Please welcome Lisa Vermillion as a new author to the Crucial Skills Newsletter. Lisa joined the VitalSmarts team in September of 2019 as a Master Trainer and Client Solutions Engineer. Her professional background includes designing curriculum, writing books, coaching business leaders, and speaking and training.
My coworker walks in after 8:00 a.m. every single day. They never get to work on time and are five to fifteen minutes late every single day. I have spoken to my manager who has spoken to my coworker several times but my coworker goes back to their old behavior. I am disgusted with my coworker and it’s causing resentment and even a feeling of “I cannot stand this person.” Unfortunately, we share a common job and I have to sit near this person every day. I am at my wit’s end. Can you advise?
I hear your frustration and desperation! Working in close proximity with someone can often be challenging. Most everyone has experienced this challenge, and many of us have tried to ignore it and suffered in silence. Eventually, the feeling that “I’ve had enough!” may reach a breaking point that can result in some kind of outburst that we will likely later regret. How can we make these conversations productive, not destructive?
At first glance, it seems that it is your boss’s job to address this problem—again. However, I suggest to you that because the issue has degraded to the point where it affects your relationship with your office mate, the responsibility lies with you. It is still your boss’s responsibility to correct the behavior, but you need to have a conversation about how it is affecting your relationship.
The first set of skills in preparing to hold a crucial conversation is to Work on Me First. Many of us would rather skip this step and continue to wallow in blaming the other person, but it is absolutely necessary before you broach a difficult conversation in order to have true dialogue. So, I have a few hard questions for you to consider.
- Why does your co-worker’s behavior upset you? Perhaps you have to cover for them while they’re gone. Maybe you are a stickler for being on time and expect others to be the same. Or perhaps you feel they are “getting away with” something. Whatever it is, the first thing to do is examine your own heart and mind. In the end, no one can “make” us mad or resentful. We create our emotions by how we interpret events. We call these interpretations our stories.
- What do I really want? For myself, for my co-worker, for the organization? This question takes us beyond the immediate frustration and to a greater understanding of what outcomes we want. You already know the outcome of not saying anything, and it isn’t acceptable. You can probably predict the negative outcomes of speaking out from the place of your exasperation. So, what outcomes do you really want? You probably want to feel calm and not frustrated, and you want your coworker to come on time. But more importantly, you likely want to have a good relationship with them. How would you behave if that were your motive for the conversation?
- What stories are you telling yourself about your co-worker? Here are some examples of stories you might be telling yourself: they are irresponsible or inconsiderate, they don’t have a good work ethic, they are the boss’s favorite so they can get away with things like that. Your stories may be different but understanding how you interpret your co-worker’s behavior can help you to turn down the intensity of your emotions before holding a conversation. Because here’s something to consider: what if your stories are incorrect?
- Why would a reasonable, rational person do this? Could there be other reasons beyond what you have assumed that would explain why this person is chronically late? For example, do they have to drop off a child at school or daycare at a certain time? Is the bus schedule difficult? Have they never been accountable for lateness before? Do they stay 10 minutes late to make up for the missed time? Do they have chronic insomnia that makes mornings a challenge? Have they come to an understanding with the boss that you don’t know about? There are many stories other than yours that could explain the behavior. Before we approach a crucial conversation, we must be willing to consider and listen to different motives and explanations. Approach the conversation with curiosity and respect in order to allow space for real dialogue.
Once you have really examined your own motivations, stories and emotions, you are ready to use your STATE skills to plan how to hold the conversation. Remember to make it safe for the other person to open up, and to keep judgement and blaming at bay. That way you can have true dialogue. Will this fix your co-worker’s behavior? Perhaps not. But it can go a long way in resolving your frustration and restoring the relationship.