Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers/Problematic co-worker



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!

Dear Amanda,

Many thanks for writing to me.

You are to be commended for attempting to solve this problem yourself. Your approach is very much along the lines of what I would have suggested in the first instance; and so the fact that you've already tried this and found it to be a bit problematic saves time. It means that we can move straight onto Plan B, if I can put it like that.

First, let's think about Ms. Y. From what you've said, it seems to me that she is very insecure, not only with herself, but also in her new role. Regardless of how keen she was to get the new job, it appears to me that she feels it necessary to prove her worthiness. And so when you email your boss, he/she tells her, and that makes Ms Y feel even more insecure. It's a vicious cycle.

Ms Y is also playing a psychological game. She wants to be the cavalry and the victim all rolled into one, and she probably doesn't even realize it. On the one hand she wants to wants to do everything so she prove how wonderful she is to herself and her boss, but on the other she also wants to be the victim that has too much to do.

And this is the really important bit: You will never be able to placate her because she's playing both sides of the fence at the same time. In other words, when you remind your boss that you're already working on a project that he/she has recently assigned to Ms Y, your colleague can no longer shine as much as she would like, nor can she claim to be overworked.

So, what can you do?

There are a few things, I think.

1. Remember that you work for your boss and not Ms Y.

It would be great if you got along with each other. But, you know, some people are determined to be offended; and it sounds to me like you have the "privilege" of working with someone like that.

The only way that you work effectively with her is to do so on a strictly professional basis. Don't try to be her friend. She's not interested. She's too busy trying to be a victim and the cavalry. If she allowed herself (and I do mean that she gave herself permission) to be your friend, she could no longer be the victim or the cavalry.

Speak to her when you need to and stay out of her orbit as much as you can. You're not doing this out of fear. She'll spot it, if you do, from a million miles away. You're doing it because it could sour your attitude. You're doing it for professional reasons. Ms Y is doing what she does for psychological and political reasons, though she doesn't know it.

2. Present a new plan to your boss for how to deal with the double-assignment problem.

You're a manager. Your boss is a manager; but he/she has a management problem and either isn't aware of it, or doesn't think it's important enough to find a solution.

So you need to make a business case for why it's important and then present a solution.

I can tell from your description that you already know how to handle this with tact, and so I won't suggest specific phrases that you ought to use.

A business case is one which describes the time and money lost to the company by the problem; or to put it another way, the time and money saved by adopting the solution that you suggest.

As a manager, my guess is that you have a budget within which you must work; and if you knew of a way to make your resources accomplish more, you'd probably be very interested.

What would be a good plan? My suggestion is that you create a way to divide the work before any assignments are made. Now I don't know anything about what the two of you do, so my example may not be appropriate.

Let's say that you a particularly good at analyzing data and then writing up that information in a coherent, yet easy to understand form. And let's say that your colleague hates working with numbers and prefers (and excels at) administration - managing a lot of routine tasks performed by her subordinates. One solution might be to divide the assignments on the basis of which one of you had the greater expertise.

And to do that, you would create a "flow chart" that would enable your manager to easily make that decision. You'd also provide a worksheet, or maybe a checklist that would enable your boss to keep track of who had been assigned a particular project.

Now let's say that the assignments usually contain an equal mixture of the things expertise that each of you has.

In that case, the projects could be divvied out in an every-other-one fashion. How could that work? Two out boxes, one with each of your names on it. Instead of your boss going directly to Ms Y or you, he/she instead goes to the boxes and arbitrarily assigns them.

I'm sure that you can think of other ways to do this; but what I'm trying to do is help you to explore ideas for helping your boss to consciously assign projects equally between you.

And this isn't going to be easy, I don't think. Your boss already has a way of doing things, albeit ineffectively. You're going to be trying to help him/her break a habit. But, if your boss is amenable to change and can see the business benefits for doing so, then he/she may be willing to let you lead him/her into a new pattern of behavior.

3. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can't do.

Psychologists will tell you that whatever you devote your attention to, you'll get more of. So, take some time to think about that over which you have the greatest control, and then focus on it. Over time, you'll find that you're able to do more and more.

Why have I mentioned this? Because in your situation it will be easy to get caught up in all the negatively that your colleague is dishing out. It will be a dawdle to focus on how her behavior is interfering with your ability to do your job. And so by concentrating on what you can do, you can avoid all that.

4. This is a suggestion that I don't make lightly, but it's a necessary one. If after a reasonable amount of time, which only you can decide, you are unable to resolve the situation, then start looking for something else. If the company is big enough, you might be able to find something within it. If not, then you'll have to look elsewhere.

The Great Recession is masking a phenomenon that many managers have forgotten, and that is that there is a shortage of skilled labor. The Australian government has understood this and are doing all they can to attract talent from abroad.

But some countries, such as the US, are completely out of touch with this reality. At such time as the American economy gets back on its feet, companies will be scrambling to find the people they want, and they won't be able to find them because they won't be there. That's because more than a quarter of the US population consists of baby-boomers, and 10,000 of them turn 65 every day, and will do so for the next couple of decades. It's that serious.

The EU is only interested in expanding its political base; and so the average worker isn't even taken into consideration, as the austerity plans recently adopted clearly demonstrate.

So, you may be in a very good position to start looking around now. But, you must do this on the quiet. No one needs to know that you're doing this. Keep focusing on what you can do. That will protect your attitude, which will also protect your performance record.

Talk to your boss to see if he/she is open to some "personal development" designed by you, and then coach him/her into being a better manager.

Feel free to contact me again if you wish. I'll be interested to know how things go for you, whether you stay or search for greener grass.

Take care,


Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers

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Dr Bruce Hoag, CPsychol AFBPsS


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Co-wrote (with Professor Cary L Cooper, CBE) Managing Value-Based Organizations: It's Not What You Think, published in 2006.

Academy of Management, British Psychological Society

Leadership & Organization Development Journal,

PhD, Organizational Psychology, Manchester Business School

Awards and Honors
Chartered Occupational Psychologist & Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society; Ezines Expert Author

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