I wasn’t sure about sending you this question, but then I saw the tag ” Is someone in your life making it weird?” and I thought, “Yes! In fact someone IS making it weird!” So here goes.
First, some context of the problem I’m about to describe, in handy bulleted points:
-I work with Cas. She is three years younger than I am and has worked at my company (and in this field) for a year.
-I have worked at this company for two months, but have worked in this field for three years.
-Cas is the lead on the client we share, which means that she has an eensy amount of authority over me.
-I am totally okay with this and generally direct all of my job-related questions to her with no problems.
-I have a manager, Nat, and a department head, Vic.
-My entire team has weekly meetings lead by Vic.
-Even though I’m the newest member of the team, I’ve hit it off with everyone pretty well. I’m pretty darn easygoing, and I basically like everyone.
Okay! So here’s the problem that is nestled in all of those points: sometimes Cas takes on a creepy maternal tone with me, completely out of nowhere and usually in front of people. We’ll be having a totally normal meeting, Vic will mention a policy change, and Cas will look at me say in a soothing tone, “It’s okay, LW! Don’t worry!” How do you mistake someone doodling Charlie Brown on her meeting agenda for someone having a meltdown over a policy change?
Another time she got a due date wrong at a meeting, and when Vic corrected her, she responded by saying, “I get it now. Sorry for confusing you, LW!” I had literally said nothing up to that point and wasn’t even looking at her when she made that comment. It was super weird.
Recently I asked Nat for a performance review since I don’t have one due until January and I want to make sure that I’ve got the hang of things. She obliged, and I found that I’m doing pretty great! Yay! Cas mentioned to me that she would be offering up a performance review for me this week, so I just let her know that Nat had just done one. Cas blinked and said, “Oh, well, I’ll do it anyway just to be sure.” I said that this was fine (since I’m doing great, what harm is another review?) and went back to work. Cas then said, in that motherly tone, “It’s all right, LW. Don’t be nervous.” Captain, I ASKED for a review. I already got high marks. Why would I be nervous?
I’m not really looking for understanding as to why Cas acts this way. Maybe she’s feeling threatened, maybe she really likes having power and exercising it. You know, it really doesn’t matter to me since I can’t control her feelings. I know I do good work and I know she can’t undermine that. I guess I’m just wondering if there’s a good script I can use that is more professional/respectful than, “Hey, please knock it off with the comforting talk, because it’s SO CREEPY.” Her slight authority over me is what makes this so difficult–I do feel like I owe her appropriate respect and deference. Obviously since this is just an irritant and not a matter of harassment, bringing this up to Nat or Vic is not an option. I take pride in being a good employee, and part of that is not burdening my supervisors with stuff like this.
So what do you think? Is there something I can say to make her stop treating me like I’m emotionally fragile when it’s overwhelmingly obvious that I’m not?
Not a Fainting Goat
Dear Not A Fainting Goat,
The “Surprise! I’m your self-appointed mentor!” problem is one I’m familiar with from my time in management consulting.
I have nothing but good news for you, because you are smart and awesome and handling this really well.
You’ve only been there for two months, so one piece of good news is that most of this is going to get resolved by time. You’re going to have more opportunities to demonstrate your competence, she is most likely going to chill out and stop acting like your Work Mommy, and all will be well without you having to do or say much of anything. Since she is much younger than you, it’s possible that this is her first time being in any kind of authority role over anyone and she’s SUPER-concerned about doing a good job. This can be harnessed in a positive way if you keep your cool and give it some time.
I think the performance review battle is one worth fighting. If she is your supervisor, she should do a performance review. If she is NOT your supervisor, she should not do a performance review (but may have a very legit role as a peer evaluator). So I think you’re within bounds to ask her “Cas, I wanted to follow up on your offer to do a performance review the other day. Nat already handled that, but I’d be very interested in any feedback you have. Why don’t you email your comments to him – that way anything you have to say will be incorporated into my official review.”
In response to her reassurances, I would go with:
“Thank you! I got it.”
“Thank you. I wasn’t confused.”
“Thank you! I’m not worried.”
“Thank you! I think I’m good.”
ALWAYS answer back. But do it very politely and positively. What will happen is the weirdness of her always offering reassurances will start to get more grating and awkward, the rest of your team will notice that weird thing she does, and hopefully she’ll figure it out and dial back.
If 6 months in she’s still treating you like a delicate flower, you’re cleared to say “Cas, you’ve been so awesome at making me feel welcome here, but I’m not the New Guy anymore! Chill out with the worry, ok? I’m up to speed, and if for some reason you think I’m not, just tell me. I can handle it, I swear.” But I don’t think it will come to that.
I have an in-between role at work — I’m not a manager with direct reports, but I am in a senior position on my team, both in title and experience specific to this job. However, I am also the youngest person on my team, and most of my coworkers have worked at our company for longer than I have — just not in their current role. I’m tech savvy and quick to adapt, so this job suits me — several of my coworkers are the same. However, some of my other coworkers are not as tech savvy and frequently complain about not being provided with enough training — something that is difficult to do in an industry that changes as fast as ours and relies on people who can be self-motivated and self-directed.
There’s some friction between the two factions: the “savvies” get frustrated picking up the slack constantly, and then half the times we walk past their desks they’re on YouTube or Facebook or they’re napping, seriously, literally asleep at their desks. They complain about not knowing HTML or how to use Excel, which are a) things they told us they knew in their interviews, and b) best learned by googling/exploring on your own. So, we are civil but not personable — none of us feel like chumming it up with people who increase our workload. So the “unsavvies” have expressed (in team meetings, with our manager) that we are “mean” and that there is not enough trust within the team. One of the reasons given was we don’t use enough emoticons when we IM. I’m not shitting you. I’ve also had someone get angry at me for asking that they fix a multitude of oversights she made over a period of six months. This was after I asked her point blank if she understood and was completing the task, and she said yes. Don’t know if she was lying or understood so little about the task that she didn’t know she didn’t understand, but either is a problem.
Anyway, recently in an effort to provide “more training” I compiled a document outlining one of the processes I oversee that everyone on my team is responsible for completing regularly. The information had been provided verbally in initial training and casually in a few emails, but there were still a lot of oversights occurring. So I created the document, emailed it to everyone, and recommended that they print it to keep somewhere where it would be easy to reference. After this initial email, I received notification that this process was still not being followed properly (via the manager of another team tangentially involved in it). I sent a follow-up email in which I said I was still getting complaints, so I was now requiring that everyone print the document, post it in their cube in an easy-to-see place, and reference it frequently.
So today I noticed that in one of my coworker’s cubes, the document was indeed posted: it was posted almost invisibly behind his computer monitor, and upside down/unreadable. He wasn’t just sticking it in the only place it would fit — the rest of his cube is fairly bare. It was definitely there on purpose.
I can’t think of anything this was meant to convey besides “fuck you”. Can you?
My boss is pretty hands off as well as being super busy, so I think I need to address this with him directly rather than bringing it to her. I feel like I need to have a talk with him about it to find out why he did it, and request that I get a baseline level of professional respect even if he doesn’t like me personally. I also need him to, you know, be referencing that document because it is important! I don’t want it to devolve into a, “You’re mean!”, “Well you’re incompetent!” blowout, I want to talk only about this specific action and the inappropriateness of it. Any suggestions for a script? I’m also terrible with confrontation and cry easily. He’s about 25 years older than me. Any tips on how to keep my cool?
A Little Respect? Just a Little Bit?
Dear A Little Respect:
Your coworker is indeed being a pill. But in my strong opinion, this is a Choose Your Battles situation, and I suggest that there is an advantage to you in waiting.
Let him have his upside-down and backwards guidelines and be a childish dick…for now. Let the proof be in the results. Next time he has to turn in that particular TPS report or run that particular procedure, if it’s all correct, stand down. You’ve won the day.
If it’s NOT correct (it won’t be correct), it’s time for you to send an email to him cc:ing your boss.
I’m very concerned that your ___ is still full of errors. Was something unclear in the (procedure memo?) Let’s block out some time today so we can go over this again one-on-one.”
Look how awesomely professional and focused on work you are! Look how publicly incompetent he appears to be!
If you need to talk to your boss at that point, you are in a good position to say “Listen, I didn’t wat to be a petty jerk before, but this guy openly displayed the procedure memo upside down in his cube as a way to say F-U. That would be fine if he could actually do the work, but now that he’s shown that he can’t, I feel pretty justified in calling it out as disrespectful. Back me up?”
No big talk required. Wait, give him enough rope, yank the rope back.
I don’t know when I turned into Office Work Machiavelli. 1998, probably. You’re welcome.