Coworker Trying To Show Me Up

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker upmanship:

I have been at this job for seven months. The first four were good, with learning lots and getting to know people. However, lately I feel that when I come to work (my start time is later than everyone else) I can almost feel a tension in the air. I say good morning to everyone and sit down to start my tasks. After a few minutes my coworker, with the same job as me but 20 years younger, starts asking about my night, how I am doing and personal question that I don’t feel like answering.

This same coworker has gone into some of my electronic shared files and feels it necessary to send the boss an email stating that I have not moved some of the shared files into a shared folder. (We are to do this at the end of the month, but this email was at the 5th of the month.)

This coworker just doesn’t give up on the bossiness: sending emails, having conversations about our jobs and not including me with the boss so when a decision gets made I’m not there so she’s the one to tell me what happened. There is an obvious age difference, but is it my responsibility to stroke this person’s ego so she doesn’t get upset?

I just shut up–which is uncharacteristic of me–and by the end of the day I feel like boiling over. Her childlike voice and actions and constant need for attention are all really, really starting to make me dislike my job and want to move on. How should I handle this?

Signed, Boiling

Dear Boiling:

After just seven months it would be a shame to let yourself become so upset you give up a job you like–especially when it sounds as though there are things you can do to make it better. Consider some of these thoughts and see if you can apply them or adapt them to help you renew your feeling of enjoyment about work.

1. For the first four months you had a honeymoon time at work but now the nice, new feelings have gone and the differences between you and your coworker are having an effect. She likely hasn’t changed and neither have you, so it may be helpful to consider how you two were able to get along during the first few months.Think about what has changed in the work situation over your time there. For example, maybe she still sees you in a new-hire training mode while you see yourself as settled in. Or, since she was already there as an employee, she gave you leeway because you were new, but now she feels she can express her critique of your work. Considering why you and she got along at first but not now, may give you some clues to help you regain some of the better feelings.

2. Where does your boss fit into this? You mention that your coworker is interacting with him more than you. Perhaps you need to change some aspect of that. Since you come in later, consider asking him if you can have some time with him now and then to catch up on communications and to find out how things are going. Or, ask about quick meetings to pull the team together. Volunteer to arrange those–and keep them brief, to the point and without any wasted time.

3. When things happen that frustrate you, have you asked about those things? For example, did you clarify why the email was sent to your boss to mention the shared files? Seething inwardly accomplishes very little, as you’ve found out. Open, friendly conversation can sometimes clear the air in seconds.For example, when she sends an email of that nature could you just say, “Hey Jan, what was that email all about? I felt like I was getting reported. Just ask me next time, OK?” Or, perhaps you could let your boss know your frustration over having your work checked by a coworker and ask him for advice about it.

4. Examine your communication style and ask your boss to provide some feedback. It sounds as though you are isolated from others by choice as well as by schedule. Communication is two way with talking and listening. Focusing on work immediately is good, but finding time to interact with others professionally is needed to keep you in the loop.The final solution to this situation seems to be in your hands. You may never like the voice or style of your coworker, but perhaps you can find ways to neutralize that somewhat.

Build such a strong network that she can’t shut you out. Be so valuable for your good work that you are automatically pulled into the circle.You paint a picture of you and everyone else. Make it your goal to gain credibility and value with the rest of the team and you are far less likely to be shown up by your coworker. I hope some of these thoughts are helpful. You know your own situation best and there are obviously many more dynamics to it than you can mention in a short question. But, I would hate to see you give up a good job for lack of trying to make this one work. Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.