Manipulative Employee

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about subordinate who takes over and lies:

A subordinate is manipulative, twists the situation and make it appear that she is picked on and accused of deficient at work. She takes over the meeting and lies.

Signed, Insubordinated???

Dear Insubordinated???:

You did not sign your query, so I did for you as Insubordinated???. From what you say, you are not top dog? I don’t like bossy bosses nor do I like bossy bossed. Yet rank has been and is the way organizations are structured in spite of your or my distaste for military hierarchy. Authority has its place in organizational life whether appointed or elected and is present in even the most egalitarian workplaces.

Your question appears to be brief lament about an employee you choose to keep, not fire, but keep with regrets. From the little information you provide; tenure of the employee, quality of her work, kind of work, size of organization, specific instances of twists, lies and take over of meetings; all that might be said regarding your boss-bossed relationship must be quite general.

1. Job description. Initial hiring should have stated what is the nature of assignments and who makes and approves of their completion. Also initial hiring and subsequent appraisals should make clear what are the boundaries of a subordinate’s authority, appropriate/inappropriate behavior, etc. It appears that job clarification for this employee is past due, and is it not that your job as boss? A boss does not have to wait for an annual appraisal to counsel an employee about such matters

2. Acceptable/unacceptable. Lying comes in varying degrees. Some are exaggerations, some are minimizations, others are distortions and yet others are factual misstatements. You must judge what are intentional misstatements of fact. You must evaluate when this individual has lied and soiled another’s good reputation. You must call her for that. You must say, “No more” or, with the counsel of your own boss or Human Resources, say, “You’re fired.” Lies are not always easy to prove. Some workplaces have on-going videotaping that detects stealing. But short of that, detecting lying is a matter of recall of what was said. In political campaigns, lies are easy to prove because fact checkers ferret out past statements and actions. In the workplace, however, one must be careful to have the facts before firing Pinocchio. Also, these days a boss must not turn his/her back or close her/his office door for fear a manipulative subordinate will charge discrimination or sexual harassment.

3. Maaaaaaaaaaanipulation. Manipulation can be more subtle and taking over a meeting might be hard to describe, but a boss has the authority, when Ms. Takeover, is taking over, to say, “Dianne, you have expressed your opinion. Now sit back and listen I want listen to others express theirs.” A leader sets the agenda and consults with others about what needs to be on it. He/she manages the time allotted to agenda items. She/he helps the group to make internal summaries clarifying differences and of what has been agreed. A leader makes/approves transition to subsequent items.

4. Team. Work groups become teams when they have shared leadership, but that rarely happens unless and until a leader sets forth the guiding principle of Time Out. By that I mean making it OK to frequently ask “How well are we working together? And what more do we need to do to pull together and make each others jobs effective?” Good coaches do that after a game and before the next. Good leaders do that from week to week. Good leaders also think of each individual as uniquely self-interested in his/her career path. Ms. Takeover’s tendencies to take over might indicate that she hungers for someone looking out for her; someone to talk with her about where she wants to be in the next few years and what she might do to earn her way to be considered for a leadership position. Can you find anything applicable to your situation in these general remarks? If not, consult with your own superior or Human Resources. It is no sign of weakness to enlist such advice. Working together with hands, head, and heart doesn’t always come naturally. Think of this boss-bossed relationship as an ongoing associate learning experience for her and you. Do that and you will find it takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden