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damage control

The question

I have a colleague at work who acts like my boss, even though we’re at the same level. Even worse, she will ask me in front of other people if I understand my own mistakes. Sometimes she’ll make fun of something I’ve done in front of other people. It can be really embarrassing, even humiliating. How should I handle this without causing a scene? I want her to leave me alone!

The answer

To answer your question I would draw an analogy to the world of sport.

As time has passed I have come to prefer one-on-one sports, e.g. tennis and ping-pong. Because if you screw up in some way, the only person chewing you out is yourself.

I’ve quit teams, e.g. basketball and Ultimate Frisbee, when team members start to chew out one another.

It’s divisive, undermining, and uncouth.

Let’s even say, unseemly. Example: Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, multimillionaire superstars of the National Basketball Association, famously feuded over their respective roles on the Los Angeles Lakers – to the media.

Kobe (in effect): “We’d win more if Shaq bothered to get himself in better shape.”

Shaq (in effect, also to paraphrase): “We’d win more if Kobe passed more.”

But the point of working together as a team is to beat other teams, pocket your enormous bonuses, and drive to each other’s mansions in your Lamborghinis and Maseratis, sip champagne, smoke cigars, sit in your hot tubs and laugh and laugh in the sparkling sunshine.

Why quibble? Why quarrel? Why undermine? Now I don’t know if you have a Maserati or a mansion or a hot tub, but the principle remains the same.

First: if your colleague has a beef or issue, he/she should come to you privately, quietly, and say it to your face – not in front of other people. There can be dissension in the ranks, but not in public. Kobe and Shaq took their beef to the media, and I feel like that is supremely uncool.

Your colleague in my view has crossed several lines at once: 1) airing her beef in public (beefs, like sausages, should be aired in dark, private, out-of-the-way rooms before they can be “cured”); 2) presuming to tell you your job; c) employing an ersatz “Socratic method” of questioning.

That’s almost the most annoying aspect of the whole matter.

Talk about passive-aggressive. And kind of bullying, I would say. I’ve been the target of the type of bully who asks questions, and they’re the worst.

My least-favourite ploy of the questi-bully: asking “Seriously?” Once at a cottage I put a drink down on a coffee table without a coaster and an annoying guest (not even the host, who I don’t think would have cared) asked me re: the drink: “Seriously, Dave? Seriously?”

I hate that. No one should ever ask “seriously” as a question.

What I think you should do vis-a-vis your bossy colleague is what she should have done with you all along: take her quietly aside and share your beefs with her. Tell her how you feel.

Gently and politely, of course, as always. Something along the lines of: “Listen, I appreciate you trying to ‘help’ me with my work, but I know what I’m doing. But most importantly if you have some sort of issue with me or my work, please come to me in private and we can discuss it mano a mano.”

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