Managing an uncooperative peer

Lisa crunches numbers. She works with you but does not report to you. Her boss is the chief financial officer.

You rely on Lisa’s accounting and budget projections to make key decisions. But she spends more time bullying you than providing the data you need.

Because Lisa is not in your chain of command, you can’t discipline her for her awful attitude. You’ve discussed your displeasure with the CFO, but he’s preoccupied with higher-priority problems and insists, “You two better find a way to get along.”

Lisa knows how to do her job. She simply refuses to perform it in a professional manner. She swears and berates anyone who challenges her authority or asks her to rush. She provides financial reports on her timetable, which is often unpredictable and unacceptably slow.

You’ve tried to level with Lisa and figure out why she’s so difficult. That didn’t work. You’re tempted to appeal to the CFO again, but you doubt he’ll intervene. You’ve complained to your boss about Lisa to no avail. What should you do?

Option A: Treat Lisa like an employee and document instances of her unacceptable behavior. After you’ve accumulated a thick file of her violations, confront her with your findings and threaten to submit evidence of her poor performance to the CFO and CEO unless she shapes up.

Option B: Work around Lisa. Enlist a trusted ally (perhaps an employee who wants to gain accounting experience) to produce the necessary budget data. If that person needs training, persuade your boss or the CFO to invest in an outside consultant to teach financial management to your handpicked ace.

Option C: Tell your boss you can no longer deal with Lisa. Cite all the steps you’ve taken to work with her. Propose that you give up responsibility for budgeting so that you can expand into other areas. That way, Lisa will become someone else’s problem.

AND THE ANSWER IS …

Bypass a bad colleague.

When you’re stuck relying on an uncooperative co-worker, then your simplest tasks can turn into harrowing battles. Everything becomes a fight.

The first instinct of our panel of experts is for you to confront Lisa directly and seek a way to work together. But you’ve already tried this. You’ve also alerted your boss and Lisa’s boss of the situation, but neither executive chose to help.

You need a new strategy. But Option A —building a documented file of Lisa’s bad behavior—will only inflame tensions. When you approach her with lots of damning evidence of her bullying and threaten to submit your file to higher-ups unless she improves, she will probably not comply.

Our panel also predicted that Lisa would respond by scheming to undermine your credibility in management’s eyes. Why give her time to concoct a counterattack?

Option C carries a different risk. By telling your boss that you can no longer work with Lisa and trying to dump her onto someone else, you come across as a weakling. Your manager will see you as running away from an interpersonal problem rather than dealing with it.

What’s more, there’s no guarantee Lisa will disappear quietly from your life. She may still work behind the scenes to sabotage you.

Because your attempts to express your concerns directly to Lisa and senior management failed, our panel concluded that working around her makes the most sense. The beauty of Option B is that you marginalize her.

By training someone else to do Lisa’s job, you reduce your dependence on her. Better yet, cross-training a promising employee furthers your organization’s goal of having key backups in place to perform important jobs. You will look like a genius while shooing away a pest!