Dear Office Politics,
Last month I was written up at work for tardiness, I was given a few days off from work as part of my write up. Since then I am trying to lay low. I have straightened up and don’t want any problems. There is one coworker Eric (pseudonym) that told lies to my supervisor Jim, in an attempt to get me fired. Jim dismissed it and told me to forget about. Eric ignores me while on the job and I know he is trying his best to get me fired or in trouble. He keeps spreading lies. All I want to do is show up for work and go home. I hate all this childish behavior. I don’t want to tell my boss because I am trying to stay off of his and everyone’s radar for a while.
I can’t transfer anywhere. I am nervous and it is causing me great stress. I have tried to be friendly but all efforts are nil. I work a high profile and dangerous job and I am scared.
The Lonely Scapegoat
OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER RONA MAYNARD
I know how it feels to be the target of a colleague’s vicious lies. When I faced a similar challenge early on in my career, I too kept quiet about the smear campaign. Like you, I was trying to prove myself to a skeptical boss. Like bosses everywhere, he had more urgent things to do than listen to the worries of staffers who were not in his good books. So I hoped I was smart to keep a low profile. Bad idea. While I stewed, the lies kept reinforcing the boss’s lack of confidence in me.
Here’s what I didn’t understand. A smart boss will listen to a staffer who is trying to improve performance. You sound to me like that kind of staffer. Ever since that write-up for tardiness, you’ve focused on pulling up your socks. Now you aren’t sure how your supervisor, Jim, perceives your work. Why not be proactive and find out? You have the ideal opportunity to request a meeting with him. Keep the tone forward-looking and positive, starting with your request. You’re not asking for a chance to set the record straight (don’t even mention your lying colleague). What you’re asking for is feedback that will reinforce your efforts to be your absolute best.
Although you’re not about to say so outright, you also have another agenda: to brush up your image with Jim. This meeting is your chance to review all the steps you’ve taken to do better (don’t assume he already knows), show an interest in the challenges facing your group and position yourself as a team player who stands ready to meet those challenges. You’ll do this by listening to the supervisor, not just by talking about your own contribution. Be alert for two things: additional ways you can help, and clues to how your work is seen. If your boss’s view of the facts is based on Eric’s dirty tricks, keep your cool. Project confidence and calm, no matter how anxious you may feel, and do your best to leave Eric out of the discussion. “I’m surprised to hear that,” you might begin. Then tell Jim why you’re surprised. No emotion, just the facts.
This meeting may last 20 minutes or less. But if you keep the tone constructive, that could be all the time you need to put a dent in Eric’s negative portrayal of you and start building a new image based on your supervisor’s personal observation. You don’t have to say, “Eric is spreading lies about me” if you can prove that he’s lying with your actions and your attitude.
Still, you shouldn’t expect your troubles to be over then and there. Look on this meeting as a turning point, not a one-stop solution. What you initiate with Jim must be supported every day with your colleagues, who remember your former ways. Look for opportunities to go the extra mile. It’s said that healing an overuse injury takes just as long as creating the injury in the first place. You may have injured the trust of your teammates. Be patient and give them time to see that you’ve changed.
Then there’s Eric. Your “enemy.” What do you do about him? You may not be his only victim. And although you don’t say so, he may be one of those poisonous characters who excel at impressing higher-ups while undercutting their peers. All the more reason not to go head to head with him in a meeting with your boss. The HR department is better positioned to help you because they have no vested interest in Eric’s view of things and will know his history with the company. So make sure you meet with HR, not just your boss.
Good luck. And here’s to the new you—punctual, focused, respected. Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com.
Rona Maynard, Author
Rona Maynard’s career as an award-winning journalist, leading magazine editor, acclaimed author and inspirational speaker owes much to the lessons she has drawn from coping with difficult people, both professionally and personally.
Rona edited Chatelaine, Canada’s number one magazine for women, during a decade of growth and innovation in which she attracted a new generation of readers to the franchise. While meeting every benchmark of success, she contended daily with complaints from readers, directives from corporate brass and the strong personalities on her creative staff, who ranged from seasoned baby boomers to Gen Yers with sharply different expectations. The team Rona built was honored internationally for journalism, design and overall editorial excellence. A dedicated mentor, she groomed five people who went on to edit national magazines—among many others who are now viewed as leaders in their industry.
When Rona had fulfilled her vision for Chatelaine, she stepped down to write the memoir her readers had been asking for. In My Mother’s Daughter, she tells the no-holds-barred story of how she became her own woman because of—and in spite of—the enthralling but domineering woman who formed her. From her struggles with a crazy-making boss, an undermining colleague and an alcoholic father, she draws a road map to living with integrity, purpose and joy. Alice Munro has called My Mother’s Daughter “wonderfully honest and enthralling.”
Rona continues to share her hard-won wisdom on her award-winning interactive website, ronamaynard.com, and at the podium. Her most sought-after speech is “Life-Changing Lessons from Difficult People.” Audiences say that Rona’s message brings them energy, hope and pointers they can use to transform their own lives.
Rona’s personal honors include a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, a National Champion of Mental Health Award and a Woman of Action Award from the Israel Cancer Research Fund, as well as numerous writing awards.
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