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Dealing with Employees/Boss told fellow employee that I filed a complaint against them.

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Question
I share a cubicle with a co worker, she spends most of her day texting and surfing the internet on her phone.  She also takes extra breaks and longer breaks then we are allowed.  I get stuck doing her work when she cant get it done.

I wrote an email to my boss, since she is rarely around, and informed her of this.  My boss then turned around and told my coworker that I had reported her.  What can I do, I file a complaint and expect it to kept secret, now everyone knows what I did and I can no longer work there.

Answer
Hi Dan;

You don’t need to quit, just work an understanding around your right to have your co-worker perform her duties in a professional manner.  Your Manager should have considered the rock and hard place position she placed you into by speaking out.  It is quite possible she did have good intentions and was trying to motivate your co-worker but these things tend to backfire.  
Normally your shouldn’t apologize for your actions but if you are trying to stay at the job then there is a way to do this sort of thing and you initiate this from the insensitivity toward your co-worker’s feelings and not for the cause of your action. The main issue is the embarrassment and ego bruising of feeling like a snitch and the fear of being ostracized by your other co-workers as they look at your differently.

Working from retrospective thinking, should such an event cross your path again, deal first directly with the co-worker unless you sincerely believe it will prove futile before taking it upstairs.  Again, you can talk to your supervisor and request your comments will be kept private. This still requires some trust in the system and the supervisor. From here you need to deal with this on your own for damage control.

From this point you are working a form of reputation damage control.  How we are perceived by others is crucial in maintaining relationships, and no one likes to be taken advantage of, do the work of others consistently, or have anyone talk or gossip behind our back. So with all this considered you can begin to see from outside your own perspective. Use empathy (defined basically as “seeing through the eyes of the other”) to think how you would feel and both the co-worker and more importantly, the others in the workplace with whom you feel will now judge you for your action. Spend little time explaining your actions to others as they will likely see this as self-serving.

Without getting all touchy-feely about this situation ask yourself what you would think if it was someone else with your current problem? What would you like to see and have happen at this point so you could feel safe that people will not inform on you if you are outside the rules.  If seems trivial but it will be pivotal in making your position better, not conciliatory.  
You certainly had a right to want your co-worker to do her own work, have a better work ethic, and actually work in the office. You attempted to correct a problem by going through channels and a chain-of-command, just like HR designed the system. Unfortunately people and personalities get involved, and sadly, not everyone has the skill sets or the mentality to pull off the interpersonal interactions in a positive way, and punishment is a particularly difficult task in its own right.

Your situation is easy to problem solve from the position of the supervisor, and even from the co-worker, providing she wants to change and do more productive work. Yours is going to require finesse and a bit of consoling, even if you feel you should not have to offer any concessions to anyone.  Your action was not necessarily wrong but if you feel it will be perceived differently than intended, then it still falls back on you. It is bothersome to you or you would have not used this forum.

Go directly to your co-worker first. Have a plan, and I will relay one here for you to follow at whatever length you deem usable. Ask yourself how others might see the entirety of the event, and if they even care other than in passing.  Examine her popularity compared to yours. If she had done this to you what would you want to happen next? Give each question a number value and decide which are important and which can be collaterally useful or ignored. But you share a cubicle so avoidance is impossible.  I apologize for not being able to respond immediately but I have been out of the internet loop while I traveled and discovered your question only upon my return.

You can offer an apology. I can understand your skepticism, but bear with my writing here until the point is made. You are not sorry for needing her to do her own work. You are not apologizing for going to the supervisor to rectify the problem, but you do feel bad for how it has gotten to this point. This is where empathy can build a bridge to civility. This is different from trust, and empathy does not require you to like each other – and she may never forgive the incident, but that is a personal issue if she cannot see from your point of view or never believed her phone usage was a problem anyway.

Begin by clearing the air with the problem. It is a white elephant in the cubicle anyway so ignoring it won’t make it go away. You won’t be apologizing for your action per se but for the injury to her feelings and for not coming to her directly with the problem and asking for a resolution. She will likely deny it is an issue or that her actions were ever a problem and how you bring up needing to pick up the slack for her work shortage is a problem for you. A most important component of speech will play a crucial role here and how you use your tone is going to matter, a lot. Tone comes out as attitude, so it portrays feelings from happy to contempt. If she feels judged she will reach badly. If she sees you have a sense of purpose behind what occurred then maybe she will see from your point of view. I would not hold your breath, but by doing the “right” thing you will look like you are heading for the high road and trying to do the honorable thing. If she tries to undermine you in the future you will have an advantage.

I can offer the sad prospect of this being far from over. People hold grudges. If she is of poor character she will talk behind your back and has likely already done so. If of good character she has taken the hit, changed her behavior, and is already on the mend. This does not mean she has forgiven you as that will require an understanding of why you went to the supervisor and as easy as that is for you to see it may be an entirely different matter to her.

You are setting up the platform for interacting the next time she slacks. Then the talk comes again and she will bring up (or at least think it) are you going to turn me in again? Your response is direct by saying it isn’t your intention or your plan and she needs to do her work.  You are certainly willing to help in a pinch but you have your own work to do.

Here is a Five-Step Approach for gaining her understanding and I will list the steps but you will need to fill in the steps with relevant information.
    1.   Ask for her to try to understand the reason and the action and the supervisor intervention. Stating your displeasure of the supervisor blowing it won’t help your case. Wishing now you would have acted differently is difficult be you can work for better communication in the future.  
    2.   Set a verbal context for some interpersonal rules of conduct that you can both agree and if there are differences, examine which you can work with and which are impractical. Focus on her getting her work done so you do not need to do it for her. Leave out her long breaks and make sure there is no jealousy motivating her lack of the fairness rule. Someone always takes advantage of what they can get away with so arguing on that field is a lost cause.
    3.   Create and present options for how to better work together in the future. She may surprise you and be forthcoming and helpful; if not, then you can be patient and wait for her to get past her ego. Either way, you will know how thick the ice is around you.
    4.   If you are not getting anywhere then confirm that the situation is untenable, for now.
    5.   Conduct your actions accordingly.

Remember an apology does need to sound apologetic but never weak. Done is done and you cannot take back what happened and followed company rules of going to a supervisor to get an action she should have been easily aware regarding her work responsibility.  Also remember that an explanation is not a speech. If you sound like you are lecturing her on a lack of work ethic it will go badly because it will sound personal. Your success is in maintaining a very professional position.

If you act weak she will take advantage and spread gossip for how bad you feel and she will act as if she has won a moral victory. If you come on too strong she will see you as self-righteous and gossip anyway. You did what you did and now regardless of how you feel you need to hold up your head until the dust settles. The impact of how this will affect you will be self-evident by how you are treated by your other co-workers. Everyone will formally understand, but they will also try to place themselves in her shoes before they try to see from your perspective. If you act like an adult then they will eventually begin to do the same. The Holidays are almost upon us and the festive nature of most of us will smooth the transition as good feelings tend to overwhelm the bad. Use those feelings to gain ground.

Here are a few ground rules:
People deserve to be treated respectfully. We all make mistakes. We judge others, even when we think we aren’t so live with your thoughts and force better ones into play when we speak. Tone is our verbal attitude and we never hear how we sound to the ears of others. The cubicle ice won’t melt by not speaking, at least in greeting her each day with civility. I would leave out the how do you feel today line as you are likely to be rebuffed or receive an insulting response. How we are perceived by others is far more powerful than the reality of our individual speech and actions. A sense of humor is absolutely important and there is s fine line between humor at the expense of others seen as insulting and self-effacing irony so learn to laugh at yourself and not others.

Lee Fjelstad, Vice President of the Verbal Judo Institute, Inc.
www.VerbalJudo.info
In Memory of Dr. George J. Thompson Ph.D., Founder of the Institute and creator of Verbal Judo

Dealing with Employees

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Lee Fjelstad

Expertise

I can answer questions on resolving professional and personal conflicts or communication issues in the workplace, with clients, in the home, or any encounter that needs or requires people conform to authority or common goal. My responses will be centered on tactics for getting more from the people around you and directed toward gaining their voluntary compliance, cooperation, or collaboration. Please note that the answers will not be in the form of a “Dear Abbey” response and my personal opinions will rarely be offered, but rather a soft or hard argument toward resolving the issue or demonstrating that words alone will not solve your dilemma or predicament. A web site with references and a partial client list is available upon request.

Experience

I am the Vice President of the Verbal Judo Institute, Inc., and for the last twenty years I have traveled between 200 -300 days annually conducting training seminars on Verbal Judo in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and in England. I specialize in resolving conflicts that rise from workplace differences and highly charged emotional situations that impact cooperation and compliance, and how to deliver or receive bad news and communicate effectively through the issues that typically block the proper delivery or receiving of information in both professional and personal relationships.

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I have been interviewed regarding Verbal Judo as the subject in magazine articles ranging in interest from Conde Nast Traveler, Broker Magazine, and sports publications like Referee Magazine; to newsprint articles in the USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and over one hundred local print and online newspapers. I have been broadcast internationally on CNN; nationally on NBC, ABC, and Fox; in Canada on CBC; numerous local television stations; and interviewed on radio across North America and in Europe. In addition to the video clips I am currently producing, the President of the Institute, Dr. George J. Thompson, Ph.D., has four published books on the market (with more in current development) and several audio and video programs.

Education/Credentials
My educational background includes degrees in English, Business, and Organizational Communication with additional work in Psychology and Behavioral Science.

Past/Present Clients
From executives in corporate offices to front line staff in customer service industries, my clients are people in city, county, and the federal government; airline and cruise lines; banking; real estate operations; universities; and referees in professional sports. My audiences number several hundred thousand people attending Verbal Judo lectures world-wide and as a company our associates have collectively trained over one million people.

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