Co-Supervisor Conflict

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a coworker, now a supervisor, who is openly verbally hostile.

Another coworker and I recently got promoted to supervisors, same department in different areas of the same building. This other coworker, now a supervisor, is openly verbally hostile. I have tried asking on several occasions, “What is the problem? but I always get an answer, like, “There are a lot of thing going on in the office” or “Nothing.”

Things would act fine for a couple days, but then it’s like a switch back to the hostility. For example, I asked for one of her employees one day, strictly on a personal level. Two days later she is confronted me about why am I checking up on her people. I also handle payroll. Her time card comes to me. I don’t sign; I just note her hours and give it along with mine to be signed by our supervisor.

In a very sarcastic way, she wanted to know if I was signing her time card. I told her “No.” What’s with her attitude? I don’t like her raised voice in my office. People constantly complain about her attitude. I blew her off, but I still have to deal with her. What do I do? Do I ignore her? I was told that since our animosity is apparent, it could affect our job appraisals. I don’t think that’s fair because I sometimes bend over backwards to speak to her and half the time she does not answer. How should I handle this situation, please?

Signed, Unhappy Promotion

Dear Unhappy Promotion:

For the sake of clarity, I have taken the time to reword your question. I hope I have maintained its meaning. Your frustration is justified. Apparently your coworker is hostilely protective about her turf and you two have not come to a clear understanding about what you each should and should not do. So far, your efforts to cope with her hostility have not succeeded. You don’t say who warned you that the evident hostility between you two could affect your job appraisals, but that probably is what will happen.

Now is the time to clarify who does and does not do what and that will entail hammering out rules for how and when you two communicate. To accomplish that might take more than one meeting, a time out meeting between you two and possibly with your boss. Prepare for this meeting with a brief list of your job responsibilities, especially those that overlap with hers.

There likely are many job responsibilities, such as the one you mentioned. Spell each out such as: I, Mary, note time on the job for Jane and I submit her time card along with mine to our supervisor. She, Jane, signs her own card. I, Mary, do not sign Jane’s card. This should be done 4 p.m. each Friday.

Also write out the kind of do and don’t talk rules that you think will make each of your jobs effective and that should prevent the kind of hostility you have experienced with her. For example,

· Do check in with each other each morning, with a pleasant hello and briefly review what we need to know.

· Do take time out from time to time to discuss how you might make the others’  job more effective and less frustrating.

· Do not cut the other person off, turn a back on the other, yell, raise one’s voice or be sarcastic.

· Do not gossip about one another. Rather come to that the other person with complaints, and if no clear resolution can be found, then go together to to the supervisor to get help with that.

Once you have prepared a list of overlapping duties and do and don’t communication rules, you might inform Jane that you have been trying to think through what can improve your working relationship. And tell her you have or are preparing a list of overlapping duties and rules that might help make her and your jobs less frustrating. Then schedule a time-out time session to learn if you can come to an agreement on them. Ask if she is willing to meet with you and/or if it might be better that you two meet with your supervisor?

At this meeting, take time to come to a joint list of job duties and communicating rules. Sign off on them and agree to meet in a week or two to review if any of the duties should be clarified, modified and if the communication rules are working.Developing good working relationships in new positions sometimes is difficult at first but they almost always require an ongoing effort. Team play and team work is most effective when we have an agreement to frequently ask such questions as (and then talk about answers to them: “How are things going? What deserves applause and what might we do to make each other s’ work easier and more effective? Are we cheering each other on? Are we excited about what we are doing? What are we doing to cut waste; in supplies, time, defects, and energy? Are we making our customers, both internal and/or external, happy? Will you be optimistic and keep me posted on what you do? You two do not have to like each other, but even that is possible if together you clarify what might make her and you less frustrated and more effective. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Does any of this make sense for your particular situation?

William Gorden