Need advice dealing with micromanaging coworker
April 6, 2016 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I’m relatively new in a job (just shy of 1 year) and am trying to figure out the best way to deal with a micromanaging coworker. This coworker, while my peer and not my supervisor has many years experience at this job and in this industry. Still, her involvement often leaks into what should be my role, not hers.

I’ve been working just under a year at a relatively small (75 employees) wholesaler. I’m middle management and so is this co-worker that I need to regularly work with. I’m the marketing manager (with formal graphic design training) and she is one of the main buyers so she is very knowledgeable on product line and the industry. However, she regularly contradicts herself and gives me the impression she often has an opinion just for the sake of having an opinion. She’ll request certain content be put on the website, and want to be involved in all the graphical decisions of how the web pages with her content will look. I’m a collaborative personality and don’t do things unilaterally, so I do value input, but her’s gets excessive. If I allowed it, she could tie up me and my team doing designs and re-designs of relatively insignificant web content. There are times where I’ve met with her to discuss a project and she gives me what she’d like to see and the ad copy, and when my team works on it (sometimes a few weeks later due to scheduling), she’ll disagree with all the ad copy she provided and want it all changed.

I’ve been asked by my boss to give push back to this coworker, though my boss won’t back me up if I do push back. I’ve had a few meetings with both my boss and this coworker where my boss has given in to the coworker’s wants (after initially planning not to). I’ve tried setting timelines and saying “In order to stay on schedule, we’ll need to finalize this project today. I’m sorry but I can’t incorporate any more changes” but she always comes back with another set of changes anyway and I’ve had to just go ahead with what we had which upsets her. I can’t really afford to alienate her as I need her knowledge and cooperation to best do my job.

I suppose part of my issue is the seniority thing. She is my “peer” but she has decades of industry knowledge on me. This company has a lot of people who have been here 15+ years and doesn’t have a lot of turn-over, so just by nature of being new I’m perceived as deficient. Even if I’m here 5 years, she’ll know more about the industry than me. If I’m here 10 years, she’ll know more than me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever “catch up”.

What would you do to “manage” a coworker like this considering I have to go it alone and can’t expect to be backed up by my (and her) boss?
posted by TheGreatSloth to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
when you give her deadlines [and email to document] I would use concrete language.
"final copy needed by end-of-business Tuesday." or "we are accepting final copy until end-of-business Tuesday." This is a bit stronger than 'in order to stay on schedule...'

If she gives you edits on Wednesday just keep pushing them back, "we're already in mid-stream with your final copy." and then try to redirect her to the next project, "I would love to hear your concepts for next week's piece--they are always so insightful..."

Reinforce with her how her input helps you and the company and try to redirect her energy to those ideas and issues.
posted by calgirl at 9:10 AM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

"I’ve tried setting timelines and saying “In order to stay on schedule, we’ll need to finalize this project today. I’m sorry but I can’t incorporate any more changes” but she always comes back with another set of changes anyway and I’ve had to just go ahead with what we had which upsets her. "

You need to set boundaries, stick to them, and not give in to her being "upset". However, there are things you can do to mitigate any negativity from her if this happens. For one, as calgirl says, you can give positive encouragement for her to get started on the next thing.

But another thing I think you should be doing is constructive debriefing. So, next time there's an upset, call an informal meeting with her and your boss a day or two later, and approach it like this: "Task A got done but the outcome did not seem satisfactory to everyone and caused stress, which isn't ideal for anyone. How can we improve this for next time."

The key here is making people consider concrete suggestions for improvement, rather than giving them the opportunity to complain. She seems to have an abstract idea of how much time you have, how much of it is available to her, and what she is entitled to from your team, and this could do with being discussed in more defined terms.

At the end of the day, she will either back off a little once she tries to think up a feasible way of you doing things better and can't do it, or she will continue as she is, but you will be able to reassure yourself that you've done everything you can, that's just how she rolls, ignore it, and get on with your job.
posted by greenish at 9:35 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I’ve been asked by my boss to give push back to this coworker, though my boss won’t back me up if I do push back.
It is not okay for your boss to tell you to something and then not back you up when you do it. You should address this with your boss. Don't apologize for sticking to a deadline and if it upsets her, then reinforce the deadline. You don't need to explain the reasons you have set a deadline every single time. If you keep sticking to it, she will learn that you are serious.

Stop thinking of her as more senior to you. It doesn't matter and as you can see, it does not make her more effective. You won't ever catch up to her timewise, but you do not need to do that. If you have been there a year and are still being treated as a newbie who knows nothing, it is time to leave. Make sure that you are actually being treated that way and not just feeling that way. If she is the only one doing that, ignore her.
posted by soelo at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

In every job I've had, the marketing department is seen as a "service" department -- that is, their customers are the buyers/salespeople/editors/etc. You should ask your boss to clarify if this was a model that existed in your company before you arrived. If so, that's why you're not getting backup and that's why she's doing this.

No matter what the case, though, I love calgirl's approach.
posted by kimberussell at 9:54 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

In your shoes I would create a formal process where each content factor (Copy, graphics, final layout, etc) gets its own ironclad schedule of first draft, revision, FINAL. Deliberately limit the opportunity for input to clearly demarcated pre-scheuled meetings, to avoid the kind of wasteful back-and-forth editing you are hating. Have a come-to Jesus meeting with your problem customer and her boss (and other customer departments so she can't say you're picking on her) to lay out the new regime. Stress that these content meetings are the ONLY opportunity to communicate what she wants. Do you have a change you want to submit before the meeting? Hang onto it until the next meeting on that content factor! Did you suddenly realize after the final content meeting that you need to make a change? Too bad, so sad, just not possible to help you.

Implement the process for the first month as a "Try-out" with limited forgiveness of her inevitable noncompliance, but after 30 days the hammer comes down and no deviance can be accepted.

Sure it's your job to post the content provided by the "customer" but it's the customer's job to have her sh*t together and not waste your and your staff's time with unnecessary or untimely changes.
Get your boss's buy in, stress that this offender is not your only customer and she's driving costs up and quality down for the whole company which is why the strict process is crucial.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:44 AM on April 6, 2016

Agree with Calgirl's approach. You could say something like "we will post what we have as of XXX time, so you have until then to make changes."

Also agree with the point above that this person is not really "senior" to you. She has more time in grade, but you are the same rank within your company. Keep that in mind when you're dealing with her. You're entitled to enforce boundaries just like every other manager at your level (and every human, for that matter).
posted by rpfields at 12:05 PM on April 6, 2016

From the OP:
Thank you everyone for your responses. I think having concreted deadlines should help and I'll put that in motion. Unfortunately kimberussell is right in that marketing is seen as a service centre and I'm not getting support from my boss for that reason. She (boss) says she want me to do X and Y but then sets up procedures that prevent it. Honestly, I'm working on my exit plan as I feel this is a poorly run company with conflicting messages and just not a long-term job for me. Maybe I'll write another post on that!

In the meantime, I'll make the best of it and optimize what I can while looking for greener pastures.
posted by TheGreatSloth at 8:29 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hello, fellow marketing manager. You are correct--people think that because it's going on a website that they can just change their minds about their copy all willy-nilly, but you can't do that with a brochure or a flyer folks! At some point, final copy needs to mean FINAL copy for the purposes of closing out the project and moving on with all of our collective lives. (I might have some personal experience with this and/or be a little bitter.)

Anywho, it sucks that your boss isn't putting the hammer down re: updates because it looks like this lady isn't responding well to the boundaries you're setting.

How large/busy is your organization? If you have enough projects going on, it might be easier to enforce hard deadlines and say things like "all content changes/updates need to be submitted by Tuesday at 5pm so we can move on to new project X by Thursday" and actually be able to push back when she rushes into your office waving printed out pictures of the website (I am assuming she does this because all of my favorite office busybodies do) by pointing to the update calendar and being like, "Yo, sorry, this project is over and done with, and just in time too, because look, here comes another one."

But the good thing about web content is that it IS relatively easy to change, and periodically freshening up the content to make it more user-friendly or SEO compliant might ultimately not be such a bad thing. I wonder if trying to approach it with her as a matter of "Look, we had to get this out the door so we could start working on new project X, but hang onto those changes and resubmit them down the road when it's less busy, and maybe we can work something out."

Either way, good luck.
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi helloimjennsco! Sadly, this lady also bogs things down that are print materials and I've really had to be strict there because I can't be sending changed copy after offset print plates have been burned and the project is in motion. I can't, I won't.

Thankfully I have an office in the back of the building with the worker bees, and am quite far from this coworker's office or she probably would come in waving print outs. So far the interruptions have just been emails (with my boss cc'd, not that that makes an inch of difference) or phone calls, or requests for meetings.

I just need to learn to be a bit more of a hardass than is in my nature. This issue is kind of the tip of the iceberg with this place. I get the feeling she's trying to make me look bad in front of my boss as well, and since she's so senior, in the battle of "who is worth more" I lose. I see the signs and I'm working on getting out.

Thanks for your advice and empathy :)
posted by TheGreatSloth at 11:28 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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