How to Talk to My Boss
December 17, 2013 6:09 AM   Subscribe

There was an incident last week. I have a 1-on-1 with my boss today, and I think I should bring it up with him. How should I bring it up, or is bringing it up a bad idea? Snowflakes inside.

I work in support for a small-ish company with two other people, manning the phones. Lately, I've been working on a new project. I've gone out of my way to get input from my two co-workers.

On Friday, they closed the door and had a kind of office intervention with me. It was very aggressive. They called me sneaky, secretive, underhanded, untrustworthy, etc. It lasted about an hour. They said that I had been refusing to share information with them and not consulting them (both demonstrably false, documented even). I apologized, tried to explain my perspective (they did not seem interested), and said that I could see how they felt and that I would work on it. I asked why they used some of those words above, but I did not get an explanation on how I had been sneaky or underhanded. The best I can figure, it seems to have been a bottled up ask vs. guess culture thing, with some general job anxiety thrown in for good measure (things are changing at work).

After the 'meeting' on Friday, they seemed happy and placated. But today, neither of them neither of them would talk to me. We share a small office, and they are usually super chatty. At the meeting Friday, they asked stop working on the project, and that I not answer support emails (I answer them too quickly apparently. Meaning I answer them the same day.) So today, I mostly did nothing at all, except take a few phone calls, and sit in uncomfortable silence.

I should note that I have asked these two for contributions, both specific and general without success. I asked my boss what I should do about lack of buy-in on this project a few weeks ago, he said to just keep moving forward. So I did, I continued building the project, while keeping people updated and offering to help them contribute without any success.

Between the ambush, the hurtful words, and freeze out today, I'm feeling really uncomfortable. I have my monthly scheduled 1-on-1 meeting with my boss tomorrow. Should I bring this up to him? What should I say, and how? I really don't want more confrontation, and I really don't want to make the situation worse. But I can't just keep sitting in the office not talking to anyone and not doing any work. I'm scared that if I go to my boss, that will seem sneaky and underhanded, which is the last thing I need. I can't really imagine how telling him will make this any better either. But doing nothing seems like a bad option as well.

(Originally posted last night before the outage, the meeting is today. Please don't tell me to find another job.)
posted by Garm to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is he their boss, too?

If so: Yeah, you should bring it up. If two people who don't outrank you tried to hold an intervention (???) without consulting anyone's superior first, that's something your boss should know about.

When you talk to your boss about this, present only the facts. If you're going to present your perspective on it, you should have as much documentation as possible to back you up.

Talking to your boss about this is not underhanded. It is what bosses are for. The fact that these two people colluded to put together an intervention -- that is kind of sneaky and underhanded. It may get back to them - I have no idea how it wouldn't - but if you were hoping to maintain a good relationship with these people, that ship sailed a long time ago and I doubt you had much to do with it. And don't feel bad if it does come back to bite them. I have no idea how they could possibly think they'd be able to do this without you telling your boss about it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:16 AM on December 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

Did your boss know about the closed door meeting with your co-workers? If not, you should definitely tell him. Overall it sounds like you need to talk to him if only to let him know that you're struggling with your co-workers.

What did your co-workers actually say? If you can remember specific accusations and words, I would tell your boss dispassionately about it. Try not to be angry or bitter, just tell him what happened. Ideally you have a solution to offer as well or a way he can help you.

I'm not sure what your co-workers issues are at all from the description, but it sounds like you know why they think you are sneaky and underhanded? Or did you just apologize to placate them? If you think they are wrong I'm not sure it was a good move to apologize and offer not to do your work. Was there an agreed upon outcome of the meeting?

I could speculate, but there's really not enough information to know if your co-workers are envious of your hard work and good relationship with your boss or you are going behind their backs and sabotaging them (I'm assuming not the second, but it's unclear).

But definitely talk to your boss about what's going on.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:19 AM on December 17, 2013

Well, the MONSTER said most of what I was gonna say, but I'll add two things:

1 -- After you present the problem to your boss, suggest a solution. Make it reasonable and equitable (e.g., "I'd like for you to tell Stu and Mary that I will be continuing work on the project and that I will be taking support calls," not "You must fire Stu and Mary."). That way, you're not just dumping this problem in your lap, you're contributing to solving the problem.

2 -- Tell your co-workers that you're going to do this beforehand. It's not sneaky or underhanded. Just go up to them and say, "Just so you know, I have a meeting with Boss at Time. Since we can't seem to figure out this issue we have among us, I'm going to be bringing it up to him and suggesting Solution X. I hope he can help us work together better."
posted by Etrigan at 6:21 AM on December 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

Yes, you should mention this to your boss, absolutely. It's not going to work out for you if you bow to your co-workers' demands that you do your work poorly (so that you stop making them look bad?).

Say something like "Boss, something happened last week that I hope I can get your advice on. [Describe incident]. Do you have any suggestions about how I should handle this?" Obviously you know your boss best, so tailor for him/her, but I've found this approach to work well with issues like this. They are the manager, it is their job to manage their employees. Just present the situation as truthfully as possible (and thankfully you have documentation to back you up) and ask for help. It is NOT sneaky or underhanded to do this.
posted by coupdefoudre at 6:23 AM on December 17, 2013

You should definitely bring this up with your boss, especially because they are trying to give you instructions that contradict what he's told you to do. I wouldn't be surprised if this later turns into "We don't know what happened, Garm just stopped doing anything". Your boss is responsible for clarifying your workload and for helping you with roadblocks that you can't clear on your own, which includes colleagues who won't contribute (and those who are openly hostile, even).

Also, rest assured that the way they gave you "feedback" was not professional. Blind-siding you, teaming up on you, and insulting your character instead of giving you constructive criticism on your work—None of that is appropriate or particularly useful.
posted by neushoorn at 6:24 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

When I have had similar intimidation from co-workers/bosses that want me to do something that serves their interests but not mine (and they don't want the accountability to be traced back to them), I have followed up the verbal conversation with an email summarizing it. "Dear Bully and Bully2, on Thursday, January 12th we had a meeting in the storage closet with bully, bully2 and me from 3-4 pm. At the meeting you and bully2 addressed my work habits. You stated that in future I am not to work on foo special project, to delay responses to support emails by 24 hours and adjust me attitude from being underhanded. Since then bully and bully2 have rescued to speak to me. I find this very uncomfortable and impacting my work. Did I fully understand your instructions? What steps can we take to resolve this situation together? Sincerely, Garm"

Either they are stupid and will respond in writing (so you can show your boss) or they smarten up and realize they can't bully you. If they address your email via a verbal conversation then take notes during the conversation and IMMEDIATELY send them an email summarizing what they have said.

You need to bring this up to your boss (with this documentation) so your boss knows you are professional and can handle yourself professionally when politics gets in the way of work. Don't bring a problem to your boss - bring a solution that is a win-win for you and the boss.
posted by saucysault at 6:28 AM on December 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

Definitely go to your boss. And, if necessary, request a meeting with all four of you to hash this out. This sort of thing won't be helped by stewing in silence about it.
posted by xingcat at 6:28 AM on December 17, 2013

Yeah, you definitely need to bring this up with your boss and get explicit clarification from him as to what projects you are and are not supposed to be working on, whether or not you are supposed to be answering support emails, and who you should be sharing information with and when. Basically, take everything they said to you in this meeting and conform that it is false.

I will also emphasize that you should be as factual and as objective about this as possible, and try to relate your concerns to the bottom line of the business. What resources have already been expended on this project, how important prompt support responses are, etc. Your boss may or may not care about your feelings and personal relationship with these people, but he certainly cares about dollars and cents.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:29 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

At this point, you're not going to make your co-workers happy no matter what you do. So I suggest you talk about what your boss expects from you and your coworkers (assuming he is their supervisor, too) and to ask he communicate that explicitly to the team.

If your boss is not unhappy with your work, then your coworkers will just have to learn to live with what you're doing and you'll have to learn to live with the fact that they just don't care for you.
posted by inturnaround at 6:50 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you don't work for those guys you need to shut any further meetings like this down quick. "If you have an issue with how I am conducting myself please bring it to our boss so we can discuss it." There is little to be gained from an office "intervention." Those asshats are HR. Put your head down and keep on keeping on and doing what you boss asks for.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:00 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

First, accept the fact that your relationship with your co-workers is no longer on good terms and will likely never be back to what you thought it was. That is their doing not yours. I would guess this is the straw that broke the camel's back for them, not an isolated incident, but who knows (and who cares)?

Second, tell your boss about it as dispassionately as you can using just the facts. Hear what he has to say, but if he asks for a suggestion on a solution, I would suggest a meeting with all four of you so that you all can get clarity on what is expected and can clear the air.

Third, regardless of what the two co-workers want, do your work to the best of your ability meaning do the project and answer the emails on a timely basis. I would bet that their real issue is that you are doing your work well and they do not want to raise the expectation bar.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:03 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice here.

1. Absolutely mention it to your boss. I'd take the tack that he knew all about it. "Lisa and Gary asked me to meet with them on Friday to discuss the project. They asked me to do X, Y and Z. That seems counter-productive so I think it would be helpful if we all got together to discuss the project and perhaps recalibrated expectations."

2. Yeah, Lisa and Gary are jerks. I don't know about you, but either you can work in an office where you have very little interaction with your coworkers, or you can't. When I was younger it would have bugged the bejesus out of me, now, not so much.

3. Your co-workers are threatened, and there is nothing more vicious than a threatened third-rate worker. Get in the habit of documenting things and of sending emails confirming their interactions with you, and your boss. "Lisa, per our conversation on Friday, you want me to wait 24 hours before responding to request tickets."

I get that you like your work and right up until this happened you were comfortable. That said, this situation will not get better. So start sending out resumes. You should NEVER stop looking for better jobs, and you should especially NEVER stop looking for better jobs when you have a situation like this.

Gary and Lisa have been there and chances are they run this game on every new person who comes in. This is why new people have to keep being hired into your position. Now, you can try to beat them at their own game, but wouldn't it be easier to work somewhere where Lisa and Gary aren't the queen bees of the little, tiny office?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:30 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Dealing with this is why your boss exists. Lots of good advice in the thread about how to bring it up, but you absolutely should.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:43 AM on December 17, 2013

I'm scared that if I go to my boss, that will seem sneaky and underhanded, which is the last thing I need.
At this point, it matters less how you seem to your coworkers and much more how you seem to your boss, who is not paying you to not work. Don't do what your coworkers tell you to do (or not to do) -- at the end of the day, you need to do identify and meet your boss's expectations, not theirs.

At the same time, you're probably right that telling him may not make your day-to-day better -- meaning, the freeze out and stuff will probably continue regardless. I know that can really suck in a small company, and I'd strongly consider looking for a new job because your coworkers aren't really suggesting you work together, but that because you have violated some (perhaps unknown) norm, you should not work at all.

In the meantime, it sounds like you have already spoken to your boss at least once about the lack of contributions from your coworkers. Perhaps ask if he has any suggestion for how you might bring them more fully on board as they have expressed concerns about their involvement in the project?

Is your boss their boss? Are you new (or new-ish) to your company/team?
posted by sm1tten at 8:55 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

As I was reading this, I got the thought that maybe your coworkers are mad at you for working too fast and too well, and you are showing them up because they don't work that fast AND that you are ruining their lazy fun work by making them have to work faster.
posted by CathyG at 10:47 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your coworkers had a meeting with you in which they told you not to do your job? Yes, definitely tell your boss! Agree that they seem jealous of/threatened by you- the newer hire who gets put on special projects and answers requests faster than them. But you're not getting paid to act lazy so they like you. Your manager needs to know about this so he/she can address the situation and clarify roles and responsibilities.
Keep acting like a professional and doing your job well, but I'd start looking for a new one. Sharing an office with these people is not going to be pleasant.
posted by emd3737 at 12:30 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I realize you've already had your meeting by now. Make sure your boss knows that YOU aren't the PROBLEM. They are the ones that have a PROBLEM.
posted by xammerboy at 7:27 PM on December 17, 2013

The meeting with my boss went well. The meeting he called with all of us . . . did not. I don't know what will happen next, but you helped me feel more confidence going in, which helped me explain what was happening relatively dispassionately. Thank you for all of your advice.
posted by Garm at 11:12 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

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