I truly have enjoyed your many columns. I think they provide a valuable service by helping people navigate the work place and work effectively with different people.
Your columns regarding dealing with office princesses, brownnosers, backstabbers, eye-rollers, those desperate for attention and divas in their own minds (or gosh forbid! a combination of all of them) are extremely instructive. Your points about not reacting to them, doing so diplomatically or bringing concerns to supervisors all are well presented and well taken.
I submit, however, that to many, it would feel so very good to tell off a toxic, back-stabbing co-worker. Chew them a new one. Bring them to tears.
Is there ever a good setting or circumstance to do this? Obviously, doing so in an office in the middle of the day is out unless you want to be out for good by 5 p.m. Doing so at company functions outside the office also is unacceptable. What if it’s a weekend and you run into toxic person in a club or supermarket, and especially if they say something nasty to you first or provoke it? When are they fair game?
Thanks for any advice.
Itching to Tell-off Coworker
Dear Itching to Tell-off Coworker,
I’m glad you are benefiting from the site. Your letter is probably best answered by Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman. I will send it to them.
My quick take on it is that the social boundaries you perceive in the office are invisibly present wherever you go. Gossip travels everywhere. Think of the many politicians who have gotten into trouble on their vacations for drunk driving or whatever… Better to keep your lips zipped. It will be interesting to see what Rick and Marty advise.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
Dear Itching to Tell-off Coworker,
For some people, and it sounds like you are one of them, it would feel good to unload on one of these co-workers. That is why so many people loved the line in Bob Dylan’s song “I wish for just one day you could walk inside my shoes – then you would see what a drag it is to see you.”
Other folks, because of religious or spiritual practice or a feeling of not wanting to lower themselves to the other person’s level of being hurtful, wouldn’t feel good afterwards. So, even from the perspective of how it would feel afterwards it could be a mixed bag.
From the standpoint of career management it is not a case of pros and cons. It is mostly a bunch of cons. If this co-worker is so political, he or she very well may have ingratiated his or herself with someone in power. You would be showing them you are on to them, insulting them and giving them ammunition to use against you, especially if there is a witness. He or she is also almost definitely the type of person who will try to hurt your career. If you tell us that you have more power and more powerful friends than this co-worker, we would still advocate a different approach then you would like to take. In that case, we would suggest being clear and firm about his or her behavior if it is ever directed at you. Also, why not use your network to have the co-worker reprimanded or, if the situation warrants, fired? This is safer to you, has more impact on the co-worker and is better overall for the organization. We have seen many situations where the overly-political co-worker was able to shift the focus from their own behavior to “Did you hear how he talked to me?” The end result: ‘You lose.’
So in summary our advice is not to confront in the way you described even if it is out of the office. In our opinion the risks definitely outweigh the rewards.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.
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