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Sticky Situation: A Cheat Sheet for Colleague Annoyances

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Do you sometimes lay awake at night, or daydream on the job, about what to do and say to a co-worker about a recurring sticky situation?

Here is a cheat sheet, of the right things to do and say, for when your colleague does the wrong thing.

A colleague interrupts your work.

What to do

  • When your colleague drops in, unannounced or uninvited, stand up, to greet him or her, and stay standing to chat. This will convey your urgency to get back to work.
  • Strategically place a clock behind your chair. Before you speak, not while the other is talking, pause, gently glance at the clock and go back to the conversation.
  • Make a reversible sign, and place it on your door, or your wall, to announce your availability. Flip it as your day evolves. At your service. Please consider me MIA (Missing in Action). Thank you.

What to say

"Wow, would you look at the time, I really have to get going on this."

"I've got about 4 four minutes to chat. Can I call you at 4 p.m.?"

Numbers are important in this one. By giving your uninvited guest a specific window to chat and a precise time to expect your call; you are taking control while acknowledging his or her need to talk to you.

"Can we catch up at lunch (at break)? I really need to get going on this project."

Make sure to lean in for this one. Your body language is half of the message that you send in face-to-face communication.

A colleague takes credit for your work.

What to do

  • Become very vigilant about protecting and showcasing all your contributions. That means documenting, archiving, backing up your work, and keeping both inbound and outbound communications.
  • When you receive praise from other colleagues, forward it to your boss.
  • Prepare and send regular status updates. These regular memos to all team members would show the involvements of all, including yours.

What to say

In a meeting where your colleague presents your idea, give details of your work like dates and specific actions.

"Thanks for sharing with the group John. When I started the research on this...Since I completed the focus groups, I have..."

Mention your contributions to other team members at more casual times, such as breaks.

"I am so happy that we are finally launching the new promotion. I have been working on it for a full month and am really happy with the end result. I am particularly pleased with the colour combination. It is great!"

Ask for a meeting with the credit taker. Make sure to do this in person.

"John, I have a concern I'd like to discuss with you. You may not have meant to do this, but you presented one of my ideas as your own. I'd like you to set the record straight. Please speak with our boss, by the end of the week."

Set clear expectations. If your request is ignored, follow up in an email. This will give you the necessary paper trail, for when you speak with your superior.

If it is your boss that is taking credit for your work, read this previous blog.

A colleague is always late

What to do

  • Document evidence of your colleague's tardy behaviours. Make sure to include dates, times and more importantly how it affects you, like staying after-hours to hand in the team's report on time. This is not for sharing with others. This is to be used with your superior, should you have to go that route after a one-on-one with the tardy one.
  • First speak to your colleague before going to your boss or HR.
  • Don't gossip about this situation with other colleagues.

What to say

Request a private meeting. Do so face-to-face. Don't send an email. It may be perceived as threatening.

"John, I have a concern I'd like to discuss with you. I don't know if you are aware of this, but when you are late, I have to (fill in the blank with how the lateness affects you). I hope that this won't happen again."

If your colleague does not comply with your request for timeliness, go to your boss and present the evidence of your colleague's effects on your productivity. Don't whine. Don't name call. Stick to the facts to show how your coworker's lateness has an impact on your work and the team's.

Read more on addressing a tardy colleague, in this previous blog.

Lastly, as Chef Gordon Ramsey would say: "Don't take it personally, take it professionally."

Never take your colleagues' bad habits personally, take them professionally. For me, the visual imagery of wearing a bullet-proof vest is quite powerful and helpful. The vest distances me from the situation. It puts me in observation mode. It reminds me to stay factual, to be strategic and not to point fingers. Try it. It works.

Have a Sticky Situation yourself, write to julie@etiquettejulie.com and Julie will reply promptly. You can also ask your questions on her Facebook page. Planning a conference? Julie travels coast to coast to give bilingual interactive conferences.

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