Re: Problem Co-worker

Subject: Re: Problem Co-worker
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: abby initio <abby -dot- initio -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2007 14:34:13 -0700

abby initio wrote:
> 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)

I'd like to offer a post-mortem critique of the transaction with your PM
and the PC. The bottom line is that your writing group manager should
book your group into a couple of days of Active Listening training.
Refresher training won't hurt writers who already use it (it helps a
great deal in SME interviews), and you've apparently got at least one
person who might be therapeutically redeemed by it, with benefits to the
group. I realize you're all contract-to-perm, but your manager ought to
be able to justify at least a half-day of training, eh?

OK, here's my thought about how active listening would play out in that
(already transpired) meeting. I am not offering you touchy-feely
sensitivity training advice. In this case, I don't really think that
your active listening could make PC more sensitive. But I do think it
could have helped you carry through with a more tough-minded negotiation
with PC over her behavior.

My general interpretation of what happened in the meeting is that, in
the PHP programmer example, you chose to illustrate your complaint by
evoking a concrete example of how PC crosses the line and breaks the
rules. While this incident with the programmer probably seemed like it
would add weight to your complaint, I think you should instead have
trusted your own feelings , and worked up the confidence to tell PC and
your PM about your own boundaries and feelings, which are not adequately
shielded by your workplace's rules.

By focusing on the incident with the programmer, you only forced PC to
try and square things with the programmer, when what you needed was for
PC to square her workspace behavior with you and your workgroup.

> 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
> it.
This is why strategy dictates that you focus your complaint on how PC's
behavior makes you FEEL and how it AFFECTS your work. This is, in
instructional terms, putting the focus on the active voice, with you
(not PC and her behavior) as the active one.

What's missing is the feedback to PC: feed what you are seeing/hearing
from PC back to PC, and tell her how it makes you feel. Don't try to
zing her with rules, because this isn't rules training. It is the
no-non-sense direct work of unambiguous communication.

For example, "PC, you may have a good reason for interrupting me but I
don't know what it is. I would like for you to understand that I now
feel like what I have to say to you isn't interesting to you. But this
is important to me, and that is why I am here with you. Do you know what
I mean?").

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

Following the same theme of expressing yourself, you now tell PC that
you're receiving very negative signals from her expressions and body
language, and that they make you feel like she is not interested in what
you have to say. Mentally, you're aware that you're in a negotiation
with someone who is driving a very hard bargain. Your best chance to get
what you want is to bargain her down from her unattainable price by
offering to pay with the real and glittery currency of your perceptions
and feelings.

> 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.
Anyway, you know what you're doing and you sound sincere. My advice is
to get those negotiating skills honed to a surgically-sharp edge, so
that you can cut to the chase and show your PM, and hopefully the PC,
that you are reasonable, thoughtful, and carrying you end of what has
not yet become two-way communication.

> 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.)

I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV, but I suspect that the word
that describes her problem is 'hyperactivity'. The incident where she
was berating the programmer's English suggests poor impulse control, and
her nagging of the workgroup about files might suggest a need for
excitement, a perverse sort of thrill-seeking behavior. Some people
simply don't engage until they are stimulated more than 'normal.' So you
might be quite wrong to blame her for misbehaving so, if she is indeed
genetically predisposed to acting this way, as hyperactive people are.
And if she is, she might be just fine with the right medication to help
her manage it. Unfortunately, most managers and co-workers are not able
to befriend and advise someone to seek professional help. If you do care
enough to try and help her, you might try hollering "PC, increase your
dose!" over the cubie wall next time she starts flapping around about
her files. That's how friends behave around here, but if she is a
medical case and not aware of it, that probably wouldn't work well.

Anyway, have fun, be a good friend, and take lots of breaks.

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com


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

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