Daneen Skube

Q. I have a coworker that is constantly bragging about something. Her kids are perfect, her husband walks on water, and her vacations are heaven. Is there any polite way to shut her up?

A. Yes, listen more closely to the message underneath the boasts of your coworker. In the workplace, we often get stuck in only listening to the top layer of a communication and we miss the real meaning.

People who make bragging a full-time hobby are desperate to attain the approval of others. Believe it or not, they feel so inferior that they think they need to be superhuman just to deserve anyone's attention.

We could all consider the kinds of childhoods, histories, and parenting styles that might have resulted in a person with this kind of a self-esteem black hole. We may then see that the behavior of your coworker is her attempt to gain some shred of value.

Understanding what is really going on with your insecure coworker doesn't mean you need to play full-time therapist to her full-time issues. Your best option is to generously offer her what she is looking for the minute she starts bragging.

You can say something like, "You have an amazing life, and must have done something right to have extraordinary kids, a soul mate husband, and vacations to heaven."

Let me give you an analogy about what I'm recommending you try with your coworker. Have you ever had a kid, cat or dog that was desperate to get your attention? You probably learned that if you smothered the kid, cat or dog with love they started to squirm to get away. If you only gave a slight pat, they continued to bug you.

By giving your coworker the message that you see she is special, extraordinary or gifted, she won't need to continue her campaign for your approval. You gave it, she got it, end of story.

Where the story gets stuck is if you share her need for approval. Then you may resent her neediness or righteously refuse to give her approval because you believe it would lessen your own value.

Realize it doesn't diminish your worth to give your coworker approval. If you decide she is so annoying there is no way you will compliment her then you sign up for her drenching you in future boasts.

In life and work, there's always a long line of people who want to be right. If you join that line then you won't give your coworker the emotional biscuit she's frantically seeking. There is always a short line of people who chose, instead, to be effective.

If your peace of mind is more important that strict accuracy, give your coworker her emotional biscuit. Otherwise, plan on suffering through many more long annoying stories.

The last word(s)

Q. Why do the people I work with make me so mad?

A. Because you're human.


Daneen Skube

Daneen Skube Ph.D. is director of Interpersonal Edge

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