dealing with a snarky coworker

A reader writes:

I started my current position almost 2 months ago. It’s a surprisingly small company, so everyone sees everyone else usually once a day (some are in and out of the office a lot).

I pride myself on forging relationships and getting along with just about everyone, whether they are in my department, Sales & Marketing, or the admin/operations/customer care side, everyone.

I recently asked a favor of an employee (non-manager, different department) in a very polite email, giving him the option to decline if he was too busy, etc. I received a very snarky reply to the tune of, “Sure, I guess we can put our customers second.” It bothered me mainly because it (a) it was a simple request — something he’s done before, (b) it came out of left field, and (c) I’d never ask anyone to neglect a customer over my request.

To make a long story short, I want to have a chat with this person and nip this in the bud but also find out if he was just having a bad day. The managerial structure here is a bit loose. I’m new so I don’t want to overstep or offend either, but letting it go I think would be a bad idea. Thoughts?

I’m answering this too late for you to do this now, but the ideal response would probably have been to walk over to his office as soon as you got his email and say something like, “Hey, I was surprised surprised by the tone of your email. I might be misinterpreting, but you sounded frustrated. What’s up?”

This way, you make it clear that he can’t be snarky to you without expecting to be called on it, but you’re also asking what might have caused it.

And that’s worth doing, because while this guy might just be a grump who sends rude emails, it’s also possible that he’s reacting to something that you don’t know about: a stream of unreasonable requests that others think are simple but actually aren’t, or who knows what else.

Let me be clear — even if he did have a legitimate reason for being frustrated, his snarky email to you wasn’t okay. But modeling this kind of behavior for him (calm, open, not defensive) is your best bet for getting what you want here: no future snarky emails and some information about what the hell is up with him.

And after this is over, if he continues to be difficult to work with, at that point you might consider talking to your or his manager about it. But I’d first try just being straightforward with him about it and see if that doesn’t resolve it.

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