Would I Be an Office Tattletale?
June 11, 2012 8:27 PM   Subscribe

I have a newish job at a law firm. I like it. It's not in my field and I'm a bit overqualified, but I need the money and a sense of accomplishment. I work very hard, am trying to learn quickly, and have had excellent, enthusiastic feedback from my boss. However, a coworker who has some problems with my work style and constantly tells me I'm a sloppy worker wants to have a sit-down meeting with me at Starbucks tomorrow to discuss my work. This person is not my boss, and my actual boss has made it clear to me that this person is in no way my boss. Do I tell my real boss what this guy is doing?

When I was hired for my job, I had two bosses. I'm going to call them Anne and Joe. Anne had been overworked at her job for ages and Joe had just been hired to take over half of her responsibilities. They were meant to be on the same level, and when I was hired, Joe was told he'd be one of my supervisors. However, Joe turned out to be a slow learner and about a week before my start date, the partners of the firm decided that he wasn't yet ready to take on a supervisory role. Anne privately told me that the partners met with him to let him know he was not to act as anyone's boss and that he was not Anne's equal but was under her supervision. They've had to hold this meeting with him several times because he's "not getting it." Anne explicitly stated that I'm not to allow Joe to act as my boss.

On my third day with the firm, Joe called me into his office to let me know that I'd neglected to put a certain-colored sticky note on a file I'd left with him. I hadn't known about the sticky note rule, but promised I'd use them in the future. He closed his office door and told me that he'd look at my resume, read about my Master's degree, and didn't understand why I was at the job, but that I had to take it seriously all the same. He also mentioned that it was "obvious" I've never worked in an adult, corporate office, though I've worked in many. He told me I couldn't produce sloppy work and intimated that I thought I was better than the job. I was insulted, but thought I'd obviously done something to displease him and promised to take my job very seriously. I've been wary of him and careful to do all he asks since then. I try to be cheerful, uncomplaining and diligent around him. (I mean, I generally try to be that way at my job, but I try extra-hard around him just to prove that he doesn't have to worry about my work product.)

Since Joe is my superior, he often checks my reports and gives me corrections to review. Over the months, I've noticed that his corrections are often incorrect themselves. I usually check in with Anne to make sure that my own work is accurate without revealing that I'm asking because of one of Joe's revisions. This presented a problem last Friday, when Joe marched into my office and crabbily, condescendingly informed me that some work I'd done was completely wrong, that I was sloppy, and that I needed to check over my work more. I told him that I'd had Anne check the work, but he shouted, "Anne's not always right!" and literally stomped away after I swore to check my work harder. I went over my work and found that I'd done everything correctly. I sent my work through peer review. It was correct. I showed it to Anne. It was correct. As usual, Joe's work was 100%% incorrect.

This isn't really a problem and obviously has less to do with me personally than it does Joe's feeling about being Anne's inferior, etc. I can usually just ignore Joe's reviews and send out the work product without him knowing the difference. I don't want to tell Anne about his mistakes because it makes me feel like a completely slimy tattletale. He's clearly having a hard enough time with the job, and I'd be defensive and worried if I were hired for a position and then told I wasn't ready for it.

But now Joe wants to have a meeting about my work at Starbucks tomorrow morning, and I'm sure it will again be about my sloppy, terrible work with some extra comments about how I don't follow his instructions. I don't even think he has the authority to call a meeting with me off-site during work hours, but Joe's my superior so I'll go along with it and try to take his comments as constructive criticism. But the problem is that he's wrong! I would follow Joe's instructions, but they'd make some of our legal cases invalid. He seems to have disliked me from day one, so I just can't think of any non-confrontational way I can tell him any of this. My plan is just to nod, smile, and promise to do better.

Do I tell Anne about what goes on at this meeting? It would reveal that Joe's not doing his job properly, and I feel like Anne & co. already know that. My doing so would just lead to another meeting between Joe and the partners, which would make him dislike me more. I was also always taught to deal with petty interpersonal problems on my own and never tattle on coworkers, etc., to superiors. But I can't just have meeting after meeting with him while he insults my work, which I secretly know is fine. MetaFilter, how do I handle this meeting tomorrow?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (45 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Not only should you tell your bosses about this meeting, you should absolutely not attend it.

Do not attend this meeting. Do not discuss it with Anne. Go straight to her boss, as her ability to manage Joe is at this point non existent.
posted by bilabial at 8:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [47 favorites]

Absolutely do not go to this meeting. You don't need to "tattle" on Joe, but Anne needs to know what's going on. Do. Not. Go. to this meeting.
posted by brainmouse at 8:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do not go to the meeting. It is incredibly highly inappropriate for someone who is not your supervisor to try to drag you to an off-site meeting to discuss your performance. Just because someone is senior to you in the office does not mean they are your boss and you have to do whatever they ask.

Inform your actual supervisor that the meeting was requested and ask what you should do.
posted by erst at 8:36 PM on June 11, 2012 [19 favorites]

To keep from being a "tattletale,"'when you talk to your supervisor you can always phrase it like "Joe's requested this off-site meeting with me, and I'm not sure it's appropriate. Can you help me navigate this?"
posted by erst at 8:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [50 favorites]

Ask Anne (or whomever is your actual boss) if you should go. Do whatever they say.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your actual supervisor is Anne, go to Anne. If you don't know who exactly to go to, perhaps asking who people in the office usually go to in a VERY roundabout way would be better.

Nthing that you not attend the meeting. Worst case, Joe gets even more pissy with you than he already is. Best case, he stomps into whatever meeting you end up having and essentially crucifies himself.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:39 PM on June 11, 2012

but Joe's my superior so I'll go along with it

Your superior is the person you report to. You don't need to go along with this, and shouldn't. If Joe wants to discuss your performance, he can do it in front of you and Anne in a formal setting.
posted by holgate at 8:42 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

This doesn't sound in any way like an "interpersonal" problem. This sounds like a situation in which Joe is angling to make you the scapegoat for his poor performance. And it sounds like he is "working on you" psychologically so that you feel like you deserve it and always has you questioning yourself, so that the scrutiny is never on him. Look at what you wrote, you're always focusing on how you can "do better" in your performance so that Joe stops treating you like shit. Here's the thing: you will never "do better" because you're not actually doing anything wrong. You will never "do better" as long as Joe feels like he needs a scapegoat for HIS poor performance. You can't win this game by playing along.
posted by cairdeas at 8:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [29 favorites]

It is a truism that law offices attract some oddball employees. You have found one. Likely, your office manager or HR people (depending on the size of the operation) already now about this persons 'quirks.' Tell whoever this is that you've heard no complaints from your supervisor and that you're not comfortable discussing your job performance with anyone else.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:45 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's one thing for Joe to review your work. Though it sounds like that's a waste of your time at this point. But this is a serious boundary he's attempting to cross. By this point, you know the hierarchy in your office. Joe is not your supervisor. Tell Anne he's scheduled this meeting. Ask her if she'd like you to attend. From now on, cc Anne in reply to any request Joe makes of you.
posted by freshwater at 8:51 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

No, i'd tell Anne privately exactly what you've written here. After that, I'd start being very blunt with Joe. "no, Joe, that's wrong." Definitely stop apologizing to him. He's set up this superior/subordinate dynamic between you two, and it sounds like you keep playing it for him.

Sounds like you need to just firmly say, hey, I appreciate your suggestions, but I don't work for you and I'd appreciate it if you stopped treating me like I do.

Somewhat in his defense, he may think part of what the company is looking for in him is to "step up" and start ACTING like a supervisor if he ever wants to be one. The old "do the job you want until they give it to you" strategy. Unfortunately, that's not what they want and he's not technically competent anyway.

I usually say don't get into any battles of will; don't burn any bridges 'cause you never know who'll be a useful ally later. Sounds like you're safe to be kind of sharp with this guy if you have to, though, and F him if he doesn't like it.

I'd go to the meeting (after apprising Anne of the situation, and only if she agreed) and turn it around into a "look, dude, lay off the supervisor act" meeting.
posted by ctmf at 8:51 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Joe is an asswipe with an ego trip. He's pissed off that he was told he wasn't ready to supervise, yet he's supervising you. Do not continue to let him do that. Do not go to the meeting and absolutely tell Anne. He shouldn't be managing you and you should not pretend to follow his advice. His boss needs to know what he is doing.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:53 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, I think Joe senses your reluctance to "tattle" and is taking full advantage of that to bully you. Notice how secretive he is about the way he's treating you: making sure to close the office door before making his catty comments about your degree and work experience; wanting to have his little meeting at a Starbucks rather than in the office. I believe that Joe would not dare to do and say half of what he's doing if it were all out in the open and seen by the rest of the office. I think you really need to try hard to avoid giving him the opportunity to bully you privately, and make it obvious that nothing he says to you will be kept secret. I think the best way to do this is to be innocently oblivious when you bring them up to others. I mean mentioning things in front of him and everyone else as if you had no idea that he wanted things to be secret from the rest of the office.
posted by cairdeas at 8:56 PM on June 11, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think you've misinterpreted the playground rules for the office: mind your own business until it (whatever 'it' is) impacts your ability to do a good job. At that point you must tell your boss, immediately.
posted by lemur at 8:58 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I get what you're saying about not being the 'office tattletale,' but it sounds like 1. your boss is aware that this is an issue, and 2. there's a possibility that this guy is building up to some kind of complaint about you and your work. Joe knows he's wrong, because he's offering these suggestions in contexts that give him deniability (office door closed, off-site meeting, etc.), so stop worrying about his job and start paying attention to yours.

Erst's suggestion above is totally appropriate here - if Anne doesn't know about this meeting, there's not much that she can do to help. Additionally, I suggest that you start documenting all incidents where he's wrong and pushy / aggressive about it, or when he tries to act like your boss. You're not tattling, but if it becomes necessary (if Joe decides to escalate this), you have an evidence chest to back you up.
posted by Paragon at 8:59 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get that "tattletale" thinking out of your head, right away.

This is not 5th grade lunch recess, this is grown-ass adults in a law firm. What Joe is doing is absolutely out of line, and is interfering with your job (or at least threatening to). This is a Human Resources issue at a grown-ass law firm, not something for the Court of Super-Secret-Pinky-Sworn-Oaths.
a week before my start date, the partners of the firm decided that he wasn't yet ready to take on a supervisory role. Anne privately told me that the partners met with him to let him know he was not to act as anyone's boss and that he was not Anne's equal but was under her supervision. They've had to hold this meeting with him several times because he's "not getting it." Anne explicitly stated that I'm not to allow Joe to act as my boss.
You do not report to Joe, you report to Anne.

Joe will be lucky if he still has a job after all this shakes out, and it'll be his own fault.

Do not go to the meeting, report this to Anne right away, email her tonight if you can. What he's doing is SO FAR OUTSIDE THE BOUNDS OF ACCEPTABLE, your supervisor needs to know.

Note: his being your "superior"; This isn't some weird boarding school where the Seniors get to boss around the Freshmen, this is a law firm with an org chart and explicit lines of who reports to whom. People who have employees that report to them are supervisors.

Joe has NO SUPERVISORY AUTHORITY, he has been told by Anne (his supervisor) and the Partners that he has NO SUPERVISORY AUTHORITY, he's been given this message MULTIPLE TIMES...

And he's attempting to exercise supervisory authority over you, and fucking it up as he does it.

This guy has dug himself a job-related hole so deep it he's hit the chopstick mines beneath Beijing.

Report this immediately to your (and his) boss, Anne. This is exactly the kind of thing she and the HR department are supposed to deal with.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:03 PM on June 11, 2012 [27 favorites]

Last comment from me - when you say he's not your boss, but is still your "superior" - are you thinking he's your "superior" just because he's an attorney and you're not? If so, that way of thinking just strikes me as a little weird and unnecessarily... servile? If he's not your boss and not your supervisor then the two of you are colleagues. The situation may take on a different dynamic if you reframe this in your mind a bit.
posted by cairdeas at 9:04 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

To reiterate Paragon's above advice, save all of the incorrect markups he gives you. If you have a locked drawer, keep them in there.

Let him dig his own grave, and deploy your arsenal when the time is right.
posted by invisible ink at 9:04 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anne explicitly stated that I'm not to allow Joe to act as my boss.
Therefore, no, you should not go. Joe is not your superior, even if he is more senior/has more longevity than you. Giving that kind of off-site feedback is something your boss does. Your attempts to mollify him are not working and it's probably undermining your performance in the eyes of your actual supervisor, who appears to not know that this constant checking-in you are doing with her is caused by Joe's interference. Ignoring him will backfire the one time you make a mistake that he catches and you didn't.

It's time to talk to your supervisor and just ask her advice on this, If you really think that Anne, etc., are aware of his erroneous assertions about your work/mistakes in his own work and are doing nothing about it, that's a different story, but I'm getting a kind of different impression from your post. Either way, telling Anne that Joe is attempting some sort of review on your work isn't exactly tattling. This is doing exactly what she told you in the first place - do not let Joe act like he is your boss. You don't necessarily have to go into all the "but he's wrong!" stuff right now.
posted by sm1tten at 9:05 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I usually check in with Anne to make sure that my own work is accurate without revealing that I'm asking because of one of Joe's revisions.

Why keep it secret? It's like you're covering for Joe. In addition to telling Anne about this meeting, why not also tell her that, while of course you recognize the value of peer review, you have some concerns about the quality of review your peer Joe is giving you (cite examples) as well as his approach to giving review, in which he implies that he has a supervisory role with you. Ask if you can discuss some alternatives to having Joe review your work. This way, she'll have a full picture of what Joe's up to.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:08 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

His request to meet you one-on-one is not only inappropriate, it's creepy. Do not go to this meeting. I think you should absolutely make sure you're documenting his corrections and include Anne in what has been going on.

I do not necessarily think it's the best thing to do but I'd be tempted to go nuclear at this point:

Dear Joe,

Sorry that I will not be able to meet at Starbucks tomorrow before work as you requested. You've been clear that you believe my performance has been very poor and as my supervisor I feel that it's important that Anne be brought into this discussion to hear your feedback directly. I'm sure she'd want the opportunity to understand where my work falls short of expectations and be available to assist in correcting me going forward. I've already placed a meeting request on our respective calendars for 10am tomorrow and attached some of your previous mark-up to my documents so Anne can see where I've gone wrong. I look forward to having this discussion with you both.

anonymous the non-tattler because its all just here out in the open now isn't it?

cc: Anne

You can't tattle on someone if you do it to their face. Anne is your supervisor and has made it clear that you are not to allow Joe to try to usurp her role. Maybe there's some power struggle going on between them but that's their problem. The less you take yourself out of this as a pawn the better. If you do it in a way that makes it clear that you are looking for LEGIT feedback and do not want to make Joe's life harder I don't think he can call you out on it.
posted by marylynn at 9:14 PM on June 11, 2012 [26 favorites]

Sorry, I feel compelled to give you one more answer!

He's clearly having a hard enough time with the job, and I'd be defensive and worried if I were hired for a position and then told I wasn't ready for it.

I just want to point something out. You're giving Joe this massive amount of concern and back-having. And you are not getting an iota of it in return from him. The above thought has never crossed his mind w/r/t you. *You* were just hired for a new position. He doesn't care at all about making *you* feel like you're doing a bad job in your new position. In fact he is PURPOSELY making you feel that way! So I think it may be time to lose this consideration.
posted by cairdeas at 9:16 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Ask that the meeting be held on site with hr present.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Anne explicitly stated that I'm not to allow Joe to act as my boss.

There's your answer, right there. Would you meet outside of work, to talk about your work performance, with someone who's not your boss? Hell no!

Anne has told you, in so many words, to reach out to her if Joe bullies you and she will support you, I'm genuinely confused as to why you haven't taken advantage of the offer/instruction and have actually allowed Joe to act like your boss. All that stuff you describe is boss stuff. I know law firms encourage this kind of Stockholm Syndrome and inferiority complex from top to bottom, but it honestly sounds like they're throwing you lifelines about this - you should take them.

When things like this happen at my work, then all work requests are filtered through the manager, first. By not letting Anne have the visibility of Joe's behaviour, it sounds like you have opened yourself up for him to exploit you. Keep all the emails, don't meet him alone, respond to everything via email - even after conversations and meetings (e.g Joe just capturing the outcome of our meeting, you said I would do X and Y, and I agreed to do them by Z. If this is incorrect, please let me know, thanks very much"), and finally, reach out to Anne. Talk to her about the problem and start CCing her on your communications, all of them, to Joe. Flag it with her first, and she will let you know if it's a problem.
posted by smoke at 9:30 PM on June 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

I have been involved in law office staffing for a very long time... I am guessing he was hired to be a paralegal supervisor but because he is a weirdo has been demoted to just be a para, is that right?

Look, just because he has been there longer than you does not mean he will not be fired tomorrow. Do not let someone like Joe drag you down. Don't go to the meeting - what's he going to do, complain? Tell Anne, or whoever your actual supervisor is, first thing in the morning, about the strange request he's made. This is also a fine time to tell her (after you've established with her that you won't be going to his weird offsite meeting) that you didn't want to cause trouble, but he's been making the incorrect comments on your work that you've been asking her about.

Do not put anything in writing; emails can be forwarded around (and modified) in ways you did not intend.

In general, make sure to present it to your supervisor as a situation in which you want to just do the best possible work for the firm, and don't want to be involved in any drama. This is important. Frame it not as a conflict between you and Joe, but rather as just you wanting to make sure you are doing what Anne wants to keep her life drama-free. (If it so happens that firing Joe is the solution that best reaches this goal, so be it. Make sure that getting rid of YOU doesn't wind up sounding like a good idea.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, see, Joe can't do his job and wants to take that out on you. So you don't go to that meeting. And you tell Anne that he set one up with you, offsite.
posted by mleigh at 9:45 PM on June 11, 2012

A little left of field, but I say go to the Starbucks meeting. Bring Anne. And his superior. Let her explain to him that they're very interested in his assessment of your abilities, him establishing his very own company chain of command and maybe he could explain to everyone exactly what the HELL he thinks he's playing at? For added ammo, bring copies of his instructions that contradict Anne's and put cases at risk and say you'd like to better understand why you've done it wrong, and could he please explain it to everyone to make sure you're all on the same page? Watch him turn white and start to stammer.

Creeps like this rely on secrecy to intimidate others. Expose him to everyone for who he is and you take away his power. I can guarantee you he will never mess with you again - if he still has a job.
posted by Jubey at 10:21 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, in my opinion, it's pretty obvious what Joe's up to - he's trying to sabotage your work so Anne - your boss who I assume the buck stops with - gets blamed when cases fall over. This way she gets cast as incompetent for letting it through, or authorising it and he stands another chance at her job. That's why he wants secretive meetings, so everyone assumes you're acting on Anne's shoddy instructions, not his. Nasty... Expose him.
posted by Jubey at 10:32 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with Jubey - bring Anne to your Starbucks meeting. In no way should you go there alone. This guy is a bully. Bring the big guns.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:42 PM on June 11, 2012

Do not go to this meeting. Also, do not let Joe talk to you with your office door closed any more -- if he tries it, say "Actually, leave that open, please" as you get up and re-open the door yourself, and then stand next to it so he can't close it again. If he tries to bluster you about chain of command, say "I'm getting conflicting information about that, and I'd like to sort it out. Are you available for a small-group meeting later today with Anne? I can invite HR too if we want to make sure everything is excruciatingly correct."

Definitely loop Anne in on all of this. She is your boss, and it is part of her job AS her boss to remove impediments to your effectiveness at work. Joe is decidedly one of these impediments, but she can't solve a problem she doesn't know about. You don't have to tattle on him; just email her and say "I'm having some weird pushback from Joe about the TPS reports, and I'd like some guidance on the best way to handle it." If it continues to be a thing, document the HELL out of it, both at work and offsite.
posted by KathrynT at 11:05 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're not willing to tell Anne about it (though it seems like the right thing to do) then frame it this way: you're getting seriously conflicting advice about how to do your job and you need this conflict to be settled. Joe wants to meet with you at Starbucks, but you tell him (in writing and ideally CC'd to Anne) that you'll meet only with both him and Anne, at the office, so that you're absolutely clear on what you need to do. If Joe says "Anne isn't always right," the response is "She's my boss." If he insists that he is too, the response is that you absolutely need them to be on the same page, hence a joint meeting, because you are not able to satisfy conflicting requirements anymore. If he passes on the joint meeting, then each time he "reviews" your work incorrectly bring it up again: "I'm sorry, I've gone over your corrections, they conflict with what Anne requires, I need all three of us to hash this out." Do it in writing.

On preview, what KathrynT said.
posted by egg drop at 11:21 PM on June 11, 2012

You need to stop protecting this bozo. Maybe he's just a weirdo and will eventually do OK, maybe he needs to be shit-canned, but he'll do that on his own.

Please don't go to the meeting, please do tell Anne, in a professional, emotionless way, that you're having difficulty doing your job because Joe thinks he's your master and he's not, and you need An Official Pronouncement to underline that.

And please don't cover for this guy. When Anne says "WTF?" on mistakes, you own your own and tell her the ones that are Joe's. At review time he's not going to miss a bonus or fail to get a raise if you've taken the fall for them. Again, this can be done in a professional, non-emotional way. "Joe asked that these figures be left in, can you confirm that? My research doesn't agree." Etc.
posted by maxwelton at 3:51 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, the more I think about this the more I expect some kind of bizarre harassment type move at Starbucks. Do Not Go.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:43 AM on June 12, 2012

I wish you'd given more structural organizational information. You're a paralegal and he's an attorney? You're a paralegal and he's another paralegal who has more experience than you? Other?

The Starbucks meeting question is easy: email him and say you aren't going, and then don't go.

But the situation is a little more tricky than people are giving it credit for, I think, and it makes sense to feel uncertain and hesitant (as you evidently do). Yes, you have been told by Anne not to let Joe act as your boss. But many law firms aren't places where you report to your supervisor and tell everyone else "sorry, you're not my boss, so I'm not going to do what you're asking me to do" or "sorry, you're not my boss, so I don't care if you think I'm doing things wrong." A lot of them are places where colleague-level people (i.e., not anyone's direct supervisor and not a managing partner) may have to ask their colleagues to do certain things, depending on the demands of their cases, and just about everyone should listen to feedback from just about everyone.

But look, you definitely have to stop covering Joe's ass. If you and Joe disagree about how something should be done, you need to escalate that. Rope him in if you don't want to seem like you're running behind his back. "Hey, Joe and I seem to have different ideas about X. Can you clarify?" If there are right and wrong ways to do things, everyone has to be on the same page.

If you disagree with Joe about something, you're not being a tattle-tale to raise that -- including the fact of disagreement -- with a third party. You're being direct and trying to resolve work issues, and that's exactly what you need to do.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:04 AM on June 12, 2012

Anne had been overworked at her job for ages and Joe had just been hired to take over half of her responsibilities.

Anne is the one I'd be protecting and empathizing with here. If Joe is making your life hellish, can you imagine what he's doing to Anne, after being hired to work as her colleague and then getting demoted to her direct report? Anne was already overworked before all this. Now she has to do everything she did before, plus reviewing Joe's work, plus trying to manage Joe.

He also mentioned that it was "obvious" I've never worked in an adult, corporate office, though I've worked in many.

This is a statement I've seen before in corporate environments. It seems to be a corporate equivalent of PUA negging -- and it works, as you can attest.

Over the months, I've noticed that his corrections are often incorrect themselves. I usually check in with Anne to make sure that my own work is accurate without revealing that I'm asking because of one of Joe's revisions.

You need to start telling Anne that these are Joe's revisions. You're not protecting the firm by hiding this -- quite the opposite.

I don't want to tell Anne about his mistakes because it makes me feel like a completely slimy tattletale. He's clearly having a hard enough time with the job, and I'd be defensive and worried if I were hired for a position and then told I wasn't ready for it.

The person to really protect here is Anne, who was already overworked before she got landed with this bozo. Hiding Joe's mistakes isn't helping her -- it's hurting her. It's also potentially hurting the firm, if she just doesn't have time to review 100% of Joe's work and some of this gets out into the wild.

Anne and her superiors probably know how bad he is, but they may not have the history of behavior they need to get rid of him. You've been covering up for him, which means they only have some of the story. You need to start documenting *everything* Joe does, so you have an established timeline. You need to stop letting Joe cut you out of the herd to criticize you. And you need to let Anne in every time Joe does something like this. You don't know the full story from Anne's side. Anne may need this information as ammunition.

Side note: I work in a similarly confusing work environment, with multiple layers of supervisors, colleagues, peers, etc. I do get where you're coming from. But Joe holding a meeting at Starbucks to discuss your work performance is just totally beyond the line. You need to go to Anne and stomp on this now.
posted by pie ninja at 6:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

But the situation is a little more tricky than people are giving it credit for...many law firms aren't places where you report to your supervisor and tell everyone else "sorry, you're not my boss, so I'm not going to do what you're asking me to do" or "sorry, you're not my boss, so I don't care if you think I'm doing things wrong." A lot of them are places where colleague-level people (i.e., not anyone's direct supervisor and not a managing partner) may have to ask their colleagues to do certain things, depending on the demands of their cases, and just about everyone should listen to feedback from just about everyone.

"Joe's" conduct goes beyond any collaborative law office norms I'm familiar with. "Feedback" is different than trying to directly supervise a co-worker after multiple meetings with actual supervisors--and partners--instructing the person in question to stop doing this. They're probably already in the process of showing this guy to the door, or at least considering it.

I'd agree that Anne is the person who deserves OP's loyalty here.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:35 AM on June 12, 2012

The partners told Joe not to act as anyone's boss and Anne explicitly told you not to allow Joe to act as your boss. Neither of you are following instructions from management. Remove yourself from the Joe problem. Go to Anne and tell her about this offsite meeting request . Tell her about some of the issues that have been occurring and that you were trying to handled them on your own but, this meeting request made it clear to you that you needed to bring the issue to her.

This business about mis-correcting your work. Joe is either incompetent or actively trying to sabotage you or Anne (as noted by others. The request for the meeting to be offsite makes me lean toward saboteur.
posted by Carbolic at 9:39 AM on June 12, 2012

Regardless of this starbucks meeting, and I agree you shouldn't go, I think you need to stop covering up for his markup mistakes as a matter of urgency. (I'm assuming they're not something minor like calling John Smith "Jack Smith" or something). In my own workplace - not law - and previous workplaces, this is something that could bite you hard in the ass when Anne or her superiors find out you're doing it. Best of luck.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh geez, I've worked with a "Joe", albeit in a software-development environment as opposed to a law firm. The Joe I worked with joined the company after I did, and while I was (being an engineering student at the time) a junior programmer, this guy was NOT my boss, nor was he even a project manager of anything I was working on.

He did have a lot of experience, and it would have been great to have him around if he'd used that experience to the betterment of our code, but unfortunately he couldn't seem to handle being a "senior team member" as opposed to someone's boss. So he'd try and boss people around anyway, and probably because I was one of the youngest and most naive employees at the time, he decided at one point to single me out -- the way it seems like Joe is doing to you.

There was a lot of "gaslighting" regarding my skills/performance...like he would sit behind me while I was coding and refuse to leave when I said he was making it hard to concentrate, saying that I "needed" him there or else I'd screw up, and he was constantly going on about how he'd "been writing assembly since before [I] was born". And he also just made random nasty remarks, like at one point he called me a "sassy intern"(!), and kept insisting that unless I accepted him as a sort of "mentor" I would never reach my potential. Lots of crap like that.

And in hindsight I can see now that this was probably all his way of "preparing" me for the final stunt he pulled that did prompt me to report him -- which is to say that he managed to get me alone, away from the rest of my officemates, away from familiar territory, for the purpose of intimidating me in a manner he wouldn't have been willing to do with colleage-witnesses present.

In my Joe's case he invited me to what was described as a technical meeting, across the street from my regular office space...only to arrive and find that Joe and I were the only ones present, and that he wasn't even pretending that it was a technical meeting anymore. Instead he spent something like two hours alternating between berating me and pointing out how my obvious weakness meant I NEEDED him to be my boss, and that if I did not accept him as a workplace authority, I was "throwing away my future". Needless to say, when I got out of there I was pretty dumbfounded, and for a while afterward could scarcely trust myself to know which way was up. It was horrible, and the only thing that finally got this guy out of my hair for good was the fact that he was shortly afterward fired for a totally unrelated reason.

...so, yeah, specific to your situation, I will join the chorus of DO NOT ATTEND THE STARBUCKS MEETING. If I'm reading your Joe's signals right, and I'm pretty sure I am, he is attempting to pull a seriously epic jerkass move on you (and by proxy, Anne). Don't fall for it. He's insecure, and he's using you both to massage his ego and to "get back at" the workplace structure for not giving him what he sees as "his due".

Refuse to attend the off-site meeting, to start with -- or alternately, recruit Anne or someone in a similar position relative to Joe to go with you. If Joe insists that he wants you and you alone there, that's a huge red flag, and even moreso if he tries to insist you're "being a baby" or "can't take constructive criticism" or similar nonsense. I'd really recommend flat-out refusing, though, and telling him as directly as possible that he is NOT your supervisor and to please bug off and let you do your job, etc.

My guess is that the more you and others refuse to entertain his fantasies of ultimate authority, the more ridiculous his demands and behavior will become, to the point where he figuratively shoots himself in the foot (if he doesn't just quit first).
posted by aecorwin at 10:41 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Joe is a more experienced colleague, with greater longevity, who is not your supervisor or superior. Do not meet with Joe regarding your performance, unless your supervisor asks you to, and then only in the office. Email him to say that you're too busy to join him for coffee, and he can put any comments in email. When Joe has corrections, ask for them in writing/email. If he won't do that, take notes, then reply in email:
- As we discussed, you instructed me in the correct use of colored postit notes to tag folders. I'll be sure to follow this method.
- You stated that the XYZ report on the ABC case was not accurate. I have checked my work, and am unable to find the error. If you'll let me know of a specific problem, I'll make sure it gets corrected.
- When we met today, you characterized my work on the MNO case as "sloppy." It's not clear to me what part of the work does not meet your standard. I have verified the work; see cite A, cite B.
- When we reviewed the GHI notes, you explained that Blah, blah, and blah. This will be helpful as I begin the IJK case.

You're creating a paper (email) trail of facts. Joe may be quite uneasy seeing his behavior described in a neutral, factual way, and in a way that can be used to show your supervisor what's going on. It creates a feedback loop; Joe sees when he's a jerk, and sees when he's a competent, professional colleague. When he starts accusing and being general, be firm: I think it's more productive to stick to specific cases. and Joe, it's unpleasant to be called names like sloppy. Let's stick to the facts.

There's no sense speculating or caring what's in his head or if he likes you. You have work to do, and you have a right to be treated with courtesy and respect, just as you seem to be courteous and respectful to Joe. He sounds like he lacks competence, and, like many people, is not aware of his shortcomings. Look hard to find things to praise; that will reinforce good behavior. Develop a relationship, if you can. Ask him what he's doing for the weekend, then ask him about the camping trip or D&D marathon, etc. He's likely to self-destruct, but as long as you are professional, you won't get harmed when he does.
posted by theora55 at 7:51 PM on June 12, 2012

Also, reporting a co-worker who takes a long lunch to go pick up the dog at the vet, is tattling. A co-worker who takes a long lunch every day, and always leaves early, leaving you to cover the phones and not get your own work done promptly, is imposing on you. Stick up for yourself as cordially as you can, but if the person won't stop being a jerk, reporting them is only reasonable. Not everybody plays fair; it's good that you do, but you don't have to let people take advantage.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks for the input, everyone. For clarification, Joe is a senior attorney and I am an assistant paralegal. I'm older than Joe and have much more work experience, but didn't have enough confidence to use the office hierarchy to my own advantage until I got such supportive and clear-headed feedback here.

I told Joe that I would not meet him at Starbucks but that I would speak with him in his office with the door open. It turns out that he called the meeting to apologize to me, but in the most obnoxious, underhanded way. He said, "I couldn't figure out why you were resisting my corrections and at first I was kinda like, 'God, [anonymous] has an attitude problem,' but then I reflected on it, and I was like, 'Actually, she seems really stressed out because she has so much work,' and of course, I understand how hard it is to accept criticism when you're stressed out. Like, I get it. You were defensive. I'm sorry I put you in that position. But sometimes we need to accept help from people senior to us." I finally took a deep breath and told him that actually, my work had been verified in review and we could go over it together if he wanted to see the process I used to get my answers. He said that, no, he'd been trained in those procedures and he was pretty sure he was right.

So I went immediately to Anne and told her what was up. She was appalled and told me she has my back and that I should stop accepting any of Joe's corrections whatsoever. Apparently she's going to have a meeting with him about how he speaks to non-attorneys. I doubt it will have much effect, but at least I know I can tell him to go to hell and not get fired.

Again, thanks for you help, MeFi. My job and our legal cases are safe for now
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:35 AM on June 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

You rock, anon. And way to go on standing up to that obnoxious manipulation. Glad to hear this turned out well.
posted by cairdeas at 10:54 AM on June 14, 2012

That's not an apology. That's not even an underhanded apology.

Joe just told you, in essence, that he believes you a) can't handle your workload, b) have an attitude problem and can't take constructive criticism, c) don't respect that he's senior to you, d) still don't do your work properly, e) resist correction on your incorrect work.

It was absolutely right of you to go to Anne immediately. Do not continue to allow Joe to manipulate you in this way.
posted by erst at 1:51 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thansk for the update, Anon. I think you handled this really well and I'm glad Anne has your back, at least.
posted by sm1tten at 2:17 PM on June 14, 2012

« Older Calendar with Outliner? Or outliner with calendar?   |   How can I improve my shoulder pain in the next few... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.