When Your Colleague is a Fault-Finder

Try these five tips to ease tension at work.

Posted Jun 05, 2020

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Critical colleagues are treasured gems when they help you develop better insight and discover new possibilities. But some peers don’t listen supportively or bother to cushion their comments. They may have nothing against you personally, but they complain in general. Others react resentfully if they think you’re criticizing them.

Usually, fault-finding peers want you to admit that you made a bad judgment call. You may not agree and, without sugarcoating, that’s a difficult pill to swallow. As a result, feelings are hurt on both sides, team morale is seriously injured, and productivity is sidetracked.

For your own protection, stand up for yourself. But do try to maintain a friendly stance with your critics before they attempt to damage your other relationships—such as with your boss, for instance.

Strategy

When being attacked, your first goal is to minimize damage, and the second is to try to convert your enemy into what I like to dub a “friendly.” We do not need to be friends with the people with whom we work. But we do need to maintain a friendly relationship so that we can get our work done and leave work at work when the day is over.

  1. Do a quick review. Race over the facts leading up to this point. Did you inadvertently trigger the trouble? Have you assumed colleague support without bothering to check?
  2. Don’t play their "I’ve got-a-secret" game. Refuse to promise to keep confidential your peer’s gossip or rumor. Get the issue on the table so that you can deal with it.
  3. Dissolve the tension by talking. You can’t let cutting remarks fester. Politely confront your colleague. Then, examine the system that allowed the problem to arise. Discuss options. If a colleague unfairly criticized you at a staff meeting, meet later in private to hash it out.
  4. Touch base regularly with potential troublemakers. Keep your peers informed about your projects. Involve them by coordinating appropriate segments. Before they squawk to the boss about you, listen to, understand, and be cooperative about their complaints. Suggest joint presentations with the modifications you agree on. And give them starring roles.
  5. Insist on respect for yourself and your peers. Simply refuse to continue a conversation unless everyone is civil.

Tactical Talk

You: "Julie, I heard you were concerned with {x}. We’ve always worked well together. I’m sure you have some good ideas for straightening this out."

Or: "I can understand why you are upset, Julie. Why don’t we figure out the best approach and go together to the boss? You tell him what we agreed on, and I’ll back you up."

Or: "I really don’t want to argue about this. I’ll come back when we can talk calmly."

Tip: When you are attacked by a colleague, confront your coworker and resolve the matter. Early consulting and coordinating with them on a regular basis usually takes the sting out of their bite.

Copyright © 2020 Amy Cooper Hakim