A reader writes:
Part of my job is helping out almost 200 employees with their travel, expenses and training. So, I get a LOT of emails. I respond to everyone right away — even if it’s an “I got your email and will let you know when I’ve completed! Thanks!” message. I also always complete and get right back to the employee when it’s done (I’m a meticulous note taker and have a spreadsheet).
But, recently, one employee keeps stopping my boss (only when I’m not there) to say that I’ve never respond to his emails re: whatever. My boss keeps coming back to me on this and I double check and yes, I’ve responded to all his emails on that and more and there was no further action to be taken. My boss says not to worry about it, but it really bothers me that this guy is lying and possibly badmouthing me to others.
Is there anything I can do?
Wow. I’d do two things:
1. Go talk to the guy. Say something like this: “I’m concerned that you haven’t been receiving my responses to your emails. I’m vigilant about responding to everything I receive — I even track everything in a spreadsheet. It sounds like we must be having some sort of technical issue. I’m going to talk to I.T. to find out how we can resolve it. Can you tell me more about which messages you didn’t receive replies to?”
In other words, handle it the way you’d handle it if this guy were complaining to you that he wasn’t receiving replies from you. You’d assume there was a technical problem and proceed accordingly.
Doing this is going to make it a lot harder for him to keep this up, and it’s going to put him on notice that you will assert yourself when things like this are said about you. But you’re not asserting yourself in an overly aggressive way or escalating things with him; you’re just a normal person looking into these bizarre reports of your messages going missing.
2. Then, go back and talk to your boss. Say something like this: “I want to let you know that I’m very concerned that Bob keeps telling you I’m not answering his messages. As I think you know, I’m practically neurotic about following up with people. I even keep a spreadsheet to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. I’ve talked to him to try to determine what the issue is, and if he reports it’s continuing, I’ll talk to I.T.”
The point here is to convey to your boss — in case there’s any doubt in her mind — that you’re on this, you’re not someone who’s cavalier about responsiveness, and you have a reputation to protect.
Beyond that, there’s not a lot you can do, but you’ll have covered your bases with your manager, whose opinion matters the most.
Theoretically, you could go back and insist that something be done about this guy, in case he’s badmouthing you to others, but I’d only get into that if you start seeing signs that he’s actually been doing that. Otherwise, you risk opening up a battlefield that it sounds like your boss isn’t eager to step on to, and you’d want her to have your back if you went that route.
I suppose you could also begin cc’ing your manager on your replies to his messages, which you could explain to her as you wanting to be sure that she knows you’re responding … but that risks being annoying to her, so I wouldn’t do it for long, if at all.
Keep in mind, too, that usually people who engage in behavior like this don’t have a ton of credibility with others, so you can at least take some solace in that. (You may also mentally award him a badge for dangerously poor behavior, and you may visualize him wearing it whenever you see him.)