HomeAsk Patty: Aligning Process and Purpose

November 2016

Dear Patty,

I need your help!

My co-worker and I are NOT getting along. We’re on the same team, so have to work closely together almost daily. She is incredibly rude and confrontational, and is constantly ordering me around. She takes up a ton of space in meetings, and doesn’t take time to listen to our teammates before deciding what she thinks we should do next.

I’m so frustrated, but when I try to talk to her about it, it’s like we’re speaking different languages. For example, the other day I asked her, “Maybe you could consider listening to everyone at the table before speaking?” Do you know how she responded?! She said, “If people have something to say, they should say it.”

Help, please? Sincerely,

Quietly Frustrated

Dear Quietly Frustrated,

I’m just taking a guess here, but I have a feeling this conflict may be a matter of communication style. People typically fall into one of two camps: direct communicators and indirect communicators. One is no better than the other; both styles have their upsides.

It sounds like your co-worker is a direct communicator. Direct communicators speak up in meetings (“take up a lot of space”), feel comfortable using words like “should” and telling others what to do (“ordering me around”), and try to persuade others to adopt their viewpoint. Direct communicators can come off as brash and “rude.” Indirect communicators observe, ask questions, and make suggestions. They value relationship harmony and are adept at reading between the lines and understanding nonverbal cues. Indirect communicators can come off as weak and passive.

Here’s the thing — direct communicators are at risk of offending others (as your co-worker did with you), and therefore not benefiting from the wisdom of everyone in the group. Indirect communicators are also at risk — of not getting their point across clearly. The team then loses your contribution, because it wasn’t understood.

You and your co-worker could benefit by strengthening your skills in the other communication style; there is a time and a place for indirect AND direct communication skills. It may be helpful to ask your supervisor or your HR representative about the possibility of having a consultant come in to talk with the team about communication styles, the “communication loop,” and utilizing each person’s strengths to build a more effective team.

Good luck!


This column offers tips and tools for building democratic workplaces, improving workplace culture & communication, and aligning how we do our work (process) with why we do our work (purpose). Patty is a fictional adjunct of The Blue Door Group, LLC — a real Philadelphia-based consulting firm focused on designing and teaching participatory process for learning, dialogue, and capacity-building. Do you have a question for Patty? Send it to info@bluedoorgroup.net and put “Ask Patty” in the subject line.