Being Mentored by Boss and Colleagues are Feeling Insecure!
March 19, 2012 1:40 AM   Subscribe

How should I handle this tricky situation at work? My boss has taken me under her wing to guide me on the path of success. I feel she did this because I was open to her assistance. We have now developed a friendly "quid pro quo" type of agreement. She assists me by sharing her expertise on certain work-related items and vice-versa. I will in turn share with my colleagues when I feel capable of doing so. Some of my closest colleagues are feeling insecure about my friendly and close relationship with our boss. It seems like they feel threatened by they think I am privy to all this "important information" that I won't share with them.

I work in the Arabian Gulf. The whole culture here is heavily focused on interpersonal relationships. Failure to cultivate strong rapport here is social and career suicide. I work in a place that is all women. I am a late-twenties American woman. I'm single and the youngest person at the company. My boss is an early-forties Egyptian woman who is divorced with kids. My colleagues are Egyptian and American. Most are married and have kids at home.

Two of my American colleagues are feeling uneasy about my relationship with our boss. I tried to explain to them that our boss is assisting me so that I can assist them in turn. They said they felt like I was trying be "The Best" in our department and was withholding information from them. I feel very hurt by this accusation and frustrated by their feelings of insecurity and lack of faith in the abilities of our boss.

I told my boss about my colleagues' concerns and she advised me to try to repair my relationship with them, but to keep doing my very best at my job no matter who anyone else thinks about it. So in other words, don't burn the bridge, but don't go running back to the other side, either!

What's a girl to do?
posted by thatgirl1985 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Um, why can't you keep your public relationship with your boss above board? I'm not sure that your boss using you as the sole dissemination point for information is good for your office dynamic. I"d be pretty annoyed too. Unless it were in your position description.

Get your boss to brief all of you some times, or to regrade your position.

And you should never ever ever let your colleagues know that you have any more intimate knowledge of your boss than they do.

Be colleagues at work with your boss, friends elsewhere.
posted by taff at 2:22 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Don't take it personally. It's not your fault but this isn't fair to your coworkers.

This doesn't read so much as mentoring as your boss is playing favorites. She's creating a fairly unpleasant working environment for everyone by cherrypicking one employee to assist and then leaving you to pass along information when you feel capable of doing so. If I were one of your coworkers, I'd be pretty annoyed as well (and I don't think it's a cultural thing).

As to her response about their complaints, it seems like she's telling you to keep doing your job while throwing you to the wolf pack. You really can't repair this inequity because you're not causing it, your boss is.

Seems like your choices are to ask your boss to stop using you as an information disseminator, continue but make that part of your job description, or to start including all of you in these helpful chats in the form of staff meetings.
posted by kinetic at 2:48 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, I have a different perspective. After many years in business, I can tell you that all bosses -- CEOs included -- look for the aide-de-camp they favor and trust, and quite often, that person rises faster than the others. That's how it is. You are in the cat bird seat, and I say continue to cultivate the relationship with your boss -- to me it sounds like you are doing a great job, and are a natural at it. A role like this is complex -- you have to have integrity, not use your insider status to undermine people, share what you are comfortable with, stay out of boss-related conversations with the others, be polite and professional to your co-workers. But you are there to succeed, not get involved in sorting out your co-workers insecurities. Sounds a little harsh, but there it is.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:00 AM on March 19, 2012 [24 favorites]

One more thing -- I really don't see the wisdom of asking your boss to dial down her mentoring of you, or making it "fairer" for the others. That's just asking for trouble.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:02 AM on March 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

So in other words, don't burn the bridge, but don't go running back to the other side, either!

What's a girl to do?

Absolutely heed this advice. Some co-workers are going to resent anyone who's in line for a promotion or favoured for choice assignments. The best thing you can do there is maintain a very friendly, open work relationship, while never apologizing for the fact that your superiors openly choose you.

Don't withhold information unnecessarily, but also respect the trust of your superiors. There is a balance to maintaining good relationships up and down the chain of command and one of the things you could ask for mentorship/advice on is how to manage up and down.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:51 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

their feelings of insecurity and lack of faith in the abilities of our boss.

I don't think this reflects their feelings about your boss but instead a lack of faith in you. You haven't done anything to earn their trust, your boss is favourinv you, and your boss is leaving you alone to figure out the interpersonal dynamics? She doesn't sound like a good mentor, more like someone using you for her own purposes (which is normal in the office, just don't delude yourself that she has your back in any way).

You can use this opportunity to climb the ladder quickly, or it could crash and burn around you as you different players and powers in your office politics are revealed.
posted by saucysault at 4:54 AM on March 19, 2012

Your boss isn't using you as the conduit of information in your office. Your boss is mentoring you, and expecting you to mentor others in turn. This is how mentoring works.

Being mentored upsets relationships and interpersonal dynamics. It shifts your relationship with your boss, because you're working with them in a different way. It shifts your relationship with your peers, because you are being developed in a different way, and some see that as a threat. And if you think this is difficult, I'm assuming you've never been promoted out of a peer group - that's when things get hard.

By establishing yourself in a mentoring relationship with your boss, you're doing the exact right thing. You simply need to accept that it will cause other relationships to change, and you're going to have to deal with that.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:09 AM on March 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

As notmyself points out, if she is expecting you to mentor then she needs to introduce that idea to your colleagues, obtain their buy-in and set up a new mentoring relationship, preferably in a formal way. You simply cannot mentor people that have no faith in your abilities, are unwilling to see you as "better" than them, and have had this "mentoring" imposed on them. If mentoring your peers is your boss's goal then you need to articulate to her how you need her to support you.
posted by saucysault at 5:34 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your co-workers are jealous. It's inevitable as you rise in business that you'll make some people jealous.

You owe it to yourself to cultivate your boss. There's a promotion in it.

Your co-workers' jealousy will diminish if you show that you are working harder than they are, and if you go out of your way to help them. If you help them understand what your boss wants, and take the time to discuss her needs with them, and take them to lunch with you, then they'll come around to the notion that this is just the way it is, and you're not so bad. Eventually they'll start coming to you for advice about her.
posted by musofire at 5:37 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ask to have a weekly 'stand-up' staff meeting for say 10-15 minutes, where people can talk about stuff that's bugging them. Also, schedule regular 'training' sessions.
posted by empath at 5:54 AM on March 19, 2012

I wouldn't go so far as to schedule times for people to complain, but I definitely think a scheduled weekly meeting is in order, as informal as possible, like a "catch-all" meeting or something like that. Your boss comes to the first one only and tells the group that she's asked you to take on the extra responsibility of running a meeting to make sure everyone's on the same page for the week. Call it an info-sharing session or a checking-in session or whatever. Then you run that meeting weekly, making sure not to act like their boss by telling them what to do, but rather to share information and help.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:03 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

if she is expecting you to mentor then she needs to introduce that idea to your colleagues, obtain their buy-in and set up a new mentoring relationship, preferably in a formal way.

No, she doesn't. She "needs" only to align with the person she has judged will best be able to meet and exceed her expectations, and will have her back.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:08 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel she did this because I was open to her assistance I believe she did this because work needs to get done.

I don't see anything in your question to indicate that any of the co-workers are untrustworthy (office politics or competence) or just plain toxic. If that's correct, they're not the problem.

What you need to do is your job, which includes managing your relationship with these people.

It's natural that you may know things that they don't, and your mentor most certainly knows things that are not shared with you, and her boss knows things that are not shared with her and so on.

Your co-workers may try to game you for inside dope, but they should also know it's a game and back off when your actions make it clear that you are there to do the job.

That some are American and some are not and some have kids and some like sweets after lunch or whatever is immaterial.

Be respectful and expect respect.

In my opinion, dealing with people is the worst part of a job, but it's a huge part of my job and apparently, yours. Some days, I just thank FSM I'm not in customer service and plan on a big drink after I clock out.

Good luck.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:32 AM on March 19, 2012

Your coworker's uneasiness and insecurity about your being mentored don't really sound like a problem. Nothing in your question suggested a real conflict that needs resolving, just that two of your coworkers don't like you as much anymore.

If there is a problem here, it may be in how your colleagues perceive you. As mentioned above, it sounds like they lack faith in you - in your forthcomingness, in your motives. Why do you think that is?
posted by sm1tten at 10:39 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just saw from your other question that you are a teacher. I worked for over a decade in schools and the interpersonal dynamics are ...interesting, and definately different to regular office politics. There tends to be a much stronger feeling among the staff that experience weighs more, especially since there is such a huge learning curve to teaching in the first couple of years. One way I found to get my colleague's respect was to link up with them on LinkedIn (I have a pretty varied and extensive education and experience); that way I wasn't just the new person who was all singular theory and no experience. I also observed what problems they had and tried to bring them solutions, even if it was just taking over their class during my prep time to give them a double free period to get their reports done (bonus, showing how organised I was, so they would understand why my principal had such faith in me). Even leaving a small present (like a valentine's treat) in everyone's mailbox was recieved very positively.

Interpersonal relations are definately the hardest part of being a teacher; unfortunately, just like teaching, mistakes/experience is the best way to learn. Continue to be honest and fair to everyone and you will be just fine. Good luck!
posted by saucysault at 6:55 PM on March 19, 2012

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