Wow, I am really having an INTERESTING month.  This week, it's an employee who refused to speak to me at lunch. As in, when I tried to say hello and sit near her, she slammed her silverware down, grabbed her lunch tray, and stomped off to another table across the room.

Ok. I can take a hint. She's upset.  So, I walked over to where she had moved and said "It seems like you're upset with me. What's going on?"

I was using my best counselor voice and neutral posture--and she flipped out.  I'll spare details, but Basically, when someone is yelling at you and your chests are touching, they are too close.

To cut to the chase: employee flounced out and left her lunch behind. I stood there with my mouth hanging open.

Said employee (not a direct of mine, but works with my directs) now says I "provoked" the confrontation by not letting her retreat to a new table.

Question:  How would you have handled it?  Was I on track?

My feeling is that:

employee behaving badly in public place + she has some sort of issue with me, but I don't know what it is = my action  of following the person to ask what's going on is pretty reasonable.

But, I've never had this happen before, so would like to make sure I'm being confused and flabbergasted in the proper MT way.

rgbiv99's picture

I don't think you did anything wrong. Obviously this person was way out of line and was acting in an unprofessional manner.

When someone screams in my face/slams my door/freaks out in unimaginable ways, I usually try to give them some space and then talk about it when they're ready. Typically they'll come up to me later to apologize, but if they don't, then I'll usually wait a day or two and then approach them with, "So ... can we talk about what happened the other day?" (Assuming this is a peer and not a direct.)

I also use this approach if someone seems upset. Nothing worse than being on the verge of tears at work and having a coworker keep probing you and insisting you tell them what's wrong.

All that said, your coworker was WAY out of line.


jhbchina's picture


Yeah you're having an interesting month, and yes your co-worker bugged out (pun intended to lighten your mood), and it was unprofessional.

That said, when conflict arises in one person's mind (your co-worker) and she choose to run (flight) and you followed (fight in her mind) she went into FIGHT mode.

Next time, take a deep breathe, enjoy your lunch and say, "I have to think that through later". Give her time to recompose as suggested above, and try to remember what could have taken place since the last conversation you had with her, that made her lose something that is important to her, that you impacted. (Did you just fire her friend?)

Then think about arranging a time to talk, get your message clear, and be prepared to Actively listen.



bug_girl's picture

Ha! And you phrased it in a way a biologist could relate to--fight or flight. ;p

All she had to do was say "I don't want to talk to you right now." or "I'm still upset about ______."

That I would have walked away from with no problem. 

Loud Mystery DRAMA just made the scientist in me want to collect more data....

bug_girl's picture

the lunch issue is a good point-- we do a lot of business work in the cafeteria, since we are a geographically remote site.  I tend to forget it's not work time.

I actually sit with the staff about every other day, so my coming over to have lunch with this group isn't unprecedented or unusual. 


Well, clearly, I could have done better, but I hadn't encountered this kind of behavior (in an adult) before--and I hope I never do again!!
At least now I know to take the location into the context. 

Sadly, the person may loose her job over this.  I feel bad for her, but I'm not unsupportive of that action. You just do not threaten people physically at work, and a VERY clear verbal threat was made, in addition to the physical stuff.

Thank goodness for chocolate :(

ashdenver's picture

Bug Girl, I want you to know that I really like your posts and respect you a great deal.  I also want you to know that I'm not the best person ever when it comes to saying things tactfully or gracefully so I'll apologize in advance.  You said "Okay, I can take a hint - she's upset with me."  But then later when you said "All she had to do was say "I don't want to talk to you right now." -- well, the silverware-slamming, tray-grabbing and foot-stomping was her way of saying just that -- "I don't want to be around you or talk to you right now" -- so while you did get the first part of the hint (she was upset with you) it seems like you missed the bigger part of the hint (the stomping away = don't want to talk right now.) 

I get that you were trying to resolve the issue.  I know you had good intentions.  I understand that you were trying to make things better, not worse.  Sometimes though, people just need space and time to relax or work through things.  (I don't know if you saw my "straight talk" post. I outright told my boss on the phone on Tuesday "Wow, I feel like I'm about to say something that will really get me in trouble" and thankfully I didn't - we agreed to wrap back around to the topics tomorrow (Friday) instead.)  

I'm usually pretty good with analogies but I don't know that I can work biology into this one so I'll stick with the natural world instead - that's kind of close to the critters and things.  You might have wanted the cupful of water's worth of information from the girl that would have allowed the two of you to resolve the situation in a rational, calm manner.  Unfortunately, that cup's worth was located at the bottom of the Colorado River.  Asking "What's the matter" didn't elicit the cupful you were after; it blew up the Hoover Dam and a whole flood of stuff came pouring out.  Sometimes it's best to just let people have their time and space.  If they can't come to you later on with the cupful themselves, at least waiting until they're able to say "hello" is probably a good idea.

Given that it was in a quasi-professional setting (lunch room, not a conference room), in the future, god forbid it should happen again, I would suggest:

  • stay where you are, finish your lunch, walk over to her & say "I'm available to talk later if you want." and then just leave the room.
  • pick up your things, walk over to her & say "I'm available to talk later if you want" and leave the room to eat your lunch elsewhere.
  • say nothing to her, go on about your business for the day and the next morning request to speak with her about whatever upset her so much.

I hope that things work themselves out for both of you. I hope, if she does lose her job, that she lands on her feet.  I hope that her allegations that you provoked her along with whatever set her off about you in the first place don't cause too much trouble for you personally or professionally.

DiSC profile: 7-2-1-5

jhbchina's picture

Nice Post Ash, I am sorry I have not had time to think of how to support your comments, so I'll just slap you now as your request :-).

It is great to see us helping BG work through this. We know BG is having an interesting month.

Her comment "Sadly, the person may loose her job over this", has me wondering how has this past month impacted her image from her management's team perspective.

BG - I recommend, you take this weekend to think about your weakness in this case, go to a book store or search the web, and then go to management and do reverse feedback ( is that possible) and apologize for your part in the incident.

Hi boss, I apologize for not being more sensitive to the issue and for my part in what happened. I know that when a manager does x, it creates y for the company. Next time I will do it differently by ...

Then close with, " To help me get it right next time I am ... so I will change my behavior. In the future if you observe similar behavior can you give me some guidance."

Then put an action plan together, put it in your professional updates. Research material to improve x. Purchase Y, attended training C, completed training C.

I have done this in the past and it worked out well.

Good Luck

JHB "00"

bug_girl's picture

Ash is absolutely right--I got one signal and completely missed the [huge!] other one!

Ultimately, I've come to think of this as a massive DISC fail on my part. 

I happened to be hanging with some former coworkers who are counseling psychologists, and they pretty much had the same impulse as I did:

"You're having an emotion. How can I help you explore that?"

Folks who are more experienced in management/Hi D/Hi C reaction:

"You're having an emotion. I'll leave you alone until you've explored that."

Ultimately, I have strengths in one area (coaching, mentoring, counseling) that can make me ineffective when things like this happen and I don't remember to switch to a different set of skills! Usually I am very good at non-verbal signals, which makes this all the more puzzling. 

Eventually, perhaps, I will evolve past serving as an object lesson for others :(


I tried to respond to the questions about management image, but couldn't come up with anything vague enough that I was comfortable putting here....even as a pseudonym. To be general:

I work for a non-profit with an imploding budget, and I think this incident is a symptom of general workplace tension. None of us know if we will be employed after 2010.  Our best case scenarios right now have 20% as our minimum cuts in budget, effective January.  Add to this some recent personnel actions by a variety of people, not just me....I could probably be Mother Teresa right now and still not be popular.  There is a huge rumor mill, and it theorizes conspiracy by every one of our managers.

It is an incredibly difficult environment to manage in, and a lot of things are happening that none of us were prepared for. When threats are made, even if they occurred because of my bumbling, they can't be ignored.

This is why I like snakes and cows. Much easier to deal with than people!!


tberge's picture
Training Badge

What a difficult situation and what great responses and advice.

I too have had high drama in the workplace and been conflicted on how to address it.  I find that I hit it head on when I feel I have been slighted or disrespected, when my ego gets involved.  I'm a high D and it is hard to just let someone be upset and not resolve it for fear that it will grow into gossip/cooler talk/etc.  It's also hard to know when you can counsel and when you cannot.  When their problem is with you, it is hard to counsel another through working with you.

You're very open to the feedback here and will do better next time.  We're all human and you are to be commended for reaching out for help and input.

TheManWithThePlan's picture

If someone looks upset, juts leave them alone and approach at a different time.  Maybe speak with her superior or get a 3rd party to mediate.  She wanted a drama and you gave it t her. Always be the mature head.

Harold Moya-Executive Recruiter