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My colleague and I were hired at the same time, for the same position some months ago. Now we're getting a new office room, with the possibility of setting up our desks and furniture. I did ask her what she thinks about it, how she would place it and then disclosed my thoughts about it. She rejected all of my proposals and insists on getting the desk at the window, while I should sit in the dark corner, with the door at my back. This is not acceptable to me, as there is a chance that I may keep this spot for the next 20 years until she retires. Therefore I got a little furious and told her that either she'll sit there or we will rearrange the desks completely - at which she told me that I'm rude and at my age she would never contradict an older person in the companies she worked as she was an apprentice.

She is about 20 years older than me and worked for other companies in the past, while this is my first job since I finished my masters degree. She is not superior in any other way, by degree or company structure.

So the Question: Should I give way to her wishes every time just because she is older than me?

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    Is there a way of arranging the desks so both are reasonable, or is it always going to be a case of one good desk, one bad desk? – thelem Jan 26 '18 at 10:29
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    @thelem I'd like to turn the desks around, so that one has the window in their back, but neither of us the door. But she wouldn't accept it as the sun might shine on the screen in summer (even if it was my screen and there're blinds on the window... we could also separate both desks and arrange them independently even if there is not so much space. But she insisted on the proposal from a drawing by the furniture company.... – Kinaeh Jan 26 '18 at 10:43
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    Have you considered that you might have to work with someone who demands respect and the best reason they can come up with is “age“ for 20 yrs? that is the real problem. – DonQuiKong Jan 26 '18 at 15:22
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    @xLeitix: also, the inverse question should be considered. OP says, they're freshly graduated and the colleague has considerable work experience, so: OP, are you sure the colleague isn't considered senior to you (yes, within the same position)? – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 27 '18 at 15:50
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    I agree to not having the door in the back. More to the point, DGUV Information 215-441 Büroraumplanung asks to avoid this. OTOH, neither the window in front nor back is acceptable for screen workplaces due to blinding and reflections. Blinds are an acceptable solution if they are needed occasionally, but looking outside the window is important as well. See [DGUV 215-410 DGUV Information 215-410 215-410 ](publikationen.dguv.de/dguv/pdf/10002/215-410.pdf), so there your colleague is right: screens should be 90° to the window. – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 27 '18 at 16:45
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Not when it puts you at a disadvantage that could easily be avoided. The space in your office should be used in the best way to give everyone the best desk space possible. If the current layout doesn't do that, and there is no reason not to change it, then you change it.

If she insists that nothing gets moved then obviously you insist on the window desk. (There's an old interview question / puzzle how to arrange things in the fairest possible way between two people with a simple solution: One arranges the desks, the other picks the desk they want afterwards. If she insists on the arrangement of the desks, then you pick).

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    This is the cut and choose algorithm, It has a long history: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divide_and_choose – bob0the0mighty Jan 26 '18 at 16:02
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    One splits one pick does not always work. If a person thinks that she is entitled to a better pick, then this technique would put her at disadvantage = if the picks end up being equal, or if it is not easy to define "better" as there may be several aspects. I've had this issue come up IRL. – Andrew Savinykh Jan 27 '18 at 3:23
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    This is also a well-known conflict-avoiding strategy in Germany (as the question is tagged Germany). (though it does have a kindergarden flavour - so I'd be slightly careful in an already heated situation.) – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 27 '18 at 14:51
  • @AndrewSavinykh if that is the case, then have OP split, then she still gets the better pick – Stephen S Jan 28 '18 at 14:23
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No, you shouldn't

Depending on the local/company culture sometimes seniority (in the sense of length of service at the company) can justifiably earn you some level of deference or "perks" but simply being older should not (nor should someone be treated worse because they are older).

While it might be tempting to give in to her position "just this once" I strongly advise against it or worse then just spending the next 20 years sitting in the dark corner you'll be spending those 20 years doing everything her way!

  • "seniority (in the sense of length of service at the company)" -- the author clearly mentions they were hired at the same time, so their length of service is the same. The difference is age. – emp12203 Jan 29 '18 at 16:47
  • Seniority in terms of length of employment is a very valid term. It is a good general point to make for others in a similar, but inexact situation. – Tyler S. Loeper Nov 2 '18 at 18:22
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I'm getting sense from "Therefore I got a little furious and told her that either she'll sit there or we will rearrange the desks completely - at which she told me that I'm rude" that she heard some angry demands and responded with angry demands. Essentially, she fought fire with fire, and now you're both burnt.

My general rule is if I tell someone to do something, they get the right to tell me to go fly a kite with a hole in it. If I ask them how we can work together to fix the problem, they are obligated by norms of professionalism to attempt to find a solution.

Given that she has significantly more life experience than you, you might want to change your language a bit when working with her. Instead speaking to fairness, tell her why the arrangement of the dark corner with the back to door makes you uncomfortable. Ask her if she'd be willing to brainstorm a solution that will allow her to have some sunlight while allowing you to have peace of mind and enough working light. She may already have a solution in mind, but is holding back due to a burnt ego - if you approach her with a certain level of respect, she may relent.

If there's no solution to this, you might have to work your way up the chain of command. Honestly, if the office space really won't work for two people, they shouldn't put two people in there. If the space demands that one desk must always be shrouded in darkness, it doesn't sound like an acceptable two-person workspace to me.

All this being said, I'd like to point out that, while I'm sure there may be a possibility that you'll be corner for 20 years as you suggest, I'd say that possibility is small. People leave jobs (or get promoted!) all the time. Offices expand and contract. Buildings get built, torn down, rearranged, bought and sold all the time. Open offices become a thing. Remote working becomes a thing. Someone could decide to move across the country for reasons completely beyond your control. YOU could decide to move across the country for reasons completely within your control.

My point is: try not to treat this as such a big deal - the arrangement may only end up lasting a year or so, and if you insist on having an angry fallout over it, you will have wasted a lot of professional capital just to cause her to dig her heels in as hard as she could.

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    I think this is the best approach to the poster's actual problem (i.e. how to get a decent seat). Unfortunately they didn't actually ask for a solution, just confirmation of the General Life Principle that they already had in mind... – MJ713 Jan 26 '18 at 20:58
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    I totally understand that I was too harsh at demanding. It made me so upset that anything I said about rearranging or switching places got declined by her in a second. But in my company things seem not to change very often as long as no one quits. And both of us plan to stay there as we have both have families here and like the company and our jobs... I‘ll try to use a more appropriate language with her. It‘s maybe just my lack of social skills and the fact that my husband is 20 years older than me and so most of our friends which causes my respect for elder people start at about 60 years... – Kinaeh Jan 27 '18 at 9:07
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    @cbeleites We got a plan for the office with a proposal for the desks. For me this was not a good plan because of the ‚unfair‘ distribution. So I asked her what she thinks about it because I really thought she has the same opinion and we can find a better placing together. She did not thought about it yet (which she told me later) but insisted on the plan and the distribution of the desks according to our current arrangement (she left and me right - coincidentally her place is the better...) – Kinaeh Jan 28 '18 at 10:33
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    @kinaeh I would come at this with the approach of "hey, I'm not interested in 'winning' the best spot here, my problem is that this spot is both dark and discomforting. This proposal is only a proposal: they don't know what it's actually like to work in this room. Let's work together on a solution. I'll order the curtains for you if you help me out here." – LeLetter Jan 29 '18 at 22:01
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    also I'd say that she's lacking in social skills if she's so insistent on the proposed arrangement which clearly isn't working for all interested parties. But don't tell her I said that. – LeLetter Jan 29 '18 at 22:05
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You said

at the same time, for the same position

so age is completely out of the matter here: if you were an apprentice (as she said) and she weren't, then you you wouldn't be in the same position (as you said).

So my suggestion is to stand your ground. If both of you can not stay next to the window, try to make it so that none of you stay next to the window.

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    Note that in this particular case (difficult light) age may actually be relevant as it could have a bigger impact on older employees. I am not saying the asker should give up, but in fact age may matter. Of course only if she chooses to play that card which she did not appear to have done yet. – Dennis Jaheruddin Jan 26 '18 at 14:56
  • As we assume as true what the question author says, they are at the same rank. Given that, I don't see why age should make a difference. I agree it would if the difference of age also caused a difference of rank, but it's not the case here. Also, they were hired at the same time, so the collegue could be "older" but certainly not "elder" in company terms. – Markino Jan 26 '18 at 16:14
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    20 years of work experience vs. freshly graduated can IMHO make a difference - regardless of whether the position has the same name and they share the same tasks. @DennisJaheruddin OTOH, the lighting conditions described by OP for their proposal would be considered unacceptable by the occupational safety standards regardless of age. – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 27 '18 at 15:43
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    @cbeleites "20 years of work experience" might allow you to do a better work but does not give you better/higher/stronger/superior rights to demand a place near the window. Also your statement "conditions described by OP for their proposal would be considered unacceptable by the occupational safety standards" must be documented by official company policy. – Markino Jan 29 '18 at 7:55
  • @Markino: I agree, both of them have the right to proper working conditions (as do apprentices). For links to relevant working condition standards please see the links in my comment to the question. There's no company policy involved, DGUV standards apply to all employers in Germany. [However "door in the back" is only "should be avoided" whereas proper lighting for screen work is a must]. The advise to stand their ground would apply to both, which doesn't lead to a solution... Instead, they (ideally together) should ask the employer to find proper working conditions for both. – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 31 '18 at 12:41
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Don't confuse respectfulness with assertiveness. The two are not in conflict with each other, and you don't drop one to use the other.

  • Always be respectful to someone who is older than you even if that respect is not returned. This is part of being professional.
  • She is older than you. So you ask her what she would like first. This is respectful of her age.
  • After she shares what she wants. You share what you want.
  • Allow her to speak freely of what she wants. Do not interrupt and just listen.
  • Listen for how she feels. If she states what she wants without explaining her feelings for that, then ask her how that makes her feel. This is respectful because you're showing interest in her feelings and not the issue. When you demonstrate that you are listening to how a person feels it disarms the conflict.
  • Respond by repeating what she said and repeat how it makes her feel. Now repeat what you want and how that makes you feel.
  • Let her respond. Do not respond to any escalation. Do not argue with her.
  • Respond by repeating what she said and repeat how it makes her feel. Now repeat what you want and how that makes you feel.
  • Let her respond. Do not respond to any escalation. Do not argue with her.
  • Respond by repeating what she said and repeat how it makes her feel. Now repeat what you want and how that makes you feel.

You keep repeating the above process like a broken record. This is how to be assertive without conflict. She might get angry that you are being assertive. Her feelings are her own. You can not control how someone else feels.

The key here is to keep repeating until the conflict is resolved. She may attempt to make you feel guilty, ashamed or angry. This is how people often respond when others are being assertive. You have to simply endure it and keep repeating what you want.

It might sound like a pain, but often what happens is the other person discovers that you are an assertive person. They often drop the dominant attitude in future conflicts, because they know you will assert what you want.

Always be respectful to her and keep asserting what you want.

Showing someone older respect is the foundation of being respectful.

Being assertive should never come at the cost of respect.

I hope that you both find an equally fair way to share the same room and window. The key is to find a solution together.

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    I'd like to add that it's part of being professional to be respectful to people regardless of their age or your age. – Jase Jan 28 '18 at 5:54
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An aspect of this issue has been ignored. Someone walks in to get help on a problem. They basically see only one person, the one with a face. Who likes to talk to the back of a head. You'll always lose in that situation.

A rough example of this: when I was in grade school, I discovered to late, that the teacher judged attendance based on their recognizing you raised your hand. When report card time came, I got a failing grade for being absent too often or for cutting class.

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Propose to her the age-old technique used when two children must split a single piece of birthday cake. One cuts, the other chooses.

That is, say to her: "We're getting nowhere with this. How about if you describe two possibilities, and then I will pick mine. Or, if that doesn't work for you, I can describe two possibilities, and you can pick yours."

You can introduce this concept to her with a made-up story about two children who were fighting over cake, and how the inherent fairness of the approach quickly got them to stop screaming at each other.

If she doesn't agree to this, then you are justified in saying "Looks like we have a fundamental disagreement here. I don't see any alternative but to escalate this to our boss, which will make us both look bad." But this may not be a wise path because it could anger her or, worse yet, your boss may actually say that she is senior and gets to decide. So I'd really work on getting her to agree to the cake-cutting method.

  • By the way, the two possibilities could include things like trading desks every six months. – Iron Pillow Sep 12 '18 at 17:39

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