My boss prefers to ignore my rude, hostile coworkers rather than confront them

Dear Joan:

I have a situation that may not be as unique as I hope it is, as it’s not a positive issue. Hoping you can provide some advice to make the work environment more appealing than it currently is. 

I've worked for the same college 25 years. This past December I moved into a position (a promotion) and at the time felt it would be a great fit for me until retirement and I would be able to contribute a lot to our students. 

When I accepted this position, my colleague was thrilled to have me on-board. I remember sitting across from her and talking in her cubicle and she actually threw her hands in the air and grabbed my knees exclaiming it was going to be so much fun working together. 

Upon moving into the position, I immediately learned there were no resources for me to perform my job - giving classroom resume and job fair workshops, providing guidance and job-hunting skills, and meeting with faculty and employers to promote our students for employment opportunities. I also quickly learned that I was on my own to develop anything I felt was needed.  

As I tried to get a handle on what to do from one day to the next, I of course went to my colleague for guidance. Her demeanor and attitude toward me changed immediately and she did not provide anything at all unless I asked her for it, and then it was only the most basic information. She became protective of her time in the office, and as if I was a threat to her. She made it perfectly clear that she will not help me, as well as that she doesn't want me around. She seldom talks with me about work or other things, even though we are the same level and are the only two people in the college doing similar work.  

In addition to this, a new clerical staff person started in the department about 2-weeks after I moved in. I had never met this person before, but my colleague and she knew each other prior to her arrival, so there was an immediate connection between them. Since her arrival, my colleague and her have been "thick as thieves". All day long they talk between cubicles, take breaks together, and are socially active together outside of work. When she started, my colleague sent a "happy face" to our supervisor, referring to the hiring of this staff person and her feelings about her coming on board. 

This new person has taken on the attitude/personality that my colleague displays and from the day she began she has never said hello, good morning, good evening, or anything else to me. I tried greeting both of these people when I started, but their responses have not been receptive; so I've almost stopped communicating entirely with both of them. Our cubicles are together in a row, so we see and hear each other all day long.

Another issue is our manager's attitude and management skills handling this situation. She has told me not to work through the clerical person, but to work directly with her. This means that I must try to find time with this extremely busy manager to process requests, order supplies, prepare travel requests, etc., rather that work through the clerical staff person who was hired for this work and who my colleague works through for her requests.  

Our manager is really nice to all of us and seems supportive, but doesn't come around more that once a week for a few minutes and doesn't seem to either know or care about the lack of teamwork in the department. Department meetings are very loose and problems are not discussed, just happy & fun events. There is very little brainstorming or planning and as a new employee I don't have a clue about what happens during the year, I'm just existing one day to the next and trying to be prepared for events that might come up. 

I don't want to seem like a problem employee or someone who doesn't have a social life or friends. I am very well liked and spend time away from work with a number of co-workers & colleagues from different departments. I also like my work and see a positive impact in the students and alumni I've serviced in the short time I've been in this department.  

So, what to do to get some peace of mind?  Should I just find solace in my own mind and ignore the others by being as rude as they are, as I cannot change them nor do I have control over their actions, words, or attitudes?  Or do I consider another move out of this department and hope things will be more "normal" as they were the past 25 years in other departments? 

Answer:

Either you offended your colleague or she is threatened for some reason. In either case, she has chosen an immature reaction. In addition, your hands-off boss isn’t doing her job—she’s trying to avoid the whole situation by making you work through her on administrative requests, which is letting the clerical support person off the hook.  

If you go to your boss and request an intervention, it’s likely your two hostile colleagues will smile nicely while your boss is around but then get even when she is gone, which is most of the time. However, I do think you need to have an honest discussion with your manager about the difficulty—and inefficiency—of working around the clerical person. If she still feels that she wants to handle your administrative requests she needs to be more responsive. In my opinion, she needs to tell the clerical person that her job is to support you—and with good customer service, to boot. 

The fact that you are well-connected with others in the organization speaks well of your social skills and likeability. You can’t make colleagues like you, so I’d continue to meet friends for lunch and other collegial activities and focus on doing a great job. Let your two coworkers have a petty party and ignore them. Don’t be rude but simply make them a non-issue.  

I’ve often found that in the end the person who takes the high road wins the day. As your results get noticed and your network of supportive colleagues grows, your coworkers will become even more insignificant as your own career continues to advance. It will also open other opportunities to you in other departments.  

Since your boss doesn’t do much to either manage you or grow you, you are free to reach out to do what you think is best. Use this freedom to create the job of your dreams and leave these two in the dust. 


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, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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