Over-Bearing, Gossipy Co-Worker Is Now My Boss!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gossipy micro-managing boss:

Here’s the situation. When I first started, I was trained by “Jan”, whose prior boss had left for another opportunity. I was hired to assist in the same market she had been in for 4-5 years (our department is segregated by market). We both reported to the same boss. I am a quick learner and had no trouble catching on to my job requirements. My boss had also stated that he had never seen someone learn the job so quickly.

Despite this, Jan has always looked over my shoulder, double checked my work, asked me to make insignificant changes, held information from me, delegated work unfairly, failed to teach me new tasks even though my boss and myself both requested her to… I could go on. On top of this, she’s a ‘know-it-all’ and extremely gossipy. I was given a reprieve when she went on maternity leave for 3 months and I was able to field both of our daily duties. I was extremely capable (although overworked) and my ambition to go to work everyday shot through the roof. I thrived without her and loved every second of it.

Alas, all good things come to an end… she’s back in full force. We both received promotions, however she’s been promoted to manager level and I’m expected to “dotted-line” report to her. Within a week of her being back, she started interfering with my job duties (which were specifically handed over to me at my promotion). After one blatant interference (which she didn’t even include me on, then forwarded an email explaining the change she’d made), I had enough. I waited 3 hours to cool off before replying but apparently it wasn’t long enough.

The next morning our boss called a group huddle with both of us to discuss our situation. She had taken my response personally, which all I had asked her to do was to include me on actions she was taking. She seemed to think that “nothing had changed” from how things were, when they had actually changed a great deal for me. I gained so much more confidence and enjoyment when she was gone and it’s been very difficult for me to step-back with her return. I explained that in the meeting and I think she got it, but I’m not sure.

On top of this, she’s very gossipy and I’m sure she’d painted a very negative impression of me to everyone/anyone she can. I don’t trust her nor respect her enough to report to her. After this, we’ve both been very civil to each other. I actually invited her out to lunch as a peace offering, but she ended up postponing the date and hasn’t gotten back to me with when she’d want to go. Also, she’s still performing my job duties and isn’t keeping me in the loop of things (which is part of her job responsibility now). I’m so unhappy and feel that my hands are tied. I really like my job, I just can’t stand her and I certainly don’t want to report to her. Why would anyone want to report to someone who is deliberately holding them back? Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you, Frustrated

Signed, Held Back

DearĀ Held Back:

I wish there was a magic, sure-fire solution to your problem, but honestly I don’t think there is! The co-worker was apparently thought well enough of by those higher that she was promoted to a managerial position. Her boss may have thought she should have done some things differently, but apparently is not so unhappy that he has directed her to do so. He merely called the two of you together to “work things out.” Thus, you are in the position many people are, are having a boss they do not like and do not want to report to. But the fact is, you report to her and she has at least some authority over you and responsibility for you. Your focus will likely need to be on doing your job well, knowing that organizational structures will likely change again.

I think civil, work-focused behavior between the two of you is the best you can hope for right now. You do not really want to be her friend or to have a closer relationship, so there is not much point in pushing a “peace offering” lunch. She obviously doesn’t feel any better about it than you do, which is why she postponed it! Usually those are filled with insincere conversation and hidden resentments. Best wait until you truly do feel positive enough about her to want to spend lunch time with her. If she brings up the subject and sets a date, you will need to go, of course. But, use it as a casual conversation time, preferably without discussing work unless she brings it up.Here is a key point to remember: Even though you may be a quick learner and had the opportunity to work on your own for a few months, the fact is that your boss has tenure, experience and organizational authority.

She has been empowered to determine some aspects of your work. Though it may be frustrating to have her change some of your work or look over your shoulder, she can do that as part of her job. Unless you want to file a formal complaint, alleging some kind of procedural or rules violation, you will probably need to become accustomed to her style and work within it. Your reputation and future in the organization may depend upon your ability to find a way to do what it takes and keep moving forward.

Your other options are to continue to let her know your feelings about work, and continue to show her your competencies so she can feel more comfortable about stepping back from your work. Or, you can find a way to discuss your concerns and frustrations with her boss and ask if he has advice on how to handle the situation.Think about this as well: It sounds as though you had not been employed many months before this former co-worker who is now your boss, was on maternity leave. She only was off three months, so she is dealing with a new baby and other issues. You can bet she wasn’t promoted to her recent level without being talked with by her boss. She may have been given instructions related to work and she is trying to carry those out. Whatever happened between the two of you, she was not reprimanded about it or told to change, so evidently she was not viewed as being in the wrong. She had a style of working that has apparently been successful for her, and was doing that before you came on the scene. She trained you, so she likely feels she is skillful at her work.

She was promoted, further adding to her view that her work methods are OK. All of that is to say that she certainly has a much different perspective than you. Perhaps trying to see that perspective would be helpful.One thing that would help would be to know for certain what her job description is, as it relates to you. And be very clear about your job description as it relates to being supervised. That way if she does something that clearly is not within her authority you can talk about it to her boss. But if her actions are within her authority and are not rules violations, you will know that you either must work within her guidelines or quit–and I don’t think you want to quit.You may have to really work at learning to adjust to this situation. You have an opportunity to show that you can be a good team member and that you can be supervised without showing resentment. The organization is more concerned about work product than the individual egos of the people working there. That is why Dr. Gorden often refers to WEGO–the concept that working together helps achieve both organizational goals and individual goals far better than having personal battles for control going on all the time.One day this situation will change again. But it is very probable that your current boss will always be a step ahead of you organizationally, or a peer, unless she chooses to leave. Building a civil working relationship now may be very beneficial in the future. Best wishes as you deal with this challenging situation!

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.