Co-Worker Miscommunication

Dear Mediator,

I am having a problem with a co-worker that I have very little contact with and do not know very well. We are working on a project together and we had some problems in our communication with each other. (I mistakenly overlooked a request of a status update in one of his emails.) So it looked like I was ignoring him. He in turn went to the supervisor and complained that I was unresponsive and procrastinating on the project even though he really gave no deadlines about when he needed it done. To make it worse, I saw the co-worker the day before and he said nothing about my progress to me. What should I do?
Signed Tim.

Thanks for writing Tim. From reading your email, it seems that you and your co-worker do not know each other well and do not have much of a working relationship. Perhaps this is the reason for your problem. Do you think that if you two knew each other better and understood how each other worked that this problem would have happened?

When we do not know other’s very well, we tend to make assumptions about the motives of their behavior. For example, not hearing back from you perhaps made your co-worker make assumptions for your lack of behavior. These assumptions are created (correctly or incorrectly) by his past experiences in similar situations or his biases. Thus he may have assumed that you were dogging him and the project. Had he knew you better, he may have assumed that perhaps there was a communication problem and felt more comfortable talking to you and not a supervisor.

My advice to you would be to get to know him better. Sit down and talk about how to communicate with each other. Tell him your preferences. Give him some guidance. Just getting to know him will give him ques as to your personality, and your willingness to work. This will go a long way.

Furthermore, try making a conscience effort not to make assumptions about his behavior. Reserve judgement until you have some time to talk to him and have some experience to make judgements. I think that you will find it easier to get over this dispute if you do so.

Also a reminder about email. Remember email is not a substitute for conversation. At times email is confusing and overwhelming especially if it is full of content. Keep emails short, a sentence or two. Make it direct, and simple. This will help cut miscommunication. Remember if it takes more than a few sentences, then you should really pick up the phone and call.
Perhaps our readers have some good advice to lend?

Please remember if you have a conflict and want some advice to please email me.

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