New on job, co-worker a problem
September 13, 2008 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I just started a new job I am happy with as it is interesting and pays great. However there are some people in the department that are really negative. This includes people who are training me!

They aren't supervisors just co-workers that the boss asks to teach me certain things. One uses curse words as in the f-word "this f**** job" and I caught this same person giving a dirty look to another coworker when I asked a question about how to do something. Also this same person came up to me immediately when I walked into the office, hadn't been there 5 minutes and had a sheet of paper in hand. This person is not a supervisor, they are my equal. They indicated I had filled the form out wrong and almost seemed angry about it! This was in front of others and I was very embarrased. This form would by no means have any impact on them in the sightest! Or anyone else for that matter. This person also said to me of my name, "What is your name again?" When I told them they said, "that's why I forgot, you don't look like a (my name)." I was about to say, "look you fool, just what does that mean?" but bit my tounge. I have been on the job two weeks. So feel it is too early to run to the supervisor for advice. Besides, my experience in the workplace is that supervisors never stand up to difficult personalities in the office. I know being rude or hostile isn't the right approch but this co-worker has gotten on my nerves. What is the right way to handle such a person? I don't think challenging them or telling them off is the answer. Thank you.
posted by regularperson to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My approach is to combine telling them politely and directly not to speak to me in such a way and then to ignore them in future if they continue to do so. Such people are not worth wasting your time over and only exert as much power over you as you let them. However, if you're rude to them in return, you only validate their own behaviour. Anyway, being civil to such people only serves to infuriate them more, usually. If they get upset enough, they're the ones who will look bad and get fired. Soon enough, you'll have people approaching you telling you to ignore so-and-so, or thanking you for being so forward. Often times, people are afraid to speak up against such people and are grateful when others finally do.
posted by PigAlien at 12:07 PM on September 13, 2008

It sounds like the whole place has low morale, which is not going to make it a fun place to work. If most of the problem stems from one person (you said "co-worker" in the the title), why not try taking this person aside and saying, "look, I sense that you have a problem with something I'm doing or not doing-- can you give me some idea what's going on, because I like this job and I'm trying to do my best." Worst case, he ignores you, best case, it leads to some better understanding.
posted by beagle at 12:09 PM on September 13, 2008

Difficult people, or rather, people who are obviously unhappy with their jobs are kept around usually for one reason only: their bosses know they couldn't find anyone any cheaper who doesn't have an equal or larger chip on their shoulder.

The problem isn't the person - the problem is the work environment. Which means you'll need to reevaluate how you feel about the job as time goes on. Maybe you enjoy the work and pay so much that you can over look the bad attitudes. Maybe you'll get fed up and go somewhere else.

I wouldn't rock the boat. Show up on time, do your work, and ignore those around you who try to distract your with their anger or personal drama. Those types don't seem to last long anyway.

Lastly, get this idea out of your head about them being superior or equals. When you start thinking in terms like that you're actually setting yourself to become wrapped up in their drama. You're the new kid on the block, you'll need to put up with their nonsense until you can prove yourself to be mature and reliable to your bosses.
posted by wfrgms at 12:11 PM on September 13, 2008

The cursing, and the name comment, I really don't see either as hostile or negative. Let those roll off your back.

You don't say much about what kind of work this is. You may find it interesting and new, but some of the other people you are working with may have been there for years, and now they find it soulcrushing & boring. Is this all one person? Some people are just difficult. Get an ally in another coworker. Don't gossip, but try to get an idea of how the difficult person fits into the group from before you were hired.
posted by kellyblah at 12:11 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh yeah, in so far as addressing the bad language...

When I was college age - like 19 or 20 - I used to swear a lot. I worked at this one shop where the owner was both a super nice guy and very religious. Anytime I would swear he would ask, "What did you say?" As if he hadn't heard me. Then I'd swear again and he say, "Sorry, I didn't get that." He'd only acknowledge me if I cleaned up my language. It was funny, but effective. I still swear of course, but never in mixed company, and never seriously.
posted by wfrgms at 12:14 PM on September 13, 2008

I don't have a strategy for the foul language, but regarding the person being rude to you: Since you're new, your difficult coworker (DC) doesn't have a fully formed opinion of you. You could try being preemptively super-friendly: make a point to greet him/her every morning and try to chat about non-work stuff (in a non-creepy way, of course, just "hey DC, how was your weekend?" rather than "morning DC, can you tell me where this file goes?"). Not that you would automatically be rude, just it's hard to be intentionally warm and friendly to someone who is cold and rude. But sometimes, depending on the person, all it takes to get on their good side is to go out of your way to be friendly. I'm not saying this will solve everything, but it might make the person less apt to pick on you.

I have no idea if this will work, since I don't know your coworker, and I hope this doesn't just sound completely childish, but this is my first strategy when it comes to rude or annoying people I'm forced to deal with on a regular basis.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

My experience with cow-workers like you described, regularperson, is that they feel threatened and/or territorial about the little world(s) they've sculpted for themselves, particularly when a new factor is introduced. I like to think of it in terms of how insecure dogs react to other dogs: stiff-legged circling and butt-sniffing with hackles raised. Just remember that this "equal" is not The Alpha. Their methods deflect attention from their own apparent or imagined short-comings.

Some tactics I've used to deflate cow-workers in Office Rodeo:
  • Smiles are disarming.
  • S/he raises his/her voice at you? Maintain eye contact and keep your voice volume low and steady.
  • Inappropriate/rude comments? Calmly ask him/her to repeat it.
  • Silly "orders?" In a neutral manner, ask what will happen if you don't do it or ask them to ask your supervisor for you to do it.
  • Don't participate in negative talk (a.k.a. bitching) about the job, the employees, the clients, or the product.
Most of all, don't take this B. S. home with you at the end of the day. It's not worth it.
posted by bonobo at 12:39 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

Just relax, do your job, and wait.

People in the workplace often aren't really keen on having new colleagues, at least right off the bat. They're probably thinking all kinds of awful things about you before you've even shown up...

"Another one? Hopefully he/she isn't as useless as that last jackass they hired."
"We're already overstaffed. This means someone on our team is about to get transferred or shitcanned."
"I have enough on my plate already, now I'm stuck training the new kid too?"
"Lets see if this one has what it takes to be part of our team..."

This is based in anxiety, not negativity per se. You're an unknown quantity disrupting their preexisting workplace, and they don't know if they can trust you. So just hang in there, let them do a little bit of hazing, and once they know that you're not batshit crazy or a backstabber, you'll be good to go.

Complaining to management is the quickest way to undermine this process.
posted by a young man in spats at 12:58 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sometimes, the person who is training you and who seems to be a bit of a dick, is the next to be fired and lo and behold, there is already a replacement.
posted by chillmost at 4:29 PM on September 13, 2008

I agree with chillmost. They will most likely quit soon or be fired. This is assuming they are the only overtly negative people in the office. If it turns out everyone is like that - then you're looking at a supremely shitty work situation, mostly likely stemming from an asshole boss.
posted by Kloryne at 4:56 PM on September 13, 2008

Energy has a way of spreading - whether it be positive or negative. All that is needed is a transmitter and a receiver. Sounds like the negative vibes have been effecting a lot of people over there. Why? Because they're open, vulnerable and like-minded - and there are probably a few other factors that might be conducive as well - such as the environment itself - lighting, lack of ventilation, toxic fumes from carpet, machines, electromagnetic fields - all can combine to bring the energy levels low and produce the anger and foul mouth you described in your co-workers.

What's to be done? You have to self-protect, keep your own inner compass set at high and take everything said and done with a grain of salt, smile and a quiet stance of friendliness - i.e. you do not let it get to you.

There are tons of articles out there on how to maintain positivity in a negatively-charged atmosphere. Do your homework and keep safe, aware and happy in spite of what's going on. It's hard because they'll try to pull you - misery loves company. If you find an ally that's not so negative maybe you can be the critical mass to turn things around. Till then - in one ear and out the other. Don't let it stick to ya.
posted by watercarrier at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2008

This form would by no means have any impact on them in the sightest!

They're going to have to work with you, so they're sizing you up. Right now, a good deal of what they know about you is that you didn't fill out a form correctly. If your new job involves being conscientious or detail-oriented -- and most jobs do -- they're not going to read that as a sign of impending adequacy. This is particularly the case if your body language signaled that you didn't care whether or not you'd filled out the form correctly. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute and consider what it looks like from the outside.

As for the dirty-look guy, some people use a display of contempt as a substitute for the competence or status they wish they had. Other people take their jobs so seriously, or are so stressed out, that they have no patience whatsoever for the New Guy. And some other people just seem to think it's cool to swear and roll their eyes a lot. It's too early to guess why anybody there acts the way they do.

We all have ways of quickly judging other people. You, apparently, judge them on their cursing and on how well their chit-chat puts you at ease. I tend to judge them on their spelling. They're probably judging you on how well you fill out forms and handle slightly odd smalltalk. They're failing your snap judgments and you're failing their snap judgments, but nothing actually has to be done here. Nobody has to be handled.

Don't run to the supervisor, for heaven's sake. Don't get caught up in some story you might be telling yourself about what vulgar, difficult, low-down no-good people they are. Relax: their personalities are not your problem. Just do your job and be cheerful and accepting. Having screwed up that form, pay extra-close attention to details, even the ones you think are dumb. Take notes so you don't have to ask people anything twice. Be as little bother as possible while you're learning the ropes. And put off your judgments about who's a jerk until you've been there a few months. That spiky, grouchy cusser might turn out to be your most valuable colleague.
posted by sculpin at 5:37 PM on September 13, 2008

You come across (in your question) as young and a bit breathlessly excitable! That can be annoying! And a blinking neon sign! That says, "Haze me!"

Slow down, calm down, and when co-workers haze you, just give a slow sly smile. If they correct you, apologize or ask what the proper procedure is, but don't act defensive.

Relax and take a deep breath, and try not to disrupt people's established routines, and you'll attract a lot less hazing.
posted by orthogonality at 7:32 PM on September 13, 2008

Are you a member of an ethnic minority in your workplace? Some of your co-workers behavior reads like plain old-fashioned racism or sexism to me:

This person also said to me of my name, "What is your name again?" When I told them they said, "that's why I forgot, you don't look like a (my name)."

They indicated I had filled the form out wrong and almost seemed angry about it! This was in front of others and I was very embarrased.

I caught this same person giving a dirty look to another coworker when I asked a question about how to do something.

You have a right to a non-hostile work environment, and this asshole is trampling all over it. Try and sort it out peacably, but be ready to escalate to the human resources department. This certainly sounds like unacceptable behavior to me, and I'd have no problem challenging them on it.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:04 PM on September 13, 2008

following up & expanding on orthogonality said:

i might be your difficult coworker and i don't doubt that i've been guilty of this. i try to be aware of it and not to do it anymore. it's the curse of curmudgeonism.

you *do* sound young and enthusiastic and gung ho. we all were at one time. you're probably also bright, personable, and good at what you do. if, however, you're idealistic, you're probably also naive--at least as far as this particular job goes. chances are your coworkers have been down in the trenches for some time now, and there's a possibility that you're coming on like a cheerleader: GO, JOB!

it could very well be that your coworkers are annoyed not with you, but with your idealism. i used to think it was part of my job to knock that out of people and give them a reality check. i eventually realized that, unfortunately, most people's idealism will be knocked out of them without my help, and i should actually encourage people with better attitudes than mine. god knows, it might help put a little balance in the world.
posted by msconduct at 5:52 AM on September 14, 2008

Your cow-irker is the problem. You've in no wise been around long enough to come to much in the way of meaningful conclusions about office morale. I work as one very small cog in an unimaginably large and ponderous machine with so much administrivia, soul-raping redundancy, and so many Peter Principle poster-children that jokes about these things frequently are talking about my employer. I have coworkers who are inept, incompetent, phoning it in, need(ed) to retire (years ago), and/or just unpleasant, boorish assholes who like nothing better than to make everyone around them just as boorish and asshole-y, because then it feels like they're justified in their affected curmudgeonliness. And I think it's almost at least partially affected.

Do not engage.

Do not engage them in their chosen headspace. Don't argue with them, confront them, talk about them with coworkers or management, or deal with them beyond the necessity of conscientiously and thoroughly completing your duties. Be polite, be professional, of course. Just don't try to be their buddy. The price for that is likely too high. If he tries to rile you, deflect and defuse: Ok, Frank. Sorry 'bout that. Let me take another stab at that and I'll get it back to you. And then go away, consult whomever you need to to complete it properly, and return it to them. Don't try to get on his good side, don't try to empathize or see it his way. Deal with "Frank" and his pissy attitude only as you must. During training, be polite and engaged. When you don't have to work directly with this guy, don't. This guy is an energy vampire, and being near him will ruin your day. Engage with the people in the office who aren't assholes. Best of luck.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:34 AM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

end of first paragraph, that's "almost always at least..." Sigh. Must learn to use preview feature.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:36 AM on September 14, 2008

but some of the other people you are working with may have been there for years, and now they find it soulcrushing & boring

I agree with kellyblah. I currently work in a hostile environment much like this. My supervisor told me before she even hired me that it was a problem in their workplace that I should be aware of. I tried the smiling, being nice, making small talk, and that didn't work. Keeping to myself is alright, but in the process I've managed to completely isolate myself from the small group of people I work with. People like this are always going to have something rude to say or something to complain about. It could be related to you, or something entirely different that they feel they need to get off their chest in the workplace. Several of my co-workers opening express their dislike of the job, but they would never take the initiative to find something else.

I adored the job for months, and thought it was worth putting up with the negativity. However, that mindset is a disease, and I found myself bring black clouds home with me.

In my case, these people have been at this job for years and feel bored and disgusted with it. There's no possible way of them getting fired any time soon, so I just gave up and accepted a position in another company. I am counting the days until I get to leave.

No matter how great the job is, people who get you down aren't going to change. You can cross your fingers and hope they leave soon, or tough it out until you can't handle it anymore. If your workplace is larger and more spread out than mine, it may be entirely possible to ignore the person(s) once you are done with your training.

Hope you have good luck!
posted by jaynedanger at 12:24 PM on September 14, 2008

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