December 27, 2007
Patience toward colleague can be virtue
Q. I have a co-worker who has decided I'm trying to undermine him. He has completely misunderstood several interactions and will only talk to me long enough to accuse me of my latest "sin."
I've also discovered he lied to me about several facts. How do I fix this problem?
A. You will deal with your co-worker more effectively if you realize people usually accuse us of the exact weaknesses they have. On some level, which is rarely conscious, they figure the best defense is a good offense.
People who lie will get furious that you're dishonest. People who cheat will accuse you of stealing. People who bully will call you intimidating.
If your co-worker had merely misunderstood you, he would be open to a discussion about possible misinterpretations. Instead, he appears committed to making you the bad guy.
When people are unwilling to listen to facts, you may be aware they know a dose of reality can spoil a good argument so they avoid the truth at all costs. You can't shove data into ears already full of preconceptions about you.
Your most powerful strategy to influence your co-worker is to avoid counterattacking, understand the futility of explaining your intentions and let your future actions demonstrate who you are.
Realize also that the less information or experience someone has with you, the more likely he or she will assume malicious motives. Our survival instincts predispose us to hypervigilance about possible threats. If it turns out we were right, we live; if it turns out we were paranoid, we still live.
Even though we work in the modern world, our brains have not been updated lately. We may know a co-worker won't kill us but still feel our survival is threatened.
What if a co-worker embarrasses us or gets a promotion we want or steals our ideas? Sure, our co-workers don't carry swords, but what if their behavior makes us feel in danger?
Like any animal that feels threatened, people who have decided we're dangerous will only settle down when repeated exposure to us doesn't prove harmful.
Privately, you may still feel upset and insulted to be treated like a predator. Feel free to complain about your "paranoid" co-worker when you're not at work.
Publicly, your ability to act neutrally will communicate patience, maturity and safety, which will make it difficult for co-workers to maintain their fear of you.
The last word(s)
Q. One of my co-workers wants to do something utterly stupid. Any diplomatic way to point this out?
A. Yes, repeat privately and neutrally to your co-worker that you can see what he may do is Option A (then describe what may happen). Follow up with suggesting Option B (your idea and what may happen). People prefer choices to lectures.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at email@example.com; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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