Trouble in the office? The Grindstone is here to help. Write in with your workplace drama and we’ll try to help you sort through the office politics and keep moving up the corporate ladder.
When I first started working for my company, I really got along with Pat*. He was intelligent and funny. He really took the time to show me the ropes and teach me about the office culture. We grabbed lunch or drinks every once in a while. It was nice to have a good friend in the office.
But over time, I’ve realized just why he was so eager to show me everything about the office. Because he feels like he knows everything about the office. He has an opinion on literally every project, every employee, every meeting. And he feels like his viewpoint should be expressed with everyone on absolutely everything.
I feel guilty, because he really seems to be a nice guy and he was super helpful to me when I first started. But now, I can’t get an assignment from my boss without Pat wanting to “help” me, which means critiquing every move I make. He talks constantly about what every employee is doing and feels the need to always add his own input about whether they’re making the right or wrong call. I know he wants to be helpful but it’s completely annoying.
Know-it-alls can come in every shape and size. Some of them are polite and coming from a place of helpfulness. Others seem to be trying to prove their superiority to everyone about everything. And while the second is obviously more frustrating, it doesn’t make the first kind easy to deal with either.
I have to admit that sometimes I struggle with a bit of Pat’s problem. When a question is asked, I have to jump in and answer it. Call it “Student Syndrome,” but if we’re in a meeting and a problem is tossed to the whole group, I immediately have to find a solution. When I was a newbie and ambitious, I know that my eagerness to answer everything was frustrating to other workers and I really had to learn to tone it down.
So today, I have some experience from the other side of the problem. And I’m going to let you know how my boss helped me curb this truly obnoxious co-worker habit.
- Ask for their advice directly on the area in which they work. I bet you’ve tried ignoring the person all together and it hasn’t worked out at all, right? If your co-worker really does want to be helpful, find an area where they can help you. Then, ask for their advice and make sure to thank them. If you put their helpfulness to use in the proper sphere, it can help them understand what you would like from them.
- Explain why you need to figure things out on your own sometimes. Next time Pat tries to jump in and help on a project that doesn’t involve him, discuss why it’s important for you to fly solo. Thank him for his energy, but explain that you need to be able to complete an assignment on your own. Say you need to prove it to yourself. Say you learn better by working alone. Whatever the reason, just try explaining why you need a little space.
- When it comes to gossip, just don’t respond. People always wonder how to shut down gossip in the office. The easiest (though hardest to stick to) way is to just stop responding. I mean, no discussion. “So-and-so from HR has been late three days in the past two weeks…” “Oh.” “Do you know what’s going on?” “No.” “I think she’s going to get in trouble with management.” “Oh.” People get tired of these conversations really quickly.
- Keep them busy. If Pat continues to volunteer his opinion about every project, put him to work. When he offers an opinion, ask him to follow up and do what he’s suggesting you do. I mean, if he really wants to help…