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Former ‘ghetto superstar’ seeks peaceful solution

Dear Office-Politics,

I joined the software department of a large company and started working on a large complex project. The team I was working in were mainly senior people who were initially very helpful and supportive. As a new graduate I found the initial work very challenging and needed constant mentoring. Gradually I found that my skills were improving however I still often needed support from the senior team members.

The problem arose when a contractor joined our team and started to make fun of me behind my back. As I often needed helped or asked others questions I realised the contractor would tell others that I was incompetent, dumb, useless etc behind my back. I realised that he was making the other members of my team think badly of me when previously they did not, he is being quite successful at this and I think they are starting to dislike me aswell. The thing is that I never was rude to; I never back chatted, mocked or did anything bad to anyone at all. This contractor seems to be mocking me and being rude to me. If I ask him for help he quite openly brushes me off or ignores me. If I ask anyone else for help he keeps coughing to get others attention and makes negative expressions. He is also going around the office basically getting everyone to hate me and avoid me. He is better then me at his job and very experienced so isn’t competing with me at all. I am really starting to get pissed off with him as I feel its getting quite personal. He shows that he doesn’t want to know me which is fine (I don’t want to know him either) but he will take every opportunity to make contact with me to ridicule me in a conniving way. He gives me the silent treatment and when I leave for the day saying goodbye he quite rudely doesn’t respond only to say bye while I am walking away. He quite openly communicates to my face with his facial expressions that he has a beef with me when I don’t want anything with him.

Now please tell me, have I done anything to him to get treated by him like this? I never like to be rude to people and if I realise I have I will be the first to apologise. Here I feel that this sad man has deliberately chosen to have a beef with me when I have done nothing to him. The thing is that he doesn’t realise that unlike most people he works with I used to be a ghetto superstar (not something I’m proud of) and I am seriously considering beating the f**k out of him and walking out of the job. He seems to be f**king with me, when I have done nothing to him and I think he needs a smack so he won’t mess with people like this again. When I am very tempted to batter him I really don’t want to as I know I will get pissed off with other people at new work places, I don’t want to resort to violence any more, although I do think certain people deserve a smack, honestly i keep thinking about him at work because he is making it hell for me. One thing is that the work is hard and when the people dislike you it turns to hell.

Anyway, can you recommend any other ways I may be able to deal with this situation? Should I go to management and tell them what I think/know he is doing, of course he and his supporters will deny. Should I speak to him in private, if I do I think he might get cocky and I’ll end up smacking him one, should I try to get the others to support me by highlighting his wrecked personality? -although they are currently on his side they are sensible and I might be able to win them over. Should I resign, give him a smack and leave. Please advise.

Many thanks.

Subtract or Contract

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
timothy johnson

Dear Subtract or Contract

Your letter reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the question is asked, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

Unfortunately, the same can be asked of many consultants and contractors. The problem is that the bad ones cast a pall over all of us. There are times when, as a contractor, I’ve had to suggest that an employee is not well-suited for the position to which she or he was hired. However, abject humiliation and name calling are not signs of professionalism.

You have alluded to the part of the problem that lies with you. Ramping up a new employee, especially a college graduate, is hard work. By nature, you do have a lot of questions, as you are curious about how things work and you desire to do a good job. I’ve never seen anybody put down for asking questions with such venomous force, though. Your letter makes me wonder about your question-asking abilities:

    1. Are you batching your questions or are you running to other people every time an inquiry pops into your head? It may not be that you are asking questions, but the frequency with which you are asking them. If you get stuck on something, write it down, and then move onto something else. At the end of the morning and/or end of the day, take your questions to your supervisor. Also, by batching the questions, it may give you time to find the answers on your own.

    2. Are you asking “intelligent” questions? Simply saying you don’t understand leaves it open for others to question your competence. Instead, explain what you DO understand first, and then share where the road blocks are occurring. This will demonstrate that you are using your analytical skills to try and solve the problem by yourself rather than just throwing up your hands in defeat.

    3. Are you doing any research on your own? Many companies have intranets, on-line files, manuals, or databases where many questions can be found. Have you exhausted all possible avenues before asking other people?

    4. Are you learning from the answers being given? Nothing drives people crazier than being asked the same question over and over again. It’s OK to ask questions; you just need to ensure that you are demonstrating that you’re learning from the answers.

Given some of your other comments about his behavior and your reactions to it, I don’t know that I would recommend talking to your superiors about his behavior. If he has damaged your reputation in their eyes, any complaints by you would simply be perceived as lashing out. I doubt you would get very far. If there are still one or two people who are sympathetic to you (and only you can determine the level of damage that’s been done across the board), you might consider “coming clean” with them and objectively stating what you have observed since the contractor came on board. Create a document of all of the things that he’s said about you, the source, and the date you heard it. If you have emails forwarded to you from him that contain his comments, then that is the best evidence of all. Try to be as exact as possible. Then share with your superior or peer how his actions and comments have made you feel about yourself and your job. Let them see that you have documentation when you’re talking to them; even share a copy (documentation makes management nervous). You might drop a hint that your attorney asked you to compile the list (even if you don’t have an attorney, they don’t need to know that). You also may want to consider an exit strategy if you feel that you can no longer be effective in this environment. It sounds like this is affecting you very deeply, to the point of considering difficult confrontation or physical violence. If you sink to that level, then he wins, as your actions simply justify what he’s been saying about you all along (right or wrong).

Best wishes and thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com,

Timothy Johnson, Author

Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.

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