Half the Story

Question:

I work with my best friend. We’re both 22. She hates our supervisor and working here. She says he picks on her and life’s too short to take his s*** every day. It’s my first job and her third.
I’ve tried to stay out of their issues, but I’m afraid my coworker will quit and then I’ll be the only one my age here. I feel like I’m caught in the middle, because our supervisor treats me all right and so I’m not unhappy all the time. My older sister told me to call you.

Answer:

You’re not caught in the middle. You can be friends with your co-worker and still like your supervisor. Since your supervisor treats you “all right,” you’ve got two options.

You can listen to your friend and say little. Often, that’s all our friends want, a supportive, listening ear who takes our side and never challenges our thinking. The downside, this encourages venting, which rarely resolves anything.

Alternatively, you can help your co-worker take a fresh look at the situation.

What guff does your supervisor give her? When you hear what she says, listen carefully. When most of us describe encounters with others with whom we conflict, we explain how we acted reasonably and the other person made life difficult for us. We leave certain facts out — for example, we say our supervisor “picked on” us, yet forget to say he caught us surfing the Internet. We explain our supervisor doesn’t trust us, but we leave unsaid the times we forgot to finish assignments by deadline or how often the supervisor caught us texting when we were supposed to be working.

Next, ask your co-worker a couple questions, making sure you don’t sound like you’re judging her. If you ask your co-worker questions she hasn’t asked herself, you help her view the situation differently. Good sample questions include “What do you want to have happen here?” and “What could you do to fix this?”

If your discussion proves productive, you can help your co-worker discover what she can do to improve the situation and potentially transform her life. After all, if she persists in considering herself the victim of an unfair supervisor, she leaves herself with only two defeatist conclusions — quit or suffer. If, however, you help her see that she can take action to improve a situation, she gains a path forward.

Of course, your boss may be the problem your co-worker thinks he is. Some bosses single out one employee on whom they pick. If this proves true, your co-worker’s best action may be to leave.

You may, however, discover your co-worker plays the victim of a normal supervisor. Victims bash either their supervisors or their co-workers or both. They craft compelling stories detailing why they weren’t at fault. They talk about how others make things difficult and take advantage of them. They feel they have no control over what happens and point fingers at others instead of looking in the mirror and asking “what do I need to do differently?” This thinking gets them into problem situations but doesn’t help them.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

2 Comments on “Half the Story

  1. Lynne–like your contrasts here between “picking on” behavior and “maybe your own behavior actually had something to do with the supervisor’s reaction.”

    Like

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