How Do I Get My Peer to Stop Acting Like My Boss?
QUESTION: There's a guy on my team who approaches me as if I work for him -- bossy, asks me to stop working on some things and focus on others -- and while it feels unintentional, how do I help him understand we're peers and he's not my boss?
Answered by: Jessica
Many of us have been here before... you have that bossy peer who acts like they're above you, who's unwilling to learn with you or treat you like a peer.
I've definitely been there before, and, honestly, I handled it wrong. Trying to one-up that person in conversations, pushing to beat them to the punch. Befriending my boss, so they saw me over that other person. Yeah, these were all shitty ways to handle this situation. So let's talk about how to handle it right.
Let's first talk about why this person might act bossy, controlling, holier-than-thou, etc. It helps to come at this situation with a bit of empathy and recognize the other person is human just like us (maybe a bit more flawed, but we can be the bigger person here).
They may have come from a company where they always have to be on the defense, or they felt under-qualified. Perhaps they worked with incredibly brilliant people who made them feel less than, and they had to boost their ego or seem like a know-it-all in a way that made them feel like an equal to their peers.
Maybe they come from a position where they were a manager, and now they're back in an individual contributor role (by force or by choice), and bossiness is a habit that they haven't quite broken.
Maybe they're an asshole and they think you're not good at your job, or you don't approach problems as they do and they believe you are a problem.
Whichever reason, it's time to nip this in the butt. And quickly, before it becomes a habit around you.
#1: First, I want you to observe this guy.
How does he communicate? Is he abrupt or curt? Does he interrupt everyone to throw out facts or data about a situation? Does he try to one-up everyone constantly? Is he cautious to believe others until he sees the reasoning behind the solution? How does he solve problems? Does he treat others this way, or just you?
Observing him will help you understand how you have to communicate with him.
#2: Start speaking his language.
Now that you see how he communicates start communicating that way to him. If he's abrupt or curt, come at him with quick bullet points and facts, and don't feel the need to add on a long conversation before or after these points. If he's factual, approach him with data and facts before you present your reasoning.
Explain how you got to your solutions in a way that he understands. And if he only acts this way around you, make sure you put yourself in front of him when you're speaking to him, make direct eye contact, and push him to acknowledge you.
#3: Bring out the olive branch.
Ask this guy out to coffee and learn more about where he comes from and what he does. Get to know him, let him talk about himself for a bit. And then talk to him about yourself, whether he asks or not. Tell him why you're at this company, what makes you passionate about the work you do, and then tell him why you're qualified for the job. Then talk about how you could possibly work together to help solve problems.
You don't have to tell him your work strategies, what you plan on doing next, or where you want to go within the company. But the goal is to help him see you as a human, as an equal, and understand that you are more than qualified to do this job.
Try this and see how things change at work. Over time, they may change for the better.
If they stay the same, or get worse, that's when I would approach him with a bit more intent. Again, get him out of the office to a neutral zone...a coffee spot that other coworkers don't really go to. Or maybe just a walk around the block. Take the compliment sandwich approach.
"Hey, you helped me with this the other day, and I really appreciated it. But there's one thing that's kind of driving me nuts, and I wanted to be upfront because I respect you as a peer.
You have been doing this thing where you approach me as if I'm your subordinate. I know you probably don't mean it this way, but it affects my work, and it undermines me and my work as your peer.
I enjoy working with you and you coming on board has really helped the company out a lot, and I've learned from you along the way. But whenever you need something from me, I'd really appreciate it if you would ask about what I'm doing, and then ask if I could help you on a project. There are times where I probably can't because I have a deadline, but if I can I'd be more than willing to support you. Does that work for you?"
Try this. If all else fails...then try to avoid him, talk to a manager, or move teams. Especially if it's affecting your work and your ability to grow in the company.