I’m one of the lucky people who, while maybe not exactly loving my job, likes it very much. Let’s just say that if I won the lottery I wouldn’t keep working, but barring that, it’s a great job. The problem is that one of my co-workers basically ruins my day. He’s not my boss but he tells me what to do as if I haven’t done it for the last five years. When I don’t do it his way, he criticizes me. This is really frustrating and worries me because I don’t want my boss to overhear and think I’m incompetent.
If that isn’t bad enough, he’s extremely negative. Nothing is done right, forget trying anything new because it was done before and didn’t work then either, and someone else is always wrong.
I’ve tried to talk to my boss but this person has worked there forever and my boss just suggested that I try talking to my co-worker first. I’ve already tried this and it didn’t change a thing, but I don’t want tell my boss because it might seem as if I’m not a good communicator. I’ve also mentioned it to some other work peers but although they agree they just shrug and say they’re used to it.
Well I’m still not used to it and it’s gotten so bad I’m thinking of looking for another job. Any advice for handling this situation?
Signed, Fed Up and Stressed Out
Congratulations on being one who appreciates the pleasurable aspects of your work. Noticing the elements you enjoy allows you to focus on those treasured spans of time, giving them the weight and importance they deserve. By flexing and strengthening the “muscles” of attentiveness to what is joyful, we encourage growth in gratitude which in turn becomes a habit of seeing each moment’s fullness.
Too often we train ourselves to see only the difficulties in our lives. Actually, to be fair, we’re often trained long before we have the ability to make those decisions for ourselves. I’ve mentioned it before in a similar way and I call it the survival response.
When a beautiful doe steps carefully to the edge of an inviting clearing, she isn’t looking for the normalcy of a blue sky, the green grass or the golden tufts of grain. She isn’t really paying attention to a familiar trunk of a nearby tree, or the mound of dirt she travels around every day.
No. She’s looking for what is out of place, for the span of wing against that blue sky alerting her to the eagle threatening her fawn, for the brown fur of a circling coyote among those blades of grass or wheat. In other words, she’s looking for danger, for what is harmful. In order to survive, she’s cultivated a habit of looking for what is out of place in her world.
Although my heritage has made me very aware of the wisdom of our winged-ones, four-leggeds, finned and crawling ones, all of us can gain knowledge from the natural world. In this case, it helps to understand that we’re not so different from that deer.
We come into this world with unique souls. You don’t have to raise children to realize that far from being a blank slate, they’ve personalities and characters all their own. Some are born outgoing, with an extroverted nature, entering this world with gusto. Others are more introverted. They contemplate what’s before them, in their own way mulling over sensory input before responding from an inner place of comfort, and doing so in their own time. These and other personality traits comprise what I call the inherent nature of an individual and while we can learn to grow into other ways of interacting with the world, they often form the core of who we are in our lives.
Then we are given beliefs from the adults around us. If, for an example, one parent has learned that the world is unsafe, we are taught fear. If an adult raises us to believe that potential romantic partners are untrustworthy, we unconsciously incorporate that into our own manner of judging others.
Perception is created by the union of our nature and our beliefs. It is this perception by which we see the world around us. Like that attentive deer, we search our environment for what is dangerous to our survival. We often run away from what is unpleasant. We learn to search our environment for what we don’t like, seeking to avoid it and so escape discomfort. In doing so we strengthen the muscles of seeing only the negative around us.
So you see, Fed Up, why you are to be congratulated on noticing the enjoyable aspects of your work. Perhaps now you also see why you find your co-worker so unbearable.
One of the first things I’d suggest is that you notice your emotional responses to his words and behavior toward you. Do they feel familiar? Keep in mind that what your co-worker does now may not be similar to what others have done to you in the past; it’s how you currently feel in response to his behavior that matters. You mentioned him telling you how to do work you’ve done for five years. Does this make you feel shamed and inferior? Angry? Unheard? Awkward and inexperienced? You also brought up your concern about your boss overhearing and then believing you still need guidance.
Why spend time on this? Because quite often our responses are made from an already formed perception, a belief about ourselves and others created long before the person now standing before us arrived onto the scene. With this in mind, can you think of previous times in your life when you felt inexperienced and unknowledgeable? When you were diminished or shamed?
All of this is important because in life there is all too often one person who pushes our buttons of pre-conceived perceptions. Usually the emotions we feel are accompanied by disempowerment. We not only experience the unpleasantness, but we can believe in the lie of being unable to change the moment. The truth is that while you may be unable to change your co-worker's manner, you always have the power to change your response.
And while this doesn’t excuse his treatment of you at work, another thing to consider is that if you felt inherently strong, confident and worthy of respect, competent and skilled, his behavior wouldn’t sting so bitterly. Again, it can be very beneficial to study your history in order to understand why this person has so much power over your daily life.
From your letter, you’ve expressed that others are able to simply shrug off this man’s behavior, thus while they seemingly agree with your assessment they don’t share in your emotional responses. This may or may not be true since you’ve no way to know what they take home in emotional baggage, but it’s valuable as you assess the situation. For instance, why worry about how his behavior makes others see you when they appear to understand that he interacts that way normally?
You spoke to your boss and shared your concerns and it was suggested that you speak personally to your co-worker. You mentioned you’d already done so to no avail, but it’s quite likely that your manner of doing so wasn’t going to be heard. Often we approach such situations with accusatory words and in doing so we create defensiveness in the other.
Perhaps the next time your co-worker tells you how to do a well known task you could smile, and say, “Thank you so much for your suggestions. The way I’ve been taught and grown accustomed to using has worked beautifully, but I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge.” Then confidently continue with your way of completing the task. It also means, however, that you’re open to the possibility that this person, having worked there “forever,” may indeed have a more beneficial way of doing something.
If they criticize you, simply remind yourself this arises from their perceptions, not your own, and has very little to do with you at all. From this place of confidence you can listen and then respond with something like, “It’s nice of you to take time from your own tasks to notice mine, I know how busy we both are. This way works great for me.” Then continue with your work and focus not on the danger of your co-worker’s words to you, but on the part of your work you enjoy and so beautifully articulated in your letter.
Finally, if you truly cannot overcome this person’s behavior you are certainly free to find another job. Just keep in mind that we take our perceptions wherever we go and it’s not unlikely that there will be someone else who becomes the hawk or coyote to our doe and fawn. You can always leave a position you deeply enjoy, but how much more empowered would you feel if you did so from a place of personal choice rather than from a sense of fleeing danger?
Many blessings in your choices, Asrianna