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Co-worker driving us crazy, too

Dear Office-Politics,

We have a fairly new guy in our IT department, I’ll call him “Boris”. He is rude, selfish, and wants to do things his way. He will openly argue with anyone who disagrees with his conclusions or methods. He refuses to work as part of our team, but rather runs around like the “lone ranger” trying to solve IT problems, seeking recognition and credit for himself. He often undermines the efforts of others at the drop of a hat, and has been heard talking about the ineptness of his coworkers around the building.

A brand new hire now has to sit next to him and she is so upset by him that she has taken up smoking to relieve the stress. She often runs into my office to vent and is worried she won’t be able to contain herself and will “blow” one day. He is overly productive, even if it means walking over bodies to get his way.

One more thing, we have “in-house” company classes and Boris always attends every one offered (many times taking them twice). He speaks up abruptly and rudely during the classes and asks an endless array of strange questions where classmates just sigh. Recently, our company offered a fun crafts class, and guess who is showing up and annoying all the women with his presence. Unfortunately, not allowing him to attend is a company advertised class is huge HR issue and therefore HR can’t tell him “not” to come. He is driving everyone crazy! I’ve personally taken him aside and talked to him but he is clueless and just doesn’t get it.

Any ideas?

Driving us crazy

P.S. He was born and raised in Russia somewhere, but has lived here in the states for about 12 years but still carries a thick accent. He did reveal to me his wife asked for a divorce last week (what a surprise) claiming emotional abuse (surprise again). He won’t give her a divorce but intends to fight it. We are all hoping he’ll pack up and move away. He’s obviously emotionally intense about the divorce thing over his head, but to be honest his personality issues started from day 1. He is very smart with computers and cell phones, but has no social skills whatsoever. I have no idea if he has a mental health issue. He is like the guy who would suddenly go nuts and shoot up the place, in fact, I mentioned that to HR today. So I’m walking a delicate line.

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
timothy johnson

Dear “Natasha”,

Forget moose and squirrel; Boris is trouble.

I must admit, though, that I am very perplexed. HR won’t keep him from going to a company-sponsored class, but they will allow him to run amok and do immeasurable damage every time he opens his mouth? Where is his supervisor/manager during all this? Does your company not have any accountabilities in your performance plan that deal with teamwork, respect, or communication? Please don’t tell me that it’s all about results.

There was one thing in your letter that was unclear: what is your role with respect to Boris? If you are his peer, then providing him with feedback most likely will always fall on deaf ears. He’s not going to listen to you because he probably does not perceive you as a credible source of feedback. If this is the case, one strategic scenario is to go to his boss, as a group. You should schedule a meeting with his boss and with the “we can’t keep him from attending a crafts class” HR representative. Lay out, in writing, all of the things you have shared. Tell them what the consequences are of his behavior. Most IT shops are pretty sensitive about employee turnover, and seniority can go a long way in shifting the balance of power. While HR shops are pretty tight-lipped about performance behavior and allowing other employees to know what is going on, you can let them know that all of you have documented this meeting, and that you will continue to document his behavior until it shows signs of improving.

If you are his boss, you need to go beyond just trying to provide him feedback, and call him on the carpet for his behavior. Sit him down and tell him what he is doing in no uncertain terms. Let him know that it is not acceptable for him to act this way, and it will not be tolerated. Then put him on probation. Because of our litigious society, make sure everything is documented.

That’s the no-nonsense answer…

However, my curious side wants to know why he acts this way. Is he just trying to stake a claim as “big man on campus” to make an impression since he’s new? Is he feeling threatened? Maybe when you see him acting in a way that is detrimental to the team, turn it into a question… very publicly (i.e., make sure there are others around when you ask it).

Example: “Boris, just now you acted very condescendingly. We take pride in our teamwork here, and we would like you to be part of the team. However, your behavior makes it difficult for us to want to include you. Do you mind telling all of us why you chose to make that comment? I think we’d all be curious to know why you think you know something we don’t.”

This puts him on the spot then and there, and it makes it easier for him to see that he can’t get away with his behavior. It’s the organizational equivalent of swatting his nose with a rolled up newspaper and making him lie down by his water bowl. This approach should only be used if you (and your colleagues) have no fear of direct confrontation. His reaction to this kind of challenge will speak volumes. Don’t let him off the hook if he tries to shrug it off as “humor” or a “misunderstanding” (as many do). Hold his feet to the fire and make him uncomfortable. He will get the idea quickly.

It may be possible that he’s still coachable after all of this. If he is a good performer, then perhaps he can evolve into a good team member as well.

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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  1. One Answer to “Co-worker driving us crazy, too”

  2. FEEDBACK FROM DRIVING US CRAZY

    Thank you Franke for sending my email on to Timothy Johnson and Dr. Greg Ketchum. I enjoyed reading their insightful replies re: my co-worker and it is obvious they did put time and thought into their responses; for that I am grateful.

    To Timothy Johnson:

    Yes, his boss has brought performance, teamwork and lately harassment issues to his own boss and lately to HR. Apparently, more documentation is requested and HR has met with Boris to discuss these issues to give him a chance to change his behavior. Perhaps they want a long and varied list when they let him go, I don’t know. In my personal opinion , I don’t believe Boris will ever be a teamplayer.

    You are right, “why is he acting this way?” Is it his upbringing from the foreign countries he’s lived in? His past? We do know his wife wants a divorce which is causing him stress. At a company party, whenever I was about to take a picture of several people, he would run over and stick his head in the photo. Very strange. I had to use PhotoShop to erase his face. It almost seems like he wants recognition, attention, admiration for his knowledge, unfortunately it’s having the opposite affect. Your final thought of asking questions and using the direct approach seems to work best since he is clueless about his behavior. Thanks again for your pearls of wisdom.

    By Letter-writer on May 18, 2007

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