Face to Face or Texting
Q: The worst people to work with are those who refuse to learn. I just had a coworker waste 30 minutes of my time because she didn't like me texting her to get an answer on information I needed. Instead of her getting me the information, she walked into my office to ask if I had face-to-face communications problems because I always text her. I know what I wanted to say, but I was polite instead and defended myself for texting. I gave her every reason why I do not have interpersonal communication problems.
I like getting things done fast, and texting is the most convenient way to communicate. I don't like being interrupted with phone calls or office visits. I lose focus and it's easier to make mistakes. I can ignore a phone call and answer it later, but stopping in is the worst. I pointed out to her that people keep their cell phones on their desks for that purpose. You can answer when it's a good breaking point and you can respond immediately if you see something's an emergency. Texting respects people's time, even if it's a note asking for a time to meet. I might have gotten a little rude by the end of my defense.
I could tell she was irritated at my responding with my opinion, but I know I'm right. I could have said so much more, but I thought I said enough to drive the point home.
My problem is two-fold. Do I have to apologize for being a bit forceful? I was opinionated, which is not typical for me, but sometimes I'm short on tolerance with people I don't really like. She had interrupted me, so I dished it back. What am I supposed to do?
A: Your reasons for texting are good ones. But she may have her own reasons for coming to your office. She may lack social skills and accusing you of communication problems may have been an awkward attempt to satisfy her need for verbal contact. Regardless of the amount of work the two of you have, people have different social needs, and yours may be less than hers. She may also think you're texting to avoid her and not because you want to save time. Of course, it may also be that she sees her opinions as more important than yours, in which case your explaining why you prefer texting is not going to break through her facade.
The same words and actions can have very different meanings to different people, which is why clear communication is difficult to achieve within an office. Try a different approach with your methods. Though you think your text messages are clear and concise, she may not interpret them to include the message of "do not disturb." It's important to treat your co-workers equally, since no one likes to feel singled out for particular treatment. The next time you need total concentration to get your work done, close your door, posting on it a friendly note of "working under deadline" or "need total focus for the next hour." A friendly but serious message tells all your coworkers, not just one in particular, that you need temporary silence. If you have questions for a coworker, text the same message that's on your door and then follow it with your question.
If she still goes against your wishes, you'll know she's insensitive to your requests and you won't need to worry about whether your stern work attitude has offended her. You may even feel more comfortable taking the problem to your boss. Giving her a direct dose of her own behavior may temporarily satisfy you, but could eventually lead to a scene you won't want to be part of.
Another option is to try to be more tolerant. Her behavior may not change, but changing your attitude could reduce your stress and irritation, thereby making your day at work a better one.
Email career and life coach: Lindsey@LindseyNovak.com with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.