I was just hired to replace a co-worker in a particular job, but the company has kept her on and given her another position. Since my arrival a month ago, she has made it her goal to sabotage my relationship with my boss and the staff by lying, giving me erroneous information or no information and telling outright lies to my boss. Tonight my boss said things are not working out but gave no real concrete reasons that were valid. After defending my position, he said think about it overnight and we will talk tomorrow. How can I tell him that the problem is that I have not been able to be efficient at my job because of the sabotaging behavior of the person I replaced, without sounding like I am complaining?
On the Defensive
Dear On the Defensive:
It sounds like rather than worrying about not complaining you should worry about how to complain effectively so you can keep your job. Perhaps had your manager known of your concerns during the last month, especially when you were given wrong or no information that should have been provided, he would have been alert for indicators of problems with the coworker who had your job. Now is the time to be clear about what has happened and the impact it has had on your work in the last month.Consider listing some significant events in the last month about which you think you would have done better work if your coworker had not weakened your position, gave you wrong information or lied to you. That assumes you have proof of it. If you don’t have proof, you will be on shaky ground, because it will just sound like placing blame. I don’t know how you could have proof, but if you’re going to allege that she lied, you’d better have the name of someone she lied to. If you’re going to allege she gave you wrong information, it had better be in writing.If you have tried to talk to your manager or others about the problems in the last month, be prepared to talk about that, as a way to show that you were making an effort to be effective.If you never said anything about the problems to anyone above you in the last month, be ready to explain that as well. You may want to just say that you were hesitant to complain because you didn’t want to sound as though you were making excuses, but now you realize you should have.When the meeting starts you might be able to take the lead by saying that you took your manager’s advice and thought a lot about the situation over night. However, the more you thought about it, the more you realized that your major error in the last month has been in not communicating with your manager as things were happening that you could tell at the time were keeping you from being effective. But, you want to talk about those things now and see if that will not only explain some of the problems but also help you find a way to correct the situation.Of course, it could be that your manager has other things in mind that don’t have anything to do with situations involving your coworker. He may even be aware of issues involving your coworker and felt you should have handled it better. Or, it may be he doesn’t work as well with you as he had hoped because of differences in styles or approaches, but it’s easier to just say it isn’t working out. One way to make him be honest and helpful at the same time is to ask something like, “What would you like to see me doing instead of what I’ve been doing?” “What would it take on my part for you to feel that I can work out in this job?”You may want to negotiate with him a bit: “If I can have one more month without feeling I’m being held back, I think you will see this can work out just fine.” “Could I ask you for one more month in which to gain more comfort with my position?I think a month is too short a time to make a judgment about your work. It’s enough time to make a judgment about your overall behavior, appearance, communication style and other issues that can have an affect on being successful in a job. However, if those were problems, your boss should have been talking to you when he first noticed those things, not waiting until now.I know this is a tough situation to be in and you feel backed into a corner. Hopefully the meeting will allow you to state your case and then you can follow up by not taking such a passive role in the future. As you’ve learned, tolerating problematic behavior can end up making you look like the problem. Your goal for the meeting is to let your boss know the truth and to let him know what you need to be successful.You have an responsibility for your work, but he has a responsibility too. It sounds as though he let you down, whether he meant to or not. Maybe this meeting will remind him of that fact.That brings up the issue of how you should interact with the former employee. Unless she has the job of training you, I think you should be civil but assume she is not going to be any help. Find someone else to teach you what you need to know or put all of your requests to the coworker in writing and ask her to respond to you that way, saying that you want to be able to refer back to the instructions. At least that way you’ll have documentation if she gives you bad information.If you have examples of good work you have done in the last month, things you have accomplished or at least have started, see if you can mention those to your boss, to show him that the whole picture isn’t negative. Let him get the picture of an employee who wants to do well and will do well if she is given the opportunity to do it.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe