How to reverse relationship with work colleague
July 8, 2016 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I just moved to a new team who I've worked with in the past but not a ton. I've gotten off to a rocky start with one of the people on the team and it's all on me. How do I make her make want to continue working with me?

I've been flippant and disrespectful to her. She's given examples and I've acknowledged these things.

How do I apply what she's told me to best mend my working relationship? She's integral to the team. Me working well with her is integral to the team. Me not being disrespectful to another person is important to me (I've never gotten this feedback in my life and I'm to be frank a little shell-shocked).

I want to respectful, genuine and productful. I don't want to be 'fakenice', condescending, counterproductive

Have you been given or provided feedback like this and what went well, what didn't go well?
posted by sandmanwv to Work & Money (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't want to be 'fakenice', condescending, counterproductive

How do you actually feel about her? More to the point, what do you think of her?
posted by amtho at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2016

I think sitting her down and having a frank discussion telling her what your wrote here is the best shot at establishing a foundation on which to build a relationship going forward. It is my opinion that action speaks louder than words and that any conversation has to be followed up with your actions. Have the conversation once and over the course of the next few months demonstrate your sincerity and over time, she either will or will not come around.
posted by AugustWest at 10:01 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been flippant and disrespectful to her. She's given examples and I've acknowledged these things.

Then you have to figure out why - and why her - and fix it. That's how you fix this, by fixing the problem. If for example you have done this because you use jokey "fake" put-downs, you have to not do that at all anymore. If you were dismissive of her effort, don't do that to her or anyone else. Like, the way to fix this is to behave professionally, and that has nothing to do with being fake nice. Just be nice, across the board, to all people. Don't worry about getting the laugh or being cool or whatever was the trigger for the problematic behavior.

If anything, you don't get to assume a happy cozy relationship with her, so fake nice wouldn't even be appropriate. You don't deserve her trust and will have to depend on her decisions about you in the future to change the nature of your relationship. Respect that.

This is no different than being - even inadvertently - an asshole to your friend or partner or kid. The way you fix it is to not let it happen again. IF you messed something up that can be addressed, do that - if you broke something of hers, replace it. If you might have created a bad impression of her to other people, you go talk to every one of them privately and apologize to them for doing that to her in front of them.

And if you decide that one of the roots of the issue is that she is a woman, you need to acknowledge that to her and to anyone else exposed to your behavior, because harsh strong light is one of the things necessary to end systemic sexism.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:05 AM on July 8, 2016 [28 favorites]

Best answer: Be genuinely respectful. Go above and beyond. Go so far as to be deferential. If you run into her in the break room, step aside and say "You first."

Do this consistently until she is convinced it is not an act.

Respect her. Respect her boundaries. Respect her space. Respect her reputation or need to look good in front of others.

Stop wondering what you will get out of it. Just prove to her you respect her. Accept that the relationship may not mend. Just do it to do right by her. Otherwise, you will botch this because you will feel "owed" for all that you have done. You aren't owed. She is. Pay your debt and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by Michele in California at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

If this is the first time it's happened, and you're shocked, are you sure she's not just a passive aggressive control freak exerting power over the slightly naive n00b to keep them in their place?

If that's not case and she's not just kind of a bully, in future be serious, sincere, and make a point of always being fully present and listening carefully to her. Ask on-topic questions, clarify and deliver your work as quickly but accurately as possible. Apologise once and tell her it was a nervous mis-read and tell her you're mortified. Once. Never apologise again and never be flippant or casual again. Perhaps the company has employed disrespectful young upstarts in the past who have no idea of her skills and value and demands of her time. She is starting as she means to go on with you as she possibly has encountered entitled turds in the past and has no idea if you're just another one.

Just be really respectful in future and leave jokes etc till you know the office culture and her much much better. Tell no one at work and you'll be fine. But one apology is all you should give.

Sincerity and not repeating the mistake is the best and most genuine and effective response Don't over think it or you'll get awkward and formal with her. That will be worse for you both. Hugs. It's ok. It's not a drama. Unless you over react now.
posted by taff at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Don't overthink this. Simply apologize and admit that it wasn't an acceptable way to treat a coworker. Moving forward, monitor your behavior to make sure this doesn't happen again. If the issue is that when you give or receive feedback and you can't do that without devolving into condescension, then that's a skill you know need to work on.
posted by scantee at 10:23 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a co-worker call me out like this one time and some useful strategies were:

(A) owning my shitty behavior

(B) not being an asshole over and over (changing my behavior)

(C) talk less and listen more

(D) extending kindness and friendliness in all my workplace interactions

Rinse and repeat, especially B, C, and D.
posted by strelitzia at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have a coworker who annoys me. He's picked on my work in front of everyone, explained things to me that really really did not need explaining, and basically is rough around the edges so much that I don't really like small talk with him.

Honestly, if he simply said to me, "Sorry, but I'm a dunce. Let's start over. I owe you a beer," all would be forgiven. Don't start stepping aside in the break room for her to pass; that seems weirdly condescending.
posted by theraflu at 10:32 AM on July 8, 2016 [25 favorites]

In addition to seconding all the great advice I will add: do NOT talk about her (or anyone) with other employees. Don't discuss this incident with co-workers and draw others into this; that will make everything much bigger than it needs to be.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:36 AM on July 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'd be interested in examples of what you did as I think that probably has a lot of bearing on how to fix it.

What I can talk about is how I'm currently handling being on the other side of this situation.

We just had a new person come into our company (different department, but he'd probably be considered the same level as me), and I am his connection into our department. It was the first time in my decade-plus of working that I felt really disrespected by a coworker. He was demanding, impatient, rude, raising his tone (borderline raising his voice in the process, to the point where I had to actually work on calming him down), and that's within weeks of starting. It literally took my boss sitting him down and forcing an apology out of him for him to realize that he was out of line. He said "this is a different environment and I'm getting used to how things work here", which didn't help his case in my mind, because what I felt was basic human decency and professionalism was apparently a new concept to him. I think he realizes how little respect and care I have for him now, which is unfortunate for him because literally, I am one of the two people he needs at my company more than anything. Anything he really needs to get done on the technical side is done by me.

I still get his things done, because I'm a professional and that doesn't help anyone, but I don't go out of my way to make small talk with him, and I don't go above and beyond to help him like I might do for others.

The good news is, that they'll probably be professional and still get things done. And if they don't, that's honestly on them and not you.

The bad news is, it's going to take a lot of time, and you're going to actively have to dispel the issues that lead to her having an issue with you. So assuming you know what those issues are, you have to fix those. Visibly. And even then, if she takes a while to give you any sort of benefit of the doubt, that's completely within her rights.

From my end, at some point I may be able to just work with him without keeping things strictly professional and on-topic, but I'm not positive that I will. I'm honestly not sure what he could do to resolve that either. That doesn't really seem fair to him, but it's mentally difficult to block past transgressions. On preview, theraflu's suggestion would probably work in 6-12 months for me, but if he asked me that right now, I'd politely decline.
posted by chillin411 at 10:37 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

theraflu is so, so right. It's incredibly rare to receive a genuine apology for this kind of behavior. Sometimes you get an apology that turns into a non-apology ("I'm sorry that you got upset") or you get an apology that turns into a conversation where the victim has to provide emotional support ("I'm sorry, it really upset me that you think I was rude..."), but a true apology -- exactly like theraflu's example -- can go an incredibly long way.

As long as you understand the behavior well enough that you think you can avoid repeating it, a simple apology is all you need to move forward.
posted by telegraph at 10:39 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Right. And to add, with my situation, until he apologizes—and not in that passive-aggressive way favored by terrible PR firms ("I'm sorry you took offense" is not an apology)—I'm going to be left assuming that he's harboring some simmering hatred or distrust for me, and I'm not getting paid enough to do the emotional labor involved with fixing whatever his irrational problem is. I won't cross him, but I also won't bother to engage with him in a way befitting a team of coworkers who mostly get along. Extend the olive branch!
posted by theraflu at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The other day gave feedback to a team member who reports to me, because they were being disrespectful and oppositional with me. I gave examples, explained the impact that behaviour had on me and the team, and asked for a different kind of behaviour.

The person was a bit defensive and did not apologize, but said they would make the changes I asked. During our convo, I felt that they were surprised to realize- but that they did did agree- that their behaviour had been wrong.

Since then, their behaviour has been great. Professionally, their attitude has changed just as I asked, and I can tell they are also trying to be nice to me socially (complimented something I did, laughed at a joke, etc). I appreciate this- even if it probably is a performance- because it's professionally appropriate and there is even an extra social effort being made, and that's good enough for me. In return I also tried to show friendliness by complimenting some things they did, and at the end of the day, I said to them, "Today went really well and I appreciate everything you did." We both knew I was referring to the attitude shift. So, problem solved; I just needed the behaviour to change, and when it did, I was fine.

However. I still don't really like the person on a social level, and at this point I would never re-hire them or recommend them for another job. We'll continue to work cordially together on this job, and that's that.

What would really impress me personally- and put the person back in my YES column- would be if they approached me, maybe a few days or a week or so after it happened, and said something like:

"I thought a lot about the conversation we had and the examples you gave. I didn't see my behaviour in that way at the time, and I was hurt and felt awkward when we talked so I didn't react with full openness or a proper apology. But now that I look at it, I really see what you said and I agree with you. Sometimes I get fixated on my own idea and push back too much, and doing that is inappropriate and disrespectful. I wanted to say: I am sorry I treated you that way. I respect your leadership and I really want to support and contribute to the work we're doing. I want you to know I'm going to keep thinking about your observations, both in our relationship and in how I approach work in general. Thank you for giving me direct, fair feedback. It made an impact on me and it's something I'll be working on."

If they did that? YES column forever. That is hard, and brave, and vulnerable, and open, and it shows care and respect. I would really really respect them. That would make me totally go to bat for them in the future.

Your colleague isn't me, so maybe this would be less effective with them- but I think transparency and vulnerability are really powerful and can really bridge gaps and mend conflicts. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2016 [54 favorites]

It's not clear whether the person in question is above or below you in the hierarchy, but I think especially if the person is your subordinate, a sincere apology would make all the difference. I would be blown away and full of forgiveness if one of my bosses ever apologized to me for something and then proceeded to change their behavior accordingly.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:16 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to the above good advice, I'll add one more thing: Be quick to apologize. When you find yourself Doing That Thing again, just stop yourself, take a breath, and say, "I'm sorry. That was disrespectful. I apologize. Let me start over."
posted by Etrigan at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Schedule time to work with her 1:1. It will give you a safer place to practice new behaviors and her a safer place to correct problems. It will just be sooooo much easier without an audience.
posted by 26.2 at 12:00 PM on July 8, 2016

I've also been on the other side of this. I'm not sure what you mean by "fake nice." Do you mean faking being nice when you don't feel like it? If so, you need to drop that high school attitude and realize it doesn't matter what you feel like - you need to be respectful to all of your coworkers always.

I'm intrigued that you asked how you can "make her want to continue working with me." Perhaps you just didn't choose your words carefully, but I'm concerned about the underlying attitude of feeling you should be able to "make" her do anything. The truth is you can't. All you can do is apologize and then be respectful, professional, and nice from now on. In my case, after I made multiple complaints to our supervisors, they were finally able to get through to her that she needed to improve, but I never actually wanted to continue working with her. I was relieved when she finally left, and though I always treated her professionally, I saw her continuing to treat others disrespectfully, and I would never give her a positive recommendation for anything. Behaving professionally in the workplace is of the utmost importance.
posted by FencingGal at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

It will just be sooooo much easier without an audience.

I get that from OP's perspective, but the last thing I want to do is be alone with someone I had to ask to be respectful to me already. I want witnesses for all the reasons the aggressor might not.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:20 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been flippant and disrespectful to her. She's given examples and I've acknowledged these things.

I don't know if this applies, but: My life got much easier when I decided to stop being snarky and sarcastic unless everyone in earshot or everyone who could possibly read what I wrote later knew me and my values and my ethics so well that they would instantly understand I was being sarcastic. I still mess up occasionally, but overall it's a huge improvement. There's a myth that snarkiness shows intelligence; I find it's actually much more of an intellectual challenge to express my thoughts fully and completely and compassionately, rather than hiding behind sarcasm.
posted by lazuli at 6:02 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your words will mean nothing now and she will not trust you. You will have to show in your actions. So try to get her back during meetings, conversations and projects. Do the heavy lifting so that her work gets a bit easier on the job-stuff like politics etc.
posted by metajim at 4:10 PM on July 9, 2016

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