Interpersonal Tension with a Coworker? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

There is a woman on my team who is driving me crazy. I am on the young side and she is nearing the end of her career, but I don’t think it is just about generational differences. In fact, she drives everyone crazy.

She always thinks she knows best and assumes I know nothing. She explains things I already know—and at length. She corrects me when I am talking and is sometimes right, but more often she is not. She even corrects our boss in meetings, and he is very graceful. I really wish he would shut her down.

I find myself getting worked up about it, probably way more than I should. It is just so annoying.

What do you think I should do?

Perpetually Annoyed


Dear Perpetually Annoyed,

I think we can all agree that possibly the most common source of stress at work is interpersonal tension. I have some ideas for you, and you probably aren’t going to love them.

First, some don’ts:

  • Don’t complain about this coworker to others on the team or in your company. That just makes you look like a complainer.
  • Don’t be rude to her. Don’t even roll your eyes unless you are by yourself.

What you might do:

  • Pay attention to the way your boss handles the situation. It sounds like he knows better than to “shut someone down” in front of the whole team. You have no way of knowing what he says to her in private. But, if he can be graceful, so can you.
  • Interrupt long explanations that you don’t need by saying something like “May I stop you? Thanks, I have what I need right now, and I need to get to it.”
  • When she corrects you, say “Thank you, I’ll have to look into that.”
  • If you categorically disagree, simply say “Maybe you’re right.”

“Maybe you’re right” is one of those phrases that can get you out of any number of potentially ugly scrapes with people who are not interested in a discussion. I agree, this is not generational. It is really just a personality issue. It is a classic case of someone whose need to be right supersedes everything else.

We all have different core needs—to be liked, to be included, to be noticed, and to be right are a few examples. I would say the true value of this for you might be to examine your own needs and ask yourself if the way you try to get those needs met at work is making you successful or costing you relationships. If nothing else, the bothersome coworker is a perfect role model of how you don’t want to show up. Watch and learn.

You can be forgiven for fantasizing about stabbing her with a coffee stirrer. (I am doing that right now!) But you won’t actually do it. And you probably aren’t going to get her to change, either—not unless you respect and care about her enough to risk having a very hard conversation with her. It doesn’t sound like that is a likely scenario.

To sum it up: let it roll off your back. Breathe, smile, draw a boundary when you must, and let it go. It is an annoyance, not a real problem. You could certainly turn it into one, but I imagine you have much more important things to do with your time and attention.

Every time you get yourself worked up, remember that whatever you pay attention to will grow. So choose to pay attention to what matters most. I guarantee it isn’t your poor coworker’s lack of awareness.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

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.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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