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The Instigator Coworker


David from New Jersey wrote:

“Last week we had our annual company picnic. Everybody always really enjoys them and appreciates them. The company picks up the tab for everything, and even brings in entertainment. This year, though, Allan (not his real name) began circulating a petition saying that, because it is a company event, we should be paid for the time we spend at it. He got everyone so riled up that we just got a memo telling us that there would be no more company picnics. The thing is, everyone was fine until he decided this should be an issue. He’s done this on several other things too. We’re all getting annoyed, and management is painting us all with the same brush…”

Instigators. People who just don’t seem to be happy unless there’s some sort of drama in the workplace. They’re more than just complainers – instigators are action-takers. They have a compulsion to try and get everyone else involved in their crusades. And while their drive and perseverance are admirable, their obsessions can often be counterproductive to the rest of the team. If you have an instigator who is forcing his (her) own agendas in the workplace, here are two important things to do:

  1. Let your boss know your position. If you don’t agree with the instigator’s issue, or the way he is going about it, make sure you and your coworkers tell your bosses. Squeaky wheels do get the attention, and if you don’t speak up, your boss is likely to assume that everyone else feels the same way. This also ensures that you don’t get painted with the same brush, should the issue have negative consequences.

  2. If you don’t agree with the instigator’s position, tell him. He will be less aggressive in his approach if he knows he doesn’t have complete support. Most people don’t confront instigators, they just complain about them behind their back. You don’t have to be nasty about it – just make your feelings clear.

In many ways, as a coworker, you actually have more control over this person’s actions than if you were his boss. You can say some things a boss can’t (or shouldn’t) say. You also often have a better feel for how this person’s actions are effecting others in the team. Don’t be afraid to take action to ensure that you maintain a positive work environment.

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