Have you ever felt taken advantage of in the workplace? Your co-workers manipulate situations, do underhanded petty things, gossip and leave you out of conversations? How do you get them to stop? There are four areas where you have a measure of control. To illustrate, read this true story about Miriam.
For several years Miriam, 52, has worked for a large corporation that has gone from a word processing department to a desktop publishing unit. Although her coworkers are younger and have more seniority, Miriam has a degree in art and extensive graphic experience. Miriam wants to retire with the company in six years but lately she feels like an outsider at work and she perceives this as a threat to her career.In her view, three of her coworkers are competitive and do underhanded things to get the “fun” jobs or the jobs that make them noticeable to management. They withhold information, manipulate situations, steal ideas, or act helpless so that others will come to their aid and give them extra help. Miriam resents their skills at self-promotion and she finds it hard to sell herself, or to be taken seriously. She wants recognition for her work yet she finds it difficult to accept a compliment for fear of being perceived as haughty or ‘too proud.’ Miriam has tried on occasion to fit in with her coworkers by joking around but they act disgusted and make Miriam feel as though she has been inappropriate. When Miriam has tried to participate in the conversation she gets ignored and interrupted even to the point to where she has had to ask them to let her finish. Miriam came to me for advice. She wanted to know how she could take charge of this situation.
There are four areas where Miriam has a measure of control: By exercising her choices, taking responsibility for her own career, changing her communication and becoming aware of the message she is sending.
None of us can control how coworkers act, but we can choose our reaction. Miriam must decide who she is (in the context of this situation) and continue to choose reactions that reflect confidence and centeredness. When coworkers brag on themselves, rather than being envious or discounting them, she can agree with what is true and follow up with a question, “How did you do that?” When we put ourselves in the position of believing we have all the confidence in the world, we’re not so hungry for the approval of others. With this attitude and belief system in place, Miriam has more choices: to be come interested rather than envious, to become curious instead of competitive. With new choices comes the freedom to compliment her coworkers without discounting herself.
It is your responsibility to take charge of your own promotion at work. Waiting for others to notice our attributes and talents is a poor way to gain personal power. You can be ‘good’ in a closet and no one will ever know it. Miriam can emphasize her background in graphic design and art by going to the library and brushing up on trends, and reporting the findings to her boss in an attitude of sharing knowledge. Instead of trying to compete with her coworkers and continue the cycle, Miriam can take credit for her ideas by telling the boss she would be glad to hold a session to teach some of her techniques and skills to her coworkers. She might offer to train new hires or those that lag behind. She will be communicating that she is a team player and a leader.
Communication is tricky-it’s more than mere words. Since Miriam feels rejected and distant it is most likely her communication is reflecting these emotions and perceptions, if not in her words or her tone, then perhaps in her body language. One reason Miriam doesn’t receive support is because she communicates to her coworkers that she is uncomfortable with praise and doesn’t know how to react. It’s best to acknowledge appreciation with a smile and a “thank you,” instead of arguing the point. Rather than begging coworkers to let her finish her sentences, she can show her interest by asking open-ended questions. Miriam can monitor her communication to insure that the message received was the message intended.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Without making assumptions it’s likely that there is a reason Miriam is being received the ways she is. Let’s look at the reactions from her joking: My question to Miriam: “Are you interjecting sarcastic comments or trying to be subtle in letting them know you feel like an outsider? Are you rolling your eyes when you disagree with your coworkers?” Miriam admitted she was a big eye-roller and it was an ah-ha moment. We can’t cure or change what we are unaware of. Without self-awareness it’s difficult to choose differently, or change our communication. Self-awareness is the key that unlocks the door to taking charge.
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