Interpersonal EDGE: Deflating Co-worker Defensiveness
Sunday, June 19, 2011

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services

Q. No matter what I do with one of my co-workers, he tells me the job I did is not good enough. He also finds some flaw in everything I do. I'm ready to either give up or scream at him. I love your advice and thought you might have a better idea. Help!

A. Some folks believe in the old adage that the best defense is a good offense. The logic behind this thinking is that if they can just keep pointing fingers at you, then no one will look very closely at their imperfections.

Now that you've discovered your co-worker is deeply insecure, here's how you handle him. Ask to do some brainstorming privately with him regarding your work projects. When you have him alone, say, "I need to do a better job of making sure I understand what specifically you want from me on this project. I know you know that if I don't have all the details in advance, you will always find something that could have been done better."

You are now going to appeal to your co-worker's need to look perfect by adding: "I can guarantee that if you don't provide me with enough detail up front, you will not get everything you wanted. I've realized that you do not want to look like you're not being clear or setting up co-workers to fail."

He will, of course, insist that it is true he is being perfectly clear and completely supports his co-workers. The beauty of this approach is that he now must either get more specific or knock off his constant criticism.

Realize that many people suffer from some version of your co-worker's bad habit. In the workplace, many of us don't stop to consider the YouTube video we are aiming to get from a co-worker. We seem to put a lot of stock in other people's telepathic ability. We then get really upset that people don't deliver what we want.

Some of my clients tell me it almost feels like to cheating to define what we want others to do and to say, and then (gasp), yes, tell them.

The truth is, most people around us prefer that we be happy with them, rather than to make us feel disrespected, unsupported or undermined. If we are willing to take the risk to speak up more often, we set up the conditions for a happier, more productive workplace for everyone.

Just make sure that when you speak up, you don't close your co-worker's ears by saying things like, "I'd really like it if you'd stop being such an idiot!" Keep in mind that criticizing or labeling people is a way of having a tantrum and has nothing to do with effective communication.

Statements like, "I'd really like it if I could have your report first thing on Monday morning so I can make you and our team look good when I meet with our boss," will go much further than backhanded blame.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" . She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

This was printed in the June 19, 11 - July 2, 11 Edition


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