I have a coworker that has done everything in her power to get under my skin and a lot of time I feel like there is very little I can say because I am afraid it will be seen by HR or others as me being the Macho guy. She promoted herself to our level and has only a high school degree. She yelled at me today in front of a lot of other people and I just walked away. But I think it is time for me to take action and register the fact in writing. Understanding that I have to communicate with her what should I do. I wish I could look for another job but the economy is not good now. How do I deal with an angry black woman?
You’ve Got Male
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear You’ve Got Male,
OK, let’s back up here. You mention this “angry black woman” has done everything in her power to get under your skin. I guess I’m a little at a disadvantage to know what that means. Outside of taxidermy “customers,” it’s my understanding that we among the living still control who or what gets under our skin. Is she making snide comments to you or about you? Have there been other “yelling” incidents? Does she wear obnoxious perfume? Has she made comments actually referring to gender or is that your own inference?
The reason I ask is simple: sometimes we create drama in our own mind that may or may not exist.
If her behavior is bad, you do not need to become the macho caveman and drag her around by her hair to persuade her to behave in a professional and civilized manner. My first boss out of college was truly one of the meanest and most ill-tempered trolls you could ever dread meeting. At first, I thought she was a rabid man-hater. And then I started LISTENING to her comments. While she did have man issues, her main problems were displacement and projection; her ex-husband’s name was also Tim and she was punishing me for his past transgressions. Now that she’s two husbands beyond him (and she’s numerous bosses behind me), I’ve learned that she does have issues with other men professionally. Being able to diagnose the real root cause of her issues helped me to take away some of her power. When she would make comments like “You do such-and-such like my ex-husband” I would respond by saying, “That’s an amazing coincidence. I’m glad I’m not him, though, given how you obviously feel about him.” By listening, and by redirecting her comments, I was able to keep the gender issue out of it.
One thing I would challenge you to think about is whether you personally have issues with gender, race, or education… rather than attributing them to HR or your female coworkers. Your letter seemed to hit on three sensitive areas of diversity, and without having the benefit of specific issues that your coworker has done to set you off, it can be perceived that the problem of perception lies with you.
Assuming the nature of her problem is behavioral and/or verbal, your best bet is to get on an even playing field with her and attempt to resolve the issue as adults. Do no raise your voice, do not storm off, and do not join in the fray of battle. Examples of possible responses might include, “Susan, that’s an interesting reaction to this issue. Would you mind explaining why you feel so strongly the way you do so I can understand your point of view better?” This will help defuse her volatile actions to you.
If she continues, you might say, “Susan, this is not acceptable behavior for professionals to engage in. Perhaps we need a third party to help us sort this out. I will schedule some time with our manager, so we can explain our respective points of view. I’m sorry we couldn’t resolve this ourselves.”
Be cordial. Be professional. Be calm and steady-handed. If she brings up the gender or the race cards, again just redirect the conversation: “Susan, I thought we were discussing accounts receivable. I don’t recall the issue of gender or race being introduced into the conversation. Let’s please stay on task with this issue.” It sounds like you are already thinking about documenting these instances, which is very smart.
I know the economy is bad right now, and it is rough for a lot of people who feel stuck in a situation and feel they cannot change. Try to provide yourself with some stress outlets in the meantime. My Office-Politics.com colleagues, Joshua and Marty Seldman, recommend yoga (yes, yoga!) at your desk. Their book, Executive Stamina, has been a wonderful resource for me personally. Other techniques include visualization or even just giving yourself opportunities to get up and walk around outside for your break. Above all, look for opportunities to prove yourself to be the professional you want others to perceive you to be.
I wish you the best. Thank you for writing to OfficePolitics.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.