Co-workers’ complaints should lead to questions

Dear Joan:
I am having difficulty with the way my actions are perceived by my co-workers and supervisors. I'm trying to cooperate, not overstep my authority, and contribute comments and ideas. Others say that I come across as not willing to work with them. I need to learn more skills in this area.

Can you give me names of organizations or groups where I can get some training? I have an excellent job and don't want to lose if over this problem.

Your awareness of the problem and motivation to change is half the battle. You are fortunate that you have been told about this before it caused you to lose your job.

Feedback like this must be devastating to hear, because you have excellent intentions and probably feel innocent as charged. Your first reaction was probably to defend your actions because you didn't understand how they possibly could have been misread.

The fact that you had no idea you were being misjudged leads me to the conclusion that you won't help yourself much by getting training until you have a better idea of the behavior that needs to be changed. You could get all kinds of training, only to find that you "fixed" the wrong problem.  Someone was kind enough to give you this difficult feedback. If it was your boss, he or she doesn't want you to fail. Your boss is the one who probably has heard complaints or comments and is in a perfect position to help you understand the situation so you can change it.

I recommend that you go to your boss and ask him or her for help. Explain that you are very concerned and will do whatever it takes to change how you're perceived. Ask for explicit examples of your behavior that is considered negative.

Your manager may be unwilling to give you specifics because he might have to name co-workers who have complained about you. It is important to tell him that you can't change unless you know exactly what you have done that is offensive. Assure him you will take no hostile action against anyone.

If he is hesitant, offer examples of situations yourself and ask him if those were perceived as uncooperative. Whatever you do, don't get offensive about explaining the actions you took, or it will stop your boss from being honest with you.

There is a good chance that your listening skills could use work. People often perceive that poor listeners are unwilling to work cooperatively on a team. Because poor listeners seem to ignore others' ideas, their co-workers feel offended and discounted. However, when you hear the poor listeners' side, they believe they are simply contributing valuable comments and ideas and aren't aware they are ignoring others.

If this is true in your case, it's extremely important that you listen carefully to your boss. You need to demonstrate your willingness to change your behavior.

To do this, I suggest you paraphrase what he or she says, rather than try to think of responses. For example, "So what you're saying is I don't seem to like or use my co-workers' ideas because I ignore what they say and offer my own idea."

Ask your boss for some alternative behaviors that you could try. If you're in meetings with your co-workers and your boss, ask him to give you feedback right after these meetings so you get ongoing coaching.

Ask him if you can meet with him regularly to discuss your progress and discuss specific situation as they occur. You may be tempted to retreat and lick your wounds, but that will only make things worse. It's important to seek out not only your boss but your co-workers.

If there is a co-worker you trust (and who's well liked by the others) ask him or her for advice. Word will spread that you are working on it, and they are likely to react favorably.

A bolder move would be to go to the person you suspect is the most influential complainer and say, "The other day I was surprised to hear that some people don't think I'm willing to work with them. This really concerns me, because I certainly don't feel that way. Have you heard anything? I'd really like to change this perception and could use your help."

Your boss may even be willing to pay for the training to give you the development you need to succeed on your job.

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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