Q: One of my co-workers gets quiet and withdraws whenever I ask her a question. I think she feels criticized. Should I ask her why she's...

Share story


One of my co-workers gets quiet and withdraws whenever I ask her a question. I think she feels criticized. Should I ask her why she’s behaving like this?

No, most people don’t think about why they do what they do. When they think about their behavior, it makes them uncomfortable, so they don’t think about it. If you ask this colleague to think about her behavior, she’ll just start avoiding you.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

If you are someone who thinks about your own behavior and is curious about people, you probably have better explanations than they do most of the time. You’re at least asking the right questions. Of course, unless you’re telepathic, your explanations might not always be accurate.

Instead of asking “why,” which makes people squirm, talk about yourself. People get uncomfortable when you talk about them, but not when you talk about you.

Try something like, “Sometimes when people ask me questions I think they’re criticizing me. I realize when I ask questions it may look like I’m criticizing people. Feel free to ask me if it seems I’m finding fault in your work.”

Some folks figure other people should buck up and “get a life” if they get hurt, mad or scared at work. Dealing with emotions is just plain annoying to them, so they tend to be bulls in the china shop. The emotional debris they surround themselves with by refusing to acknowledge people’s reactions eventually derails their success.

No one is required to pay attention or learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships at work. Handling other people well takes time, energy and a willingness to learn new tricks.

If other people would buck up and not pester us with emotional reactions, being productive could be a piece of cake.

Rewriting social rules because we don’t like them is about as effective as arguing with gravity.

The interpersonal lab at work offers us a classroom to improve our effectiveness. Your ability to be observant and try new approaches will pay off in a network of allies who will promote you and your career.

The last word(s)


I’d like to be assigned to a new project. Will I look arrogant if I ask for the position?

No, but you will look uninterested if you don’t.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube