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Co-worker driving us crazy… ‘Frasier of the Cubicles’ responds

Dear Office-Politics,

We have a fairly new guy in our IT department, I’ll call him “Boris”. He is rude, selfish, and wants to do things his way. He will openly argue with anyone who disagrees with his conclusions or methods. He refuses to work as part of our team, but rather runs around like the “lone ranger” trying to solve IT problems, seeking recognition and credit for himself. He often undermines the efforts of others at the drop of a hat, and has been heard talking about the ineptness of his coworkers around the building.

A brand new hire now has to sit next to him and she is so upset by him that she has taken up smoking to relieve the stress. She often runs into my office to vent and is worried she won’t be able to contain herself and will “blow” one day. He is overly productive, even if it means walking over bodies to get his way.

One more thing, we have “in-house” company classes and Boris always attends every one offered (many times taking them twice). He speaks up abruptly and rudely during the classes and asks an endless array of strange questions where classmates just sigh. Recently, our company offered a fun crafts class, and guess who is showing up and annoying all the women with his presence. Unfortunately, not allowing him to attend is a company advertised class is huge HR issue and therefore HR can’t tell him “not” to come. He is driving everyone crazy! I’ve personally taken him aside and talked to him but he is clueless and just doesn’t get it.

Any ideas?

Driving us crazy

P.S. He was born and raised in Russia somewhere, but has lived here in the states for about 12 years but still carries a thick accent. He did reveal to me his wife asked for a divorce last week (what a surprise) claiming emotional abuse (surprise again). He won’t give her a divorce but intends to fight it. We are all hoping he’ll pack up and move away. He’s obviously emotionally intense about the divorce thing over his head, but to be honest his personality issues started from day 1. He is very smart with computers and cell phones, but has no social skills whatsoever. I have no idea if he has a mental health issue. He is like the guy who would suddenly go nuts and shoot up the place, in fact, I mentioned that to HR today. So I’m walking a delicate line.

dr. gregory ketchum

Dear Driving us crazy,

Your letter takes me back to the good old days of the Cold War, when we knew clearly who our enemy was and had long experience in dealing with the bad old Soviet Union. Sounds like this is the Cold War Redux in the Office. Hey, that sounds like a great title for a movie or an HR training film on how to deal with difficult co-workers.

From what I’ve seen on TV, Russian women named Natasha seem to have the upper hand in dealing with evil Russian guys named Boris. Do you have any such person on staff? If so, put her on Boris’ case. If not, we’ll have to do this the old fashioned way: stealth, trickery, obfuscation and lots of black-bag, undercover work.

Speaking of that, can we really discount the possibility that Boris is a spy or a plant? I mean, really, how could anyone take a Russian guy named Boris who acts like the lone ranger and attends crafts classes seriously? But I digress.

On the other hand, moving on to a more serious note, my sympathies go out to you and your co-workers. Difficult people like Boris like would try even the patience of Job. Nonetheless, I do believe there are positive steps you can take to alleviate the situation.

Do Your Research:
Check to see what your company’s mission statement, values statement, or code of ethics or conduct has to say about this situation. There may be something in there that will strengthen your hand when you speak with HR and your manager.

Take it to Your Manager:
You didn’t mention if you had taken this up to your manager. Fundamentally, Boris is a management problem and should be resolved by your manager. None of us are very good at dealing with colorful (read “nutty”) people and if your manager hasn’t stepped up to the plate, s/he may be hoping that the problem will just eventually go away.

Your job, on the other hand, is to help your boss be a better manager and help him/her look good. What better way for your manager to look good than resolving Boris’ “interpersonal style and grace” issues? What greater gift could you give your manager than that of pushing the responsibility for calming down Boris the Terrible? Most bosses desperately need this kind of support and help from their subordinates (although they may not recognize that they do nor appreciate it when first given). Your manager leads the charge and is first on the field of battle. You troops are ready in reserve to provide support, but not to tackle the enemy all by yourselves. This is the order of things.

Go to you manager with everyone who is being negatively impacted by this coworker (safety in numbers). Before taking this step, prepare a brief outline of the situation that includes specific behaviors or actions that are causing problems, any relevant points from the company’s mission statement or code of ethics, and a bullet point or two on what you’d ideally like to see happen to resolve things. Leave out any speculation as to what’s causing the coworker’s bad behavior and just stick to the facts and your observations. Agree on an action plan and a specific date at which time your manager will follow-up with you. Get the commitment.

Take it to HR:
It sounds as if you have already taken the situation to HR, but you didn’t mention what, if any, action they have taken. If the situation isn’t resolved by working with your manager take it back to HR. Be sure to let your manager know about your plans to do so. Follow similar steps as you did in preparing to discuss this with your manager.

You mentioned that you’re concerned that Boris is the kind of person who “would suddenly go nuts and shoot up the place…” Despite having some fun with my answer that is a very serious matter. As one more arrow in your quiver for helping your manager and HR see the wisdom of taking care of Boris’s bad behavior, companies face enormous liability if they know of a potentially dangerous situation in the workplace and do nothing to resolve it.

Document all of your efforts to resolve the situation including all of your contacts with HR and your boss. Not the date and time of discussion, who you spoke with, and a sentence or two on what was discussed and what action was promised.

Good luck and hopefully Boris will be helped to see that this is 2007 and his behavior is unacceptable. The Cold War is over Boris.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com,

Dr. Greg

Dr. Greg Ketchum, dubbed the “Frasier of the Cubicles” by the San Francisco Chronicle, is a former clinical psychologist-turned CEO and media career coach. He presides over an executive talent firm, providing coaching and recruiting for executives and Fortune 500 companies. A unique mix of psychology and coaching expertise gives Dr. Greg a great understanding of people and what it takes for career success. Combined with his keen insight into today’s job market, and infused with his trademark quick wit, Dr. Greg challenges Office-Politics readers to reach for career success on their own terms — and to have a good time doing it.

  1. One Answer to “Co-worker driving us crazy… ‘Frasier of the Cubicles’ responds”


    Thank you Franke for sending my email on to Timothy Johnson and Dr. Greg Ketchum. I enjoyed reading their insightful replies re: my co-worker and it is obvious they did put time and thought into their responses; for that I am grateful.

    As an update, Boris has been syrupy sweet and curiously quiet this past week. Probably due to the fact that “other” complaints have been brought into the light that most would consider fringes of sexual harassment. You see since Boris has a problem discerning tactfulness, it’s only natural that this character flaw would spill over into his speech with women in the workplace. Therefore, his boss, and his boss’s boss have met with HR who are presently going through some protocol of documentation and he’s been given warning about his behavior. HR wants to at least give him a chance to change his behavior rather than just firing him out of the blue. Especially since several of us think he may “go Columbine”.

    To be honest, I feel he can only keep this front for awhile and it’s only a matter of time until the real Boris comes through again. Since no one else was dealing with issue of his attending the crafts class and it clearly was affecting the women in the class, I took it upon myself to tell him he made them feel nervous, however I never told him he could not attend. I even spent some one-on-one time with him showing him what he really wanted to know and he has stopped attending. When talking to him, he shared some enlightening facts and I felt I was the counselor. Apparently his wife wants a divorce (surprise) and he doesn’t want the divorce; this is adding to his stress level. As you know personal stress is often brought into the workplace, and affects us all.

    To Dr. Greg Ketchum:

    You picked up on the fact that he is of foreign dissent, which is true, and yes, I have considered he may be a spy or has something to hide. I tried searching for his name all over the internet, but he doesn’t turn up anywhere. Apparently, he changed his last name when he came to the states years ago (he indicates it was hard to pronounce). It will always be difficult to work with Boris, in fact, if people call the company and he picks up the phone, they are telling me they either hang up, say they have dialed the wrong number or grunt and bear with it. Though he can technically solve their problem, most of the time, it’s his accent and long drawn out ordeal that turn people off, they have to work. The Dept. boss is just as you described, always hoping the problem will just go away, however we all know by now, it may be silent right now, but is bound to surface again. I have tried to lighten things up in the Dept.; I even gave him a birthday present even when even his wife did not remember it. My thoughts are… if he does go “crazy and shoot up the place”, perhaps he will remember me – I was the one who gave him a present. We are all hoping that Boris will get a message that folks don’t really like him and he will look for employment elsewhere; however since he’s been clueless about many things thus far, I doubt he “sees the writing on the wall”. Thanks for your eloquent response.

    By Letter-writer on May 18, 2007

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