Defining roles can head off conflicts

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. I recently learned that my boss received sexual favors from one of my co-workers. I believe this is why she was given a promotion. I have considered sending an anonymous letter about this to the owner of our company. Would that be a good idea?

A. In order to answer this question, you must consider several others. First, how did you come by this knowledge? Unless you personally witnessed illicit contact, you are dealing in grapevine information, which is notoriously inaccurate. So if this is merely speculative gossip, don’t repeat it to the owner or anyone else.

Second, why does your co-worker’s promotion seem unjustified? If she met the qualifications and proper procedures were followed, you might have difficulty proving that ulterior motives were involved. And if this is a small business, remember that the owner may have personally approved the move.

Finally, assuming that the sexual favors are a proven fact and the promotion was clearly bogus, do other colleagues find these events disturbing? If so, then a group meeting with the owner would have much greater impact than an anonymous note, because those often wind up in the trash.

Q. One of my colleagues seems unable to separate my duties from his own. “Henry” constantly interferes with my work and makes critical comments about the way I do my job. When I offer friendly explanations for my decisions, he dismisses them by saying, “That’s just your opinion.”

Henry and I work in different areas but have overlapping responsibilities. Although his constant meddling is driving me crazy, I’m not sure how to address this or with whom. We report to the same manager, but I haven’t discussed this issue with him. Any advice?

A. Many co-worker squabbles are inaccurately labeled “personality conflicts,’” when the real cause is that roles have been poorly defined. If the boundary between jobs is fuzzy, people inevitably step on each other’s toes. Therefore, to solve this problem, you must first clarify your responsibilities.

To accomplish this, you will need to agree with your boss on the scope of your position. Start by drafting a detailed job description with a particular focus on the areas of overlap with Henry. Describe your duties as you think they should be and then request your manager’s input.

For example: “Henry and I often seem to be working on the same things, which can be very confusing. To avoid this, I’ve drafted a more detailed description of my role and would like to get your opinion. I believe that clearly defining my responsibilities will help to prevent future misunderstandings.”

Having delineated your boundaries, you are now ready to begin managing communications with your annoying co-worker. Previously, your “friendly explanations” only served to reinforce Henry’s intrusive behavior and encourage him to continue. So if you want him to change, you will need to provide a less rewarding response.

When Henry launches into one of his critical commentaries, do not attempt to justify your actions. Simply state that he’s entitled to his opinion, but these decisions are yours to make. After that, just go on about your business and ignore any further remarks.

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

Twitter: @officecoach