You Overhear a Colleague Criticize You. Now What?


Put Your Hurt Aside and Pick Your Words Carefully

In my attorney coaching sessions, clients come to me asking how they should respond to a colleague who was caught criticizing them. It's stunning and hurtful, to say the least - but a situation like that should not be swept under the rug. There are feelings involved. And trust.

The first thing I tell clients in this situation: Put your hurt aside. Next, I recommend they examine the real reason they want to confront the co-worker who was talking about them. What is the ultimate goal? Is it to...

  • Get more information about what the co-worker said?
  • Tell the co-worker to stop chatting and criticizing?
  • Explain your side of the story?

You don't want to over-react, yet you also don't want to miss an opportunity to glean information about yourself - albeit difficult. Develop a clear strategy of what you want to accomplish, then set out to have the conversation in-person. E-mail is not the venue for this situation as words and tone can easily be misconstrued.

Here was some words and phrases you can use without sounding overly defensive.

"I overheard you and Beth discussing my contribution to the meeting. I want to explain why I took that approach so you are clear about my motivations."

"I understand that you have some reservations about my contribution to the meeting. Can we meet for lunch to discuss this? I'd like to make sure you are clear about my direction."

"Since you and I work together everyday, let's discuss my work style so you have a better sense of what to expect from me and why."

Notice the absence of confrontation. Steer clear of strong language that may create an even greater adversarial relationship. Ideally, you want to give the other person an opportunity to discuss the issue with you and clear up any misconceptions.

Source: Perfect Phrases for Dealing with Difficult Situations at Work - Susan Benjamin


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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