Author Topic: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?  (Read 5297 times)

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GreenEyedHawk

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How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« on: December 11, 2013, 11:31:07 PM »
I have a co-worker with whom I have to interact in order to do a part of my job, so unfortunately I can't just avoid her.  She is very short-tempered and abrupt and kind of unpredictable...whenever I go into her office I never know if Nice Sharon or Nasty Sharon will be on the other side.  The only interaction I have with her is basically to bring her the completed paperwork so she can contact shippers and attach waybills and stuff to boxes that are packed and ready to go.  I wish I didn't have to, or that she would have a drop box installed outside her door (which we've suggested, nothing was ever done about it) so I wouldn't have to deal with her, because I'm getting a little tired of having my head bitten off just for trying to do my job.

If I have to go into her office to get something corrected on a sales order, which happens, because hey, everyone makes mistakes, I get treated to a snarky rant about how it's the end of the ****ing world if SHE makes a mistake and no one else ever hears about it if THEY make a mistake (we totally do) and on and on and on with ranting and cussing and in general just making me feel like I've ruined her whole day because I need to get an error corrected on the paperwork, which has to be correct or the wrong thing will be shipped out.  I understand that no one likes to be interrupted when they are busy, but I need to do my job too, and sometimes that involves crossing paths with co-workers.  That's the nature of most jobs. 

I also know that only the Bossmen and the Purchaser are exempt and she is not rude or nasty to them, just the shop people and the receptionist.  When my assistant (who also occasionally helps with shipping when the orders are small) goes to take the paperwork to Sharon, she started out just walking into Sharon's office without knocking, as per Sharon's request as she found the knocking distracting, but when M went to bring stuff into Sharon's office, she got told off for "sneaking" in.  No one has any idea what Sharon means by "sneaking"; as far as any of us have seen, M just walked in the same as the rest of us.  Then when Sharon told us she would rather we started knocking so we did.  When I knock, I get a curt, "Yeah?" and usually I'm ignored if all I'm doing is dropping paperwork in her bin but heaven help me if I have a question or need a correction.  That's when I get treated rudely and lectured on just how BUSY she is, and don't I understand that she has stuff to do and calls to make and calls to answer and sales orders to get out onto the shop floor??  Usually this lecture heavily implies that she is the only busy one at work and the rest of us all sit on our hands all day, which I find insulting. M, meanwhile, still gets accused of "sneaking" even though she knocks and waits to be acknowledged before she walks in.  I have no idea how that could be construed as "sneaking".

We've discussed amongst ourselves what we should do, if anything.  Should we go to Bossman?  If so, should we go together, individually, or send one person to speak for all of us?  Should we just keep taking Sharon's ire and rudeness to avoid confrontation all together?  I try to let it just roll off me, because I know that whatever the real problem is, it isn't with me (or the rest of us in the shop).  I remind myself it isn't personal, but at the same time I also feel like there's no reason we should have to accept that kind of treatment.

What should we do?
« Last Edit: December 11, 2013, 11:35:04 PM by GreenEyedHawk »
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sammycat

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2013, 12:44:17 AM »
Should we just keep taking Sharon's ire and rudeness to avoid confrontation all together?

Absolutely not. This needs to be brought to the boss' attention, and by as many people as possible.

starry diadem

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2013, 02:11:16 AM »
 All of you document for a specified period of time - two weeks, four - with specifics. You document dates, times, incidents, a precis of her rants/insults each time. For fairness, document all good (if any!) interactions the same way. Then you have the pattern.

I am in two minds about the value of speaking to her directly, if you're in a position to do that. On the one hand, that's the reasonable adult thing to do and you can later tell your bosses, if you have to escalate, that you've tried to address it. But on the other, she will be angry and defensive, and will likely feel you're all ganging up on her. She could end up going to the boss herself to complain about hostility and accuse you of bullying.

So, on balance I'd suggest going to your boss with the points that you mention here: the uncertainty you all feel about what reception you'll get, X% of interactions are actively hostile as per this record we've kept here, she is actively targeting your assistant as shown on this and this incident - and stress that this is beginning to add up to a disrespectful, hostile workpace.

 And then present some solutions. That a quiet word should be had with Sharon about her attitude. You don't expect her to be honey sweet, but to reach minimal standards of polite behaviour. The proposed dropbox would be very helpful, since that will cut down the interruptions that appear to be adding to Sharon's apparent feelings of being under pressure, which may be contributing to her snappish, stressed behaviour and so be a win-win for everyone at relatively little cost.... Etc.  plus whatever other changes in working practice that you think would help.

Be more sorrowful than angry: this is a stressed, unhappy Sharon whose reaction to pressure is affecting everyone and what you want to do us find some solutions that will help everyone, not get Sharon disciplined for bad behaviour. An adult, non-whining approach that is no-nonsense and practical will keep the boss from getting defensive.

Good luck!
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Danika

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2013, 02:29:27 AM »
All of you document for a specified period of time - two weeks, four - with specifics. You document dates, times, incidents, a precis of her rants/insults each time. For fairness, document all good (if any!) interactions the same way. Then you have the pattern.

I am in two minds about the value of speaking to her directly, if you're in a position to do that. On the one hand, that's the reasonable adult thing to do and you can later tell your bosses, if you have to escalate, that you've tried to address it. But on the other, she will be angry and defensive, and will likely feel you're all ganging up on her. She could end up going to the boss herself to complain about hostility and accuse you of bullying.

So, on balance I'd suggest going to your boss with the points that you mention here: the uncertainty you all feel about what reception you'll get, X% of interactions are actively hostile as per this record we've kept here, she is actively targeting your assistant as shown on this and this incident - and stress that this is beginning to add up to a disrespectful, hostile workpace.

 And then present some solutions. That a quiet word should be had with Sharon about her attitude. You don't expect her to be honey sweet, but to reach minimal standards of polite behaviour. The proposed dropbox would be very helpful, since that will cut down the interruptions that appear to be adding to Sharon's apparent feelings of being under pressure, which may be contributing to her snappish, stressed behaviour and so be a win-win for everyone at relatively little cost.... Etc.  plus whatever other changes in working practice that you think would help.

Be more sorrowful than angry: this is a stressed, unhappy Sharon whose reaction to pressure is affecting everyone and what you want to do us find some solutions that will help everyone, not get Sharon disciplined for bad behaviour. An adult, non-whining approach that is no-nonsense and practical will keep the boss from getting defensive.

Good luck!

Perfect!

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camlan

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2013, 06:54:18 AM »
All of you document for a specified period of time - two weeks, four - with specifics. You document dates, times, incidents, a precis of her rants/insults each time. For fairness, document all good (if any!) interactions the same way. Then you have the pattern.

I am in two minds about the value of speaking to her directly, if you're in a position to do that. On the one hand, that's the reasonable adult thing to do and you can later tell your bosses, if you have to escalate, that you've tried to address it. But on the other, she will be angry and defensive, and will likely feel you're all ganging up on her. She could end up going to the boss herself to complain about hostility and accuse you of bullying.

So, on balance I'd suggest going to your boss with the points that you mention here: the uncertainty you all feel about what reception you'll get, X% of interactions are actively hostile as per this record we've kept here, she is actively targeting your assistant as shown on this and this incident - and stress that this is beginning to add up to a disrespectful, hostile workpace.

 And then present some solutions. That a quiet word should be had with Sharon about her attitude. You don't expect her to be honey sweet, but to reach minimal standards of polite behaviour. The proposed dropbox would be very helpful, since that will cut down the interruptions that appear to be adding to Sharon's apparent feelings of being under pressure, which may be contributing to her snappish, stressed behaviour and so be a win-win for everyone at relatively little cost.... Etc.  plus whatever other changes in working practice that you think would help.

Be more sorrowful than angry: this is a stressed, unhappy Sharon whose reaction to pressure is affecting everyone and what you want to do us find some solutions that will help everyone, not get Sharon disciplined for bad behaviour. An adult, non-whining approach that is no-nonsense and practical will keep the boss from getting defensive.

Good luck!

Perfect!

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TootsNYC

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2013, 08:07:06 AM »
Quote
When my assistant (who also occasionally helps with shipping when the orders are small) goes to take the paperwork to Sharon, she started out just walking into Sharon's office without knocking, as per Sharon's request as she found the knocking distracting, but when M went to bring stuff into Sharon's office, she got told off for "sneaking" in.  No one has any idea what Sharon means by "sneaking"; as far as any of us have seen, M just walked in the same as the rest of us.

Here's your starting point.

You are M's supervisor. Nobody is nasty to anybody who works for -me- and gets away with it.  (I did once decline to tell someone off at an underling's direct request, but that was because I decided it would backfire, and that the thing she was complaining about could be handled another way. But the sentiment is there--you treat the people who work for me professionally, or I'll speak with you.)

So, go to Sharon and say, "As M's supervisor, I need to speak with you on an issue. You accuse her of "sneaking" into your office because she approaches you for work issues exactly the same way other people do. And in general you are frequently rude to her. Please treat her civilly--she deserves your professional respect, and as her supervisor, I am officially asking you to treat her with professional respect."

But I have to say--I love starry diadem's approach--especially the "sad and regretful--Sharon is stressed, how can we help this?"

The only thing I'd add to is is, when you talk to bosses, don't let it be only about the emotional. Point out that there is a productivity drain that comes with this. People hesitate to go into her office, so that's time lost while they mentally "gird their loins." People come out upset, and so they "detox" by talking about it, which is more time lost. And in general, -all- communication becomes less effective, which costs times, can create mistakes, etc.

pierrotlunaire0

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2013, 09:35:04 AM »
I might also present it to the supervisor: Do you have any suggestions as to how I should handle her?  In other words, I am not asking you to fix this, but I would appreciate any advice.  A good supervisor will still deal with the issue, but will value the fact that you are willing to step up and not put it all on them.
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Firecat

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2013, 01:18:14 PM »
I might also present it to the supervisor: Do you have any suggestions as to how I should handle her?  In other words, I am not asking you to fix this, but I would appreciate any advice.  A good supervisor will still deal with the issue, but will value the fact that you are willing to step up and not put it all on them.

I wouldn't say this to the supervisor, but to me it sounds like Sharon is a bully. She's nice to those she perceives as "above her," but anyone "beneath her" is fair game, and the "lowest of the low" (i.e., the receptionist) must be constantly reminded of their low status and how gracious Sharon is to even permit them to speak to her.

So I'd guess that the supervisor probably hasn't seen this, and documentation sounds like a really good idea, plus the "it seems like it stresses Sharon out when we need to interrupt her to do X. Could we figure out a way to reduce the interruptions to help her out?"

Edited to add: The Ask A Manager blog has some good advice for dealing with this kind of thing. You might try checking there for ideas, too.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2013, 01:21:08 PM by Firecat »

SamiHami

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2013, 01:40:18 PM »
Another tactic you might try could be to just cut her off-don't listen to her rants.


You: Hi Sharon, sorry but this item needs to be corrected. Here you go!
Sharon: Blah Blah Rant end of the world rant-
You: Obviously you are busy so I won't take up any more of your time. Thanks!

Then leave her office even if she is still in mid rant.

You: Hi Sharon. I'm dropping off this for you
Sharon: I'm so busy! No one else has ever been as busy as me! Busy Busy Busy--
You: Yes, we are all quite busy, so I'll leave you to your work.

Then leave her office even if she is still in mid rant.

You: Hi Sharon. I'm dropping off this for you
Sharon: Rant Rant --
You: I can see that you are upset about something. I'll just leave these papers here and get out of your hair.

Then leave her office even if she is still in mid rant.


In other words, just don't take her seriously. Her decision to rant on and on does not obligate you to stand there and listen. Just say what you need to and walk away. What is it was always say here? We teach people how to treat us? I suggest that if you simply don't allow her to rant at you, she may just stop (with you, at least). I think it might be worth trying.

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veronaz

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2013, 02:13:29 PM »
OP, have you or anyone else ever said anything directly to Sharon about her nastiness?

If not - who and when and what happened?

If not - WHY??  ???

When I had to work with someone like this I eventually got sick of their behavior and said something to that person (NOT to others).

"Look Sharon, I realize you're busy .....we all are.  It also sounds like you have complaints about a lot of things - none of which are my responsibility to fix.  But I'd like you to stop taking it out on ME."

If I was the boss and people approched me about this, my first question would be "And what did Sharon say when you tried to solve this problem directly with her?"
« Last Edit: December 12, 2013, 02:18:58 PM by veronaz »

GreenBird

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2013, 02:14:44 PM »
I like SamiHami's idea, and you might also try pre-empting her rants by starting any conversation with "I know how busy you are"

"I know how busy you are; I just have one quick question" and then launch right into your question without giving her time to start her rant.

"I know how busy you are; I just need this one order corrected" and then immediately describe the correction you need without pausing. 

"I know how busy you are; I'm just dropping this off for you" and then walk right back out. 

Any time she manages to get rolling with complaints about being interrupted with things being dropped off, you could interrupt her to say "I know, you really need a dropbox - it would cut down on your interruptions".  And say it every single time, even if you feel like a broken record, so it consistently throws the ball back into her court to fix her problem.  But don't hang around to discuss it, just say it while you're leaving. 

Technically these "railroad the conversation" approaches are kind of rude, but she's not trying to have conversations, she's just looking for rant outlets so I think they're fine here. 

I don't suppose it would work to request order corrections by email to further cut down on direct interactions with her?

Petticoats

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2013, 02:29:41 PM »
OP, have you or anyone else ever said anything directly to Sharon about her nastiness?

If not - who and when and what happened?

If not - WHY??  ???

When I had to work with someone like this I eventually got sick of their behavior and said something to that person (NOT to others).

"Look Sharon, I realize you're busy .....we all are.  It also sounds like you have complaints about a lot of things - none of which are my responsibility to fix.  But I'd like you to stop taking it out on ME."

If I was the boss and people approched me about this, my first question would be "And what did Sharon say when you tried to solve this problem directly with her?"

I'm wondering this as well. Especially when she's using unprofessional language (words that require asterisks), I wonder what would happen if you said in a neutral tone, "Sharon, I don't appreciate being spoken to like this" or "Sharon, if you can't speak to me in an appropriate manner I'm going to have to leave" or something of the kind.

TootsNYC

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2013, 08:39:40 AM »
I like SamiHami's idea, and you might also try pre-empting her rants by starting any conversation with "I know how busy you are"

"I know how busy you are; I just have one quick question" and then launch right into your question without giving her time to start her rant.

"I know how busy you are; I just need this one order corrected" and then immediately describe the correction you need without pausing. 

"I know how busy you are; I'm just dropping this off for you" and then walk right back out. 

Any time she manages to get rolling with complaints about being interrupted with things being dropped off, you could interrupt her to say "I know, you really need a dropbox - it would cut down on your interruptions".  And say it every single time, even if you feel like a broken record, so it consistently throws the ball back into her court to fix her problem.  But don't hang around to discuss it, just say it while you're leaving. 

Technically these "railroad the conversation" approaches are kind of rude, but she's not trying to have conversations, she's just looking for rant outlets so I think they're fine here. 

I don't suppose it would work to request order corrections by email to further cut down on direct interactions with her?

Actually, I'm not sure they're even technically rude, but as you point out, in this situation, they really aren't rude. The formal rules of Etiquette would probably suggest them in this sort of situation.

But I would also say--you don't need to say anything. And you don't need to stay just because she's talking. Maybe you "knock" verbally by saying, "Hi, Sharon, file for you," but then you just hand it to her and walk out. Make a little wave, and walk quickly--you're busy! but you don't need to say anything.
     (see if the boss will buy you post-it notes, and stick them on the files to communicate anything you'd verbally say--even if it's a fix, just write, "part number--jp38R instead?" and draw an arrow.

Otherwise, I do like the "Sharon, please don't take it out on me." And I think in this situation it would be a "drop the stone into the water and walk away" approach--it's not a conversation; you're making a statement, and you aren't willing to listen to anything.
   You'd need to couple this with positive reinforcement--if she's the tiniest bit pleasant, you give her a big smile and a friendly tone of voice, a few extra words linger for only a few seconds.
   But if she's crabby, slip on the stone face and say, "Sharon, don't take it out on me." and walk out.

bopper

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2013, 09:28:02 AM »
Have you ever watched the Big Bang Theory?  Specifically the one where Sheldon "trains" Penny by using chocolate?  ;D

She is trying to train you to stay away from her...when you show up, it is either because you are giving her more work or because she made a mistake.

You need to train her...bring her chocolate when you drop stuff off.  "It seems like you are having a bad day so I brought you a Hershey's kiss."  Then she will start to look foward to you coming ! :-)

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Re: How to Deal With a Perpetually Cranky Co-worker?
« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2013, 09:31:53 AM »
Another tactic you might try could be to just cut her off-don't listen to her rants.


You: Hi Sharon, sorry but this item needs to be corrected. Here you go!
Sharon: Blah Blah Rant end of the world rant-
You: Obviously you are busy so I won't take up any more of your time. Thanks!

Then leave her office even if she is still in mid rant.

You: Hi Sharon. I'm dropping off this for you
Sharon: I'm so busy! No one else has ever been as busy as me! Busy Busy Busy--
You: Yes, we are all quite busy, so I'll leave you to your work.

Then leave her office even if she is still in mid rant.

You: Hi Sharon. I'm dropping off this for you
Sharon: Rant Rant --
You: I can see that you are upset about something. I'll just leave these papers here and get out of your hair.

Then leave her office even if she is still in mid rant.


In other words, just don't take her seriously. Her decision to rant on and on does not obligate you to stand there and listen. Just say what you need to and walk away. What is it was always say here? We teach people how to treat us? I suggest that if you simply don't allow her to rant at you, she may just stop (with you, at least). I think it might be worth trying.

I agree. Just because she feels like yelling at everyone doesn't mean you all need to stand there and listen. I'd push for another drop box (play it off as "Sharon has made it very clear to everyone that the constant interruptions are distracting her from her work.") If possible, when something needs to be fixed, put a post-it note on the form and stick it in her box.