Kill with Kindness

30 Sep

Dear LetterBalm: I’m a victim of subtle bullying in the workplace. I’m embarrassed to admit it’s like being back in high school, and I don’t know what to do about it. Everything was O.K. until several months ago when a new co-worker was transferred in. There are several of us, all on the same level of responsibility and pay. She’s become an instigator. The group “forgets” to inform me of deadlines and meetings and tries to meet without me offsite at coffee breakfasts, lunches and impromptu sessions. None of this is serious enough to threaten my job because I’ve become vigilant about figuring out what’s happening – I usually hear about stuff and show up to forestall the group’s efforts. But it’s stressful and demoralizing. What can I say to break this cycle?

–Odd Person Out

You’re quite right that your work situation is wearying and tiring. Clearly, the newest team member has spurred a dynamic that wasn’t there before. But first Ms. L.B. wants you to examine your own behavior. Are you a true team member? Do you denigrate the work of your fellow members or do you support their ideas? Do you hog the discussion? Are you pulling your weight and volunteering? Do you take more credit than you’re entitled to? If you can honestly say you’re a valued member of the team (and don’t have body odor, halitosis and other off-putting conditions) try killing your colleagues with kindness and professionalism. Remain upbeat, cheerful and engaged. Play dumb – if someone makes a snarky comment about you, pretend you didn’t hear it. Come armed with suggestions – which you probably already do – and offer them in a non-overbearing way; you’re all in this together for the good of the work. It will take time and patience, but eventually they’ll give up because one can’t fight with somebody who won’t fight back. Develop several neutral, supportive statements along these lines:

  • We all did a great job on that last-minute fix. Alexis, your idea was particularly creative, and it will save a lot of money.
  • Hello, everyone. It was a good idea to meet here – more relaxed than at the office.
  • I’ll be happy to run the statistics for the Acme project/take notes and distribute them to the team/whatever.
  • Jackie, your original suggestion was so strong. Can we build on it?

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