Q: During my career, I have encountered many political hurdles. Most recently, I seem to have alienated a colleague who is here on temporary assignment from our corporate headquarters. "Adele" and I have similar positions, though we work in different locations.
Shortly after she arrived, Adele told me that she didn't know why she had been selected for this project. She seemed visibly upset about her lack of certain required skills. Because this appeared to be a serious problem, I called Adele's boss and relayed her concerns. He said he would talk with her about it.
Now, Adele has become very hostile toward me. She refuses to share information or assist me in any way. Other co-workers have told me that she says I can't be trusted. What should I do about this?
A: Unfortunately, you appear to have an extremely poor grasp of workplace boundaries. Because you and Adele are peers, sharing her comments with management was completely out of line. Even if confidentiality was not explicitly requested, most colleagues would have recognized this as a private venting session.
Considering the potential problems created by your disclosure, Adele's angry reaction is not surprising. However, she should have talked with you directly instead of bad-mouthing you to others. Nevertheless, as the one who created this problem, you should attempt to fix it by offering a sincere apology.
For example: "Adele, I know you're upset with me for calling your boss. Although I intended to be helpful, I now realize this was completely inappropriate, and I should have kept our conversation confidential. I hope you will forgive me because I really do want us to have a good working relationship."
If you are suitably contrite, Adele should eventually come around. But because you have "encountered many political hurdles" in the past, perhaps you should look for a mentor who can help you become more politically savvy.
Childish behavior warrants firm reply
Q: I have two employees with completely opposite personalities. Although they are both good workers, their constant bickering disrupts the entire department and makes me feel like a kindergarten teacher. I am sick of listening to their ongoing complaints about each other.
After the latest incident, I called them into my office and said the following: "Even though you have different opinions, you need to learn how to work together. I am not going to be a referee, so I expect you to start being civil and respectful toward each other. If you can't do that, then perhaps you will be happier working somewhere else." Do you think I did the right thing?
A: Absolutely. As a manager, you are to be commended for putting your foot down and telling these childish employees that it's time to grow up. Having set that expectation, however, you must now follow up by immediately stopping any inappropriate behavior.
Because people typically don't get to choose their colleagues, everyone will eventually encounter a co-worker whom they don't particularly like. Despite having negative feelings, they must still behave in a pleasant, cooperative and helpful manner because that's what we expect from professional adults.