When a co-worker has done you harm, how do you respond?

A co-worker has done you harm. The person stole something from you — an opportunity, such as a promotion or seat on a prestigious committee, trade secrets, a file, your good reputation, something on your desk.

Unlike an employer who can fire an employee, you can’t have him removed from your workplace, except, most likely, through sleight-of-hand, which would put you on his level.

Should you stop communicating? Hold a grudge? Do nothing at all? Is a second chance even worth the risk?

You won’t find an easy answer. John Rooney, psychology department emeritus professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pa., advocates watching for behavioral changes rather than promises to change.

He cites such possibilities as “taking a course to help improve performance, joining AA or being active in an organization that indicates they’ve changed their lifestyle,” such as the sports figure who about-faced from dog fights to animal welfare.

Don’t give second chances to manipulators and con men, Rooney says, because of their entrenched behavior.

Josh Denning, founder of Smart R.O.I. Co. (Pty) Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, has served on boards of digital agencies, always seeking to maintain relationships. He says that outright lying is one thing; “bending the truth, such as being sick when they weren’t, another.”

A different approach comes from Craig Wolfe, president of CelebriDucks Inc. in San Rafael, Calif.. He says he’s very forgiving and doesn’t hold grudges. He looks for “bad intent — something duplicitous, hidden agendas. That would be crossing a line,” he observes.

“If you’re just out for your own good,” he adds, “that’s the red flag, usually a character disorder … an ethical issue.” However, he points out that he bases his decisions at least by half on how his heart guides him about a second chance.


Do second chances work?

Denning recalls the general manager who failed several times — and received more than a second chance — to close sales after the extensive work done by others to get projects to his desk.

One conversation didn’t keep him from underperforming; so Denning tried again to impress on him how much effort the team had invested for the GM to close.

“Never again,” Denning reports, “did he not do his due diligence at the level required by projects.”

Perhaps a less satisfying “resolution” comes from Rooney, who speaks of the colleague with whom he “had conflicts, clarified the situation and developed a productive relationship, but the stress and disagreement didn’t disappear.”

Rooney had to decide how he was going to behave and ultimately “decided to live with it,” functioning even though the disagreement continued.

He and Denning would concur that sometimes disengaging is the only suitable option.

However, Wolfe believes that you might have to sit down with yourself and acknowledge that other people simply can’t become you. Even if you don’t go that far, you might have to change your communication pattern, as Rooney did, and adjust.

Ultimately, though, if you spot an ethical problem, you also need to determine whether you can trust the individual. Wolfe has encountered situations where he later became aware of additional incidents involving other people.

If the person has potential, Rooney advises restructuring the relationship, perhaps in a formal contract. In the process, he indicates, you may discover a point of misunderstanding that you can remove.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2014 Passage Media.


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