#706 and #707: Coworker Conflicts

Oh my Captain!

I’m working at a temp data entry job, where I scan and index files prepared by another team. When I started this project, the supervisor told me to go to her if I had any questions, or noticed anything unusual. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve been catching a fair few errors. After about a month of this, the supervisor decided to point a couple of the more common errors out to the prep team, so they can avoid them.

When this was pointed out to them, they seemed wounded, said they were shocked to find out there had been mistakes, and said I should bring questions to them first, so they can correct them.

I’ve been trying that for the past few days, but it’s been going… weirdly…  Here’s an example.

I have three files, one each for Alice, Bob, and Carol. They put all three under Bob’s name. When I point this out, the prep team said that all three shared Bob’s ID number. This is incorrect. I know they know it’s incorrect, because they use the correct ID numbers elsewhere in the file.
I’m inclined to go back to just asking my supervisor, but I’m worried that the prep team will take offense again. If they wanted to, they could make my job really difficult. I feel like they don’t take anything I catch seriously, possibly because I’m considerably younger, female, and a temp.

Thanks for looking this over,

Not Trying to Make Trouble

Dear Not Trying To Make Trouble:

Your job is to catch errors before they become indexed. You aren’t doing it at anyone or doing anything wrong. You aren’t making trouble.

You could ask your supervisor to sort this out for you. Script: “You wanted me to bring you errors, but Alice, Bob, and Carol asked me to bring errors to them first so they can correct them. What’s your preferred workflow?

If supervisor says “Keep coming to me, it’s easier for you to just consolidate everything in one place” then keep doing that. You may want to ask a follow-up question, like, “Thanks, Boss! Can you let Alice, Bob, and Carol know that’s how you want it to be?

If supervisor says “Try bring them to the team first” then do that. If Alice, Bob, and Carol bug you about it, refer them to supervisor. “Boss asked me to do it this way, can’t help, sorry!

As for the specific instance you suggest and future errors, honor their request! Start returning files with errors to Bob, Alice, and Carol and point out the errors. Attach a typed list of errors & corrections to the stack and save a copy of the message (email a copy to yourself and/or enter it into a log).

“(Today’s Date)

Hi Alice, Bob, Carol, 

The ID# on the first page is Bob’s, but the other ID#s don’t match. Can you clarify whose file is which?

Thank you,

Your Name”

Do that with every error – physically return the things, with an attached memo documenting the problem and asking for a correction, and then add the notice to your saved files/error log. By doing this, you are being professional, honoring their request, and making it very easy for them to fix the mistake. You are also creating a written record, which cuts through some bullshit.

Possible outcomes: 1) They are going to be cool and fix the errors, 2) They are going to double down on the errors and insist mistakes are correct or 3) They are going to be annoyed that their workflow seems to stop periodically as piles of their mistakes circle back to them and take that annoyance out on you. If they choose the second or third options, circle back to looping in your supervisor: “As requested, I’ve been going directly to the team members when I find an error. That seems to produce a lot of friction. Any advice?” “I asked Bob, Carol, and Alice for clarification on this error, but it it’s still wrong. Can you clarify it for me?

Saving the documentation you created is to cover your own butt if Carol, Alice, and Bob blame the errors on you. “As you can see, I sent these files back for corrections on May 19, as the team requested. Can you tell me again what the issue is?

It’s bad management to set the temp up as the enforcer of your policies on your full-time team. Hopefully your supervisor gets that!

Dear Captain Awkward & Team,

I work with Sauron, nicknamed for the way she acts like the Lord of the Rings eye, in a small office in which we share the space with another team (basically it’s two different teams within a bigger company working in the same physical space, but completely different practices). There is always someone within hearing distance AND she and I sit about 3 feet away from each other.

What can I do to protect my boundaries and being consistently disrespected from a colleague (that is practically regarded as God in the office – I kid you not)?

Backstory: I have known Sauron for 10+ years and I suppose we’re “close friends”. We have always had an unhealthy dynamic between us from the outset. She is my “clingy” friend who has controlling behavior, though loyal and capable of doing many good deeds. Every single friend I know disapproves of the way she behaves towards me and says she acts like a “jealous boyfriend”.

I’ve had a dawning realization during my 2nd year (starting 3rd now) that Sauron really puts me down, makes me feel inferior, and acts in a way that shames others. She behaves that way to others but as they are in a different practice, she has no “ranking”. She will go out of her way to yell across the office to someone who forgot to turn off the faucet (it’s really sensitive so it’s easy to leave it dripping and not notice) in an accusing way, whether it’s me or our boss. She will give me “pop quizzes” (even now!) I invariably fail because they are all questions that do with tasks I very RARELY do (or have learnt about in a passing conversation weeks ago). Am I competent worker? Yes. Do I have a background in this complicated field before this job? No. Am I as “on it” as I could be? I could be better, definitely. These incidents of shaming me or making me feel and look inferior happen more when she feels upset (about anything). Once, she went “Mynamehere! Come here.” So I dragged myself out of my chair and walked into the room she was in. She pointed at old documents in a client binder and informed me I had stapled it wrong. Our boss prefers it vertical, she said. I know that – and I do it as such when I remember, but I’m also human, damnit! Did she really need to wield the proof of crime in my face? I’m not 5-years-old and it could easily be resolved with “Hey mynamehere, just a reminder that Boss likes things done thisway and not thatway! Thanks!”

The other part of the problem? She was instrumental in getting me this job (and I love my boss and the pay is decent). The other thing? We train at the same martial arts school together (although I’ve arranged it so that my training schedule only overlaps with hers once a week), which is a whole other issue in itself. I want to preserve my job and don’t feel I am free to be as assertive as I’d like while still employed here. She is the type to take criticism very poorly and will hold long grudges. My solution so far has been to keep my own mental health up and basically “emotionally armor” myself against her attacks.


Resigned until my resignation

Dear Resigned,

Your strategy of keeping your emotional health up while trying to GTFO seems sound to me, as well as emotionally armoring and bracing yourself for her treatment.

Is Sauron your supervisor? You say she doesn’t have ranking – does that mean you have the same job title/level? Because if she’s not your supervisor, my script for you when she summons you about something trivial is:

I’m on a deadline/ in the middle of something. Is it important?

Like, stop automatically jumping up when she calls you over.

Fair warning. She won’t like this, and she’ll take it as the challenge that it is. She will also insist that everything is important enough to interrupt you. When she does, go over to her and find out what’s so important. Then, I want you to mirror back what she says as much as possible. Don’t argue with her, agree with her.

Sauron: “You need to staple the papers vertically, not horizontally!”

You: “I need to staple the papers vertically. Got it.”

Sauron: “You need to turn off the faucet!”

You: “I need to turn off the faucet. Got it.”

Be very flat, neutral, and boring in response to whatever she says. No sarcasm! But also, try to keep it really terse and resist the temptation to apologize or self-flagellate.

The pop quizzes are ridiculous. Stop taking them!

Sauron: “Quick, let’s quiz you on policy x and y!

You: Choose your own adventure:

  • A long, blank stare before turning back to your work, like you are coming from a place of deep contemplation and don’t quite even know what she’s talking about.
  • A long, blank, awkward stare before asking her an actually relevant-to-work question.
  • A flat “I don’t know off the top of my head.” Repeat that like a robot to every quiz question, even the ones you know the answers to, like a person in a police station asking for a lawyer. She can’t ‘catch you out’ if you don’t play the game.

The survival strategy here for dealing with her is to keep your work game tight and to be completely boring in the face of her bullying. Do the best work you can. Come in on time. Be well-groomed (within the norms of your industry/workplace). Be kind and polite and reasonable to everyone. Keep your workspace neat. Document your work for your boss – sending a brief weekly status update email is great for that, in that it helps your boss actually manage the work and serves as great evidence for “I do my work” if she tries to come at you that way.

You could loop your boss in, but you’d have to do it in a way that was about business. Your boss doesn’t want to know about the personal history y’all have and won’t really respond to anything that isn’t about making his or her job easier. If you get desperate, you could try, “I’m grateful to Sauron for bringing me onto the team, but sometimes her attempts to “train” me lately are interrupting my actual work. Any thoughts on how to handle this with her when she wants to give me a pop quiz about things?” Chances are Boss is going to say “ignore her, that’s just her way” or worse, chalk it up to “drama” between friends, which won’t help you, so my suggestion is to save the Boss for a) if Sauron does something really openly and obviously abusive b) making an explicit request that she not be involved in your performance reviews.

Speaking of performance reviews, if it’s been a while since you’ve had one, ask the Boss to give you a brief, informal one. “Boss, I just want to check in briefly and make sure things are on track here. Is there anything about my work you’d like to see improve?” You’re in year three of this job, so while Sauron helped you get the job, you’ve kept the job on your own. Everyone make mistakes, and people make more mistakes when they are being bullied and undermined, so be nice to yourself. Hopefully you’ll get some useful feedback, and possibly you’ll get some ready answers for Sauron, along the lines of “Yes, Boss and I talked about that, I’m on it, thanks!” or “Boss didn’t say that’s a problem when we talked yesterday, where are you getting this?”  I’ve had to deal with the micromanage-y peer who sets herself up as the one true oracle of what the Boss really wants, and it’s irritating as hell. Sometimes the answer is to ignore it, sometimes it’s to give in, and sometimes the answer is to say “Cool, let’s go ask Boss, so we can be completely clear on what to do!” Once upon a time I had to do a complex project in a cubicle right outside a busy conference room, and it turns out that my actual boss did not in fact care if I wore headphones or find them “unprofessional,” much to the office manager’s peeve and chagrin when I called her bluff and looped him in. If periodically Sauron makes a big deal out of something, and you don’t agree, forcing her into the position of having to either bother your boss with it or STFU is not the worst move.

Other strategies:

  • Speaking of headphones, if you can wear them for at least part of the day, especially if you’re doing something that requires concentration, do it. It will make her nuts and she will try everything she can do to get you to take them off, but it will let you literally tune her out some of the time.
  • While others may walk on eggshells around her, especially if she’s really good at what she does, I guarantee that there are other people in that office who see through her. In fact, I’ll bet that she has bullied and/or undermined others in the way she is doing it to you. So, make friends with other people in the office: other practice areas, other people at your same level. Go to happy hour, etc. even if she’s there, and have cool side conversations with others you work with. Try to expand your influence and network outside of your immediate team. Maybe the pay you like and the job you like exist for you on the other side of the building.
  • Be very security-conscious. Back up your work to the server, organize your files, consider a passworded screensaver for your computer, log out of all personal email/social media accounts when you leave your computer, clear your browsing history/cookies/saved passwords regularly, make sure you keep copies of essential documents – esp. stuff that’s important to your boss – in a place that you can easily find them but she can’t. She has “controlling person who would snoop through your personal shit” written all over her.
  • Should go without saying, but do not gossip with her about your boss or other employees. The people I know who behave like her (overall) have a strategy of sharing some tidbit or badmouthing somebody to get you to drop your guard and do the same. Never fall for this where she is concerned. Sauron: “Isn’t boss so annoying when they do x?” You: “Huh, I never noticed/If you say so/Hrmmm, interesting.”
  • If y’all are social media friends, use your filters to make sure she doesn’t have real time constant access to your life. Don’t unfriend or block yet – you’re in a covert ops phase until you’re free of that workplace – but filter so she sees only really general, occasional posts.
  • Schedule 5-10 minutes in your day to actively engage her. I know. I know. I know you do not want to do this. But build it into your to-do list – “10:30, go to break room for water, ask Sauron if she wants anything. Make brief small talk about how the weekend was.” Some of her bullshit might be about getting your attention, so if you give her measured bits of it in a way you can predict and control it will throw her off balance. Also, ask her questions about her life, but don’t volunteer stuff about your life.
  • Buy an African Violet and keep it on your desk. Look at it for comfort when you need to. When you leave the company, you can give it to her with a card that says “Dear Sauron, thank you so much for helping me get my foot in the door here. I wish you and the rest of the team all the best. Signed, Resigned.” And then you are going to be “busy” when she contacts you. A lot. She doesn’t have to know that right now.

Finall, a reminder that SELF CARE IS ESSENTIAL.

  • Eat well, get enough sleep, get regular health checkups/haircuts/massages.
  • Seek out new friends, seek out friends and family who lift you up and encourage you. Minimize contact with people in your life who are super-critical or who drain your energy.
  • Find hobbies and social spaces that are not near Sauron.
  • Got vacation time? USE IT. Start planning one now.
  • Send out resumes often. Make your LinkedIn profile a thing of beauty. Network like a motherfucker. Look around in your industry for other places you might fit. Other people will value your competence and ability to get along with others.

Good luck, and get out soon! I predict that you are going to thrive when you’re away from this lady.

78 thoughts on “#706 and #707: Coworker Conflicts

  1. Oh yes, the part where they trick you into bad mouthing others! I didn’t know it was a common thing. I once had a bullying manager (she was terrible in many many ways) and one day she turned to me in conversation and jokingly said “I don’t even know what [next boss up the chain] does all day! LOL!” And I said “Haha yes what does he even do all day?” just as a completely bland response to her joke. Next Boss Up The Chain returned from wherever he was shortly after and Bully immediately said to him “Boss Anisoptera said she doesn’t know what you do all day!” And her tone was shocked rather than joking. Seriously. I cannot stress this enough – do not say bad things about anyone even in jest, even in response to their joke. You are not among friends, even if for a second it feels like you are and that feels like a relief.

    Also re Linked In – many HR departments watch staff Linked In accounts (they also get the paid accounts so they don’t have to be connected with you to do it) and they notice when you start updating it. I literally sit next to a HR person at my work and only last week she pointed out how she thought someone might be leaving because they’d started following many other companies in the same industry. So yes update it, but if you can, do it gradually and then keep updating it. In fact my advice to everyone is to keep updating Linked In regularly even when you’re not looking for work because it means that if you start looking you can do that without anyone knowing until such time as you want to tell them. Also it has the side benefit of keeping you on the radar of recruiters (who notice accounts that match keywords they’re searching, especially when those accounts change) and means they’re more aware of you as a possible candidate and depending on your industry and the job market might even contact you about positions they have going.

    1. Just as an aside, you can turn off the option that posts a message when you update your LinkedIn profile. It won’t stop someone from stalking your actual page and seeing if something has been added or changed, but at least it won’t broadcast every update you make out to your network of connections.

  2. LW #707 – OMG, your description of the Sauron coworker is brilliant. I had one of those too. Mine was a direct supervisor. She used to do the humiliating quiz thing with me too…and she saw herself as my mentor, so it was hard to call the bullying out for what it was, because I was constantly being reminded of how grateful I should be to her for teaching me everything I knew. And it’s true, I did learn a lot from her…but all the while I was nauseous every morning when I saw her in the office and suffering from bouts of insomnia that mysteriously ceased as soon as I left that job.

    At any rate, one evening when I was working late, a coworker pulled me aside, and said, “You know, nobody else in the office is OK with the way she talks to you. It’s verbal abuse. It makes us cringe. I know there isn’t anything you can do about it, but I just wanted you to know that you don’t deserve it, and it’s not OK.”

    Sometimes it helps to just hear it out loud: It’s not OK what she’s doing. You don’t deserve it.

    My Sauron is very capable and smart, but her bullying habits have ended up doing serious damage to her professional reputation, to the point where clients ask for a different sales rep, bosses get tired of doing damage control for her, and she never holds onto a position for longer than a year. So there’s that.

    One more thing – are there any projects outside of your normal scope of work that you could volunteer to take on? Something independent of her, with a different group or team in the office? Not only will that get you a much-needed break from her, but it will also give you a chance to prove your worth to co-workers who aren’t being tainted by her perceptions of you, and may help you feel more confident and independent at work.

    1. All of this is spot-on, but I really like the last suggestion in particular. Taking on lateral projects can be really, really valuable for building up your resume and skillset, and also for learning new skills in your job. Added bonus is that you’ll learn things from someone *other than* Sauron, and you’ll hopefully get a bit of a break from her as well.

      This sounds really stressful, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

      1. It doesn’t even have to be a work project, if the company is bid enough to have assorted committees. Volunteering for a committee that is organizing a charity drive or planning an event is a great way to make cross-company contacts and display your competence.

    2. Aw, that was really sweet of your coworker to let you know that they’ve got your back, and that you’re not alone!

      Moral of the story: if you notice stuff like the above happening to other people at work, it’s ok to find a time to let them know they’re not just imagining it, and that the poorly behaving person is actually out of line.

      1. Yup. It was a huge turning point! I had mostly been getting feedback along the lines of: “You’re too soft to succeed in this business” and “You need to toughen up and act more like me/Sauron because those are the skills women need to get ahead,” so it was really amazing to feel like there were people at that company who quietly had my back.

        1. Guava, thank you so much for your encouraging words! I had no idea my Sauron was not the only one!!! Apparently it’s not an original idea?? o.O ZeldasCrown, I think in the future -if I see such things happening, I will definitely speak up for someone. In this case, it’s a little complicated depending on what I value more.

          It is so great that your coworker spoke up. My colleagues get treated similarly but in a much lesser degree. Much much much lesser. Like a “tasting” versus the whole damn prix fixe menu for me.

          Because it’s such a small team (just 3 of us – boss, Sauron, me), there aren’t many projects to take on (boss is pretty particular). I will keep brainstorming, of course. I would love to take much-needed breaks. I’ve resorted to going out to lunch once a week without her just so I get one day w/o lunchtime chitchat.

          1. LW for a second I thought it was someone from my office writing when I read sauron except we use it to mean The System as a whole (and anyone who buys into it.) Too funny! But what’s not funny is your situation. I’m truly sorry.

  3. The Captain is on it, as always, and her advice is amazing. That said, I read the letter a little differently and I did find myself wondering if the LW is maybe having an issue with a different style of communication rather than a coworker who is intentionally evil. To a degree, this is a moot point. You need her behavior to change and the Captain has given you great methods for achieving that, but the examples here all seem somewhat borderline to me as to where they fall on the evil v. socially inept. Is she shaming you with lots of side eye? Or being obliviously blunt? I don’t want to make excuses at all, so I’m trying to tread carefully here, but I’ve been middle management in a place with an overlord who cared very deeply about his staples. So if they were wrong, I would have done pretty much exactly what Sauron is described as doing, though it’s true I would have tried to use perkier/nicer language, like the LW suggests. but the thing being communicated amounts to the same thing. And the dripping faucet–if everyone is always forgetting, how is that best handled? Should she have private, individual chats with people every time they do it? That seems like overkill. My style of communication would absolutely allow for a (in my mind) casual “Hey X, you forgot the faucet again.” If she’s appointed herself office faucet manager, that’s annoying, but not necessarily evil? The pop quizzes seem like the most problematic thing, but again, does she think you guys are having fun bonding over your job? What is her tone when all of this is happening?

    I don’t know, I’m a random person on the internet, and LW, if Sauron feels rude and sabotage-y to you, that’s all that matters. But if there’s any room for interpretation here, and Sauron is perhaps a misguided Tracy Flick sort who thinks you guys are besties, another thing I’d add to the Captain’s advice is to consider being blunt back: “I don’t like it when you summon me publicly like that and chastise me in front of our coworkers. It makes me feel like I’m being called on the carpet for a minor mistake.” “These quizzes are really not fun for me. Are they fun for you? What is their purpose?” When I read this letter, Sauron seemed to me like a person who thinks you guys are close enough that she can say/do whatever without prettying it up and you’re cool. If this is not the case, the simplest thing might be to tell her.

      1. And in the meantime, just to put up a sign by the faucet with a polite request to double check the faucet is all the way off so that there isn’t constant yelling. All our sinks have signs reminding people to not put food particles in the sinks so that the sinks don’t get clogged, so I don’t think this is that different.

        1. Agreed. It doesn’t actually have to be a source of angst. Although I think management should be the ones to put up this sign, because otherwise people WILL act angsty about it.

          1. Absolutely! Whomever is sufficiently high enough in management, or if there’s an office manager who handles things like this should be the one to put up the sign. A nice “hey, FYI this is an issue” sign is much, much, much preferable to someone yelling at everyone everyday. Notes can certainly be passive aggressive, but having it come from somewhere official will help quash any of that.

    1. I get where you’re coming from, I’ve definitely known people who would probably describe something similarly harrassed-sounding as the LW’s account in cases where I was actually trying to gently correct something important or asking about some detail they should really be on top of (just because they rarely did something didn’t mean they weren’t actually /supposed/ to be doing it every day).

      That said, the LW says near the end that Sauron responds poorly to any criticism (which, with control freaks, unfortunately tends to include the sort of scripts you’ve recommended) and that they don’t feel safe being confrontational about this while still at this job. Also, the jealous behavior in their personal interactions coupled with the unprofessionalism of Sauron externalizing her unrelated upsets at work makes me lean much more heavily on the side of LW using the Captain’s advice to quietly work around her bad behavior rather than risk retribution.

      (side note: I thought that LW’s mention of Sauron not having “ranking” only applied to the people in a different practice, implying that she does having “ranking” in LW’s practice, if only de facto by seniority)

      1. Thanks, rziest. You’re exactly right–if criticism is unsafe to give, it’s best avoided. I perhaps leaned too heavily on the parts of the letter suggesting a long established friendship. Even if there is one, keeping work safe and productive is and should be LW’s priority.

        Also, though I presume it was clear to everyone, I should have said “LW 707” in my initial comment. Apologies!

        1. I love your question: “What is the purpose of these quizzes?”

          I think this is a 10-year friendship that has gone so cold that one of the parties is avoiding the other even in free time.

          1. emdashing:

            Thank you for your perspective! It is a valuable one and one that definitely I think others in the office “take on” to tolerate her – writing it off as well-meaning and just her quirk. Sauron is both socially inept and suffering from a complex (whether a superiority or inferiority – is not my call). This “shaming” is really just her way of proving superiority over me and over everyone else in the damn office. I can say this with utter confidence due to 2 years of working in the same office (and such examples happening on a weekly, if not more, basis) as well as previous years of doing volunteer work and doing hobbies together. Sauron cannot stand “being bad” at anything (even though she’s no great natural talent at a great many things) and more than anything, can’t stand to be worse than me at anything. Language is important not because I necessarily need to be talked to “nicely” but because it’s disrespectful to “reprimand” me as if I had the emotional and mental capacity of a 5-year-old (or a pet) that needs to have the “crime” waved in their face in order to understand something is wrong.

            As for the “minor” yet symbolic situation of the faucet – she yells at everyone. It’s usually the boss and she will actually yell for the boss to walk over to her in the kitchen and she will point to it accusingly. Once she took a freakin’ video of it and messaged it to us in the morning (she got in first that day). Before the work day started! In her mind, it’s the logic of “If I can remember, why can’t everyone else? What’s wrong with them?” She’s appointed herself a resentful “office manager” except in such a way of being a dictator.

            Sauron does think we’re besties although I never use that word. Unfortunately the rest of the office refer to us as Besties (kid you not).

            I’m not boohooing advice but I’m afraid on the part where I say “These quizzes are really not fun for me. What is their purpose?” I may get the defensive response of “Well, I’m just trying to help you learn the products better!”


            Yes, Sauron does not have any official rank in the other team, you’re right! She is my senior in our practice and definitely “above” me but she is not technically my supervisor. However, unoffically, she is, both in her own eyes and my boss’s. The key part I didn’t add in original question (for length) is that she is VERY valuable to both practices. She is pretty much my boss’s right hand AND left hand person. The other practice will go to her for assistance with certain questions (we specialize in different accounts so we may have more knowledge of certain ways than they do and vice versa) so they find her depth of knowledge and detail-orientedness to be extremely critical to the office. Thus, my reference to her being “God” in here. There is no realistic way of me standing up for myself in this environment with any allies, because they all put up with the way she speaks to them in exchange for her work value.


            Thank you so much for your very detailed reply! I loved it and my jaw just about dropped. I am definitely going to tighten up my game and up my performance ASAP. I just needed that kick in the ass. Yes, I do avoid her and carefully “allocate” enough time to appease her (not enough, but it’s NEVER enough for her – even back in college when we hung out 3-4x a week, which is a lot considering it was a commuter school and no one dormed). She’s also a terrible training partner but that’s for another question :D. That’s why I avoid her in martial arts class, too. She might be able to sabotage me and make me feel shitty at work, but there is no way she is going to take away my progress in martial arts. Or hinder me. I appreciate your many suggestions on how to go about this, confrontationally or non-confrontationally. ❤

  4. Re: 706

    I may be reading too deep into this, but the fact that all three of the data entry operators are using the same ID, combined with the fact they’re really getting cranky about you taking errors to the boss?

    To me, this sounds like a dynamic where they’re covering for someone who’s slipshod with their work. They’re aware that if they log their work individually it’d be really easy to find the weak link, and the fact they want you to give them a chance to fix their stuff without letting the boss know just screams to me that they are simply trying to pretend there’s not a problem and put on a shiny face for your supervisor.

    If you’re on good enough speaking terms with the team, perhaps you could inquire about whether everyone’s handling the workflow okay? By keeping it general, and conveying a sincere desire to help, they might volunteer information that’ll let you know whose work is slipping and why. From there, you may be able to find ways to minimize errors – but you can’t do that while they’re covering things up.

    1. That seems like a slippery slope. I also wonder about the dynamic, but even if the LW finds out that they are covering for someone-what then? It puts the LW in the uncomfortable position of knowing way too much and having to decide whether to help cover for someone or report it all to the boss. MAYBE of finding ways to minimize-but if three full-time employees haven’t already found those ways….it would be surprising if a temp less familiar with the company and how it works did, unless they have training or experience in relevant areas of helping people struggling with jobs find workarounds. It seems like the bad results for the letter writer kinda outweigh the less likely good results.

      1. Excellent points. I guess I jumped into “you should do this” from my experiences with similar dynamics, but this isn’t actually applicable advice.

      2. Yeah, this seems a little above LW’s pay grade. Approaching a group of employees and checking on whether they’re all handling the workload ok is more of a boss thing.

        But, it is something to keep in the back of LW’s mind, which may help the LW choose which scripts to use when talking to either Alice, Bob and Carol or their boss.

    2. I think you may have misread the letter (and I think the Captain may have, as well). My impression was that Alice, Bob, and Carol were customers, not co-workers (so the files had the wrong customer ID on them).

      1. You’re right: it was referring to customer files, but I think I’ll try and follow the Captain’s advice still. It’s actually not unlikely that they’re covering for someone on the team who isn’t doing their job, but I’m not really in a position to do anything about it.

        1. Sorry to misunderstand! Hopefully you got something useful out of the overall method. Good luck.

  5. OH MY LORD. I had a Sauron co-worker too. Lady was–completely not in touch with reality. She would actually sabotage my work.
    The good thing was I had a supervisor who knew her and knew me and pretty much chose which one to believe.
    What I did, in this instance, was actually take screenshots, then get her to double-check my work and sign off that she’d done it. That way there wasn’t any extra work on my part and if something went wrong it landed on her as well as me.
    Other than that, I would just respond to everything she said with “uh huh.” and be obviously busy when she wanted to chat to me about anything other than direct work or the weather.
    You have my sympathy, Resigned. Good luck!

  6. Thanks for all this. I’m in a position where I get along very well with my manager, and not so well with my team. I’ve been caught in the crossfire between my manager who doesn’t micromanage, and an up and coming supervisor who does. I’m looking to get out, because after manager BZ left for a 3 week trip to visit family on another continent, acting manager supervisor MG left me thinking I had at least done ok meeting his standards – until BZ came back and learned from her boss what he had said about me. Shitstorm of passive agressive bullshit, I am out of here.

    If people don’t mind, I have a question for the Akwardeer commentariat: just how bad is it to let your boss know you are looking for another job, and is it ever ok to ask them (her, in my case) for a reference? It would be a great benefit for her not to have this conflict simmering, get someone new without past issues and not have to worry about me vs the rest of the group. (Conflict averse passive agressive BS that leaves me not able to trust who is smiling to my face and complaining about me behind my back. I have no problem with critism to my face, but not behind my back). Everybody is telling me that I don’t owe her, that I shouldn’t risk anything and not tell her until I have an offer, but she is literally the best and only reference I have from this group.

    1. Hie thee to askamanager dot org – Alison is awesome and has covered this very question, so a little poking around through her tags and archives should get you good, detailed advice. What I remember of it boils down to “giving notice that you’re looking CAN work, but can also backfire” – you have to be careful. Have other people done this, what happened to them, what is the corporate culture around this? Do people who give notice get told to pack up Right Now and escorted out? Do bosses and coworkers assume that once someone gives notice, they’ve checked out mentally and won’t be working hard? Alison generally advises against it unless you’re sure you can trust your boss.

      1. I once told my employers that i was looking for other work because i wasn’t being paid fairly. When i got the job it was as a Junior to the actual role advertised and i had a salary 3k below the advertised salary because of that. A year later I was told they were dropping the Junior bit becuase i had proved myself. Sadly they didn’t up my salary to match. 2 years later I was made an unofficial trainer of new starters and, i’ll admit. It annoyed the crap outta me.

        I went to my boss and said i wasn’t willing to train new employees to do the same job as me whilst i was being paid much less than them. I gave my boss a polite ultimatum. They either up my salary in line with the team or i walk.

        They upped my Salary and I stayed for another 2 years. Sometimes it DOES work.

        Where i work now, it’d never work. Its a much bigger company and losing me would have a much smaller impact.

        1. Yeah, I’d say it depends upon the company culture and why you’d be telling them. Is it something fixable, where you’d like to stay, but a new job gives you more leverage (or information to say “look, you really are behind the curve on this and have ceased to be competitive with the rest of the industry” with the data to back that up), or is it something where you’re out no matter what, and you’d basically just be telling the company that they’re horribly run and miss-managed before you’re actually out the door?

      2. I sympathise with all people who have dealt with Saurons. It is a pet peeve of mine when people let others get away with bad social behaviour because they think their other skills make it ok or “worth putting up with them for”. It’s a huge problem in medical industry because there are so many old crusty sexist entitled stick in the mud doctors who think they run the hospital and they don’t have to learn to use a computer because they built this ward with their bare hands and so you are just their personal secretary and who needs to write medical histories anyway just call my wife at home she knows what medications I give to my patients. OMG. Drives me up the wall. I am a big fan of the blank stare and blinking and turning away.

        What does everyone think about telling your boss or HR department why you left after the fact?

        I’ve frequently wanted to send some snarky “I left cos you are a jerk and it is not cool to ask me to do illegal shit because you fucked up paying bills and you are horrendously patronising and you never ever ever say thankyou when we stay back for four hours to do surgery without pay”. But I haven’t because I’ve been too angry to find a constructive way to word it, and always felt like they would be too jerkish to actually consider their part in me quitting.

        Has anyone does this before, or had an employee tell them after they left why they did? It’s a bit of a selfless act I guess and has risks too. But as an alternative to the somewhat threatening and backfire risky “I’m looking for another job” it could be useful?

        1. It works as personal therapy, but doesn’t do anything to change the culture. Twice now, leaving two different jobs, I’ve given the full list of why I was leaving to HR during my exit interview. I only did it because 1) I could afford to burn my bridges with the company and 2) it helped me on a personal level to tell them why. It didn’t change anything at either company, though.

    2. In your situation, I would recommend against it. Prospective employers generally understand that current employers can’t be asked for references (it’s quite common) and won’t think twice about it if you present as a qualified candidate for the job (although they might want to talk to other references). And given the dynamic you’ve described, it doesn’t sound like a place where your boss will be all “good luck to you!” but rather might sabotage you to prevent your leaving. Risk nothing, say nothing.

    3. Before my last job change, I asked my (extremely excellent) boss about giving me a reference. He politely refused, on grounds that part of his job was employee retention and so giving me a reference would be a conflict of interest. But, then, it was a situation where I was not necessarily leaving — my team had been disbanded, but there was also the option of moving to another team within the company.

      That seemed like a reasonable position to me. So I think it’s probably not useful to ask for a reference before you’ve given notice, but after that it’s probably entirely reasonable to do so if you think your boss will take it well.

    4. hilary922, the only time I did this was when I was very close to my PM and I told him he’d get 30 days notice. It STILL didn’t work out well, he was so freaked out about running the team without me, he went and found a job before I did. And he didn’t tell me he was looking. We ended up leaving the company on the same day.

  7. Re 706 – I read it not as there being three co-workers sharing an ID#, but rather that there are errors in how files are being combined. That is, the Bob file and the Carol file and the Alice file are being lumped together under the Bob ID# by the prep team, instead of correctly being treated as separate files each with it’s own ID#. It’s still a problem, obviously!

    1. (I’m an indexer, and I just finished a conversation with a client to clear up several confusingly similar entries (e.g. a B. Smith and a Bob Smith – are they the same?) so I may be prone to interpret this situation this way. Apologies if I misunderstood.)

  8. Holy Cats, Resigned! Some of the details don’t jibe, but you could be any one of a number of coworkers right now; we have our own Sauron. That is a great description for the Big-Brother style folks who are all up your ass 24/7 and then tattle when the slightest thing goes wrong. Thanks Captain for your strategies; I don’t even work directly with our Sauron anymore, but I am going to employ some of these when I am in the general vicinity.

    Captain and commentors, if you have time for any follow-up ideas, what might the underlings do when Sauron really gets going? Most of us subscribe to the, “we’re all in this together, let’s help each other and be a team” philosophy; Sauron is the main (probably only, really) snitch. We already fix each other’s mistakes and try to gently inform the mistake-maker without escalating to the boss (unless it’s egregious, of course), so things are still taken care of and people are aware when they mess up, just with friendlier dialogue instead of super heavy-handed consequences. But Sauron is *so damn good!* at seeing even the tiniest thing and reporting it right away, that no one gets warnings or second chances or helping hands before almost literal doom rains down. So of course morale is in the toilet, folks have been quitting or getting fired, and we’re super understaffed so everyone has more work and can’t even keep up with their job correctly, which is creating a positive feedback loop of mistakes and tattles. I really wish I could get this through to the boss, because we’re basically all going to leave because we can’t handle it, or be fired for screwing up too many times, and then there will be no staff. Basically any advice would be helpful, if y’all have time, because ack! I am fortunate enough that I’m actually in a different department, but I say “we” because I started there and work closely with many of the folks who are circling the drain, and it will ultimately bleed over to my department as it gets worse over there, so. My job feels pretty secure, but less shit happening in our building, with coworkers I’ve come to enjoy, would of course be good.

    P.S. Letter-writers, I am sorry for making this comment 99% about me! I hope you get more good ideas and feedback from other commentors, because do not have any help. 😦

    1. Does your company have an HR department? Because honestly, to me it sounds like the bigger problem is with the boss of that department, not the Sauron on the team. Why should the boss be raining down doom when Sauron brings a small mistake to their attention? Why aren’t they addressing it in a manner proportionate to the size of the mistake? Or discouraging Sauron from snitching? (A simple, “Please speak to the person who made the error before bringing it to me” or “This isn’t really the level of error I need to be told about. I’m sure you can handle this amongst yourselves” might suffice.)

    2. I’m sorry Merkohl, but I think you should start looking for a new job. Attempting to fight a bad boss will in most companies just get you a bad reputation and a bad reference – even if you go through an official complaints procedure with HR and “win” there are many ways to make your work life keep sucking that will fly below the radar. 😦

      Also don’t wait until you’re completely burnt out and either lose it and get yourself fired or fall apart and quit with no other job to go to because you just can’t stand it any more. I have done the second option, and I ran myself into the ground and literally quit because I was giving myself an anxiety disorder. One day I ended up in tears at the thought of waking into a supermarket because I was so stressed, and I gave notice the very next day. Then of course it took me longer than I would like to get my head together enough to be able to get a new job… Anyway, the moral to this story is that when work goes pear shaped, start an escape plan immediately. The only good reason to fight stuff at work is if it’s some major ethics or rights issue and you’re willing to die on that hill for your principals – it is basically always wrong in terms of being a career move. There are other jobs that don’t suck waiting for you to go out and get them, or at least it’s worth actually checking by applying for jobs and seeing if anyone bites.

    3. Are there any processes you guys could put in place to help people catch mistakes before they are “official?” Can you do like a peer review? Or provide documentation? Are any of these mistakes that could be avoided with training? Basically, is there a place up stream of your Sauron where you could try to put a net?

      Mistakes happen, they are inevitable, we are human. But the more of them you can catch before it is a big deal, the better.

      Alternatively, can you situate things some how so Sauron is catching mistakes at a time where you can say “OH GOD THANK YOU FOR CATCHING THAT” instead of it being a rain of doom? Some people just really have an eye for details that other people miss, and, that’s actually an awesome thing because it can help the entire company improve what they do. But the difference between “hey don’t forget!” and “DOOM RAIN” is sometimes a matter of timing.

      I’m not sure if any of that is helpful at all. But getting her into a place where she is acknowledged for being awesome at catching stuff, but isn’t also DESTROYING morale would be great.

    4. It really depends on the boss in question here I think. Is the boss just oblivious to what is going on? If so, like Rowan said, the boss is more of a problem than Sauron. Is the boss approachable at all? If not, yeah is HR a possibility? Could some peer review or other processes be put in place to catch mistakes or prevent mistakes? Heck, could you maybe recruit Sauron as a peer reviewer so that they get to look over things and spot the mistakes, but can’t go running off to tattle because for a peer review that would be ridiculous, it’s not a finished product yet.

      If boss is not approachable and HR is not going to help, I’d just do what you all can to survive while looking for another job either in the company under a different boss or outside of it. A bad boss can make an otherwise great job horrible. Set up processes in the solidarity group to catch/prevent mistakes, maybe even present the processes to the boss to show what you are all doing to avoid making the same mistakes again.

      Also, in general when mistakes are made, own it and then say what your plan is to not do it again. Mistakes are going to happen, but if no one learns anything from them, they definitely will happen again and again.

    5. I promise I’m not one of your coworkers, lol!

      Literal doom. I feel your pain! Good luck – we are in the same boat. Hope we can bail out soon!! Where’s the life raft?

  9. Is anybody weirded out about the “staples are in the wrong direction” thing?

    1. No. I have worked in many offices, sometimes as a temp, and staples are A Thing. For example, when you work in a law office and are forced to keep physical copies of all the documents ever, staples will eventually make the files larger at one end if you only use one at the top. This is extremely annoying for the filer, and results in file drawers that look half-empty on one side. Plus, using only one staple means the papers are easily torn. So I was told to use either no staples or three, evenly spaced. No paper clips, those are for troglodytes and defense attorneys.

    2. Granted that this isn’t a work situation, but my Bell Choir has strong preferences for copied music. Each person has a 3-ring binder, and his or her own copy of the music. The copies should be double sided ( to minimize page turns). Our director copied some music single sided and with holes all on the same edge, and the amount of time that we as a group have spent taping or stapling or clothes-pinning pages together (not to mention three-hole punching the other edge of pages or figuring out which pages to three-hole punch on the other edge) . . .

      And the choir I sing in also has been known to fuss and complain when copied music is stapled “wrong” where “wrong” mostly means differently than expected, but there are ways of stapling that are easier or harder on the choir as far as page turns are concerned.

      So I can easily believe that the staples thing may sound arbitrary and petty, but is actually a cumulative irritation.

    3. Not so much weirded out as the explanation is that boss likes it vertical for easier page turning once it’s filed in a binder. That’s fine and I don’t care to fight against that but for my OWN convenience before the forms become processed/filed, I staple it diagonal. At some point they do become unstapled in order to send it in to headquarters so I take that opportunity to staple it “correctly”. That said, I may have missed a few sometimes, because stapling isn’t that “conscious” of a movement to me and maybe it was on a day I lacked caffeine! Who knows? But it was definitely like…”is this really worth scolding me like a kid about?”

  10. Regarding this:

    “While others may walk on eggshells around her, especially if she’s really good at what she does, I guarantee that there are other people in that office who see through her. In fact, I’ll bet that she has bullied and/or undermined others in the way she is doing it to you.”

    That is definitely true. I don’t have a Sauron, but I certainly once felt that my issues with a highly competent colleague came from jealousy that I wasn’t as good at my (similar) job, and was relieved to hear that other people had difficulty with this individual because, while she did some things incredibly well, she also had a habit of undermining other people’s work, taking over projects when she collaborated, and just generally making other people feel shitty, usually unintentionally. One thing that I have noticed about people who are really good at their jobs who also make the people they work with feel like crap is that they often don’t see that their interpersonal issues are things that they are not good at and should work on. They demand perfection from the people they work with because they don’t see that they have any flaws in that area, but actually, being a supportive and empathetic colleague is a great skill to have that people like this generally lack.

    Of course, I don’t have any real advice on how to deal with this kind of individual because I haven’t quite figured it out for myself, but I agree with the Captain that you should make friends with other people at your office. I don’t suggest telling them all how difficult you find Sauron (especially not at first) because you don’t want to be accused of gossiping about her, but eventually, after spending time with these other people, you might hear stories of issues that they had with her in the past and how they dealt with her difficult behaviour.

    1. HI Copcher,

      Thank you for your insight! I mentioned it in an above comment-response but I want to add that she is incredibly valued in the office (thus my reference to her being “God” and I’m only slightly exaggerating on that). I have definitely tried making friends with others. I’m civil and I have side conversations and such, but they’re not going to be my allies in any form whatsoever – they all tolerate her behavior (toward me and toward them, albeit to them it’s much lighter) in exchange for her value in what she offers. I’m not positive that they even consciously know the way she’s acting is disrespectful. They tend to brush it off or laugh it off but they don’t need to suffer any consequences of that either. I can only “ignore her” or “refuse to take the bait” for so long before she gets really offended.

      I agree about the “they demand perfection from the people they work with because they don’t see that they have any flaws in that area”….that is SO TRUE.

  11. I used to do a job where I would have to daily remind myself that there are people who work in sweatshops for 12 hour days making t-shirts.

    Most of the job involved noticing mistakes made as a result of stupidly out of date technology or human error by humans who did not appreciated having their mistakes pointed out. Especially when they had to redo work.

    Things that kept me sane.
    1. Remember that you are helping these people. What happens to these files? You are ensuring that everything goes smoothly. You are making them look better. They may not see it that way, and they probably won’t be very pleased if you pointed it out, but when you notice mistakes you are helping them. If they are getting pissy with you, that is on them, not you.
    2. “Data checking to a high level of accuracy. Communicating with colleagues at all levels resolving discrepancies and errors.” Put this on your CV/resume. That is a huge skill.
    3. If someone is rude to you: smile, be bland, be badass.

    1. I think that’s good advice for LW 706. LW, you’re not causing *any* trouble, you’re just doing your work.

      And while it may be true that Alice, Bob and Carol can really make life difficult for you, the one with the responsibility (and power) over your position is your supervisor, so refer to s/he about what the others told you. If s/he finds out that you’ve been reporting to A,B&C instead of doing what s/he told you to, s/he may feel that you’re handling things behind his/her back or handling the situation in an unprofessional manner, and that could land you in trouble.

      Also, by keeping on reporting to your supervisor, you can have his/her presence as a buffer to deflect A,B&C if they give you grief over something: “Sorry, just doing what Supervisor told me to, you’ll have to clear that up with him/her! *big, sincere smile*”. You may be a “powerless temp”, but nobody said you couldn’t use that “powerlessness” to your advantage. Redirect the responsibility of correcting their mistakes to them. Redirect the responsibility of supervising to the supervisor. Don’t let them suck you into covering for their slack. Something like “Sorry, I’m new here/my training doesn’t cover that, so I can’t help you whith that/don’t know about that, you’ll have to take it up with [person in power]” may be helpful.

      However, if your supervisor told you to report to A,B&C, the Captain’s suggestion about leaving a paper trail while keeping your profesionalism up is spot-on. Good luck, LW, and you’re not causing any trouble at all! Keep up the good work 🙂

  12. I think Alice, Carol, & Bob are reacting as though by bringing their errors to the Boss, you’re Making Them Look Bad. That’s why they’re keen on seeing the errors before the Boss does. They’re embarrassed, they feel judged (and by a temp!), and as often happens, they transmogrify their embarrassment into hostility to the messenger. If you can find a framing that assures them that your purpose is to Make Them Look Good by cleaning up what may just be the data-entry version of Normal Wear & Tear, the whole thing sitch. For instance, instead of “I found [this error]”, try “Is this on purpose? If yes, what’s the reasoning? Just want to be consistent going forward…” Often as not, you’ll get “UCH! Completely didn’t notice that! Thanks!”

    Or not. Some people chafe under authority, and even as a temp, you’re the Agent of the Boss. It’s okay to let the boss be the one that manages that whole dynamic, since that literally is their job.

    1. Yes this, how you point it out is very important. Asking open ended questions, instead of pointing out the mistake, or asking for more information to clarify can really soften the blow of the “Hey you messed this up” conversation.

  13. Dear LW 1

    When I write to my manager asking for help, I try to ask “what do you think?” or “how would you handle this?” rather than yes/no questions (e.g. I would say “Alice Bob and Carol are uncomfortable with X. Thoughts?” not “Alice Bob and Carol are uncomfortable with X. Do you have any suggestions?”

    The reason for this is that yes/no questions tend to elicit shorter answers than the other sort.

    Good luck

    1. Such a good tip for SO many things. Not just soliciting feedback, but also for management. When I was managing a team of people I would ask if they had questions, they NEVER said yes, and then would come to me later with questions. Instead, I started asking “What questions do you have?” Gives the presumption that there ARE questions, and that it’s expected that questions will be asked.

      1. Love this! I’m a teacher, and sometimes have trouble eliciting questions, even when I’m getting baffled looks. I will try to remember to use this framing.

        1. Yes! I avoid yes/no questions like the plague. I like to use “What is ____ ?” instead of “Do you know what ______ means?” Or “What are we doing right now?” rather than “Did you understand the instructions I just gave you?”

          (And never, never ask, “Any questions?” Because once I asked that and this one student who had no. boundaries. thrust her hand into the air and blurted, “Are you pregnant??” WHAT.)

    2. While I agree that “How would you handle this?” makes clear that you are asking for a supervisor’s input and assistance, I don’t really see a functional difference between the phrasings in the parenthetical. “Thoughts?” isn’t any less likely to prompt, “No, sorry; you’re on your own” as a response, and it could come across as too informal or otherwise inappropriate in tone (especially if you are emailing someone who is senior to you or more established than you are). I absolutely hate when co-workers end their emails to me with, “Thoughts?” because it somehow simultaneously suggests that I have the time/presence to answer them right away (too casual) and that I should shift my attention from my own work to think about theirs (too presumputous). “How would you handle this?” makes it clear you need help, and that you’re not just causally throwing something in their direction because you can’t be bothered.

      1. Those are excellent points. Clearly our experiences have been different.

        People I have worked with (and for!) have liked the semblance of informality of “thoughts?” as a close to an email.

        Environments and people aren’t the same though, and I’ll remember what you’ve written.

  14. The staple thing though, are you for real? I mean, is there a situation in which this is actually a crucial point that requires a person to walk across the room to discuss?

    I think the Captain’s scripts are great. Obviously, you are very BUSY with actual WORK so things like the faucet and staples, while irritating, are not necessarily top priority. I think acknowledging her comment without really indulging this is a great idea.

    I actually just read this really interesting article yesterday about a woman who realized she’d been doing something similar to her husband. (The article says “abusing” but she’s mostly talking about nagging, and I’m not crazy about her “all us ladies” vibe, because uhh, I do NOT do that. But the insight into someone who dresses other people down over incredibly stupid stuff was very interesting. http://brando.tickld.com/x/woman-realizes-that-shes-been-accidentally-abusing-her-husband-this-whole-time)

    Personally, I like to turn any mistake or issue into a “how can I make sure this never happens again” conversation. (Y’know when it’s actually stuff that matters.) Do I need to make myself a checklist? Reminder post it? Do I need to put in some kind of process where in I re check stuff before I hand it off? Sometimes there is some stuff where there is no real way to prevent it, but any conversation i have about mistakes I try to build into a constructive conversation about ways to error proof whatever thing got fucked up. Perhaps turning the conversation back on her and asking her for constructive suggestions. “You keep harping on this issue, do you think there is a way we could keep this from recurring?”

    Make HER responsible for helping other people AVOID mistakes, instead of just pointing them out. It might even be worth looping your boss in on that.

    1. shinobi42 –

      Wow, I love that last part – make her responsible for helping, not just pointing!!!! At an old job, my manager used to tell me to not tell him about problems unless I at least had a suggestion on how to resolve it. It was challenging and I didn’t always follow it but I tried my best to offer up SOMETHING, lame as it might be!

      But yes, I am unfortunately, for real, on the staple thing. I offered it up because it’s one of the more ridiculous examples of what she does. I mean, I’m really sorry I’m human and make minor mistakes??? It’s just like…Sauron could have walked the 10 steps out of the room to my table to show me or just called over “Hey you, remember to staple correctly!” and I would have been alerted adequately.

  15. Gads, I had a person who made my life hell. Seriously, it got to the point where I’d feel faint walking toward the building, I’d have insomnia because of whatever she’d said to me that day, and I could hardly eat. She “trained” me and, when I had finished, told me that the company was no longer using that system, so I had wasted my and her time. She would commonly walk over to me as soon as I walked in the door in the morning and would literally scream at me about a mistake she’d found, and at least half the time someone other than I had made the mistake. And of course she wouldn’t apologize. She left me out of team meetings deliberately and then would yell at me (of course in front of the team!) about my not knowing what she’d discussed in the meetings. Seriously, I’d be right at my desk, my email open, ready to read anything that might summon me to a meeting, and…she’d actually tiptoe around to ask the other members of the team to gather around her desk for a meeting, and avoid coming anywhere near me. And if I found a mistake she’d made? There was NO WAY I could find to tell her, without her turning around to scream at me for my audacity in finding her in error.

    My biggest mistake? Being hired for the job she’d wanted her niece to be hired for.

    When she left…wow…like friggin’ night and day, the difference was. So my advice is to get out or help your own Sauron to get out, because obviously she should take that job waaaaaay over there, because she’s too good for the one you’re at.

    1. Your Sauron sounds like a nightmare! Glad she’s gone!!!

      When I first got hired, Sauron was ready to phase out (she was in grad school for a different field) and the intention was for me to take over her job over the next 1.5 years. She graduated, felt too comfortable here in this office (as she is “well-loved” and gets the attention she needs for her self-esteem), and now she’s here to stay. My boss is ecstatic. So I need to get out at some point.

      1. Well, that explains why she’s so rough on you. She’s thinking you’re still after her job. So, yeah, a new job is what you need.

        1. Honestly, she has nothing to worry about as I’ve made no moves to bridge the gap in knowledge/experience for a while now. Initially I was trying to study on my free time and such, but after the environment got super hostile and debilitating, I basically gave up and just focused on “doing my job” but not going the extra 2 miles I was shooting for.

          You make an excellent point that I have not considered – that deep down she still might be insecure…

  16. I had a Sauron when I started the job I’m doing now. She was supposed to train me (she was resigning to become a full-time accountant), but it got to the point where I would feel physically ill walking into the office and seeing her face. She was aggressive and bullying and I never had a moment’s peace until she left. There was a point where she actually tried to march me into our manager’s office so I could ‘justify’ my paygrade. I realized her supposed ‘training’ was just office bullying (and/or being threatened that I was replacing her and could do a better job than her) was when she started commenting on my weight and hair (I’ve got natural Black hair and wear it to work), following me to the elevator after office hours so she would make sure I never took the lift, even though our office is on the fifth floor of a six-story building. After that, I became as bland and neutral as possible towards her. I started going to other members of our team for clarification if I wasn’t sure on something, which helped me develop professional relationships well and also saved me from having to deal with her one-on-one all the time.

    The only thing that kept me sane was the knowledge that she was leaving, and the fact that two co-workers who were junior to her came up to me and said that’s how she used to treat them until they requested transfers to other units. Our boss never did anything to her because she was effective, and the nature of our job calls for a certain level of meanness. Funny thing though: as soon as she left and I stopped feeling the dreads in my stomach at the prospect of going to work, my performance sky-rocketed and my confidence came back.

    LW 707, I’d really recommend the Captain’s advice. I wish I’d heard that when I started out and gotten the tools/scripts to deal with my own Sauron.

    1. *following you to the elevator* to make sure you always took the stairs? This reminds me of the “took out a machete” story a few letters back — just dah dah dah, normal office conflict stuff, difficult for sure but commonplace, then WHAT?!?!?! Not that this is violent, but just *so* invasive and out of bounds and you can’t help wondering what the other person’s thought process that they didn’t realize, themselves, that they were miles out of line.

      1. Yeah….like I said, she started making comments about my weight and decided that I should get some exercise while in the office. That was the absolute last straw for me.

    2. Thank you for your support, culturalrebel. I’m glad your Sauron is finally gone! I will definitely implement as many of Captain’s advice as possible :).

  17. Hi, LW 707, I have a novel approach for you,if you don’t want to be treated like a five year old, then don’t act like one. Stapling, faucets, isn’t this first week of kindergarten stuff? Just kidding! Seriously, I think Sauron is petty and needs a life, but I can also say we have all been Sauron and we have all been on the receiving end of petty nitpicking. Okay maybe CA and you are above the fray, but if you read LW 706, having to correct adults on basic skills is annoying, which is why we act annoyed when we do it. I had been on my corporate job for 6 months when I was tasked by senior management, informally and without her knowledge, to train the fresh out of college newbie who shares my ethnicity and little else. She wanted to talk about happy hour and borrow my calculator, I should be flattered that this little girl didn’t notice I was 10 years older and too circumspect to bring my personal life to the job. Do I sound like Sauron when I say she needs to take five minutes and get the calculator that everyone else managed to bring to the class? It became a thing, with coworkers mad at me that I didn’t spend two hours sharing my calculator (no one else offered to share theirs?!) and me thinking this is the real world my professors warned me about. I did push back eventually, training was above my pay grade and my years of successful teaching came with a job title and enforcement rights. I empathized with her, its not her fault she was the last hire and new to the city and always a few steps behind, but no I’m not correcting her out of a need to feel superior. Really, no one thinks they are a god because they staple correctly or because they don’t want to unstaple and restaple things you’ve done. It may not be as simple as deciding to staple the right way all the time instead of just for final product, but I bet your error rate would drop down if you embraced the habit. I have been privileged to hang out on mount Olympus with the brightest minds in the world (in our tiny specialty), and I am dust in their wake. I’m helping the newbie as a way to pay it forward, to appease senior management, but I had my own stack of work and no reputation to protect in her hiring or ethnicity.

    One adage I try to keep in mind: don’t worry when people criticize you, worry when they stop. That is, as long as people are telling you what to fix, that means they’re still invested in you, still hoping you will level up to what you were hired for. Two years as entry level in a complicated field is not a long time, especially if Sauron is going to bat for you. I suspect Sauron decided to stay with some incentive, future job opportunities in the agency can take some time to domino into place, which is also giving you time to pass enough of the pop quizzes to become a viable replacement. Do you want her job? Enough to learn the details that come up infrequently? If not, then get out before they replace you. If so, then train for the job you want and not the job you have already mastered.

    1. I strongly disagree with some key points here. First, using “but I’m right!” or “but I’m helping!” as an excuse for hurtful interpersonal behavior is just another way of being hurtful–in fact, in some ways it’s worse, because it (1) unfairly minimizes the painful interpersonal dynamics in favor of “real” values (like productivity, efficiency, correctness, etc.) and (2) puts the blame back on the victim for being incompetent and/or oversensitive. Second: In reality, we have not all been like Sauron–some of us have been hurt too badly by behavior like theirs to pay it forward cavalierly–and even if we had, the fact that workplace bullying is painfully common in no way makes it ok.

      Having said all that, your situation sounds very different from LW 707’s, so I don’t think you need to worry that the criticisms being leveled at her particular Sauron are somehow implicating anything you did. However, if you’re seeing things from the advice-giver’s role, you may be uniquely situated to help the LW out. Just as a pure hypothetical–if you found out that someone viewed your criticism as Sauron-like (intentionally or not), how do you think you would want that person to bring it up? Or if something you viewed as helpful was actually making someone more error-prone, what could they say to let you know that in an effective way?

      1. Funny (that is, it really isn’t) enough, this Sauron and my parents echo those very statements you named, “I’m only criticizing you because I love you. I’m helping you because I care. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t say anything. I’m right, and my way is best, so you have to do it this way.” I still have yet to come up with a very good response to that flawed logic because it’s used in an abusive way. It does dismiss the victim’s valid feelings, as you wrote.

        Thanks to the aforementioned people, I actually do constantly feel incompetent (though many others in the professional world have negated that). Part of it, I want to add, is that…obviously some people aren’t so tactful or diplomatic with HOW they correct people. Fine. But to do so in a way that’s in front of everyone else is not a culture that’s American. It’s shaming. I see this happen in Asian workplaces a lot, if firsthand stories from my relatives and from foreign tv shows can be trusted. And in that culture, that kind of public humiliation WORKS as a motivator. It does NOT work in this case.

        And yes, thank you for pointing out that I’m not criticizing ALL the “Saurons” of the world – just how to react to my particular one as it’s additionally complicated by our non-work “friendship”/interactions.

      2. I’m hoping that dancerdc weighs in on the questions you posed, Hannahbelle, because I feel like I’ve been on both sides of LW’s issue before. I definitely like to “help” or “get things right the first time”, and sometimes I think that that comes off like I think I know everything or like I have some superiority complex. I’ve also been on the receiving end of some Sauron-like optimization in the workplace, and I really, really resent it.

        In my case, I had an incredible manager at my last job who pulled me aside soon after I started and explained that I sounded really preachy and not like a team player. I take criticism pretty hard, but I want to be the best I can at my job, and I know how much I HATE being treated like that, and it’s important to me that I don’t ever make anyone else feel that way. It sounds, LW 707, like you don’t have a manager in this case who can/is willing to step in and do the same with Sauron.

        I agree with CA’s comment above that it sounds like this is a 10-year friendship that is effectively over and has gone cold. It sounds like Sauron is stuck in her ways, and because she’s not being held accountable and the rest of the office has decided that her added value is enough to tolerate her behavior, it’s unlikely that it will change anytime soon. If it’s gotten really intolerable for you (and it sounds like it very understandably has), I would look into either transferring departments or moving jobs altogether.

    2. Hi dancerdc,

      I definitely do not dispute that it can be annoying to correct adults on what seems “basic” to the eye of a beholder. I can’t blame you for being annoyed at your trainee person since she sounds a little spacey. Unfortunately, I do disagree, in this specific case, that this Sauron does indeed feel morally superior (as if she is several pedestals above the mere mortals that do not fit her “standards” of what a perfect human being is). The examples listed here are only the more recent, ridiculous examples (but the fact they do get THAT ridiculous is why I explained them) but there are multiple more examples. (As an additional fact, I’ve never, in my entire time of working – any kind of job in different fields/positions, been criticized as much as I have been here by Sauron, by a peer or manager.)

      However, your adage was definitely a wake-up call 🙂 so thank you!! I agree – as long as people are telling you what to fix, they’re still invested in you. Definitely. Thing is, if there were any possibility Sauron would move on from this company into the field she originally went to grad school for, I’d definitely resume my attempts to catch up in knowledge, etc, because there would be some end goal to reach for. Right now, I’m pretty much stuck. The best I can aspire to is to “be just like her” and let’s just say, that is never happening. I have a hunch she will retire with this particular boss (because of the self-esteem boost she gets from all the God-like status treatment).

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