The beatings will stop when morale improves.
January 16, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a difficult colleague who doesn't respect me when I'm getting zero support from my boss?

I'm an attorney who works closely with a number of non-attorneys. I review and work very closely with the non-attorneys. While the buck more or less stops with me when making important decisions, my non-attorney colleague are still very much professionals who are experts in their field. Many of the decisions we make are ultimately judgment calls where there is no clear cut answer and we are more less "managing" situations. This requires lots of communication and collaboration. While I don't exactly "tell" them what to do or how to do it, we talk almost every day or multiple times a day to brainstorm and reassess what the other is doing and our game plan. I must review and approve all final work products before they leave the office.

I should mention I'm female and have been practicing for about 5 years. While I'm 30, I am often mistaken for younger.

I have a new non-attorney colleague. He's been working in the field for 20+ years. I've only recently been assigned to work on the same team as him, but had issues with him responding to emails and showing up for meetings in the past. However, now that we are on the same team what was an annoyance I could ignore has become a massive issue. He is a bit of a "lone wolf" and only occasionally responds to emails or voicemails. Today I asked him why he didn't respond to an email I had sent the other day saying we needed to talk about a meeting that was happening today and giving him my cell number so he could get ahold of me when I was out of the office. I heard nothing. Another coworker also sent him an email about the meeting, which he also didn't respond to. He said he didn't respond because he didn't feel the email needed a response. A meeting invite was sent by a manager in another department in a very urgent matter that we both must work on together. We both accepted the meeting invite. The meeting was to take place in my office. The manager showed up, but my coworker did not. When I went to his desk 15 minutes after the meeting had started to ask if he had seen the meeting invite he was having a meeting with someone else so I didn't push the issue at that time. After the meeting I sent him an email asking why he hadn't made the meeting and he said I should have interrupted him because he thought the person he was meeting with whose name he did know because she didn't introduce herself (??) was the manager we were meeting with and he had been stuck on a call when the meeting started. He said I should have said something and we could have cut out this "confusion." This clearly makes no sense on multiple levels.

What upsets me more than anything is that every time he has missed a meeting, he does not follow up or even acknowledge there was a meeting and he missed it. It's only after I asked him where he was and if something happened do I get a rather flimsy excuse. Even if he had a very valid excuse for missing the meeting (and I understand things do happen) I would immediately expect a call and explanation. At no point did he ask what happened in the meeting or apologize for missing the meeting. Later that same day I ask him if something we had discussed in another meeting that morning was ready to go out (it was a very short document that should have taken no more than 15-30 minutes to complete). Admittedly the other department got the information we needed to complete it very last minute, but when I called him his only response was that he was about to leave. I asked him if he had drafted it yet and he seemed confused that I was even asking him about it (this task was clearly part of his primary job duties and is not something an attorney would ever do). I asked him if he could do it now and he said he was about to leave but that if I walked him through it and got him all the information he might be able to. I didn't have that kind of time so I begged another colleague who graciously did it for me while he watched on wordsmithing every word she wrote as she tried to get it in by the deadline, which she did. At no point did he thank her for doing his work.

I emailed my boss about all of this as I was at the end of my rope. He responded that he had already recently spoken to my coworker about issues and didn't want to pile on and make him feel bad. And that he wanted him to feel welcome because we didn't want him to quit. I was in the meeting where he claims he spoke with him and all he did was give him some tips for working with a difficult client and said multiple times how he wasn't trying to micromanage him. At no point did he bring up the serious concerns I and my other colleagues had or the serious breaches of protocol he had committed (not with me, which another attorney). I am simply stunned that me telling my boss about this resulted in him sending me an email that basically told me we needed to make sure we were being extra nice to him.

I feel I am being blatantly disrespected. A number of my other coworkers, including male coworkers, feel that he is a bit of a misogynist (which I have also picked up on) and that he doesn't respect me. Admittedly, he is non-responsive and not a team player with everyone to some extent, but it seems particularly bad with me and others have commented to that effect. He also acts like doing his job is doing me a favor and that it is my job to follow up with him to make sure he does his work and shows up to meetings he must attend. I've started essentially doing both of our jobs because he doesn't tell me what he is working on and doesn't feel the need to respond to my emails or show up to meetings.

Quitting my job isn't an option right now (but will be in 6-12 months and I will certainly be looking). What I really need is tools to try and make this situation work in the interim assuming my boss will do nothing to discipline him or support me (and I don't have the authority to do that myself). Are there any strategies I can employ to get him to keep me informed and reply to my emails? I basically need him to "own" and identify his responsibilities on projects without me having to dictate every small task that must be completed. I really should be "reviewing" his work, not supervising his work or micromanaging it, which at this point the only way anything gets done (as in I call him in the morning to make sure he's doing something and then follow up multiple times throughout the day to verify he's completed whatever he should be completing). He is a well paid professional who should be able to work independently and yet collaboratively. The ultimate issue is that he doesn't respect me and resents having his work reviewed (at his old job he did quasi similar work that was not subject to review) by someone with over a decade less experience than him that is the same age as his daughter, but there is nothing I can do about that. I'm really looking for "hacks" or strategies for dealing with someone like this.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You have two choices:

1 -- Make sure Old Grump does his job. Email him constantly and in great detail. Start by demanding that your boss give OG a specific description of his duties and does the same for you. Every task your group is given should be specifically delineated to a person, either by name or by position. Either your boss has to do this or he has to delegate you (or someone) the authority in writing to do it. Make sure tasks are delineated (by your boss or his delegate) for everyone on your team. Keep track of how much time you're spending getting each person to do his or her job. Show your boss after a month or two, "I spend 8.5 hours every week getting Old Grump to do things, and I spend 3.2 hours every week getting everyone else combined to do things."

2 -- Fuck it. Tell your boss that you're going to let him manage the team, and cc him on correspondence, particularly to Old Grump. Ask OG to do things once. If it looks like they aren't happening, follow up with your boss asking him when they will happen. Don't ask OG to follow up. Don't even refer to OG. Just say, "Per below email, this needed to happen yesterday. It did not. Please let me know when it will happen." If he says, "Go ask OG," forward that email to OG (and cc it to the boss) and say, "The boss wants to know when this will happen." If things end up just not happening, provide your boss with a list of all the times you asked Old Grump to do something, which you cc'd your boss on anyway, so he already knows.

Either way, start looking for a new job and get letters of recommendation now. Your boss is a weasel who doesn't want to do the management part of his job and will throw anyone he can find under the bus when (not if) things go wrong.
posted by Etrigan at 7:57 AM on January 16, 2013 [33 favorites]

....This strikes me as the perfect time to apply what Tina Fey said of David Letterman's approach to difficult interview guests: "using the 'enough rope' approach."

Do your own work, and ONLY your work. Send him emails about meetings just like you usually have. Respond to invites to meetings from your boss. And then, when you show up to a meeting and he doesn't, sweetly tell your boss that yes, you did remind him about the meeting, and you can't understand why he's not there. Or if your work is in but not his, sweetly say that yes, you'd emailed him to ask him to provide that work, and you can't understand why he hadn't...

It will very quickly become apparent to the boss where the real problem is, and more importantly, it will become apparent where the problem ISN'T.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on January 16, 2013 [21 favorites]

As for changing the guy's behavior, it sounds like a losing battle and a waste of your time.

You already brought this to management, and they said to dial it back and ease up on the guy, because they don't want to lose him. Crappy answer, but if that's their position, there's not much more you can do.

In your position, I would focus on covering myself. Document your manager's response to your raising of the issue, and continue to document every attempt you make to communicate with this guy. This is your CMA record that you've done every requirement of your position in the situation, and it'll be on paper in case the guy comes back to point the finger at you, as in - "She never told me x, y, or z!" You're totally nipping that stuff right in the bud.

If there's critical information this guy needs, and he's not willing to receive it from you, your manager can take on the lovely job of briefing him on stuff he should already know. Once this inconveniences management sufficiently, they may start to pay attention. If they fix the problem it'll be because it's annoying to them, but you'll benefit too. In the meantime he's the one who looks like the jackass, not you.
posted by cartoonella at 8:04 AM on January 16, 2013 [13 favorites]

While you are implementing Etrigan's and EmpressC's suggestions, make sure you save your emailed correspondence with this dude somewhere safe. Do you have a private network location? Save it there.

And I would always email him - don't bother with phone messages or visits, too easy for him to deny, unless your boss insists on those methods of communication for whatever bizarre reason.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:05 AM on January 16, 2013 [15 favorites]

There is nothing you can do to make him behave differently. He behaves this way with the full support of your boss. The end.

What I would suggest you do, rather than trying to make him do any particular thing, is to do everything in email, email him once, and leave it at that. If he does not show up to meetings he needs to be at, you can't make him. As much as you can, make decisions without him. As much as you can, leave his work to him to do, but if it must be done by someone and can't be done by him, you need to start carefully logging everything you do every day and submitting your weekly "done" list to your boss at the end of the week. Just be factual. Monday, 13 January, called Polly Flinders. Action: follow up with attorneys at MegaCorp, deadline 17 January. Action: email Recalcitrant Joe about meeting with Clarks on Friday 18th. Action: incoming call from Sally about the Penguin case [which is Joe's responsibility]. She needs more information from Joe in order to meet the deadline. Action: told Sally to follow up with Joe. Action: call Joe to find out about the Walrus case in order to meet today's deadline. No response by 3pm. Further action: [do frantic research that Joe should have done] [ask Joe if research is accurate] [no response] [complete Walrus case independently of Joe | note that Walrus deadline was not met]

When your boss asks why you are not being "extra nice" to Joe, you say, "but Boss, I've done my utmost to avoid micromanaging Joe and on five afternoons this week, I've completed major parts of his workload in order to meet deadlines. What specifically do you mean by 'extra nice' other than not micromanaging and covering his work, which is what we talked about? What specifically do you want me to do differently?"
posted by tel3path at 8:06 AM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

- Definitely keep as much as you in in writing, both with old guy AND with your boss in terms of your repeatedly bringing it to his attention that the guys work is substandard, he is being disrespectful towards you, etc. Save these offsite, someplace safe. That way, when/if things hit the fan and people go looking for someone to blame because the old guys work has caused all these problems, you're protected.

- Quit helping him more than you for anyone else. No special treatment or extra prods. He gets ONE notice that there is a meeting. He gets ONE request for work. Definitely no completing his work for him when he fails to do it. Things need to fall apart on him and he needs to start suffering some consequences for his performance and behaviour.

- Without being excessively passive-aggress, start to make it your boss's problem as well. Defer to him when the old guy is failing to do his job. Ask your boss how he would like you to handle it. Defer to him when the old guy is failing to respond to your messages. Ask your boss how he would like you to handle it. Defer to him when the old guy fails to come to meetings. Ask him how he would like to you handle it. Basically, nothing will improve unlessat your boss starts to feel some fall out/inconvenice from it as well.

I can't help but thing there is more to this story. What is so special about this guy that your boss is willing to put up with poor behaviour, poor performance, and a bad attitude? I frankly would try to have a conversation with the boss and ask, "It would likely make it easier for me to manage the situation with [old guy] if I better understood why the expectations on behaviour and performance are significantly lower than that of the other employees."
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:37 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

He may have problems with you because you are a young woman, but so what? He's screwing up, it's jeopardizing projects and management lets him.

Agree with everyone who is saying it's not your problem, it's management's problem. Now you need to make them feel the pain of it.

Treat this yutz the same as everyone else, no need to tip-toe or to treat him like he has a memory impairment. Keeping track of his commitments and his meetings is his business.

Now, you can make them a bit idiot proof. Send him meeting invites, note which ones he does not respond to.

If he has deadlines for items, put them in Outlook with 2 hour reminders, he should accept them, and you should keep the notices. Document what he doesn't accept.

Now, when you're putting things together on deadline, and his stuff doesn't come in, if he's one minute past the deadline email everyone involved, with a short note, "I have not recieved the X file, and now the project is in jeopardy of missing the deadline." Not your job to chase this guy, not your job to make sure he gives you the X file.

Passive-Aggressive is an EXCELLENT business tool, when direct confrontation hasn't worked.

I'm 50, you can trust me on this one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:52 AM on January 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

Yeah, I'm curious about what the old guy does and why he's so valuable.

I'm also wondering whether he's hinted to your boss that if he is fired, he'll bring a claim for age discrimination, and that your boss is afraid. If this is the case, then it doesn't really help you but it might make you feel less outraged by your boss.

I like Ruthless' advice on sending out succinct group emails about work that hasn't come in on time and its impact on the project.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:53 AM on January 16, 2013

I feel like you're being shoehorned into a 'mothering' type role with Old Grump, whether by subtle hints from others or by your own frustration (this seems to happen to professional women a lot).

You aren't his manager, if you stop trying to make yourself accountable for his performance you'll be a lot happier. CYA and let him fail. Every primary interaction should be via e-mail when possible, including deadlines. If something gets assigned to him in person or over the phone, send a follow-up "confirmation" e-mail reiterating whatever was stated and the agreed upon deadline.

When he blows his deadlines, e-mail him and cc the boss asking for a status update. If he ignores THAT, wait until somebody comes asking for whatever he was supposed to do and refer them to Old Grump and/or your boss. If you get called to task by the boss, explain that you took his advice to heart and tried to back off and be nicer to Old Grump.

Wash your hands of the whole mess. You'll be a lot happier, and with all the e-mail CYA you can ensure the fallout won't hit you.
posted by zug at 8:54 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if he's blowing off meetings, assign him whatever work he would have been assigned had he been present and send it his way via e-mail (CCed to the boss with a mention of him missing the meeting). Make it his responsibility to follow up with you or another colleague and find out what he needs to know to complete said tasks.
posted by zug at 8:58 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

You cannot control his behaviour. From where I sit, the only thing you can do is CC your boss on every email and consistently close with the like "Please CC Boss in your reply."
posted by DarlingBri at 9:30 AM on January 16, 2013

What's your objective? In other words, six months from now what you want to achieve?

Do you want to ride this out while you find a new job? Do you want this guy to change his attitude, respect you and turn into the best employee in the history of the company? Do you want this guy fired? Do you want your boss to act? Do you want to make a point to your other colleagues about respect?

From your detailed and well written post, it's obvious that you're intelligent, well-mannered and care about your job. You're smarter than this guy; don't let him have control over your work life. Figure out how you want this situation to end and get creative, innovative and above all, stay positive.
posted by MoJoPokeyBlue at 10:17 AM on January 16, 2013

One simple thing you could do is schedule all meetings at his desk, it will be harder for him to not turn up. If that's not a good place to hold the meeting, you could schedule it there and then move to your office once the group is assembled.
posted by jacalata at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2013

One "outside the box" tactic might be to let things start failing in a way where it is transparently clear that the blame lies on your co-worker.

For example:

Email Exchange #1
Anonymous (via email): "Please do this, it's needed for the client."
Anonymous (via email, CCs manager): "Did you get started on this? It's critical."
Co-worker: "What? Huh? I'd be happy to help, but you have to show me how to do this."
Anonymous (via email): "I showed you how to do this on 1/16/13. This is part of your job function."
Anonymous (via email to manager, cutting Bob out of the thread): "Joe, WTF is wrong with Bob? He's not trained in even the most basic tasks. I'll show him how to do it this once, but he needs to remember it this time."
Manager (via email): "Bob is overloaded."
Anonymous (via email): "Is he? Or is he just browsing Reddit?"

Email exchange #2 will be a repeat of #1, except that this time, you let the deadline slip a bit because you had to retrain Bob in what you taught him already. Everybody on the team will have to work late to meet the deadline, and they will all know that it's Bob's fault, because you showed the email thread to the biggest gossip in the office. They will gradually start hating Bob. If this happens multiple times, an unofficial "coalition" will form to take him down, and your manager will be facing pressure not just from you but from multiple people to tighten the screws on Bob.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:38 AM on January 16, 2013

It can help to number repeated requests that make it obvious that deadlines are not being met. Be sure to keep the email chain whole, i.e. have each subsequent email include previous requests.

Anonymous (via email): Please complete deliverable-1 by x date. It's due to the client on y date.

Anonymous (via email, CCs manager): SECOND REQUEST - The due date has passed for deliverable-1, please complete deliverable-1 by new x date or we risk failing to deliver to client on y date. If you have any questions regarding the task, please communicate them immediately.

Anonymous (via email, CCs manager): THIRD REQUEST - As of today, I still have not received deliverable-1, it is doubtful that we can deliver to client on y date.

Do the same for meeting requests, i.e. you have not accepted the meeting invite for the abc project. Please accept the meeting request or propose an alternative time.
posted by shoesietart at 5:08 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

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