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Ask Amy: My co-worker sabotages me


How do I handle a passive-aggressive team member?

I'm a receptionist in a one-doctor practice. Two years ago, we hired a veterinary assistant who's passive-aggressive.

I turn on lights, set up chairs, and start up the reception computer. Then she turns off lights, rearranges chairs, and changes the settings on my computer and software. She's also lazy. She doesn't check kenneled pets or help with office duties.

There's no office manager, and I don't want to bother the doctor with this. I've tried to resolve the situation by being overly nice, making conversation, acting indifferent, and even keeping quiet around her, but nothing's changed. What should I do? —STYMIED


First, identify the real issues by writing down each behavior and the harm it causes. For example, she rearranges the chairs, which blocks the walk-on scale so you must move the chairs again. If you can't identify the harm, maybe her behaviors aren't a problem.

If you find real issues, approach her calmly and professionally. A confrontation isn't helpful, but avoidance isn't either. Ask why she rearranges chairs and changes the computer settings. Then listen to her answers. She may have good reasons you haven't thought of and suggestions to improve workflow. For example, she may say that when she collects a larger dog she runs into chairs and her arrangement avoids this. If there isn't a good reason, tell her why your way is better. If you don't have a good reason for your approach, let it go.

Also discuss how her actions make your job more difficult. For example, you may ask her to leave your computer settings because they help you view certain screens quickly and her settings slow you down.

In your conversation, avoid terms like "passive-aggressive" and "lazy." They only inflame the situation. Discuss specific behavior, not personality traits. If she continues to create problems, you'll need to approach the owner. Again, be calm and professional. Describe specific behavior and why it's a problem. Tell your boss how you've tried but haven't been able to resolve the situation. Ask her to intervene and offer specific solutions. If the doctor isn't willing to get involved, you may need to decide how much you care about these issues and whether you want to continue working at this practice. —AMY

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