By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I work with somebody who is a strict vegan. Not a problem except that when we have a party, go out to lunch with customers, or eat in the break room, she gives us judgmental looks and comments about meat. I don't mind her making a choice for herself, but the disapproving glares and remarks are super annoying. How can I get her to stop?
A. You can get her to stop by supporting her in becoming aware it is not her choice regarding food but rather her judgmental attitude that is the problem. No one in any workplace wants to be constantly exposed to criticism because they don't agree with a coworker.
Obviously there are behaviors in the workplace that affect others adversely. If I chose to smoke within an office, my second-hand smoke will harm my others. If I chose to blast my brand of music, my coworkers are forced to listen. However, my religion, the food I choose to eat and my sexual orientation are things that coworkers should normally are not affected by.
If I'm sexually harassing a same gender coworker, yes, I'm harming my coworker. If I insist on not participating in reasonable office duties because of my religion, there could be problems. But, again, normally these personal choices don't affect an office.
When you have a coworker who uses topics like religion, food or even politics to create problems at work, it isn't about the topic. Many people who are judgmental in their personal life are just itching for something to fight about. God, politics and food will do just fine as soap boxes.
So even if one of the world's great religions had a teacher who said, "Love each other as I have loved you," your religious coworker may use this topic to judge, not love, you. And even if your vegan coworker believes you should be kind to animals, she may be cruel to you. I know this is a behavioral paradox, but it is common among judgmental people.
Approach your coworker privately and let her know you respect her ethical decisions about food. Let her know that your health and choices on what to eat are different. Tell her that you (and probably your customers) are feeling increasingly uncomfortable sharing meals.
Ask her if she would like to continue to participate in meal events. If she wants to be invited, then request she use these opportunities to build social relationships rather than educate those who make different nutritional choices.
I had a client with a judgmental vegan coworker. When my client was pregnant, she used this approach quite successfully. She simply told her vegan coworker that her doctor had insisted she put the health of baby first. The vegan never made a critical remark again.
Remember when you run into someone with a judgmental soap box at work: it is not about the topic. You are simply dealing with a person who has found a good reason to express why he or she is superior. Coworkers who have this bad habit are mostly highly insecure and figure a good defense is to be offensive.
If you can point out the fallout of their behavior and give them better choices without attacking their self-esteem, they may listen. The richness of our workplaces requires diversity. And, diversity can't thrive without a tolerance of our differences.
The last word(s)
Q. I hate receiving snippy emails. Is there an easy to put people who write rude emails in their place?
A. Yes, pause before attacking and explore whether what you heard was what they meant. There is always time to counter-attack if you are right.
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). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027.
This column was printed in the January 26, 2014 - February 8, 2014 edition.