Liz Reyer: How to respond to new co-worker who’s a persistent critic

Q: I have a new co-worker who has a good background and is generally a good addition to the team. But she has a habit of being dismissive of my approach to doing our work. How do I deal with this?

A: You’ll need to be your own best advocate.

Start by being specific about the behaviors you’re concerned about. It’ll be important to recognize exactly which behaviors concern you so that you can react constructively and appropriately. And so that you can decide which aren’t really that big a deal; it’s important to choose your battles.

Then consider your level of personal confidence in your approach to your work. In particular, identify aspects where you may feel more tentative or where your approach may be less developed. These are areas where any response you may have could drift more into defensiveness, which won’t benefit anyone.

Understand the feelings or needs that might be behind her reactions. It can be challenging to move into a new role, and she may be trying to demonstrate her value by offering new ideas. She may also have a style that is different from yours — either more passive or more direct (depending on the behaviors). There’s not necessarily a wrong or right when it comes to style; it’s more a case for mutual adjustment and learning how to communicate. Based on your question, it doesn’t sound like you’re concerned about an overt power grab or sabotage, but that can be a dynamic that occurs, too.

To counter this behavior, rely on clear, direct in-the-moment communication. If her dismissiveness is passive (the ever-popular eye roll, for example), ask for her opinion of the idea you’ve just mentioned. Be calm and neutral in your tone, especially in a meeting with others. Don’t call out the behavior, just ask her to weigh in: “Janie, we have not heard from you on this; what are your thoughts?”

If she is making general statements expressing skepticism about your approach, then ask for specific concerns. If she says, “I don’t think that will work,” take her at face value and ask her why, and don’t back down if she remains vague. Keep your tone respectful and push her to be solutions-oriented. If she is just posturing, it’ll show up soon enough. She may have some legitimate concerns and may be having trouble expressing them, so there could be a substantive win here.

Remember, too, that you can’t leave the management of your reputation to others. She may or may not change her behavior, and even if her reactions to your work efforts are not reasonable, she could influence others to have less confidence in you. This would be one of the worst possible outcomes. Be sure that you’re representing the value of your approach to your boss, to your business partners, and your internal or external clients so that they are seeing you in your best light.

Through all of this, continue to articulate your commitment to achieving good teamwork and good business outcomes. This will prevent this from degenerating into a turf issue and will keep you on the high ground.

About The Writer

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

(c)2015 Star Tribune

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