Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers/Problematic co-worker


Hello there,

I am recently promoted to a Manager's post along with another colleague (Ms.Y) who has been waiting for this moment eagerly since the first day she joined.

Between the 2 managers, me and Ms.Y, we do practically the same thing and the boss constantly forgets who he assigned assignments to. Since he is closer to Ms.Y, all assignments he naturally asked Ms.Y to do even when he has assigned it to me.

When that happened I will remind my boss, providing the details on the date of the assignment. As a result, Ms.Y has been complaining to our subordinates that I am very particular and make a big deal over the fact that I email the boss to remind him that he had earlier assigned the project to me.

Ms.Y being an eager beaver would not remind the boss on any of my projects that has been wrongly assigned to her and hoped that I will not question it. Her objective is to lead on all important projects and at times she will pass her unimportant work to me. Of course she'll do this through the boss by  telling him how bogged down she is. Based on that, I have taken the stance to remind the boss everytime he double assign projects.

I tried solving issues with Ms.Y before but I find out that she is not sincere and can't handle criticism. She may appear to be listening to what I said and seem to care but in real fact, she's vengeful and could talk to boss to "inflict disaster" upon me.

My question is, is there a way to deal with this? It's very unfortunate that I have a cut-throat coworker. I can't change who she is, so my angle now is to try solve this issue with the boss. How best should I handle this?

I look forward to hearing your good advice. Thank you!

I wish to offer an apology for the tardiness of this reply. I suffered internet email complications during my recent trip abroad and now corrected, your question is just arriving to me now.

There will always be interoffice jealousy and petty behavior and it’s typically used for advancement in one way or another.  It is often viewed as a high level of ambition and exuberance and harmless for a management perspective until it does harm.  Ironically there were times I would comment strenuously on maintain your line of ethics and if you hold your line you will be fine in the end.  Unfortunately, this does not always prove to be the best approach for the short term.  Regard the aspect of not modeling the offender’s actions and you will be the better for it. Add the reality of such a person’s motivation always being found out by their actions in the end as they pursue their personal agenda and continue to cause more and more to discover the offenses. Top it all with the damage done to credibility, office morale, and general disruption of workload and you have a serious problem.  Note I wrote above that I came to the conclusion some time ago that there is an advantage in standing your ground and fighting, with a specific strategy and without betraying your principles.

With some decent organization you can manage the interpersonal relationship with the boss but the co-worker will be a greater problem. Her ambition as you indicate may be to make you appear and feel like the junior member and if left unchecked will succeed unless she self-implodes. Ambition is a positive trait and you should not be treated as prey but if you don’t act decisively you might suffer the same as fate.
Begin with an operational plan. Let me offer an acronym from the Verbal Judo Program we teach around the world as a base. Then we will move onto the interactive sections of communication for definition.

Rhetorical thinking and resolving conflict can be set into motion initially with an acronym George Thompson, the creator of a program we teach called Verbal Judo: P.A.V.P.O. (Perspective – Audience – Voice – Purpose – Organization)

We must understand our own Perspective including how we see events and any biases which may cloud our judgment.  Once the biases are recognized we can set them aside as long as we do not allow them to affect our plan and our thinking.  We all have things we like or don’t like so everyone has biases.  Now we can consider the people from whom we need something can be referred to as our audience. The person or persons we are going to need to persuade to our thinking have four considerations with which we must account.
  1. People see events differently than we.  It is very rare when two people agree completely on anything.
  2. Scenes change as we bring up the unspoken issues. Once what bothers us or want we need becomes apparent we must deal with them because they are in the open.
  3. Other people will watch us “perform” our duties.  We will always be judged in how we act, what we say, or when we make a stand on the things we see as unjust or unfair.
  4. Aristotle noted that “Audiences are made, not found.” In the simplest terms this means we can make people what we want them to be and we can create the opportunity to change their behavior with our words and our actions.

We must modify the behavior and language of others using words; words contain our tone, which is our verbal attitude at the moment we are speaking. We can sound weak or strong, arrogant or humble, angry or calm by our tone of voice. We can change also the tone to match our need and the dynamic of the encounter.  When we have the proper “voice” in play, we can center our thinking on our Purpose. It must be singular. Know what you want or your thinking will become convoluted and too many items will cause a muddled cause.  You can certainly create a line of thinking that has a series of goals, but focus on a single objective. With a sense of purpose we can begin to organize our plan.  

Try to imagine the encounter from the beginning, through the middle and the body of the discussion and into the end result where we examine what we have to gain or to lose in relative terms. Calculate how your boss will think, what questions he might ask, and what he might want from you in the future and in direct exchange for agreeing to what you are asking of him. It requires hearing to something more than once for the memory to imprint. When busy or harried, is becomes easy to think we have said something and actually have not. It becomes easy to even forget to whom we assigned a task. A polite reminder is a good thing as long as you do it with proper timing and do not repeat it too often to where3 it become rude and sounds more like we are accusing the other of memory problems.

You see this interaction between you and your co-worker as intrusive and demeaning. I agree. You can set a new standard for a boss to supervisor relationship. When I write of LEAPS, use the interactive aspects of Paraphrasing to set the boss in play and helping clarify your assignment.  Summarize in a brief but concise way the assignment to include the due date and the conclusion. Follow this immediately with a written memo or email so he or she has it in writing for reference later if memory fades. Follow up reports are needed to keep the boss looped in and on track and when the assignment is completed you repeat the summary of expectations and accomplishments as a final report, or the cover sheet to a longer report.

Be proactive with the email so you are not again “accused” by your co-worker as particular but efficient and practical. To save yourself some grief, concern yourself less about her in taking criticism. There is really no such thing as “constructive criticism” anyway – It is ALL criticism. She sees it at a direct slight and all it will gain is her motivation to find things you do wrong, which is inevitable as we all make mistakes from time-to-time. How quickly we recover from our mistakes is where we can make the better difference.

Your plan will require you to interact on a verbal level so use Thompson’s L.E.A.P.S. acronym as a platform for your conversation.  You will need to actively Listen, and there are four levels:
  1. Be open-minded, or willing to listen. It means we might have to listen to things we may not want to hear because they are said by people or in a way we do not like.
  2. We need to hear what the other person is saying and not judge the information until we have heard all they have to say – unless they are on a tangent in which case you can use paraphrase to cut into their statements and redirect the conversation back on track.
  3. We must interpret what the other person means from what they have said. People often do not say what they really mean under duress or when they have a hidden agenda.
  4. Once we believe we have the correct meaning we can act, and act appropriately.

In addition to active listening we must appear Empathetic. To use empathy we must be able to try to see the event from “the eyes of the other” and imagine how we would feel if we were them and under the same situation with the same considerations. We will at some point Ask questions. There are five basic types of questions we can use to gather information quickly and effectively.  The five are: Fact-Finding, General, Opinion-Seeking, Leading, and Direct.  The only two that will project empathy are General (What happened here?) and Opinion-Seeking (What do you think we can do about this problem?). The others are very important but they create resistance so they must be used carefully.  A couple of strategic thoughts in making the proper questions work are to not ask the same type of question too many times in a row and to vary the questions in order to reduce tension when it gets too high and the goal to leave the other person at the lowest level of stress possible before we end the encounter.

Paraphrasing is a key to gaining understanding of a problem or how others think. The key is to take what you think the other meant in what they said and return the information in your words and tones, different from those they used with you.  Once we are certain of the meaning we can take the entire encounter and all said and condense the conversation into a brief statement encompassing the important details.  This ability to Summarize creates accountability and makes us appear decisive.  

If your supervisor is open to how you work best then now is the time to explain how best to motivate your work effort but remember that in all he may consider you to not be to his standard.  If he is not reasonable then you need to be sure what you hope to achieve is worth the cost to have it and the cost if you don’t get it.  

When you enter the conversation remember nothing moves people emotionally better than their personal interests being served and treating the other with respect. Respect is not bending to their will or authority but demonstrating an appreciation for the position they hold and their expertise in getting there. Respect is listening more than we speak and treating the other with dignity, even if they are not so easy to reciprocate.  Practice different tones of voice and listen to them on a recording. We are rarely aware of how we wound to others, especially when we ask for things or speak under duress.  A voice that well represents strength does not need sound rude or condescending. It may also be possible your supervisor has no idea how he sounds when he speaks to you. He may also be trying to train you in the manner which he was trained and times have changed but he has not.

There is so much more I can add but space per response is limited. If you feel this response had adequately covered your need great, however if you need or want more please contact me again and I will answer with additional information which may be of great value.  Allow me to close this response with something most people never consider: being right will not create change - facts rarely move people other than intellectually. Most are motivated to change by the power of our delivery of the information. The qualities of our voice with tone, pace and pitch, and modulation when combined with our body language (adapt to cultural distinctiveness) and our position including where we stand, our posture, eye contact (where culturally correct), and the distance between you and to whom you are speaking are over 90% of our effectiveness in getting what we want. Credibility is earned; respect is earned; and likability becomes a factor most people understand is necessary but don’t often consider when they are asking for something.  

You can be open in a confrontation on one area: when you co-worker complains to subordinates. Do not allow this as it is very unprofessional. To not act upon it will make you look weak. But do not do it repeatedly as if the first time or two does not change her behavior it will not change after repeated efforts. Speak to her directly, and politely but with a firm tone of voice that if she has a issue with you she should bring it to you, directly. She is likely attempting to gain support but directly undermining you in the eye of the subordinates. When you talk to subordinates never attempt to ingratiate yourself but be respectful, be polite, be empathetic, and be consistent in how you deal with them.  This combined with remaining fair and honest will get noticed. Speak up when you have a idea that is well thought out and can make a difference. Be willing to help on even projects that do not directly advance yourself (be sure to also send a report for “purposes of documentation on the final results to include giving credit to those who assisted you in any way) and they are sent “intending to keep the boss in the loop.”  This will look not as currying favor but as being efficient.

Effectiveness is based upon results. Success is based on publicity. Keep the two ever present in your mind as you interact with others. Look efficient and never overworked. People who constantly look overwork to prove they are working look as if they are so inundated with the responsibility they have currently they likely should not be promoted to a higher level of responsibility.

I sincerely hope this has helped.  Please feel free to contact me again.

W. Lee Fjelstad, Vice President of the Verbal Judo Institute, Inc.
With respect and in memory of Dr. George J. Thompson, PhD., Creator of Verbal Judo  

Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers

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Lee Fjelstad


I can answer questions on resolving professional and personal conflicts or communication issues in the workplace, with clients, in the home, or any encounter that needs or requires people conform to authority or common goal. My responses will be centered on tactics for getting more from the people around you, and toward gaining their voluntary compliance, cooperation, or collaboration. Please note that the answers will not be in the form of a “Dear Abbey” response and my personal opinions will rarely be offered, but rather a soft or hard argument toward resolving the issue or demonstrating that words alone will not solve your dilemma or predicament.


I am the Vice President of the Verbal Judo Institute, Inc., and for the last twenty years I have traveled between 240 -300 days annually conducting training seminars on Verbal Judo in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and in England. I specialize in resolving conflicts that rise from workplace differences, emotional issues that impact cooperation and compliance, and communication issues within relationships.

I have been interviewed regarding Verbal Judo as the subject in magazine articles ranging in interest from Conde Nast Traveler, Broker Magazine, and sports publications like Referee Magazine; to newsprint articles in the USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and several small town newspapers. I have been broadcast internationally on CNN, nationally on NBC, ABC, and Fox, in Canada on CBC, and on local television; and interviewed on radio across North America and in Europe. In addition to the video clips I am currently producing, the President of the Institute, Dr. George J. Thompson has four published books on the market (with more in current development), and several audio and video programs.

My educational background includes degrees in English, Business, and Organizational Communication with additional work in Psychology and Behavioral Science.

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My client list ranges from corporate and customer service industries, and city and county government facilities; to airlines, banking, and real estate operations, universities, and referees in professional sports. My audiences number several hundred thousand people attending Verbal Judo lectures world-wide and as a company our associates have collectively trained over one million people. A web site with references and a partial client list is available upon request.

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