Make verbal abuser accountable

Q. I have a coworker who is constantly verbally abusive. He calls me names, yells and puts my work down. I have to work with this guy a lot, and I'm ending up calling in sick just to avoid him. When I go to my boss, she just tells me to work harder at "getting along," like it is my fault. I like my job but can't tolerate my coworker. What can I do?

A. What you can do is switch communication modes to make it impossible for your coworker to keep beating you up verbally. Send your coworker an email and tell him you need more detail than you can get in conversation. Let him know in the email that you need all future communication to come in an email form.

If he corners you and tries to talk to you, calmly walk away. Don't engage him, do not defend yourself, and don't try verbally negotiating. You will just re-open the door for more abuse.

When your coworker sees that the only way he can access you is email, he will have an interesting dilemma. If he speaks in the email to you the way he speaks to you verbally, you will have a tidy paper trail of his behavior. You can now take his emails to your boss and ask for coaching on responding to his abusive emails.

Unfortunately, when two people appear to be fighting on the job, most managers figure it takes two to tango. Both people will end up carrying responsibility for the conflict. Managers rarely have advance interpersonal skills in negotiating and mostly just hope the conflict will go away.

Your manager is telling you to work harder at getting along because she probably doesn't know many conflict resolution tools. She hopes if she keeps shoving you back into discussions with this guy, you'll fix the issue so she doesn't have to get involved.

Most of the time when there is a workplace conflict, the truth is that both parties really are contributing to the problem. If either party changes behavior, the conflict dies from lack of participation. In your case, it sounds like your coworker truly is abusive. Your contribution in this case is that you keep engaging him in a conversation.

When we face a workplace problem, the best way to solve it is to figure out the result we need. In your case, the result is exchanging data on projects. The next question to ask yourself is how to get your outcome without going through the same process. In your case, it is to diplomatically avoid verbal conversations and switch to email.

As Einstein once observed, doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is insanity. Be willing to change your part of the dance, and watch your coworker have to change his tune.

The last word(s)

Q. I work in a career where failure is not an option. I'm getting to point where I can't eat or sleep because I'm scared of making a mistake all the time. I don't want to end up being taken out of my workplace with a heart attack. Is there a better way to cope?

A. Yes, failure is just nature's way of getting us to invent options. Never go into a situation without Plan B, Plan C and Plan D -- and then you will know you can cope if Plan A fails.

(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.)

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