My co-workers and I are having problems with a recent new co-worker who is being a bossy person. She bosses everyone around, even people who have been with the company for many years. She is giving orders like she is our supervisor. She has worked with other agencies so she is very experienced. One of my co-workers informed our supervisor the the new co-worker is bossing us around and the supervisor’s response was that it was okay. We are not happy and do not know what to do. Should we have an office meeting or speak to the co-worker and inform her of our feelings? Please help.
Frustrated and Irritated
Dear Frustrated and Irritated:
These situations are difficult for several reasons. First, you don’t want to make the new employee seem like a victim while you and the others are being mean and unappreciative of her experience. Second, apparently your boss doesn’t see a problem, so he might have even encouraged her to do some of what she is doing. Third, probably the coworker will still be working there after this situation is handled. Do you really want to have a negative feeling bouncing around the office forever? And fourth, it may be the new employee does not realize she is sounding bossy, and thinks she is being tremendously helpful.So, think about how this could be handled in the best possible way. It would seem to me the best thing would be for the new employee to fit into the group and feel willing to give advice when she could, but willing to take advice when she needs it, and focus on her own work the rest of the time…as I hope the rest of you are doing!Also, it would be good if all of you could just be peers, instead of anyone feeling they had power over someone else, or anyone feeling they had to yank power away from someone else.It’s not easy to try to envision a situation that would work for all of you, because human nature is that you’d probably like to see her get put down a bit. But, try to see a time when this rough period is over and the new employee has learned to be part of the team, not APART from the team. The key is to make that time happen quicker!Before you tackle that, do a bit of analyzing of what exactly it is that the coworker is doing to frustrate everyone. Write down some examples specifically, and be able to say why they aren’t appropriate or helpful.For example, it may not be entirely accurate to say she is being bossy. Being bossy would imply your coworker orders people around, making them do things they don’t want to do, or giving them work to do on top of their other work. It is, literally, giving orders like a boss.On the other hand,if your new coworker is pointing out errors or problems and telling people how things could be done better, your supervisor may think it’s a good thing. In that case, it may be your coworker’s manner of giving advice that is irritating, not the actual advice. Keep in mind that she might very well have been hired with some instruction to make sure she uses her experience to improve things. That would be a bad thing for your boss to do to her and to the rest of you, but it happens.Once you identify exactly what it is that is so upsetting, you are in a better position to talk to either her or your supervisor about it. For example, you don’t mind her giving advice that is important, but you don’t want her to do it with a tone that implies you are less than competent. Another example: You don’t mind her pointing out something that could create severe problems later, but you don’t want her to try to duplicate her last office in this one. And, it isn’t helpful for her to criticize so many things that people feel resentful. Instead if she has concerns she should discuss them with the manager and let him tell the other employees to do things differently. (And let him deal with her corrections all day.)Since she isn’t your boss, she really has no power over any of you. She can make all the suggestions she wants, but you don’t need to do them. Rather than ignoring her or doing as she suggests then resenting her, try being absolutely blunt and direct in a civil way until she realizes she has been going about things the wrong way.The next time she criticizes someone or tells them what to do, stop her. Just say, “Stop, Karen. Geez! It seems to me there isn’t anything I do that you don’t think can be done better. That’ just irritating and it’s not helpful. So stop.”Or, “Karen, stop! If you don’t think we’re doing things the right way, go talk to the boss. In the meantime I’ll do it the way I was taught. Come on now, give me a break!”Or, “OK, Karen. I’m trying to patient here, because I’m sure you mean well. But you’re driving me and everyone else nuts with your continual corrections. It’s frustrating to me and keeps me from getting my work done. Now, stop it.”While you’re doing this, make every effort to not shut her out of office communications. No good comes of that. If she is inappropriate in other ways, you can deal with those. But, give her a chance to fit in. Maybe that will let her see she doesn’t have to establish herself as the expert on everything.There are two things you don’t want to do: 1. Don’t go along with her demands or corrections, if you don’t want to. Every time you do that, you reinforce for her that you need her to correct things.2. Don’t be mean to her. You will portray yourselves as unprofessional and unwilling to have someone help you. Plus, it just isn’t nice! Consider talking to the supervisor in a very specific way about what is bothering you. Then, ask him if the new employee was hired to bring about change or correction. You may want to know that! If not, let him know what you plan to do and that you will not be rude to her, just direct and refusing to take her orders. Make sure he understands your concerns and will support your good efforts to have an effective team.If your office has periodic staff meetings, that would be a good time for the coworker to bring up concerns, or to provide information that would help everyone. Or, you and the others could research various issues and get to be as big an expert as she thinks she is! Those meetings are also times to discuss furstrations and suggestions for improvements. But, you need to be willing to be honest and open about it, and not hurtful, just helpful.Throughout all of this, focus on how you want to be perceived. Do you want to be seen by everyone as an unofficial leader who resolves conflicts rather than only making some people winners and others losers? Do you want to be seen as someone who can help even a problematic coworker, fit into the group? Do you want to be seen as someone who will support the good efforts of others who are trying to resolve the problem? I hope your answer to all of those is that you want to be the good example of how to stop bad behavior without shutting down good behavior or hurting people’s feelings unnecessarily.Keep that picture in mind and it will guide you through the process. Best wishes as you deal with the challenge. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe