columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I recently switched departments, and I feel a little insane. The woman who is training me for this new role has the same title I do and is my peer. She is very good at her job overall (customer support), but struggles with some basic administrative competencies such as computer literacy. She told me last week that she feels intimidated by me and that she sees me in our manager's role some day.

My concern is that I suspect that she changes details that I enter in our databases and spreadsheets. I am a gifted administrator, and the type of mistakes that she finds in shared documents and databases are not mistakes I would make (such as entering incorrect dates or forgetting to save changes). She talks to me about these "mistakes" at length, explaining how important it is for me to follow her instructions exactly. The mistakes she finds make me look incompetent.

If this happened once a week, I might believe that I had simply made a mistake, but they happen every day. Frankly, this job is extremely easy compared with other admin roles I have had in the past, so the volume of mistakes I am confronted with by this one co-worker is unbelievable.

The only motivation I can imagine would be if she is concerned about her status on the team now that there are two people with her job title. I am not sure if there is a way I can prove that I am not making the mistakes she finds, but I am concerned my new manager does not trust my competency when my co-worker presents evidence of my incompetence every day. I also have no idea how to talk about my suspicions without sounding nuts.

Is it possible I am actually making a hundred little mistakes? Is it possible she is creating these mistakes? I have no idea what to do.

Green responds:

I see three possibilities: You are indeed making more mistakes than you think, or she's sabotaging you (if so, probably for the reasons you suspect), or there's some technical thing going on, like you're not saving things correctly or something else.

I do think it's possible that you're making more mistakes than you think you are. Especially in a new job and with a new system, it's possible that things that would be normal muscle memory in your old job (like saving changes) aren't yet second nature to you here. And who knows, maybe fields are in a different order than you're used to and you're entering information incorrectly at times. It's possible.

So first, I'd try to be really open-minded about the possibility that that could be happening. Take the feedback seriously, scrutinize what you're going that could be causing it, and take whatever steps you'd take if you had no reason to doubt the corrections.

But ... I wonder if there's a way to build in a check on both of you. For example, is there a way for you to make a copy of your work -- such as by exporting a file of all the data entry and record changes you made that day? Or even a sampling of them? Can you save your own copies of documents locally? That way, when your co-worker brings you mistakes that you made, you can check your own copy of your work and see if it matches up.

If it matches, well, problem solved -- you make more mistakes than you think you do. You certainly wouldn't be the only one; it's not an uncommon thing.

But if it doesn't match, then you know something's going on. In that case, you could say this to your co-worker: "I'm worried that something's going on that's causing my work to be saved incorrectly or get changed after I'm finishing with it. I made a local copy of this spreadsheet when I was done with it so that I could consult it for X purpose, and the error you found isn't in my copy. Do you think I should talk to IT about this?" (And speaking of IT, they may be able to see who last changed a record, which could be quite useful here.)

Or, depending on your sense of your co-worker and your manager, it might make more sense at that point to go straight to your manager about what's going on. If you did that, you could say: "I have an awkward situation that I'm hoping to get your advice on. Jane has been checking my work and bringing a number of mistakes to me that seemed out of sync with what I remembered doing. I saved a few copies of my work locally so that I could compare them with her versions, and I've found that the mistakes she's showing me aren't in the versions I made. I can show you examples if you'd like and I imagine that IT could confirm what updates were made by me versus someone else, but I'm concerned that Jane may be adding these mistakes as some kind of training strategy or ... well, I don't know why else! But it concerns me that it may be reflecting on how you see my work, so I'd like to get to the bottom of it."

Note that that's not "Jane is sabotaging me!" It's "this weird thing is happening and I want to make you aware of it and get your advice." But even with that framing, ugh, it still has the potential for a lot of drama.

So if you think just talking to Jane might be enough to solve it, I'd start there. Of course, then you'd still have to worry about whether she'd find some other way to undermine you, so you'd want to keep your eyes wide open for that.

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