Q. I work with someone who always finds the worst possible interpretation for anything anyone does. I've had bent over backwards trying to make this guy feel safe, and to see that I have good intentions and am not out to get him. Nothing works. How do you deal with a coworker who seems paranoid?
A. Ironically, the more you explain how innocent you are to a person who is paranoid, the more suspect you look. If you want to work effectively with this guy, you need to give up the mission to get him to finally understand you are well-intended and innocent.
You will never get your colleague to understand that you are a good person who means well. If you can grieve that he will never experience your positive intentions, you'll finally be on a path to work with him.
Imagine that your coworker wears a pair of glasses that make the world look dangerous to him. If you knew you couldn't get these glasses off his face, how would you respond to him differently?
Next time your coworker jumps at you with great outrage at your latest offence, completely ignore the invitation to explain yourself. Instead, stick to the job at hand and what needs to get done. Attempt to give your coworker as little emotional reaction as possible.
If your coworker escalates by insisting he can't work with you (since you are clearly in league with the devil), suggest that he meet with your boss to discuss working with someone else he believes is more supportive.
As you start your new approach, do keep your boss in the loop. Don't complain about your coworker's obvious insanity. Instead, list some of your actions and his responses. Consult your boss as a mentor in establishing a better working relationship with your coworker. Let your boss know that you are aware you don't have the authority to force your coworker to cooperate with you.
When you approach your boss as a consultant rather than a parent that has to choose sides, he or she can see the problems you're having from your perspective. Ultimately, a paranoid employee that refuses to work with team members is your boss's problem and not yours.
To maintain your own peace of mind during this process, understand that your difficult coworker had written plenty of other people off as evil well before he ever met you. His response to you is simply not personal but universal.
We all have insecurities and worry that someone will someday see our weaknesses. Your coworker doesn't have the objectivity or insight to give you accurate feedback about your areas for development. If your coworker's comments hit an emotional nerve for you, make sure you work out your reactions with someone other than your coworker.
The last word(s)
Q. I have a thorny career problem. I've followed all the good advice of people I respect and tried everything that usually works. Is there anything left to try when I've exhausted all the traditionally effective strategies on a workplace problem?
A. Yes, if you've tried everything that should work and have not succeeded, explore left field!
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)
How to handle a paranoid colleague
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