Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers/Mixed messages


Hello Doug,
You said you were an expert at helping people to avoid conflicts and I feel like I am about to get into one, so your help will no doubt be beneficial!

I have been working for a company for the past 4 years in a relatively low level position. I have previous experience as a news writer and freelance editor as well as a bachelor's degree. Six weeks ago I applied for a writing position with the company, which was a bit of a stretch, so I was not surprised when they told me they were pursuing other candidates.

However, one of the HR directors called me on her cell phone while she was on vacation to tell me she was interested in creating opportunities for staff to get more writing experience and wanted me to participate. The next day (while she was still on vacation) I received an email from her essentially repeating the same information. I saw her grocery shopping and she approached me and said she was going to call me when she returned from vacation (which didn't happen). I was very enthusiastic!

She told me several times that she had discussed this with other members of the HR team and directed me to contact the other HR director. However, when I did as she suggested the other director told me she didn't know what I was talking about, which seemed odd. During the course of our conversation she said, "You should get an award for being the most diligent applicant." Although I felt her comment was meant as an insult, I kept the mood light and cheerful and replied, "Thank you! I only apply for positions for which I feel I am qualified." I am interested in advancing in the company, but it is true that I only apply for positions I feel qualified to do and I don't apply for every job opening.

During the last four years I have had a slight increase in responsibilities, but my essential job function remains the same as when I started. Based on her comment I infer that my development opportunities are limited or nil. Do you feel that was her intended meaning?

I have left 2 messages for the HR director who originally contacted me and never heard back and it's been over a week.

I am not sure what to do going forward because I am getting mixed messages. I want to keep in their good graces, or even form positive relationships with both of them, but I am not sure how. How can I stay upbeat and make a strong case for myself while I look for new employment (which I believe would be my best option considering what I have been told)?

If they clearly state that I am going to be stuck in the same position no matter what I do then I really have no impetus to keep face with them, which makes it tempting to do something slightly stupid, like telling them off.

I also need to take my considerations more long range. I am in the process of applying for business school and I will need their approval to receive tuition reimbursement. Do you have any tips on building my case?

And most importantly; do you feel that my interpretation of the situation was accurate, or would you interpret it another way?

Thanks for your time :)


Sorry for the delay in responding.  I was away for a long holiday weekend and just returned to the office. I do think that you might be misinterpreting the response from the main HR person.  When she said that you were the most diligent candidate, I don't believe she was being mean.  From her perspective, you applied for a position, were told that they were looking at other candidates, and then followed up weeks later trying to create a position for yourself outside of the original position.  The reason that she would likely think that is that it is extremely likely that the HR person who contacted you never talked to her boss about the idea that she had.  So the main HR person was likely very confused and possibly upset with the other HR person for blindsiding her.

I would operate on the assumption that the main HR person was honest with you and thinks of you as being very diligent (that is a positive attribute).  I doubt that not many people follow up with her after she tells them that they didn't get the job, so she was probably just surprised. If she was being insulting, I doubt is was directed at you.

Not sure what the qualifications are that they were originally looking for, but you might want to look at a way to gather those qualifications before giving up, though.

Good luck.

Doug Staneart
The Leader's Institute
Fearless Presentations

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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