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A critical co-worker requires direct confrontation

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Q: “For the past few weeks, one of my co-workers has been watching me closely and finding fault with my work. She keeps telling me what to do, even though she’s not my supervisor. I actually have more experience than she does. Should I tell my manager about this? I don’t want him to think I’m complaining.” Jenny

A: Before going to your boss, try talking directly with your intrusive colleague. Since this monitoring behavior is new, something must have triggered it, so perhaps you can find out what’s wrong. The next time she corrects you, inquire about the reason for her concern.

For example: “Mary, I’ve noticed that lately you seem to be unhappy with my work. Am I doing something that bothers you?” If she says yes, try to resolve the issue. But if the answer is no, just tell her you’re glad that everything’s okay, then see if she ends her surveillance.

Should the scrutiny continue, you will need to become more assertive: “Mary, you and I apparently have different ways of doing things. I’m comfortable with my own approach, and I have no reason to change.” After delivering this mild admonition, stop responding to any further criticism.

If her pestering continues to be a problem, then it’s time to go to your boss. After describing the situation in a calm, businesslike manner, ask if he will remind “Mary” that you already have a supervisor.

If you need to give some feedback to a coworker or friend, here's the way to do it: How to Give Feedback without Criticism.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Happyatwork November 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I had a similar situation once after I left one department and moved to another. Shortly after I transferred to my new department, a previous co-worker, who is also an office bully, attempted to assign tasks to me. I responded to her by saying I’d be glad to help if my boss instructed me to do (the task). Ended that problem!

If the suggestion to confront her directly and kindly don’t work, you could handle your situation similarly. Thank your co-worker for bringing the “problem” to your attention, and state that you’ll discuss it with your boss to find out if he wants you to work differently. In this way, you can indirectly inform your boss of the problem – likely, his response will be, “This is none of her business!” – without sounding like a tattle-tale. It might turn out that simply by mentioning that you’ll discuss it with your boss will cause your criticizer to backpedal and retract her statements.


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