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Laney Has a Passive Aggressive Co-Worker

Posted By Administration, Saturday, November 9, 2019


Laney Has a Passive Aggressive Co-Worker


Laney is a new employee at the Widget Company.  Her desk was located in the center of an open room, with no cubicles, surrounded by 12 co-workers.  In the right corner of her desk sat a large vase of sunflowers her husband had just given her for their anniversary.  They were situated right next to her computer monitor so she could see them all day.  When she returned from lunch one day, she was surprised to find her flowers were moved all the way to the left corner of her desk.  At first, she thought maybe she had put it there and forget.  Not thinking much about it, she moved the flowers back to their original location.  She preferred to have the flowers right next to her monitor since she faced that direction most of the day. When she returned from lunch the next day, her flowers were moved once again.  Now she knew it was not her being forgetful but still did nothing but move the flowers back.  The third time this happened, Laney was steaming mad, knowing full well this was no accident.  Who would do this and how could people be so mean? They didn’t know anything about her.  She may not know the reasons for this passive aggressive behavior, but it was clear that someone at her new job definitely did not want her there!  It became hard for Laney to concentrate as she stewed about the situation trying to figure out who it was.  She was ready to leave before she even received her first pay check.  She had no desire to work in such an unfriendly and hostile work environment. 


Although the details of workplace conflict might rear its head differently from office to office, the underlying themes are quite common - little communication and lots of passive aggressive behaviors.  What should Laney do in this situation?  Should she do nothing and continue to stew like many employees do in conflict situations? If Laney does nothing, she will most certainly become more frustrated and less productive. Should she accuse coworkers until she figures out who the culprit is? If Laney takes this approach, she will likely make quick enemies of her new coworkers.  Maybe she should

complain to Human Resources? This option could work for quelling the conflict but may not uncover the truth and could label her as a snitch.  Should she quit before it gets worse?  This is bad for the company and for Laney.  The company will have to spend additional time, money and resources to find and train a replacement.


Most everyone who has worked in an office has dealt with a challenging situation with a boss, supervisor or co-worker.  Although every organization has a distinct culture and way they handle conflict, there are many commonalities. 


The first thing Laney should do in this situation is to avoid jumping to conclusions.  Although she can not control the facts in this conflict, she can control how she responds.  Laney should focus on finding out who was moving the flowers and why.  Its important for her to ask co-workers if they know what’s going on without making them feel defensive.  She could ask open ended question that do not attack the co-worker that may be responsible. Questions like “Do you know why someone may be moving my flowers to the other side of my desk?”  It is best not to make assumptions or attack the person.  Give them an opportunity to explain their whole story in a non-defensive manner.  An open dialogue with the person responsible would have revealed the underlying issues behind why the flowers were moved.  With a little communication, Laney would have found out that there was a simple explanation.  Turns out that Viviane, the co-worker that sat just to the right of Laney had a flower allergy so she moved the flowers to opposite end of Laney’s desk.  Viviane is a very shy person and did not feel comfortable asking Laney to move the flowers


This type of conflict is very common in the workplace.  Often times, managers do not recognize these subtle conflicts and people involved are conflict averse to address the issue.  If left unaddressed, these seemingly trivial issues will grow and often infect an entire team of employees.  Eventually, these conflicts will create low employee morale, high turnover and sometimes even charges of harassment or a hostile work environment.  Workplace conflicts are often successfully resolved when employees are given constructive conflict resolution skills and a safe environment to practice these skills.  Although some workplace conflicts are complex and difficult to resolve, many have simple solutions if organizations create an open forum for employees to communicate effectively.



Written by Sheryle S. Woodruff, MS, Owner of Conflict Management Associates, Inc.  407-417-7791. Sheryle holds a Master's degree in Alternative Dispute Resolution.  She is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator and has been a full time trainer, conflict coach, consultant and mediator since 1997.  She specializes in preventing and resolving workplace.



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