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Originally published October 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 14, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Interpersonal Edge

Talk to co-worker about trust issues

Q: I have a co-worker who is paranoid. I ask her to a meeting and she thinks I'm trying to humiliate her. I compliment her and she asks...

Tribune Media Services

Q: I have a co-worker who is paranoid. I ask her to a meeting and she thinks I'm trying to humiliate her. I compliment her and she asks what I want. How can I work effectively with someone who thinks I'm out to get her?

A: Your intentions have nothing to do with how other people react to you. Your co-worker has decided, based on her perceptions of you, that you are not to be trusted. Unless you find out what those experiences are, you're stuck with her suspicious reactions.

When I'm working inside of companies coaching people, I'm surprised how often my clients decide other people should not be upset with them because they haven't meant to harm anyone. It's easy to get stuck viewing the world through our eyes and not realize how what we say or do has been perceived by those around us.

Start by skipping the part where most of us get huffy because somebody else has misunderstood our good intentions. Notice that when a co-worker doesn't hear us accurately it's tempting to automatically say, "Wait, you misunderstood me." Notice that it works much better simply to change that statement to, "Wait, I don't think I was clear about what I said."

Now move into information gathering. Ask your co-worker to meet with you informally in a neutral location. Tell her you realize in the past you must have done and said things that haven't earned her trust. Ask her to tell you about her perceptions, listen, keep your body language calm, paraphrase and don't argue.

Now ask your co-worker what you would do and say that would help earn her trust. Listen and paraphrase.

Realize your co-worker is going to give you her recipe for a "trusting" work relationship. Realize you and she may have entirely different recipes for what creates trust at work. Arguing about whose recipe is right is far less effective than learning about your co-worker's recipe and implementing what you learn.

None of us would debate the merits of speaking Spanish to someone who prefers that language, but many of us will debate the merits of using behavior and words that click for a co-worker.

Keep in mind your co-worker is not saying your recipe for trust is bad or wrong. However, one person's safety blanket may just threaten suffocation to someone else.

The last word(s)

Q: I drank too much at a company picnic and kissed a cute co-worker. Can I pretend it didn't happen?

A: Nope, but you can acknowledge it and re-establish a boundary with your co-worker.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at interpersonaledge@comcast.net or www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. For more columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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