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How to deal with unpleasant co-workers

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Question: I work for a government agency as a sole support person for about 25 people. With this many people also comes a wide variety of personalities. A handful of these people tend to take their moods or personal problems out on me when they give me work to do. I have talked to the head of our group about this problem and was told to remain even-keeled and not respond to their rude comments. One such comment:  “I don’t want to hear about it; I just want you to do it.”

That came from a stressed-out employee who was demonstrating angry body language. A personal situation was causing the stress, and the employee even called in sick the following day.

If I can’t talk to the person giving me an assignment about the assignment, what am I to do? Things like this happen a couple times a month. When I mentioned  that I thought these instances constituted verbal abuse, the head of our group told me that it would have to be witnessed, and the witness and I would have to document it. I’m currently looking for another position and, in the meantime, would like some suggestions on how to deal with these unpleasantries.  -- Anonymous, Washington


I find that if you address it directly with the person it helps. Make sure you are direct and let them know that under no circumstances will you tolerate verbal abuse. When your co-workers are verbally abusive stop them and say, I don't tolerate verbal abuse. If you can't speak to me respectfully then I'm going to have to insist that all communication between us is limited to written requests only. You'll be surprised how quickly people change their attitude when you speak up and be direct. If your boss has a problem with it then you should say that you've tried to address these issues with him however your problems were given no merit. Let him know that you simply cannot work in a hostile environment. If necessary, involve HR.

I support over 50 staff, and I am well aware of some challenges of multi-tasking and dealing with cranky folks. Everyone gets cranky from time to time (even you), and it is not uncommon for busy and stressed people get angry when they hear “no, I can’t do it” or any other sentence that is longer then 10 seconds.

"I don't want to hear about it, just do" is usually the answer to a long and sad explanation of how busy you are at the moment. Instead, say: “Ok. I’ll get it done by 3 pm on Friday”. If it’s not soon enough, they can take it to the head of your unit, who in turn can re-assign your priorities for that day as he/she sees fit.

So, here is what I would have done if I were in your shoes:
Ø Come in 15 min. earlier and prepare a to do list for that day. Email it to your direct supervisor and post it on your cubicle (most of your colleagues don’t know if you are that busy or just inefficient)
Ø Always reply to every request right away to confirm you have received it and provide the time/day it will be done
Ø Once your to do list is overflowing for that day, accept all additional assignments (DUE on that day) only through your supervisor
Ø Finally, do not engage into arguments or allow business became personal. You are not going to fix difficult people. What you can fix is how you accept their assignments and how you deliver the results. Trust me, it is not likely they hate you, they just want their work done ASAP.
If it is clear the person is simply hostile with no reason (seldom, but it does happen), I really like the advice from TMB above.

You should not have to have a witness present before documenting any sort of destructive behavior at work. You should be able to document and submit each instance and employees who are repeat offenders of this type of behavior should be confronted by their supervisors. Also, it may help to let those people know that you do not appreciate the way they are communicating with you. This might open their eyes to the fact that you have taken notice of it, it bothers you, and they may realize that this is their chance to change their behavior before you make a formal complaint about them.

If you can't complete an assigment due to incomplete instructions and the manager is unavailable or can't be reached, can you work miracles? Of course not. Complete what you can, then document why and how you tried to contact the manager and return it all to them. I guarantee it will be the last time you will need to jump through hoops to complete an assignment.

Go to your supervisor once again and let him know that you cannot work in a hostile environment.Explain that your colleagues are rude when giving you work. Document the day and time that you spoke with him. Start documenting the instances when people are rude. If the problem persists, go to Human Resources and advise them that you are working in a hostile environment. Your documentation will be proof that this has happened. Also, if there are any problems because you went to HR, it will be documentation for legal counsel.

First of all you have to demand respect when approached by an employee
and try, if you can go to a private area or room to listen and communicate
to their needs . There should be at least a good morning, and good night
between your associates also.
Prioritize the importance of the project according to date and time it is
due. Document their requests for later review and if a problem arises.

In my experience, people treat you as to how you "let" them treat you. Letting them know that you expect the same respect that you extend to them is not "out of line". Obviously the head of your group is not of much help to you. Deal with the problem, "head on" with the individuals who are rude to you, they'll respect you for it.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

val b June 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I am a Registered Nurse at a nursing home facillity. I have been verbally abused on many occasions on the job by co workers and people in supervision. When I’ve asked questions about how to do my job better, I get my head “bit off”. I’ve even had a supervisor throw something at me. Thank God she missed me. What can I do about this? Is there anything I can do about it? I’ve repeatedly told my supervisors of situation. Should I get a lawyer to help me stop the abuse? This would probably cost me my job. I am currently looking for another position elsewhere, which is too bad, because this is a job with great benefits, which my husband and I need because of his serious health problems.


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