Thank God It's Monday™ e-zine by Roxanne Emmerich
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Issue: 27
May 25, 2009
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Dear Roxanne,
I get along well with most of my colleagues—with one big exception. In the beginning I was overly nice and went out of my way to get along, but she continued to be negative, rude, and verbally abusive. I reported her to HR who had a chat with her. I was present during this meeting and she refused to apologize for the names she called me. There is a tremendous amount of tension between us and it really has not changed since this meeting. Is there something more I can do?

– Cheryl C.

Dear Cheryl,
These situations can be pure torture, can't they? It sounds like you have taken appropriate steps so far, but there is something more you can do. This week's column speaks directly to your situation. I hope it's helpful!

– Roxanne

Do you have a question about how to handle a situation or a relationship in the workplace? Ask Roxanne!


Détente in the Workplace

Remember détente?

Anybody who lived through the Nixon years will remember the word, but if you're like me, you didn't quite know what it meant. As a kid, when I heard Henry Kissinger talk about "détente with the Soviets," I always figured he meant, "We've agreed not to bomb each other for now."

As it turns out, détente is a much more interesting word. Détente is the process of relaxing tension and building mutual confidence. In the 70s, we didn't just stop bombing each other—we also sent ballet companies and art exhibits back and forth. Our leaders got together at Camp David and toasted marshmallows or whatever they do. The bottom line: We got to see each other as people.

So what does this have to do with the workplace? Nothing at all—unless you've got yourself a Cold War going on.

A Cold War in the office can make every day a living hell—cold stares, muttered threats, passive-aggressive undercutting. Before you know it, it's getting in the way of your productivity, your morale, even your enjoyment of life.

If you find yourself in this kind of ongoing standoff with a coworker, you know in your heart of hearts that it's not going away on its own. It's time to open up a can of détente. Here's how:

  • Be gently direct. Go directly to the other person and say "Hey, I think we've gotten off on the wrong foot. I know you're a good person, and most days, I'm not that bad either. Let's see what we can do about it."
  • Get specific. "If you want me to change some behavior, would you please honor me with a direct request to change that behavior. I'd be happy to entertain your thoughts. But I think you'll agree that it really isn't good for us or for the company to continue in this way."
  • Assume the best. Always state what you believe was their best intention first: "I know you really care about this organization and getting results, and you may be thinking I've violated those values in some way. I certainly haven't done this intentionally, and I really want us to be cohesive and paddling in the same direction. I know we can work this out if we understand what the other needs as we're both good people..."

It's hard for another person to continue digging in when they are approached so generously. But if they do—if she attacks you personally or starts up the behaviors again—you need to take the next step to work toward resolution, whether this is an intervention or a removal, or something else. You will know that you did everything you could to resolve things amiably. But one way or another, the Cold War has to end—for everyone's sake.


Three Tips for Reducing Tension with a Workplace Nemesis

  1. Greet him by name and with a smile at least once a day.
  2. Make a wild and unexpected gesture of generosity. Bring cookies, offer some baseball tickets you aren't going to use, buy some of her kid's fundraising knickknacks.
  3. Make a point of speaking well of her to others. It will get back to her, and the tension will drop like a stone.

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Ask Roxanne:

Need advice on how to handle a situation or a relationship in the workplace? Ask Roxanne!

Quick Tip:

Uncommon Sense
After you've addressed a tension-filled work situation you need to move on and immediately start building a productive relationship. If this proves difficult for one day, pretend to yourself that no tension exists. Act as if the slate is clean—then build on that the following day.
Let me know how it goes.

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