We don't see eye to eye, or hear ear to ear
May 14, 2020 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Today, I had a pretty big disagreement with a coworker about a situation that needs a resolution tomorrow. All of my worst personality traits are coming to the surface, how can I find way to resolve this situation amicably?

This summer, I was supposed to share a summer student position with Co-Worker. The student was supposed to work 50% for my department and 50% for her department. Co-Worker had her heart set on hiring the same student (The Star Candidate) she had in the position last year. No problem, I was cool with that if The Star Candidate turned out to be the right applicant. The Star Candidate applied to our position and a summer student position with a different department.

Hiring went sideways after the lockdowns began, but we decided to re-post the positions and allow candidates to work remotely. We didn't get many applicants, but we had enough to interview. Due to a stipulation in our summer student grant, Co-Worker & I cannot hire The Perfect Candidate for our position, but she can do the position in the other department.

Co-Worker has flat-out stated that if she can't have The Perfect Candidate in this role, she does not want to hire a student at all. Which means that... I don't get the summer student I was hoping to have and I have to work on the summer student Project myself, taking time away from my other duties. There is ONE other qualified candidate that we could hire, unfortunately she lives out of town. Co-Worker is now saying she'll hire the Other Candidate, only IF she moves to our town. Frankly, this is a ridiculous request in the time of COVID-19. She might as well have said "Well, I'll hire her if she can move to mars!" Because we're in different departments, we both went to our managers who chatted and told us to work it out.

So, tomorrow Co-worker and I are going to chat about hiring the Other Candidate... or no one.

I'm feeling quite angry with Co-Worker for not wanting to even humour hiring the Other Candidate. She doesn't want to deal with training someone who is going to work remotely. I can understand her perspective, as she sees hiring the Other Candidate as an energy suck. Someone who will take a lot of time to train, etc. She also didn't particularly like the Other Candidate, in general. She's also been in her position for years and years and KNOWS how to do this Summer Project alone, without assistance from the summer student.

From my perspective.... hiring and supervising someone was going to be a NEW experience for me. I was excited to gain new skills and experiences. I feel like the Summer Project has been dumped on me. I don't have the experience Co-Worker does doing this. I have no idea where to start when it comes to planning it or implementing it. All of this work is dumped on me now, in addition to my actual work!

I'm so mad that she gets to stomp her feet and pout and take this experience away from me. I'm really scared of our meeting tomorrow and just getting MAD about this. I'm only temporarily in this position, it's my first professional position in my field, and it's a good stepping stone. I don't want to fuck this up and ruin my reputation or references or anything. I need to be professional about this. I feel like no matter what I agree to, I end up losing. If we don't get a student, well... I just have a shitload of more work. If we do hire a student, I'm truly afraid Co-Worker will make the rest of my time here miserable.

Co-Worker has been fine to me, but she's a really overbearing person. I've been able to stay out of her way until this incident. She scares the SHIT out of me. She has a mean streak, she complains all the time about co-workers she hates (no one else does work, she does all the work, etc.). She's always "just being honest" and starting arguments with other colleagues and can be quite mean!! It could just be my anxiety, but I have a bad feeling that if I disagree with her... she'll make the next 6 months very difficult for me. I don't want to get onto her bad side. After seeing this side of her, I'm also afraid of actually... WORKING WITH HER over the summer and having to supervise someone TOGETHER. She's mad about how this position was divided last year, supposedly the person in My Position had the student for 75% of the time and she had her for only 25% of the time, so she's pissed about that. I really think she could become a bully. She doesn't even LIKE the Other Candidate. I don't want to force that person to deal with a supervisor who'll resent having to supervise them!

I can be a pretty passive aggressive person and I am fighting against the temptation to go to work tomorrow and say "Fine, we won't have a student because YOU don't want one. Have your way! You win!" out of spite. I already feel like nothing I'm going to say matters to her, because obviously it doesn't. She can't get The Perfect Candidate, so she doesn't want one at all. I'm so mad at her about this incident, that I'd rather not work with her at all over the summer. If she wants to collaborate on Our Summer Projects, I'm already planning on NOT wanting to do that with her. She didn't want to deal with a summer student, why should I do anything she wants?

I've pretty much accepted that the summer student won't be hired, she doesn't appear to be willing to realistically compromise or negotiate... so... whatever. How can I go in tomorrow and be professional about this? My passive aggressive side is just going wild. How can I navigate this situation and look... not awful??
posted by VirginiaPlain to Human Relations (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
One thing I’ve done with difficult people is to treat them as environmental obstacles. You don’t get mad at the rain because you have to cancel the picnic. Rain does what it’s going to do and I make my plans accordingly.

Obviously there are times when more direct measures are called for, but given the fact that you’re only in the position temporarily this seems like a good time to consider her instrangience to be merely the weather.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:29 PM on May 14 [20 favorites]


Is there some reason why the student can't just work for you and not your coworker? I'm sure the student would be happy to have any work rather than no work at all. Can you just offer the position at half the expected hours?

Maybe if you get approval for that you can go to the meeting and say, "It's okay that you don't want to hire Miss Student, I've gotten approval to make her an offer for my department alone and I'm going to go ahead." Your coworker might come around real quick if she thinks she's going to lose out on extra help/support.
posted by brookeb at 8:52 PM on May 14 [15 favorites]


It sounds like underneath the grumpiness and complaining, Co-Worker has a few legitimate needs:

- She doesn't want to waste time training someone who won't produce enough results.

- She dislikes training someone remotely.

- She doesn't want to end up with only 25% of the candidate's time, because this worsens the ratio of training time to productive time.

If you go in and state her needs, and acknowledge them as reasonable, that will likely start the meeting on a positive note. It is hard for her to rant if you just articulated her issues.

Then think of potential solutions. What if you allocate the split so that you cannot get more than 50% of the candidate's time? What if you take over more of the training? Etc.
posted by cheesecake at 8:52 PM on May 14 [18 favorites]


Well, there's a few different ways to look at this. From reading your question it sounds like you know you're stuck in your perspective and are open to trying something different, so here's my thoughts as random outsider:

From the perspective of the potential student, they would be split between you and your colleague. This is already kind of a difficult position to be in for anyone, as having two bosses with equal priority is always confusing. If the student's two bosses were not in agreement about how to train the student and were actively feuding, that would probably be miserable for the student! So it's definitely not in the student's best interest to hire them if you can't work out a legitimate plan that makes you both happy.

From the perspective of your coworker, they were really looking forward to working with Perfect Candidate, because they knew it would be a good experience. Due to a bunch of bad things happening with Covid and grant applications, they no longer have that opportunity and are probably kind of resentful about it. They also don't feel comfortable training a student remotely, and are probably feeling bitter that this whole thing is being forced on them. So they're only even having this conversation in the first place because they want to have a good working relationship with you and your department. Otherwise they would have actually just refused, because they have seniority. So, they're probably looking for a good way to resolve this without drama, the same way you are.

From the perspective of the rest of your coworkers/bosses, honestly neither of you is in the "right" here, as you both had totally reasonable desires and plans, were screwed over by events outside your control, and are kind of bitter about the result. There were no hard promises made to either of you and it doesn't sound like any important rules were violated. No one else really cares if either of you are being a bully or passive aggressive in this case, as there is no actual conflict here from their perspective. They will think better of both of you if you cooperate.

Honestly, if you consider what's best for you, your coworker, and the potential student, it seems likely that it is better to not hire the student and let them know as quickly as possible so they can make other plans. Even if you were able to convince your coworker to hire them without them fully buying in, the student would probably still be miserable. So you need to go into the meeting and first figure out if there is some way to make a plan that legitimately makes both of you happy, but ready to accept that there may not be.

It's not really clear from the question why you still need to do Summer Project in its original form when everything has fallen apart due to Covid, so you may just want to focus on talking about those plans. It sounds like she has more experience with that type of project so even if you don't "collaborate" she would probably be happy to offer advice, as somewhat overbearing senior people like to do. And remember that she IS trying to accommodate your needs by having this meeting, and you are the junior, temporary member so she clearly has priority over you in the eyes of other. Anyway good luck, it sounds like the stress of this situation is making it difficult but there are a lot of good outcomes that could come out of this in the end
posted by JZig at 9:05 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I'd say that your first four paragraphs are all that you can bring into a meeting at work, and you should lay out those reasons as impersonally as possible.

Everything else, you can feel, but I don't think you can really bring to work - *maybe* mentioning to your manager that you see this as an important part of your professional development. The rest, though, seems to be based on a lot of assumptions about how your coworker is going to behave in the future.

If you really don't care about the summer student any more and your only concern is not letting your feelings show toward your coworker, then that's not really a work question.
posted by sagc at 9:06 PM on May 14


With all due respect, you’ve been in this job for just about six months, right? And it’s temporary? And your coworker has been there for years? And you’ve never hired or supervised someone? And the project your (student) supervisee would be doing is one that you don’t know how to do yourself yet?

If these are all true, I’m sorry but I think you have to roll over on this one. I think you will learn FAR more from stepping back, letting this play out the way it’s going to, and observing. Your goal in this position is to learn as much as possible, and it’s hard to learn if you’re battling. Actually, your primary goal is creating strong, positive relationships and being a team player so that you have job security.

I’m not saying that your coworker is right and you’re wrong (although you shouldn’t underestimate the ROI of training), but that it will be more advantageous to YOU, for multiple reasons and outcomes, to let it go. Sorry.
posted by stellaluna at 9:11 PM on May 14 [28 favorites]


Is there a way you can have a mediator of some sort at the meeting?
posted by Amy93 at 9:14 PM on May 14


Thanks for the advice, so far. I guess I just have to accept that getting this summer student wasn't meant to be. My supervisor really got me excited about how great this opportunity would be for me to gain supervisory experience, etc. and now that's gone. I'm really bummed. I think for the sake of the next 6 months, it's better not to hire anyone.

If I can tack on a follow-up question. I feel resentment growing towards Co-Worker about this entire situation. How do I not let that resentment stick with me for the next 6 moths? I'm just mad. I feel pretty demoralized at the moment. I really feel like a great opportunity for my career has been snatched away. With everything the way it is, who knows if I'll ever get an opportunity to gain these supervisory skills again. How do I not let this grow and fester?

stellaluna No, I haven't done this Project myself ever because it's explicitly the job of the summer students. The only person who does this job every year is the summer student. Now I have the work the summer student would have done, again, dumped onto me and my regular work.

Amy93 Nope, I think we're on our own.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 9:25 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Oof, she sounds like a bear to deal with, and definitely the type of person who pushes my buttons too. With people like this, I recommend a couple things:

To help keep your tone upbeat, focus on relaxing your body while you talk to her. You can practice now by doing it while you just think of her. My therapist has me do this when I’m getting really upset talking about a shitty person and it works, which is kind of annoying because it feels too simple. I can generally relax everything by focusing on the idea of spreading my hip bones out — like melting into the seat. Being relaxed is key to my new piece of advice, which is: Cheerful Resistance!

The cheerfulness, which doesn’t need to be over the top, is key. Take time tonight to think through her objections so you can ask her about them. Let her have her say. Then bring up your solutions that you’ve come up with as if of course these are easy to fix. Her objections are probably* reasonable! If you can solve them then it makes sense to refuse to throw the baby out with the bath water and refuse to hire someone. (*I mean, it’s not reasonable that she wanted a student to MOVE for this, that is ridiculous, so I’m sure you’re not wrong about her as a person. But even ridiculous people can bring up good points, especially if she has been around long enough to have experienced how the summer with the student usually goes.) This conversation can help you gain perspective and maybe you end up agreeing that it’s not possible in this weird time to skip hiring someone. But if not...

And if she digs her heels in? That’s where the resistance comes in, if at this point it’s warranted. “Not hiring someone won’t be possible, I need help getting the summer project done on top of my other duties and we hire someone specifically to make that happen. This candidate is a good fit. So let’s focus on how we can make this work for you, too!” And don’t stray from that line. (Or whatever line feels natural to you, some kind of variation on “I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” which is a classic for a reason, is really handy.)

Don’t raise your voice, don’t get passive aggressive, don’t make this seem dramatic at all. I know that’s so ridiculously hard. Pretend you’re in a play if you have to. Because winning is not getting a dig in to this shitty lady. Winning is getting the work done in a reasonable manner. It’s very hard to steamroll a cheerful person who has solutions.

And you can take this same tack with your boss if she flounces off and refuses to talk to you. “I am ready to hire Other Student. I had a meeting with Coworker and she has decided she doesn’t want to move forward. Since we obviously want to get this student working on Summer Project, here’s my recommendation ...lay out a short, positive plan here, focusing on making the boss’s life easier...Sound good?” Upbeat, again as if of course you’re going to hire this Other Student for all these good reasons to get the work that needs to be done without fuss. With the coworker, act curiously, mildly surprised when she tries to put up a roadblock. As if she announced she was going to cut off her nose to spite her face, offer the obvious solution like you’d offer it to someone who you can do a simple favor for and are happy to help.

She will want to make you feel bad. She probably knows you’re scared of her. I know this is all easier said than done since yeah, it’s scary to be around people who are so miserable. But you will feel so much better if you focus on having this conversation as if it is a relaxed, low stakes one (like it should be) with a reasonable person. Going into it prepared for a war is stressful and is going to leave you feel just awful and her feeling pumped. It’s what she expects and there’s a lot to be said for surprising someone by acting like you enjoy their company. Your boss is going to appreciate that you aren’t approaching this as a problem they need to solve, you’re looping them into a problem you’ve already solved.

Now, since I don’t know your workplace or job or everyone involved, maybe it’s possible your boss really doesn’t care if the student gets hired. Maybe you can’t make this decision without the coworker — my advice on approaching this in a relaxed and positive way still applies. But it sounds like your boss just don’t care if you’re having a conflict with this person they don’t manage and that doesn’t mean you can’t still ask them for their input or clarification on what happens next. “Hiring this student will help us get this Summer Project done, and I am really excited to gain experience managing the process. Coworker has decided they don’t want to hire the candidate. Knowing that, does it make sense from your perspective for me to hire and manage the student myself since the candidate is the only viable option?”
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:27 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Would there be any harm in offering to take on the responsibility of student by yourself, even if on paper, the share is 50-50? I mean, if she's not intending to make use of said student anyway... and add in, that if she decides she does need student, you'll be happy to share.
posted by stormyteal at 10:10 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


On both the resentment and relationship front, what I've learned to do is to:

- acknowledge you're on the same team. Get your common goal in mind. What do you both want? Think about what *they* want and are feeling. Wouldn't you feel similarly in their shoes? This is your pre-work.

- in the conversation: what do you think *their* emotions are here? What stresses are they under? Empathize with those. If you don't say these out loud, they feel a need to defend them. If you say it and agree with them *about their feelings* (not about the action plan) right off the bat, it gives them the comfortable space to look for a solution too, and to feel like you are a reasonable person and an ally.
"I would have really liked to work with (perfect candidate) too. I think it's a shame she can't join us this year. I'm sure you're disappointed too." (Listen for a minute here. This is where I sometimes I discover we appear to have just become BFFs).

- then you state your problem (I'm assuming it's been stated before and your coworker roughly knows what you would prefer. If not, this still works though). "Our work for this summer was scoped assuming we'd have a 50% summer intern. I still think that would be the best way to attack our piece of the project, even if it isn't (perfect)."

Say your common goal out loud, it helps to remind the other person.
"I know it's important to us that these summer projects can get done as well as possible, without being a major added burden."

- ask them for ideas. What do they think you could do? What works for them to meet your needs?
posted by Lady Li at 10:37 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


If you're like "nonsense!" at my extremely explicit and direct address to feelings there, think about how you would feel if she showed up or called you up tomorrow and said "I'm really sorry this hasn't been going better. I know you're new to the team and were probably looking forward to the chance to work with the new student interns. I don't think it's going to make sense with Other Candidate but I know this is a big blow to your project plans for the summer." Most people would feel more comfortable with the compromise at that point, because their loss was acknowledged.
posted by Lady Li at 10:41 PM on May 14


Okay, so she's been there a long time, and you are pretty new. You said she's overbearing, which can also means she's pretty direct about her wants and needs. You said you are newer and tend to be passive aggressive. I know this will feel like a bonkers suggestion, but it sounds like you could benefit from having like a tiny bit of her approach.

You've definitely lost out on the experience of supervising a student but also... it can be a lot of work to supervise a student. Sometimes it's as much work as doing the job yourself. I can understand why your coworker might be reluctant to bring in someone new right now. I've been at my workplace a while and supervise a few folks and have been dreading the possibility of bringing someone new in remotely, if it comes to that. And I know you know this, but we've all lost a lot right now. It's frustrating and it's okay to grieve losses big and small.

Sometimes those long-time coworkers can be a bit overwhelming to work with, and they might see you as an overeager whipper snapper (you said you wanted new experiences but you've been there six months, so isn't everything pretty new right now?). The truth is, healthy organizations need both. We need the longtimers who know how things run and know what a great thing it is to have a perfect student and what a pain it is to train someone, never mind remotely; and we need newer folks with lots of fresh energy.

I might go a different approach with your co-worker. Instead of looking at her as a potential bully, what if she's a potential mentor or ally? Ask her questions about her approach and thinking. And try being honest with her: "I admit I was disappointed not to be supervising a student because I was excited for that experience." It might work, and you might find a way forward.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:46 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


With everything the way it is, who knows if I'll ever get an opportunity to gain these supervisory skills again.

I know that this feels really valid right now, and who knows—maybe you won’t! But you are newer to the profession, right? You have decades of work ahead of you? If so, there is PLENTY of time to gain supervisory skills and experience, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

I know it’s hard not to catastrophize when the pandemic is ratcheting up scarcity mindset (it is for me). Trust in your path and your timing. It’s good and right to be ambitious and advocate for your career, but it’s best to do it in service of the larger picture. Don’t win the battle but lose the war.

And the resentment—that’s what a good therapist is for :) Never let them see you sweat!
posted by stellaluna at 10:59 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


I would put it to her directly. "I get that this summer hire is a distant second choice. I get that for you to train them remotely is not worth the time and effort. I get that you would rather have no summer hire than this summer hire. For several reasons, mainly where I am in my career, hiring this person would be a benefit to me. I would get supervisory experience, I would not have to do their work, and if successful in training them and the project goes well, my boss will look favorably upon me. I have only been here 6 months and you know more than anyone at the firm about your job. What do you advise we do? Is there anyway that you know of to convince our bosses to do this without there being a burden on you? I defer to your experience. If you think this is a mistake for me to hire this person, I will accept that. Is there any way this can work out whereby you are not unduly burdened?"

Acknowledge that she has the power in this dynamic and appeal to her sense of good will and pride. You're not going to win a power play, but you may be surprised at her willingness to help you out if you are nice about the way you ask for help and are deferential. If she says no, you are no worse off than where you think you are now. If she says no, then ask her if she will be available to answer questions and give suggestions.

I would not negotiate against yourself by going into the meeting and conceding before you even try. Be nice. Be deferential. Be cordial. Acknowledge she has the power and ask her for her help. She would be helping you as much as the summer hire.

If she does say no, there is nothing wrong with being resentful in the short run. But ultimately know that this situation is not her making, it is the circumstances created by the Covid19. To me, it is hard to remain mad at someone for something they really did not control. She has every right to avoid making her job more difficult just to accommodate making your life less difficult.
posted by AugustWest at 12:12 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


I sympathise, I really do. But what you write is very much in line with reading that this is your first professional job and your reaction shows a lack of experience and perspective. I am not trying to be harsh, I am trying to be honest and this is what I would be telling you if I was your manager (I've been managing people for almost 20 years now).

Let's first tackle your perspective. You need to broaden your perspective from your own role and feelings to consider your co-worker and broader business. You have already expressed some ability to do this but:

I'm so mad that she gets to stomp her feet and pout and take this experience away from me.
She is not doing this to you. She is, quite rightly, looking after her own workload and quality of work. You are doing the same thing.

And if the business decides it's not worth having this student hire to support your project, well, they just don't prioritise your project for the strategy of the broader business. It isn't an insult to you. It's a business decision.

If you think about it from a business point of view, it's not the co-worker you need to convince. It's "the business". The most obvious person is your direct manager. Other commenters have suggested advocating for the student to work on a half time basis to just help on your project. This sounds like a sensible suggestion to propose. But be open minded about how this may not be a palatable choice for your company. Commenters have already pointed out how it could have downsides. But it still doesn't hurt to ask. It just comes down to how important this project is. You need to learn how to be an advocate for yourself in a way that aligns with business priorities. They're not really there for your happiness or personal growth. Those are bonuses and the best managers will of course account for those things! But it's not really the way to convince them of anything, especially as a new employee.

Now comes lack of experience. You're complaining quite a lot that you're going to miss out on gaining supervisory experience. But wow, step back a bit. You're so fresh in your career, this kind of opportunity will come up again, I promise. And also? You never managed anyone before, you're 6 months into working, and it would have been managing remote? This... is not a set up for success. I personally think you dodged a bullet.

Here is where you DO get to experience: The challenge of a potentially disappointing outcome, a difficult colleague that you need to establish a positive working relationship with, and what sounds like an absent management system (what have they been doing besides letting just the two of you duke it out? That makes no sense, particularly cross-departmental with a junior vs senior colleague). This is experience. This is going to be a FANTASTIC story for future interviews when they ask "Tell me about a difficult situation at work and how you resolved it". But only if you come up with a positive outcome.

This is now your Project.

I know, I know. It's not as exciting as what you hoped. But trust me, this will impact your career in the long run more than this summer project.
posted by like_neon at 3:12 AM on May 15 [34 favorites]


No, I haven't done this Project myself ever because it's explicitly the job of the summer students. The only person who does this job every year is the summer student.

Not to put too fine a point on this but supervising work you have never done yourself is challenging, doing so remotely even more so as is training and supervising and working with a completely new person. Especially, remotely. This is not supervision 101, this is advanced supervision. And the project going pear shaped because you can't anticipate all the ways it's going to go wrong because you lack experience in all the ways this can go wrong is not going to boost your CV.

Now I have the work the summer student would have done, again, dumped onto me and my regular work.

If you know you won't have help you now have time to structure your work over the summer to find the time to do this. In fact, you can approach your co-worker about how to do just that and use this as an opportunity to learn from her. If she has done it many times and with little or no help she can absolutely teach you a lot here. That would also allow you to overcome the resentment.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:27 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


just to elaborate where my previous comment is coming from - this project does not seem to be busy work for the student but something that actually has to get done, otherwise your co-worker wouldn't have had to finish it herself a few times. And as no summer student will ever be able to produce an output that is the quality you need it to be, you'd invariably spend a lot more time finishing this than you imagine.

This is in addition to all the time you'd spend learning the project before you give it to the student, the time you spend getting this person operational and started on the project and all the time you spend helping them with the project once they have started. This is all time that you would have to spend in addition to your other tasks anyway. And this would all be challenging in person, it is extra challenging remotely - our interns and first year trainees really struggle with WFH and they all had a few weeks or months working with us in person before the pandemic forced us all to WFH. And all our people with a bit more experience who are supervising them are finding it takes a lot more time than in person and can be extremely frustrating.

Over the life of this project you probably would not spend significantly more time if you did it yourself - you'd just spend your time differently and it will be a lot less stressful because you do not spend all this time to get a more or less 'finished' project you now have to fix as a matter of urgency. So 2nding like_neon - you dodged a bullet there.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:13 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I can't reconcile "works remotely" and "moves to our town".

I'm also unclear on how budget bears on this. Is this 50/50 split for work load reasons, for management load reasons, for budget reasons? How much money are we talking? For example, using US dollars... A summer student might make $15/hr, for 3 months, so $8,000, and your half is $4,000, so hiring them 100% rather than 50% will cost you the other dept's $4,000? If it's so important to you, take it out of some other bucket (even your own salary?) !

I love @like_neon's advice, but I would also add that not hiring denies the student of experience, and, especially in covid-times, opportunities are scarce.
posted by at at 5:31 AM on May 15


I feel resentment growing towards Co-Worker about this entire situation. How do I not let that resentment stick with me for the next 6 mo[n]ths? I'm just mad. I feel pretty demoralized at the moment. I really feel like a great opportunity for my career has been snatched away.

An opportunity you wanted has been snatched away but, and I say this with all earnestness, it has been replaced with an opportunity you need.

Co-Worker exists everywhere. She will be a constant in your career. You know that stereotype of people coming home from the office emotionally exhausted? That’s because they had to deal with the many flavors of Co-Worker that exist in the workplace.

You will be doing yourself a big favor if you get serious about your coping mechanisms now. Personally I’d go for therapy, but there have been many books written on office politics and difficult coworkers. The topic deserves more thought and effort than can be summarized in an Internet post.

And who knows? You may discover a useful new talent. If you want to supervise people, protecting them from Co-Worker is one of the most important skills you can have.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:35 AM on May 15 [12 favorites]


An opportunity you wanted has been snatched away but, and I say this with all earnestness, it has been replaced with an opportunity you need.

Repeating for truth, this is GOOD advice.

Now I have the work the summer student would have done, again, dumped onto me and my regular work.

This is an attitude you need to adjust asap as it will reflect on your performance as an employee and as (ugh) "a team player". To use Tell Me No Lies' very good advice, this is actually an opportunity for you. You're in a position where you can do this project with a fresh approach. Yes, you're new, but maybe that view gives you some insight as to how this project can be better streamlined into the business. Maybe it can be enhanced with better integration with your regular work. They probably expect you to do better with this project than a summer student and I urge you to muster up the ability to smash those expectations out the park. It will fast track them sending you more of the opportunities that you crave.

If you are struggling with workload, that is a perfectly valid discussion to have with your manager and again, great experience to gain. People often just grumble, overwork, and eventually burn out. Instead, you need to learn how to have a practical and mature conversation about it. Maybe when things calm down a bit you can even think of ways to ask the co-worker on how to juggle things. She seems like she could be a pill, but she also seems like she could give you some tips and that could also go quite a long way to smoothing out the relationship.
posted by like_neon at 6:30 AM on May 15


I work at a small business, but I am the "senior employee" there, and let me tell you, training people and supervising them is a huge pain. ESPECIALLY summer students and the like, because they're just starting to become functional and helpful and actually easing my workload instead of adding an entire second job of watching them and correcting their bad work, and they leave.

I totally get why your coworker doesn't want this person. You call the other person the Star Candidate, but I think the line

"Co-Worker had her heart set on hiring the same student she had in the position last year."

is actually way more important. To you, you see two candidates that are kind of equally qualified, and you don't see why she can't make do with her second choice, and for her, she sees two candidates, one of whom already is trained and experienced, can probably do the job with little to no hands-on supervision, and one who she (being the senior employee) will be responsible for training and supervising, because you're inexperienced in that role. When we have hired a new employee at work, I would say they add 100% more work to my job for at least 3 months.

I have declined to hire new people at my job several times even when we could have used the extra hands, because the training and supervision (and honestly emotional exhaustion of explaining things to new people over and over and being nice even when you're upset with their work, trying to correct them and help them to grow even though it would be way faster to just fix their mistakes yourself, and then complimenting them enough on their growth and work to make them feel good in their new position even though they're unsure) is a chore.

As far as getting over resentment - sorry, but that's business. I internally mantra "this is my job, not my personal life" when I'm upset about things sometimes, or alternately "this is not my problem"/"not my circus" when I'm investing too much in things that aren't really my problem.
posted by euphoria066 at 8:23 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


I feel resentment growing towards Co-Worker about this entire situation. How do I not let that resentment stick with me for the next 6 moths? I'm just mad. I feel pretty demoralized at the moment. I really feel like a great opportunity for my career has been snatched away. With everything the way it is, who knows if I'll ever get an opportunity to gain these supervisory skills again. How do I not let this grow and fester?


As someone who has directly supervised summer students a few times and worked with many more, let me gently suggest that perhaps it's not the amazing experience you imagine.

It does depend on the nature of the work, but in my experience (science) you're lucky if you break even on the effort of training them + supervising them for the summer vs. the work they produce, which usually requires you going through it with them and showing all the things that need to be fixed at least a few times before it's usable at all...which is all much slower than just doing it yourself. If you've never supervised someone before you'll be shocked at how much effort it takes, particularly if you get a student who isn't a very independent worker. Also, some of them will never care enough to do an acceptable job even if you spend a ton of time training them, will be incredibly lazy, will be jerks to everyone, etc.

If the work you're doing is similarly not trivial (i.e. not data entry or something), it completely makes sense that your coworker may not want to train a new student, particularly remotely, and particularly after a bait and switch of being promised the student who is already trained and -- this is critical -- already known to be a not-terrible worker.

I know this is a frustrating experience for you and it's not what you hoped, but try not to build it up too much. You will almost certainly get another opportunity to supervise someone in the future, particularly if you deliberately aim for that kind of job. It's really not a rare thing. And once you do, I can pretty much guarantee you'll look back on yourself now and laugh a little.
posted by randomnity at 9:07 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Summer students are generally a thing you do as a kindness to give the student some experience and be a good citizen of a community that's engaged in training students; it is usually not something you actually do because it will be helpful to the workplace. I think this would be even more true in a remote situation; in an office you can at least have a summer student catch up on some filing or data-entry projects. A student who has already worked in your workplace once and could hit the ground running would be extremely valuable; it makes a lot of sense to take a step back and reconsider whether it still makes sense to hire a student if you can't get the one with prior experience, and the work will have to be remote. I would very possibly be making the same recommendation your coworker is, although I hope I'd be doing it in a way that didn't feel so upsetting to my colleagues. But ultimately it's not her job to prioritize your professional development or manage your workload, it's her job to advocate for what makes sense for her department and workload.

If I were you, I'd spend my energy trying to figure out whether there's a way to reconfigure the position so that Other Candidate does make sense for her department, or could work solely for your department. If you can salvage a win-win out of this somehow, that would be great for your summer and your reputation.

If not, it's not the end of the world. You will get other chances like this, if you handle it professionally and switch your energy to talking to your manager about how to move forward. Maybe that's punting or downsizing the summer project, maybe it's reprioritizing your own workload to make the summer project happen anyway, maybe it's juggling the budget to allow a part-time hire for just your department. Helping your manager get to one of those outcomes by suggesting some alternatives and their pros/cons is a great and professional way to handle this.

Biting back your spite-instincts (and god, I get the urge, I really do) will help you move forward and get a good reputation and more chances in the future. If you give in to the urge to refuse to collaborate with your coworker in the future, refuse to even engage in a discussion about alternatives, etc., you will instead be proving yourself not able to work well with others and your manager is probably going to be significantly less likely to want to give you chances like this in the future.

Right now you're living the annoying "tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult colleague / hit a difficult roadblock in a project" question that you will be asked to answer in a future job interview. You might as well behave the way you'll want to be able to say you did in that interview - professionally, proactively, and transparently.
posted by Stacey at 9:33 AM on May 15


I think that commenters above have given ample reasons why this may not be the worst thing to happen. I want to help you address the workload portion of your question. You're worried that you're going to have to do the 50% of work that the summer intern would have done. While that is probably true, I'd also use this to push back against your supervisor.

If you're being asked to add another 20-ish hours of work to your plate each week, it is up to your supervisor to re-allocate and re-prioritize your other responsibilities. Talk to your supervisor. Ask them how you should be spending your time. This shouldn't sit all on your shoulders. It's not your job to become a martyr to your position.

I do also wonder if there's room to get the summer intern for maybe 10 hours a week (just for you). Or maybe the department can hire a temporary worker to be brought on as needed for some remote admin work. Let the teacup-sorting jobs pile up until there's enough to warrant bringing someone on for 15 hours or so. You can give them instructions once, and let them at it.

Also, troubleshoot with Co-Worker - she is also giving up 20 hours of assistance per week. How does she anticipate getting that work done?
posted by hydra77 at 9:42 AM on May 15


If you're being asked to add another 20-ish hours of work to your plate each week, it is up to your supervisor to re-allocate and re-prioritize your other responsibilities. Talk to your supervisor. Ask them how you should be spending your time. This shouldn't sit all on your shoulders. It's not your job to become a martyr to your position.

THIS. This is the lesson you are going to learn, instead of how to supervise an intern. And this lesson is going to be FAR more valuable to you over the course of your career, I promise.

You will need to know how to do this every single time you work for pay for the entire rest of your life. Start learning it now so you can refine your skills over time.

The people who don't learn how to deal with this burn out from jobs and quit because they can't set appropriate professional boundaries.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:37 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I will also add, interviewers LOVE the question "tell me about a time you had a difficult obstacle / had to handle an unexpected workload / etc." They also love "tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult coworker or someone you couldn't seem to get along with." This is your answer, right here. I have a few go-to stories and I can usually tell that when I honestly say "I was frustrated with a coworker about this thing but I decided to focus on solving the problems that frustrated me rather than blaming it on Coworker Being Like This", people are impressed.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:13 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Also, honestly, how are you supposed to supervise someone doing the project when you've never done it yourself? This is not a slight against you, but in general, it sounds like anyone in your position would have been well off to let Coworker kind of train you on supervising, or something in between "Student will get expert supervision from Coworker who has done this many times and wobbly supervision from anyone who had never done this before."

FWIW, you won't at all be alone with folks having shitloads more work than usual this summer. I'm kind of surprised if you're in any sort of public or nonprofit work that your budget to hire students isn't frozen already!
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:21 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the advice, it really helped me accept the issue. I was ready to follow some of the advice given upon meeting with Co-Worker this morning.

However, Co-Worker thought about it last night, too, and she was... ready to hire Other Candidate. Which stunned me. I had completely accepted my fate. She said she was upset in the moment because she had planned a ton of stuff for the Perfect Candidate to her, and this sends her back to re-design everything. She was mad yesterday, but she's ok with it today. Her reasoning was that we have the grant money for this student and we shouldn't turn it down, in case there are any future ramifications. And also seemed to think that hiring someone in this situation, when jobs are so scarce, was A Good Thing To Do. It sounds like she has super low expectations, but she is looking forward to this student now? Very weird, we had a good discussion about why we disagreed with each other. Very strange resolution to this issue that I wasn't expecting!!! We'll see how this goes... be careful what you wish for??
posted by VirginiaPlain at 6:22 PM on May 15 [10 favorites]


That’s great news!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:33 PM on May 15


Co-Worker has just demonstrated WHY she has survived in her position for as long as she has ... and she has presented a good lesson in professional behavior. She flashed hot in a moment of disappointment, frustration and self-concern. But then she took time to reconsider and recognized -- and just as important, openly acknowledged -- that the needs of the organization come first.

This is someone you can learn from. Don't miss the opportunity to do so.
posted by peakcomm at 10:42 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


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