Re: Problem Co-worker

Subject: Re: Problem Co-worker
From: "abby initio" <abby -dot- initio -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2007 10:18:41 -0500

Hi again,

Just a follow up on what happened yesterday. First, to clear up some
concerns, I joined the list in 2000 as a TW. My current position is Sr. UI
developer -- it's all communication, yah?. I stay subbed because it is, by
far, the best resource I've encountered. I haven't done TW for 6 months,
though I still use the skill, just don't have the title. :)

This may explain why ppl are in each other's file. Everyone from the tech
ops mgr to the pm to the developers are in the files. Being human, ALL of us
have made the mistake of working on a file without asking first or keeping
one open, etc. The PM made it just the other day, as did the Ops Mgr. For
the next phase of the project, we're using version control.

The meeting went quite well. My pm was concerned because she knows how easy-
going I am and was surprised when an event indicated that I was troubled.

I said that I wasn't interested in detailing a laundry list of incidents,
though the final straw was the incident where Problem Coworker (hereafter,
PC -- oh, the irony!) berated a programmer for his English. She said she
couldn't operate on hearsay. Since all of us are contract-to-perm, we can't
take advantage of HR. An added complication is that she, herself, is
Hindi-speaking, though very Americanized.

I assured her that the project would continue with excellent work from me
and, no doubt, all of us. I am here to find a solution, perhaps some rules
for communicating, that will minimize problems.

She asked what I needed and I had a list of three things, the first being
that PC would treat others professionally. Second, I asked that we
communicate without raising voices and that we work on listening. I
explained that focusing on specific incidents wouldn't get us far. It's not
about the specifics, but about the general behavior: not listening and

We talked some more and made clear that she valued my contributions. She
insisted on a F2F with PC. At one point PM noted that no one else had
complained of the behavior. I said, "Yeah, I realize this and this makes me
feel as if I'm the troublemaker."

She immediately jumped in to say that this wasn't how she thought of the
problem. She reiterated her observation that I was easy-going andshe was
concerned that something must be very wrong. (Perhaps it's the situation: no
one is going to complain given the contract-to-hire situation and PHP
programmers from another country are highly unlikely to complain. One
co-worker specifically said that, as a contractor, his job wasn't to fix his
fellow "broken contractors." (His words)

When the F2F came, she opened the floor by asking me to outline what I
needed from PC. I started out by asking that PC engage in more listening. I
used the incident that had occurred the day before as an example. She'd
already made clear that she hadn't listened by characterizing the issue in a
way that was completely off base, even tho I'd just explained, in front of
PM, what the issue was.

IOW, out of the gate, the first thing she did was demonstrate what I was
talking about. Of course, what also happened was that I got one sentence out
and she interrupted. I waited patiently as she talked. When she paused, I
said, "May I finish my thought?" I tried to say this matter-of-factly,
without irritation. This was difficult and I don't know how well I managed

She looked at me and rolled her eyes. I decided not to begin speaking and
allowed her to continue fidgeting.

I said two short sentences. She interrupted. Repeat.

(I know this sounds extremely self-serving. Honest. I'm trying to be fair
and objective in characterizing how things went.)

When I made it clear that I wanted the floor without interruption, she
rolled her eyes, turned away, looking up at the ceiling, sighing. I allowed
this to go on, even as I leaned in closer to indicate a desire to engage.

I stopped speaking. She kept staring the other way, making smirking faces
and chewing her lip.

PM broke the silence to say that it seemed that perhaps listening was an
issue and that working on learning not to interrupt might help. (Later in
the convo, PC admitted that this was a problem of hers. She didn't indicate
that she would work on it though.)

Basically, the conversation proceeded with PC claiming that the problem was
"personal differences" and cycling on station about differences of opinion
over events. It was tempting to engage, but then I realized that would just
be demonstrating that we won't be able to communicate because it would be
hurling accusations, rather than dealing with behavior.

I said that it seemed clear we wouldn't agree about how to characterize one
another's sense of self, nor would we agree on what's happened in the past,
the point was to go at the next phase of the project with all we've learned
and knock the Product Group dead with a fantastic web site that was done on
deadline. It seemed to me that we were all more than capable of the work and
that's all it would take: let's focus on the job.

There was more said, but I think that's enough to characterize how things
went. What became clear was that, even though she demonstrated the issue
with her behavior right in the meeting, there was no way anyone had the
backbone to deal with it. I think this is mainly because mgmt is young and
really don't understand how to cultivate employees. Don't get me wrong, they
are astoundingly excellent at many other aspects of mgmt, this just isn't
one that the company, in general, is good at.

What the meeting did for me was clarify the situation as one where PC isn't
going to change. That's fine. Document, document, document. And look for
another job. :) The Proj Mgr also made clear that she doesn't have a problem
if I were to say to PC, "X behavior is problematic. When you speak to me,
I'd prefer you do so in the same tone and volume used by others in the
office." Or, "I realize you are feeling an urgent need to solve a coding
problem, but as you stated in our meeting with PM, that sometimes causes
communication problems. Let's talk when the office is less hectic. Meeting
room 11 at 4 pm?"

BTW, PC normally comes in on Friday, slumps to her desk, and heaves a couple
of big weary sighs. She didn't do that yesterday. Instead, she was a social
butterfly, chatting it up with the programmer she'd berated the week before.
And then -- and this was truly funny -- she orchestrated a conversation
about Hindi and the difficulties of learning English with the programmer and
the new hire, another Hindi-speaking programmer.

I read that as a clear sign that she's knows she was wrong. She may have
even had a change of heart and realized how wrong she'd been and had just
let her temper get away with her. It's irrelevant, though. My interpretation
of the Miss Jolly and Happy all the Time routine was that she was afraid.

Other thoughts?

Abby -- who asks your forgiveness of typos as I'm writing at a laptop in an
uncomfortable hotel room chair.

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Problem Co-worker: From: abby initio
RE: Problem Co-worker: From: HSC Italian

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