Listen for heart of message

Q. I have a coworker who is always giving me advice and trying to help me. I am good at what I do and tired of being insulted by this condescension. How do I get him to back off and quit assuming I'm incompetent?

A. You can get him to back off by examining your own assumptions about your coworker and not automatically assuming he's thinking you're inept.

Consider your workplace as a melting pot of different family positions and patterns. Your coworker may well be an oldest child who is accustomed to showing support to people he likes by providing help. Notice that the only motivation you attribute to your coworker right now is he's trying to insult you.

Ask yourself how often in your workplace you assume other people think you don't know what you're doing. If we pay attention to what makes us huffy at work, we'll usually find a theme to what upsets us.

If many situations at work that make you mad are about you believing that others think you're incompetent, you may be consistently misinterpreting people in your workplace. The truth is that most people, most of the time, act the way they do because of what is going on in their world -- not because of what they think of you!

Imagine that everyone you work with is inside their own snow globe. Now imagine the outside of most people's snow globes are painted black so they can't see inside the snow globe of others. You now have a more accurate picture of your workplace. What everyone does is not about you.

If you don't want the help of your coworker (or anyone else), try assuming he is attempting to be benevolent rather than invasive. Next time he attempts to assist, tell him privately that he is generous to take his time to help. Add that you've found it works better for you to do these projects alone as you can track them better.

When we make negative assumptions about the motivations of others in our workplace, we have a hard time getting our coworkers to change. We tend to "share" our perception of why our coworker is doing the behavior we don't like. Then we have the problem that our coworker is now insulted by our hostile assumptions about them.

Instead, next time you are bothered by the actions of coworkers, deliberately contemplate possible innocent or positive motivations for their behavior. Now consider how you would ask them to change if you didn't need to vent about their evil intentions.

Realize that even if they are out to get you, they won't admit it if you assume they are acting kindly. Another interesting consideration is that people tend to live up or down to our assumptions of them. Even people with malicious intent would rather live up to a generous description of them than down to their original plan to make you suffer.

The last word(s)

Q. Making good money is important to me, but my friends criticize me for not having priorities. Am I lacking ideals because I want to make a good living?

A. No, your ideals are just different from your those of friends.

(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 www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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