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Stressed by coworker’s personalities

photo illustration by franke james; bald man ©iStockphoto.com/Royce DeGrie, panic button ©iStockphoto.com/christine balderas

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in the satellite office of a large company located in a small rural community. I work with 5 other employees and am having difficulties coping with the personalities of my female co-workers. There are four women, myself included, and two men, one being our manager. The manager, the other young man and myself all have the same type of job duties which provide us with a continuous work flow that is not dependent on walk-in clientele. The primary duty of the other three women in the office is to serve the walk-in clients and, as we are located in a small town, the days are commonly slow and walk-in traffic is light. Because of this, the women socialize with each other and gossip constantly.

My difficulty is that I am not the kind of woman who finds value in such rambling conversation and I abhor gossip. As I do not interact with them socially on the same level every day, I am criticized and they complain to our manager that I am “unapproachable”. One of the three is worse than the other in this regard. I am highly educated in our industry and have a very strong work ethic. My position reflects these traits and requires my acute attention throughout the day. I also have a very different work and social background from these women and find it difficult to relate to them. Their continuous talking makes it very hard to concentrate on my work and in our industry, accuracy is vital. I do try to participate in their conversations when they are of interest and when I do not have work to be completed, but I find that when I do join in, they simply do not know when to stop and this deters me from joining any conversation’s which are of interest. They seem oblivious to simple, general social cues which normally are displayed and indicate to a person a conversation should be dissolved. They will literally follow me as I walk, continuing to talk. I have actually been followed to the washroom and, while standing inside holding the door handle, have had them stand in the doorway and continue talking! I have almost had to shut the door in their face to disengage them. All three of them have done this on different occasions.

An important fact in the dynamic is that my two male co-workers and myself all have the same difficulties. The three of us do not live in the small community in which we work in and commute from the nearest city and each of them have expressed their aggravation with the lack of work efficiency and the constant talking. I have worked here for a period of two years now and have tried explaining my quiet personality and work ethic to the ladies on different occasions in an effort for them to understand me and that work demands do not allow me to join in on the daily socialization. This effort was to no avail however, as there has been no change in their behavior towards me. I seem to be ostracized because I am a woman and am expected to act like they do.

There are many tasks in the office which go undone on a daily basis which I feel could easily be completed if the social aspect was more disciplined. I have spoken to my manager several times with no results. I have further difficulty because I have management experience, practical knowledge and training from my previous employment in the same industry. I am capable of addressing these types of situations tactfully, but am unable to utilize my skills because I am not in a management position here. I have tried to delicately suggest some solutions and actions to my manager to assist in solving the problems but he is unreceptive to any communication’s on the topic, primarily staying in his office away from everyone all day. He too has voiced his aggravation with the situation several times, particularly with the one woman who is the most negative, but he does not seem to act to correct the problems.

Three months ago I became very frustrated with the work environment and took my concerns to the upper management in an effort to make some positive changes and alleviate the stress felt by myself and my other co-workers, including the manager. Although they were very concerned, I do not see any action being taken.

I could request a transfer to another satellite office, but fear that if management has not corrected the problems here, there may be similar problems in the other offices. Also, I really enjoy my work. There is less work related stress in the rural offices compared to the city office and I am able to fully utilize my skills here. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope.

I would appreciate any suggestions you may have as to how to get through the day without being stressed by the personalities of others.

Thank you for your time.

Distracted by gossip


OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN

dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Distracted by gossip,

We can see that this is a difficult decision because there are several things that you like about this job. We congratulate you on having a mature approach and taking very reasonable steps to improve the situation; sending signals, explaining your approach to work and seeking support from management.

You are faced with a choice and it is always good to know what your options are so you can make an informed choice and understand your trade-offs. In that regard, the choices seem to be to stay, to transfer or to seek a role with another company.

We will discuss the “stay” option in a moment but we do think that you should get more information about the other two options. You seem to be assuming that another office in this company would be the same but there is no data for that. It is possible that you have a unusual set of circumstances in this office that may not be repeated in another. So please check that out. In a similar way it might be good to discretely see what else is available outside the company. Even if you don’t find anything it will help you be more comfortable with staying.

Let’s look at the “stay” option. The first thing to determine is whether their calling you unapproachable or standoffish is hurting you with your manager. It is possible that even though he is not intervening to make things better he knows your value and their remarks don’t impact him at all. If this is the case than we would advise you to be firm and set limits to your contact with them, disregarding their remarks.

Also use good “self talk” as you go to work each day. For example, remind yourself that you have choices and that for now the plusses of this job outweigh the minuses. Also that they are an annoying part of an otherwise good job and you won’t let yourself get upset over and over again. No one can push your buttons but you and you can control how you react to them.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Good luck,

Rick and Marty

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick 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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  1. 2 Answers to “Stressed by coworker’s personalities”

  2. Feedback from Distracted by Gossip:

    Thank you for taking the time to read my letter & post a reply. My thanks also to Rick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. for their advice. It has been very helpful.

    I will be exploring my choice’s as they recommended and have already spoken to higher management in regards to whether my co-worker’s comments are hurting my position with the company. They replied, advising me that the comments are not taken seriously because of the person making them and even commended me on my skills, telling me I’m doing a fantastic job and that they are thankful I brought the situation to their attention. They’ve reassured me that they do understand the situation is difficult and that my position in the company is secure, even commenting that any manager should be ‘falling over themselves’ to have a staff member who’s primary concern is work and not socializing. Imagine my elation! I feel very good coming to work everyday now. They’re reassurance has given me the strength to not let my co-workers push my buttons.

    I have also been using good “self talk” each day and am emphasizing the plusses of my job and minimizing the minuses.

    Thanks again for replying to my letter. I will continue to read Office-Politics for more great advice.

    By Letter writer on Feb 25, 2008

  3. oh my god – same exact crappola I have… and I even tried to gossip with them a bit – no worky for me though, so I am trying to extricate myself. I have told manager but he is passive aggressive and thinks that it always takes two since that gets him off the hook for actually addressing it.

    This lady proves that it is not about her, and like her, I talked to my manager about it. There is more going on where I work than just gossip – it includes bad behavior by other managers towards subordinates that is going unaddressed… so my choice is to leave the position, because, at minimum, there is no one above to reassure me that the blaming of me is being seen as the childish and manipulative behavior that it is.

    I personally see no other choice than to leave in such a situation, though there are other reasons that help my decision – what is true: I am going to try to find a job with fewer other women next time – too insecure! Love working with men as long as they are not liars or try to steal credit for my work.

    By ditto on Apr 13, 2008

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