Question: “I have a co-worker who is frequently tardy. ‘Paula’ lives about an hour away and has several children, so she is often delayed in the morning. The problem is that when Paula calls in to say she’ll be late, she asks me to give the message to our boss. He then gives me the third degree about why she won’t be there on time. I’m just a colleague, so I don’t grill Paula about her reasons. It’s not my responsibility to find out if she’s sick or sleeping late or stuck in traffic. In fact, I don’t think it’s any of my business. My boss hates conflict, so he won’t talk to Paula directly about her tardiness. But whenever I deliver one of her messages, he gives me hell. What can I do about this?” —Not My Problem
Answer: By making you the target of his anger, your cowardly manager gets to vent his frustrations without actually confronting the problem, so you need to get yourself out of the middle of this situation.
The simplest solution is to avoid message-taking altogether. Tell your tardy co-worker that your boss wants information which you can’t provide, so she should call him directly from now on. Then explain to your manager that since you can’t answer his questions, you’ve asked Paula to contact him instead of you. Should he prefer to avoid those conversations, offer to transfer her calls into his voice mail.
If your boss insists that you continue to be the messenger, advise Paula that you will have to start asking for explanations. For example: “I don’t want you to think I’m prying, but Mr. Smith always wants to know why you’re late. So in the future I’ll have to ask you for a reason.” Then, when Paula calls, simply email her comments to your boss. By delivering the news electronically, you may be able to escape his tirades.