Dear Jody: Coworker conundrum

Q: Last week my boss announced that I was picked as the project leader for managing a new project at work. It is the biggest project I have ever been given, and I want to impress my boss and let him know that I can handle this extensive project. My goal is to do an excellent job in a timely manner. I want to make sure he sees me handling everything well and trusts that I don't need anyone to watch over my shoulder. It is also important that he sees me as competent when working with and managing others. This feels like such an important time for me at this company. It could either make or break my career.

The project involves working with two other people. One person I will be working with is "Karen." She is very active in a church that is part of the religious right. As it is now, Karen and I just pretty much ignore each other. When I first came to work, she and I enjoyed each other until she found out who I love. Then she told me that, in good conscience, she couldn't talk to me or have anything to do with me. Now she pretty much just plays as if I don't exist.

I don't know how I am going to get this project completed with her on the team. We have six months to finalize this project so we will be working together off and on for an extended period of time. She has the power to destroy me by ruining the project or not doing her part to get it completed. Each person on the project was chosen (by my boss) because of special skills they have that are needed to complete the project.

I held our first meeting today to explain the project and our roles in it. Karen basically filed her nails and ignored what I was saying. She wasn't rude or anything, she just ignored me. "Jim" (the other person on my team) didn't know what was going on; he tried to make jokes and bring us together, but it didn't work. He walked away pretty confused. I don't know him all that well so I didn't try to explain anything.

I am out to most everyone in our office, and it has never affected my work before; no one but Karen seems to care. I'm not sure if my boss knows or not, but my guess is that he does.

Jody, what do you think I should do? Should I confront Karen, just ignore her and hope I can get the project done without her, or tell my boss what is going on? Please answer quickly as I need to decide how to handle this in the next couple weeks.

Career on the Line

A: I don't agree with you that Karen wasn't being rude to you when she ignored you in a meeting and filed her nails. Start off by sitting down and talking with Karen. Let her know that it doesn't matter whether she approves of you or not, and that this project's success or failure will affect her career as well as Jim's and yours. Let her know that you aren't asking her to be your friend, only to work with you as a colleague on a project that has been assigned by your boss. Find out if she is willing to be a contributing, enthusiastic member of the team. If not, let her know that you will be looking to have her replaced.

If you don't have the ability to replace Karen and she hasn't changed her attitude, talk to your boss about what is going on between you and Karen, letting him know the problem you see working with her. Make sure you stay calm, on point, factual and have suggestions as to who might be a good replacement for Karen.

For tips on how to deal with difficult co-workers, go to Dear Jody Valley on Facebook.

Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. Reach Jody at The "Dear Jody" column appears weekly.
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