Author Topic: s/o Hostile Coworker  (Read 4302 times)

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Firecat

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s/o Hostile Coworker
« on: November 19, 2012, 06:45:24 PM »
I'm currently dealing with a hostile coworker of sorts of my own, but didn't want to hijack the other thread. In the past, I've gotten along ok with "Lisa" (we've worked in the same department for several years now, until recently on separate but related tasks). 

Lisa is basically a nice person, but when she gets stressed or overwhelmed, she tends to lose sight of the fact that I have other duties that are often a higher priority than what she wants help with. This has led to some discussions between us in the past, when she's asked me for help - wanted help immediately - and gotten upset when I told her "no" or "not now." Basically, she seems to think I should drop everything and help her any time she wants it, while my perspective is that, absent an over-riding priority (which mostly there isn't), my work comes first and I'll help out if - and only if - I have time, and there aren't situations in which I would ask her for help. Technically, my position is considered higher in the hierarchy than hers is, but she doesn't report to me.

More recently, there's been some shifting around in my department, and a couple of people have left (voluntarily). This has led to a change in my duties and an increase in workload for most of us. My duties have changed significantly; they now have very little to do with what Lisa does. But twice in recent meetings involving others in the department besides her and me, she has very publicly - and pointedly - asked me to do or help with some tasks. I've declined both times (trying not to make a big(ger) deal out of it and the group has just moved on with the meeting), but I'm now pretty annoyed with her. Her whole tone and body language is very demanding and resentful when she makes these "requests," and the venue she's choosing is not appropriate. 

Today (after the second incident), I took Supervisor aside and asked if he could clarify for Lisa that my duties have changed, and that I am focusing on my new responsibilities, and not available to help. Supervisor agreed, but I suspect that this is not the last time this will come up, based on past experience with Lisa. (I'm probably making her sound like a terrible person, but really she's a very caring, people-focused person, where I tend to be more task-oriented, so I suspect that's where some of the tension comes from. She's thinking "if you cared about me you'd understand that I'm really stressed and would make time to help me," and I'm thinking "I have to get X, Y, and Z done, and they're all both more important and more urgent than what she's asking me to do. Plus X, Y, and Z are my assigned duties, and should be a higher priority for me.")

So, all that said (and thanks for reading this far if you have!), what are some ways I could address this if it happens in another meeting, without making things (more) uncomfortable for the rest of the group? In the previous two incidents, I've basically said something like "sorry, I can't." But what I really want is for the behavior to stop. I'm hoping that Supervisor will address it very soon, but I'd like to have a polite but firm answer ready if Lisa does try it again, and I'm hoping that the wise EHellions can assist.

katycoo

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2012, 06:49:06 PM »
Maybe you need to give her a smidge more information.

"I'm sorry Lisa, I'm in the middle of something urgent right now which I'm behind on.  I really can't help you until this is finished.  I'll pop by when I have a minute and give you a hand.  If you can't wait you'll need to ask someone else."

LazyDaisy

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2012, 07:00:02 PM »
If she asks for help during a meeting, instead of dismissing her and moving on, try directing her where she is now supposed to get help.

Lisa: "Firecat, I need your help on task Z!"
Firecat: "Lisa, I've been reassigned to tasks QRS and I don't help with XYZ anymore. I believe Coworker X* is now the person to ask."

*Assuming that there is a coworker who is now supposed to be her backup. If no one is her backup anymore, then pass it off to the supervisor there in the meeting. "I'm not sure who you're supposed to ask from now on -- Supervisor do you know?"
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PastryGoddess

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2012, 07:15:56 PM »
Maybe you need to give her a smidge more information.

"I'm sorry Lisa, I'm in the middle of something urgent right now which I'm behind on.  I really can't help you until this is finished.  I'll pop by when I have a minute and give you a hand.  If you can't wait you'll need to ask someone else."

I would not do this because it give Lisa the idea that the OP can support her, when in fact, the OP's duties have moved even further away from Lisa's.

I would simply tell her no and give her the name of someone who can help her. 

Evil PastryGoddess would inquire if she needed re-training, since she seems to need so much help >:D
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buvezdevin

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2012, 08:48:42 PM »
Not knowing the degree of help being asked makes this fuzzier for me.

My organization has also shifted various things around, but - generally - there is a lot of "do you know who/how/where/what" type questions shared amongst folks at various levels.  As long as these are matters which can be replied to with a short answer, or pointer to the information or person who can help, the sharing of information is encouraged.  But, not the actual "doing" unless there is some team framework involved.

Assuming Lisa is looking for help "doing", I agree that a request from her requiring more than a quick reply could be addressed by explaining your time is committed to your role's responsibilities, which don't cover that function, and it's great if you can offer her a suggested resource, if not I think suggesting she check with her manager for other options would be spot on.

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dawbs

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2012, 09:32:29 PM »
IF boss will back you up (big if), my boss and I have an answer that works something like this, for me:

"Sorry Jim, Boss has me assigned to work on flying bumblefish requisitions for the time being.  You are welcome to email Boss and ask that I be assigned to rock-paper-scissors competitions but I'm unable to change what I'm working on without Boss's explicit permission"
(this is more or less friendly depending on the situation, with a very few tweaks you can make it much harsher.)

It makes me not the bad guy, it emphasizes that I do NOT report to them (I report to boss) and doesn't devalue what they're doing.

BUT, it only works if your boss will back you up on it.

katycoo

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2012, 10:24:30 PM »
Maybe you need to give her a smidge more information.

"I'm sorry Lisa, I'm in the middle of something urgent right now which I'm behind on.  I really can't help you until this is finished.  I'll pop by when I have a minute and give you a hand.  If you can't wait you'll need to ask someone else."

I would not do this because it give Lisa the idea that the OP can support her, when in fact, the OP's duties have moved even further away from Lisa's.

I would simply tell her no and give her the name of someone who can help her. 

Evil PastryGoddess would inquire if she needed re-training, since she seems to need so much help >:D

If it is the case that the OP is not the appropriate person to be helping, and Lisa should call on another person, then yes, that is the appropriate information.  My point was more that rather than just saying "No I can't", if you tell them WHY you can't then the message often gets through more effectively.

PastryGoddess

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2012, 10:59:22 PM »
Maybe you need to give her a smidge more information.

"I'm sorry Lisa, I'm in the middle of something urgent right now which I'm behind on.  I really can't help you until this is finished.  I'll pop by when I have a minute and give you a hand.  If you can't wait you'll need to ask someone else."

I would not do this because it give Lisa the idea that the OP can support her, when in fact, the OP's duties have moved even further away from Lisa's.

I would simply tell her no and give her the name of someone who can help her. 

Evil PastryGoddess would inquire if she needed re-training, since she seems to need so much help >:D

If it is the case that the OP is not the appropriate person to be helping, and Lisa should call on another person, then yes, that is the appropriate information.  My point was more that rather than just saying "No I can't", if you tell them WHY you can't then the message often gets through more effectively.

I guess I feel like OP does not owe Lisa an explanation as to why she is telling her no.  However, I do agree that finding a way to not be harsh is important as well.
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Firecat

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2012, 11:02:22 PM »
Thanks, everyone! She's asking for help "doing," not help "understanding." I'm happy to answer questions or brainstorm to work out a solution to a difficult or ambiguous situation. But helping her with her workload isn't something I can do just now...and not for the foreseeable future, in all likelihood. Part of it is that I'm working on learning a lot of my new responsibilities; which takes more time than it would if I were fully proficient at the work.

For full disclosure, her resentful attitude isn't exactly inclining me to make time, even if I could (she has actually said in the past that because I'm on salary, and she's hourly, she thinks I should work extra hours to help if she needs it...and that's not going to be happening without a direct request from Supervisor...which I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get).

I've already spoken to our supervisor about it, and he is in agreement with me that I'm prioritizing appropriately. If things continue, I'll bring this up again in our next 1:1 to see if he has additional suggestions or if there's something he'd like me to be doing differently. Maybe I'll also chat with Supervisor to see if it's ok to redirect Lisa to him if she mentions something like this in a meeting again.

I'm not inclined to provide her with explanations, because she'll just take it as something to argue with. And sometimes I feel like Lisa feels like I somehow am responsible to her...I don't want to encourage that, even a little bit. I don't want to be harsher than absolutely necessary, though.

katycoo

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #9 on: November 20, 2012, 12:55:36 AM »
I'm not inclined to provide her with explanations, because she'll just take it as something to argue with. And sometimes I feel like Lisa feels like I somehow am responsible to her...I don't want to encourage that, even a little bit. I don't want to be harsher than absolutely necessary, though.

I'd still do it, and if she tries to argue, cut her off and say "This is what I've been instructed.  if you disagree you need to take it up with superviser.  But until I am directly told by him/her otherwise, I cannot assist you.  Please ask [otherperson] if you need assistance."  And then walk away.  Let her whinge to your boss about it.

O'Dell

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #10 on: November 20, 2012, 10:36:32 AM »
Her asking in the meeting in front of others: tell her you'll discuss it later so you can take out of the equation how others view your interaction with Lisa.

Privately, tell Lisa that you are unavailable to help her. Suggest that if she's having trouble getting all her work done, that she discuss it with her supervisor. Explain that especially with the changes in department structure, it's not appropriate for her to ask you directly now. If she tries it again, go directly to "I can't help you. Perhaps your supervisor can help you find a solution. Now what's next on the agenda?"
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bopper

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #11 on: November 20, 2012, 11:35:51 AM »
I would "blame" it on my supervisor.

"Lisa, you are going to have to ask your supervisor for another person to help you.  I clarified the priorities of my work with MY supervisor and s/he says I am to concentrate on my new tasks since my duties have changed."

rashea

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2012, 01:54:32 PM »
I think if it happens again, you should find her outside a meeting and let her know that she needs to stop asking you. While in the past you were sometimes in a position to help her, you currently aren't. Then tell her that if her workflow is unmanageable she needs to discuss it with her supervisor.
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pierrotlunaire0

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #13 on: November 26, 2012, 11:57:30 AM »
I think that if this happens again in a meeting in which your supervisor is present, you can nod to him, "Yes, I discussed this issue with John since I no longer have any available time to help you.  John, did you have any suggestions as to what Lisa can try to get her work done?"

If he isn't present, then using similar wording, direct her to your supervisor.

Make it clear that (1) you do not have the time to help her; (2) Supervisor does not want you neglecting your duties to help you; (3) it falls on her to figure out how to get her work done.
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Deetee

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Re: s/o Hostile Coworker
« Reply #14 on: November 26, 2012, 12:09:15 PM »
If she asks for help during a meeting, instead of dismissing her and moving on, try directing her where she is now supposed to get help.

Lisa: "Firecat, I need your help on task Z!"
Firecat: "Lisa, I've been reassigned to tasks QRS and I don't help with XYZ anymore. I believe Coworker X* is now the person to ask."


I like this because it makes it clear that it isn't that you are not helping her per se. It's that you are not responsible for that task.

I would also add (if your boss is at the meeting) a minor nod to him where at the end of the sentence you look to the boss and say "That's right?" or even just a look and have your boss chime in "Yes, Lisa, you will need to talk to Coworker X" or even just nod and agree with you.