Fixing co-worker situation
July 9, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

How best to handle bad situation with co-workers?

Seem to be in a difficult situation with one of my co-workers at the moment. Four of us ride in a carpool each day to and from work, and have been for the last couple of months. Two of them (I'll call them A and B) get along fairly well with me, and I consider them friends. The third (C) is an okay guy, but I have a hard time connecting with him. He has sort of an extreme personality that's hard to describe - think "oblivious frat-boy partier". I'm very much a quiet introvert, and don't do well when socializing with C. This is a bit of an issue, considering A and B get along with him great and find his antics amusing (they seem to think of him as a "bro" of sorts). I think I just find his personality extremely overbearing, and am probably also a bit jealous of how easily he socializes with everyone - something that I've never been able to pull off very well. As a result of my lack of attempts to socialize with him, I've noticed that C seems to think I'm a bit of an asshole who just doesn't like him.

So fast-forward to yesterday. The carpool drops me off at my apartment, I open the door and get out, then without thinking give the door a good hard swing to shut it. I realized after getting out and closing the door (too late) that C was behind me, trying to get out of the seat behind mine (the car is a 2-door). Door nails him in the ankle, he shouts a few obscenities at me (very unusual for him), then jumps in the front and the car leaves before I can say anything.

A few minutes later i get a text from C claiming that I "probably broke his ankle". I have a hard time believing that (I'm sure it hurt, but the door didn't appear to hit him very hard) but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, told him it was an accident, and offered an honest apology. He just replied with "you gonna pay my medical bills?" The thing is, I'm starting to wonder if he was even hurt, or if he's just f*cking with me because he thinks I hate him. Sounds bad, but that actually does kind of sound like something C would do.

So what do I do now? I'll have to carpool with all four of these guys again on Monday and I'm very much dreading the ride. Unfortunately I'm stuck taking this carpool to work for another 3-4 weeks. I question whether or not I'm at fault, but I still might be open to considering paying a portion of the medical bills (assuming C actually was hurt). The tougher part is that I have to work side-by-side with all three of these guys (plus carpool), so not getting along well could cause issues. Any thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I hope you called him to apologize, rather than texting him back. Which one did you do?
posted by jayder at 7:33 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Presuming this happened last night, Friday night, you should call him today to see how he is. "Hey C. Sorry about the door last night. Are you OK? What happened?"

Then, hopefully, he tells you what happened. He shook it off, it's cool. Or, It was broken and now I have a cast and a bill. Or, It hurt bad so I went to the ER but they said I was fine and just wrapped it up and now I have a bill. Whatever the situation may be, you don't seem to know right now for sure what happened after they left. First thing to do is find out. Then you'll have a better idea of how to handle the rest of it.
posted by carsonb at 7:38 AM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

And if you haven't called, now is the time to do it, and offer a sincere, from-the-bottom-of-your-heart apology. With regard to the medical bills ... Well, you DID slam the door on him. Whether you were negligent is a nuanced question, but it's not one we can definitiveky answer. I think you should at least prepare for the possibility of paying for some or all of his meds.
posted by jayder at 7:38 AM on July 9, 2011

Talk to him - no texting, no emailing - pick up the phone and call him, explain what you explained here, apologise sincerely, you may not have hurt him intentionally but he was hurt.

Take it from there. You don't have to like everybody you work with. But you do have to be professional and it won't hurt to try to be friendly. They may choose to leave it at professional, which is also ok.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:40 AM on July 9, 2011

In any case, an apology and acknowledgement of your increased mindfulness going forward would be in order.
posted by carsonb at 7:41 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ice-breaker-ish: blame it on Friday, you were ready to get the hell out of there, amirite, bro? Then the apologies above.
posted by resurrexit at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, you did hurt this guy. But for your action in closing the door without looking, this wouldn't have happened, accident or not.

Show actual human concern for someone you hurt. Assume that he's not going to go to a hospital to get an x-ray unless he's actually concerned himself that his ankle may be broken. No one goes that far out of their way to get someone they think is an asshole to pay their medical bills. But don't pay anything that isn't backed with a receipt.

Check in with the guy. Call him. Apologize again. Tell him it was an honest mistake and an accident and then take it from there. If you really did hurt him badly enough for him to seek medical attention, you really should pay, though.
posted by inturnaround at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2011 [19 favorites]

Well, if you'll be seeing him again soon, you'll be able to tell pretty quickly just how bad his ankle is actually hurt. I've only ever broken one bone (in my foot), and I was absolutely amazed at how trivial my accident was, as compared to other non-bone-breaking injuries I've received. His ankle may well actually be broken. Best not to get defensive along the lines of "I didn't even slam the door that hard."

Agreeing with others that you should call him immediately and apologize. It was an accident, obviously you didn't mean to slam his leg in the door, but it happened nonetheless. Apologize sincerely, and then let him guide the rest of the conversation regarding medical bills or whatnot.
posted by phunniemee at 7:43 AM on July 9, 2011

Agreeing with everyone else. Your history with and personal feelings about this guy are not relevant here. You slammed the car door on someone's ankle. Call him and see how he's doing.
posted by something something at 7:50 AM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Set aside your dislike of C and call him as if he were a neutral acquaintance: "I'm calling to check on you. I'm so sorry I shut the door on your ankle. I just didn't see you behind me. I should have looked. How's your ankle?"

Because, yeah, it was a complete accident, and he should have told you he was getting out behind you, but if this had happened with someone you liked or didn't know well, you would naturally apologize. Don't let your feelings about C get in the way of doing the right thing.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:52 AM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Saying "you probably broke my ankle!" in a moment of pain and anger is not "fucking with you." It will be very apparent on Monday whether he actually broke it, but even if he didn't, him thinking he did at the time is not some grand conspiracy, and him asking you to pay his bills is totally appropriate. Of course, you should have immediately called, apologized, and offered to pay them.
posted by desjardins at 7:53 AM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

If he has medical insurance, it's worth thinking about the fact that informally settling his portion of medical bills (deductible and copayment or coinsurance) would likely be much cheaper than if he turns you over to his medical insurance company to deal with and they try to get a full payment out of you via subrogation.
posted by grouse at 7:58 AM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Carsonb has it in the essential: Call, apologize, inquire after, learn what's up.

Everything else is speculation. Not that that's bad -- contingency planning has value -- but don't wait to do this.
posted by LonnieK at 8:02 AM on July 9, 2011

Suspect he didn't break his ankle, he was just exaggerating to get across how much it hurts. I've been known to do the same in such situations, anything where the bone is that close to the surface is pretty terribad. Nthing that you just need to call him and display a good amount of sympathy (I'm so sorry. I didn't realize you were there, and then they drove off before I could check on you. How's your ankle feeling now?) and be nice to the guy for a while (bring him a doughnut?). My guess is that he won't feel a need to go to a doctor and a medical bill will never materialize.

Also, honestly, you do sound like you... just don't like him. So he's not wrong there. It's just too bad this accident happened to him and not to someone you do like and wouldn't have trouble making up with.
posted by anaelith at 8:06 AM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

You're both equally at fault - if he'd been paying attention he'd have seen you go to slam the door and would have been able to get out of the way and/or warn you that he was there. You've already apologized and he's choosing to be a dick about it - probably because of the pain. Give him time to cool off (and maybe get some pain killers) before you try speaking to him again. Don't up-front offer to pay his medical bills - if he thinks you're going to pay for it he may not be as cautious/frugal with his medical care as he would if he had to pay for it himself. If it turns out his ankle actually does need medical care then you should be half.
posted by missmagenta at 8:15 AM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think a fair amount of introspection would be good here.

I've noticed that C seems to think I'm a bit of an asshole who just doesn't like him

Well, the first paragraph makes it pretty clear that you do not like this person, and your (lack of) action after you hurt this person makes it reasonable to reach the above conclusion about you. I understand the introvert thing (I'm certainly one), but you need to screw up your courage and have this apologetic conversation.

Also, just as it is wrong when extroverts label introverts as disdainful and arrogant because they're quiet, it is wrong to label extroverts as fratish jerks because they are voluble.
posted by overhauser at 8:19 AM on July 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

As others have said, take a charitable attitude going in. Consider also that you may have misread, or at least exaggerated, his thoughts about you prior to the accident.
posted by LonnieK at 8:21 AM on July 9, 2011

Nthing what everyone above said about calling, sympathy, etc. But I don't think you need to worry too much about working side-by-side with everyone in the carpool...are you afraid that they think you did it deliberately? It seems pretty obvious that it's an accident that could have happened to anyone.

Just do the best you can do. If this guy pouts for the next few can't really change that. You might be stuck in an unpleasant commuting situation, but you'll live. But I can almost guarantee that nobody thinks you did it on purpose and that you will not end up as the carpool pariah.
posted by corey flood at 8:48 AM on July 9, 2011

My guess is that he won't feel a need to go to a doctor

But he should. If this was a friend of the poster, everyone would tell him to get his friend to a doctor or ER to get his ankle checked. It's not always easy to figure out instantly how bad you hurt an ankle. You usually find out later, if you don't get it seen immediately.

So they're not friends and actually dislike each other. Ok. But the ankle may still be sprained, broken, and being friends or not won't make a difference there. Or, it could in the worst way, the guy who got hurt could sue the poster. So I'd think it's in the poster's best interest not only to play nice, but to ask about how C is doing, ask if the ankle has swollen, if he still has pain, if he got it checked, and if he hasn't, suggest he does it. Also to avoid all the speculation and doubts that it's not a real injury. And yes, be prepared to pay any medical bills if he's not insured. It's only fair.
posted by bitteschoen at 9:18 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to call him ASAP. Offer a sincere apology and ask how he's doing. If he's not really hurt, he'll at least see you were concerned and he'll probably shake it off, more or less. Worst-case scenario there, things are a bit awkward for a little while.

If he doesn't pick up, leave a nice voicemail but don't call again. Maybe he's mad and needs time to cool off. You'll find out what happened on Monday, in any case.

If he did need medical attention, ask him about what happened before offering to pay. When you do offer, make it clear that you are offering to pay him back for his deductibles, copays, etc. This was an accident, there's no reason why you should have to pay for all of his treatment, and you should politely make it clear that you are not offering to do so. Say that you'll just pay him back for whatever normal insurance expanses he may incur for it.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:22 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

No matter how uncomfortable the phone call is, you will be so glad you made it when you get ready to meet up with the carpool Monday. You really, really don't want to become known as the "guy who slammed the door on Mike's ankle and didn't even bother calling to check on him." If the dynamic between you guys is what you describe, there's a lot at stake here ... They're not so likely to regard you as an asshole, but more likely, as a wimp and a coward and not a stand-up guy. Not handling this straightforwardly could lead to a fair amount of misery and ostracism.

In fact, if handled well, this could be a turning point between you guys where you and he start to connect with each other. Your message screams insecurity and fear, in the way that you're focused on what the other guys think of his antics, how you feel about him, what he thinks of you .... Really, how does any of that stuff matter except to distract from how you might have behaved differently? Are you less at fault because he's an outgoing frat-boy type? I don't get that.

I think this is a good opportunity to assert yourself and stop obsessing over this guy's outgoing personality.
posted by jayder at 10:23 AM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

the other thing is, you do seem to genuinely care that you hurt him. don't let your feelings about him cloud that. for me, when someone doesn't seem to be sincere about their apology, it just annoys me more. so just be honest - this might even be a jumping off point for having a better relationship with him. if part of your feelings about him stem from jealousy, this is a great time to let that go.

if you were very frank "hey, i know you seem to piss me off sometimes, but i would never do anything to hurt you. i didn't see you behind me and i feel truly horrible ..." might deflate some overall tension. also a good start for "we're so different and i envy how easy you are with people. i'll cop to wanting to bop you on the head after the millionth fart joke, but this as really horrible. can i bring you something? do you need a ride to the doctor?"

the worst-case scenario ... if he's got insurance, it's a couple hundred dollars. but i think if he knew you really felt bad, he wouldn't be so adamant. right now he thinks you did it at least a little on purpose, so deserve to pay because he's in pain.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:26 AM on July 9, 2011

and i think i really nicely worded email isn't that much worse than a phone call. i'd personally rather get the email than a phone call from someone i didn't really want to deal with. email would let you get some things out before someone said something to aggravate the situation. but don't text, for sure.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:29 AM on July 9, 2011

You also might, after you call C, call the other members of your car pool. They'll have been in the car with C after you slammed the door on his foot (and do you really need to slam car doors? ) and will have probably made sympathetic noises to him and agreed that you were thoughtless, etc. If you plan to keep riding in this car pool, you need to repair your relationships with everyone in the car. And don't slam the door!
posted by Ideefixe at 10:33 AM on July 9, 2011

nthing calling the guy, if you haven't already, asap, and apologizing profusely/figuring out if he was injured and went to/should go to a doctor. Be super nice and maybe even ask him some generally friendly, non-injury-related questions - "How was your Friday night?" "What are you up to today?"

If it turns out he's fine and the injury wasn't serious, what about getting into the carpool Monday with a self-deprecating joke to break any possible tension? "So guys, my new goal is to avoid injuring or maiming any members of our carpool this week."
posted by violetish at 10:35 AM on July 9, 2011

"The thing is, I'm starting to wonder if he was even hurt, or if he's just f*cking with me because he thinks I hate him."

Two-door cars usually have longer, heavier doors. You don't have to push it that hard to hurt someone who gets caught in it. (The smaller doors are bad enough.) You say he was swearing at you after it happened, and that was out of character for him.

Bottom line, don't treat it as a joke.
posted by Net Prophet at 12:17 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think some of you are being a bit hard on the OP. He was being dropped off at his apartment--why would he think someone else was going to be getting out of the car? One could argue it was partially the frat guy's fault for not announcing his intention to get out at that destination as well. How many of us would get out of a car and think, "Oh, I better look carefully behind me to make sure no one else is also getting out of the car"?

OP made a mistake, he apologized (yes, via text, but that's how he was originally contacted by the injured party, so it makes sense) and if frat guy really wanted to make an issue of it, HE could also initiate a phone call.

Lighten up a bit, people.
posted by BeBoth at 12:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

How many of us would get out of a car and think, "Oh, I better look carefully behind me to make sure no one else is also getting out of the car"

If someone else is in the car? I should think virtually everyone!

The OP was in the wrong here. Not, like, running over a beloved pet wrong, but still wrong. That's why he's the one who should take the initiative and show consideration.
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, was this all by text? Are you sure the bit about medical bills wasn't just harsh joking way of letting you know again that it really, really hurt?

It was an accident, but I think the fact that you don't like the guy is making you feel guiltier about it that you need to. Everyone in the group will know it was an accident, unless you're known for injuring those you don't like. I think the advice above to talk to him is fine - and that it will be Most helpful to you in allaying your anxiety.
posted by ldthomps at 8:02 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

How many of us would get out of a car and think, "Oh, I better look carefully behind me to make sure no one else is also getting out of the car"

If someone else is in the car? I should think virtually everyone! ... The OP was in the wrong here.

I disagree. If I'm getting out of the back seat after somebody else, I commonly 1. pay attention to whether or not they realize I'm coming after them and 2. give them a heads up not to slam the door just in case. Especially if they're just getting dropped off--people tend to close car doors after they get out of them. It's just something they do.

At this point though the trick is convey a sincere apology without making it sound like you only care about him trying to stick you with the bill. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to offer to pay the whole thing. If you can afford to and you think its worth it because of the professional aspect, this might be the best course of action. Though in my mind you are not really at fault, in his mind you are and it depends on how much you care about him viewing you as a jerk.

The other thing is, after the initial shock he is probably less angry at you than at the medical costs he might end up having to pay. Depending on his level of self-awareness (doesn't sound too high...) he may be less inclined to dissociate the two.
posted by ropeladder at 5:18 AM on July 10, 2011

How many of us would get out of a car and think, "Oh, I better look carefully behind me to make sure no one else is also getting out of the car"

I can't even imagine getting out of a car with other people in it and not turning around to look. If someone drops me off somewhere, even if it's a regular thing, I always get out, turn around to shut the door, and either wave or say "thanks, see you tomorrow!" If you're in the habit of regularly getting out of the car and dashing off without a word, no wonder this guy thinks you hate him.
posted by phunniemee at 6:38 AM on July 10, 2011

Fascinating thread here. I gotta admit I'm really hoping the OP will report back after some events unfold.
posted by LonnieK at 7:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, OP, please send one of the mods a message about what happened, so they can update the thread!
posted by jayder at 4:06 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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