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Handle a manipulator with cool detachment

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in Your Office Coach

Q: "My assistant, 'Amy,' is a brilliant manipulator. She claims to get along with everyone, but with me she is disrespectful, arrogant, and intimidating. She often stirs up trouble by telling lies about me to my staff. On top of that, her grammar and spelling are atrocious, and she never listens to instructions. 

"I cringe whenever I have to interact with Amy, because I am polite by nature and don’t enjoy fighting. However, I have to stand up for myself. To make matters worse, Amy has become friendly with my boss, so he thinks I’m exaggerating when I describe her behavior. What can I do?"  Hopeless

A: Amy is playing a game of divide-and-conquer, and so far she seems to be winning. By cozying up to your boss, she has effectively neutralized your supervisory authority. You played right into her hands when you allowed yourself to get emotionally hooked.

To break this pattern, you must stop feeling like a terrorized schoolchild and start acting like a manager. Instead of taking Amy’s comments personally, determine how her actions are adversely affecting results in your department. Based on that assessment, calmly present a case for corrective action to your boss and ask for his support. 

For example: “Although at times I may have seemed overly upset about Amy’s behavior, I do have real concerns about her job performance. She has poor writing skills and often misunderstands instructions. Her lack of respect for my position is unsettling for the rest of the team. I need to discuss these issues with her, and I hope you can help me prepare for that conversation. Also, I would appreciate your sitting in on the meeting to show that you share my concerns.”

If you and your boss can maintain a united front, the appropriate balance of power will be restored. As Amy’s manager, you must then focus on coaching her towards improved performance. 

Have trouble dealing with performance problems?  See if you need to change your management style:  Are You a Wimpy Manager?

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