Q: I have a co-worker who often makes me crazy. She asks for my opinion (maybe only because she feels obligated), but she fights me when I make suggestions. I have substantially more experience and we work together, but I’m not her boss. How can I handle this?
Andie, 47, senior writer, my feedback isn’t used
A: Put your shared goal at the middle, and then start working through the workplace dynamics.
What is your goal? Presumably, to have top quality work delivered by your organization will be at the top of the list. Keep your sights set on that.
Then think through your other goals, as revealed by your reactions to the situation. “Makes me crazy” and “fights me” send a message; how would you interpret this if it were someone else? Your response could be driven by objectives of power, control or recognition.
Or it could simply be that you feel like your time is being wasted and you’re tired of it.
Be honest in reflecting on the reasons for this rather visceral response.
Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. Can you think back to when you were in a more junior position? Consider what success might look like for her and what her goals may be. In addition to stated goals, also ponder her underlying drivers, just as you did your own. And ask yourself, “Why does she feel obligated, and what would it look like if she asked because she really wanted to?”
Examine your side of the interactions. Are you satisfied with your tone and the content of your suggestions? Would you be receptive to someone if they interacted with you that way? If not, consider ways to modify your behavior.
In general, this seems like the kind of situation that can be quietly corrosive. The good news is that it can also be reasonably addressed through constructive communication.
Plan a conversation with her, focusing on the objectives you share. Then, using “I” statements, ask her for feedback. For example, you might say, “I have noticed that when we are working together, you often ask for my opinion or for help figuring out next steps. And then, it appears to make you angry or you disregard my opinion. Could you please give me some feedback so that I can be more helpful in the future?”
This is a brave move, as it puts you in the position of potentially hearing uncomfortable feedback. Maintain an open and listening stance, rather than becoming defensive.
This is especially important as your question puts her on the spot a bit, highlighting her behavioral choices. If this conversation is effective, it could serve as the foundation of a stronger relationship.
On the other hand, it may not help. Then you’ve got a couple of options. You could bring this to the attention of your boss (or hers) to ask for help in dealing with it. Or you could quietly disengage. It really depends on whether this has a material effect on your ability to meet customer needs.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.