General Question

wundayatta's avatar

What kind of feelings might motivate this behavior?

Asked by wundayatta (58604points) August 20th, 2008

I have a team of people working for me on a long term contract. For the most part, the team has been tight, and worked well together. However, a few months ago, one of the women on the team started verbally bullying one of the men.

It didn’t happen often, but slowly it grew. She seemed to take a hostile reaction to any proposal he made, even the good ones, and she seemed to start having a difficult time hearing what he was saying.

I’ve spoken to both of them, but they both deny that anything is out of the ordinary. He says it’s not a big deal. She says there’s no reason to change her behavior, because she’s just being herself.

Everyone else notices the friction, but it’s kind of like the elephant in the closet that no one sees. Do they just genuinely disagree? Then why the personal slurs? Is that just her way of arguing, and the slurs are nothing personal? For a long time, he didn’t seem rise to her bait, but lately, he’s started getting testy in response, something he rarely seems to do.

Could this behavior may be motivated by some kind of unconscious feelings? Do you have any ideas to help me explain this? If I have a good understanding of what feelings could be driving the behavior, and where those feelings might come from, maybe I can find a better solution to the problem.

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22 Answers

whatthefluther's avatar

Any chance they are seeing each other and are argumentative so coworkers will not see favoritism?

scamp's avatar

If they aren’t bothered by it, why worry about it? Maybe there’s a little underlying sexual tension between them.

phred78's avatar

Maybe they took their relationship outside the office and things got messy.

firehorse's avatar

My first response is that something has gone one between them on a personal level that 1) she’s angry about and 2) he’s guilty about but now getting angry, too, as she is not letting it go.

wildflower's avatar

I’d put my money on some form of jealousy. It could be any of the following:
– He has an approach or attitude she envies.
– He accomplished something she wishes she had
– He received recognition (formal or informal)
– Last, but not least, she may be jealous of his personal life. Possibly a slight crush gone wrong or even that he’s got a relationship – or lack of – that she envies.

She probably doesn’t admit the jealousy to herself and instead has deemed him to be someone she should bully – either because she’s telling herself he’s not worthy of respect, or that he somehow deserves it for his behavior – which she’s deep down jealous of.

LaMaison's avatar

A pure guess, she wanted more than just a business relationship from him and he did not.

Never dip your pen in company ink.

Allie's avatar

If it’s being noticed by everyone else in the group that’s not a good thing. Eventually, if it hasn’t already, it could start affecting the way people work (poor working environment and all). No matter what the problem is or why it’s happening, these two adults should be able to keep it outside the workplace.

tinyfaery's avatar

Maybe she’s just a bully. Bullies have a knack for weeding out the most passive, and will focus their venom upon these people. If he is saying it’s no bother, but others are uncomfortable with it, this might be a sign that the guy is just not standing up for himself and/or that her bullying is going unchecked.

If it becomes too much I, as the boss, would take the bully aside and tell her that I am uncomfortable with her behavior, it’s causing disruption, and she must stop. This kind of attitude is so counter-productive; it can cause great friction within a group.

wildflower's avatar

On second thought, it could also be a form of pride. Either she started treating him bad in a kind of humourous way and it just isn’t funny anymore, but she’d lose face if she softened up. Or she first responded in a hostile way to a gesture or remark he made (a la “women belong in the kitchen” to which she would have to respond with an evil look and smart remark like “well at least we won’t starve then…”) and she hasn’t seen a chance to soften her approach without it feeling like she accepts that initial attitude.

Bri_L's avatar

I am going with the first 4 answers. It seems to make sense.

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think why matters to you. You see this behavior as disruptive to the team. I would call this person in again and say, “This may be how you are, but it is not acceptable here.”

From now on, every team member including you will adhere to the following code of conduct. Then specifically list what you wat changed. For example,

When a team member presents an idea, all team members will listen without interruption.

Comments on the idea must be about the idea. There will be no personal references.

No derogatory language is to be used in meetings.

Have the list in writing. Tell her it will be passed out to every team member, but tell her that you have now spoken to her twice about this issue. You expect improvement. If her behavior does not change, you will (list specific consequences). Remove her from the team. Recommend removal from the team. Recommend non-renewal of her contract. Whatever you feel is appropriate that you have the authority to do.

I would also write up the steps you have taken so far including the dates of your meetings with her, her response, your planned actions, and give a copy of the report to you supervisor.

There’s always one bad apple. Good luck.

loser's avatar

Maybe she just doesn’t like him but I would think she would be professional enough to set her crap aside and work as a part of a team and not be causing friction.

phred78's avatar

As hard as it may sound, I agree with Marina. Specially if this behavior is affecting the other team members.

marinelife's avatar

@phred78 It’s that hard to agree with me? :)

phred78's avatar

LOL! I meant “as hard as Marina’s suggestion might sound” :P Not hard to agree with you at all. Crap, I need to pay more attention to what I write :P

susanc's avatar

I wonder what daloon thinks of Marina’s scenario. It doesn’t sound hard to me, now that Marina has it worked out.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, it’s a little more complicated than I explained in the question, and it’s been going on for a while, perhaps much longer than it seems from the question. Also, there’s a lot of details that I’ve had to leave out, and a couple of minor (I hope) things that I’ve changed in order to make sure this situation can’t be identified in the real world.

I’ve tried something close to what Marina suggested. It’s had some impact: kind of a sullen silence; which is not the impact I had hoped for, and almost as bad as bullying. I have no idea how long this will last, anyway. Maybe she’ll get over it, and fit in with the team again; maybe she’ll go back to her old behavior.

Part of the problem is that even though she’s on my team, I didn’t hire her. She was assigned to my team for this project, but her employment at the firm is non-negotiable, as she has political connections to upper management that are problematic to challenge.

In any case, playing hardball is not my style, really. I prefer to try to explain things, and to offer my people reasons; good reasons to behave the way I want them to. If I need to address this problem again (and I think it’s not going away, unfortunately), I want to try this kind of approach. But in order to do that, I need to understand what’s going on, or what might be going on. I can’t interview her any more pressuredly than I did without risking other repercussions that I’d rather not have to deal with. Also, if I try to apply more pressure, she’ll just refuse to say anything, which will not be helpful.

Marina’s idea is a good idea, but I really believe I need to understand, or have hypotheses about this woman’s emotional motivations, in order to be able to solve this problem. It is creating larger problems, not just with the team, but in other parts of the organization, and the crapola is gonna hit my head, not hers, unless I can deal with it.

ninjaxmarc's avatar

sexual tension between two employees are the worst. Rule number 1 for workplace etiquette, never date a coworker your going to leave hanging and see everyday. Even with an agreement it was just one night of fun, it will lead to arguing and awkwardness.

allengreen's avatar

So what happpened? Please give us an update

wundayatta's avatar

For the moment, things seem to have cooled down. I didn’t have to talk to either of them. They seem to manage to work around one-another. I think they are avoiding each other, or spending as little time in each other’s presence as they can. I still have no idea what happened, but as far as I’m concerned, they must have found a way to cope that works for them.

It’s a little odd. Once I caught him staring at her, but when she caught his gaze, he looked down, and a look of pain came across his face. So, I don’t know. Something’s there, but I don’t know what. Hopefully they’ll be adults about it, and continue to keep it out of the workplace.

marinelife's avatar

Thanks for the update. I’m glad it’s better for you.

Bri_L's avatar

Yes, thank you. Funny, I was trying to find this earlier last week to see what was up.

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