How to get along with my colleague
March 29, 2010 10:01 AM   Subscribe

There is this one guy at work I'm having a hard time getting along with.

I'm the newest person in our department but have been there almost 2 years. When I first arrived the guy who was training me, lets call him Joe, became very impatient with me, thinking I wasn't learning fast enough. I'd like to point out that at every other job I've had I've been complimented on my ability to pick things up quickly, so I honestly think this was mostly coming from him. He has been there for many years and had never had to train anyone before so I think his expectations were a bit off. His girlfriend Mary also works in our department, as does their good friend Ed. Ed has been there less than a year longer than I have.

From the beginning it was pretty much 3 against one. Mary and Ed started in treating me as if I were stupid and talking to me like a child. I talked to the boss about it and he said he had noticed it as well, and that it had nothing to do with my performance, which is good according to him, so that was reassuring. He also said we are all adults and he can't jump in and help me every time, which I also understand.

Now I have a better (though not fantastic) relationship with Joe and his girlfriend. But Ed is continuing to boss me around and treat me badly. When I stand up to him it just escalates into an argument that leaves me in tears, usually in the bathroom but once in front of Ed and the boss.

The latest time was today. Ed distributes a certain type of work to several of us which basically consists of writing a document summarising an issue. I put in everything I felt was most relevant to the issue but Ed called me over and started criticising what I had done. It started with him asking me why I had left this out and that out, and I explained that the information I had left out was, in my opinion, much less important than the information I had put in. I did not ignore any issues but felt the small details he was harping on didn't belong in a summary.

There is no way that two people are ever going to write the exact same summary of a complex issue but if I do write something that differs in any way from what Ed feels he should have written, he starts accusing me of doing a poor job and saying he's going to sit down with me again and go through everything one more time.

Ed makes a lot of mistakes in his own work, by the way, but because he's very outgoing he seems to get away with it.

Again the argument escalated and Ed tried to get our boss involved. The boss just said that we were acting like children and to sort it out ourselves.

Any advice on how to deal with this guy would be much appreciated. I suppose I could try just agreeing with everything he says but I'm not sure that would appease him and it still wouldn't solve the problem of him talking down to me. I really dislike being singled out for criticism by this guy.
posted by hazyjane to Work & Money (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you need a better boss.

Without that, nobody has a meaningful incentive to change their behavior. Your boss may well be tired of "he said, she said" complaints but ultimately your boss has got to take responsibility for people behaving in a civil and productive way in the workplace.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:07 AM on March 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

Is there any reason you need to engage when he challenges you? If he starts in on you, I'd just say, "Thanks for the input," and walk away. You don't need to stress yourself out by engaging with somebody who thinks he's always right. It's likely that nothing you can say is going to change his opinion of you at this point, so you might as well stop trying. You're beating your head against a wall here.
posted by something something at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

To start with, what MuffinMan said.

To be more precise, sit down with Ed in as private a place as you can find, when there are no deadline pressures, and say, "Ed, you and I seem to have some kind of personal thing that's keeping each of us from being as good at our jobs as we could be. Care to talk about it?" Have a pen and paper so you can write down specific things that the two of you agree to work on.

If he blows you off, then talk to the boss -- I assume here that he is both your and Ed's boss -- and say, flat-out, "I cannot work with Ed. I tried to work it out between us, and he refuses to try. You need to talk to him. This is why you are the boss." Give him quantifiable instances of why the bad blood between the two of you is hurting his section's productivity and show him that he needs to do something.
posted by Etrigan at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2010

I'm with Etrigan. I think you need to establish very clear boundaries. If Ed crosses them, then you have something a bit more tangible than a he said/she said situation.

I had a conflict with a coworker once and I asked our boss to be in the room as an intermediary while we discussed this. This was in part to help things be civil, but also to make sure I had a third party present to witness a) that I was being reasonable, and b) exactly what I was setting forth as my boundaries. This may or may not work for you, if your boss refuses or you think it wouldn't be a good idea, then I think it's still perfectly ok to chat with Ed one on one. But the key thing here is to establish your boundaries and make sure he knows exactly where they are.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:24 AM on March 29, 2010

Do what Etrigan said - sit down with Ed in a private place for an hour or two and talk. And when you do talk, it will help if you can a) show that you are listening and hearing what he has to say and b) pin him down to specifics.


You: Ed, I am hearing you say X (that I am taking too long to learn things). Is that correct?

If Ed says "yes," continue on:

You: Can you give me some specific examples of times you felt I did not catch on quickly enough? It would really help me if I could get some feedback from you as to how we can improve our relationship.

This last part is crucial. You need specific, concrete examples of things you might be doing to irritate Ed. This not only smokes out anything that you might be doing that irritates him and gives you a focus, this puts the onus on HIM to be specific, not just "you drive me up a wall, I can't put my finger on it, you just DO! Raar!" which is never helpful and never solves any business problems.

If Ed just invokes his friend "Ida Know", or gets personal, or the talk doesn't solve anything, then it's time to take it to your boss - with again, specific, concrete examples as to how you have been proactive with problem-solving and it hasn't worked - and now it's time for him to help out. And if it turns out you have a manager who can't really manage, maybe it's time to find a more congenial work environment.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:24 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I cannot work with Ed.

If you do talk to your boss, don't say this; it will seem as if you are giving him an ultimatum. Something along the lines of "Ed and I are still having difficulty working together" is more appropriate. Then prove that you tried to work things out with Ed on your own but couldn't because he is so incorrigible.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 10:36 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I very much agree with something something. If Ed is not your boss or direct manager, don't let him browbeat you. Just politely excuse yourself and walk away. Do your work and let your boss decide if it's good or not
posted by gnutron at 10:46 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, I would say that you need to redirect Ed to your boss, not your boss to Ed. When trying to make sure that your boss does something necessary to your tasks, it's a good idea not to appear to be challenging how your boss is actually handling their work. And, keep in mind, this is Ed's problem, not yours. My two steps for dealing with this are:

1) Frequent and explicit conversations with my boss to make sure I am meeting her expectations.

2) A polite but firm direction to my coworker to take it up with my boss if they think I'm not doing something appropriate: "I've fulfilled that task as I understand it. Perhaps you should talk to [boss] if you need something more from me, because I'm working on other assigned work right now."

What you don't want to have happen is what's happening now, where Ed is bating you into fights that make the boss see you as ineffective at interoffice communication. Nor do you want to insist that your boss get involved. By explicitly telling Ed to go to the boss you are covered if Ed claims that you are just being recalcitrant.
posted by OmieWise at 11:02 AM on March 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

could you clarify the work relationship between you and Ed?

does he get final approval on your work or does he just compile completed work to send on to someone else?
posted by sio42 at 11:11 AM on March 29, 2010

You're doing the same job as people who have been there for YEARS. If they don't criticize you then how can they establish their superiority?

You're working with a bunch of people who's careers have stalled. They know it. You know. The boss knows it. Sometimes people are good with that; they have the job/salary they want. Sometimes it makes people behave badly. Ed is one of those.

What to do? Ed is a bully. Treat him like you do any bully - make him back down. Don't cry. Don't respond. Simply remind him that he's your peer, not your boss. Then walk away from him.

On to your boss problem. Your boss is a bad boss. The evidence is he allows infighting and no one on his team gets promoted. Time to start shopping for a new boss.
posted by 26.2 at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Research conflict management and dealing with difficult people. Find a workshop on one or the other, or both, and ask your boss to pay for it and give you the time to attend. This helps signify to your peers that there is a problem and it will be dealt with, and you should also gain useful skills.

All your life, you will encounter people who are resentful, stupid, belligerent, bullies, and many other varieties of jackassery. Some people may feel that way about you from time to time. Learn techniques of persuasion and charm. Do not involve your boss in this effort, but read up and practice up.

On a day-to-day basis, if Ed calls you over, listen politely. Use active listening techniques to help him understand that you are listening. (one person I supervise acts very resistant, and I never feel like S has heard my concerns) If you disagree, don't say so. You can always go back to your desk, and send email: Ed, I want to be certain I understand your concerns, so I have tried to restate them. -restate Ed's concerns- I honestly feel that my work addressed those issues. However, I have rewritten it to strengthen those areas. -attach rewrite- If Ed has further issues, politely ask Ed to send them in email, for the sake of clarity. Let Ed go over things as often as he wants. Listen, do active active listening, and incorporate any positive suggestion he makes. It's a war of documentation, and your tactic is to be polite and calm, and keep accepting the challenge, then passing it back to Ed.

At some point, calmly mention to Ed that since he doesn't give you feedback about what's good in your work, it's hard for you to gauge his standards effectively.
posted by theora55 at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2010

Along with something something and gnutron, "Boss thinks I'm doing fine, maybe you should take it up with him/her."

If you do take a meeting/lunch with Ed, it will make you look like the grownup for sure, so that's a good direction to go in. Just call him on his shit. If he keeps up in public, feel free to snark something like, "Yeah, well you always say that," or "I hope one day I can match the quality of your work, big guy." Tweak the bully's nose, he won't fight back.
posted by rhizome at 11:14 AM on March 29, 2010

Redirecting Ed to your boss is a fantastic idea. Right now, the boss is treating it like this is your problem and not something that's infecting his department. It needs to be his problem. When Ed has a problem with your work, tell him that he needs to address it with Boss, since Boss thinks your work is up to standards. More than likely, Ed is going to see that this is a Bad Idea, and will soon stop pestering you. If he doesn't, and continues taking it up with Boss, well .... Boss will have to take care of it. Good luck!
posted by stoneweaver at 11:41 AM on March 29, 2010

I've had the benefit of a kickass boss for many years, and have been a boss under his guidance for many more years. I put this situation through kickass-bossfilter and here's what I get:

Go to your boss. Use the summary as an EXAMPLE of the sort of DIFFERENCES OF OPINION you two have - caps for stress on the politically correct way to phrase this. Ask your boss if the summary you provided was acceptable, AS AN EXAMPLE OF YOUR WORK.
If the boss has a problem with your summary, accept his criticisms gracefully and improve in the directions he specifies.
If you boss is okay with your summary, then the next time Ed starts in just say, "I understand that we have differences of opinion on this matter, but boss is satisfied with the reports I provide, so there is no need for me to revise. Thank you for your input."
And MAKE YOUR BOSS BACK YOU UP. Not on you vs. Ed, but on the quality of your work being acceptable. If your boss finds your work acceptable, BOSS has to get your back and get Ed to back off. "Her reports are fine, let's focus our energy on the next task now."

This puts the focus where it should be - on the work - and off of the personal problems. Sure, Ed is making a personal problem into a work problem, but as long as your work is acceptable to the person who matters - your boss - you can gracefully decline his input in a politically viable manner.
Ed sounds like the sort who will always kick and fume, but if you can establish that your work does not require his further guidance, he'll eventually have to end up sulking in his corner because he won't have an excuse to keep coming over to your cube to kick you.
posted by Billegible at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2010 [13 favorites]

Oh, and nthing go out to lunch with Ed - be the bigger person. If he keeps being a big baby, well, it's clear to everyone that you extended an olive branch. This is HUGE political brownie points in an office context.

Me, I'd catch a drink after work with him - a little alcohol and maybe a bar with a TV so you can talk about non-work things.

Socializing - really socializing, not talking about work outside of work - can help.
posted by Billegible at 11:46 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I want to add that sometimes communicating and really listening to someone, and having them feel heard and acknowledged, makes a world of difference. I've seen people who strongly dislike one another become, not best buddies, but able to collaborate when they feel listened to and their fears assuaged.

This is assuming, of course, that Ed is basically a decent person who is willing to work with you on some level. If there is NO reservoir of goodwill and decency, if he's a bully and/or jerk and it's his way or the highway, you have a tougher row to hoe. Much tougher, in that you may need to leave if he just won't budge. But don't go there yet. Assume the best.

Right now I'm listening to an audiobook/lecture by Pema Chodron you might find helpful in dealing with the difficult people in your life: Don't Bite The Hook. Chodron uses Buddhism to help the listener "not bite the hook of your habitual responses." I'm finding it very helpful.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:07 PM on March 29, 2010

I guess I should have mentioned that I did have a meeting with Ed and boss (the one in which I broke down and cried, dammit) and things did improve for a while. However today Ed was noticeably in a bad mood all day and ended up taking it out on me.

As to whether Ed gets final approval or just compiles work, it's not really clear to me which one of those he's supposed to be doing.

I did think of another option that I could put to the boss. As Ed is really busy (which is true), I could offer to take over the task of distributing and checking this type of work. I can also promise the boss I can do it better than Ed does in terms of actually following it up, which Ed never does. How does that sound?
posted by hazyjane at 12:16 PM on March 29, 2010

Seconding sio42 in requesting additional information about the hierarchy as it relates to your work with Ed. If you do not report to him and if your training is complete, I see no reason why he should have any say in what should and should not be included in your work.

If you are confident in your stance in this matter a nice little line I picked up was: "Your opinion, while appreciated, is irrelevant." Of course that is not really going to be peaceful, however it will let him know that you aren't going to take his shit.

If your boss is not being receptive, consider discussing the matter with HR. I would avoid naming names and try not to criticize your boss's role in this as you don't want to throw them under the bus and HR is pretty much obligated to talk to your boss unless you word it carefully.

Depending on how valuable you each are to the company, how well you are liked by your supervisors, etc., simply stating to your boss that you cannot work with Ed could very well be your ticket to unemployment, so try to avoid presenting it as a "him or me" ultimatum.

You mention Ed's wife works with you as well and that she has warmed to you a bit. Perhaps you could take her out to lunch and get to know her a bit better and then see if she can give you any insight into the situation or tips on how to handle him. She is undoubtedly privy to the full details of his issues with you so she can be a good person to have on your side. Hell, if she thinks you are doing things right she might even try to intervene on your behalf.
posted by Elminster24 at 12:16 PM on March 29, 2010

Looks like I just missed your response with some very helpful clarification. If you do not have written clarification on the exact responsibilities the two of you have over the work that is causing many of the issues, I would DEFINITELY approach your boss about taking it over, but only if you can make a strong business case for it without coming off as petty and trying to throw Ed under the bus.

For example, "You know, I've been thinking about how we might be able to make things a little more efficient in this department and increase the effectiveness of XYZ task by improving our follow-ups. Since I already do a lot of the work for it, I was thinking it might make sense to have me consolidate the writing, review, compilation, and follow-up of these reports and take that load off of Ed's shoulders to let him focus on ABC (whatever Ed's core responsibilities are)."

You might also find it appropriate to hint that this part of your work might be a source of the conflict between you two and consolidating it with one person might save everyone (especially your boss) some stress.

Whatever you work out, make sure you get it CLEARLY IN WRITING as to whose responsibility it is and whether he has final say on things. If he doesn't, he should not be correcting your work, period.
posted by Elminster24 at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2010

I did think of another option that I could put to the boss. As Ed is really busy (which is true), I could offer to take over the task of distributing and checking this type of work. I can also promise the boss I can do it better than Ed does in terms of actually following it up, which Ed never does. How does that sound?

If you do this, be VERY INCREDIBLY CAREFUL how you phrase it. Something like this will, to a guy of Ed's ilk, be perceived as a threat, as trying to replace him. As he's already hostile, this will probably make him moreso. But, not a bad idea per se, just a verrrrrry delicate one.
Think of the most delicate and respectful way to phrase it - when politics are in play, just always try to phrase things as respectful of the person in question, and in terms of how it can benefit them - in this case you want to play this as better for both Ed and Boss, with benefit to YOU dead last in the equation.
Then have a private one-on-one with your boss - just your boss - and, phrasing it again with respect for Ed, broach the idea with Boss as a "do you think this could work for you?" If boss doesn't like it, drop it. They may run with it later, but pushing on something as touchy as taking someone else's job (even part of it) never makes you look good.
posted by Billegible at 2:35 PM on March 29, 2010

Another though comes to mind: if you speak to boss about Ed again, don't put it as "Ed is picking on me," put it as, "if my work is good enough, then this time that Ed spends on fine-tuning it is really unproductive for both of us and therefore for the department. Perhaps we could work together to focus his energy on the other tasks in his pile for everyone's benefit." That could also segue into your suggestion to handle the reports, as a means of minimizing this unproductive behavior.
Citing the bottom line - when he does this he wastes time > time = deliverables > deliverables = money - is the best way to win an argument in the workplace. Money talks.
posted by Billegible at 4:04 PM on March 29, 2010

I would start looking for another job. There is this evil thing called "managing someone out". It doesn't need to be done by a manager, they often enlist people to help. Basically, they will try to make your job unpleasant enough for you to quit without being too obvious about it. If that fails they will try to create a performance problem that they can use to give you bad reviews then fire you.

It is extremely hard to do anything about this without someone at a higher level than your manager "saving" you, or possibly transferring quickly to another department or position. Most people leave before they get a bad review and for being a good sport you will usually get good references.

I'm not being paranoid or joking about this unfortunately. There are many reasons it can happen and many of them are completely impersonal: they need to downsize without laying anyone off, someone wants to replace you with a friend, they need to meet diversity numbers and you are not in a protected class, they need to grade performance on a curve and you aren't one of their buddies, or they just want to exercise their power.
posted by meepmeow at 5:41 PM on March 29, 2010

« Older matrilineal descent for lesbian couples   |   Is the Osage River the largest tributary of the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.