Cindy Coe is one of the eight remaining finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. For Round 2, we asked: What is the biggest problem in today’s workplace, and how can it be solved?


If you’ve worked long enough, you’ve probably witnessed bad behavior that is rooted in insecurity. Perhaps a colleague blames a team member for a botched project despite her own role in it. Or a colleague reviews your proposal, and in the next staff meeting it has morphed into *his* proposal.

Today’s workplace is awash in insecurity. Not “Do these pants make me look fat?” insecurity. “Insecurity,” as in angst over one’s position in the company. Employees often see each other as rivals for shrinking opportunities, which erodes confidence and productivity. It’s hard to get much done when you think the guy in the next cubicle is plotting Workplace Domination.

After years of layoffs and bankruptcies, insecurity on the job shouldn’t come as a surprise. Some workers will do anything to avoid walking the plank – including undermining a colleague to look better in comparison. You could counter such mischief by resolving to get them before they get you. But do you really want to win the race to the bottom – and would you call that winning?

Cindy Coe

If a colleague’s insecurities are showing, try these strategies:

Look For Common Ground. Emphasize that you’re all in this together. Remind colleagues of the challenges your group has overcome, which will build confidence that you’ll survive the next one too.

Value Teamwork. Make clear that achievements of the team belong to the team. Colleagues will learn that they needn’t hoard ideas, and they won’t view the contributions of others as competition for the spotlight.

Discourage Shenanigans. Shut down destructive behavior. Gossip feeds insecurity, so move the conversation in a different direction or refuse to participate (“Jim probably didn’t mean for *that* to get around”).

And if you’re the boss? You’re in an ideal position to calm jitters. Be wary of self-serving reports and seek out the other side of the story. Squelch unfounded rumors about the company’s performance, but pass along soothing information when you can.

Even trustworthy and reliable colleagues can feel a bit queasy as the economy lurches along. When insecurity seeps out in the form of bad behavior, it’s best to address it. Silence often looks very much like agreement.


– thinking a turbulent economy needn’t result in a turbulent workplace

Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant

Read each contestant’s Round 2 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward


Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward

Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists

Leslie Anderson | Dean Buckley | Cindy Coe | Moira Forbes | Rachel Homer | Abbey Kos | Karla Miller | Nikki Stevens | Richard Wong | Michele Woodward