Dear Stavroula: Facing Workplace Problems

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Dear Stavroula,

I am 38 years old and have come from Greece, about a year-and-a-half ago. I really wanted to live in America, and indeed in the city I settled in, because it has a strong Greek element, and I thought that I would miss my home country less. I came with great joy and despite the first difficulties I slowly adapted, I met some friends and my life is in order. However, I have a serious problem at my workplace, which I do not know how to deal with, the vicious and deceptive behavior of colleagues in my department. From the beginning, they did not give me a chance, and from the first moment I felt unjustifiable hostility on their part that continues to this day. They never invite me to social events and often, when they talk amongst themselves, when I approach, they stop talking.

I often learn from different people that they are talking about me behind my back, they comment on my clothes and the fact that I am not yet married. Worse, however, is that they spread a variety of lies about me that have to do with the quality of my work, and even make sure that the rumors reach the boss. This is very unfair because I am extremely consistent, I work hard, and am very effective in my work. The result is that every morning when I get to my workplace, I feel pressure and sorrow. I have started thinking about changing jobs, but I have found something that is totally unrelated to what I do. I hesitate, because I’m good at my job, I have specialized degrees in the subject, and I sincerely love it. How do I get them to stop?

PT

Dear PT,

It is indeed a very difficult thing to go to work with such tension in your soul for what you have to face each day. However, in no way is the solution to change jobs. Besides, there is no guarantee that in your new job there won’t also be problems.

The first thing I would advise you to do is to carefully study the situation and record the facts without relying on your own interpretation. Think about who the people are who bother you and with what behaviors. Do not examine the intentions of others, do not try to understand what they think, but only look at their actions. Are you still finding them hostile or is there an unpleasant situation due to mutual misunderstandings?

Then, study your own behavior. Ask yourself if you are doing anything that causes bad reactions and if so, think how you could change it.

Finally, seek to have peaceful conversations with these colleagues. Explain to them in a calm way what disturbs you and ask them to do the same. Show clearly that you want to improve your relationships and take the first step.

If, however, you continue to feel that your colleagues are unjustifiably hostile to you, you may be dealing with what we call “toxic people”. These are usually insecure people with low self-esteem and low self-confidence who are trying to show off by putting others down. Sometimes, as they feel inadequate in front of a new colleague with skills and abilities, they find no other way to deal with him than to undermine him with slander and other devious acts.

In this case, do not expect to change their behavior easily. All you can do is reconsider and modify your own behavior.

First of all, do not take anything personally. Ignore the challenges and maintain your good psychology. If you do that, you have already achieved a lot.

Do not concern yourself at all with any nasty comments they make. Keep your distance and be professional. Focus on professional goals, behave fairly and objectively, and never fall to their level. The good professional works with everyone and is particularly interested in the outcome of his work. He is not concerned with pettiness in the workplace.

Finally, if you really think their behavior is dangerous to your professional development and your reputation or credibility is in jeopardy, or if you see the situation getting out of control, keep a detailed record of all events by date and time, and inform the Human Resources department or your boss. In the report, in particular, emphasize the negative points of their behavior and the negative effects they have on your work.