Editor's note: Inc.com 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 writes:
I'm preparing for my yearly evaluation with my boss in two months, and I'm worrying about some issues I want to bring up. Our department is small, with only four positions. The budget person in our office is controlling and has made my life difficult these past few months. My boss is kind, but this work colleague (she's a peer, and I'll call her Jane) does sway her decisions quite a bit since they have worked together the past 10 years.
One of the worst things that have happened concerns my purchasing duties in the office. I was approached by my boss for a meeting to take away these duties due to Jane's concerns. I was not doing the purchasing incorrectly, but Jane did not like my filing system (which I was never approached about). Since Jane was going through a death in the family at the time, my boss asked me to just let Jane control of those duties instead of fighting her on this.
It's just gotten worse since then, over the most minute of issues. Just last week, she threw a fit when I left for lunch and only confirmed it with the front desk person and not with her. She threw the fit in front of my boss, and now we have assigned lunch times. I've been at this office over three years, and while I am looking for other jobs, the economy dictates that I'll be here a bit longer.
How do I bring up my issues with Jane appropriately during my evaluation? I know that my boss will ask me how I'm doing/feeling at the office, and even though I am uncomfortable speaking out against anyone, I would like an easier work environment and my job duties back.
Your boss is actually the bigger problem than Jane here, because she's managing by giving in to the person who yells the loudest.
However, before we get to that, have you approached Jane yourself about this? It sounds like she's continually getting the message that she can behave this way with impunity and no one will stand up to her. You don't need to take a particularly adversarial approach; you can just calmly express your own reasonable opinion in the face of her unreasonable one. For instance: "I didn't let you know when I went to lunch because it would be highly unusual for me being away from the office for an hour to impact your ability to do your job. What are you seeing that I'm missing?" And also, "It seems to me that assigning lunch times is introducing a fairly high level of bureaucracy where none is needed. Let's talk about the problem that needs to be addressed and figure out the most effective and direct way to fix it." And, "Hey Jane, Beth told me that you have some concerns about my filing system. It's actually been working really well, but tell me what you're seeing that bothers you so I can figure out if we need to change something."
Ideally, if you're not already doing that, you'd start that before involving your boss. If I'm your boss and you tell me that you have a problem with how someone behaves toward you, the first thing I'm going to ask you is what you've tried in response. That doesn't mean that I won't intervene if you've done nothing and the situation is severe enough, but it does mean that I'm going to at a minimum wonder why you haven't tried asserting yourself, and I might suggest that you try it before I step in. (That said, your boss in this situation is an obvious enabler of Jane's bad behavior herself, so I'm not exempting her from blame here at all.)
But beyond that, you have a couple of options for how to raise this with your boss, depending on what kind of relationship you have with her:
1. You can be straightforward: "Jane is making it harder for me to do my job because she's developed a pattern of loudly voicing her opinion about areas that don't impact her own work but which do impact mine. And because she's generally the most strident person on any issue that comes up, people seem to find it easier to give in to her. I don't want to see us making decisions based on who yells the loudest, and I'm worried that we're getting in a cycle of doing that."
2. You can frame this as asking for your boss's advice: "I want to have a good relationship with Jane but also preserve appropriate boundaries and ensure that we're making decisions based on what will be most effective, not on who's asserting themselves the most vigorously. Do you have any advice that will help?" (This assumes that you have a boss who is at least somewhat open to reason and who isn't totally in Jane's pocket.)
Also, you don't have to wait for your evaluation in two months to bring this up. You can raise it in the same way the next time Jane throws a tantrum. I'm also wondering about what other ways in which your boss's willingness to take the easy way out might be playing out. Is this really the only one?
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