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Problem at Work

Dear all:

I work for a company (of technical writers), and manager (whom I'll call Debbie), who I thought were pretty good for over two years.

About 8 months ago a new member came aboard my group (I'll call him Max). He and I hit it off really well from the beginning, so I thought that the three of us (me, Max and Debbie) would make a good team.

But almost since the beginning of Max's time here at work Debbie has shown a new side of her (at least to me) in that she constantly puts down Max's work.

I've seen Max's work and it is good. I saw Max's work under his previous employer and it was good. Debbie not only has consistently not liked his work but the way she shows it has been deploreable. She will tell him to correct many things in Max's documents then, when he hands in the revised work, she criticizes his use of the "new additions" that she wanted in the first place! I could go on.... Eventually, what happens is that these petty delays add up and Max gets blamed for handing in work late by Debbie.

I feel that I am caught in the middle. I try to reason with Max and I try to defend him to Debbie.

Got any suggestions for Max? His quitting could send a message to the company but it won't pay his bills :-)

Thanks.

Jack
Thursday, November 21, 2002

My first reaction is to wonder whether this is your problem to solve.  It sounds like a problem between Max and Debbie.  Having somebody else step in and try to be the peacemaker may be confusing matters, and indeed, it may make it easier for Max to avoid confronting Debbie about her actions, as somebody else is already "running interference."

Have you talked to Debbie and/or Max about this?  How do they feel?  That strikes me as a good place to start.  If you have talked to them, let us know how they feel and we can suggest actions from there.

Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, November 21, 2002

Jack said, “My first reaction is to wonder whether this is your problem to solve.”

I share these sentiments.  I think if I were in a situation Max was in early in my career, I would have quit upon finding a better job.  If I were in Max’s situation right now, I might confront Debbie in an effort to resolve issues before doing anything else.  However, confronting managers over incorrect practices can be a very delicate matter (not to mention frightening for people with passive personality types).

In any case, this is really between Max and Debbie.  If Debbie is the manager and Max is that good, perhaps Max’s quitting will both be good for him and will send a strong message to the company.  Max is (presumably) a big boy and can make decisions for himself.  If Max doesn’t have the ability to defend himself in his current environment, he needs to either learn quickly or find a better environment.     

Nick B.
Thursday, November 21, 2002

Yes, you are correct when you state it's a Max/ Debbie thing....

But this reminds me of an episode of _The_Simpsons_ where Mr. Burns forms an all-star company softball team. On that team is Don Mattingly. Burns yells at him to "shave off your sideburns." Mattingly does so, only to get yelled at again by Burns for not shaving off the sideburns. Eventually, Mattingly shaves his head in two -- and not only gets yelled at again, but gets kicked off the team too. :)

I share an office with Max so I not only talk a lot with him about his situation, but I see him working his ass off to do work that he thinks Debbie will like.

Some advice that I've given to Max has been to do the best work that he can, defend himself when being falsely accused of something, and to keep copies of everything proving that Debbie is running in circles.

I don't really say anything to Debbie, but she has mumbled things about Max to me while I meet with her, and I try to explain that I feel that I work well with him on projects and that I've been happy with our progress thus far. I don't know....

I've never felt this way before in a work environment -- only because in past examples have I not been witness, over and over again, to such vindictive and petty behavior.

**So I guess I'm asking if you were in my place what kind of advice would you give to someone in Max's position?**

Jack
Thursday, November 21, 2002

Sounds like Debbie is a bully. Max has the wrong response in trying to accommodate her. Bullies thrive on weak people.

Max needs to tell Debbie to lay off, and he also needs to arrange less supervision / interference from her. This will be a useful strategy while he moves to a decent job.


Thursday, November 21, 2002

In my experience no-name is right.  I've had a similar problem with an insecure manager giving me hassle and making my job almost impossible.  Life got much better after I challanged her.

My approach was to fist of all ask, since I kept making so many silly mistakes, that requests be made by email, so that I could refer back to them to double check.

Then, when the requests started to conflict, I could produce the written evidence.  After a few of these well documented confrontations she backed off and soon everything was sweetness and light.

Problem is that Max has to do the challanging.  You can't do it for him.

Ged Byrne
Friday, November 22, 2002

It does sound like she feels that he will undermine her, or supplant her and so disrupts his work.  This is also unlikely to be entirely conscious or intentional and if challenged she would deny it strenuously and possibly escalate it into some kind of official dispute.

In these kind of situations it has to be approached both cognitively and emotionally.  She needs to be reassured that he doesn't intend to supplant her, he needs to be assertive but in a conciliatory manner.

Often in a similar situation I'd take the dispute out of the workplace and work on some kind of social setting.  This can get complicated because its a male and female and unless handled properly could be misconstrued either way.  So you do have a role in that sense as a chaperone.

Remember though that you can't fix it, you can't be nice to them and assume that either of them will be nice to you by working well together as a team.  The most you can do is enable them to interact in a non-threatening, non-work situation.

If that doesn't work then its likely to fall apart anyway.

Its also important not to be perceived as conspiring with either of them 'against' the other.  So if you do organise something out of work, do it on the basis of them meeting you, not he meeting her or the other way around.

Simon Lucy
Friday, November 22, 2002

Thanks, everyone, for your thought-provoking input.

Jack
Sunday, November 24, 2002

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