General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

How to deal politely with a difficult, new somewhat supervisory co-worker

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I don't know exactly where this co-worker fits on a totem pole. I create creative content and I have an editor who is my boss. This new co-worker works on the production end of things- advising of deadlines, reminding of deadlines, sourcing graphics, etc.

In the last number of years that I've had this job, there have been a number of people who have had the production position, I have no idea why some of them have left, but some have moved on to better positions in the company. I haven't loved all of the production people that I've worked with, but I've managed to work things out professionally with all of them. I never actually meet them face to face, by the way- I work from home and communicate via e-mail. (with an occasional phone call to/from my editor and one writer's get together where some production people were present)

About five months ago, my production person changed again and I am having a very hard time with this new one. Everything is urgent! even before the deadline is up. Her tone is generally condescending and she is just very unpleasant to communicate with. For example, I sent in one of my pieces that was due (I have a few regular columns) and she wrote back that I sent in an incomplete submission. No, no I didn't. I sent in a column that was due. There is no requirement for me to send all of my pieces as a group, I've always sent them in as they're done. Even her (rare) positive comments are irritating- i.e. You did it the way I wanted! Keep it up!

 I admit that I'm not always great about my deadlines, I'm generally 1-3 days late, but that's never been a problem in the past- and I've checked with my editor about it also.

Basically, I'm wondering:
1) Is there a way for me to politely tell her to back off? I know this is extremely childish and I have to get over myself, but I find myself getting so annoyed with her constant snippiness that it makes me want to purposely delay. (you can't tell me what to do! Yes, yes, I'm five years old inside) I don't actually do that, but I kind of feel like a rebellious teenager every time I get one of her e-mails.

2) Should I go to my editor to intervene? I actually had to do that once-I had been really sick for a number of weeks and couldn't keep up- my editor knew this and had told me to take it easy- (the kind of creative work I do can't be done on autopilot) production was being particularly nasty and my editor spoke to her and worked out a new schedule for me to catch up on things.

My editor's great, but she's also relatively new- she took over in the summer - and I really don't want to get her involved again. Is there any nice way to let her know that this production person is unpleasant without making a big deal about it.

I don't know if it makes a difference- we are published regularly, but my deadlines are always well before we go to print- weeks to over a month in general. I've often had questions about a piece of mine in an issue they're working on weeks after I've submitted it.

So tell me e-hellions, if you made it this far, any sage advice?

It would seem that you have been working there for a while and the other person is new.  You both seem to have assumptions on how things should work.
Perhaps it would be good to have a face to face meeting to discuss the work flow and so she sees you as an actual person.

Bopper's suggestion is a good one.

I would also suggest that you preemptively address some of the issues.
For instance, with the 'incomplete submission' issue, could you word your covering e-mail in way that made it less likely that she'd make this mistake

(e.g "I attach [thing 1 which is due]. I will let you have [Thing 2 and Thing 3] in due course.)
this makes it clear that you have not forgotten to include something and that you are on top of your tasks and know that there are more things to come.

If she chases you about things which are not yet due then a polite response saying something like
"Thank you for your e-mail. My note is the deadline for [thing 2] is [date]. Has this changed? If so, could you let me know the new deadline, as I had not been advised of any change"

I think it becomes more difficult if you are past the deadline, because at that point it's not rude or unreasonable for her to be chasing you - in fact, it sounds as though it's her job, so I think as far as that is concerned, the best solution would be for you to try to organise your work in such a way that you are not habitually late, and if that isn't possible, to again deal with it preemptively - e.g. e-mail her before the deadline expires and say "unfortunately [Thing 1] isn't going to be ready on [deadline]. I will get it to you by [date]"  - That way, although you're still late (and it may be causing hassle for production, even if your editor doesn't feel its a big issue - is she the one who is directly affected by it?)

I think the issue with her positive comments is more difficult, because it sounds as though a lot of that may be your perception (i.e. it's hard to tell, and probably impossible to prove, whether she is really being patronising or whether it just comes across that way. i think I would work on the other issues. It's something you might be able to address if you were able to speak to her in person so you can judge tone and how any conversation is being received. If you do bring it up, it would be best to make it about you not her ("I feel that.." not "you do...")

Thanks for your input-

A face to face meeting isn't really workable- I'm in a different city entirely. In fact, many of the publication's writers are spread out around the country, some even in other countries. Meeting anyone in this specific workplace is unusual and not really done. (I didn't even meet them when I started working there- I submitted my work via e-mail and they e-mailed me back a contract to sign.)

You're right that it's her job to remind me of deadlines and I've never taken issue with those reminders in the past. I can't really talk about company culture, since we're never together in one room, but there's always been a pretty flexible attitude about deadlines, as long as you're not too far off the mark.

I've also tried some of your suggestions- letting her know where I'm holding with things that are due, telling her that I'll send the other things in, etc. None of it has changed her overall attitude.

I guess my only options at this point are to live with it or to complain to my editor. There's a chance that she's ticking other writers off as well, but it's hard for me to know without contacting them and I'm not sure that would be smart or professional of me to do. (I only know a few of them personally)

I agree that it's time for a face to face meeting to discuss expectations and procedures from both your point of view and hers. Might be a good idea to have your editor there as well to both mediate and interject her point of view.

But honestly, the very first thing that needs to happen on your end is to stop being late. Other than for a legitimate reason (illness for example), you should not be handing your work in late regardless of the fact that it hasn't seemed to be a problem in the past. Even it wasn't a problem before, even if it weren't a problem now, it makes you look bad. And even when people say something like that isn't a problem, it doesn't mean that they aren't keeping it in the back of their mind come review time.

And over and above that, you are now in a situation of having this new production person reviewing and apparently critiquing your work procedures. Don't give her fuel for the fire.

ETA: Since you can't meet face to face, then I suggest a conference call with the three of you. Emailing back & forth is ok for routine matters but when a discussion is needed, and it clearly is here, it needs to be done vocally. Show your editor and the production person that you would like to make strides to smooth out the working rel@tionship.


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