Your Office Coach: How do I deflect my nosy co-worker?

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Marie G. McIntyre

Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

Q: Several months ago, our entire human resources management team was fired. I was promoted to fill one of the manager positions, then a director and two other managers were brought in from the outside. These three people are all minorities, and I am a white male.

From the beginning, my new boss has left me out of important discussions. Today, for example, he scheduled a meeting with the two other managers, but I was not invited. When I asked if I could attend, he said the topic didn’t involve me. He also seems to view my projects as insignificant.

After 16 years here, I can’t understand why I’m being treated this way. What do you think is happening?

A: By highlighting the group’s racial composition, you appear to be offering this as the reason for your exclusion. While that might be an easy explanation, you should avoid jumping to this conclusion until you’ve considered other possibilities.

Dismissing an entire leadership team is a radical move, so top management clearly has serious concerns about the HR department. Your new director has undoubtedly been given a strong directive for change and is under pressure to produce results. Therefore, his attention is likely to be focused on specific, critical goals.

You may have been marginalized because, at the moment, your function is considered less essential. Another possibility is that, as a member of the “old guard,” you are viewed as less open to new approaches.

To obtain a more informed opinion, consider locating a trustworthy mentor. Since you were promoted after the mass firing, you obviously have supporters in management, so you should be able to find someone who can give you the real scoop.

If you conclude that you are experiencing discrimination, then you will have legal options to consider. That would be a drastic step, so you don’t want to go there too quickly.

Q: One woman in our group is extremely nosy. Whenever someone takes vacation or leaves work early, “Rhonda” tries to find out where they are going or why they need time off. Since I have no desire to share this information, I give a neutral response like “I just have some things to do,” but Rhonda continues to ask until I finally tell her. How can I put a stop to this?

A: Although Rhonda certainly sounds like a pest, you are also contributing to the problem. Every time you succumb to her persistent probing, you reward the very behavior that you wish to discourage. The solution is to stiffen your backbone and stop giving out information.

Instead of prolonging these interactions until Rhonda wears you down, just give your generic answer, then end the conversation. If you feel this would be impolite, please remember that Rhonda is the one who’s being rude.

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