Background: My firm recently hired a full-time file clerk. Before we hired her, it used to be my job to handle bill files, so I know everything there is to know about the position. So even though I am technically not the clerk's boss or supervisor, I am largely responsible for making sure she is doing her job correctly.
Story: There was a little bit of trouble/misunderstanding involving the clerk's handling of a particular file. Someone in another department actually called me to complain because she was getting tired of it. I said okay, I'd talk to her and find out what was going on. When I hung up, the clerk, who had overheard my part of the conversation (since we sit right next to each other), came over and immediately started defending herself.
Part of the other person's complaint was that the documents were being filed weirdly, so I asked the clerk how she had been putting away the documents. This was not said meanly, I just needed to figure out what she was doing in case it was wrong. But the clerk immediately bristled and said that she knew how to file stuff, that she'd been a legal secretary for twenty years and she wasn't stupid, etc. I said okay, but we're not necessarily going to do stuff the same way as at her old job. She then snapped at me that she didn't even have to talk to me about this (since I wasn't her boss), the only person she had to talk to was DirectBoss, and she walked away, continuing to grumble about how she knew what she was doing. O-kay...
Anyway, DirectBoss talked to File Clerk about this incident and told her that she really should not talk to me that way, especially since I had only been acting on behalf of a complaint (as opposed to just being a busybody). File Clerk's response was that she knew she had overreacted, but that she had been taken aback by my initial question, which she felt was attacking her. So DirectBoss asked me to handle her with kid gloves going forward.
MY question is whether File Clerk had a point in feeling attacked, or whether she was being oversensitive. I don't remember the exact wording of what I said, but it was something like, "Hey, I also need to ask you how you've been filing the documents because so-and-so was asking about them?" I don't think that's an unreasonable way to start off...? I didn't want to just say, "By the way, be sure that when you're filing, you do stuff this and that way," because that sort of implies that she is definitely doing things incorrectly. But is there a way that I could have worded my initial question better? Was my coworker justified in feeling like I was attacking her?