I work with a female colleague who is very negative about the organisation we work in. While she is polite to her superiors, behind their back she makes catty remarks and will tell anyone who asks how ineffective senior management are. Her constant jibes about the environment we work in gets me down and affects my own feelings towards a job I actually enjoy. We sit next to each other so it's hard to avoid. How should I tackle the situation? PD, Dubai
Dear PD, Your colleague is certainly an extraordinary example of successfully wasting her life in misery - to be one person for some and another person for others must not only be confusing but very hard work to keep the mask up. Her actions definitely decrease any chance of being perceived as authentic and trustworthy, the two wonderful qualities that influence our level of credibility. What a reputation she must be creating for herself.
I'm going to present three different perspectives for you right now:
• a) The coach in me.
• b) The "maternal instinct" in me.
• c) The realist in me.
The coach in me wants to help you help her. She is obviously feeling "stuck" and dismally unhappy - this is always evident when we blame those around us more than taking a look at ourselves. Quite often this type of behaviour is a cry for help in disguise and you may just be the lucky one she's trying to throw a lifeline to. The attention she's looking for may be nothing to do with the management but more about her own situation, and offering some of your valued time may just open up a Pandora's box that will give an insight as to what the cause of her behaviour actually is. However, for self-preservation, you will need to decide where to draw the line on your time and effort - if it's not welcomed in any way, then why offer it? The proverbial horse to water comes to mind right now. It is ultimately her choice whether to accept your input or not and if not, turn to choice b) - the 'maternal instinct'
The "maternal instinct" in me says "look after #1". When I'm in such a situation (yes, you are not the only one who faces this dilemma at times) I cover myself entirely with a huge invisible bubble - nobody would have a clue that I'm doing it, but I wrap myself up in it and see all the bad energy, negative emotion and disgruntled words coming my way, pushing into the rubber walls as they would on a balloon, and then the balloon being strong enough to bounce back and send it away. In other words, I ensure I do not absorb the opinions and behaviours of others when they don't serve me. The environment around you won't change, yet you won't be affected thanks to the bubble - a great invention, wouldn't you say? It works for me - not sure whether it's because of my wild imagination - but hey, it works.
The realist in me says let her performance speak for itself; she'll likely hang herself one way or another. Eventually a critical mass of non-acceptance will form and she really won't have a choice to exist in that manner.
PD, often what we devote attention to comes about. What do you want - more of the "her effect" or more of a productive and aligned work life? Once your choice is made and your energy is siphoned into that, the other option will simply fade away into oblivion, whether it is physically there or not. Go on, I dare you to try this and watch the power of belief take over.
Strengthen the elements that are within your sphere of influence - in other words, yourself.
Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague