Attitude of Colleague

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an administrative assistant who is doesn’t approve of a coworker:

I’ve been in my current job for 2 years. It’s a small not-for-profit company and as such we are always stretched to the limit. A couple of months ago a new admin started who quickly got promoted and is now reporting directly to the Managing Director. She’s really organised, efficient and seems to be really well thought of. My problem is – she seems to have an attitude towards me: 1) I took a call from someone who was trying to get recruited. She’d spoken to the administrator and said that the admin had been “short” with her. I apologised and said that this shouldn’t have happened. Another colleague who works in the same office overheard my discussion. As soon as I was off the phone, she explained that she’d heard the admin on the phone and the admin been had been nothing other than polite and patient and that the person phoning in was a bit of a trouble maker. I’m now wondering if my colleague has told the admin what I said and this has caused a bad feeling. 2) She is really busy (we all are), and if I ask about things, she has a tendency to say “Hold on I’ll get back to you a.s.a.p. – I’m just working on xyz.” I find this a bit off-putting as it’s a really relaxed atmosphere and everyone is interrupted constantly by different demands not just her. 3) The Director wanted some information on a project that I worked on about 3 months ago. The admin had already asked for this information (via email – another thing that I find annoying – why not just ask?) and I had replied already that ‘I didn’t have any idea’. 4) I get another email asking the same questions – but a little bit more information had been given. I went to see her and explained that I couldn’t get the information she wanted and didn’t KNOW how to get it. 5) She said that ‘that’s fine I’ll just let the Director know that you can’t do it’. I was really shocked and said straight out that she had an attitude with me, that I’d noticed it for a few days and I would prefer her to tell me outright what I’d done to offend her. Well – she laughed and said that she had no attitude – that all she’d said was she’d let the Director know that I couldn’t get the information and that the Director had specifically asked me to get it for him but if it was a problem she’d let him know. I felt that she was deliberately trying to get me into trouble. 6) I went back to my desk and did my best and got more information regarding the task and emailed it to the admin. It wasn’t exactly what she’d asked for but it was something – she didn’t reply and I don’t know if the information I gave her was enough. I’m now beginning to think it might be I that has the problem because she seemed genuinely shocked that I said she’d got an attitude and more or less carried on with her work. I know that she’s got a huge backlog and her job is very demanding but we’re all busy. It worries me that she seems to be in with the Director and the other managers – they all seem to think she’s amazing – so it could look like I’m the one causing problems. What advice do you have please?

Signed, Who’s Got an Attitude?

Dear Who’s Got an Attitude?:

You’ve voiced your anxiety to the new administrator or administrative assistant about feeling she doesn’t approve of you. She denied it. However, your worry that she dislikes you continues. That worry will continue until you and she reframe your interaction. By that I mean you and/or she will need to gradually shape how you can best communicate. That doesn’t happen in a day, week or month, but day by day you two can spell out the way you want to be treated; realizing empathically one another’s tasks and roles. You began your question describing an incident in which you apologized to a recruit who complained that your administrator was “short” with her. To apologize was natural, but you are worried that a coworker has told her that you agreed with the recruit and you fear being told that will cause her to dislike you. All of us naturally try to piece together little incidents such as this to explain feelings we have about relationships with coworkers and our bosses. You add to this the longer interaction with your administrative assistant over a request for data on a project, one in which you first said you couldn’t provide and then found some. You confronted the administrative assistant about thinking she has an “attitude” toward you. You were angered that she had told the Director you couldn’t provide the information. You wonder about this brief history if the judgment you made about you her having an attitude toward you rather might be something in you and you wrote for advice. No one from afar can know a situation as well as you who are living it, and the few thoughts that I’ll provide are not meant as a quick fix to the rumblings that are probably re-playing in your head like a scratched disk.

This said, here are some thoughts to consider: 1. You’ve likely have reconsidered the apology you made to the recruit who complained your administrative assistant was abrupt, but you apologized and that’s done. Your coworker might have told her of your apology. Let the past be past. Rehashing exactly what you said or didn’t say can lead to an “I said-I did not say argument.” Perhaps you should have or did say, “I apologize. Perhaps you misunderstood. I am not speaking for her, but I know if she were brief it was only because she has so much to do. We all do.” Whatever you said or did not say is past. Don’t allow this thought that your coworker might have tattled on you to fester.

2. You’ve expressed your feeling to your administrative assistant about your feeling she has and attitude toward you. You’ve linked this to an incident or two of how you were put off and how she reported that to the Director your inability to find missing data. That’s par for a busy work environment. Sure it would be nice to have your administrative Assistant’s door ever-ajar welcoming you, but apparently it isn’t. So she has used emails more than talk. You’ve told her you would prefer talk. So that too was an effort to frame how you want to interact. This exchange is an on-going way you have begun to spell out the unwritten rules of communication between her and you. Hopefully, you also will find time to praise your administrative assistant for some of the good things she is doing. It was not “idol” talk for the sage Aristotle to say, “To praise a man (in this case a woman) is akin to urging a course of action.”

3. Wondering is it she or me is a healthy look in the mirror, so long as this doesn’t become an obsessive introspection. Your job is to help your administrative assistant, not only by doing assignments, but also by helping her learn how to manage. Sure you observed other managers think she is amazing. But she wasn’t amazing to you and you told her. So let that be one bit of information for her to assimilate. I think she will and you will find that as the weeks go by interaction with her will be more positive. Your micro-worry probably indicates that not all is working smoothly as is ideal. Few workplaces are maximally employee-friendly and effective.

If you will scan even a dozen or more of the several thousand Q&As in our Archive, you will note that learning to work together is in short supply and doesn’t just happen. Rather, to achieve a thriving business or not-for-profit enterprise entails working through differences and shaping ways to address them. Possibly your admin sees her job as setting the agenda and ordering how things are to be done. Yet those of you under her or who must work with her see that it would be advantageous if you were consulted about what should be on the agenda and that you as a work group should meet to collaboratively manage the load of work before you.

Not everything is best handled by committee, that’s why we have admins, but some of them need to learn that they manage best when they perform as facilitators who frequently engage those within their work group in skull sessions. It is only when members within a work groups feel their voices matter that they “own” what is the mission of their organization. From this day forward, your talk about how to improve the quality of what you do and its relationship to the mission of your organization are bound to reframe how the woman sees you and you see her. That’s my prediction. This is to suggest that you can put behind you the anxiety you express when you realize that building an employee-friendly and employee effective working relationships is a continuous process. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. This is my way of suggesting that the rewards of working together are generated by the interdependent mindedness and action of all within a workplace.

William Gorden