My coworker invited me to her house for dinner last night and let me know she fears she’s going to be fired. This isn’t the first time she’s said something like this; she and my supervisor don’t get along. She’s often pulled me aside in the bathroom or break room and told me that my supervisor’s rough on her. I’ve always listened; there’s tension between the two of them and I wish there wasn’t. Things have recently gotten worse.
So when my coworker asked me for help, I said, “Sure, what can I do?” She then handed me two memos she’d written and asked me to witness I’d overheard certain conversations our supervisor had with her. In each, she characterized our supervisor as making comments that were both mean and petty.
One, I hadn’t heard at all. The other hadn’t happened in the way my coworker wrote it. When I read them, I said, “I can’t sign these, I didn’t hear any of this.” She started to cry and insisted “you were standing right there for that one” and “I told you immediately afterwards about the other”.
She had told me and I’d listened, but I hadn’t agreed with her. I know she believes our supervisor is unfair, but she doesn’t seem to get that she wastes a lot of time in the office and that’s what frustrates our supervisor. I went home feeling sick and without agreeing to sign either memo. I know the simple answer is “don’t sign them,” but she’s my friend and I really want to help her. At same time, I’ve never seen our supervisor say the kinds of things my coworker says she’s said.
Can you help your coworker understand her part of the problem before it’s too late? When our friends have conflicts with others, we often listen with sympathy and support. Sometimes, that’s not all that’s needed and can in fact make the situation worse, particularly if our empathetic listening reinforces our friend’s one-sided belief.
Employees about to be fired often lay blame on their supervisors and sometimes correctly so. While that may shift part of the blame, it never improves the situation if the underlying problem is your coworker’s work performance and habits. You note that your friend owns a part of the problem between her and your supervisor. If so and she makes immediate changes, she may be able to fix things. If you don’t help her see this, who will?