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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 13, 2006

Fight nasty co-workers with civility

By Dawn Sagario

"Accused of trying to kill with Visine."

How could I not read on after that headline?

It turns out that a Florida woman had plotted to kill her co-worker by putting brand-name eyedrops in her tea, according to a January Miami Herald article. An observant co-worker thwarted the myopic murder scheme by dumping out the tea.

The witness said Morning Star Vaber poured Visine into the drink of a 73-year-old co-worker, saying she hoped the woman would get "sick and die in diarrhea." Her crime? Vaber was upset about her co-worker's nosiness.

The article piqued my curiosity: Was the death-by-diarrhea idea doable? What other weird tales of co-worker retaliation are out there?

The Internet gave me more bizarre examples of how people handle workplace conflict:

  • Rio de Janeiro (Reuters): Brazilian police arrest a woman who they believe hired friends to kill a female former co-worker and attempt to kill another woman. Why? So she could get a permanent spot working next to a man she had fallen in love with at the oil processing plant where she had been a temp.

  • Burlington, Vt. (Associated Press): A woman is accused of creating an e-mail address and using it to make it appear that a former co-worker was harassing her. According to police, the woman used the former co-worker's name to create an e-mail account, sent herself harassing e-mails and then forwarded the messages to her friends. The e-mails were supposed to portray the former work colleague as unstable. Police said the former co-worker had just started dating a friend of the woman sending the e-mails.

  • Akron, Ohio (Akron Beacon Journal): A worker finds six tarot cards pinned through with an "employee of the month" button on her desk, with the "death card" at the top of the stack. The worker said she suspects it's retaliation on the part of a former co-worker whom she got fired.

    Author Sandra A. Crowe expressed disbelief over the aforementioned examples. Crowe, who wrote "Since Strangling Isn't an Option," spun a different angle on how to deal with nasty co-workers.

    Your nemesis, she said, is actually a valuable teacher.

    "Difficult people are our best teachers," Crowe said. "They test us, they show us things about ourselves that we normally wouldn't have looked at. They take us to the limit in being able to deal with things."

    Crowe detailed six steps on how to deal with difficult co-workers:

  • Do the difficult. "Find something about the person that you like," Crowe said. Once you start hating something about someone, everything else about the person becomes inherently awful. Finding that one redeeming quality like she's got a great sense of fashion or he's a good father will lead you to the next step.

  • Accepting difficult behaviors. This may seem impossible to do, Crowe said. But try to better understand the circumstances behind why a co-worker acts the way he or she does. Look at their situation from different perspectives.

  • Dig deep and ask yourself the real reasons why you can't get along with this person. Is he or she mirroring one of your own behaviors that you hate? Or do the individual's actions remind you of someone or a situation in your past that drove you nuts?

  • Being open. In this step, "ideally, the person is going to move toward you, be more open," Crowe said. "It takes two to tango, it takes two to tangle." Sometimes, those changes in how someone responds to you are subtle, so pay attention.

    Crowe's personal example: One of her friends is a smoker; Crowe is a nonsmoker. But whenever they go out to eat somewhere, they usually end up sitting in the smoking section. One day, he made a rude comment to her while a group of friends was out at a restaurant. Crowe told him, "Don't ever speak to me like that again." When the group went out for a meal the next day, he asked that they be seated in the nonsmoking section.

    That, Crowe said, was his subtle way of apologizing to her. So it's important during step four that you keep an eye out for the little details.

  • Finding closure. This situation won't last forever. Don't let this work relationship dominate your entire life. Crowe said to keep in mind the impermanence of everything in life. "Just remember, it's going to change," she said. "You know the old saying, 'This, too, shall pass.' "

  • Do something different, get something different. Consider your interactions with the person you don't get along with. Now look at your behaviors your body language, how you talk to the person, your perception when dealing with the individual and change them. See if that slight modification sparks a shift in your interaction with the person.

    Sounds a little more civilized than spiking someone's tea.

    Dawn Sagario writes for The Des Moines (Iowa) Register.