co-worker acting like manager
July 29, 2011 2:33 PM   Subscribe

How to respond to a co-worker mimicking a manager?

My company just went through a round of layoffs, in the course of which my manager was let go. Previously we were a team of three: the manager, me, and a co-worker. Me and co-worker will now be reporting-in to a much higher-level manager who will not have much time for us. In the meantime, in the vacuum and confusion of the immediate aftermath of the mass layoffs, co-worker has started a routine of coming over to me with a clipboard, asking what I'm working on, mimicking the routine of daily stand-up meetings on progress as used to be conducted by our manager.

We are at the same level on the org chart. He seems to be angling for either a higher standing than me in the eyes of people above us or personal satisfaction in dominating me. Or maybe he just assumes he's superior to me?

Have been bothered by this guy's manipulativeness and naked self-promotion numerous times over the years of my employment. Should add that I do better work than him, as far as I can tell.

How would you respond to this? I have no desire to engage in conflict and don't think I'd get anywhere. But I really hope this doesn't get any worse.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bring this up to HR and your new manager. Make sure you don't interact with him, and when you do, keep it professional.

You may also want to request a "roles and responsibilities" meeting with all the shuffling going on. This should come from your manager, and agreed upon by the two of you. This way it is clear who is responsible for what.

If anything is amiss, make sure you document.
posted by TheBones at 2:37 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask him why he's asking.

My supervisor was laid off in June and the guy we're reporting to now (like you, a higher-level manager) has occasionally asked me to let him know what we're all doing. Difference is, I say, "Hey, Barry wants to know what we're working on," so it's transparent.

But what if he does want to use this time to prove he could be a manager if given the chance? As long as he's not making you miserable, denying you days off, pretending to write you up and the like, he's not doing anything wrong.
posted by ladygypsy at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are the daily stand-up meetings doing you good? Perhaps they're doing him some good. Remember that a key role of management is to facilitate communication between team members, and without a manager to do it, he appears to be taking on that role.

If he's defining your workload, or giving you feedback as if he's your manager, I can understand your frustration. However, if he's just taking the steps you've been describing, then I'd interpret it as filling the vaccuum in recognition of having no hands-on management.

Here's what I'd do: first, I'd go to your new manager and let him or her know that your manager used to run the daily meetings for your team, that you found them helpful to facilitate communication within the team, and does he want to see that practice continued -- and does he want status reports generated.

What you're going to get back is one of two things: either he's going to say "yes, that's great, please do" -- in which case, you can go back to your coworker and advise him your shared boss has asked you to do those things, and you'll be doing them going forward -- or he's going to say "yes, and I've already asked [your coworker] to start doing those things."

If the latter, you tell your boss that you're very interested in taking on some of that responsibility, and could the tasks (daily standups, weekly status reports) be split betwen you, or could it alternate by week or month? If he balks at that, ask him if there are other opportunities for you to take on some managerial-type responsibilities, as you have an interest in learning how to do such things.

The goal here isn't to stop doing daily standups -- even if you don't like them, your coworker might, and I'm certain your boss wants those weekly status reports -- but to either become the person in charge of doing them officially, or to get yourself some of that responsibliity so that your coworker doesn't automatically become your de facto manager. To be honest, this is just what you should be doing anyway, even if you liked the guy and wanted him in charge, because taking on and learning how to do managerial stuff is good for your career.
posted by davejay at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, moving up the ladder is a political game... and so is surviving in a chaotic environment.

No matter what, you cannot change the fact that the guy is a self-promoter, and that he is likely getting face time with people higher up the food chain.

Those are real advantages.

I'm assuming you guys work together, and you need to share information with him so you can collaborate.

Anyway, just give him the information he needs, but also make sure you are creating your own reports, and submitting them to your supervisor. You need to start promoting yourself.

It's also fair (and part of self-preservation) to start documenting this guy's tasks and commitments *as they pertain to your work* and asking him for updates, and then documenting them. When you've documented them, fire them over to him by email and say something like "here's what I documented. can you take a look? i want to make sure I've documented things correctly."
posted by KokuRyu at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

He probably is trying to show that he has management skills. Work product, whether it's selling paper or writing code or anything else, is not the be all, end all of what companies want when they're considering promotions, etc.

Be respectful and do your job and don't whine about this guy. That's the immediate answer to your question. But the longer-term answer is that you need to realize that this isn't school - getting A's on your exams isn't enough. Self-promotion isn't a bad thing, it's a necessary thing, and instead of being bothered by the fact that he does it, you need to work on doing it yourself.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:11 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe those daily meetings were really helpful for your co-worker and he wants to keep having them even though the manager is gone, because it's good for his productivity, not because he's trying to upset you.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2011

Seconding Thirteenkiller. Seems like the behavior offends you, the way he's seems to be trying to assume a position "superior" to you. I'd turn the behavior right around, cheerfully report your tasks / progress to him, then cheerfully ask "and where are you at with project X, how's issue Y going ? Have you considered looking into future task Z?"

To be ace at this you'll need to keep notes on his progress and tasks, the same notes his manager would. If this thought annoys you it might be better to let him have his way ?
posted by oblio_one at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you need to get yourself a clipboard.

Yeah, before you get HR involved and all that, I would just start doing it right back at him.

Or on preview, what oblio_one said.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:30 PM on July 29, 2011

Yeah, before you get HR involved and all that, I would just start doing it right back at him.

Don't do this. Passive-aggressive, high-school bullshit like that is unprofessional and is a great way to torpedo your reputation in the business. Bosses like people who make problems go away, not people who make problems.

It will also taint all future interactions with this person. You need to neutralise not escalate; if you want to deal this problem, the way to do it is by doing it smart. Do it better than your nemesis. Fighting fire with fire in the corporate world is generally not a good idea; subtlety is called for, not braggadocio.
posted by smoke at 5:47 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

You say he presents a persona of "manipulativeness and naked self-promotion." Sounds like an opportunist taking advantage of an opportunity. Sounds like he is trying to emerge from the post-reorg tumult as a de facto manager.

You said, "I have no desire to engage in conflict." So don't engage. When he comes over with his Dwight Schrute clipboard, be in a meeting/on your way to a meeting/on a call/faking a call. Don't participate.

Perception is reality... the more people see him succeed in these actions, the more legit he appears. When he is standing at your desk talking to you, sitting in your chair, he looks like a manager checking on a subordinate. Soon he may actually become one.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:14 PM on July 29, 2011

I had exactly this happen to me once. I'd agree that you should ask him first why he's asking, just in case he has some legitimate need or reason for it. You don't want to come off too prickly right away.

If he does give you some managerial sounding excuse, nip that in the bud immediately. Just tell him he's not your manager, and you don't require or welcome his efforts to supervise you. When this happened to me, I think my biggest mistake was just ignoring it for too long, and not consistently calling it out. Like you, I wasn't interested in confrontation, but it did backfire to the point that it came back to me that this guy was spreading nasty professional and personal rumors about me, so I did eventually have to address it very directly. First, I just sat him down and said, "You are not my supervisor, so stop acting as though you are, and stop telling people you are." Then, when he persisted, I had our off-site manager sit him down and explain it to him too.

I don't know if it would have helped to be more direct with him initially, but I really don't think it could have hurt. It is not going to stop until you make it stop.

Oh, and I have a denouement that I swear I'm not making up: Some years later, I was in another job at a pretty prestigious company in our industry, and I got that guy's resume on my chair one morning. According to his resume, he said he supervised me AND he had provided some sloppy memo I'd written about a project as a work sample. Not only did he not get that job, but he was guaranteed not to get any job at that company.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:39 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've gone down this road a bit, at first asked if the direction came from our boss. It didn't stop so I told him he wasn't my boss and it wasn't his place to act like he was. It stopped when I told him I didn't know who he thought he was and who he thought I was, but I was fed up and we should go talk to our boss about it.
posted by ambient2 at 10:43 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine went through something similar. She made sure to continue doing whatever was required of her according to her contract, but if the "manager" (who was not announced as such until months later) asked her to do something beyond that, she would say no. Also if she felt the "manager" was checking up on her work, she would politely tell her she could handle it alone, thank you very much. Later my friend did speak to the boss about it, but by that time she had decided to leave the job.

If no one has told you that your co-worker is now your manager, don't treat him any differently than you did before, and don't feel you have to answer his questions about what you're working on. If you really want to avoid a conflict, I would do what I Love Bananas suggests, and simply clam up when he comes around with his clipboard. If he doesn't change his behavior, then I would certainly ask your superior to clarify the responsibility structure in your department.
posted by Paris Elk at 4:20 AM on July 30, 2011

I agree that you should deal with it on your own before involving HR.

Start with assuming the position that he is coming to you with these questions because, in the management vacuum, the poor guy needs guidance. Turn it back around, "Yes, I'm fine with my projects. Do you need help on yours?" Or, "Hey, that's a good idea with project X. Go ahead and do it, you have my approval."

Do it until he finally says, "Hey, we're coworkers! You're not my boss."
posted by motsque at 5:15 AM on July 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

definitely what motsque said. as soon as he comes over with the clipboard ask him to see it and then start talking to him about his tasks and progress. it's crucial that you do it before discussing your work otherwise he can run off. turn it into a situation where colleagues are discussing their work rather than him asking you for your status as if he were your boss. just be super friendly and chatty bordering on the annoying. bonus if you can make the whole process as time consuming and frustrating as possible for him.
posted by canned polar bear at 9:53 AM on July 30, 2011

Yeah, before you get HR involved and all that, I would just start doing it right back at him.

Don't do this. Passive-aggressive, high-school bullshit like that is unprofessional and is a great way to torpedo your reputation in the business. Bosses like people who make problems go away, not people who make problems.

Did you have an actual suggestion for fixing it by being "better?" It seems more passive aggressive to pull in some HR mediation and have some stupid time-wasting talk that would inevitably involve filing some bullshit paperwork. It would probably take one time for him to get the picture. And it'd be hilarious.

Then again, I don't really get the absurd and stupid niceties and mores of corporate culture, and I'm generally appalled by how the simplest problems require the most convoluted solutions. So yeah, probably don't take my advice. But seriously if it were me, I'd probably just tell him to knock it right off, you aren't my boss, got it?

The point is: deal with it without getting others involved. I get that maybe doing it back at him is a little juvenile and not the best solution. In that case, you just need to have a talk with him. Your boss doesn't want to be bothered with this.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2011

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