Three years ago, I received an e-mail that I wasn't supposed to see. Two of my colleagues were sharing their critical views of me, and accidentally copied me.
Colleague A apologized profusely, assuring me he had great respect for my work and abilities.
Colleague B was silent. I decided to let it go and play along to get along. Since then, Colleague A has moved up in the organization and distanced himself from Colleague B.
Colleague B continues to be passive-aggressively hostile toward me, interrupting me at meetings, and using his role to undermine projects that I am championing. His advice to the management team is also becoming increasingly negative – delay, defer, no-can-do, and generally defeatist.
We have some team-building sessions coming up. I hate playing these games and I am not looking forward to pretending to trust B. How do I handle this situation?
THE FIRST ANSWER
President of Sandra Safran HR Services, London, Ont.
This disrespectful and aggressive work environment sounds most upsetting.
Talk to Colleague B to find out what his problem is with you and what you could do to make your relationship more pleasant and productive. You could also ask your manager for advice about how to improve this difficult situation. It might be helpful to ask Colleague A for confidential mentoring on the issues; you may learn valuable information about yourself and your department. Ask whether there are opportunities elsewhere in the organization.
Prepare carefully for all meetings. Be ready with current, relevant information and recommendations. If B interrupts you, keep on talking, while holding up your palm or forefinger as a signal that you are not finished. Or, when he finishes interrupting, continue your idea by stating, "As I was saying …" This will show him and others that you are positive and strong.
As for the team-building sessions, try to think of B as a difficult child whom you cannot trust. Treat him politely and respectfully, while divulging nothing negative about yourself.
If B is being angry, negative and defeatist, he may be on his own downward spiral and could be gone soon. While waiting, decide whether you can stand the stress. Start job hunting, anyway. There may be much happier opportunities waiting for you.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Founder, Women's Executive Network, Toronto
What you have described is the equivalent of schoolyard bullying. I'm not sure whether you have thought about the situation in these terms, but I think you should because by doing so, your next steps will become clear.
People who bully others tend to step back when they are confronted. But standing up to a bully takes confidence and I'm not seeing that from you in this note. Your unwillingness to face your bully and address the conflict has allowed the wound to fester.
Three years later, you continue to let B undermine your work and take away your voice in meetings. By remaining silent, you are giving him your power. You have to take B aside and talk about what's happened, how you feel about past acts and how best to move forward.
Talk to the management team about the negativity B is bringing to mix. Find out how others feel about it. If you are all in agreement, maybe the group should be speaking with B about how he is affecting the team.
Team-building sessions are not about pretending, at least not if you really are invested in making the team as strong as possible. You need to take a closer look in the mirror and see how you can start taking ownership of the role you want to play.
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