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YOUR OFFICE COACH: What's bugging coworker? Maybe you

QUESTION: I have a coworker who is very moody. Whenever I ask about one of her projects or suggest a way to do things more efficiently, "Andrea" gets snippy and starts muttering under her breath. If I ask what's wrong, she says, "Nothing." Then h...

QUESTION: I have a coworker who is very moody. Whenever I ask about one of her projects or suggest a way to do things more efficiently, "Andrea" gets snippy and starts muttering under her breath. If I ask what's wrong, she says, "Nothing." Then has a bad attitude for at least an hour.

When Andrea joined the company a few years ago, I was the one who trained her, and we got along well. We still interact normally most of the time, but about once a day she pulls this attitude on me. Now I'm always fretting about what she may do.

I haven't complained to management, because they might think I'm being difficult. I've considered looking for another job, but I don't want to let Andrea drive me out. How can I confront her about her attitude problem?

--Aggravated Coworker

ANSWER: Since you and Andrea usually get along, forget about confronting her and try to figure out what triggers her sulky behavior. I actually think you've provided a pretty good clue.

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As her former trainer, you still feel comfortable telling Andrea how to "do things more efficiently." But now that she's an experienced employee, your helpful comments may sound like intrusive criticism. Since telling you to butt out would seem inappropriate, Andrea is expressing her displeasure nonverbally. In short, she's trying to send you a message.

You can easily test this theory by changing your own behavior. Since you're not Andrea's boss, there's no need for you to monitor her performance, so stop making suggestions and questioning her methods. If her moodiness disappears, then you've solved the problem.

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Q: Although my boss is the president of our company, she is very disorganized. She always carries her cell phone and will drop whatever she is doing to take calls from family, friends or even a handyman working in her home. She will abruptly leave a meeting if she suddenly remembers an errand.

My discussions with her are repeatedly interrupted or postponed because of some new "emergency." She often pulls me into her office to talk about the latest crisis in her life. All this drama is emotionally draining.

I'm her executive assistant, and this is a small company, so transferring elsewhere is not an option. I know she isn't going to change, so should I just leave?

--Burned Out

A: Executives who have chaotic, crisis-driven personalities usually hire capable, organized assistants to keep them on track and prevent things from falling apart. These assistants typically fall into two categories. Those with caretaker tendencies enjoy looking after their hapless bosses, but the ones who prefer a calm, orderly workplace go absolutely nuts.

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Since you apparently fall into the second category, you must decide whether the benefits of this job outweigh the emotional costs. If you choose to stay, try to regard your hyperactive president as a scattered soul who needs your help badly. Because she really does.

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