How to Handle Bad Co-Workers of the Anti-Mask and Boyfriend Varieties

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Dangerous Denial

I am the on-site manager and co-owner of a public-facing small business. Since reopening, we’ve followed strict guidelines of mandatory masks, social distancing, temperature checks at the door. Any sound suggestion by scientists is taken seriously by me and *most* of the staff. But I have one employee who thinks it’s a hoax. She has begrudgingly followed our protocols but puts up an argument every time we add a restriction. We are all so weary.

Today I snapped and said “Hey! Knock it off!” I feel terrible. I know better. I did apologize, but how can we move forward? She is our best employee, clients adore her, and I’ve invested a lot in her. Do I cut my losses and just let her go? Do more educational training with her?

— Teri, Atlanta

I never want to advocate for someone losing their job, especially in this economy. But your employee’s beliefs are dangerous. She may not believe in Covid-19, but it certainly believes in her and everyone she comes into contact with. Anyone who refuses to believe in science cannot be educated or trained so I am not sure your time or resources would be well spent in doing more training with her.

You’re the boss, so make your expectations clear. She is entitled to her beliefs but when she is at work, she must comply with whatever health protocols you put in place. If she chooses not to comply, it’s time to end her employment. You don’t want to expose your customers, other employees or yourself to the virus or such toxic ignorance.

(Not So) Good Boyfriend, but Worse Co-worker

I am a 28-year-old copywriter recovering from seven months of unemployment. My partner and I moved into my parents’ house while I waited to find full-time work. We are both working from my parents’ home. My partner is having a tougher time adjusting. His job is stressful. He works long hours. He would never admit it, but he thinks his job is more important than mine. We work in the same room and when we have dual meetings, I’m the one that has to relocate.

Essentially what I’ve realized — through his aversion to wearing headphones during meetings, his lunch-hour workouts (also sans headphones) directly behind my desk while I’m working, and the way he burdens me with the weight of his dislike of our current living situation — is that my partner is an awful co-worker.

Our arguments are heated and pushing us farther apart. This makes my relationship sound like a complete failure. I love my partner very much. He’s my best friend. He’s just hard to work with. And that difficulty is bleeding into the rest of our lives because there are no boundaries anymore.

What do I do? How do I save my work life so I can save my love life?

— Anonymous, Seattle

So many advice questions can be easily answered by telling a woman, “Get rid of the man.” Your partner is not an awful co-worker. He is an awful partner. He is inconsiderate, selfish and ungrateful. The refusal to wear headphones alone. I cannot. Girl! Kick him to the curb.

You clearly love this man, though it seems like you are putting far more thought into protecting your relationship than he is.

He is not hard to work with. He is hard to live with. And it breaks my heart that you’re asking this question, that you’re trying to figure out what you can do to make him a better person.

I would have a serious conversation with him. Tell him what you need to be more comfortable sharing a work space and a life. Tell him to wear his damn headphones. And share how it makes you feel that he prioritizes his work and his comfort over yours.

If he doesn’t like living with your parents, rent-free, he is welcome to find an apartment of his own. Plenty of couples live apart and thrive while doing so. Relationships are being tested this year. We are spending incredible amounts of time with our partners and, in some cases, children. For some of us, this intense proximity is a gift and for others, a curse.

I hope your relationship survives these circumstances but only if your partner treats you like an equal, with respect and consideration and kindness. If he is incapable of these things, please, please find someone who is. You deserve the gift.

Help! I’m a Jerk but I Don’t Want to Be

I have a problem, and it is me. I have always been opinionated, compulsively sharing unfiltered truths.

The problem comes in my various board and volunteer roles. I approach these meetings as though I’m trying to stick it to the man. In a meeting, I said, “Since it seems I’m the only person in the room who has closely read the budget, I want to say that this proposal will add a position at a time when our organization is in crisis and there is no plan to pay for it.”

It was all true, and a year or so later, the organization did face a financial crisis that resulted in furloughs and layoffs. I was right. However, everyone thinks I’m an ass, even if I’m an ass who read the budget and told the truth.

I need help with managing my reaction to a feeling that there is a truth not being shared, and communicating the truth that will be helpful to the decision-making process in a way that doesn’t point out that I’ve done work that other people haven’t. How can I create consequences and/or incentives to help me do this?

— Julie, Baltimore

I love being right. It’s a great feeling. You clearly enjoy that feeling too. While there is nothing wrong with confidence and competence, there is something wrong with constantly feeling the need to demonstrate superiority at the expense of others. I urge you to divest yourself from liking being right more than doing the right thing or being collegial. There are ways to point out truths that don’t involve shaming people dedicated to a common, admirable goal. It’s called diplomacy! Try it!

If it’s clear other people didn’t do the proverbial reading, it is not your job to point that out. Their lack of preparation will absolutely speak for itself.

So many people valorize themselves as truth-tellers when really, they’re just jerks. Don’t be a jerk. You’re not a bad person. You’re just human. And, fortunately, self-aware. Now you need to extend that self-awareness into self-control. The consequences of your behavior are clear. Your reputation has already been harmed. If you don’t change, you will alienate people with whom you should be allied.

You are accomplished and talented but you are not the only person in Baltimore with your skill set. It would behoove you to remember that and to care about the dignity of others or soon, you will be all alone, prepared, intelligent, full of truth, with no one to tell it to.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].

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