I spent a decade of my career at a very sexy, high profile tech company and rose to a senior position. I worked 24/7 and my commute was a horror show. When my kids were little, my husband was traveling a lot for his job, and things started fraying around the edges, I decided to dial things back. I found a great position—a demotion—in a much smaller, not-at-all-sexy company. It took me a while to get used to a slower pace and a much more conforming, less creative culture. They have been doing things the same way here forever, and one of the reasons I was brought in was to pull us into the twenty-first century. I feel like I have finally settled in and am now doing really interesting and exciting things in my job.
My problem is one colleague.
She is at the same level as I am—a peer, essentially—but she has been at this company forever and doesn’t have much experience out in the modern world. I need to collaborate with her to accomplish my goals. I’ve tried several approaches, but she has literally ignored my emails, not returned my calls, and made herself inaccessible. I know she screens my calls and doesn’t pick up when she sees it’s me.
I’ve never had a problem creating relationships before now. I’ve always found a way to get along with everyone, even if it was hard. I finally came out and asked her what I was doing to cause her to be so hostile to me. I was shocked when she told me, straight out, that she is jealous of me—and therefore doesn’t like me and is committed to not working with me! She added that it was nothing personal and there was nothing I could do about it.
I was speechless. It would be one thing if she was unconscious about why she didn’t like me—that, I would understand. But how can someone just be okay with admitting to envy and accept that it’s okay to sabotage entire work projects because of it? It seems so childish and pathetic.
The worst thing is, I have no idea what to do now.
Green Eyed Monster at My Door
Wow. This is a new one. Just when I think I can no longer be surprised by how frail and small human beings can be, I am as stunned as you are. I have often worked with folks who have had a badly behaved, envious colleague who seems to be unconscious of their motivations. But I agree—to be fully aware and conscious of such a low motive, and then consciously choose bad behavior and admit to it seems beyond the pale!
I immediately stooped to being as small and awful as your Green Eyed Monster—my first thought was that you should pour Elmer’s glue on her computer keyboard. But fun as that might be, it will not solve your problem. I had to go out to my advisory team* on this one, because I was stumped. Responses were quite varied, but I was not alone in my childish “glue on the keyboard” reflex.
Margie Blanchard wanted to know if you have a boss, and if there was any reason you couldn’t get some help there. She said: “Generally, I haven’t seen situations like this one resolve themselves and they can be very toxic to colleagues. This is why bosses exist.” My thought is that you probably don’t want to involve your boss unless you absolutely must, and you are trying to figure out how to deal with this yourself. To that end, the Blanchard Coaching Services team consensus is well summed up by Patricia Overland. We call this the “kill her with kindness and make her love you despite herself” approach.
- Always take the high road. Continue to invite—but not wait for—collaboration.
- Make your advocates aware. Don’t necessarily spill the beans about the conversation, but do ask for some advice on how you might engage the jealous person.
- Ask the person to imagine a situation where the two of you were working together incredibly well to create something spectacular. What would that look like? Then work to co-create that reality. (This one takes some Emotional Intelligence that the jealous person might not have, but it’s worth a shot!)
- If all else fails, don’t stop being fabulous. Make visible your intent to include and collaborate and find small ways to give the other person some credit, if possible.
- This is a relationship that will take time to build. Start small, build trust, and keep at it.
My approach would be to just plow ahead and tell the truth: go around her, above her, or below her to get done what you need to get done. If anyone asks why you are going about your business that way, tell the truth. Say, “Oh, Marci won’t work with me, but I have to carry on despite that.” No blame, no judgment, just a statement of fact.
When in doubt, it never hurts to take the highest possible road. No matter what happens, you will always know you did the right thing, did your best, and were the bigger person.
And if you do put glue on her keyboard, please don’t tell anyone it was my idea.
*The unofficial Ask Madeleine Advisory Team is made up of the staff of Blanchard Coaching Services (Patricia Overland, Terry Watkins, Mary Ellen Sailer, Joanne Maynard, and Sally Smith), my sister, Mia Homan, and my mother-in-law, Margie Blanchard. My husband, Scott Blanchard, is also consulted on a regular basis but never gets any credit.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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