Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Toxic Avenger Asks “Dear EB”

Dear EB:

I need some advice on how to deal with a toxic person in the workplace. One of my co-workers, "Rob", is kind of a jerk. He is rude and sarcastic when communicating with his teammates and with clients. He only does the work that he likes, and he manipulates others into doing the work he doesn't like. He lies to cover up any of his mistakes and short-comings. In addition to all of this, he considers himself to be the office "prankster." The only problem is, his pranks aren't funny. In fact they are extremely inappropriate and offensive. They typically exploit another person and make them look stupid, while, of course, making him seem superior.

Several attempts have been made to discuss this gentleman's behavior with his immediate supervisor and when that failed, with her immediate supervisor. However, nothing has been done to hold this man accountable for his behavior. In fact, I have a feeling the supervisors aren't taking these issues seriously at all.

I have accepted the fact that this man is not going to change or be fired and that I'm going to have to find a way to accept that until I can find a new job. How should I structure my communications with this man to ensure that I can get what I need from him in order to complete my own assignments? What are some strategies I can employ that will minimize the effects of his horrible attitude on my own morale? What can I do to help boost the morale of the rest of the team who have also been affected negatively by his behavior? 

Thanks in advance,
The Toxic Avenger

Dear Toxic Avenger:
Thank you for writing. Your decision to take positive action by reaching out for suggestions is evidence of your natural leadership. You have chosen to make a difference in a situation where compassionate management is essential. Well done!

In the scenario outlined above, a state of affairs has developed that places a strain on you along with department team members. Consequences may also be felt in the overall business because when relationships are impacted, productivity is delayed, and that drives up costs. Change is required at each level from the individual, to the departmental, and finally the organizational.

During the days ahead, consider that you don't know the full scope of Rob's motivations. There is more than what you see at the office; there may be circumstances outside the workplace that influence his behavior. Additionally, he may be unaware of how deeply his conduct is felt by others.

Take this opportunity to show your desire for mutual respect through your professionalism. Address issues as they arise. Quietly, take Rob aside when there is a workflow matter or inappropriate behavior which directly affects you, and share your concerns or questions. Help him become attuned to the various interpretations and the impact of his actions.

Prepare for your conversation by clarifying your goals. Be specific. What is the desired outcome? Define the dependencies in your mutual work areas, and be prepared to dispassionately and concisely discuss those intersection points. Review the current objective and existing problems without adding blame for past events.

For example: "Today our goal is to improve manufacturing schedule forecasts to support supply management. The current issue is that when required data is not received by the 15th of the month critical reports are delayed. This holdup forces inconsistent forecasting estimates and therefore manufacturing schedules become challenging for supply management."

Arrange time to meet with Rob, and stay focused on the goal at hand when you do. During the subsequent discussion, take time to listen while keeping an open mind to Rob's responses. Different expectations can evolve into a new arrangement in which the requirements for both parties are acknowledged and can be successfully accomplished. This type of interaction works for teams too. Specific planning discussions often progress into facilitated team sessions to review general workflow, handoffs, and role responsibilities. From here process improvements emerge because the stage is set to share ideas and focus on a common goal.

In the event there is minimal improvement after your meeting with Rob, schedule a private conference with your supervisor. Provide a detailed, yet, neutral account of the problem. The same applies when inappropriate "prankster" behavior occurs. Speak with your supervisors in a timely manner. Do not wait for resentments to fester--deal with issues quickly to eliminate work distractions and prevent frustration.

However, if after bringing the issues forward to leadership, you still find the results unsatisfactory, it is time to ask yourself some tough questions. "Have I done all I can do to improve this situation?" If you answer no, what else is left for you to do? Are you willing to do it? If you decide that you have done your best, define your next steps and take action.

In the meantime, consider how each person individually influences the energy of the workplace. Every word spoken and every action taken creates a far-reaching ripple within the team. These ripples are the responses that either contribute or detract from the essential foundation of mutual respect and trust.

Trust is vital in life and paramount in professional interactions. It is built on credibility and behavior, by demonstrating the expertise required to successfully fulfill the job responsibilities coupled with clear communication skills and considerate conduct. Trust is defined by saying what you mean and doing what you say you'll do -- every time.

We thrive in an environment of trust, where there is a shared vision, transparency, and dedication to a common goal along with a sense of fun. People feel empowered and act accordingly; they are committed to the well-being of their workmates and sustainability of the company.

In this situation you have the chance to build trust and lead the way through change; by recognizing the opportunity, identifying and evaluating potential options, and then taking appropriate action, transformation occurs. You can play a vital role in that process. In summary:
  1. Maintain open communication.
  2. Define what you need from your teammates and learn what they need from you.
  3. Develop shared expectations.
  4. Request assistance from management to improve workplace harmony and productivity.
  5. Reflect on job satisfaction and decide on your personal course of action.
Wishing you and your team all the best.

Judith Lukomski
Organizational Development and Change Consultant

About our Dear EB author: Judith Lukomski is a recognized change expert who brings a fresh perspective, proven methodologies, and transformational tools to client collaborations. Leveraging best practices and introducing New Dimension™ systems synthesizing logic, intuition, and creativity she delivers original Organizational Design and Readiness solutions for sustainable success. Ms. Lukomski merges practical experience with new business models to facilitate bottom-line success for clients. Building on the principles of shared passion, purpose, and profitability she is dedicated to ensuring a positive future for all!

If your organization is currently experiencing or anticipating changes in leadership, software systems, organizational structure, or any major shift in operations, contact Escoe Bliss (949.336.6444) to find out how our team of experts, like Judith, can help you achieve project success.

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