The Problem: Harold has worked at the company for almost 15 years. By all accounts he’s actually quite good at his job – except for the people part. His co-workers will acknowledge that he excels in technical areas and is a good producer, but they can’t stand him. They describe him as crude (he swears a lot), rude (he insults people, and they suspect he does it on purpose) and obnoxious (he’s loud, interrupts and talks over others). A couple of times people have complained to management, but his behavior doesn’t seem to change. His colleagues continue to be very bothered, and just try to ignore or stay away from him (both of which are hard in their work). So, they continue to be bothered and Harold continues to behave as he always has.
What to do? It’s not unusual for staff to feel that management should know about the problem and do something about it. There are several possible reasons why they don’t see any change in Harold: maybe management never talked to him about his behavior, maybe they did but it wasn’t very effective, maybe they don’t understand how intolerable his behavior is to his colleagues. So, if you work with Harold, here’s what YOU can do:
- Go to management with specifics, including date, time, specific behavior and the circumstances when Harold behaved in a way you found unacceptable. For instance, say, “On Monday, July 12 at 9:00 am in the staff room he used the ‘f-word’ in talking to Mildred.” Avoid general descriptors like, “He’s rude…crude…obnoxious.” There’s nothing management can do with that kind of information (besides – they’ve probably already heard that!)
- Confront Harold, either by yourself or with other employees. Tell him exactly what behavior you are asking him to change (again, be specific) and why. For example, you could say, “Harold, we’re asking you to stop using the ‘f-word’ when we’re around. That word is inappropriate in our workplace, offends us and makes us feel we don’t want to be around you. We appreciate the good work you do, but this language makes it difficult for us to work with you.” This is clear, straight-forward and specific – he’ll know exactly what behavior you want him to change and why. It puts him on notice about how you feel without insult or emotion. Then, it’s his decision.
- If talking to him seems to difficult, write him a note with the same information. Realize, though – you need to sign it (several signatures are best). It is highly unlikely that he will change his behavior in response to an anonymous note. He’ll more likely just spend time and energy trying to figure out who sent it!
Being specific is the key here. If Harold is just told to stop swearing, he may not really know what you mean. There is a very wide range of language that can be thought of as swearing, and many people in today’s workplaces use some of it – especially when something frustrating happens. So, if others in your workplace occasionally swear, your request will be totally ineffective if it’s too general.
Remember – you do have the power to make an impact on a colleague and improve your workplace!
Have you ever worked with “Harold”? Write a comment and let us know how you handled it! ~DS