Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

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Dealing with a nasty co-worker

From: Missie, Indiana

Question: I have a problem with a co-worker. He is very mean, orders me around, and expects me to do his work for him. He always goes to my boss to tell him I'm always biting his head off and cannot get along with anyone in the office. This is not the case though. My boss doesn't even treat me like he should treat an employee. He is always very short with me and never wants to talk to me. He has wrote me three times for things he should not have. I was wrote up for being 5 minutes late from lunch, which he is late and absent several times a week, and so is my co-worker. But it's okay for them! I was also wrote up for personal calls when my father was in the hospital on his death bed and I was power of attorney for him, so I had doctors calling me all the time. I feel like I'm being ganged up on, and I have to walk on needles every day being afraid of losing my job.

Response: Dear Missie,

It sounds as if you are really in a tough situation. Having both a co-worker and a boss with whom you have lousy relations can make life miserable.

The first thing I would suggest you do, perhaps by yourself, perhaps with a trusted friend or co-worker, is to take a look at the situation and ask a series of questions: Were things going okay before?

If they were okay, when did the change occur? Can you think of any possible reasons for the change? -- for example were there new job assignments, new people hired, were people laid off, etc.

Was there any particular event specifically relating to you that was the first sign of problems?

It sounds as if you and your unfriendly co-worker are approximately equal and that you both report to the same boss. Does that boss have his own boss? Are there other bosses parallel to your own? How do they behave?

Does your company have someone in charge of human resource issues? Is this person someone with whom you could talk?

Do any other employees have problems similar to yours? If there are people in that situation, do you have anything in common with them? -- gender, seniority, race, type of work you do, education, etc.?

Are there other employees who have problems with either your 'mean' co-worker or your boss? Can you talk with them.

The basic issue is to do as much homework and preparation as you can. After asking these sorts of questions, you should try to figure out what each person involved has to gain in a) keeping things the way they are and b) changing the way you all work together. If you are the only one wanting to make a change, one of the questions is whether it should be a radical change -- for example a chang of jobs within the company or even finding a new employer. Of course such issues as pension rights, etc. could be important.

Can you think of any reason why the boss might want to change the situation? What might he have to gain? If he doesn't want to talk with you, what do you think might change his mind? Does anyone you know have any information about that or any ideas. It sounds as if you feel isolated, and that reduces your capacity to improve things.

The bottom line issue is that you need to figure out why each of the parties involved is behaving in the way they are. You must assume both guilt and innocence for everyone, including yourself. Look at what the boss might gain if you were a happier person.

When you approach your boss, ask questions and then LISTEN to his responses. If there are things you don't understand, or answers you don't like, don't get angry. Ask things like, 'what do you mean by that?' or 'If I understand you correctly you are saying x, y, & z. Is that what you mean or am I failing to hear you correctly?' What you want to do is view your conversation(s) as a chance to learn what is underlying the situation. The better you understand the issues, the greater the likelihood you'll be able to come up with responses that can improve the situation.

I do not envy you in the circumstances you describe. Please let me know if you want to explore additional issues.

Good luck and good negotiating, Steve.

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