Dealing with control freaks at work - HELP

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by ArtisticFan, Mar 26, 2011.

  1. ArtisticFan

    ArtisticFan Well-Known Member

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    I have been in my current job for about a year now. I love the work and I meet many interesting people through my job. However, one of those interesting people is making me a bit crazy right now. I’m hoping someone out there will have a suggestion.

    Our team at work is in charge of marketing for a large college. Many people in our department are spread out through several campuses so we rarely see everyone at the same time. One of the ladies I work with is across the hall from me. To simplify, I do external communication activities while she concentrates on internal. Though there is that distinction, there is a great deal of overlap in our jobs.

    I was told by co-workers when I started that this woman who I’ll call Melissa has many quirks. She certainly does. While I find them interesting and sometimes annoying, I’ve tried to just go with the flow. However, she’s rude to a fault and can be quite overbearing. She interrupts people all the time, questions you to death over every single detail, and always second guesses everything I do. If I tell her it is raining, she had to go find a window to check for herself and then ask me how long has it been raining, how much, when will it quit, etc. It never occurs to her that I’ve just given her all the information I know and don’t have any more to give.

    While all that is annoying, I can ignore her most of the time. We both have offices and keep the doors only slightly ajar most of the time. However, now her behavior is interfering with my job. As I said, our jobs are distinct but similar. For example, a group of our students recently placed in a national competition. My boss obviously expects me as the external person to send that information out to the press. Melissa would like to share that information internally among the staff. I worked with the instructor to craft a release and spent several hours prepping the information for release as soon as the results were announced. Melissa ignored my work and asked that he (the instructor and coach) provide her with the same information personally. The instructor was very annoyed, as he had already worked with me to get the information only to have to turn around and do it again for her, as she wanted it in a different format than the way I needed it. This poor guy was stressed. I had him lined up to do media interviews. He was giving final exams this week and had just traveled for several hours to get back from the competition.

    This isn’t the first time this has happened. I am finding that people will ignore my requests for information if they have already spoken with her since they rightly assume we should be able to share information. I have asked her if we could work together to create a better way to get the information with one or the other of us taking the lead on each story, but she insists that the way things are working are just fine. However, people have come to me asking that I talk to her about the situation and complaining that they are spending too much time answering to both of us.

    During a lunch with my boss and another co-worker, I brought up the subject. Trying not to complain, I just asked if she knew of a good way we could work together. She brought us both into her office this morning and brought up the subject – saying she had received some comments and questions about it but not from me. Melissa immediately went on the defensive. She couldn’t believe that anyone would complain. She claims she does communicate with me. She says that what I write for the media is too bland for her purposes…called me and my writing vanilla. She claims that what she does is more time sensitive – my stuff has to be out within an hour to two hours but her stuff waits to be published once a quarter so I don’t quite get her logic there.

    I’m trying not to take things personally, though the vanilla comment hurt a lot. I even suggested that if we make a request of a staff/faculty member that we cc: each other to make sure we know what the other is working on and don’t duplicate efforts. She made the vanilla comment again and said people should just get used to getting requests from both of us.
    My boss is frustrated and doesn’t know how to get through to her. I am frustrated because I feel like she’s working against me every chance she gets – telling someone today that she needed the information first because her publication needed to be proofed. I had six reporters waiting on me to get them details for stories running this weekend.

    Any suggestions on an approach I can take. I feel like if I go to my boss again that it will just look like I’m complaining. I don’t want to be the one bringing problems to my boss, but honestly I’m getting more and more frustrated.
     
  2. neptune

    neptune Well-Known Member

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    It seems to me your boss isn't doing much "bossing." If she isn't going to lay down the law on certain matters, then there's really not a whole lot you can do IMO. I would certainly minimize contact with Melissa, as much as possible. If she continues to make rude remarks toward/about you, I would treat them in a condescending, mildly amused fashion, the way you would a spoiled child. For instance, if she mentions the "vanilla" thing again, you could say something like, "Why thank you, Melissa, for pointing that out! I didn't realize you were such a connoisseur. Next time I'll try swirling in a little strawberry for you too." :) If you treat her this way as necessary, she'll begin to look childish. And don't ever let her think she's really getting to you, because then she'll just increase the intensity.

    Whenever people ask you to talk to Melissa, or complain to you about having to spend too much time answering both of you or about anything else, I would simply say, "Please talk to [your boss's name]." Let your boss experience all the discomfort from the poorly handled situation--you shouldn't have to do her job for her.

    Although you may learn to live with this job, this might be a position that isn't really going to get much better. You may consider looking for other opportunities as well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2011
  3. Matryeshka

    Matryeshka Well-Known Member

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    It sounds to me like she's insecure and feels threatened, either by you personally or by your job. Since it's about her and not about the job, there's not a whole hell of a lot you can do.

    I can see where neptune is coming from, BUT, I don't know that I would take that approach--it might escalate the situation, and honestly, that behavior really isn't any more professional than hers. The LAST thing you want to do is give her a legitimate reason to complain about YOU.

    Since I have no idea what marketing entails, I have no idea if this suggestion would be useful or practical, but is there any way you can have a meeting with her, your boss, any other people you report to, and professors/faculty/staff that you both deal with frequently, and come to a new concensus on how information is given? It couldn't be done in such a way that it looked like a witch hunt or that she was being singled out--no idea how to accomplish that one--but some format where those you communicate with can have input (maybe phrase it like that, taking both you and her out of it)? Maybe it could be done between spring and summer semesters, with it taking effect in the fall to get kinks worked out? If it's done in a meeting with majority agreement, she'd have to abide by it.

    Or, maybe just invite her out once for a friendly chat, and I mean chat without the quotation marks. She might be a different person away from work. There might be things she has to do/concerns she might have that you might not have considered (doesn't sound like it, but you never know). It also sounds like she is on a MAJOR power trip, but she might also have reasons for that. It might help clear the air. And if it doesn't, you get to go to your boss and say, look, I've tried everything both in the working environment and outside of it to rectify the situation, which might spur your boss into action (maybe).
     
  4. neptune

    neptune Well-Known Member

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    Most of the time, it's best to ignore insults. But sometimes you do have to take some action. I was just recommending one approach, and I don't really see anything unprofessional about it, as long as it's done wisely and tastefully. In fact, what I'm recommending actually came from a book about how to deal with control tactics at work. When someone acts like a child, he or she deserves to be treated like one.
     
  5. jamesy

    jamesy wind up merchant

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    That's kind of the feeling I got from reading the original post. Is handling the external communication considered more glamorous or prestigious than what she does internally? Also it sounded like she has been there longer. Is it possible she may have wanted your position and for some reason didn't get it, so is resentful towards you?
     
  6. ArtisticFan

    ArtisticFan Well-Known Member

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    She has been with the college for about 15 years...longer than anyone in the department. My position is new as of a year ago.

    It has crossed my mind that she might be insecure about the job things. While our positions are relatively equal...I think she makes more money because of seniority, but we are on the same scale...my position is a bit more visible. I go to events, organize events, travel for conferences, work closely with the president of the college, VP's, and even local legislators. She has the option to do that, but she chooses not to do so for whatever reason.

    I do ignore her comments externally. Though I must admit to a few times in my office having to count to 10 or higher before answering one of her e-mails. I don't want things to escalate to the point where she is complaining (more than she already is) to my boss about me. She has made comments in the past about certain aspects of my job aking priority over others.

    She has made it clear to me (repeated many times) that she was asked by our boss and the executive director if she could do my job, which is mostly things like writing press releases, working with the media, prepping people for interviews, etc. She says she told me that she couldn't do that stuff because it is too boring for her. She instead writes a quarterly newsletter and a weekly e-mail about the happenings on campus. Our styles are very different - she is very fluffy and conversational in her writing. I'm more cut and dry/news style in mine.

    Our boss asked her today why she couldn't take the items I have written for the press and turn them into her newsletter articles/items. She answered that my stuff is just too boring for the students to read and that she has to do her own research and interviews to make it interesting.

    I'm thinking that it is less about me as a person and more about her wanting to make her job more secure. When people have us both do something for them, my work gets noticed more often than hers does for natural reasons. People are more impressed at seeing their name or picture in the paper or on television than the same thing in a newsletter that staff and students see.

    I agree. I think my boss was as taken aback as I was by Melissa's outburst today that everything was working the way it was supposed to work and for us to quit harping on it. My boss told her point blank that I was to do the interviews and that she could follow up if she had to, but that I was to take the lead on all news items. Melissa went back to her desk and wrote an "article" for the weekly e-mail she sends out about news around campus that basically told people that they should get used to both of us calling/e-mailing them for information.

    I'm going to try to be more patient about it all. Our department's executive director has asked each of us to create a list of tasks and responsibilities. She is evaluating people's jobs and thinking to reassign some things. My boss suggested after this morning's meeting that maybe Melissa needs more focused duties. Maybe after having a discussion with her own boss, my boss will have a better idea what to do.

    I didn't really explain it well in my first post, but this is government work which offers a lot of job security but stagnant situations. Melissa has outlasted more than a few bosses, which is a running joke around the office. Even her attitude has become a joke around others. I have tried to stay out of that, but as I tell my hubby...they get to witness her fits but I have to work with her.

    It is such a headache.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2011
  7. skateboy

    skateboy Well-Known Member

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    From everything you've said, Melissa sounds like a bully. She knows it and she's comfortable with it.

    Her insecurity is her problem alone. But what is your problem is the way she's treating you. Insulting you and calling you names is OUT. I'm sure you'll handle the situation appropriately. But if it were me, the next time she insulted me I would simply say, "Please refrain from speaking to me in that manner." It might take a few times using the calm/cold approach, but I believe she would get the message.
     
  8. vesperholly

    vesperholly Well-Known Member

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    This I would not do. If she's already defensive, she will be looking for ways to vilify you.

    I do agree with this. Having people complain to you is logical because you're the outside contact, but they really need to make legitimate complaints to your boss. Otherwise it puts you in a position of looking like you're the boss of Melissa, when you're not. She might be interpreting that and it's upsetting her. Before your position was created ago, I assume Melissa was in charge of all communication, internal and external? She might be feeling like people thought she wasn't doing a good job and hiring you is a way to push her out. She's acting territorial because she feels threatened. Also, it might be a little bit humiliating for her to always have to get information from you, if she's been the contact person for 15+ years.

    I definitely think that Melissa and you need EXTREMELY detailed job descriptions. It might also be good for your boss to explain to Melissa that your position was created to help her and take some work off her plate, not to usurp her (if this is indeed the case). Flattery instead of opposition.
     
  9. Tinami Amori

    Tinami Amori Well-Known Member

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    (Melissa’s personality aside).

    It is best for both of you if you interview the Subject directly in order to write your own press releases for your specific purposes in your specific styles.

    Nobody likes to write “off other person’s words” and not interview “the source”.

    That’s why “people in the news” set up one press-conference so that many reporters can interview them at once.

    Next time you and Melissa have the same “subject” to interview, set up mini press conference, so you both can ask your own questions, and the person is only detained once.

    Your boss should implement this practice as much as possible, and then there will be no need to evaluate “yours and Melissa’s personalities”, because you two will be busy writing wonderful press releases on the information you got from directly from the sources, and the same time…… :D.
     
  10. neptune

    neptune Well-Known Member

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    From what I can tell, "the sun is shining" would be a good enough reason for Melissa to vilify someone. :lol:

    While you don't want to get into the mud pit with Melissa, you also don't want to give her the impression that she can insult you with total impunity. Bullies lack boundaries. So, in whatever way you deem appropriate, you have to find a way to establish some.
     
  11. Aceon6

    Aceon6 Get off my lawn

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    THIS!

    My gut reaction as to what's actually going on here. In this news environment and job market, Melissa's job is expendable, yours is not. I think she's scared bat shitless that her position will be eliminated. Who in hell does a quarterly publication nowadays unless they're in fund raising and their target audience expects print?
     
  12. Karina1974

    Karina1974 Well-Known Member

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    This (bolded). And just keep cutting her off at the knees whenever she comes out with more of the same without changing her tone. If she keeps it up, ignore her and act like she isn't even in the room.
     
  13. ArtisticFan

    ArtisticFan Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the advice guys. I am trying my hardest to shrug off the insults and just keep going. I know that I am good at my job, as my placement rate and relationships with reporters, producers, editors, etc. is better than the college has had in the past. I receive many compliments about it and have been told that I am great at what I do. It would be nice if Melissa was respectful and cooperative, but after reading many of the comments here I need to realize that it is less about me and more about her insecurity in her skills and/or job security.

    To clarify, Melissa did not always work for this department. She was essentially an administrative assistant in a former VP's office. She did some desktop publishing and wrote letters, etc. When the college merged about 2 years ago there was a lot of change and the department brought her on to be a marketing assistant. She writes this newletter for students and does whatever she is assigned....from updating information on an advertisement to designing invitations to an event I'm planning to hold. I think this may be part of the problem. She has to realize that she is not being assigned the big tasks. Part of the reason for this is her attitude. When she helps at events or things like that people actually complain and say that they won't work with her again.

    I agree the most fair thing would be for us to set up a time for both of us to speak with whoever is the contact for the piece of news we need to highlight. The unfortunate thing is that much of this is done via e-mail. I suggested that we come up with the questions we have together and e-mail it to the person we need to interview. Answers could be copied to both of us and we could both go on our way. She claims she is already doing this. It probably is very demeaning (in her mind) to have to write from what I have done. I know I would be a bit insulted if my boss essentially told me that my job was less important than someone else's. However, we can't really reverse the process because her articles are 5-10 sentences and a photo that I took (she refuses to take her own photos). A press release is 1 page (sometimes 2) with photos. Plus I have to be ready to answer questions and help the person the story is about answer questions from the media about it.

    Prior to my hiring the boss we both have was doing this job among others. The team at that time asked for help and were given permission to hire me. From what I can tell, the higher ups are pleased with the decision and my results so far have proven that the college needed someone to just focus on the media and reporters. Before it was more of just throwing a press release out there and hoping for the best.

    I'm thinking that I should continue to share information with her. I need to realize and accept that she will probably not reciprocate. I will definately take the advice of redirecting those who are complaining toward my boss. Maybe if she sees and hears the comments and complaints, she will be more motivated to find a solution. At the very least it will cut down on some of what I have to deal with as far as that goes.
     
  14. joeperryfan

    joeperryfan Well-Known Member

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    Good points. My impression is that she is afraid that others think you are doing the majority of the work and that therefore her job is expendable. Doing joint interviews, if doable, is a good solution.

    Good luck with your troubles.
     
  15. overedge

    overedge Well-Known Member

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    I agree that joint interviews, email or otherwise, would solve the problem of imposing on the interviewees' time. However (speaking as someone who has done a similar job in the past) I would be more concerned that it would make your department look highly incompetent, like it takes two people to gather the same piece of information.

    I agree that Melissa is probably insecure. You have a professional background in what you do, she was kind of pushed upward without any formal training. However, that doesn't mean you have to put up with her dissing you and your work, or her trying to make your job more difficult for you to do. And it doesn't help that your boss isn't being very effective at reining her in (s/he being frustrated that Melissa "won't listen" I think is more a reflection on him/her not being firm enough with Melissa).

    It's a great idea to be as professional toward her as you can, and to tell her (politely) not to speak to you that way when she insults your work. I'd take a similar approach when she interrupts you (say something like "Please let me finish what I am saying" as soon as she jumps in) or when she grills you (say something like "I have told you everything I know about this, so please stop questioning me"). Directing complaints about her to your boss may also be very effective.

    I think job descriptions would be extremely helpful, as it sounds like the work of your department and the people in it have evolved without the formal structure evolving at the same pace. Try going to your boss and framing this as an opportunity rather than a problem. Say something like you would like to help the department run more efficiently without unnecessary duplication of work or without work being left undone, and you think job descriptions would help. If you want to be really proactive, you could offer to draft the job descriptions. And the process of getting them finalized would send a clear message to Melissa about what she is supposed to be doing (and by implication what she should keep her nose out of).
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2011
  16. Debbie S

    Debbie S Well-Known Member

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    Higher education. ;)

    I currently (for 2 more weeks) work in higher ed marketing. I'm in a contract job (which I only took b/c I'd been out of work, following a layoff, for over a year) that is being eliminated, and reading this thread makes me even more determined never to work in higher ed again. Wasted resources and bosses who let employees boss them are common. It's too bad, b/c there are also a lot of really good people, too. For someone like Melissa, who's doing things she's not qualified for and rules the roost due to her longevity, there's not much you can do. I like the suggestions here about asking your boss to clarify job descriptions and establish procedures for gathering info, but they may not be effective if Melissa doesn't want them to be. Since it sounds like the dept is doing a bit of self-evaluation, maybe a better approach is to divide responsibilities not by internal/external but by subject/discipline area. That's similar to how my dept's communications staff is set up, although there is one person (low level) who pretty much only does internal stuff.
     
  17. Garden Kitty

    Garden Kitty Tranquillo

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    I agree with a lot of what has already been posted. No matter how childish or defensive she gets, try to continue to act as professionally as possible. If she starts being critical or rude to you, politely end the conversation (overedge had some good examples) and don't continue to engage with her.

    If you get complaints from people about the process, write down the specifics. That way if/when you raise the issue with your boss, you have specific examples to list (and to counteract her position that everything is going well). If you do raise the issue with your boss again, I'd continue to do it in the fashion you previously did - focus on the problems in the work process and present any suggestions you have that might help the process work more smoothly. If your boss isn't sure how to handle the situation, the more you can present a workable solution, the easier it is for the boss just to say "yes".

    Don't complain about her or make it personal about her disruptive behavior. The more you keep it professional and about the work, the better you look - and people notice when you're doing your job well and don't get caught up in petty arguments. This can only help you if you ever want to transfer to another job at the school.

    Ultimately, you can have little impact on her behavior no matter what you do, so just continue to try to rise above her petty comments. I agree when you said you'd continue to share info even if she doesn't reciprocate. It's frustrating to have to deal with her, but don't give her any basis to make you look bad.
     
  18. MacMadame

    MacMadame Cat Lady-in-Training

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    There is no way to be mildly condescending and treat someone as a child yet still be professional.
     
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  19. deltask8er

    deltask8er Well-Known Member

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    I would be tempted to mirror her behavior, ask her ("to death" in return :p ) how I can improve myself every time she complains about something I do wrong. "How can I improve my writing style? What do you mean by "spice it up"? "You know what...you seem better suited for this project, so I'll let you finish it up. It is due by Monday afternoon. Thanks :) ."

    That's a tactic that sometimes works whenever I worked in retail sales.

    "It's too expensive!"

    "Have you found a less expensive version of the same thing elsewhere?" "What do you think would be the right price?" "What other products have you tried, and did they work?"

    The more I make them think by asking questions, the less energy they have to criticize :fragile: .
     
  20. WindSpirit

    WindSpirit OmnipresentAdmeanistrator

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    Or buy there. An argumentative sales person is not best for business.
     
  21. Skate Talker

    Skate Talker Replaced the display under my name

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    ArtisticFan - hope just getting a chance to get this off your chest in a safer environment has been helpful for you. Sometimes that is more needed than actual suggestions, imho.

    Nonetheless, I do have one of my own. Since you say you mostly interview by email, what would happen if you were to include something to the effect that you are copying her on your email to them and that you will be sharing their answers with her for possible use in her quarterly publication, but that she might still need to contact them with additional or follow-up questions of her own for her specific needs. Perhaps also add in that since your deadline is so short in comparison you hope they won't mind if this initial email deals only with the questions for your specific needs at this time. If necessary for the understanding of the interviewee give clear information about where your report will be published and it's purpose and the same for hers. If you do that I think it might be a good idea to let the boss know your plan and make sure she agrees with how you describe the two products. Perhaps for repeat interviewees even include an acknowledgment that you realize they may have been confused or unnecessarily stressed by what might have seemed like duplicate requests and that you want to remedy that. Just make sure that somewhere there is a specific nod to the importance and benefit of her publication that differs from your work.

    To my mind this may accomplish a couple of things. It may prepare them for additional contact without making your department look inefficient or conflicted. It gives her a built in reason for contacting them separately and makes it harder for her to make you look incompetent. It might make it harder for her to duplicate your questions without looking stupid herself as she obviously already had the information you passed on to her. It will give all the stakeholders a buy in.

    If this has no impact, I would suggest another discussion with the two of you and your boss wherein the issue will be how to reduce confusion and complaints of interviewees. Suggest any changes to how you are sending this email and have the boss suggest that she be copied on them for a time to be better able to monitor how they are working. If you have in mind one or two frequent interviewees who are getting frustrated perhaps a joint meeting with them as well - they are stakeholders in this process, give them a chance to be part of the solution. Maybe mention ways you already reduce duplication, like the picture sharing or something better if you can think of it. Though this may seem to be giving her praise for laziness, it also is also points out the benefits of co-operating on the cross-over parts of your jobs. It might make her feel more co-operative in general and will certainly make you look big in the eyes of your boss as you can find a way to make her look good, though by now the boss must be clued into your frustration at the continuing difficulties. Making everyone feel some empowerment along with some responsibility can't hurt this situation any, imho.

    That said, sometimes there are no solutions with certain people. I had the misfortune of dealing for 15 years with a very difficult co-worker who was actually in a higher rated position, though thankfully was not someone to whom I reported. Not having dealt with such an aggressive person before I was at first quite afraid of her and how she affected my work and my bosses perception of my work. It took a while to understand that our ever-revolving managers would quickly come to know her tactics, though none had the guts to do anything about it, and therefore anything she did to try to make others look incompetent was mostly taken with a grain of salt or ignored completely.

    Being a highly knowledgeable subject-matter expert she really had no need to feel so insecure, as the managers proved over and over by not even attempting to address her behaviour. Eventually I just became amused by her futile efforts. I remember that in one meeting where she tried to make me look foolish, drawing gasps from some newer team members, I actually burst out laughing at her ridiculous tactic. I really don't understand someone like her. This was one of only two times where she suddenly backed off and gave me and my work some respect for a while. The other was when I blew up at her for a totally non-work related incident where she thoughtlessly did something that almost broke my very new and very very expensive glasses. Even knowing this is the kind of response that could bring respect from her, it is just not normally my way and I would not lower myself to her level by using counter-attack as a means of getting the upper hand. Whatever you do, don't let her change you as that would stay with you forever. (She wins.)

    Now that I have been away from her poison for a few years, I actually mostly just feel sorry for her. Her job seems to have been her whole life and identity, (not surprisingly she had very few friends over the years and most just didn't last very long), and now she is near retirement but has nothing to replace her work. (I win but I am sorry she can't just enjoy her life the way I enjoy mine.)

    It can be so true that you reap what you sow. To add even more cliches into the mix - This too shall pass, What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and He who has the last laugh.... Good luck, though from your thoughtful posts I think you will do just fine.
     
  22. deltask8er

    deltask8er Well-Known Member

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    "Then what is best for business?" :p

    How is asking additional questions after you have answered the customer's (or co-worker's) being argumentative?

    Let me know, so I can improve on my success as a part-time furniture salesperson, which is on average $20,000 in sales per month.
     
  23. WindSpirit

    WindSpirit OmnipresentAdmeanistrator

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    I replied to what you wrote in your previous post. In that conversation the second person (you) was argumentative and as you admitted yourself what you said was meant to shut the customer up.

    Good for you. Somehow I doubt you do it the way you presented in the previous post.