Many of us spend more time with coworkers than we do with members of our family and friends. Just think about the 8 hours a day you may work with the same people on specific projects—and that’s before you consider any overtime you may be spending with these individuals.
While it’s nice and Candyland to think that we’re all going to get along, especially because we spend so much time together, there are going to be people we are forced to work long hours with who we can’t stand. And, they can’t stand us. And, that’s fine! So, long as everyone behaves like an adult and puts the company’s interests before their own. We’re paid to do a specific job and not to make friends. Any bonding that’s done is a perk. It’s not required or necessary or possible to be on very friendly terms with everyone.
There are many actions, personality traits, etc. that can make someone undesirable and difficult to work with. But, one of the biggies is dealing with someone who refuses to take an ounce of responsibility for their words and actions. These people specialize in lying on and blaming everyone around them for all manner of problems that crop up at work. They may even blame people for petty issues that don’t really require a scapegoat.
When a Black worker is dealing with a racist, who behaves this way, AND they are the only or one of a few minorities in this person’s immediate circle of coworkers, a Black worker can get an extraordinarily large bull’s-eye placed on their back. A racist, who is generally unaccountable for the consequences of his/her actions AND who has any amount of authority (and often who does not), will usually pick one of the nearest Black workers to scapegoat. If you were on a project with the person on any level, you might end up with full responsibility for a mistake.
I worked with a racist supervisor, who assigned me to a very minor task on a project—out of nowhere. This was her baby. She worked on this project with her supervisor and her favorite underling. All of a sudden, they needed me. Not even 5 business days later, I was blamed by my supervisor for the entire collapse of the project, which was withdrawn and defunded by our government client. I had NOTHING to do with the issue that caused the project to be deactivated, but suddenly it was my work on this tiny assignment that was the thorn in the client’s side. I had to send an email to our mutual director (forwarding her email of blame) and state that I found it interesting how I was suddenly being “empowered” and that I didn’t realize my status at work had been elevated to that of a project supervisor. I included my supervisor in the email to our director. She immediately raced into my office to eat her words and turn it into “miscommunication.” This was despite the fact that she directly blamed me for the client’s anger. She didn’t hint around it. The issue is that she knew the client was unhappy and premeditated a scapegoat—me!
Some people just refuse to take their fair share of the blame for anything. You can’t always resolve a situation with someone who refuses to admit their mistakes and who won’t acknowledge how their words and actions contributed to a problem. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree with people like this or you may need someone to intervene, if the two of you can’t work things out amongst yourselves.
Sometimes people simply have a tough time figuring out a way to communicate that works for both of the people involved. When you’re dealing with a racist, they may be intentionally causing any type of conflict they can engage in with a Black worker. But, if you’re dealing with someone where the two of you are just oil and water, having nothing to do with race, you may have some chance of salvaging a positive work relationship. But, sometimes it’s just impossible.
If you’ve tried different approaches with a person, sought guidance on working with them, and you still can’t foster a positive work relationship, request that you two not be assigned to the same projects.
Yes, I understand, we’re talking about work. You can’t always and aren’t always in a position to dictate who you work with. But, if a person is causing you low morale, makes you nauseous or gives you a headache when you have to work with them, is causing you to feel anxious or angry, or makes you consider seeking other employment--and management isn’t doing anything that has resolved the tense relationship--you have a right to request a workplace free of this type of stress.
One thing I can suggest is that you track your interactions with this type of person and use a log of negative incidences to support your case for limiting or discontinuing a working relationship with this coworker.
I’ve had to make this request to a Site Director. Of course, she tried to push me to work with this person, who was blaming me for every problem on her project and was continually reporting me to my supervisor (her lunch buddy) and my managing director (another lunch buddy). I was steadfast in my commitment not to work with this individual again.
I presented direct quotes of negative and offensive comments this person made to me and to others about me, I provided specific examples of problems I was blamed for that were due to her mismanagement of the project, I explained that this person never gave me an ounce of criticism, but always showed up at my supervisor’s door to complain about me, and I drilled home the point that any conversations with this woman ended up with her blaming things on miscommunication or a misunderstanding--as if I would pick-and-choose when I could understand the English language.
By the time this individual showed up for the meeting, she arrived late, the Site Director announced to her that we would not be working together again and that a consultant would be brought in--if needed to complete the work. This individual tried to defend herself by stating that I misunderstood her. A moment later she repeated that the problem was simple miscommunication. When she used the “mis” words, the Site Director looked at me and knew I was telling the truth about my work environment. I was off the project immediately.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there truly is just a simple misunderstanding. Or, perhaps, there may be some cultural differences. But, other times, there is actual malicious intent, racism, elitism, etc. that may be at the core of what has taken place.
You can’t cure the world. You are only responsible for yourself and your actions. Don’t let things build up. It’s up to you to clarify what you will and won’t tolerate--even if that means seeking assistance from Human Resources or senior management within your company.
We are in relationships with our coworkers that can be as sick and dysfunctional as those relationships we have in our personal lives. Just like that last boyfriend or girlfriend, sometimes you have no choice except to break up!
Labels: hostile work environment, supervisor, tips and strategies