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To assert authority with wayward staff, partner with boss

Marie G. McIntyre
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q. I am having difficulty with a newly formed team. As a project manager, I am currently responsible for overseeing two different groups. The experienced team is a pleasure to work with, but the new one has been extremely challenging.

“Team A” brings me questions, informs me about concerns and provides regular status updates. On the other hand, “Team B” ignores me completely and takes all problems and questions directly to my boss. They seem to view him as the project leader. I’m not sure how to handle this situation.

A. Instead of confronting this rogue group singlehandedly, you need to partner with your manager. By responding to Team B’s requests, he has implicitly given them permission to bypass you, so he must stop reinforcing this behavior. Fortunately, since he hasn’t done this with other teams, the mistake is probably unintentional.

Describe the dilemma to your boss, then ask for help in resolving it. For example: “Team B seems to be confused about my leadership responsibilities. They’ve developed the habit of bringing issues directly to you and leaving me out of the loop. If you could attend our next project meeting, perhaps you can help me explain our roles.”

Once the team understands expectations, consistent follow-up will be the key to success. A few wayward members will undoubtedly continue to approach your boss. But if he firmly directs them back to you, this problem should soon disappear.

Q. My co-worker’s annoying habits drive me absolutely crazy. She is constantly snapping her fingers, tapping her feet, humming a tune or popping her gum. When I tried to reciprocate by hitting my pen against a glass for several minutes, she didn’t even notice. If this continues, I will eventually blow up and say something I regret.

A. I regularly receive complaints about coworker noise, so you are certainly not alone. In these situations, people should understand that their colleagues aren’t being intentionally rude. Some folks simply possess an innate ability to screen out background noise, while others, such as yourself, are acutely aware of every sound in the room.

When these two types work together, the “sound sensitives” are greatly disturbed by random noises, while the “sound screeners” don’t understand what the problem is. This physiological difference explains not only your frustration, but also your colleague’s indifference to the retaliatory glass-tapping.

If your snapping and popping coworker is a reasonable sort, perhaps she would be willing to help. In that case, you might try making a friendly request.

For example: “Mary, I have a favor to ask. Because I have extremely sensitive hearing, I am easily distracted by noises that don’t bother other people. If sounds from your cubicle make it hard for me to concentrate, can I ask you to tone them down?”

But if you fear the noisemaker will take offense, consider employing self-protective measures. Listen to soothing music with earbuds, use a white noise machine, or see if your boss might agree to move your desk.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”


Twitter @officecoach