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Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers/Combative co-workers and unsupportive supervisor


I will try to keep this short; however, there have been may instances, and I am not sure if I need to outline the few in order to establish a pattern with which I have seen at my workplace and the reason behind my writing this in hopes of somehow trying to find a resolution to my dilemma.  I perform clerical work at a law firm that requires extensive follow-up skills, multi-tasking, in-depth medical terminology patience, patience, and then some patience. I'm saying clerical work but it's more technical than that, but to try to keep anonymous I will classify my job duties as such.  

My co-workers and I were all hired at the same time, but there is a large gap in the age group between myself and the other four by at least 20 years.  A few weeks ago, there had been an issue with a letter that was "MIA." There were only two of us that were responsible for this letter, my being one of them.  The attorney that was supposed to dictate this report ended up never dictating it, and our company policy is to get these reports out in "x-amount" of time, which had already passed. I referred back to this log to see why this had happened, and I saw that the reason why it was overlooked was because my co-worker's attorney had supposedly dictated on the letter even though it was my attorney's case. This frequently occurs in our firm where one attorney will have another attorney do various tasks for him on his cases, this being one of those instances. This log has been an ongoing issue since day one for the receptionist to accurately record the data from the pleadings and then transfer it onto the excel sheet, but we have been repeatedly told by mgmt. that this log should be used as our primary reference to guide us in our work #meeting filing deadlines, follow-up with clients, etc#. I work differently then the other workers. If data is missing, I will refer to the log, followed by flipping through various tabs within the pleading, etc., and then finally go to the head assistant to the attorney for any further questions.  

In this case, however, the log indicated that it was not my attorney who had dictated on the letter.  Additionally, when I performed my inventory against the log, all the work was accounted for. To me, this made sense and did not raise any red flags to warrant an e-mail to be out to my immediate supervisor to inquire about any missing work - boy was I wrong! When my supervisor asked me why this letter did not go out on time, I informed him that it was because, even though the case belonged to my attorney, another attorney had dictated. I come to find out that the log was wrong and, in fact, no one did the work. Neither my attorney or his associate performed the work! We were about two weeks late in getting the status letter to his client.

This other co-worker then sent me an e-mail telling me how I should have been more motivated in researching to make sure that the work had in fact been done by somebody. I felt that this was not his decision to make to tell me how to work. In fact, what I said was that I relied on the data sheet from the receptionist, my inventory, and internal office notes from my attorney, which did not indicate that he had completed any work on this file. Usually he will assign a number to the work assignment, which signals to me that there is work to be done on the case.  In this instance, there was no note, and the log didn't indicate such.  Was I wrong in not going further in spending 15-20 minutes searching for something that might not have existed? I did take this up to his head assistant, and the paralegal could not verify with me whether or not his attorney had, in fact, done any work on the case. I would have asked the attorney himself but he's not usually very mindful of what he did two days ago let alone what had transpired two weeks prior.  

Ultimately I just responded to my co-worker that I had already followed up with his assistant and let's just leave it at that.  My co-worker didn't leave well enough alone, and this is when he decided tell me how he does his job.  He even went further to tell me how I was not utilizing all the tools given to me to complete the task at hand. We are pressed for time, as the saying goes, "Time is money." I felt that spending 15 minutes was not productive when I could be working on the next case to get whatever job done while I wait for a final confirmation from the head assistant.  Is that being lazy or making the best of what you have and prioritizing?

All in all, this escalated into my requesting a meeting with the office administrator because I felt completely bullied. This is just one instance in which my co-worker pointed out my "lack of resourcefulness." I don't understand that criticism because I felt I was utilizing my time efficiently. If all information points to one direction, why would I question it? The office administrator did not help much either. The meeting centered basically on "my complaining" from what I felt and gathered in the room. I just told her that I was confused and bothered by the e-mail. I had another co-worker who also voiced having the same issues with this bully of a co-worker, but I did not bring her into the meeting because she was not part of the initial meeting. From my assessment, it would have been useless so I just kept mum on that topic.  

I had mentioned that I worked with a couple of other "older" co-workers. Reason for this is because whenever they correspond about work, it's always between them even though it involves the entire department.  In that case, we should all be cc'd on the e-mail. The only time they include me in on the e-mail is to point out that I had made a mistake, which is when they make it very evident to include our immediate supervisor.

I have kept quiet for about 3 years now about all this, but I think my being silent has hurt me because they feel they can say what they want and my usual response is, "I'm sorry" or "Okay."  I figured it's easier than having to explain why I did what I did.

The other issue I think that probably makes me a target is the fact that I am much younger but I get paid more than two of them; however, I just can't seem to accept or want to accept that logic behind why someone would be so rude to another person of something that is completely within anyone's grasp if they chose to do something about it, such as going back to school, attending seminars in their line of work, etc. I did all of the above because I knew that was the only way I was going to make it in a field where seniority is a huge factor in determining your salary, but education compounded by experience is what will ultimately determine your salary.

Please feel free to ask me any additional questions because I feel like there might be details that I might have forgotten. Bringing up all this makes me very irritated.


Thanks for all of the details, but I'm not sure that I understand the problem.  I'm not sure if the problem is a breakdown in the system that is in place, an error that was made by your coworker, or an error that you made. It sounds like the attorneys and your coworkers seem to think that you made an error, though.  If that is the case, your best solution is to find out how you missed it, and correct that error so that you don't make the mistake again.

If the error was caused by your coworker, and then your coworkers ganged up against you to lay the blame on you, that is a totally different story.  If that is the case, a good way to get the truth to come to the surface is to ask questions to get everyone to come to the correct conclusion on their own. For instance, maybe go to your attorney and say, "I may be wrong here, but I was under the impression that only items that have actually been completed should be put into the log book, correct? It sounds like the real question that we should all be asking is, 'How did those postings get into the log book if they weren't completed?'".  Etc.

Ultimately, it sounds like you are ultimately responsible for the items that are assigned by your attorney even if another attorney completes the items.  If that is the case, you are responsible to make sure that the items were completed.  If you want the extra pay, then you also have to accept the extra responsibility.  Remember that if an attorney makes a mistake, they will rarely admit it.  They will often lay blame somewhere else.  So if the attorney who made the mistake can lay the blame at the foot of the assistant to a different attorney, all the better.  Since you know that is the case, be more through when items are assigned to another attorney.

Good luck.

Doug Staneart
The Leader's Institute

Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers

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Doug Staneart


Doug Staneart can answer questions about gaining cooperation from, motivating, and influencing coworkers and employers. He is also an expert on how to avoid and resolve conflicts as well as other issues dealing with long term business relationships.


Doug Staneart has been a speaker and trainer for over ten years specializing in public speaking, leadership training, and team building. Doug is CEO of The Leader?s Institute® (Team Building Events) based in Dallas and author of the books 40 Ways to Influence People and Fearless Presentations. He has accumulated over 2700 hours of classroom coaching and training with over 400 of the Fortune 500.

BA Business Management

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