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Navigating 3 Tricky Coworker Situations

by on July 10, 2013

What’s more difficult than dealing with a thorny patron issue?  How about mending a difficult situation with the person you work with everyday?  In these circumstances, the relationship with your colleague is paramount.  We’ll discuss how to troubleshoot three  awkward situations below.

1) The Meddler: You’re working the service desk with Michelle.  You find her a knowledgeable coworker, very capable, and generally a pleasure with whom to work.  But Michelle often inserts herself into your conversations with patrons, in a shout-out-the-answer-first type of way. In this latest incident, Michelle has interrupted you to give your customer directions to the bathroom.  Sheesh!

The Goal: You want Michelle to know you like having her as a partner at the service desk, not a competitor.

How: Give Michelle the benefit of the doubt and assume her behavior stems from a positive place.  Bring up the occurrence as soon as there is an opportunity to do so privately.   “Michelle, I appreciate your willingness to help, but I like having the opportunity to work with patrons individually.  If I get into a bind and need your help, you’ll be the first to know.”

2) The Passive Aggressive: Lately you’ve noticed Mike making snide comments.  At first, you thought his remarks were in jest, but now they’ve got a little more zing to them.  Today he muttered, “I guess I’ll get it.  Wouldn’t want you too work to hard.” as he answered the reference desk phone.  What’s that about?

The Goal: You want to see what’s bugging Mike without creating any necessary drama.

How: Stop ignoring the snarkfest and ask an opened ended question to draw him out.   “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  What do you mean, Mike?” Make it safe for him to share his viewpoint by not becoming defensive.  Chances are, Mike’s unhappy about something, but he’s unable to communicate it.

3) The Complainer: Your coworker Rachel is prone to negative outbursts.  Sometimes it’s venting, but other times her remarks resemble nothing more than whining.  We all have bad days, but lately you are dreading working with Rachel.   Her carping just seems to zap all the energy out of you.

The Goal: To create a more constructive environment without telling Rachel how draining her negatively is.

How: Combat her attitude with an injection of optimism.  Rachel, “I can’t believe they won’t give us more money for staff.  I’m so overworked; I need to clone myself just to get my work done.  I’m on desk all the time now. And Michelle took off to take care of her sick kid?!  Like the rest of us don’t have enough to do  . . . (ad naseum)”  You say cheerfully, “Yes, we’re all busy, but I really feel like we have pulled together as a team to work through our crazy summer schedule.  And it’s good to be busy – that means people like using the library!  Plus, Michelle has worked extra nights and weekends for the last month, so I’m more than happy to cover for her.” 

Got any helpful hints for the rest of us?  Share in the comments section!