Don’t Let Co-worker’s Behavior Sabotage Your Team

Co-workers walking on eggshells (from East Bay Times on 7/18/16)

DEAR AMY: I have worked closely with a co-worker for five years. She can be warm and generous, is a hard worker and is always the first to volunteer for projects.

She is also incredibly sensitive and thin-skinned and often perceives slights in benign comments. When this happens, she flies off the handle. She has stormed out of meetings in tears and snapped at coworkers. She recently said something hurtful about a colleague (presumably meant to be funny).

I have stopped defending her, but because I think her behavior is atrocious, now and then I still “run interference” in an attempt to prevent her from melting down and to protect others’ feelings.

She often wants to vent about how she has been mistreated and asks for advice about how to handle these imaginary insults, but she rejects any actual help and seems to only want to be told that she is right and others are wrong.

Colleagues and I are constantly walking on eggshells around this person, and we resent it.

Emotional Hostage

DEAR HOSTAGE: You have kindly run interference for your co-worker for years, smoothing things over for her, so that she will be shielded from the consequences of her actions. No doubt you have done this for her because you are a genuinely good person who wants to protect her and others from her actions.

Emotional bullies get the best of people by making others check their own reactions. Over time, this can make things much worse.

If she is acting out, don’t offer help or advice. Never “protect” her from a meltdown. If she is venting to you and asks for advice, tell her, “You ask for advice but you don’t seem to actually want it. I’m confident you can figure this out.” If her unhappiness and behavior at work interferes with her (and others’) ability to do your jobs, then it would be time for a supervisor to offer her a course correction.

Corporate Games added comments…

Notice this particular sentence: She has stormed out of meetings in tears…” This means that she is acting out publically at her own “team of co-workers.” There are probably many such meetings of the team—and why this behavior is not specifically addressed at the meeting shows a “fear of conflict.” If team members are uncomfortable with this behavior, they can do several things:

  1. Ask the team leader to set ground rules for the meetings that include appropriate behavior. For example: 1) Be respectful of each other. 2) Encourage different points of view but challenge the concept or idea—not the person. 3) We are all adults and emotional outbursts are not acceptable. 4) Be mindful of time. 5) Stay on topic. 6) Work toward resolutions not endless discussion.
  2. Address her previous behavior/outburst at the next meeting: “We want to acknowledge the breakdown that occurred at our last meeting. It is unproductive and uncomfortable for everyone. What can we all do to insure that this doesn’t happen again?”

The workplace is a team effort. There will always be problems. Team members should work together to find solutions—not shrink from adversity and retreat to the comfort of silence.

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