Magazine

Miss Conduct

Advice: How can I get along with my grumpy co-worker?

Here’s what you can do if you’re thrown for a loop by a colleague who can be friendly one day, hostile the next.

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

I have a colleague whose moodiness is affecting our workplace. Sometimes he’s pleasant, but other times he just goes silent, and he can also be hostile. I personally often feel as if I’ve been judged and found lacking. The silent treatment is the worst; it’s like I am not even worthy of basic politeness. I find myself wanting to give tit for tat, but that could make things worse. I also don’t want to go whining to the manager every time a pall hangs over his cubicle. Is there a way to address this, short of quitting?

J.H. / Boston

The person you need to address this with is not your colleague or your boss. It’s yourself.

On some level, you seem to understand that your colleague’s behavior is about him and his own struggles. But you’re still personalizing it. You need to stop.

Let’s take the situation to a ridiculous extreme: If a person were in a coma, would you expect them to greet you? Would you take their “silent treatment” as evidence of your lack of worth as a human being? Of course not! Developing a similar attitude toward your co-worker would be more merciful to both of you than your current mind-set. Leave Moody Mercutio alone when he is in a silent phase, and assert your boundaries as necessary when he is hostile.

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If you allow other people’s silence and lack of “basic politeness” to affect your own self-esteem, you are setting yourself up for a lot of problems in this town. Bostonians are not huggers, wavers, chit-chatters, smilers. There may be a generational component as well — millennials seem far more attuned to the idea that demanding or feeling entitled to another person’s time and attention is rude. You don’t have to approve of these variations in manners, but it will help to cultivate acceptance and detachment.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.