Three Questions That Could Save Your Job

asian_woman_in_suit_pulling_her_hair_angry_mad_save_your_jobOffices are like families. Managers are viewed as parents. For better or worse, co-workers become brothers and sisters. When Rod Stewart was interviewing a new assistant for his band, he asked this: “How do you feel about working in child care?” Stewart knew that his band relaxes by goofing off, often landing them all in trouble. When squabbles and foolish choices arise in your office, you may feel like you’ve also fallen into the “child care” business.

It’s a fact that co-workers don’t always get along. The truth remains that you and your teams need to be productive. When growing up, we had to tolerate (not murder) our siblings, but we didn’t rely on them to help us meet deadlines.

Fairness is a huge problem at work. For example, we may want to complain about a co-worker who doesn’t seem to be working enough hours or who is dealing with private matters on company time. The problem is that managers have too many jobs to do and too many employees to manage.

If a co-worker is driving you crazy, should you ask for help from your boss? One complaint from you doesn’t seem like unnecessary ear-bending but you don’t know how many other situations are eating up the boss’s time. If she or he listens to several disputes in a day, the boss will feel like everyone is in a cat fight. The issues blur together and the unsettled feeling is strong.

What can you do? You might wish you could just fire the annoying person. But that won’t work. First, you might not have the authority to send people packing. Second, even irritating co-workers have unique skills and experience. It’s expensive to train employees so it’s best to settle disputes and keep people working.

It’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself cross-wise with someone at work. When that happens, here is my advice:

What to Say:

If the person is not lying, cheating, abusing or stealing, consider saying nothing for now. Check their actions against the company’s or profession’s code of ethics.  If you think you might need to report them in the future, take careful notes.

If the other side is hostile or aggressive to you, ask them these three questions: 

  1. What’s the matter?
  2. You don’t usually get upset like this. Are you feeling OK?
  3. What could I do to help with this problem?


Why This Works:

These questions will serve to give you time to think, information about their complaint/s, and your listening just might help them to calm down. What many people really need is a good listening to.

You might not be able or willing to do anything to help with their problem. Either way, you will at least get a clear picture of what they think you should be doing to help them.

What Not to Say:

Don’t go to your boss until you have really tried to work things out with the other person.  Then make sure you are prepared to say, “Can you please help me with co-worker X? I’m aware of the following issue, and here is what I have done to attempt to solve it, however I don’t feel sufficient progress is being made and need your guidance.”  Don’t go to them on a hair trigger or without using your own skills to improve the situation.  Especially if you have already talked to management about the problem, they are watching and waiting. Just like parents, they don’t want to have to step in. They want to see if you can work it out.

How Will These Questions Save My Job?:

People join companies but leave people. Simply put, it’s the relationships at work that drive you crazy or that make your work life fun. Simmering resentments and arguments drain the joy out of life.

If a co-worker is mad at you, bring the problem out into the open. Deal with their perception of the problem. Help them out if you can. Your job will stay on track and your productivity will take off. Realize however that your helping someone else is not a sufficient reason to fall behind in your own work, if the situation is that much of a distraction then you may need to bring in other resources.

Originally posted by Dr. Jennifer Thomas (CLAS ’92) to her website.

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