Advice on how to manage without authority
August 20, 2014 3:36 PM Subscribe
I'm the junior member of a 2-person legal team for a government agency. I routinely have to ask people wholly outside my chain of command to do things for me or, more rarely, correct work when it's not compliant with law/policy/practice. I've successfully won over the majority of the staff in my year with the agency, but one staff member is routinely argumentative with me. How do I fix this?
Additional possibly pertinent details: I'm a young-looking woman but I have years of experience in this field and I am excellent at my job (no bragging, but really). My problem staff member, also female, is a good ten years older than me and just got promoted, albeit to a non-supervisory role. English is not her first language, but I don't think this is a cultural issue. She has a reputation for being difficult to work with. The agency is seriously dysfunctional and bad work habits are tolerated or implicitly encouraged.
Things I've tried:
-My first six months, I was over-the-top nice, enthusiastic and deferential to everyone. I continue to ask people to do things as if they're doing me a favor, saying please and thank you. I make myself visible and available.
-Positive reinforcement: when you are helpful, I give you a cold bottle of water as thanks. When you do something exceptional, I write you a thank-you email detailing what you did that was so great, and I cc my boss and your boss.
-Negative reinforcement: you give me attitude, you're next on the list for getting asked to do something for me.
-Being flexible: I don't care how you do something for me as long as it's done right. Arbitrarily alternating with...
-Staying firm: no matter how much you argue, I want you to do it in the way I asked, because I said so. No further explanation.
-Being supportive: no one gets ratted out to their supervisors, no matter what. If someone needs a favor, whether personal or job-related, I'm there. I do visible work to make the staff's life easier, and I take work off others' plates.
A combination of these strategies has reduced my problem coworkers (starting at about 5, in a 30-employee agency) to this one.
Other things I've considered but rejected:
-I have a serious temper, which no one in this job has seen. I'm halfway inclined to rain down fury and scare her, but recognize it's unlikely to be productive.
-Complain to her manager. My principal problem here is that I'd rather be a source of authority in and of myself, rather than by having to resort to other people. Her manager is also unlikely to take action, unfortunately, because of the well-established workplace culture.
-Complain to my manager. Same as above. My manager isn't interested in getting involved, and heretofore I've asked him not to fight my battles for me.
-Ask her manager for advice on communicating with her. Same problems with above, but still mulling this one over.
Any other advice? This is a sufficiently established pattern that I don't believe specific examples will help, but I'm happy to supply them. I love this job, this problem notwithstanding, and I'm in it for the long haul; this work matters to me deeply, and my motivations are both to improve the agency within my limited present ability and to provide excellent service to my municipality and its employees.