Your coworker keeps it up all day long. You return from the staff meeting after you’ve reported on your recent and upcoming projects and he says, “You certainly made a mess of that.” You don’t want to ask him what he means, as that’s an open invitation to him dishing out more disparaging remarks.
When he comes back with coffee from the breakroom, he keeps looking at you and snickering. You finally ask “What’s so funny?” and he says, “The breakroom’s latest is you’re sleeping with the maintenance supervisor, “Oh, so gross!” You shut your eyes, and wonder if you’re experiencing the workplace equivalent of waterboarding and wonder when your head will go under.
You’ve done everything. You’ve talked to your critic, but he just smiles and says, “You took offense? You can’t take a joke? My bad!” You’ve pretended you don’t hear him. He just repeats what he’s said, louder. You’ve gone to your supervisor so often you’ve worn a rut in the hallway carpet. You’ve spoken to HR and asked to be moved to another work area, even a closet, only to be told no viable alternate work area exists. You’ve considered quitting, except, that gives your sniping coworker what he wants, and you’re not willing to leave a good job because of him.
If you work next to a workplace sniper, use these strategies to end his games.
Snipers watch their victims closely for signals their comments have struck home. When you pretended you didn’t your sniper, he knew you did. Probably your face flushed or jaw or lips tightened.
If you want to ignore a workplace sniper, make it real. Here’s how. Just for a moment, mentally flash on the face of one of your children when he or she was a baby or toddler. Do you find yourself relaxing or smiling? Now, imagine one of your sniper’s comments and notice your breathing. If you’re like most people, your breathing suddenly became rapid and shallow and your chest tightened.
Let’s see if you can change your instinctive reaction to one that no longer rewards a workplace sniper. Allow yourself to notice your breathing exhalation in the way you would watch a wave moving away from the shore. Continue focusing on your breathing and notice your inhalation as part of the same seashore wave-like process. Once your breathing slows, imagine your sniper’s comment and this time concentrate on your breathing and bring your child’s face to mind. If you can do this, you can effectively ignore your sniper, and eliminate his rewards.
Turn the tables
Workplace snipers love playing “one up,” but hate being bested. Take the fun out of your sniper’s game. Create an arsenal of comments that let him know “game over.”
When he next makes a comment, couple your relaxed breathing and mental vacation with a “done and over” phrase such as “Give it a rest” or “Don’t you have any new material?” In other words, let him know his gibes no longer work and he’s become both boring and laughable.
If turning the tables and eliminate his reward doesn’t work, give HR or your supervisor evidence rather than anecdotes on your next visit. Your sniper’s comments about your mythical sleeping around, if frequent, may constitute illegal sexual harassment. Start pressing your Smartphone’s record button when you return to your work area, and provide your HR office a fact-based case.
Let your supervisor hear the same recordings and let him know your sniper erodes your productivity daily. In other words, make the problem a bottom-line concern for him and no longer a “you” issue.
Finally, you’ll find an intangible benefit to these strategies. Because you’re taking the reins to handle this problem, you’ll feel less a victim and more someone who effectively and creatively handles a workplace lowlife.
© 2016, Lynne Curry, adapted from Lynne Curry’s Beating the Workplace Bully, 2015, AMACOM.