Talking Behind My Back When I Try To Help

Question:

How should I handle this situation with co-workers talking behind my back?

We had a new department formed at work 9 months ago. Out of 8 people (not including the new boss) I am the only one that came from inside the company. I am by far the most qualified person in terms of experience and education for what we do.

The new boss was someone I only had to deal with briefly in the past and has basically no prior experience in what he is managing. He managed purchasing before and now he is managing manufacturing maintenance systems.

No one has been hired to fill the former job I had, so I get requests to do things in the old area. Since I have the time I help out. I am in the situation now of still doing my old work while new coworkers are getting trained about things I’ve been trained about already.

Now I catch some of my new co-workers cracking rude jokes about me though not in the boss’s presence. My new boss tells me to help him lead the department but when I do so, some of my co-workers seem to resent me. I express that I am only trying to help them learn what they need to know for the department to be successful but they feel they don’t need me.

Talking with the new boss doesn’t seem to gain any ground on the situation and I find him defending them. Meanwhile, I have started hearing that they are saying untrue things behind my back to make me look bad. I actually caught one of them red-handed saying untrue things about me to someone outside the department. I mentioned it to them because I was really upset and they apologized profusely, but I feel it will continue.

I almost get the feeling my new boss feels threatened by my obvious amount of knowledge and experience over him though I never try to act superior to him. I worry that he is also saying some negative things about me to others outside the department.

What should I do?

Signed,

Outcast


Answer:

Dear Outcast:

It’s always a challenge to be the most knowledgeable and experienced in a group! For one thing, the other employees haven’t watched your work over the years so to them you are just like them. They have no obligation to listen to you and may feel that you are acting superior to them, even if you don’t intend to.

Your manager is wrong to ask you to have a leadership role but not tell you how to achieve that or how to avoid problems. So, it will be up to you to do that. Obviously the current way isn’t working very well, even though you are trying to do a good job.

If I were you I’d try this approach:

1. Back off in a friendly way for now. Focus on your own work and do not play the role of trainer or supervisor. Unless it is crucial, let the new boss decide if work is being done right or not. Obviously you would step in if it was unsafe or damaging. You could try quietly saying, “I think I have some ideas about that, but you may want to just figure it out on your own. Let me know if you want any ideas.” “Ideas” sounds better than “help.”

2. Talk to your manager and tell him you are taking a new approach and will appreciate his input. Say that you do not want to have a role that is outside your job description or what others expect. But, if he wants you to be involved with training others or assisting them, you need for him to tell everyone, so they will know it isn’t your idea.

3. Work more at building relationships than having a trainer or supervisor role. Pick one or two people and chat in a friendly way. Make helping with work be just a suggestion. For example,

“Hey, if you need anything let me know. I don’t want to butt in, but I’m happy to do what I can.” 4. Interact with them in such a way that if they lie about you, most people won’t believe them anyway, or someone else will jump to your defense. Establish work friendships that will give you that kind of support.

5. Use the best verbal and non-verbal communication you can. Smile often. Laugh with people. Ask how they are doing. Give them a thumbs up for good work. ACT as though you are accepted and you accept them. Sometimes it will be a big act if you think they are talking about you. But, just keep acting friendly and as though you are part of a great group. It won’t hurt and it might help.

6. Encourage anything that builds others and the team. The more you can get attention off you and onto work and the work group, the better off you’ll be!

Those ideas may or may not work for you, but they are worth trying. You can’t stop anyone from talking but you can do your best to not give them something to build on and exaggerate.

At the same time, you can keep building your reptuation for being the most experienced, knowledgeable person there. Make your work as excellent as possible. Be appropriately appreciative of others. Be a “good” team member not “the most experienced and knowledgeable” team member.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out. 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.