By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I have a coworker who has decided I'm trying to undermine him. He has completely misunderstood several interactions and will only talk to me long enough to accuse me of my latest "sin." I've also discovered he lied to me about several facts. How do I fix this problem?
A. You will deal with your coworker more effectively if you realize that people usually accuse us of the exact weaknesses that they have. On some level, which is rarely conscious, they figure the best defense is a good offense.
People who lie will get furious that "you're"dishonest. People who cheat will accuse "you" of stealing. People who bully will call "you"
If your coworker had merely misunderstood you, he would be open to a discussion about possible misinterpretations. Instead your coworker appears committed to making you the bad guy.
When someone is unwilling to listen to facts, you may be aware they know a dose of reality can spoil a good argument - so they avoid the truth at all costs. You can't shove data into ears that are already full of preconceptions about you.
Your most powerful strategy to influence your coworker is to avoid counterattacking, understand the futility of explaining your intentions, and let your future actions demonstrate who you are.
Realize also that the less actual information or experience someone has with you, the more likely he or she will be to assume malicious motives. Our survival instincts predispose us to hypervigilance about possible threats. If it turns out we were right, we live; if it turns out we were paranoid, we still live.
Even though we work in the modern world, our brains have not been updated lately. We may know that a coworker won't kill us, but we may still feel our survival is threatened. What if a coworker embarrasses us or gets a promotion we want or steals our ideas? Sure, our coworkers don't carry swords, but what if their behavior makes us feel in danger?
Like any animal that feels threatened, people who have decided we're dangerous will only settle down when repeated exposure to us doesn't prove harmful.
Privately, you may still feel upset and insulted to be treated like a predator. Feel free to complain about your "paranoid" coworker when you're not at work. Publicly, your ability to act neutrally will communicate patience, maturity and safety, which will make it difficult for coworkers to maintain their fear of you.
The last word(s)
Q. One of my coworkers wants to do something utterly stupid. Any diplomatic way to point this out?
A. Yes, repeat privately and neutrally to your coworker that you can see that what he may do is Option A (then describe what may happen). Follow-up with suggesting Option B (your idea and what may happen). People prefer choices to lectures.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker.She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006).
This was printed in the May 11, 2008 - May 24, 2008 Edition