Ask Jen: Confronting a Petty Coworker

Q. I could swear a person I work with is hell-bent on making me look bad. He makes negative comments and puts down my ideas in front of colleagues. Since we have the same boss, I'm afraid he may hurt my growth at the company. How can I handle this gracefully?
--Nikki S., Akron, Ohio

A. Your first step is to get a handle on what incites his petty reactions. For two weeks, channel detective Nancy Drew and keep a detailed record of his sly put-downs. Note the date, who else was present, what he said, and, just for yourself, any ideas about why he might be acting this way (recent praise from your boss, rumors of layoffs, a change in his position).

Once you've armed yourself with this insight on his motives, you're almost ready to approach him directly. Since this will be a hard conversation, you might want to first consult two of my favorite books, "Fierce Conversations" by Susan Scott and "Crucial Conversations" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, which combine real-world situations with effective, spiritually informed tools. Using a model from Scott's book, do a run-through alone to practice outlining the issue and saying the things you're going to mention out loud. Finally, go into his office, close the door, look him in the eye, and ask if he has a few minutes to talk.

Now's the time to be bold and honest. Identify what's been bothering you, citing only the most recent remark he made, how it made you feel, and what's at stake for you (your dignity, for one, but also your ability to do your job effectively, if that's the case). If he flat-out denies any animosity, ask him if you could point out to him the next time you experience one of his put-downs. Avoid apologizing, and remember that you're not there to understand why he's acting like a jerk. You're working to create a more mutually respectful relationship.

If, despite your efforts, his behavior continues to cause you professional damage and personal pain -- say, a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being akin to putting a red-hot needle in your eye) -- then get thee to your boss's office. Be prepared to discuss everything that's been going on (this is when your detailed record comes in handy), as well as what you've done thus far to handle the situation. Together, you can decide if this is something that should be brought to the attention of your human resources department.

Of course, no real-world strategies would be complete (or effective) without a spiritual component to help you weather this emotional challenge -- and rise above it. My dear friend Anna might silently say to this person, "I love you, I bless you, and I release you." My sister-in-law Julie would pray. I'd turn to the comforting Buddhist practice of loving-kindness. It goes like this: Begin by saying silently, "May I be at peace. May my heart remain open. May I be healed. May I be a source of healing for all sentient beings." Imagine saying this to someone you love ("May you be at peace ..."), then to someone you feel less comfortable with, and finally to someone you don't like (guess who?). No matter what happens, this exercise will help you maintain perspective as you work to resolve the issue.


Coach Jennifer Louden is the author of six books, including "The Life Organizer: A Woman's Guide to a Mindful Year." Visit her at jenniferlouden.com. Email any questions you have about the challenging life issues you face these days to jennifer@bodyandsoulmag.com.

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