By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I have a good friend at work who lately seems to be on a path of self-destruction. She is showing up late at work, not submitting her work on schedule, and generally is putting her job at risk. I've been trying to cover for her, but that is starting to put my job at risk. I can't afford to lose my job, but I feel bad for my friend. How can I deal with this?
A. The best decision you can make when you care about other people is to not sacrifice yourself. If a friend is acting badly and you try to cover for them, you are actually making it more likely they will continue to self-destruct.
We often think friendship at work means helping our friends not take responsibility for bad decisions. We defend, justify, and feel sorry for people we care about. Then we are puzzled when these same friends continue to blow up their careers with more enthusiasm after we have expressed our pity for their clearly unfair circumstances.
The truth is, every morning we wake up, we enter a life we have painstakingly built out of years of decisions. If we find ourselves in painful circumstances, we have generally not been paying much attention to the consequences that our decisions would create.
What your co-worker actually needs from you is not your sympathy but some tough love. Your ability to see her power to make better choices, and your encouragement to do so, will get her further than if you commiserate with her.
Make a date with her to have a conversation away from the workplace. Let her know that you care about her a great deal and also respect her right to make her own choices. List the behavior you see her engaging in and where you see these choices taking her. Make it clear that you need this job and cannot continue to put your own job at risk.
You may find some peace of mind in quoting the serenity prayer to yourself as you let go of saving your friend: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
Wise people in the workplace can acknowledge the places where they do not have power so they can apply all their power to the places where they can make a difference. If your friend is truly bent on a path of destruction, then there is nothing you or your employer will do to deter her.
In psychotherapy circles, we talk about some people having a high bottom with bad decisions and some people having a low bottom. People who have a low bottom tend to be extremely stubborn. They can take a lot of misery from their choices before they capitulate and decide to change.
If you were to sacrifice your well-being and job to save your friend, it wouldn't work, and there would just be two miserable people in the world instead of one. If you take care of yourself, when your friend does change she will not bear the guilt of having wrecked your career as well as her own.
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 www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This was printed in the July 31, 2011 - August 13, 2011 Edition