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Your Office Coach: Power struggle with boss won’t end well


 By Marie G. McIntyre, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Q: My manager, “Bethany,” is undermining my relationship with my staff. Shortly after I was promoted to supervisor, my employees began going to Bethany with work-related concerns. Instead of involving me in these discussions, she tells me afterward how I should handle their issues.

When I asked Bethany to start directing employees back to me, she seemed reluctant to do so. She is apparently more interested in making friends with my staff than properly managing the department. She sometimes spends up to two hours a day talking with them, but if I mention it, she says she’s just chatting.

I was initially excited about my promotion, but now it seems like a nightmare. I explored the possibility of transferring to another department, but Bethany found out and was not happy about it. Our differences have created a lot of tension, so I’m afraid she may retaliate on my performance review. What should I do?

A: This situation has gotten so far out of hand that the real problem is being completely overlooked. Instead of tallying up the hours Bethany spends with your staff, you should be asking yourself why employees don’t feel comfortable talking with you. And instead of shutting you out, Bethany should be developing your supervisory skills by involving you in these conversations.

Sadly, this potential mentoring opportunity has deteriorated into something resembling a power struggle. Because power struggles with the boss seldom turn out well, you would be wise to de-escalate the conflict by asking your manager for help in addressing the central issue.

For example: “As you know, I was pretty upset when my employees began going to you with their problems. But after thinking about it, I realize that I have a lot to learn as a new supervisor. If you could help me improve my ability to handle employee issues, they might eventually feel comfortable coming to me directly.”

If Bethany responds well to this peace offering, you will have taken a big first step toward getting the relationship back on track and avoiding a bad performance rating.

Q: In our department, there are two people who disagree about everything. Their constant arguing makes the rest of us uncomfortable. Our manager is a very nice person, but he avoids dealing with conflict. How can we stop these ongoing fights?

A: Since your wimpy boss isn’t doing his job, the rest of you should meet as a group with your quarreling colleagues and clearly explain the problems they are causing.

For example: “Although you may not realize it, the two of you make life extremely unpleasant for everyone else. Your arguments are distracting and create tension in the office. We don’t care whether you like each other, but we do need for you to figure out how to work together.”

If this intervention leads to a productive discussion, perhaps the problem will be solved. But if not, then ask your timid boss to intercede. Maybe a direct request from his staff will finally motivate him to start acting like a manager.

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