Crying Co-Worker

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					Although the job site discussed in this article is different from DHMC and/or patient
care, the feelings are common and the solutions (modified for our setting) useful.

Crying Co-Worker

I work with two other women and a supervisor (also a woman) in a small academic
setting. I am the senior staff person and have enjoyed my job and the very casual
friendly work environment we have had. We have a co-worker, who was hired two
years ago, who cries on a daily basis. She will cry about anything! She is caring for an
elderly aunt and she cried when she had to take her to the dentist, she cried when we
were discussing a sitcom! If she is told she should do something a different way she
cries. I have always felt sympathy for this woman, and feel she is suffering from
depression. I have spent many hours away from work talking with her about her many
"problems". I have always considered us friends. NOW comes the problem, she has
always had more of a problem with the third staff person, who is very nice, but a little
less tolerant of the constant sobbing, I have always been the "peacemaker". Several days
ago the "crier" had a major meltdown in the office, and proceeded to tell our supervisor
how much work she does and how the other staffer does nothing but crosswords and
doesn't answer the phone .... (a very large exaggeration). She shared situations in which
we were all being "silly" and in which she took part in as well, and turned them into
malicious behavior by this other staffer. To put it an a nut shell, she threw this other
woman "under the bus". The supervisor is now treating the "crier" with kid gloves, and
the other staffer cannot even stand to look at her. I am trying to be cordial, but also find
it hard after such a horrible outburst with all the sobbing and accusations (it really was
a scene). I have always been the one to lighten up things in the office and to be the go
between, but how do I approach this one?

Stormy Weather

Dear Stormy Weather:

Someone once said, “Emotion is king and reason is the court jester.” Your empathy for
the Crier, I’m sure, has provided much needed moral support. Being a caretaker and a
fulltime employee no doubt is not a walk in the park. However, your patience and
empathy, no doubt, are wearing thin because of her recent outburst with your
supervisor. After this discounting of your co-worker, you are uncertain on what your
role should be. Can you be a peacemaker and cheerleader? Or should you confront the
Crier about what you think was malicious? Or should you request that your supervisor
call for a group meeting to smooth over the hurt caused? Is there a way to deal with this
matter maturely?
First, it is important that you learn what in fact the Crier reported. How do you know
she made exaggerated accusations about your co-worker and what else she might have
said? Was her breakdown so loud that everyone could hear or did you learn about what
she told the supervisor some other way? In short, before you accuse the accuser you
need to get your facts straight. Based on the answers to these questions, you have some

~ Approach the Crier and candidly voice your concern about her frequent sobbing and
  badmouthing of a co-worker.
~ Confer with your supervisor about how to deal with the Crier in light of what you
  think is “kid glove” treatment and your displeasure with her attack on a co-worker.
~ Propose that the supervisor talk with the Crier and the accused to resolve the tension
  that has resulted from the malicious accusation.
~ Propose that the supervisor schedule weekly staff sessions to collaborate on the work
  that needs to be allocated and to confront the emotional stress that is caused by the
  fragile condition of the Crier.
~ Suppress the feelings you have about the Crier and approach the work of your office
  from a task-accomplishment perspective—as a senior staff person you could propose
  that your work group could benefit from a concerted effort to work as a team.
  Achieving teamwork would entail:

     1. the supervisor taking a more active role as a coach,
     2. discussions with the staff to define who does what,
     3. spelling out the rules of communicating with one another,
     4. conferring on what might be done to make each other’s jobs more effective and
     5. applauding what is going well and brainstorming about what needs to be
        changed to better working relationships,
     6. finding ways to cut wasted supplies, time, effort,
     7. making work fun, celebrating and finding ways to make each other’s lives
        more meaningful and happy.

Weighing these alternative approaches may enable you to do more than lament the
hostile climate in your office, and provide you the courage to act with civility and
respect in a difficult situation.

William Gorden, The Workplace Doctors
(February, 2007)

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