May 25, 2024
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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I ordinarily write about fundraising, but my topic today applies across the board to all industries and raises a common dilemma faced by many. It also gives me an opportunity to address a workplace conundrum no matter the setting.

Have you ever had a co-worker who rubbed you the wrong way? Of course you have. Everyone likely has had at least one nemesis at work. And if you haven’t, then consider yourself one of the lucky few.

I wrestled with two such co-workers during my career, at different organizations—operatives who often went out of their way to make life difficult for me and others. Life and work are challenging enough. It’s no fun facing an adversary at work when your main objective is to do a good job.

Your hope, always, is that when you wake up in the morning it is with an air of anticipation coupled with optimism and eagerness to go to work. Working with contrarians goes against the grain. It’s like hitting the car accelerator and going nowhere fast because you didn’t turn on the engine.

Let me cite some examples of individuals who created workplace hurdles in two nonprofits in which I worked.

In the first organization, we were entering a new phase in our development—the advent of a major building expansion. The organizational structure needed beefing up; this individual was hired by the senior executive who created a junior executive position that ranked below mine, but who reported to the senior executive which, in and of itself, created awkward interpersonal relationships.

Here are examples of how this person created challenges. Within the organizational structure there were defined roles and responsibilities. Certain departments reported to the senior executive; others reported to me or to this new staff member. Suddenly department directors with whom I worked informed me that the junior executive was approaching them with requests to conduct their business in non-conventional ways.

Mind you, this individual had no experience in housekeeping and building services, but without thinking twice bypassed the administrator-in-charge and gave these directors instructions that didn’t make sense to anyone.

In another instance, with no qualifications concerning the subject matter, this person acted as a spokesperson with the media. In addition, the junior executive contradicted the senior executive at board meetings without having a grasp of the facts, making the administrative staff look foolish. There were many such instances, too many to recount in a short column.

So, what did we do? In general, we asked staff to send this person back to the administrator-in-charge when the urge to communicate “genius” advice came about. There were times when we confronted this individual in a tactful but assertive manner to get our point across. At others, the senior executive was informed so that he could take corrective action including disciplinary action. Human Resources was always involved at these times. The important thing was confronting the source of stress in a timely manner. You cannot let it fester.

Did it help? At times. But I am fond of a saying I once coined: “A chameleon may change colors, but a chameleon is still a chameleon.” As we say in Hebrew: “Hameivin yovin.”

At another organization, a key position opened in my department, and I recruited for that position. Over the years I interviewed hundreds of candidates for different positions and had an excellent record of hiring the right people for the right job. In this case, one individual had good credentials, but also a major failing. This person moved from one job to another in short periods of time. The reason, we were told, was that successive positions reflected upward mobility. But my gut instinct felt otherwise. Then both the senior executive and board members of the organization put on the “full court press” because this candidate had acquitted well in the various positions held. So, against my better judgment, I hired the person.

Can you spell b-a-c-k-s-t-a-b-b-e-r? Am I too harsh? Not really. At every turn and twist, this toxic individual would stealthily undermine my efforts. The manipulative employee was also a narcissist and wanted everyone to hear, “Norm couldn’t produce the same results, so why settle for less?” It wasn’t true but it became obvious that this person was pining for my job. What to do?

Ways I tackled this problem that were efficacious included being myself. If you can’t be true to yourself, don’t expect good results. Meet or exceed your financial goals. Send out informative missives to show what you are doing and how it benefits the organization. Schedule regular time with your boss to review progress, as well as inform board members and staff of your successes. Never vilify the saboteur. Don’t be bashful about your good work and always remain professional. A visit with HR is sometimes necessary to address the situation. Your job may be on the line.

Helen Keller is quoted as saying: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience on trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

So, I ask you, can’t we all just get along?


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than four decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected].

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