An aggressive stance may force co-worker to stop petulant behavior

Dear Joan:
I work in a very small company which has experienced a great deal of turnover in the two years I've been there, probably close to 50% overall. I work on a team to produce a product that has strict deadlines.

One of my co-workers, with whom I share two-thirds of my work, is the problem. He's been with the company for 18 months. The only time he's been happy was when the company gave him a two-month unpaid leave to protest US involvement in the Persian Gulf War. The rest of the time he whines, complains, and doesn't show up for work when he's angry with the company.

In addition, he interrupts me when I speak in meetings, grabs for assignments he wants and pouts when he doesn't get his way. He seems to feel that his educational background puts him above me (I have a bachelor's degree). My normal response is to hold my tongue, be polite and make him look like the bad guy. I've spoken to my boss who says that I need to be more assertive and not let him push me around. (I have no problems being assertive with anyone else in the company, by the way.)

He's also carrying on a running feud with another person, who was just promoted to management. He also won't work with the marketer of his products because he feels she is brainless. He has even asked to be fired three times-in writing-so he can collect unemployment.

He's also extremely hostile toward anything that smacks of authority. Several things in his personal life have probably contributed to that.

The problem is management won't fire him. He's an excellent technician, which probably explains why he hasn't been fired yet. Other than leaving us in the lurch to finish two of his deadlines recently, when he called in "sick", they say his behavior isn't bad enough to warrant firing him and they'd rather work with him.

I'm at my wits end. I love my job and all the rest of the people in the company and don't want to leave plus, jobs in my field are hard to find. My last job was an extremely difficult one for me and I left there on a bad note, which makes me think perhaps my perspective is a bit off. Any advice?

It's no wonder you want to strangle this guy. Tantrums and pouting have no place at work, and a company that allows that kind of behavior deserves the high turnover it will undoubtedly get.

But let's hold on a minute and take an objective step back. You need to separate out the behavior that affects your work and focus on that. While the rest of his antics may drive you crazy, you really should limit your attention to that which you can control...and have a right to do something about.

For instance, your boss told you to be more assertive with him so do it! It seems as if you are allowing him to intimidate you with his education and his attitude. The next time he interrupts you put up your hand and firmly say, "Just a minute please, I was trying to finish my point." When he tries to steal plum assignments, stop him in his tracks. Remind your boss about what he told you to do and then ask for his support when you do it. Smiling politely never keeps a snake from striking.

Although your co-worker may have been faking his illness when he left you in the lurch, accusing him of it will get you (and management) nowhere. Instead, make sure your boss knows just how much you came through in the pinch. If your company doesn't have an attendance policy, it had better get one and start documenting his absences.

Initiate frequent update meetings with your boss and other internal people to keep them informed about your projects and get their input. This will be a smart way to let people know how much work you really are doing.

This aggravating co-worker is going to get his just due. Focus on your own performance, become a valuable asset to management and only voice a complaint when he crosses the line and negatively affects your results. If he continues to be impossible to work with and nothing is done, start looking for a new job. Perhaps, someday someone at the top will wake up and realize that giving in to a baby only makes the grown-ups leave.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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