The importance of effective communication in the workplace cannot be emphasized enough. And even though we all understand how effective communication is absolutely critical in helping a business succeed, too many businesses don’t spend enough time focusing on developing this important skill in the workforce. And when I say workforce, I mean from top to bottom and side to side.
Regarding the interactions with this person you “can’t stand to work with,” I want to you to remember this most important next sentence. The message you send may not be the message that’s received.This is always my first lesson in any communication class I teach. All of us have been in a situation where someone else was offended by something we said. Whether it was intentional or not doesn’t even matter. That’s not the point. And I think this is something to keep in mind any time you’re dealing with a conflict at work. For example, when you ask your co-worker a question, is it possible that his intention is to provide a complete and thorough answer? From his perspective, is he answering the question without leaving any loose ends? But from your perspective, his answers are always just way too long?
This actually reminds me of the differences in how I communicate compared to how my husband communicates. I am very concise in
my answers (well, when I'm not answering complex questions). I don’t provide more than what I think is necessary to answer the question. My motto: keep it simple, no clutter. I'm terrible to talk to on the phone. My husband, on the other hand, will provide a 10-minute answer to my 2-minute answer. What’s the difference? He usually provides the intricate details that I would view as unnecessary “fluff” or “trivial.” But to him, he’s painting an accurate, complete picture. He’s making sure that no stone is left unturned and that we are on the same page. It absolutely drives me crazy sometimes! But at the end of the day, I have to ask myself, “Regardless of the long response, did he answer the question?” So I will challenge you to do the same. At the end of the day, did your co-worker answer the question? If the
answer’s yes, then that’s really what matters. Just do a brain-dump on the details that you either already know or don’t need to know and keep what you need.
But there’s still another way to look at this. Your remark about his answers usually ending with him talking about himself and his accomplishments caught my attention. I consulted with friend and HR expert, Ms. Susan Pinkston, Department Head of Management & Supervisory Development at Savannah Technical College, who offered some of her own insight. She said one issue that can arise between co-workers is when one is attracted to the other, which can cause friction. She said that it sounds like could possibly be
attracted to you and is trying to impress you with all of self-focused talk. On the other hand, he could also be intimidated by you and is trying to “build himself up.”
Let’s move on to the next issue you raised – correcting him on errors. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Conflict in any relationship is inevitable. We are human after all. But this does not mean that we should be disrespectful and hurtful to one another. So, if this person
becomes defensive, yells at you and is in your face, his behavior is unacceptable and should be brought to the supervisor’s attention. But before we get to the HR stuff, let me ask a question. Are you his supervisor? Or, were you put in charge of training this person? Or, are you considered senior to him in rank, so the expectation is that you would monitor and correct him on any errors he makes? Do you see where I’m going with this series of questions? If the answer is “no” to all of the above, then I’ll repeat the sentence from earlier. The message you send may not be the message that’s received. Your intentions may be pure. You could truly just be concerned about making sure he is learning so that he can become better at his job. But is that how he sees it when you’re correcting his errors? Or is it possible that from his perspective, you’re being nosy and making him look bad? If this is the case, unless you are dealing with life and death situations, you may want to step back from correcting him. If you are dealing with life and death situations, then you should address his mistakes with the appropriate person in charge and let that person do the correcting.
Regardless of the situation, it is absolutely critical that this behavior stop. Ms. Pinkston noted, “This is a toxic environment in which to work, whether it is supervisor/subordinate or co-workers. Yelling and getting in someone’s face is inappropriate in the workplace and borders on creating a ‘hostile environment.’”You sound uncomfortable bringing this issue up to HR, but that is different from asking them or a supervisor to mediate or conduct a conflict resolution session.
In the end, it sounds like this ultimately is a personality conflict. Have you tried talking to him one-on-one about these situations to come to a resolution? That would be the first stage, but it appears like it just might be too late for that. If both of you are required to work closely together, then someone in a higher position needs to conduct a formal conflict resolution session between the two of you. We all know there are two sides to every story – this session will give you both an opportunity to voice your issues in a controlled environment. I hope you do take this next step because no one deserves to feel like they work in a boxing ring.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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