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Ask Ash

12 November 18

Advice column: how do I cope with a colleague who thinks she is my boss?

Dear Ash

I’ve just started a new job and work with an extremely overbearing colleague. She’s very capable and experienced but she wants everyone to know. She talks incessantly and belittles everyone – including clients and our boss. It’s cringeworthy, but people in the office seem resigned to it or have switched off.

Although she’s at the same level as me, she acts like she’s my boss and dictates how I should be doing my job. I find her personality grating and her loudness and micromanagement are becoming a hindrance to getting my work done. I’m struggling to deal with her and it’s affecting my ability to settle into the role and enjoy working there. I’m concerned this will overshadow the numerous positive aspects of the role and I’m not sure how to nip it in the bud quickly. I don’t want to rock the boat too much since I’ve just joined but I’ve taken to leaving the room when she starts and I’m sure others have noticed me getting exasperated. 

Ash replies:

This form of passive aggression seems to be quite common where one person in the department assumes the role of “know-it-all”, either because of a belief that their years of experience give them the upper hand over all others or because their unjustified arrogance is not challenged by other more passive colleagues. It seems that your colleague is acting arrogantly due to a combination of both of these issues!

As you are new to the firm, you will inevitably have less tolerance of this form of behaviour as you are viewing the situation from a “fresh eyes” perspective, while others in the office have probably just been worn down by her behaviour and decided it best not to rock the boat.

The problem you have is that management also normally turn a blind eye to such behaviour as they often rely on such employees due to their experience and supposed efficiency; and managers will often even tolerate bad behaviour directed towards them in a bid to keep such disruptive employees on side. However, this is not workable in the long run as failure to address the behaviour of such employees is normally at the cost of distancing other employees and may eventually cause others to leave.

Overbearing colleagues can sometimes be seeking attention because of not feeling valued and essentially feeling lonely, and therefore it may be worth trying to make an effort to initially reach out to your colleague, for example, by suggesting going to lunch or for a coffee? This may help to bring down some initial barriers from both sides and allow you to set out what you want to achieve from the role, and hopefully help to alleviate some of the insecurities your colleague may have about you joining the office.

In the long term, however, if your colleague’s behaviour continues to impact on your work then I would suggest you raise this with your line manager. It may very well be that your line manager is aware of the issue and he/she may have experienced a similar attitude from your colleague! However, speaking about the matter openly should at the very least allow you to assess the attitude of management about such issues and indeed whether they are likely to take any steps to curb your colleague’s behaviour. It may be that her behaviour is not deemed serious enough for any formal action to be taken, but this should not prevent you from making clear to your colleague yourself – in a diplomatic way, of course – of your personal boundaries and what you will and will not tolerate. It may be that having someone finally stand up to her in a firm but professional way may make her reassess her behaviour. 

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and other legal professionals, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email: katiewood@lawscot.org.uk

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