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Career Q&A: New worker faces criticisms, accusations

Q: On Day 1 at my new job, a finicky co-worker complained to my supervisor that I was chomping my gum and talking too loudly in my cubicle. I am reasonable; if she had told me directly, I would have apologized. I have tried to avoid repeating the behavior, and told my supervisor so.

Then I found myself accused of staring at female workers' chests, and the pipeline says this co-worker started the rumor. Honestly, I am a shy guy and never would overtly look there or consider doing so. I respect all co-workers and never have been accused of doing something like this. While my direct supervisor, being female herself, sided with my co-worker, the manager above her — after knowing me and hearing every small complaint by this co-worker — realized this was being blown out of proportion. I got a verbal warning for "appearances' sake" (his words).

The third strike was when the co-worker and I had a disagreement about office procedure, and she went to my supervisor, who overruled me without hearing my side. Should I tell the manager about this? I think I got through to my co-worker by telling her we need to communicate professionally and can't go running to "mom" each time, or the bosses will get sick of the tattling and fire us both.

A: I see two possibilities here:

1. Your co-worker falsely accused you of ogling because she has it in for you. That's serious business. Abusing anti-harassment policies renders them useless to real victims — as does your manager's apparent warning-with-a-wink.

2. Being shy, you may tend to drop your gaze below chin level to avoid prolonged eye contact — which could be misread by anyone familiar with the sensation of eyes burning holes in her bodice. (Whether it's done overtly or covertly — we always know.) If so, that's a habit, like loud gum-chewing, you'll have to overcome. Learn to study noses, ears or your notepad instead.

Speaking of misreading, I hope I'm wrong in inferring that you think your supervisor sides with your co-worker just because she's "female herself." Does your male manager support you because you are both male? Also, I hope you didn't actually say "running to 'mom' " and "tattling" when requesting more professional communication.

It may be time to request a meeting with all parties, plus HR, to discuss making interactions less adversarial and resolving conflicts evenhandedly. If you're being unfairly targeted, a dukes-down, eyes-up overture will show management that you are sincere about wanting a mutually respectful workplace.

Colleague's awkward greeting

Q: I have a female colleague with whom I enjoy a friendly working relationship. One thing happens like clockwork the first time I see her every day: She says: "Hi. Ohh, I love your outfit!" and then looks me up and down for a few awkward seconds while I fumble to change the topic. I am generally good at accepting compliments, but come on — there is no way my twin sets and pleated slacks wow her every single day.

This is not brown-nosing — or, if it is, it's misdirected, because we're peers and I have no control over her career path. Do I tell her how awkward it makes me feel, or just say thanks and ask about her weekend?

A: Whether it's a backhanded compliment or just a quirky habit, you're better off treating her gawkward greeting the same as any "good morning." For giggles, you could see if her reaction varies when you're sporting a leopard-print jumpsuit.

I'm curious: What does she wear? Maybe she's hoping you'll return the compliment.

Career Q&A: New worker faces criticisms, accusations 02/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 4:07pm]
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