DEAR WOUNDED: One of my co-workers makes me very nervous. How can you spot an enemy at work?
ANSWER: I once visited a high school friend in prison. A really mean looking prisoner with bulging biceps walked into the room. I asked if he was the toughest guy in jail. My friend said no, and he nodded in the direction of an old hunched over little guy in the corner. "That's the guy you want to avoid at all costs."
Looks can indeed be deceiving. A huge threat can initially appear to be your best pal, and vice versa. I've listed some questions to help determine if a co-worker is friend or foe below. For more, check out "Worst Enemy, Best Teacher" by Deidre Combs (New World Library, 2005).
What makes you nervous about him or her? There are many things that can make us nervous about another person -- when you hear that he or she has mistreated someone whom you like, when he or she acts rudely to you or when you've heard a rumor that the co-worker might be a potential threat. First, you might want to be very concerned when someone treats a colleague unfairly. You need to sort out who was really the source of the problems. I appreciate that it's tough when someone is rude to you. Often, people are under a lot of pressure at work. Could there be a reasonable explanation for the behavior? Finally, it's wise to treat company rumors as just what they are -- rumors. It's important to do some homework to decide if this rumor is worth worrying about.
Why do you consider the co-worker a threat? Could he or she threaten your job or take away a choice project, is it just that the co-worker makes you uncomfortable? There are many people who may be threatening but who can't really do anything to harm you. And of course there are others who appear totally safe but who can stab you in the back. I'm not saying that everyone should be paranoid, just that we need to focus on the reality of our work situation and not just listen to those little hairs on the back of our necks.
What can you learn from your co-workers? This is where the rubber really meets the road in terms of enemies at work. By trying to figure out what bothers you about a co-worker, you can learn a lot about yourself. First, what about this person drives you crazy? Chances are pretty good that you probably see a lot of yourself in a perceived enemy. But also look at yourself through your enemy's eyes. What about you can be annoying to others?
Can you do something to win the co-worker over to your side? One popular path for winning over perceived enemies is to offer random acts of kindness. Do favors for anyone you think could be a threat. You just might find that you not only don't have to worry about the co-worker, but that he or she can become one of your best supporters. You can offer perceived enemies information, a free lunch or cup of coffee, a book they might be interested in, whatever.
Your worst enemy can be a great teacher, but even better is turning an enemy into someone you can trust.
We'd like to hear your strategy for turning an enemy into a trusted friend. I'll give an autographed copy of "Working Wounded: Advice that adds insight to injury" (Warner, 2000) to the best submission. Send your entry, name and address via: http://workingwounded.com or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be received by Wednesday, April 5.
Here are the results from a recent workingwounded.com/ABCNews.com online ballot: