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Kelly Odell

- A blog for leaders
whiney work place
13 Dec 2016

”Sensitive” employees and the whiney work place

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I recently received a message from one of my readers who I will call Linda. Below you will find a brief description of Linda’s message to me as well as my reflections. Feel free to leave your own comments and ideas.

Linda is a manager and is dealing with some employee issues. She said that some of her employees act like twelve-year-olds. Linda explained that she has an employee (Jill) who is a very dependable, capable, and intelligent woman but who is very sensitive. Jill takes it personally when someone else’s response to her isn’t as positive as she thinks it should be. Jill felt dissed one morning when she delegated some work to an employee (Karin) and she felt the employee’s response was exasperation. Jill reported it to Linda and expects Linda to do something about it. 

What should Linda do?

The devil is always in the detail. Is Jill, Karin’s boss or a colleague? If she is Karin’s manager, then Linda should just tell Jill to have a talk with Karin herself. Linda can be a sounding board but the responsibility is with the Jill in her capacity as manager.

If Jill is not Karin’s boss, the question is a bit different. Is it part of their normal work process that Jill delivers work to Karin or was this more of a one-off thing. Normally, colleagues can ask another colleague for help but can’t demand that they agree to help. The other person has the right to say no.

If they say yes, but say it with some exasperation a truly sensitive person might pick up on that in a more positive way. Jill could say, do you have too much to do? “Is there anything I can help you with?” Unfortunately, I find that many “sensitive” people are often only sensitive in one direction. They are very alert to any negative vibes in their direction but don’t give a hoot about negative effects on others.

If Karin accepted the task and got it done well, then maybe Jill shouldn’t worry too much about Karin letting off a little steam. I often warn people about having toes that are too long. Some people have such long toes that it is impossible not to step on them. If the problem is bigger, if the working environment has become whiney and people are bitching and complaining all the time then it may be necessary to spend some time discussing values, how we want to work and treat each other and so on. In my book “The Human Way-TheTen Commandments for (Im)Perfect Leaders” I say that “bitching and complaining” is a part of the creative process as long as we don’t get stuck there. Meet and discuss why people feel so frustrated. Try to understand the underlying drivers of the dissatisfaction. Discuss what can be done about it and don’t let the discussion simply end with “someone, somewhere better do something”. Often that someone is management. Look at what you can do in your group to redefine work processes or to redistribute work load. It is ok to identify things that management needs to address but don’t avoid the things the people can do themselves.

It is also good to remind ourselves that we don’t have to like each other to be successful working together. Some studies indicate that too much “liking” can in fact be detrimental to productivity. We do, however, need to show each other respect. Set up some ground rules about how we talk to each other. I have never had any problems with tough discussions at work as long as they are about business. As soon as someone goes over the line and starts being rude, condescending or abusive they need to be made aware of their bad behavior and reminded that it is not acceptable. I can have a bad or stupid idea but I am not a bad or stupid person. This is a fine line to walk but an important one.

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