Coworker Feels Overshadowed?

Question:

Let me start out by saying that I have a very charismatic, sociable, slightly overbearing, knowledgeable personality. I understand that sometimes I come across as a know-it-all and that my personality may not jive well with everyone. But in the end I’m agreeable, direct, and approachable. I always try to handle conflict in a non-confrontational manner but prefer to speak to them privately instead of involving others, like management or other coworkers. I’ve been in the leadership section for a while off and on within this job and one thing that kept me back for a while was being defensive when getting criticism. I’ve worked really hard to better myself and accept it without complaint or being upset and it’s shown. Originally, a new position within my call center where we monitor the queues for calls, the calls, and the agents to ensure everything is flowing well came open. My coworker, who I’ll call Sarah, and me both tested equally but she was promoted over me. I was not upset as I thought she would do an excellent job. They stated that they didn’t know if I would be as happy or do as well in this spot instead of a supervisor position due to my outgoing personality. Later another position opened in the same area and they promoted me. Now let me talk a bit more about Sarah. She is more reserved, quiet, not confident of herself, overly critical of herself, doesn’t handle conflict well, and doesn’t know how to express herself. We are equal in the position and do the same thing. Our manager approached me over a week ago and said that someone spoke to him about some issues they were having. The first of which bothered me the most. One night I got upset over a supervisor keeping an agent off the phones for coaching when I needed them on. I ranted by typing up an email that I might have sent to my manager but no one else. Sarah asked what I was doing, I showed her the email, and she responded I probably shouldn’t say anything about it. After some time I decided it wasn’t worth it because it probably would make no difference and deleted the email, which I told her. She betrayed this confidence by telling my manager about it…he told me he wasn’t mad about it but that we can’t say how they handle their coaching sessions, if I wanted to rant to him I could. I was bothered that she went to him over an issue I dropped and didn’t care about anymore. The second of which was she apparently felt and still feels that I undermine her. Mostly because I have an outgoing and eager to please personality, when people come up and asked a question not exactly directed at anyone I answer without thinking about it. I’ve let her know when I’ve felt something isn’t right. This past Monday we were recruiting overtime and it was expressed we only needed it during certain time frames and if people got off way before the times needed they would have to leave and come back for the overtime. But if it caused people to not stay, we could ask to see if it would be okay for them to stay over. One agent signed up with her and asked her if she could stay through; she said no. Then the agent asked me about it, so I checked with our manager and he said yes. I then gave Sarah the chance to tell the agent herself and correct herself but she said no. Yet I’m undermining her? Our manager said that she didn’t even come to him directly with her problems; apparently she spoke to a supervisor when she was upset, they told him and he confronted her about her issues. Basically he told me that I need to change how I’m handling things completely. My issue with this whole situation is that I feel like I’m compromising everything I am because she has deficiencies in her personality that make her not confident in herself. I have to shut up around her, not disagree with her or tell her she’s wrong, I can’t trust her as someone I can rant to, can’t talk to her because she can’t handle the conflict (but she sure as hell can gossip about me obviously)…I mean, it’s crazy! He wants us to work together and be a team but I feel like I can’t be myself because if I do I’m suddenly overshadowing and undermining her even though I’m doing NOTHING to directly to do it. So now I feel confused, conflicted, stifled, and defeated. I hate this feeling and now I doubt myself. I doubt whether or not I belong in this group or she can ever work with me. Now I found out our manager is leaving and there will not be a mediator to handle this! I’m in tears and ready to resign after only being in the position for a month because maybe it’s a bad fit. Please help me!!!

Signed,

In Tears and Ready to Resign


Answer:

DearĀ In Tears and Ready to Resign:

I predict you won’t resign. Rather you come across to me as a drama queen who has created a narrative of how you have been made a victim by a coworker you paint as inferior. This is the impression I have after reading and re-reading your extended history explaining your current distress about having to work with Sarah and worry it will be worse after your manager leaves. My advice is to get over it. You are paid to do a job. So focus on that and stop comparing yourself to her and complaining about her. To some extent, apparently you and your coworker must cooperate to work effectively. Therefore, it is essential that you collaboratively spell out who does what, when, and how. Make clear your and her boundaries. You might need to enlist your manager in working through those boundaries and job definitions. It could help if you two or with the aid of your boss would put in writing do and don’t communication rules, such as: Don’t give orders to the other. Don’t gossip about each other. Don’t tell the boss about the other’s behavior. Don’t expect perfection. Do talk about assignments that involve each other. Do ask questions and make requests politely. Do put yourself in the others shoes. Do show good will and good character. Do if necessary, confront the other and/or take that problem to your new boss but only if and when in the future something seriously adversely affects your work. Do be generous with thank you. Do apologize for mistakes.

Now I expect that you will respond to my analysis defensively, saying I don’t know what really has been going on. True. I don’t. It is possible my interpretations could be dead wrong and getting only one side of the story from a distance. Be that as it may, from your side of the story it is obvious that you are distracted from what really matters; such as problem-solving for your internal and external customers. Rather you appear to be distracted by interpersonal slights and your own mixed feelings of superiority and inadequacy.

Your story makes me wonder what really matters to you? Are you stuck just doing a job, not feeling that you are shaping a career path? Is this why your attention is absorbed in an interpersonal struggle with Sarah and worry that a new manager might not mediate squabbles with her?

Finally, I expect my remarks will prompt you to reflect on your standing both your work and personal life? Hopefully they will cause you to no longer say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” Hopefully, you will be less self-centered and instead find ways to give yourself away; in ways to those less fortunate at work and elsewhere. Hopefully frustration and/or anger about my analysis will motivate you to find small ways to make your coworkers work easier and more effective.

Hopefully you will do even more than you may now be doing to build an employee-friendly workplace and caring society? Organization is not an accomplished fixed entity; rather it is an on-going continuing process and attitude committed to the common good. As you have seen if you’ve read other answers I’ve posted to questions such as yours, you will know I close with a single sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I hope these thoughts enable you to answer your own question. You are the only one who really can do that. Feel free to update us on what you do and what works or fails. Follow UP: You are right in the sense that I am worried about how things will go when the current manager leaves. I want our group to work together and be able to communicate effectively because in our area if we don’t the clients suffer.

I don’t think I’m a drama queen really. More so that I worry about how to fix things. I don’t like gossip, don’t gossip myself, try to resolve things quietly, and want a conflict free work place for all involved.

Actually the analysis I provided for myself and her were stated by the manager. I have no I’ll will towards Sarah and want her to succeed as much as I do because she is great at her job. I want her to continue doing well but don’t know how I should go about handling this with her. I considered her a friend and feel bad that this is happening. I don’t want her to feel undermined or overshadowed, which are words she used. I think the difference with me being extroverted and her more introverted maybe causes these feelings. I want to talk to her about this but unsure if it will be beneficial. I have no qualms against her except for the gossip. Otherwise I think she’s a great coworker and she does a fabulous job at what we do. I think my initial question came across more bitchy than I really am, the heat of the moment getting to me. In truth I want our team to be successful. I don’t think I’m a better worker, in truth where she’s been at it longer. I think you get the wrong impression of my question. I have been a supervisor and trainer at jobs and a tutor at school, I thrive and enjoy it do much when people are successful that I’ve helped build up. I don’t think I’m a victim outside of the gossip but I don’t know ways to change myself outside of not saying anything at this point when we work together.

I want to know how to fix this. How do I help her feel better and boost her confidence. What advise can you give to approach her that would alleviate this tension between us? Reply: Thank you for your clarification. You provide a different picture of how you see Sarah and yourself. What you want–a better working relationship–I think is possible. I’ll not take time to elaborate on that just now because I think you already know how to achieve that and my suggestions above are still available to you. Establishing a trusting supportive relationship is earned over time. It likely will entail caution and going slow. There may come an appropriate time to talk about talk–how you two can communicate effectively in ways that suit your different personalities. So I wish you well.

William Gorden