I hate my new employee

A reader writes:

I’ve worked for the same organization for about five years. We recently hired a new person who reports directly to me. I was told I’d have some say in the hiring process, which wasn’t true – we only interviewed four people, two of whom decided not to pursue the job further, and the other one had no relevant experience. I wanted to continue our search, but our director insisted the remaining candidate would be fine.

I really don’t like her. Part of it is a personality mismatch, and part of it is that she’s a really immature person. She can’t handle any direction or feedback, however carefully put, without becoming angry and defensive or tearing up. She’s also pretty passive aggressive and will do stuff like CC my supervisor on emails for no reason (that I can see) on pretty straightforward requests that I send her.

She hasn’t been here very long, but we’ve gotten into a cycle where I just try to avoid her, because any instruction I try to give her will make her really defensive (and this isn’t necessarily feedback, it’s really just me trying to teach her the job), while she gets progressively more and more anxious about needing stuff to work on.

I’ve been documenting everything, but I don’t think I’ll get much traction because my immediate supervisor seems to really like her (I think mostly because my supervisor never interviewed the new hire since she was sick that day, and I think is worried that making a bad hire will reflect badly on her).

The new hire isn’t a bad person, I just really don’t want to work with her! I don’t have the energy or the inclination to baby this person, her personality grates on me, she would not have been my choice for this position, and she seems completely unaware of how she’s coming across when she does stuff like CC my boss. I think some of this is rookie job mistakes because she’s pretty young, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to manage this person when just interacting with her makes me cringe.

Any advice? She hasn’t done anything fire-able and actually has a good work ethic, but if she quit tomorrow I’d be overjoyed.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 220 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Snark

    I was all prepared to think OP was being a jerk, but all this seems legit, not like a simple personality mismatch. Like Alison said, “can’t take feedback without litigating it,” “gets defensive when I attempt to teach her how to do her job,” and “CC’s my supervisor unnecessarily” are all performance issues and can safely be treated as such.

    Reply
    1. Roscoe

      I think though that is she liked her, she’d find a way to get through the defensiveness. The fact that she doesn’t like her personally is affecting this to a point.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Eh, maybe. I’ve worked with people who I liked aside from their defensiveness, and the defensiveness was really hard to deal with. The natural reaction is to avoid dealing with the person on anything difficult or likely to provoke that reaction. It takes a really committed manager to push through that.

        Reply
        1. The Supreme Troll

          And it is difficult to ignore that “CCing the boss” on every directive email that she gets from the OP doesn’t come across as she’s trying to make the OP look incompetent in front of OP’s own manager.

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            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Oh, she’s definitely questioning OP’s authority. And she’s appealing to the boss to override OP.

              Reply
              1. Ego Chamber

                Or she worked at a place where this was SOP CYA and doesn’t know it isn’t done at this new (hopefully not toxic) workplace.

                I worked at a horrifyingly dysfunctional workplace that required any employee who opened an IM with another employee to add a team lead and department manager (TL’s boss). It was also pretty common to respond to requests from a TL by either asking the DM about it first, or cc’ing them so they’d be aware of every stupid little errand the TL’s would send you on that kept you away from your real job. These places exist and they mess you up, moreso if one of them is your first job, so I’m all about the benefit of the doubt, especially for newer workers.

                Whatever the reason, the behavior has to change, but some people turn passive-aggressive as a defense mechanism, when it’s the only thing that works. Having a conversation about why the way she’s acting is Not Okay is the first step.

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      2. Leatherwings

        I’ve managed an extremely defensive person who I liked before. After I left, we even became friends.

        But I absolutely hated managing her and the defensiveness and push back I got on everything was exhausting. It made me not want to work with her even though she was a generally kind and funny person.

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        1. Purplesaurus

          I trained a coworker like this. It was awful, fought me on every single thing. Still does, in fact, and it’s to the point that I just don’t bring certain things up with her. But I like her outside the context of training or making suggestions about work.

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          1. Volunteer Enforcer

            I know exactly where you and Leatherwings are coming from, but the opposite. Some coworkers I wouldn’t get on with personally but are competent at their jobs.

            Reply
        2. Allie Oops

          This is a great point! Just like there are some great friends who you just know would make terrible roommates.

          Reply
        3. The Other Dawn

          Same here. I didn’t directly manage the person, but was responsible for telling her that X needs to be done in this way, or Y needs to be done by this date. I liked her, but the pushback and defensiveness was such a PITA. I hated having to give her any type of direction, or ask her for or about something, because everything was someone else’s fault or there were Reasons. But, we socialized outside of work and we’re Facebook friends.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            Ugh. Why do employers even do this nonsense?

            I was fake in charge of a whole team once. I was responsible for coaching them and part of my bonus was based on their metrics—but I had no power over incentives or penalties. It was all about whether they had the skills or not and whether they liked me enough to attempt to improve. :(

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        4. Annabelle

          I wasn’t on the management side, but one of the people I trained with was exactly like this. She was perfectly nice otherwise and I enjoyed her company, but collaborating was always exhausting because she was immediately defensive and always had to be right.

          I’m sure the personality mismatch isn’t helping, but I think the defensiveness would be frustrating either way.

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        5. Mabel

          I think I must be odd because this would drive me so nuts, I don’t think I could be friends with the defensive person.

          Reply
      3. Snark

        In my experience, people who get defensive when given professional direction or correction tend to do that whether you’re personally compatible or not.

        Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          But also, this employee is very young. And it doesn’t sound like OP has put a name to the problem.

          Reply
            1. Sloan Kittering

              Well for me because a brand new employee might need to be taught explicitly about workplace norms around feedback, and I wouldn’t hold it against them for needing to be taught that (once). New employees often need to be cued into things that aren’t totally intuitive like “if I correct your work, it’s not personal and I’m not angry at you, I’m trying to trying to ensure the best work product.” For a new employee who is clued in, this may be a salvageable situation. I had a few lightbulb moments at the beginning of my career.

              Whereas, an employee who has been working for many years, I’m not going to have as much patience for this kind of pushback and defensiveness and I’m going to have less hope that they’ll be able to fix it – they’ve probably been acting this way and dealing with the consequences for a long time. Either way, OP still needs to have the conversation.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                Fair, but like you said, OP needs to have the conversation either way and can proceed as appropriate after the boundary has been laid down.

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                1. Katie

                  I had an abusive boss who, every time we did something, required us to fully explain what we had done and WHY (mostly so she could scream about how we were always wrong, but occasionally to understand our reasoning and correct our workflow pattern if it wasn’t the way it needed to be), so I got in the habit of always justifying why I’d done things a certain way. This bit me in the behind at a later job, when a boss asked me to make a change to something. I *thought* I was simply explaining why I’d done it that way to set myself up for correction if my thinking/workflow pattern had been wrong, but the boss took it as being defensive and pushing back. Please do work through this with her. She may not realize she is coming across that way.

                2. Ego Chamber

                  @Katie Valid points. Different cultures/experiences result in different norms, and in a new job it’s a kindness to get a level-setting conversation if that’s necessary.

                  Not work related, but I’ve done the Setting of Expectations talk with my s/o before when s/he gets explain-y about things I don’t like. “I don’t care whether you normally never do this, or why it happened, I just need you to not leave your keys in the lock on the outside of the door, ‘kay?” Communication is a good strategy for life. I can’t work/live with people who won’t communicate.

              2. Queen of the File

                I think it’s possible for a more advanced employee to have had this behaviour go unchecked–it seems like it’s pretty common for coworkers and bosses to do the ‘squeaky stair’ thing and just avoid the person instead of addressing it. I think your wording is great–kind and direct–no matter the age or experience level of the person, just in case it’s the first time they’re hearing it.

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              3. Observer

                I’m not so sure you are right. I think that by the time someone is past 20 they should be able to take criticism of their work, much less basic instructions from their manager without turning it into a major production.

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                1. Ego Chamber

                  Except most people who are new to the workforce are used to the dynamics of college, where you explain your process and defend your projects and get rewarded for doing that more often than you get rewarded for gracefully taking criticism.

                  Based on my interactions with people new to jobs, it takes a while to get past some of the less useful habits of the teens and 20’s—-and the 40 year old who took a job for “something to do now that the kids can take care of themselves” had the same issues, so it’s not age or necessarily college-related, it’s just experience in a work setting.

                2. Observer

                  Even in college, that’s not entirely the case. For some things, yes. But not always. And, even as a student college is not the whole of life. Anyone who has had ANY sort of job, even as a volunteer should have met up with the reality that sometimes the boss gets to decide. Period.

          1. Llama Wrangler

            I have an EE that’s less than 10 years from receiving full social security benefits that does this. Other than the OP pointing out that their EE is young, I could have written this letter word for word.

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          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I don’t think lack of experience or youth matter. If you are an adult (i.e., over 18), then you need to learn how to take feedback without getting defensive. And it sounds like OP has attempted instruction, which isn’t even feedback, and the new hire still gets defensive. There is only so much OP can do—someone who has no ability to take instruction is a draining waste of resources and isn’t really worth allocating months and months of de-programming given that many other young workers learn this skill right quick.

            Reply
      4. LBK

        I had a colleague who I got along with really well until my job changed so that I was working much more directly with him, and I found his defensiveness so intolerable in our closer work that it was a deciding factor in my ultimately quitting. It’s not just an annoying habit, it’s a pretty huge obstacle to getting along with someone with whom you’re required to have conversations where you won’t always agree.

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    2. aebhel

      Agreed. I think it can be especially tough to separate the two out when you genuinely don’t get along with a person, but these are all legitimate problems regardless of whether or not OP likes her report.

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      1. many bells down

        Yeah, I think the two issues are feeding on each other. It’s “b*tch eating crackers” syndrome for the manager now, so every irritant is magnified, which makes Manager dislike Employee more, and gets in the way of effectively managing.

        Reply
    3. Tomato Frog

      I’ve seen variations on this a lot in my worklife — someone has an emotional reaction to something, and it blinds them to the fact that there are legitimate concerns that they have every right and reason to address. I feel like this is actually a major category of the questions Alison answers.

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    4. LBK

      Totally agreed – I think the OP isn’t giving herself enough credit here on the validity of her complaints. Most of these sound like completely legitimately work issues. Much like the letter earlier today about getting angry when coworkers make mistakes, measuring job performance isn’t exclusive to how well you execute the technical aspects of the tasks relevant to your role. It includes things like taking feedback and appropriately handling issues.

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      1. Not So NewReader

        ” I think the OP isn’t giving herself enough credit here on the validity of her complaints.”

        10x this. OP, one thing I have seen is that whether we like people or not has little bearing on our relationship with them as supervisors. And this is because the question is simple, are they doing the job or no? Anything else is irrelevant.

        It’s amazing how much this one question covers.
        Sue is snotty to some people and does not help them: Then she is not doing the part of the job where everyone has to be civil to each other and they have to help one another.
        Bob sulks when people don’t agree with him: Sulking is not a persuasive counter-point to any productive discussion. If Bob cannot participate in discussions in a productive manner then he is failing to do part of the job.
        Nick mangles every task he is given: Again, this has nothing to do with likeability and everything to do with ability to do the job as required.

        If it helps think of their job as a check list. This is a list that everyone who works for you should be able to do, baseline stuff. Hold that check list up to what she is actually doing. Some items on the list are things that are common to any job. I love those. “Bob, any job you have will require you to interact with others on an on-going basis. So this is not a waste of time to over come this habit of sulking. You will need to be able to interact with others for the rest of your working career.”

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    5. Imaginary Number

      It’s really really hard to tell from OP’s post, honestly. Because the OP already didn’t like her for nonspecific reasons (grating personality) it’s hard to say without good examples whether or not New Employee is truly awful or just comes across as combative and defensive in OP’s eyes anytime she tries to ask for clarification.

      One thing that I’ll point out is that it doesn’t sound like OP ever addressed the CC’ing thing with NE (“and she seems completely unaware of how she’s coming across when she does stuff like CC my boss”) and is assuming it’s for passive aggressive reasons.

      Examples of actual conversations that have happened would help.

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      1. Snark

        What if it’s a distinction without a difference? The grating personality can manifest as pushiness, resistance to feedback, or egotism depending on circumstance.

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        1. Imaginary Number

          Because so many times I’ve seen “grating personality” be things as simple as mild social awkwardness (not to the point that it impacts performance or substance of conversations), a bad case of RBF or a particularly high-pitched voice.

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          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Based on OP’s complaints, this sounds pretty clearly work performance related to me. The personality issue may make it more annoying, but I don’t think it’s the driving factor in the new hire’s lack of professionalism or competence.

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      2. Not So NewReader

        The way I read it is that subordinate is not likable. Which is okay, not everyone is for everyone. But OP needs to separate that out and actually supervise this individual because it really does not matter if OP likes the person or not. This person is still OP’s direct report and OP is responsible.

        One common trap is for bosses to automatically dislike someone who was hired for them and they had no say in the hiring. Instead of lashing out at the big bosses which is a big no-no, people can turn all that anger onto the new hire.

        I am not saying OP is doing this, because I truly do not know. I know it’s a real easy pit to start to fall into. I have caught myself doing this even with peers. Boss loooves Peer who messes up everything in sight and triples the work. I feel myself starting to get angry with Peer. Actually the person I am angry with is the Boss who repeatedly turns a blind eye. But to be angry with the boss would cause huge problems for me or anyone; it’s easier to be angry with Peer.

        Where I am going with this is some times we end up supervising someone we did not pick out, we had no say and yet we are stuck with this person. The solution is to hold that person accountable in the same ways that everyone else is accountable. Sometimes the situation turns the corner and the person works out to be just fine. And sometimes the person does not work out.

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        1. Ego Chamber

          “One common trap is for bosses to automatically dislike someone who was hired for them and they had no say in the hiring. Instead of lashing out at the big bosses which is a big no-no, people can turn all that anger onto the new hire.”

          Fair point, but OP’s company probably made a stupid mistake saying “anyone is better than no one… and of the 2 remaining candidates, this one has experience, so we’ll take her!” There are some roles where this wouldn’t be stupid, but it is in most of the cases I’ve seen it happen. “Better than nothing” hires rarely work out in the longrun and the company is basically just putting the job search on hold while they pretend the issue is solved until it becomes very obvious that it isn’t.

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    6. Amy

      They are performance issues, but they’re also relatively common things for people who are new to professional environments to struggle with. Like the OP herself said, a lot of this feels like rookie mistakes to me. If the new hire hasn’t gotten clear instruction on how to handle instruction and feedback, or guidance on when it’s appropriate to pull in someone higher-up, then she might just not know these things are a problem–and since her manager is now avoiding her, she’s probably not getting that instruction.

      I think the OP really needs to step up and be a manager here. She needs to give that guidance and make sure her new hire has been told how to handle these things. If the new hire keeps failing to behave professionally, of course that’s worth tracking like any other performance issue…but the new hire deserves a chance to fix it, at least.

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      1. Just J.

        Agree. I’ve managed new college grads where arguing with your professor is What You Did. We had to sit them down and say, this is not so in the professional world, young grasshopper.

        Some of this may just be Not Knowing what’s Ok and what’s Not Ok.

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  2. argus

    OP, does she report to you in practice or on paper or both? I ask because I was once in a position where Mr. B was told to direct my day-to-day but in fact Mr. A was my manager (including doing my reviews, approving my raises and overseeing our work overall). That arrangement created a lot of tension — not so much between Mr. A and Mr. B but between me and Mr. B. B would take offense whenever I looped in my actual manager, would berate me, and just generally decided he didn’t like me. My actual manager, Mr. A, would privately tell me that I should come to him with any issues because he would resolve them. So, I started cc’ing Mr. A on everything, which actually made things worse.

    I just wonder if there is something about the set-up here that is creating unnecessary friction. If your boss likes the new hire, there’s probably a reason for that, and the new hire probably knows it. If she’s cc’ing the big boss, it could mean she is being passive aggressive, or it could mean that she feels you arent treating her fairly, or lack authority.

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    1. Ama

      Yeah there is something about her actions that sound to me like she’s got the wrong end of the stick and thinks OP isn’t supposed to be managing her.

      That said, I had a run in just last week with a colleague (thankfully at another organization, I don’t think I could survive them as a coworker) who cannot admit ANY mistake, no matter how small, and reacts to polite reminders about missed deadlines as if they had just been falsely accused of a crime. So there are definitely people like that out there.

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      1. TootsNYC

        It’s so very important that “who is your boss” should be crystal clear. And never should someone be asked to manage a new hire they didn’t help select.

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    2. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

      I had this same concern. Have boss and new hire been having conversations outside of OP’s knowledge? It seems like new hire either thinks higher of herself or lower of OP to respond in such a fashion.

      I do also wonder if OP’s disapproval of being left out of the hiring process decision making was somehow communicated to New Hire. If someone casually mentioned, “Oh, we were going to reopen the job for more candidates but decided to take New Hire” and New Hire knows, it could be discoloring her interactions with everyone.

      But yes, on the surface it sounds like New Hire has some chip on the shoulder.

      Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Or maybe she heard that OP didn’t want to hire her and Big Boss (the same boss she’s CC-ing?) is the one who made the call. This can have the effect of undermining OP in her eyes too.

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    3. Amy

      I was thinking along these similar lines. I mean, it could be that she’s just a defensive person who can’t admit to mistakes or doesn’t want to be trained…but could also be that there’s some confusion about who she’s reporting to and is maybe being told different things by different people.

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      1. Sloan Kittering

        Either way, it doesn’t quite sound like OP and her boss are in lockstep on this. Boss undermined OP in the hiring decision and – are they actively redirecting this employee back to OP when they’ve been unnecessarily cc-d? Are they helping OP with the management frustrations at all? Is there any chance they have said something to the employee that’s let her know they’re on “her side”? OP, watch out if any of these are problematic, because IMO a boss problem is worse than an employee problem.

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    4. Infinity Anon

      It might be worth directly asking her why she is cc’ing Big Boss on things when it is unnecessary before giving the direction not to do it anymore. It could help clarify if she thinks she directly reports to Big Boss and can allow OP to correct whatever misconception she has about why this would be a good thing to do.

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    5. A Plain-Dealing Villain

      The authority thing strikes me too. OP didn’t have a say in hiring this person and isn’t sure they will be fired even after collecting documentation. It’s entirely possible that OP doesn’t actually have any authority and New Hire knows it. Allison’s advice is great for managing the New Hire, but I think OP may also need to see what clear expectations they can get from their own boss.

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    6. Annabelle

      I wondered about this too. I had an internship like this and it was tremendously confusing and anxiety inducing. I’m not an especially defensive person, so I didn’t have the same exact issues as OP’s employee, but it definitely caused a fair amount of friction between me and my day-to-day boss.

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    7. The Supreme Troll

      Mr. A should have been crystal clear to Mr. B that he is required to take direction from you, that he is not to debate or challenge every single piece of instruction that you are giving him. I think Mr. A was a little too passive with explaining this structure to Mr. B, and that is why this situation continued. Mr. B, incorrectly, was seeing you as his peer rather than his superior.

      Reply
  3. Nee

    I’ve worked with people like this. The ego issue is impossible to get past. Chances are, everyone else she works with directly hates working with her too.

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  4. PiggyStardust

    Are you able to set up a meeting with both the new hire and your boss, together? You’d be able to establish clear expectations and who she is to report to.

    Reply
  5. Eliza Jane

    I wonder whether some of the not liking her personally is coming across when you give her feedback. It’s possible that her defensiveness comes up because some of the feedback comes across as critique of her rather than her work.

    Because you don’t like her personally, I would try to be sure that your interactions with her aren’t significantly different from your interactions with other people whom you like more.

    It is true that defensiveness is an issue whereas “I don’t like them” shouldn’t be, but I would introspect about whether the “I don’t like them” is feeding the defensiveness.

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    1. CR

      +1 One of my supervisors doesn’t like me, I know for a fact she doesn’t, and so when she gives me feedback or criticizes me, I just see it as a personal attack and it’s hard not to get defensive.

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      1. Snark

        But is that a her problem, or a you problem? If the feedback is delivered professionally and neutrally, it seems to me that if you react to that like it’s personal, that’s basically on you to manage yourself.

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        1. The OG Anonsie

          Probably depends on how much of the personal really is in the work-related feedback. I’ve had managers who would criticize people they didn’t get along with personally for things they didn’t mind in the reports that they were friendly with, or give feedback in a more (sometimes unnecessarily) severe way with certain people. Even when the feedback is legitimate, sometimes there are layers that are going to make it frustrating.

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        2. Mephyle

          If CR can tell that their supervisor doesn’t like them, chances are the supervisor isn’t delivering the feedback professionally and neutrally. Although the best way to deal with it would still be to make every effort to react impersonally as though the delivery were as professional as it ought to be.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            Or CR has heard office gossip, and/or heard the supervisor criticizing them behind their back (f’rex, my supervisor said I’m “obviously a lifer” because I have no ambition and also it’s my own fault I’m sick all the time since she’s never out sick—she also doesn’t have an immune disorder, but why would that matter?).

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    2. argus

      Yes, if she can tell that you don’t like her but knows that your boss DOES like her, I could see her getting extra defensive and trying to loop your boss in.

      Reply
    3. Clumsy Clara

      I wondered about this as well. Perhaps if OP isn’t working very hard to hide their feelings of dislike, their employee is more sensitive than she might be otherwise. Hopefully if this is the case, directly addressing it with the employee will help.

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    4. Undine

      I’ve been in the situation where me & my manager didn’t get along, I got defensive, and I really wish he had spoken to me directly about his concerns. It night not have helped, I might have quit anyway, but it’s on the manager to break the cycle, not the employee.

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      1. argus

        I don’t think that’s clear at all from the letter. The OP gives me the impression that she was primed to dislike the new hire because she was overruled on the hiring. She also says that the new hire’s personality is “grating” and other things that suggest there is a dislike that is independent of the defensiveness (though certainly exacerbated by it)

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          1. argus

            Because, as Eliza Jane said, it’s possible that her dislike is coming through in unprofessional ways (such as avoiding the employee). That’s only going to make the management relationship more difficult. And that is what we are all responding to in this little subthread.

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            1. Snark

              Maybe, but it wouldn’t make being undermined go down any easier. We’re all humans here, and if support doesn’t go both directions it weakens the whole relationship.

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            2. Not So NewReader

              That didn’t really work as an inroad for me. It helps to have a boss we respect. However, I went with “New Hire is a fellow human being who accidently walked into this free-for-all and does not deserve to be punished for it.”

              I have to say, I have been that New Hire that the boss HAD to take. I KNEW she hated my guts, I breathed and she found it annoying. She pointed out every little mistake, and when she could not find mistakes she made some up. Once in a while, I actually nailed something and she would admit it. Then she would tell me, “Oh you won’t be doing that anymore, there isn’t any need for you to do it.”
              I also heard what she told other people about me. It’s amazing how willing people are to relay that stuff.

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      2. Clumsy Clara

        But OP seems resentful they didn’t get a chance to interviewer further candidates so this dislike may have come through from the beginning.

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  6. Anon16

    I hate to play devil’s advocate a little bit, but I wonder if they’re feeding off of each other in the negativity. In other words, the employee feels equally unhappy with the manager and isn’t responding in her best behavior. Maybe not, but either way, taking the negativity out of the relationship and seeing it as purely professional would likely help.

    I know with my managers, when we rubbed each other the wrong way (and it was often mutual), I think it was harder for me to behave professionally in professional situations. Just my $0.02 as an employee.

    Reply
      1. NacSacJack

        I agree too Anon16. If your manager doesnt like you, you can feel that. and if he outright tells you that he doesnt like you or that no one likes you, it is hard to maintain a professional attitude. I think norms have changed. We havent always been expected to get along.

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    1. Not So NewReader

      So agree. People know when they are disliked and their work can reflect that.

      I had a person who called in several times a week and had the lowest productivity levels of anyone in my group, EVER. She could not be fired. So one day she called in for the thousandth time and I said something about a doctor’s note and so on. She called my boss and said “NSNR likes everyone but she does not like me.” I laughed. I said, “Truth be told there are several people I would never sit and share a meal with. However, they actually show up for work and they put in a good effort all day long. We have that much in common and I am happy with that much. This particular person is almost never here, and when she is she has extremely low productivity and pulls the whole group down. I am not happy with that. They have all been told that they need to help each other and encourage each other. ”
      If we deliberately look for things we like about people we supervise we can usually find those things. And when we can’t there are probably many legit reasons for it.

      Reply
  7. Shadow

    Documenting everything while avoiding her is probably worse than what she’s doing. You’re actively not addressing the issues while trying to quietly build a case to fire her behind her back. How passive aggressive is that?

    You’re basically saying you don’t want to do your job and manage her. And on some level you’ve got to accept that your director made this hiring decision and truly attempt to make it work.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yes, I was really sympathetic to OP in the set-up – as I’ve been there when upper management meddles in hiring, and it’s SO frustrating, especially if this is an important hire *for you* but not for them. But by the end I felt like OP was … maybe equally in the wrong, actually. They’re not managing proactively and avoiding your own employees is like – letting yourself get kicked out of your own home by your houseguests. This is YOUR HOUSE, OP. You’re in the driver’s seat here, and you can’t abdicate that.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        “This is YOUR HOUSE, OP. You’re in the driver’s seat here,”

        Seriously. Just park the office somewhere else next week and I bet she’ll never find it! ;P

        Reply
    2. Sam

      I don’t think “passive aggressive” is a fair characterization of what’s in the letter – she’s not being aggressive toward her employee in any way, passive or otherwise. Avoiding dealing with her performance issues is a management problem, for sure, but it’s also somewhat understandable given the tension implied by “boss likes employee and so far my attempts to give feedback have been painful and ineffective.”

      I think the LW is doing well in trying to find a better way to manage the situation by writing in, and I think Alison’s advice is a good place for the LW to start.

      Reply
      1. Stellaaaaa

        It is straightforwardly passive aggressive to sabotage an employee by skipping to Step 2 (documentation) in the disciplinary/improvement process. Avoidance is passive. Investing energy in creating a paper trail – instead of just trying to resolve the problem – in the hopes of costing this person her livelihood is aggression.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          It sounds like OP tried speaking to their employee about the defensiveness, or at least changed their coaching approach, and it didn’t work. I still think there’s managing that needs to happen (i.e., direct conversations on these specific failings and the expected outcome), and it’s certainly moved to conflict avoidance, but I don’t think it’s inherently “sabotaging.”

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I wondered if OP had any coaching with how to talk to an employee about inappropriate responses. Sometimes people shut down after one or two tries if they do not know how to have the conversation in an effective manner.
            I have had many of the conversations. It’s not easy to explain obvious-to-me things in a manner that is not off-putting and actually causes the person to change what they are doing.

            OTH, maybe the company does not approve of coaching about baseline behaviors/problems. I have see that, too. “You are not here to teach them how to hold down a job. They should already know that.”

            Reply
    3. LS

      This is pretty much what I was thinking.

      OP, I feel that your dislike of this employee (which you mention first, before the performance issues) could be clouding your judgement. You say that she is immature, but your response to the situation is not very mature either (avoiding dealing with the issue but documenting her shortcomings). It could be perceived as though you are setting her up to fail. And as your manager, I would want to know how you had dealt with the issues and “I wrote it down” wouldn’t be the response I was looking for.

      Reply
      1. LS

        After reading all the way through OP’s additional comments, it’s obvious that you did start out by trying to manage the person & situation. I didn’t pick that up from the original message.

        OP, glad you are out of there – you sound happier in your new job (and happier not having any direct reports).

        Reply
  8. Sloan Kittering

    Oh dear, OP. I worry you’ve gotten to BEC mode because you weren’t able to interview other candidates. That is very vexing, but remember it’s not this employee’s fault!

    Reply
    1. ...with a K

      I totally agree the BEC mode is a factor, but the employee is still exhibiting signs of insubordination on her own, which IS the employee’s fault.

      Reply
      1. Shadow

        It’s not the employees fault until she’s sees that there are consequences for the continued problems. Failing to address it is telling the employee it will be tolerated.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          Anybody with a basic sense of professionalism should understand that insubordination and pushback is a problem, with or without consequences. A working professional is not a toddler.

          Reply
            1. Observer

              That’s in the employee, though. I agree that a manager needs to manage. But you can’t blame a manager because an adult has a child’s sense of the workplace.

              Reply
    2. Snark

      Or she’s in BEC mode because the newcomer is incredibly resistant to being managed and that’s a really tough position for a manager to be put in, especially when they had no say in the hire.

      Reply
      1. Letter Writer

        Yup. I pretty much felt like my director made a poor decision in haste and then dumped me with the consequences of managing this incredibly difficult person. All of the issues I had with her after she was hired were ones I was concerned about during the interview process, and my director entirely blew me off.

        Reply
        1. Anxiety Ann

          Not every company functions with a perfect heirarchy and this particular company sounds like the power structure and who-reports-to-who is all lskdjfasklfj messed up. Surprised no one’s mentioned that yet. Any new person would need time to understand the nuances of your company’s hierarchy. This girl probably senses that you hate her too, and she’s confused about who she’s working for. Have you tried asking her how she is doing, asking casual questions to gain her trust, or I don’t know, TREATING SOMEONE DIFFERENT THAN YOU LIKE A HUMAN BEING?

          Reply
  9. Prinna

    Sounds so familiar to the manager that didn’t like the employee and began to un-manage her. You don’t have to like employee, she’s not your friend that’s the thing. If you act an further with your behavior you’ll end up like the manager who got her whole team fored over a cultural fit!

    Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Well, to be honest I did hear a hint of “un managing” in today’s letter. She’s not doing anything but documenting and hoping this person will quit or she’ll be able to fire her for something down the line.

        Reply
          1. Sloan Kittering

            But she did say “I just try to avoid her,” which felt off to me. A boss avoiding her own employee?

            Reply
            1. Snark

              I read that as “I avoid giving her feedback and direction,” not “I avoid her presence.”

              But that said, it’s nothing to be proud of, and a failure of management, but I’ve avoided problem employees, particularly when they give me so much pushback and static that it’s exhausting to even task them with anything.

              Reply
        1. Observer

          While I don’t think the OP is handling the situation in an ideal way, it’s in no way similar to the “un managing” letter. In that case, the supervisor didn’t mean that she was avoiding a report who was being difficult, but DISmanaging the employee to drive her out. She didn’t just ignore she actively sabotaged her.

          Reply
    1. Granny K

      I was thinking this too. The thing is: the OP is not there to be friends (nor is her new hire, for that matter). Everyone is there to do a job and hopefully, make the company productive.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        I’m really confused about how more than one person is misreading the letter this completely. Did you read it? Or just the headline? Because the OP is describing legitimate performance and communications issues that are making this person hard to manage, not just a personality mismatch.

        Reply
        1. Prinna

          Typically when I have managed or when I have been working on a team, if your boss starts getting CC’d in emails it’s a bad thing. The employee is showing your boss “look this how she treats me and I don’t agree with it.” Meanwhile OP is making a long list of the employees struggles- for what? To help her or to eventually try to get rid of her because she doesn’t like them. Totally disagree with your point.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            “The employee is showing your boss “look this how she treats me and I don’t agree with it.” ”

            Well, that can be realistic and proportional….or not. If we take OP at their word that the content of the email is a straightforward request, CCing the boss is probably not an appropriate action. If she tears up when given feedback, we’re probably not talking about someone who deals constructively with feedback.

            “Meanwhile OP is making a long list of the employees struggles- for what? To help her or to eventually try to get rid of her because she doesn’t like them.”

            Managers do make a practice of documenting recurring performance issues in preparation for firing them, yes. Your framing is frankly pretty bizarre – these are not “struggles,” they’re performance issues, and firing – not “getting rid of,” firing – is a legitimate and proportional response to persistent and uncorrected performance issues. Casting the employee as the aggreived party here seems unwarranted.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              Just a general thought: I’ve run into lots of people who seemed to expect that every workplace request be padded with lots of softening language, gratitute, qualifications, and thank yous, and that’s just not realistic. Sometimes the boss is just going to say, “Hey, I need XYZ by 3pm” or “When you process the teapot report, make sure you timestamp it, you forget a lot,” and you need to be okay with that.

              Reply
              1. Queen of the File

                I had this situation come up recently with my boss. I was being very brief and direct–because I know she’s busy–and she thought I didn’t like her because I never wanted to chit-chat.

                It’s so common that people interpret brevity as rudeness that I think it’s sometimes helpful to have a conversation about workplace communication styles, just like your post. It seems more productive than either trying to hedge every request or silently wishing that people would just react the way you think they should.

                Reply
              2. SL #2

                One of my coworkers uses formal, softer language when she asks anyone to do anything in writing. Even if it’s just us (her team! not even someone else in the company!). It’s definitely out-of-sync with our team culture, but we chalk it up to “Jane being Jane” and she’s admitted that it’s a holdover from when she worked in academia and then her previous workplace on top of that. It was just so jarring for all of us the first time it happened because she could easily just look over the top of our cubicles and ask if we had a quick minute.

                Reply
          2. Observer

            Yes, it’s generally a bad thing. But it doesn’t mean that YOU are the problem. Maybe it’s the person who is doing the CCinfg that’s the problem.

            Reply
        2. argus

          Based on the letter, it sounds like the new hire is being insubordinate and not meeting expectations. Based on the letter, it’s also clear that part of OP’s dislike is based on a “personality mismatch” (she says so herself). The OP also states that she’s avoiding the person, documenting her behavior but without addressing it head-on. So I think many people, myself included, are responding to those other details, as well. That’s not to say that OP shouldn’t take Alison’s advice — she should! It’s great advice.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            I’d avoid having substantive conversations with her too. I don’t jump eagerly into conversations where everything I say gets pushback and teary defensiveness. Not my jam.

            Reply
            1. argus

              My point, when I responded to your earlier comment, was that no one here is “misreading the letter.” We are just responding to elements of the letter that you think are irrelevant.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                And ignoring the parts of the letter that make it clear this involves actual performance issues, not just a personality clash. If the personality clash is the most salient point to you, I do think you are misreading the situation pretty fundamentally, yeah.

                Reply
                1. argus

                  I don’t think anyone here is ignoring the other elements of the letter, nor has anyone said that the personality clash is the most salient point — it’s just something for the OP to consider as a possibility in case it’s helpful. It’s pretty normal for commenters to supplement Alison’s advice with other perspectives. In this case, it seems that many of share this perspective so perhaps it’s worth considering.

        3. Sloan Kittering

          Hehe since more than one person feels differently than you, maybe that means there’s more than one possible interpretation. Even Alison says this OP needs to be proactive in managing this employee. I think some of us are reacting to the fact that she seems to have kind of abdicated her role her. Do I think it’s likely that this employee is lousy and will end up ultimately needing to be fired? Yes, quite likely. But I don’t think the OP is using best practices right now so that leaves questions in my mind about whether this employee might respond to active management.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            More than one interpretation doesn’t mean all interpretations are valid. I think prinna’s comparison to the “un-manager” was incredibly off base.

            Reply
      2. Letter Writer

        I’m not sure how you’re getting the impression that I want to be friends with her, since I didn’t mention or use the word “friends” in the letter anywhere. I keep friends and work very separate and always have. I’m fine with managing someone I wouldn’t want to be friends with, but I need to have a direct hire who can do things like listen to my feedback and carry out their tasks, which this woman wasn’t capable of.

        Reply
    2. Letter Writer

      Prinna, I think you misunderstood parts of my letter. I keep my friends and work very separate, and while I’m friendly with my coworkers, I’m very very careful about becoming friends with them. Personally, I just feel better having that boundary.

      I also work and have worked well with people I didn’t necessarily like. I’ve liked people that were not easy to work with. I did not want to hire this person because I didn’t think she would be able to do the job well and she began proving me right really quickly.

      Reply
  10. Miss Elaine E.

    As someone who was pretty severely bullied by others, including two former bosses, I wonder if the new hire’s defensiveness stems from previous situations. It could be she is terrified about another situation coming on. (Not saying her behavior is right, of course, but it might be worth asking about.) (I also agree with previous comments about the new hire getting conflicting directions from multiple superiors and about the cross-negativity feeding the situation.)

    Reply
    1. Shadow

      you can’t come into a new job and let all of your baggage make you difficult to work with. Most managers will get rid of you if you bring that baggage early on

      Reply
      1. Business Cat

        I think that’s unnecessarily harsh. Even stellar employees sometimes come with performance issues and bad habits that they learned from previous work environments. Otherwise, Alison wouldn’t have so many letters from people who are having a hard time shaking off the dust from their last toxic job. It’s not reasonable to expect a new report to have a perfect understanding of your office norms without some coaching/feedback. Now, your performance as a new employee will greatly impact whether your manager will find it worthwhile to work around your “baggage,” but that’s another thread entirely.

        Reply
        1. Shadow

          Right but it’s all in the attitude. If your baggage means a negative attitude you’ll get much less leeway

          Reply
          1. Queen of the File

            I think the issue with toxic workplace baggage is that you don’t always realize you’re carrying it unless someone points it out to you.

            Reply
          2. The Supreme Troll

            If the baggage is explicitly aggressive and hostile right from the beginning, it would make it very, very burdensome for a manager to try and work with someone like that.

            Reply
    2. Business Cat

      +1
      Came here to say generally the same thing. Definitely worth digging into! Also, regarding CCing the Big Boss, I wonder if that has been directly corrected? When I started at my new job it seemed like EVERYONE was CC’d on EVERYTHING, so once or twice I CC’d Big Boss on things that didn’t really need to be escalated that far up. My manager corrected me and I was mortified, and have not done so again.

      There is a fun gal in another department who nearly ALWAYS CC’s everyone and their mother on issues that I could have solved directly–she is not super popular over here.

      Reply
  11. ZenJen

    I manage 8 people, and really do NOT like one of them. HOWEVER, that employee will never know it–I don’t treat that person any differently. If I didn’t like ANY of my employees, it wouldn’t matter as long as we were all professional and did the jobs we needed to do! I treat all my employees with respect and fair interactions.

    OP definitely needs to get away from the “like” and focus on the management of the new employee’s actions. Have clear and direct convos about what’s needed, follow up meetings with written communications, and either the new employee corrects their behaviors or they don’t stay in the job.

    Reply
  12. Shark Whisperer

    Along the lines of this letter, do any of you have advice for how to not hide your dislike for one of your staff or at least not let it affect how you treat them?

    I’m a fairly new manager and try to treat all my staff fairly. I have one staff member (out of 30) who really grates on me. Part of it is her personality, but a larger part is genuinely performance issues. I have tried to always channel my inner Alison and address performance issues directly and clearly. I’ve had other staff members who weren’t my cup of tea personally, but they did a good job (or at least tried hard and listened to feedback). This one doesn’t make more than the minimum effort. I am conscious of the fact that I can’t let my personal feelings affect our working relationship but it’s hard for me to tell how good of a job I am doing with that (my manager is out on maternity leave so I don’t really have anyone who can coach me through). So, any advice anyone has on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Kathenus

      Something that’s worked for me, and that one of my direct reports who’s a new manager is trying out right now, is to take a moment and think of how you would react to whatever issue or situation is occurring if it were happening with another employee, versus the one you don’t get along with. If you would treat the preferred employee the same way if the situation occurred, then proceed. If you find that you would treat the two people differently for the same thing, take a step back and evaluate if you are doing it because you dislike the one person, or for another reason that might be valid due to differing circumstances. Kudos to you for realizing this and wanting to be fair to all of your staff!

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      I worked in a fast paced environment so I had to decide on the fly how to handle something. So when one of the people who was not among my favorites said or did something, I would ask myself what would I say if one of my favs did or said this?

      This did two things:
      It softened me with the less liked folks.
      And it toughened me with the more favored folks.
      Meaning, I concluded that I needed a similar message for all. I could not have one message for one group and another message for another group.

      So when one of my more likeable people did/said something, I made sure that I corrected them, too.

      Bigger picture, I thought about what battles I would take on and what battles I would let go of. I tried to have reasons for saying do not do x, do y instead. I would explain the rationale.

      Reply
  13. LiveAndLetDie

    CC’ing folks who are higher up the chain because of nebulous personal reasons and not necessary professional ones is a peeve of mine. My boss, who has four departments beneath her, is always talking about how her email is overwhelming. I cannot imagine how irritating it must be to get CC’d on things unnecessarily when you’re already that busy!

    Reply
    1. Prinna

      I see what you’re saying but I just get the feeling this employee may have complained directly to her boss in private. Therefore, when she cc’ the boss, the boss can actively supervise those messages. Or maybe not! But the idea isn’t a bad one!

      Reply
      1. Mananana

        If boss asked to be cc’d on the emails without telling the LW, then there are much bigger issues in this organization.

        An employee who tears up when given direction, gets defensive easily, and gets angry at feedback is the type who will cc the boss in a snit, not because she’s been asked to do so. And it’s a terrible idea to cc the boss if there’s no BUSINESS reason to do so.

        Reply
  14. Collarbone High

    Slightly off-topic, but it sounds like LW’s organization needs a much better hiring process, and this situation could be a springboard for proposing one. The candidate with no relevant experience could have been weeded out in a phone interview, and depending on their reasons for not pursuing the job, the other two maybe could have been as well. (If the issue was salary, for example, discussing a range in a phone screening could have saved everyone time … and it also might be worth looking at why half of the candidates decided not to go forward.)

    The supervisor not interviewing the candidate because she was sick that day is also odd — I think it would be totally reasonable for the supervisor to do a one-on-one phone or in-person interview with the top candidate(s) if she was out the day of the interview. It just sounds like the company put LW in a bad position from the start by setting up a situation where there was only one viable candidate and then making a rush hire.

    Reply
            1. Shadow

              Or you can have your boss’ back by doing everything you can to make it work. It’s hard to exist as a manager if you can’t accept decisions you don’t agree with

              Reply
        1. Dan

          Yeah… and Grandboss making a decision to hire a junior level person over the objections of the hiring manager and without the participation of hiring manager’s boss is just *weird*. SO much so that it makes me wonder what other disfunction is going on here.

          Reply
    1. Letter Writer

      Our hiring process IS incredibly messed up. The rationale for not bringing her back to meet with my manager was because she lived about two hours away. I think that is a terrible reason. They rushed the entire process, barely advertised the position, and we didn’t have a pool of qualified candidates to choose from. Like I mentioned in the letter, of the four we interviewed, two turned us down and one had no relevant experience at all, and would have been relocating from another state. My director was also (as per usual) MIA and refused to talk to me about how we wanted to move forward.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        That sounds awful. I’m sorry your company doesn’t understand good practices for hiring. I’ve never seen the method you describe have a higher success rate than I imagine you’d get from hiring by random.

        Reply
  15. Artemesia

    Great advice from Alison here. The big problem is the OP is not doing her job as a manager. I have been there — avoiding the problem employee. But that is a failure of management. You HAVE to confront this sort of problem and deal with it; it will otherwise spiral out of your control and you will look like (and be) a poor manager. It is not a personality issue here; it is a ‘not doing her job and taking feedback’ issue. Approach it like that and do your job. I’m betting odds are about 75% that she will improve if given VERY clear coaching on this.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I’m not sure if the odds are that high (I feel like it might be 50/50, if the defensiveness is as bad as I imagine) but either way, the manager is the one who must bring this issue to a head and either make progress or move to fire. No hiding or avoiding the issue!

      Reply
      1. Decima Dewey

        OP should meet with employee and make it crystal clear that OP is employee’s boss and not the higherup employee keeps ccing on emails.. Give employee feedback on the behaviors that are inappropriate and need to change ASAP. Then contact higherup to discuss the results of the meeting. Document behaviors that don’t change.

        FWIW, I’ve successfully worked with several bosses I’ve disliked, making it work as long as possible.

        Reply
  16. Business Cat

    This advice is so great! Being direct about the problems the OP is seeing could have a few different outcomes, all of which will be incredibly useful for figuring out how to move forward with the employee.
    *****
    For perspective, I started a new job about six months ago with a great department in a university. My manager noticed that when she gave me feedback, I would initially become defensive or upset, but over the course of the meeting would calm down and sort myself out. I knew it was an issue, but I didn’t know how to talk about it because it was embarrassing. I could tell it was ruffling her feathers that my responses were so *emotional* and that made me even more anxious. She prodded me about it and I shared that my last boss of two years had been verbally abusive, would discipline me for issues that he never made me aware of, and generally treated me with suspicion despite the fact that I was an extremely conscientious employee. I was terrified of failure and of being abused or humiliated for not being absolutely perfect at my new job.

    Since that discussion, she was able to shift the tone of the feedback she gave me in a way that has really changed the emotionality of my response (of course, I’ve also been working on it myself with therapy and daily doses of Ask a Manager and Captain Awkward!). Getting context for *why* I was having those problems was integral to improving the quality of our manager-employee relationship. I know that I can make mistakes, come to her with questions, and trust her judgment when I’m overly anxious. I got a fantastic review recently and have really been supported and encouraged here.
    *****
    TL;DR, OP, get direct with your employee. What you learn may surprise you.

    Reply
  17. (Different) Rebecca

    Just a note: the defensiveness is bad and she should stop that, but the tearing up may be out of her control.

    Signed,
    Someone who cries when she’s angry/stressed/happy/sad/tired/overwhelmed/serious/laughing/etc., etc., etc….

    Reply
  18. Phoenix Programmer

    I use to be this direct report. I really really really wish my first boss had managed me and given me tools to improve. Instead i learned it slowly the hard way.

    Some tips:
    Make sure your resentment of being forced to hire her is not coming across as this may cause her to feel attacked.

    A crying response can some times be stemmed by tightening your glutes.

    Explain the concepts of political capital, push back, hills to die in, etc.

    Be direct and explicit on items to change – spell it out and leave nothing implied.

    It may be useful to understand that a lot of adult children of alcoholics or other adults who escaped challenging childhoods have similar issues as the coworker you described. It was the root of my issues. Not armchair diagnosing but i think it is useful to be aware of common response to these sorts of issues to garner understanding and sympathy vs pure annoyance since its just an abnormal response for folks raised normally who cant understand why people would behave this way.

    Reply
      1. phoenix Programmer

        It works! A boss taught me in a women in leadership seminar. I tend to cry – stems from my fear of violence as a child and the glute thing works!

        Reply
    1. arn

      This is a good advice and I don’t mean to take away from it, but I’m trying not to laugh imagining the OP having the conversation Alison recommended and including the advice “a crying response can sometimes be stemmed by tightening your glutes!”

      Double points if she repeats it when the report reacts poorly to feedback on the spot…

      Reply
      1. Queen of the File

        Hahaha

        “Dear Alison… my direct report gets a really weird look on her face whenever I provide critical feedback, like she is trying to strain a muscle or something. It’s very off-putting. How do I address this?”

        Reply
    2. NacSacJack

      This was me too. No one taught me how to act in an professional environment. Sometimes we get shoved out in the world expecting to know it all and we dont. I have had issues for 25 years. Its hard to tell what the culture is when no one will mentor you. OP, thats your job, as much as you dont want to do it, you need to mentor this person.

      Reply
  19. manager with a BEC employee

    OMG, I am going through this! I have a newish employee who can be best described as my own personal BEC and it is taking A LOT of emotional energy to interact with her in a way that doesn’t reveal my feelings and maintains a working relationship. She talks non-stop, she frequently espouses harsh views (but not aimed at anyone), and she is exacting to an unbelievable degree.

    I know that all I can control is myself and any performance related issues, but the impact on my daily work life (stress and energy) is shocking to me.

    Reply
  20. Letter Writer

    Hello all! I actually sent Allison an update after she told me she was publishing this letter, and she suggested I post it here. Her advice was great, as usual. Hopefully the info below clarifies some things!

    This hire was sort of the last straw, and I found another job about a month after she was hired. In the interim, the director who insisted on hiring her was promoted to an executive position and left our department with no transition. This director was really notorious for being unavailable to her staff – I tried to raise some concerns I had about this hire during the interview process and Big Boss literally ran down the hallway away from me and into her office. She’s a nice person but an all-around terrible manager.

    The manager who had been out sick when this hire was interviewed kind of assumed she’d be next in line for our director’s job, and I thought she’d be promoted as well. Her poor management had caused almost 100% turnover in our department twice in three years, and people were pretty miserable working under her (classic combination of poor people skills and micromanager. She’d been directly named as the cause of leaving for all the employees in our department who left in their exit interviews).

    Thinking that she would be promoted, and knowing I’d have to work with this direct hire, I started looking for a new job and found a great new position pretty quickly. As it turns out, that manager wasn’t promoted – a director from another department was moved over, one who actually had dealt with a similar situation (someone being hired who reported to her that she didn’t want to hire) a year earlier. I think my manager not getting promoted was a wake-up call for her, and I think her being the cause of so many people quitting was directly related to her not getting promoted. The new director seems to be pretty aware of who/what the problem is.

    Unfortunately, I found out about this change after I’d already accepted a new job. I can’t say for sure that I would have stayed if I’d known. Probably not, because the organization was pretty dysfunctional, but I’m glad that someone FINALLY realized that if everyone is quitting because of one person, that person may be the problem! I don’t really have high hopes for anything actually changing, and at that point I was really fed up with the 5+ years of dysfunction I’d already endured.

    As for the new hire, I have gotten a few emails/texts from former faculty complaining about her, for the same reasons I had issues with her – lack of maturity, pushiness, over-familiarity.

    As for the issues I mentioned above – it was nearly impossible to give her instructions or feedback, because her primary concern was being “right” all the time, so even very very very gently pointing out that I needed her to do X slightly differently resulted in her immediately going on the attack and frantically trying to show that she’d actually been right to X a certain way, even if it wasn’t what I needed her to do.

    This may be more on the level of personal dislike, but I also found her extremely, extremely overly familiar with me and other people on the staff, to the point of it being offensive or coming across as really snotty. She misstepped with a couple of faculty members almost immediately because she refused to listen to my guidelines about professional behavior, and is in general a center-of-attention person, which I very much am not and I think is not the right personality for our particular role and industry.

    I’m enjoying my new job, the atmosphere is much better and less tense, and I don’t have to directly supervise anyone, which is great.

    Reply
    1. Helpful comment

      Can you describe the over familiarity? We’ve discisssd it some here but I’m curious where the line was for you. Good luck at the new job.

      Reply
      1. Letter Writer

        Thank you for the good wishes!

        I think the over-familiarity came from a combination of being very new to the workforce, being inexperienced, and being entitled. I had several coworkers mention to me that the new hire had made comments to them that were made jokingly, but coming from someone they didn’t know and hadn’t worked with were very off-putting.

        For example, poking fun at what a coworker was eating was one instance that was reported to me. It might not be strange to have someone you’ve known tease you, but a lot of what I was hearing about sounded like “jokes” that didn’t quite land because the new hire is new, and doesn’t know her coworkers very well, and instead of allowing time for those relationships to form, was trying to force everyone into new-best-friend mode.

        She also was a habitual interrupter, to the point where I would be trying to explain a work process or piece of equipment to her, and she would interrupt me to announce that “she KNEW what an X was!” Which, great that you know what that is, but I need to train you on why we have it and what to do with it.

        I didn’t mention in the letter, but I did make a good faith effort to start with a clean slate with her and really work closely with her for the first week or two, but her behavior was (in my opinion) pretty egregious, including using a tone of voice with me that I would NEVER have used with my boss.

        It wasn’t a question of wanting a different candidate – I wanted to continue interviewing, because I did not have confidence that she had the skills or the personality to succeed in the role we were filling.

        Reply
        1. Imaginary Number

          I may be in the minority here, but the examples you’re giving don’t seem all that egregious to me. Your former employee sounds obnoxious, but I feel like you had overly strong emotions about her that don’t necessarily match the severity of the situation.

          Jokes that are totally okay with old coworkers but not okay from a new hire: Understandably annoying but it’s the sort of awkwardness that happens a lot. If all of her coworkers are making casual jokes like that and she’s trying to fit in with the culture, it’s pretty understandable.

          Interrupting your explanation of something to say she knows what it is: that’s one where I have to agree with new employee. You’re taking the time to explain to her what something is and she’s letting know that she knows what it is so you can move past the basics.

          Reply
          1. Squeeble

            This seems to be getting into the territory of not taking the OP at their word. The examples seem pretty annoying to me.

            Reply
            1. Imaginary Number

              I’m not sure how having a different interpretation of an event is not not taking OP at their word. I can believe everything factually and still suggest a different way of looking at it.

              Reply
          2. Observer

            I totally disagree with you on the jokes. It’s not just about being new – these are the kinds of jokes you don’t make with most people, even if you’ve been working together for a while much less when you are new. You only make those joke if you know your audience VERY well and you have a REALLY good relationship and common language with them.

            As for the interrupting thing, that’s crazy making. So is the disrespectful tone. By that age, it’s time to understand that you don’t talk to your supervisor that way. Even when they are wrong.

            Reply
          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I don’t know; all of these examples seem obnoxious and egregious to me. They’re not categorically egregious in all contexts, but I have seen behavior like what OP describes rise to a level of egregiousness that is unprofessional, inappropriate, and warrants firing.

            Several commenters are jumping on the idea that OP is somehow biased simply because they did not like and lacked confidence in the new hire. But it’s also possible that OP disliked the employee and is still a completely reliable narrator. Everything OP has described sounds valid to me. I think we offer better advice when—in the absence of issues in the letter that serve to undermine confidence in OP’s version of events—we take the OP’s work-related concerns as valid.

            Reply
      2. Sloan Kittering

        Ooh yeah that’s the kind of performance issue that is super hard to deal with. I gave 50/50 odds for a positive outcome up above, but failure of interpersonal norms drags it down even lower.

        Reply
        1. Letter Writer

          Oh, and, when I did give her clear and direct feedback that that tone of voice was not okay, she claimed she “didn’t remember” it happening. Very convenient.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            Ugh. I hate this stuff. It’s a lot of extra work.
            “Well, I am telling you again. Going forward saying that you don’t remember will not be an acceptable answer. You need to control your tone of voice with people. It’s part of your job to get along with others. Getting along means being approachable and being interactive in an appropriate manner. It’s basic to the job and it’s not something someone forgets easily.”

            Reply
      3. Mananana

        We have a new hire that is in the “over-familiar” camp. As the receptionist, he didn’t have enough to do to keep himself busy. (The position had been vacant for several years, so much of the receptionist responsibilities had been farmed out over time, and Bosses were hesitant to give him all responsibilities at once).

        Because he was bored, he would roam about the halls, camping in the office of whomever wasn’t on the phone. He would insert himself in conversations that he didn’t need to be a part of, and would co-opt other coworkers’ inside jokes.

        I once had a meeting with a director from another agency; we were in my office, door partially open. Receptionist came in without knocking, introduced himself to my guest, then stood there. Waiting. For what seemed like forever. I finally asked him if there was something he needed; cluelessly he said “no” and remained there, glued to the spot. I then asked him to leave. Later I explained that he can’t walk in without invitation if 1) I have a guest or 2) my door is closed. He was quite surprised at this.

        Our office is not overly formal, but his level of informality and over-familiarity stood out. And not in a good way.

        Reply
    2. Snark

      Sounds like it worked out for the best for you, but I do wish you’d gotten the chance to have this conversation with her.

      This jumped at me:

      “so even very very very gently pointing out that I needed her to do X slightly differently resulted in her immediately going on the attack and frantically trying to show that she’d actually been right to X a certain way, even if it wasn’t what I needed her to do.”

      I’ve been in your shoes with a former direct report, and this kind of response is just EXHAUSTING. Eventually I ended up completely blowing up at her, which was absolutely the wrong thing to do, after she kept insisting she was right in a conversation about an error that had caused our client a significant expense and project delay which we were on the hook for. The eyeroll did it for me – I ballisticated. Not the right response, but “no no, this wasn’t a mistake, I did it right because reasons” is a ticket to the express train to BECville.

      Reply
      1. Letter Writer

        Yup. It basically made it impossible for me to train her. She was a smart but very inexperienced person, had pretty poor professional judgment, and was very, very bad at knowing how to handle situations diplomatically…which is really 70% of that job, which is a very forward-facing position.

        When she did things incorrectly, I would try to clarify why X needed to be done Y way, and couldn’t even get through an explanation because she would keep interrupting me to claim that “you said X yesterday!!” or “I did X Z way instead of Y way like you asked because reasons that are definitely good and that I should defend!!!” Eventually I realized it was taking me three times longer to get her to do relatively simple tasks, because most of my time was spent reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault, she didn’t do anything wrong, etc., etc.

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m a manager, I’m not a babysitter. The position wasn’t an entry level position, and while I would be more understanding of that behavior from an intern, I really think she was just not experienced enough to take on that position.

        Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          To be fair (and she sounds awful) I wonder if it would have made any impact to say, “when I’m trying to explain something, I’m seeing a pattern where you want to push back and argue about it. I don’t really need to know the reason you did it that way, but I need you to listen to my explanations without arguing or explaining. All I really need to hear from you is, ‘I understand and I’ll do it that way from now on.'”

          Reply
        2. Shadow

          Managing includes managing poor performers out and it frequently feels like babysitting until the person is gone

          Reply
        1. Letter Writer

          This actually wasn’t that unusual for her! She worked really hard at always being unavailable for her employees, and if you tried to catch her in the hall to talk to her, she would literally speed-walk away from you and scurry into her office! And this was usually in desperation after having emailed her multiple times with no response, called, tried to set up a meeting that she would flake on, etc.

          Reply
          1. Ego Chamber

            “if you tried to catch her in the hall to talk to her, she would literally speed-walk away from you and scurry into her office!”

            Well that’s just dumb. She obviously should have been entering and exiting via her office window—and if her office didn’t have a window, it’s something she should have demanded during her hiring negotiations because it’s “critical to the implementation of my management strategy.”

            Reply
        2. Imaginary Number

          Oh, yeah. That was the craziest part of the whole thing to me! Not so much the employee, but the boss!

          Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I’m glad you’ve found greener pastures, OP! And it sounds like a ticket out of the asylum was well in order. I’m glad it’s less tense and more functional. I’m sorry that you had this experience with your boss and new hire :(

      Reply
  21. Helpful comment

    The good news, LW, is that you can now separate the personal from the performance. I hope that gives you a little extra patience with the personality stuff so that you. An focus on actual work issues. Before, when they were muddied, I bet it was just a pile of ugh. Now it can be smaller pile of ugh and clear pile of issues you can (and should) address. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  22. Rush to Defend

    I wanted to make some suggestions for OP for when (not if) he sits down with New Hire to have a talk. I get defensive easily and often in a knee-jerk way and I have worked and still work to overcome this. Here are things I do that can help your employee:

    1. Breathe. Remind yourself that your WORK is being criticized, not YOU PERSONALLY. Remind yourself the goal is to become better at your craft. Feedback and constructive criticism are about honing your craft. It is not a personal attack (unless you are talking about working for a toxic boss, which we are not here).

    2. It’s okay if your gut instinct is to be defensive. Just do it in your head and not out loud.

    3. Do not interrupt while your boss is giving feedback. Respect their position. They know more than you. Listen and absorb and then repeat #1.

    4. If you really feel the urge to be defensive, stop and ask yourself, Why am I feeling this way? Why do I feel the need to defend myself? What do I want to achieve by pushing back? If your reasons are simply to “defend myself”, “protect my image”, “prove my point”, or similar, then don’t. Also, anything along the line “I didn’t do anything wrong and here’s why” is pretty primal, but again, repeat #1 and don’t.

    These have helped me greatly.

    Best of luck with your employee.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      These are good tips. This is the kind of mental place OP wants her employee to get to so in the conversation that happens about defensiveness, it’s good to have these suggestions in your back pocket.

      Reply
  23. Bea

    I’ve hated many co-workers over the years, mostly dramatic jerks that don’t like feedback. The only reason it worked out was they did their jobs and did them well enough. With a new hire I would give them their quirks as long as their miserable personality wasn’t effecting productivity.

    On the other hand I just fired a person who had the worse personality AND refused to do the job to my basic satisfaction. That was the easiest thing I’ve done in a long time and the office is without the storm cloud swooping in at times.

    Reply
  24. Justin

    (Random, but that picture on the Cut article is an apt representation of how this would probably feel managing this person. My lord they choose those well. :)

    Others have suggested many good things. Sorry if this is repeated, but will only reiterate that maybe it’s a self confidence issue? I never acted this way but with my confidence issues I can see how they could spiral if I didn’t have a handle on them. That doesn’t help how annoying it is, of course, but if there’s any way to talk to her about that when not speaking of an error or defensiveness in general, it might help. Of course, really, your boss should have waited for a stronger candidate, so.

    (This is in addition to, not instead of, the advice offered above.)

    Reply
  25. Matilda Jefferies

    There’s something else that might be contributing here, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. OP says

    I was told I’d have some say in the hiring process, which wasn’t true…

    OP, were you promised final say in the process or just some say? Because from what I can see, it’s not true that you didn’t have any say at all. You sat in on the interviews, and participated in evaluating the candidates. Just because the director disagreed with you at the end, doesn’t necessarily mean that he didn’t consider your opinion at all.

    So I wonder if you and your director had different perceptions of the hiring process, and if this is also colouring your perception of the employee? I get that you didn’t want to hire her in the first place, but if you’re feeling really forced into having her, that might reinforce whatever feelings of dislike you already had.

    I don’t know if I’m overthinking it, and of course you did also say that she has legitimate performance problems which need to be addressed. But there’s something in that one sentence there, that makes me wonder if there’s something else going on, and if you’re dissatisfied in other areas of your work as well. Feel free to ignore me if this doesn’t ring true, of course!

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer

      I specifically asked my director if I would have any say in the process because this person reports directly to me (on paper and in reality) and she assured me that my input would be considered. After we flamed out during the interview process, she told me in passing in the hall that she was hiring this person, and I said I had some serious reservations, I really wanted to interview at least one or two more people, and could we talk about these concerns? And then she literally ran away from me.

      I never expected to have final say in the process, but I also didn’t expect my boss to hire someone I had serious reservations about (reservations that turned out to be founded).

      Reply
      1. Matilda Jefferies

        Ugh. That does sound pretty awful. It’s one thing to listen to someone’s concerns and take them seriously, even if you ultimately disagree with them; and another thing entirely to not even acknowledge that they *have* concerns. I’m sorry to hear it – sounds like you’re in a tough situation all around.

        Reply
  26. Stellaaaaa

    Personally, it would not occur to me to CC OP’s supervisor unless the supervisor (and in this case, the person who overrode OP to hire me) told me to do so. As an employee, nothing is worse than getting different directives from different managers who blame me for the confusion while refusing to speak to each other about it. You’re not speaking to either your supervisor or your employee about this problem, and you’re defaulting to assuming malicious intent on the employee’s part. How come?

    OP, managers don’t get to cherry-pick the parts of management that they want to perform. She might be mediocre at her job, but you have actively chosen not to do yours. I understand that she’s not the perfect employee for the role, but your description of the hiring process makes it seem like your supervisor had realistic expectations of what the job description/salary was going to attract; if two people drop out of the process after the interview, one person applied despite being utterly unqualified, and the winning candidate is only okay-decent, I would resign myself to the fact that this employee was probably the best one for the role as it was presented.

    You don’t want to gain a reputation for holding a grudge against employees who are unable to read your mind. You don’t want this employee to give an exit interview describing you as an absent manager who created a paper trail of problems that she never even knew about because you’d rather let her go than perform your job of managing her. Are you really documenting problems behind the scenes without first taking the step of talking to her? This is going to fall on you, not her. Don’t create a situation where she has no idea she’s on her last chance.

    Reply
  27. Jaybeetee

    I’ve seen the comments here that OP is no longer in the situation, but I wanted to weigh in for anyone else in this situation who might be reading, speaking as a recovering-defensive-person (I learned awhile ago not to argue like this on the job, but it has caused me interpersonal issues).

    If you’re a young person who was a high achiever in school, and perhaps have fairly cold parents, you learn that every and any criticism means You’re a Total Failure And You Suck. (Even more so if you have a previous crappy job where you *were* raked over the coals for every mistake – see earlier letter). Based on how OP portrays this youngish employee, she’s probably still in the mode where any feedback is an attack on her intellect and abilities, and in her mind every minor error is going to lead to her getting fired, so she fights tooth and nail. And there’s OP, who just wants to tell a new employee how to do something correctly, and is actually closer to firing young employee for her *attitude* than for the actual errors.

    From experience, soft-peddling and reassurance actually tends to play into this attitude, and being a bit blunter might be the actual way to go. Basically say you’re not interested in an argument, you’re interested in her learning this procedure, or correcting her errors, or what have you. Even then, she likely wouldn’t get it the first time, but would eventually realize that arguing would get her nowhere…and might hopefully also see that despite regular feedback, she’s not getting fired and still receiving good reviews, as those fears might be playing into her reactions.

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer

      Jaybeetee, I think you’re on to something – I actually saw a lot of myself in this employee. I seriously cringe when I think of some of the mistakes I made when I was young!

      I don’t want to go down the road of psychoanalyzing someone I didn’t really know, but I think that she (like me) was an intelligent person and a good student but confused being smart with having good judgment or maturity. I made a LOT of missteps when I was new to the workplace because I was coming out of an environment that ran on very different rules (academia) than the workplace, and I was smart and got really good grades, so therefore why couldn’t I take on big huge complicated project? And I also took negative feedback as a referendum on me as a person, versus just feedback. I at least had the benefit of several years of retail experience and a lot of volunteer experience so my soft skills were pretty developed, but it took me a while to figure out workplace norms, especially since my first job was beyond toxic and was really scarring.

      HOWEVER, that being said, that is definitely not the type of person I wanted to hire in this role and what I actively wanted to avoid. This role was a very front-facing role that required building close relationships with our faculty and successfully balancing competing priorities, and I needed someone with good judgment, discretion, maturity, and the ability to stay calm in stressful situations. I did not want someone high-strung who needed constant reassurance and validation.

      Reply
      1. Imaginary Number

        I know I have that tendency. If I see someone who’s making the same social or professional mistakes I made when I was younger, I get super annoyed, especially when I believe they’re not picking up what’s wrong about it as quickly as I did. For some reason seeing your own former faults in someone else is worse than seeing a fault you never really dealt with.

        Reply
        1. Letter Writer

          Yup – the whole experience was very eye-opening. Shortly before I left (before I knew I was leaving) I tried to have a “reset” conversation with her to see if we could make the best of working together, and she told me that she knew she was smart, so why weren’t we trusting her with her own programs already? She’d been there for…a month? I realized at that point that she completely conflated being smart with being able to handle the complexities of the job, not realizing that *intelligence* is not the same thing as *wisdom.* I don’t want to give too many identifying details about our job away, but it required a lot of time with our faculty and very carefully building relationships with them while keeping our organization’s priorities always in mind, and being caught between the two was often a really delicate line to walk.

          I frankly have no confidence that she’ll be able to figure this out on her own. I had a very difficult experience at my first job but I’m actually grateful for it because it knocked me out of the mindset that being smart meant I should be allowed to work on whatever I wanted, or that my ideas were all valuable, and it was really humbling. I’m glad it happened when I was younger and the stakes were relatively low before I’d gotten too entrenched. I think that unless something similar happens to her, she’s going to continue behaving this way. I do also feel sorry for her because on the whole, the organization is pretty dysfunctional, and it’s a difficult place to work at the best of times.

          Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      This is helpful and so wise/on-point. I agree that being blunter also helps. When I’ve had to deal with people who are defensive in this way, I interrupt them (I have literally had to signal “time out” to get them to stop). Then I’ve had a framing conversation. I’ve also started requiring mandatory reading as part of training, and one of the pieces that’s included for new interns and very inexperienced folks is Taking Feedback Well. It can sometimes be helpful—and less embarrassing—for an inexperienced employee to adopt the same “studying for the class I’m trying to ace” mode of learning that they used in college.

      I’ve found that people who want to succeed listen and very slowly adjust. It can be painful. But I’ve found that people who think they’re so smart that I have nothing to offer them (despite having a great deal more experience) are more resistant to feedback, in part because it challenges their myths about their self-worth being tied up in their smartness/rightness. But being more direct can be helpful, as can be guiding questions.

      Reply
  28. Akcipitrokulo

    That does sound frustrating. I wonder if looking at it from other side could help? a young, new person’s manager didn’t want her and doesn’t like her. She can’t seem to please manager who is getting more and more distant…

    At that stage in my career? I’d get teary too :)

    I get it must be really difficult to deal with – hopefully script will help! But if employee is wary, it may take time to rebuold relationship.

    Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        Disagree. If it’s presented in an inappropriate, possibly agressive way by someone who obviously disliked you fromantic moment you walked in door (not necessarily saying this OP was doing that) then yeah, defensive is reasonable.

        Reply
  29. LawBee

    One thing that I’ve been taught when giving performance/behavior feedback is to name the specific behavior. Like “Sally, when I talked to you about the errors on your spreadsheet calculations last week, you got tears in your eyes, you crossed your arms in front of you and looked away, and you spoke in a shaky voice. This makes me feel like you have a difficult time accepting feedback.” and then slide into the suck it up buttercup speech.

    Reply
  30. Undine

    I would say in general it’s a terrible idea for a superior to override the decision of the person who will be actually managing a hire. In some few cases, with a new manager who doesn’t know how to hire or what to look for, it might make sense, but even then the overrider should be very direct and say what they see the manager needing to learn from the decision. Otherwise, if the manager is saying, basically “I don’t think I can manage this person in a way that gets good work from them,” it’s probably a good idea for the superior to listen.

    We had a hire like that, and she was a total disaster. She ended up fired and I, as her peer, was so glad, even if it meant picking up extra work for six months.

    Reply
  31. TootsNYC

    This from Alison:

    If it helps, remind yourself that by actively managing her — giving her feedback and guidance and addressing it forthrightly if she reacts poorly to that — you’ll be bringing the situation to a head sooner. Either she’ll cut down on the defensiveness, in which case your job will get much easier and you’ll probably stop dreading these conversations so much … or she won’t, in which case you’ll now have a pretty serious performance problem on your hands: an employee who has ignored repeated warnings about her behavior, which is a lot easier to address than a vague feeling that you just don’t like her.

    …made me think of the cognitive behavioral therapy my son did for his OCD, and that cat rescue people do with cats.

    You force the anxiety, and then you keep things steady and normal and pleasant WHILE the anxiety plays out.

    So, force her into the anxiety that her defensiveness indicates is there. WHILE she’s being defensive, be totally calm. Make it be a safe space–so, no exasperation, no anger, no attack. Just pleasant firmness, and pleasantness after it’s over.

    I call that, “Channel your inner daycare worker.” (bcs in my kids’ great daycare, the teachers never, ever got mad; they knew their authority, and they were completely above all the preschool drama)

    Maybe even give her a kitty treat whenever she drops the defensiveness.
    Maybe even say, with a smile, “See, that wasn’t so bad.”

    But if you wimp out at any point, you will undo the “training.”

    I think people get defensive when they are afraid that criticism will kill them. So many people have never had the experience of receiving feedback, correction, or even instruction without it being couched as a scolding.

    So watch VERY carefully that you never go there.

    Reply
  32. Katie Fay

    I was you 18 months ago, completely, with the addition that the new employee thought she was brilliant and thoroughly experienced – she was neither. I learned a lot about my boss during this period … like she was disconnected, distracted, couldn’t think beyond her own needs and over-inflated vision of herself, and that she didn’t understand that her success was a derivative of her team’s success. The problem quickly became my boss and I realized I was losing impact in the organization because I worked for her. So, I found a new and wonderful job and left the organization. Seven months after my departure, I received a text from someone who also used to work for me that my boss was fired. Yes, I felt somewhat validated.

    Reply
  33. Training is needed, don't stand alone

    It sounds like several people need training, e.g., a simple $200 course or two offered by Fred Pryor or SkillPath, etc. Using words like “hate” and “dislike” regarding your employee indicates that management training, or coping tools, may be needed to handle the frustrating situation.

    ALSO, the manipulating, TEARING UP employee needs to KNOCK IT OFF and be taught appropriate office behavior — by an outside trainer. Send the employee to a seminar on correcting unprofessional behavior, or whatever the provider calls it BUT also send more than the one employee. Don’t signal out one person, yet. Immature behavior like that of the employee is covered in such seminars. Let that person sit there, and hear herself described, and more importantly, hear how intolerable that behavior is in the workplace, and how people will put an end to it. The seminar won’t be called that, but you get the idea.

    Same with the person who signed off on the hire, and stuck you in the middle…find a seminar for you and her in which you know she’ll hear about the challenges of supervising in such a situation as yours.

    Reply

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