My coworker barges into my office when I’m on the phone with customers and interrupts me with questions, derailing my train of thought.
I’ve tried shaking my head at her, and pointing to the phone, but she just raises her voice. I’ve turned my head away and ignored her. That doesn’t work. She circles around my chair, gets uncomfortably close and waves her hand in front of my face.
Last week I hung up the call I was on and told her she was rude. She got really defensive and insisted, “When I have one-minute questions and am waiting on you for answers, I can’t do my job. You’re on the phone all day long.”
This morning I’d had it. She waved her hand in front of my face and I swatted it away, hitting her hand harder than I’d planned because I’d been trying to focus on my call. She yelped, then reported me to my boss for assault.
He called me into his office and told me he was going to write me up. When I told him what had happened, he laughed, and said, “she is a bit insistent, isn’t she?” but then said I’d left him no choice because I’d broken the policy against physical contact.
When I asked, “does she get a reprimand too?” he shook his head and said, “That’s between her and I.” So, nothing’s fixed.
You’re right. Nothing’s fixed.
Yes, your coworker needs to change her ways. Equally as important, you need to up your game.
You let a problem fester until you lost it. Whenever you let a coworker put your buttons until you lose your cool, you give up the ability to control the consequences.
Here’s what you could have done.
You could have talked with her without labeling her as rude. That threw her on the defensive and she justified herself.
You could have gone to your boss and asked him to meet with the two of you together to create a workplace protocol that would allow you to finish your calls before answering your coworker’s questions.
Since you now have negative history with her, your safest bet is to ask your boss to counsel her on office etiquette. Here are the rules I created for a client’s office. If a coworker is on the phone with a customer, stand at least two feet away until their conversation is over before speaking. If two coworkers are talking, a third coworker should not interrupt unless the conversation is a general one. If a coworker from whom you need information is involved in a longer conversation, email your question or ask, “please seek me out when you are available.”
Finally, regardless of the provocation, you cannot swat coworkers.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.