A friend of mine, let's call her Martha, works for a large environmental engineering consulting firm. As part of her job she and several of her coworkers meet every few weeks with each of their clients to discuss the status of projects. For the better part of a year, her coworker, Bertha, treated Martha disrespectfully at these meetings. Bertha would often:
Roll her eyes when Martha spoke;
Interrupt her; and
Speak to her condescendingly.
Martha grew more and more upset until she dreaded attending the client meetings. When she spoke to other coworkers about the problem, they agreed that Bertha was treating her disrespectfully, but declined to get involved. Martha thought about telling her supervisor, but did not want to get Bertha in trouble and was worried that her boss would think she was not a good team player or would dismiss the problem as trivial.
When I ask people what they like most about their jobs, invariably they say, "the people." Friendly, cooperative relations with coworkers are the glue that helps employees stay committed to their organization and engaged in their work. But what about the 20 percent of employees who do not feel respected by their coworkers? For them, commitment and engagement are tenuous.
A coworker could be rude to you due to many factors, including:
They may be jealous that you are more educated, speak better English, have better relationships with customers, have a higher family income, are more physically attractive, have a better relationship with the boss, etc.
They might be trying to get even with you from an unintentional wrong they believe you committed against them.
- Poor performance
They may believe you are a poor performer and deserve their disdain.
They may be trying to one-up you to curry favor with your boss.
They may be biased against your age, sex, religion, ethnic origin, sexual preference, etc.
More than likely, they are insecure about their own personal value to the organization.
WHAT TO DO
Regardless of the cause, rudeness from a coworker should not be tolerated. Here is a 4-step process you can use to address and try to resolve the problem.
- Step 1: Ask for a Meeting.
Do not let the problem fester. That will only make it more stressful. It is best to be proactive and "move to the tension" rather than just hope the problem will go away. Martha should tell Bertha that she would like to meet with her privately for a few minutes. She should choose a neutral location such as a small conference room or a local coffee shop.
- Step 2: Conduct the Meeting.
During the meeting, Martha should calmly say that there have been some problems during client meetings that she would like to bring to Martha's attention, discuss, and jointly resolve. She should then focus on Bertha's negative behaviors and their business consequences. For example, she should point to the specific rude remarks, interruptions, and facial expressions, and tell her that these are not good for the firm's relationship with clients. She should also share that these behaviors have been hurtful and upsetting to her.
She should ask Bertha if she was aware of her behaviors and engage her in a discussion about how they can resolve any differences they might have. Here are a few open-ended questions she could use:
Please tell me how we can work better together as a team, especially in front of clients?
How can we improve our working relationship?
What are some things that bother you about me and that you would like me to do differently in our professional relationship?
- Step 3: Develop a Plan for the Future.
Martha and Bertha should then jointly develop a plan for how they will resolve any issues or differences in the future. They should agree to discuss this issue again on a specific date to monitor their progress.
- Step 4: Escalate If Necessary.
Martha should speak to her boss about the situation if any of the following occur:
Bertha refuses to meet with her to discuss the problem;
Bertha denies there is a problem; or
Bertha refuses or is unable to change her behavior.
Martha and her boss can then decide together how to proceed. The boss could speak directly with Bertha, Bertha's boss, or involve human resources.
If disrespect and rudeness from a coworker is a problem for you, be proactive and use the four-step process above. Fretting about coworkers is stressful, a waste of your time, and unproductive. Your time is better spent focusing on your work and your customers.