A co-worker that has his office next to mine spends most of his day talking to his wife and kids on the phone. It drives me crazy! Talking to my boss is out of the question, he is very old school and thinks “women” are below men.
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. JOHN BURTON
In three short lines, you have identified two major dilemmas. Not only does your co-worker’s phone chatter drive you crazy, but you have a boss who has left you feeling he is unapproachable.
One of the keys to avoiding the trap of office politics is to establish the norms that will govern behaviour within the workplace. When different people have different expectations about what is appropriate behaviour, trouble often follows. Clearly your expectations are different than those of your co-worker. Perhaps they are different than your boss’s as well.
For your own sanity you need to take the inititative and try to get some clarity around how the three of you, and any others in the office, are going to function together. You might begin with a one on one approach to your co-worker to establish norms around a number of issues. I suggest you include an invitation for him to identify things that are important to him as well.
You could include in that broader conversation something general which suggests that you both commit to a time limit on personal calls, or making such calls at a certain time, whatever you would like to see.
Unfortunately you cannot be sure your co-worker will agree. What I would hope, however, is that talking to him about it and building a better working relationship will lead to improvement over the long run.
If working one on one is not comfortable for you, or is unsuccessful, try suggesting to your boss, again in a general way, that you feel the working environment would be more productive if there were more clarity about the expectations for behaviour in the office. Make sure you include the issue of telephone usage, but include some others as well, to avoid focusing on your co-worker in a way that will make him defensive.
That’s a long response to a short, but loaded letter. I wish you well with this situation.
Are there other readers who have ideas about how to work with a boss who is biased against you because of your gender or for any other reason?
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John is currently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities.
Publication note: This letter was originally published in September 2002. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.