Author Topic: How to deal politely with a difficult, new somewhat supervisory co-worker  (Read 4090 times)

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strangetimes

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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?

bopper

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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.




Margo

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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...")



strangetimes

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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)


lowspark

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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.

strangetimes

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Thanks again-

I'm not trying to be contrary, but it's pretty hard to describe how this workplace is so atypical. Trying for a meeting or a conference call would just be seen as weird and an extreme level of escalation. Things are much more casual than that. If I spoke to my editor about it, it would have to be a breezy, kind of 'by the way this is bugging me, what do you think' kind of thing.

In terms of being on time- I really do the best I can. (usually) Sometimes it's my fault, other times I'm waiting on information from my editor or graphics for production. Even when it's my fault, it's not always something I can control. I'm trying to be vague about what I do, but it's not straight writing-  and there are some things that I can work on and after finishing it, they just don't work for the publication for various reasons. My editor understands that and production always has, in the past. The reason they like the job I do is because they know that I'll rework ideas and change things if I see that it's not working out- I'm pretty thorough in what I do.

I can definitely work harder and make better efforts to be more on time- that's a goal.

I'm starting to feel like I need to just bear her nastiness for now and hope that this position switches out again relatively soon.

wheeitsme

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This might just be how she communicates, I'm sorry to say.

Since you've been there so long, and the folks that matter seem to be okay with your M.O., I'd just ignore.

"You sent in an incomplete submission..."
Ignore

"You did it the way I wanted you to!"
Ignore

And if it was me, I'd try not to see it as an attack.  You KNOW you're okay.  So maybe you could try to find some humor in it.  Heck, maybe even make your own bingo sheet.  Fill in the boxes with the things she does that make you annoyed.  Since you work at home, don't forget to shout "BINGO" when you fill in a line (before starting a new sheet).  ;)

*inviteseller

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Can you set up a conference call between your editor, the production person and yourself?  This way, you can talk (calmly) about expectations on production persons end vs how you work  and what your editors expectations for you are.  because you don't work face to face with each other on a daily basis, it can be hard to tell what the person is like just through e mail.  They may just not realize how their words and style come across and a conversation may be just what you need to get on the same page.  Or you could find out this person thinks they are better than anyone and need to speak to you like you are in first grade.  In that case, your editor will see that and you won't look like a tattle tale if you have to go to him and discuss this further.

KB

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In terms of being on time- I really do the best I can. (usually) Sometimes it's my fault, other times I'm waiting on information from my editor or graphics for production. Even when it's my fault, it's not always something I can control. I'm trying to be vague about what I do, but it's not straight writing-  and there are some things that I can work on and after finishing it, they just don't work for the publication for various reasons.

She might be the type of boss/overseer who panics if she doesn't know what's going on. The best thing you can do in that situation is communicate (via email, fax, letter, skype, etc). Perhaps send her regular reports on the state of things, whether you are still waiting on information from other people, if you have started X project and when you expect it to be finished. When you send her one piece of information, give her an idea of when to expect the rest.

Is it annoying for you? Yes, because you haven't had to do it before, but if keeping her in the loop keeps her off your back, which in turn lets you get on with your work without the stress, surely that's worth a few minutes of writing every couple of days.

strangetimes

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This might just be how she communicates, I'm sorry to say.

Since you've been there so long, and the folks that matter seem to be okay with your M.O., I'd just ignore.

"You sent in an incomplete submission..."
Ignore

"You did it the way I wanted you to!"
Ignore

And if it was me, I'd try not to see it as an attack.  You KNOW you're okay.  So maybe you could try to find some humor in it.  Heck, maybe even make your own bingo sheet.  Fill in the boxes with the things she does that make you annoyed.  Since you work at home, don't forget to shout "BINGO" when you fill in a line (before starting a new sheet).  ;)

Yeah, you're probably right. I'm must going to have to stop taking it so personally-- it's gotten to the point where my husband can tell if she's e-mailed me by how annoyed I seem! I think he'd much prefer I play production bingo- which is a great idea-thanks!

BarensMom

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OP, when she sends you one of her snarky e-mails, hit the reply button and type a brief "message received" response.  Then cc your editor.

lellah

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Is it possible that the way you do your job makes it harder for her to do hers?  I have been in the position to manage others' deadlines and have found that sometimes people don't realize what must be done with their work once they've finished with it.  I'm going to make some reasonable guesses here, based on my own experience:  You're assigned an article by your editor, and you write up a lovely piece about rutabagas.  Then you send the article to your new coworker.  She doesn't even know what a rutabaga is and doing some research and then finding a good graphic takes her some time.  That throws off the rest of her work schedule.  And that makes her snippy.

And if your work is one to three days late, you could really wreck her whole week's schedule.  Maybe two weeks'.  If this is your regular m.o., she's probably ready to burn you in effigy.

Mind you, I'm not trying say you're a bad person, an irresponsible employee, or anything at all negative.  Clearly you're not.  But I'm trying to say that your ways of doing things are likely different enough from hers to cause the conflict you describe.  If people are moving up from her position, it's probably in your best interest to make this right... even if it's not really your "job."

I'd write her a sweet email.  Something like:

Hi Sort of Supervisor! 
I feel like we're having some conflict about how best to handle deadlines, so I'm hoping you can help me understand better what you expect from me so we can both have pleasanter workdays.  For instance, would it be helpful if I sent you a weekly or daily update about when I plan to have each of my assignments to you?
Also, would you mind to clarify just how you'd like my assignments sent, ie all at once or individually as I complete them?
I appreciate you taking the time to work this out with me.
Best,You

postalslave

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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 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.



I am in now way trying to be harsh but could those two statements could be related?

You mentioned that your workplace is relaxed, are you the only person who is 1-3 days late? Again, I'm not try to pick on you or blame you (your co-worker is super annoying) but it makes me wonder. If all of you are late, that could explain the high turn over, especially if the deadline people are under the assumption that everyone is on time. I can see that being frustrating.

Agreed with PP who said ignore the degrading emails. Anyone who sends a msg along the lines of "You did it my way, you're not a moron!" is not worth a reply.

Slartibartfast

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I'd find a by-the-by way of bringing her attitude up with your boss/editor, if you can, since it sounds like you and she have a long-standing professional relationship.  "By the way, editor, do you know anything about NewProductionLady?  All her emails to me are a bit . . . snippy . . . and I don't know whether she expects me to be doing something different from how I always have or whether that's just how she is."

Once your editor/boss is clued in that something isn't all sunshine and roses between the two of you, you can invoke her the next time ProductionLady gets really bad: "ProductionLady, I've been doing this for a long time and I've always done it this way.  Please clear it with EditorBoss if you need something in my job description changed.  Right now it seems like everything I do provokes a curt or rude response from you and I don't know why."

Cami

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Thanks again-

I'm not trying to be contrary, but it's pretty hard to describe how this workplace is so atypical. Trying for a meeting or a conference call would just be seen as weird and an extreme level of escalation. Things are much more casual than that. If I spoke to my editor about it, it would have to be a breezy, kind of 'by the way this is bugging me, what do you think' kind of thing.

In terms of being on time- I really do the best I can. (usually) Sometimes it's my fault, other times I'm waiting on information from my editor or graphics for production. Even when it's my fault, it's not always something I can control. I'm trying to be vague about what I do, but it's not straight writing-  and there are some things that I can work on and after finishing it, they just don't work for the publication for various reasons. My editor understands that and production always has, in the past. The reason they like the job I do is because they know that I'll rework ideas and change things if I see that it's not working out- I'm pretty thorough in what I do.

I can definitely work harder and make better efforts to be more on time- that's a goal.

I'm starting to feel like I need to just bear her nastiness for now and hope that this position switches out again relatively soon.
This person may just be a condescending witch.

Then again... I wonder if one reason why there's been so much turnover in this job is because while it's considered acceptable for you creative types to be late, the production person is still being held to the deadlines. That's an untenable situation.

BTDT. As part of my job, I create event websites. I had a problem initially because my then-boss was telling the people who supply me with information that "No problem being late. Don't worry about the deadlines. It's more important to do your best work." So people NEVER got the stuff to me in a timely manner. Then my boss would be up in my grill about MY failure to meet the deadlines. In other words, I was in a no-win situation that she set up. Being in a no-win situation makes a person an unhappy camper.  I couldn't force my boss to stop this behavior, but I couldand did push the other people into supplying me with the info a more timely manner.