I came to a position about six months ago and am having to deal with a hostile coworker. Instead of calling me by my name it is always “golden boy” or “chosen one”. He knows I do not particularly care for the remarks. If they were done in jest that would be one thing however they are not. I feel I have to watch my back constantly as he is someone who reviews my materials prior to publication. How should I handle him?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
It appears as though you are dealing with somebody who is insecure and feels threatened. I once entered an internal consulting department of a large insurance company. I was 25, the youngest in the department, and had already earned my MBA, something that no other non-management person had. And the hostility toward me was instantaneous. Among the worst was a middle-aged woman who had a high school education. She viewed me as a threat from the start, and she did everything to sabotage my work and my reputation.
It would appear in your case as though your reputation preceded you. There’s something on your resume that made this person see you as competition. His approach for dealing with it is to try to get under your skin. Unfortunately, it sounds like he is succeeding. You’ve made it clear to him that you don’t like the label; however, have you asked him why he feels the need to call you by that? Perceptions are goofy things. You may just need to have a frank discussion with him that whatever his reason for calling you that, you are there to do a job just like anybody else, and you do not expect preferential treatment.
I’ve had people call me by terms that I did not prefer. I successfully extinguished the behavior by ignoring them whenever they called me by anything other than my name. Some have gotten irate, almost yelling, “Hey, I was talking to you.”
I looked this person square in the eye, and without flinching, stated, “No, you insist on calling me [term]. My name is Tim, Timothy, or Mr. Johnson. If you are incapable of calling me by name, then I see no need to acknowledge your communication.” After a few times of reinforcing that, he soon began to call me by name, and the behavior stopped. He also knew he had no recourse for retaliation.
Because this person has a degree of power over you, I would recommend that you look to other alternatives, if possible. If there are other people who also perform pre-publication edits, I would recommend you build relationships with them. That way, even if he begins to nit-pick your work, you have allies who will back you up. If he is the only one, then begin to document your exchanges with him. When you have enough documentation, go to HR and/or to his manager. Address the situation as a team dynamics problem to be handled, not as a you-vs.-him kind of problem.
Again, he continues to have power on the name-calling as long as you choose to give it to him. Finding out the reasons for his behavior and addressing them, extinguishing his behavior through negative reinforcement, and documenting your interactions with him will shift the power from him back to you.
Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com
Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant
Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.
An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.