Clashes with a colleague

It's been the second time in a fortnight that I've had a clash with a colleague, and yesterday, as she was giving vent to her rage, I realised that it was not just a fit of the moment. Twice in such a short time is not normal, and I'm all the more surprised because I considered our relationship serene. However, the things she said revealed an unease she had brooded over and had probably repressed until it burst out. I'd like her to regret reproaching me things on the spur of her anger, but I am afraid that the rift between us is rather deep seated.

On both occasions the motive was trifling, or rather the excuse was blown out of proportion by a touchy self.

One day she took the initiative to have signs stuck on the corridor walls to direct the public to an office that in her opinion was not easy to find. As her desk is next to the stairs, she complained people kept disturbing her to ask for directions.

I've always hated makeshift signs that cover tellers and windows, and as a department manager I was not to stand them, so I asked her to please remove them. I explained that there is an internal signing system with arrows from every access point, and if anyone is at fault it is the visitors who don't read the existing indications. Besides, if every member of staff should consider the official signs insufficient and added their own, there would be a jungle of arrows.

She took it personally and reacted badly, accusing me of not being "flexible" enough. I didn't respond to her aggressive tone, but asked her to calm down first and only then we would talk it over in a civilised way. A few hours later extra signs made an appearance in nice frames stuck on the wall thanks to the intervention of the communication department that she had called in. Even if I still didn't deem them necessary, I accepted them for the sake of peace.

I thought that was it, but the grudge against me was only smouldering, and I realised that yesterday. She had sent out an email with a link to our website to promote a service we were offering. In my opinion that didn't make people eager to find out more, so in a private reply message I tactfully advised her to be more detailed the next time. She rushed into my office and with a deeply offended tone of voice she asked for a clarification.

The reason for her being upset was she had taken the initiative in replacement of a colleague who had neglected carrying out all the tasks, something I ignored. She believed she had done more than her due and I was harassing her. I could have accepted the explanation – although my remark, which was not a reproach, remained valid all the same to whoever was concerned.

Like in the first row she just aggressed me instead of establishing a peaceful dialogue and she went on to complain that every initiative she took was thwarted by reactionary people like me who didn't value the efforts she took. It was all tinted with the colours of class struggle, instead of constructive criticism in the frame of a team work mentality. Her tone of voice and her motives were really annoying, and I made an effort to overcome my reaction and keep the dialogue door open. But she meant to hurt and accused me of greeting her only occasionally and seldom informing her of my whereabouts; besides I was aloof and unfriendly. Sad words, spoken under the effect of a tantrum.

I earnestly asked myself if that was founded criticism. I share my work diary with all co-workers because I don't like secrecy and in order to avoid having to inform everybody verbally. True, I am more extrovert with people who are friendly with me. Now, both of us like to keep to ourselves, but I've always put our dry relationship down to each other's reserved nature, never imagining she took exception. Besides, we had had occasion to share some friendly moments.

But surely I have a right to be "aloof" with colleagues, if that was not already a trait of my character? Her accusations had been tactless and exaggerated – now it was I who had a right to feel hurt.

Later in the day we discussed at length and she got emotional, a sign that her passionate vehemence carried her away. I really didn't expect her to come to wish me a happy Easter on Friday, but she did. If I have to be true, I was not going to do it. These days I am behaving as if nothing had happened, but I'm not relaxed and feel that her fault-finding stance stands at the antipodes of the friendly collaboration I had strived for. She will always see me as the boss and herself as the misunderstood employee, like it happened with her former bosses.