By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I have a coworker who gets quiet and withdraws whenever I ask a question. I think she feels criticized. Should I ask her why she is behaving like this?
A. No, most people don't think about why they do what they do. When they think about their behavior, it makes them uncomfortable so they don't think about their behavior. If you ask her to think about her behavior, she'll just start avoiding you.
If you are someone who thinks about your own behavior and is curious about people, you probably have better explanations than they do most of the time. You are at least asking the right questions.
Instead of asking "why" - which makes people squirm - talk about yourself. People get uncomfortable when you talk about them but not when you talk about you. Something like, "Sometimes when people ask me questions I think they are criticizing me. I realize when I ask questions it may look like I'm criticizing other people. Feel free to ask me if it seems I'm finding fault in your work."
You can also just assume your explanation is true and see how that works. If you think your coworker feels criticized, praise specifics of her work and see if her attitude thaws. If your new approach fixes the problem, then your explanation was accurate. If not, go back to the theory bin.
Some folks figure other people should buck up and "get a life" if they get hurt, mad or scared at work. Dealing with emotions is just plain annoying to them, so they tend to be bulls in the china shop. The emotional debris they surround themselves with by refusing to acknowledge people's reactions eventually derails their success.
No one is required to pay attention or learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships at work. Handling other people well takes time, energy and a willingness to learn new tricks. If other people would buck up and not pester us with emotional reactions, being productive could be a piece of cake.
No one is also required to get promoted, be hired or increase a bonus. We all pay the price for our choices. Rewriting the social rules because we don't like them is about as effective as arguing with gravity.
The interpersonal lab at work always offers us a classroom to improve our effectiveness. Your ability to be observant, try new approaches and expand your people toolkit will pay off in a network of allies who will promote you and your career.
Q. I'd like to be assigned to a new project. Will I look arrogant if I ask for it?
A. No, but you will look uninterested if you don't.
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.
(c) 2010 INTERPERSONAL EDGE
March 27, 2011 - April 9, 2011 Edition