A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Who's to Blame?
Dear Sue: I am having difficulties with a coworker who happens to be a friend of the troublemaker she replaced. She has been identified as a troublemaker herself.
She admitted to me people had told her negative things about me and that others were betting we wouldn’t get along. She also said that that neither of us is as bad as people make us out to be. I was offended by her comments.
After hearing she was bad mouthing me to others, I approached her and told her I felt tension between us and asked if I had done anything to offend her. She informed me that she felt tension from me. She said she feels there is a division on our team and that there is not enough communication. I asked her what I can do to make it easier for her. She asked me to let her know what I am doing and be more of a team player. I agreed.
I am concerned that she is being negatively influenced by the troublemaker she replaced, but don’t know how to stop his influence without proof that he is encouraging trouble now that he is gone.
My supervisor is a nice guy, but a weak leader who hates confrontation. He mentioned that he is thinking of changing the shifts around because there are too many strong personalities, but has not indicated whose personality he is using as the reason to switch shifts. I do not want my supervisor to label me as a troublemaker so I keeping quiet.
My performance evaluations have been great, but dealing with these negative people makes me wonder--is it me? I don’t want to rock the boat, but it is rocking!
Sue Says: You wrote a long email filled with useful information, however, the three words you wrote: "Is it me?" hold the most value. I congratulate you for your willingness to ask the question; most people never do.
The answer is “yes”, but does not mean you are to blame for what is going on. It just means that others who encounter the same thing might react differently. You are in this situation because of the way you have chosen to respond to it. Being able to recognize how you contribute to a situation is essential to finding the solution.
You've tried hard to do things the "right" way, however, you still find yourself in a challenging situation. The following is insight into some of the reasons why:
1. You are keeping quiet to avoid being labeled.
By remaining silent and saying nothing leaves everything up to chance. Your silence may be interpreted as apathy, anger, guilt or whatever else others conclude it means. You cannot control what others say about you, but you are responsible for what you choose to say or not say. Remaining silent increases the likelihood of more misunderstandings. You have more to gain when you speak with your supervisor as long as you approach him or her in a non confrontational manner and with the intent of finding a solution.
2. You said you are convinced that a previous coworker is turning others against you and wonder how to stop his influence with no proof that he is encouraging trouble.
You can't. Blaming someone who is no longer there is a waste of time and makes you appear weak. The new coworker already told you that she can see you are different—and better--than she expected. Continue to let others draw their own conclusions through their experiences with you.
3. When you asked your coworker what you can do to make it easier for her, you agreed to her request that you keep communication open and be more of a team player. As long as you honor your commitment to her, you will be on your way to developing a professional and workable business relationship with this woman and the others you work with.
Keeping communication open requires communication; when you choose to remain silent to avoid rocking the boat you are not communicating and you are not honoring your commitment.
A boat that doesn’t move doesn’t go anywhere. Make a move; don’t capsize, but get the boat rocking.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
email@example.com or visit her web site at
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