chosen to ignore posts from dkb6248. Show dkb6248's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Oldchild - I don’t see where the OP said anything about thinking that she is acting in place of the supervisor or thinks that she is responsible for firing the employee.  If management had done their job in the first place, the employee would not have known the choice was OP.   

    OP simply explained the situation (including how she referred this disagreement to the department head and HR and they were the ones who confronted the disgruntled employee, not her) and asked for advice on how to cope with the stress the situation is causing her personally.  Not saying that it was your intention, but your response seems very condescending. 
     
  14. You have chosen to ignore posts from kargiver. Show kargiver's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    mezzo, how are you doing?  Hanging in there?  We're thinking of you.
     
  15. You have chosen to ignore posts from WhirledPeasPlease. Show WhirledPeasPlease's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    In Response to Re: OT - co-worker problem:
    This is a complicated question. I am trying to get at simple points: The OP took it upon herself to communicate to S when NO such communication was called for from her. The ONLY party who should have explained the choice IF they found it useful would have been the manager. The conflict is still between OP and S where it really doesn't belong. This is what makes me think that something is missing from the story. As long as management is not getting involved, nothing is going to change. But S is going to keep kicking back at OP until management calls a halt. S probably has questions for management that HR can't possibly answer. The manager could simply sit down with HR and OP, and then HR and S in a separate session. The desired professional behaviour and the consequences of continuing the conflict must be clearly expressed BY THE MANAGER.   Management is probably afraid of saying to OP that she opened the can of worms in the first place. They might think that having one hostile worker is enough...until this project gets finished and paid for.  My gut says there are no bonuses coming here except maybe for R who will get all the credit.  OP should keep that one in mind--she asked for advice...
    Posted by oldchild

    Well, they work together so of course she needs to communicate with Sue. She can't really ignore her. It sounds like it was OP's job to let the candidates know who was chosen. 

    I don't see how she opened a can of worms at all; she was asked to choose someone for a project, she did, and then it became obvious who was working on the project. When Sue isn't on the project, that's a good indication to her that she wasn't chosen, so OP chose a less passive aggressive way of letting her know she wasn't picked and told her. 

    Definitely keep documenting. Even if HR or management does nothing (in my experience most HR people I've met are noodle heads), you'll have a pattern of behavior to report if you decide to leave the job or something else happens. 

     
  16. You have chosen to ignore posts from mezzogal1124. Show mezzogal1124's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    In Response to Re: OT - co-worker problem:
    It sounds like it was OP's job to let the candidates know who was chosen.  I don't see how she opened a can of worms at all; she was asked to choose someone for a project, she did, and then it became obvious who was working on the project. When Sue isn't on the project, that's a good indication to her that she wasn't chosen, so OP chose a less passive aggressive way of letting her know she wasn't picked and told her.
    Posted by WhirledPeasPlease


    WhirledPeas has it exactly right regarding the process of letting Sue know - I did not open a can of worms; I did exactly what my department head instructed me to do, and I have written proof of this (emails).  That's what makes Sue's behavior all the more ridiculous: she knows I was merely following procedure, and the department head has explained this to her, but her response to that was to blame the department head and me of ganging up on her.

    Old Child, there really isn't much more to the situation (without boring you with minutiae) that "isn't being said."  The only thing I neglected to mention is that resentment might well play a factor.  I'm about half Sue's age and she might have a problem being subordinate to someone younger than herself, but that's only speculation.

    Documenting is an excellent suggestion and I have indeed filed a very detailed account of the events and communications that have unfolded.

    Yesterday was actually the big meeting, and from my end it went pretty well.  Sue behaved badly during it (talked back both to the HR person and my department head), interrupted me multiple times, raised her voice, started crying, and accused me of lying).  I just sat there calmly and let her hang herself, as it were; it was plainly obvious that her behavior was consistent with the hostilities I'd documented.  The ONLY thing that finally got her to take on a civil tone and actually discuss something productive was the threat to fire her.  The HR man stated in no uncertain terms that she would be fired if she couldn't move past her irrational demand that I apologize, when I was merely doing my job.  Naturally she changed her tune after that, which is why I'm still not convinced she's actually intending to improve her behavior.  The threat of being let go will obviously do that to someone.  In some ways, of course I wish they'd just fired her on the spot, but I'm also aware that legally they have to say they had pursued all avenues before resorting to that.

    Thank you for your great suggestions about books, strategies, etc.  I am feeling better about the situation since yesterday went pretty well, and it was clear that everyone except Sue is supportive of me.  I also am feeling less upset and stressed.  Kar is right that beating myself up will not help anything, but I'm quite accomplished at blaming myself even when I'm not the problem. 
     
  17. You have chosen to ignore posts from mezzogal1124. Show mezzogal1124's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    In Response to Re: OT - co-worker problem:
    mezzo, how are you doing?  Hanging in there?  We're thinking of you.
    Posted by kargiver


    Kar, thanks so much for your kind thoughts!  Yesterday was a nutty day so I apologize for the silence, but between the meeting and catching up on other work, I didn't have time to organize my thoughts and post.

    Lucy - yes, I have thought of how miserable her life must be if she resorts to acting like this and cannot understand why her actions are unacceptable.  For example, I told her yesterday in the meeting that her voicemail really stung and that calling up a colleague on her personal phone to leave such a message is unprofessional.  She simply said, "I was angry," and couldn't fathom why that STILL made it unacceptable.  Trying to reason with her is a bit like trying to reason with a toddler. 
     
  18. You have chosen to ignore posts from kargiver. Show kargiver's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    mezzo, I didn't think a thing of it.  Knew you'd get to us.

    Along those lines that you and lucy have talked about, I have a dear "older brother" type friend who told me once to imagine if you could never get away from that person for one single solitary split second, that you were with her 24/7, 365, 'til you died.  Then, remember, that's her fate.  It did always manage to make me feel a little better to put it that way.

     
  19. You have chosen to ignore posts from pingo. Show pingo's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Mezzogal,
    Thanks for the update. I am glad you are over the "big meeting" and it went well and was positive for you. It must be have been nice to hear, that the management is supporting you.

    As a business owner myself, one suggestion would be to write a note addressed to HR and your department head tanking them for making the meeting with Sue possible, so you now can continue with the task in hand without being harassed. Just a very short professional note - no need to go into details. It will be placed in your file for further references.

    Best to you!
     
  20. You have chosen to ignore posts from kargiver. Show kargiver's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    I actually missed your summary of what happened!

    That's good news.  You know, if it takes the threat of being fired, so be it.  Chances are she'll fake it to make it, and what's it to you if she means her niceness or not.

    I'm also accomplished in beating myself up - why do you think I wrote immediately and said, "Stop that!"  :)

    P.S. Now, you can change your phrase (if you end up needing one) to something like, "We've agreed with HR to keep things professional," or something like that.  Repeat that a few times and voila.
     
  21. You have chosen to ignore posts from WhirledPeasPlease. Show WhirledPeasPlease's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Mezzo, I'm glad to hear that HR and management got involved in a positive way and isn't letting Sue get away with her bad behavior. Keep documenting your interaction with her, just in case. People like Sue don't simply mature overnight, and if her behavior continues (and she *should* get fired) you have proof on your side for talking to HR again. And make sure you date each entry in your Sue journal to provide a timeline. 
     
  22. You have chosen to ignore posts from domino88. Show domino88's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Oldchild could be Sue.
     
  23. You have chosen to ignore posts from easydoesit2. Show easydoesit2's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    Remember that all projects have 5 phases:
       1) Wild enthusiasm
       2) Dejected disillusionment
       3) Search for the guilty
       4) Punishment of the innocent
       5) Promotion of non-participants
     
  24. You have chosen to ignore posts from pinkkittie27. Show pinkkittie27's posts

    Re: OT - co-worker problem

    good for you, Mezzo. It's hard to keep your cool, especially when someone's calling you a liar. Ironic in how by trying to make you look bad, she made you look great im comparison to herself! I hope she gets herself into gear.
    Thanks for updating us. best of luck.
     
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