Q: The woman who sits in the next cubicle has little red spots on her hands. I didn't think anything of it until I remembered that they had discovered bedbugs at a local elementary school. I looked up bedbugs on the internet and they look exactly like the blotches on my co-worker's hands.
My co-worker hands me papers all day long and I don't know what to do. If she has bedbugs, I'll catch them.
I want to share my concerns with my manager but he tends to blab when any employee talks to him about another. What if he tells my co-worker what I've said and she doesn't have bedbugs and feels insulted? We work together in a small office and I don't want to make things awkward.
Is there any way to do this without having me be the one to mention it?
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A: If you want your manager to keep your concern confidential, let him know that you only feel comfortable talking with him about a potential issue if he agrees to keep what you say private. Even chatty managers generally keep confidences when they've given their word.
If he agrees, let him know that you have concerns for his and every co-worker's health. Bedbugs jump. Suggest he take his own look at your co-worker's hands. If she has bedbugs, he needs to arrange for the entire office to be sprayed, vacuumed and cleaned.
If you can't trust your manager, approach your co-worker yourself, but don't ask if she has bedbugs. Let her know you've noticed her hands and wonder how she's doing because the blotches look painful. By expressing concern, you may learn what you need to know.
Two weeks ago, I met a woman at the gym who had bedbug bites but didn't realize what she had. I handled it by saying, "that looks like a painful rash."
When the woman said, "It just started and I haven't had a chance to get to the doctor," I let her know we have bedbugs locally. She gasped and said, "Oh my, thanks."
Although your co-worker may simply have a rash and not bedbug bites, you can't ignore this situation. Retailers Nike and Abercrombie & Fitch recently shut down two New York locations because of bedbug infestation. The Empire State Building, radio disc jockey Howard Stern and the Brooklyn district attorney's office all cried uncle when bedbugs took hold.
Offices infested with bedbugs show obvious signs, from co-workers itching to telltale brownish or reddish spots on furniture seams and upholstery. Bedbugs often inhabit electrical sockets, surge protectors, picture frames and find excellent hiding spots in cluttered offices and storage spaces.
In other words, you, your co-worker and your manager may all have a problem on your hands.
Q: Our company selected nine of us to represent our individual divisions in a companywide restructuring project and named me to chair the meetings.
Initially I felt honored, but I'm now totally embarrassed. Our committee is a mess and we've accomplished nothing in three long meetings.
We're nine very bull-headed individuals and the meetings degenerate quickly into shouting matches. We had one aborted team-building session that was a total joke. Can you help?
A: Few committees that include multiple strong-willed people function smoothly without initial work. Predictably, these committees "storm" before they "perform."
Instead of another team-building session, I'd suggest you have a committee work session in which you discuss how to fight fairly, agree on the expectations you hold for all committee members and then come to agreement on the goal that unites you.
To make this meeting effective, you either need a referee chairman who can keep member egos in check or an external facilitator.
In a construction company in which partner meetings had formerly degenerated, we held this type of meeting. The five partners agreed on six meeting guidelines including, "We'll make decisions in the best interest of our company" and, "When any two of us disagree on a strategy, we each probably think we're right so we'll let the most neutral individual on the team facilitate a discussion that pinpoints the stumbling blocks and reviews key issues one at a time in relationship to our goal."
Since that initial bruising meeting, partner conflict dropped and the partners now rotate meeting chairmanship among the three senior partners.
As chairman, you need to hold your committee members to complying with the guidelines. Predictably, one or two members "forget" the guidelines, but after you've called them out personally and as the committee begins to effectively function, conflict decreases to a manageable level. Good luck!
* Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.