my assistant thinks she’s my peer

A reader writes:

I’m a (relatively) recent grad who has been working at my company for six months. After working here for around two months, my direct superior left, and I took over all of her work. This has been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed having so many responsibilities when I’m still new to the workforce. Because of the amount of work I’ve taken on, my boss hired an assistant specifically to help me with my workload. She’s an assistant to the entire office, but most of her job has her working with me. I’m not her manager, but she has a number of tasks that I oversee and sign off on and I’m a few rungs above her in the hierarchy.

She does her work well, but here’s the thing: we’re similar in age, and I think that makes her speak much more candidly with me than other coworkers. She borders on rude in conversations, especially if I correct her on anything or ask her to do something differently, and she asserts herself in projects so much it seems that she forgets I’m the one with final say. We’re working on a project that my new boss is focusing a lot of attention on, and my assistant is full of ideas on how to improve it. This is great, but she’s very new to this industry and very very early in her career, so sometimes her ideas aren’t feasible or just wouldn’t work for our company. When I tell her that X won’t work and why not and suggest something else, she usually argues with me or else sends back very terse responses that indicate she thinks it’s a terrible/dumb idea. She also overshares things with me—like she openly tells me that she’s looking for a new job. I understand why (this isn’t the industry she ultimately wants to be in and she isn’t receiving any benefits here), but this seems like TMI for me, especially in the office when we’re communicating about business projects. She often oversteps by volunteering to do work on projects that no one has asked for, or phrasing her ideas as things we’re 100% going to do without asking me for feedback.

I hate pulling rank, but it’s gotten to the point where after going back and forth about something and her not listening feedback, I basically say “Okay, well, this project is my wheelhouse and I think we need to go with *whatever my suggestion was.*” We’re having a meeting with my boss soon about the project, and I’m concerned this assistant is going to take over the meeting with her (frankly bad) ideas and make it look like I don’t know how to manage her, or that we don’t know how to communicate with one another. I also still have an incredibly demanding workload, and frankly going back and forth with her on projects is starting to create more work (and a lot of frustrations) for me. I know how annoying it is to be an assistant and feel like your ideas aren’t getting heard, but she really needs to learn her place in the company, or at least learn to communicate more respectfully.

Is there any way I can talk to her about how she communicates? I’m uncomfortable doing this because I’m not directly her manager, but I work more closely with her than anyone else and I doubt she speaks to our boss the same way. Should I say something, or should I just deal with it?

I wrote back and asked: “Do you think she’s clear on the fact that she’s your assistant and you’re not peers?”

I’ve wondered this too, but I have to assume so. She’s definitely clear on the difference in our titles, and when she was hired she made a comment that she was a step above an intern (and hired on a very temporary basis, which has since been extended).

But the more I think about it, the more I think that that would explain it. However, like I said, she knows the difference in our titles and will often say “well it’s your decision” if I’ve gone back and forth with her about something. She’s generally a little clueless about how this industry works (and office etiquette in general), so maybe she doesn’t understand that usually assistants don’t get to be this assertive and argumentative for projects they’re helping with. But I have no idea how to tell someone they’re being too assertive for their position.

Sometimes the most effective way to make it clear to someone that you have authority over them is to really clearly exercise that authority.

It’s great that you want to be nice and supportive to her — you should be nice and supportive! — but you’re probably not be doing her any favors by allowing this behavior to continue. It’s likely to get her in trouble with someone who isn’t so nice, either at your company or at future jobs. (Plus, at some point your boss is going to catch on to what she’s doing, and it’s not likely to reflect well on her when that happens.)

You have two different ways you can deal with it: You can sit her down for a conversation about it or you can try calling out the behavior in the moment when it’s happening. I’m generally a fan of addressing the big picture (“hey, here’s a pattern; what’s going on?”) but with the dynamics you described, you might be able to get the results you want just by being more forthright in the individual situations as they occur.

For example:

  • When she argues with you how you plan to proceed on a project, look visibly surprised (frankly, annoyed wouldn’t be out of line either) and say this: “I’ve actually made the decision to do X, so let’s discuss how we’re going to move forward with that.”
  • If she send you emails that indicate she thinks what you’re doing is dumb, ask her to come talk to you in person and then say this: “I’m a little taken aback by your email and am not sure how to interpret it. I understand that you had a different idea, but I’m planning to do it differently and need you on board with that. Can you do that?”
  • If she’s rude when you correct her or ask her to do something differently, say this: “Hey, that response really concerns me. I need to be able to ask you to do things differently and have you take it in stride. Is everything okay?” (If what she said was openly rude, change that last part to, “Please don’t talk to me or anyone else here that way.”)
  • If she talks about looking for a new job, say this: “It puts me in an awkward position to know that since you’re assisting on my projects. I’m going to request that you not use me as a sounding board for that.”
  • If she phrases an idea as something you’re 100% going to do when she hasn’t run it by you, say this: “Let’s talk about that before you do anything definite with it. I’d want to hear more before okaying it.”

Of course, in general, people should be open to hearing staffers’ ideas, hearing dissent, and so forth. But in this case, you have someone who’s really unclear on the boundaries of her role, and so clearly calling out those boundaries might get her to realize that she’s overstepping — and even if it doesn’t, these are still reasonable boundaries for you to assert.

But if you do this a few times and don’t see a change — or if you’d rather just cut to the chase — then sit down and have a conversation with her about the pattern. You could say something like this: “I want to talk about how we work together. It’s great that you have ideas and I don’t want to discourage that, but I also need you to be clear on our roles on the projects we’re working on together. I appreciate your input, but ultimately I need to make the decisions I think are best for my projects. When I make a different choice than the one you hoped I’d make, I need you to roll with that — not argue or be short with me. The same thing goes when I need to correct your work or ask you to do something differently; I need you to be okay with that, not become snippy. And overall, I need you to operate with the understanding that I’m managing these projects and will be calling the shots on them. Can you do that?”

In addition to doing one or both of these things, you should also loop in your manager about what’s going on. The rudeness, in particular, is a serious issue and your manager should be aware that it’s happening and that you’re working to address it. Since she’s the assistant’s boss, it’s actually crucial that you talk to her about it — both because she may have no idea this is happening and might be inadvertently saying things to the assistant that are reinforcing the problem and, more importantly, because a decent manager will want to know that someone on her staff is being rude to the coworkers she was hired to assist.

{ 153 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Observer

    Allison gave you excellent advice, as usual. I would just add that you can (and should, in this case) “pull rank” a bit sooner than you have been. When she objects to something, you can explain your reasoning, but don’t leave it at that. Use some of Alison’s language to explicitly close the conversation.

    “That’s an interesting idea but it won’t work because of x,y and z. So, we’re going to go ahead as I originally outlined.”

    Reply
    1. Lance

      Agreed; ‘pulling rank’ isn’t inherently a bad thing, even though it can sometimes feel like it is. After all, the fact is, your rankings are different; while you may not have direct authority over her, you do have some authority over the work being done, so don’t be afraid to assert it if you need to.

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      1. Kyrielle

        This. And they are different *for a reason* of both role and knowledge. This is not like two kids on the playground deciding what to play, and the older/bigger kid “wins” and the other kid does something they don’t like, because power imbalance.

        This is adults getting a job done, and she’s being paid to do what needs to be done for the company – and you are in a better position to determine which ideas and approaches should be used and which shouldn’t be. The company gets its best value out of the money it spends on both of you when you assert your authority appropriately. (Which it sounds like you want to do – it doesn’t sound like you want to shut down the ideas, just get her to accept that they may not be implemented – and to be polite about things.)

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          And as someone on the lower end of the power dynamic, I can tell myself, well I’m being paid a lower salary so that I DON’T have to worry about these things. My job is only to x, that’s what I’m here for, so I’m going to do that and go home feeling good.

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        1. sstabeler

          the way I usually interpret it, “pulling rank” is where you’re saying, effectively, “I’m the boss, so shut up”- in other words, where the ONLY reason you get things your way is because you’re the boss. Clearly, in the OP’s case, that isn’t true- the reason the assistant’s ideas were rejected were because they weren’t feasible- so “pulling rank” in the perjorative sense is impossible.

          Reply
    2. Snark

      It sounds like the problem is that the assistant hears that and goes, “Well yes but reasons,” and that’s where I think the rank pulling needs to get explicit: “I understand, but this is my project and my decision, and now that I’ve made it, I don’t want to litigate it, so let’s move forward.”

      Reply
      1. AdAgencyChick

        Yup. If you start with “It won’t work because X, Y, and Z,” it gives her the chance to argue X, Y, and Z.

        If you start with, “Thanks for your input. Ultimately it’s my decision and we will be proceeding with the plan as I outlined it,” there’s less opportunity for argument. Resentment, sure, but it’s not OP’s job to make the assistant feel warm and fuzzy if she’s shown she doesn’t respond well to feedback.

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    3. A. Non

      +1 on this, but also– think of your language when you speak with her. Don’t use ‘I think’. Use ‘we are going to’. ‘I think’ still leaves room for wiggle, like if she can change your mind with her reasoning you’ll cave to her. Don’t leave even that opening.

      Reply
  2. Interviewer

    Since she was hired on a temporary basis, shouldn’t she actually be job-searching? Maybe you have some leads on where she can look, or advice on what to avoid. In fact, maybe you can be really helpful to her.

    Reply
    1. clow

      I was thinking this too. Any time I have worked on a temporary basis, my managers and coworkers have all encouraged me to search for jobs and leave if I need to. This does not in anyway negate the rudeness and overstepping boundaries, but the job search part seems normal to me.

      Reply
    2. Doug Judy

      I’m in a temp position now (covering a maternity leave) and my boss knows I’m obviously looking for full time employment. She lets me off whenever I have an interview and has offered to be a reference. The looking for a job isn’t that weird if she’s just a temp. The rest of the stuff should be addressed though.

      Reply
    3. my two cents

      Eh, depends on how the assistant is talking about the job hunt. They’ve already extended the timeline for the role, but we don’t know if that was another 3 months or another full year.
      But it’s one thing to be concerned about continuity of employment, and talking about securing a role for AFTER the temp role has ended versus telling the associate that you’re assisting (thus, the main reason for the current assistant role) that you’re “looking for a new job”.

      Reply
    4. Kyrielle

      She should be! But talking about it with a supervising employee or boss, other than when securing a reference or applying internally to the company, is kind of weird. Of course she’ll be hunting, but a blow-by-blow or even update on the status of the search is generally not called for.

      (There are, of course, exceptions. My husband kept his previous employer updated during his job search. They were in bankruptcy and closing down, and he was one of the last people scheduled to be let go – he let them know when he thought he was going to get an offer, and they held on to the other guy with the same skill set until the next week when my husband confirmed he had the offer and was accepting. So my husband resigned and the other guy got to stay on through the closing, since he hadn’t found anything yet. But that’s an unusual circumstance.)

      Reply
    5. Antilles

      I think the key here I just is how much the temp is talking about it. It’s well understood that she’s searching, but it doesn’t really need to be brought up constantly.
      If I was in OP’s shoes, I’d sort of mentally consider the job-search talk almost like if she was talking about a hobby instead (trivia, fantasy football, puzzles, whatever): If it’s brought up infrequently when something big happens, that’s totally fine and you just sort of have to politely nod for 30 seconds because that’s how it goes. But if she’s bringing it up too often or lingering on the topic too long, then you shouldn’t hesitate to redirect the conversation.

      Reply
  3. hbc

    I don’t remember where I read this (Difficult Conversations?), but sometimes it helps to make clear up front what kind of decision making process you’re going to have. Commanding (you’re telling her what to do), consulting (she gives input, you decide), collaborating (you and she are coming to a mutual decision), or delegating (she decides.)

    It might seem obvious, especially if you both know your respective positions, but people can get surprisingly confused when the opinion you sought for informational purposes ends up not being exactly what you put into practice.

    This probably won’t solve everything given how combative she’s being, but the clarity both helps fend of discussions you don’t want (“Like I said, I’ve already decided the layout, I’m not debating the merits of line versus bar graphs right now) and make it perfectly clear to the manager that she is ignoring instructions if she continues. Bonus points if you’ve got examples of things on which you *did* collaborate or delegate.

    Reply
    1. Turquoisecow

      That’s a good point. If OP (or a boss in general) goes to the assistant and asks for help on the early stages (conception and design), it might seem odd or insulting to the assistant if her input is then discarded later on. Assistant feels involved and needed, only to then get shot down and dismissed.

      It reminds me of (former) friends of mine who would ask for advice and then never take it. Obviously a work situation is different in that the boss knows more than the assistant and has experience and etc., but I could see how an inexperienced (to office work in general) assistant would get confused.

      Personally, and maybe the assistant here is the same way, I’d rather have a clear authoritative boss who is upfront about my place in the hierarchy than a boss who acts like we’re collaborators only to then have my ideas or myself dismissed off hand.

      Reply
    2. Snark

      I’m wondering if the LW is uncomfortable in an authoritative role and has given the assistant too much of an impression that they’re peers and collaborators, when LW really has more of a consultative or commanding process in mind?

      Reply
    3. Mallory Janis Ian

      I’ve never really explicitly thought about the distinctions between these processes, and reading them has made me realize what I liked so much about working with a previous boss above all my other bosses. My most recent boss delegated a lot to me, and I never felt much of a connection with him or the work. My boss before him, though, consulted with me; I would give him good intel, and he appreciated that and would decide what to do with it. I would guess that most people have a type of decision making process that they’re most comfortable with, or that they expect to be the default way of operating. It sounds as if the assistant assumes that things are being delegated to her when really some other sort of process is in play.

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    4. Cedrus Libani

      I worked somewhere that had a culture of doing this explicitly, and it was great.

      Also, if your boss pulled rank, you could place a token bet on the outcome. As in: “I hear you, but I still want you to do X.” “Sure, I’ll try it this afternoon. Bet you a dollar that it won’t work.” This allowed for a healthy level of score keeping, while ensuring that work moved along. (Our resident TurboTech had a trophy wall of dollar bills in her work space…she’d been doing the job since before most of the bosses were born. For my own part, I was once so confident that I bet $5, an astronomical sum, and then had to pay up the next morning…)

      Reply
  4. Snark

    I’m voting for the sitdown, very specific conversation. My impression is that the assistant is really clueless about her role, LW’s role, and how office hierarchy works in general, and I think she’s going to need a strong hand to reel her in.

    And I think, in addition to Alison’s excellent sample script, LW needs to make it clear that litigating the merits of the assistant’s input is something that’s got to end. “In particular, I’ve noticed that you tend to argue strongly in favor of a certain decision after I make it clear what my decision is, and that really needs to end. I appreciate input and I like your ideas, but once I’ve called the shot, I need you to move forward productively, not hash over it again.”

    Also something like this sounds warranted: “When we meet with Boss next Thursday, I need you to be very clear that that meeting isn’t an opportunity for you to introduce and advocate for your own ideas. We’ll be presenting him with the way forward that I’ve decided on, and I would like for that to not get sidetracked or derailed. Whether or not you agree, I need you to support my decision. Can you commit to that?”

    Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      Yes! Given that the meeting with the boss is coming up soon, I vote for sitting down with your assistant now, today, and addressing the big picture. Say (almost!) exactly what you said in your letter here:

      We’re having a meeting with my boss soon about the project, and I’m concerned this assistant is going to take over the meeting with her (frankly bad) ideas and make it look like I don’t know how to manage her, or that we don’t know how to communicate with one another.

      If you’re concerned that your assistant will undermine you in front of your boss, that’s pretty serious, and warrants a serious conversation. Whether she’s doing it deliberately or not doesn’t matter – the point is you need her to stop behaving this way, right away. Good luck!

      Reply
      1. Matilda Jefferies

        I am all about the HTML fails this week. You want to say something like this:

        We’re having a meeting with my boss soon about the project, and I’m concerned this assistant is going to take over the meeting with her … ideas and make it look like … we don’t know how to communicate with one another.

        Reply
        1. Matilda Jefferies

          And change the pronouns, obviously. The point is you want to address this specific problem directly with her, before you meet with the boss if possible.

          (And I will stop commenting now until I can formulate my thoughts a bit more clearly!)

          Reply
      2. SSS

        I’d definitely address it before the meeting… I see 2 primary options. 1) since she’s an assistant, does she have to be at the meeting? Wouldn’t you go as the lead on the project and you’d update her after the meeting with the decisions? 2) If she is going to be at the meeting, you have a chat with her several days ahead of time and express your concerns to her that she has a tendency to argue and override your decisions and that you expect her participation in this meeting to be appropriate to her role as your ASSISTANT which means supporting your decisions and not attempting to hijack the plan with ideas that you’ve already told her are not approved by you.

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    2. AthenaC

      I agree that I think the conversation should come first. If the OP starts correcting the behavior in the moment, that’s a change in pattern that will likely be confusing to the assistant, especially since she’s already shown herself to be not great with picking up hints. Nothing wrong with that inherently – it just means you have to be clear about the behavior change you want to see rather than waiting for her to pick up on the pattern of correction and fixing it on her own.

      I am one of those people who is EXTREMELY dense, and as such I much prefer working with people who will tell me clearly and without hesitation what I’m doing wrong. So I can actually fix it. I simply don’t pick up on anything through the politeness dance and the hinting games that most people do. Similarly, I understand better from overall discussions of behavior patterns rather than in-the-moment feedback whack-a-mole.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        And I feel like when people who are conflict-averse try to use hints and address things in the moment, it never coheres into a clear directive of “please do not do the thing” that they think it naturally will and should. So it ends up being a bunch of little corrections and hints and the person keeps doing the thing because they never actually got told that the pattern was a problem, not the particular thing in the moment.

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      2. Jennifer Thneed

        > I am one of those people who is EXTREMELY dense

        Jeez, you and me both, sister. Right down to the point where a branch manager (where I stopped in sometimes for my corporate email but didn’t work there) told me that she’d told her people that they needed to dress less casually/more professionally, and I told her that seemed like a good idea, since they’re all public-facing.

        A month or so later, *my* boss mentioned it to me, and that I was supposed to have understood that it applied to me too! That I shouldn’t drop by in my (non-denim) overalls to pick up my mail. I was … gobsmacked. Why didn’t she just SAY so? I could have handled hearing it. But instead, she thought I was ignoring her oh-so-obvious hint. When actually I was taking her literally at face value in a pleasant little chat we shared.

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        1. Jennifer Thneed

          > (where I stopped in sometimes for my corporate email but didn’t work there)

          …that would be my corporate MAIL. Sheesh. The email lived in my laptop, with the elves and gremlins.

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        2. AthenaC

          Oh my gosh – I have basically done that exact thing multiple times to one of the nicest managers we had, who had the misfortune of working with me. A lot.

          He would say things like, “In X context, the partner expects Y procedures.” And I would respond with, “Well they shouldn’t do it that way – it’s more efficient (and recommended by regional leadership) to do Z procedures.” Completely missing that what he was TRYING to say was, “On this project where I am managing you, I want you to do Y procedures. Period.” But because he didn’t say it that way, I never did Y procedures.

          Now, I got away with it because I was right, but that doesn’t change the fact that if he had only clearly said, “I want you to do Y procedures,” I would have done it his way.

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        3. The gold digger

          It’s so easy to say – as I did to my intern when she wore a cold shoulder shirt – “That’s too much skin to show at work. Don’t wear that again, please.”

          And she said, “OK.”

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    3. LCL

      I really, really dislike using the word need in a work context, unless one is talking about a physical process. It appears really weak and suggests compliance is optional. The teapots need to have primer applied before painting or the paint won’t stick, OK. You need to make the teapots ready to paint, no.

      I would use what Snark says, except, tweak to stronger words like you must or you will because that is your job.

      Hey Snark, is this the first time you’ve been accused of being too kind?

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think saying “you must” or “you will” is a tone managers generally shouldn’t use. You can clearly state what the requirements of the job are without using a tone that most people will find way more aggressive than is required for clear communication.

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      2. Elizabeth H.

        Huh, I have a very different reaction to the word “need” – it doesn’t sound weak at all or suggest compliance is optional – to me it suggests the opposite!

        I don’t love the wording because it reminds me of the way you talk to young children in a classroom or that you’re babysitting or something, but that’s just individual preference I think.

        Reply
        1. FormerEmployee

          I agree. Since the word “need” means “necessary”, I think it is a good way to end the discussion. By using “need” you are saying that something must be done a certain way.

          Reply
  5. Falling Diphthong

    An earlier letter this week brought up the sheep-and-goats analogy, and I think this is a good example of when you need the goat to stop asking “But why? why? why? why? why?” Like toddlers who do this not from scientific curiosity, but because it will keep an adult engaged. It can reflect imperfect application of advice like “Ask questions to show you’re engaged,” “Find problems and show you can find solutions,” “Show gumption.” Where the nuanced advice would be more “Ask occasional questions; they shouldn’t be easily googleable, already in the project notes, or things that will answer themselves if you do the process a couple of times.”

    This isn’t confined to very new employees: in a manager directing constant queries downward it’s called micromanaging. Both take perfectly good baseline advice about being engaged and drive it to the point where the people working with you just want you to be quiet and let them finish something,

    Reply
  6. MidThirties

    This is exactly me, but with someone who is 84.

    I’m at my wits end, and don’t know how to proceed with my job.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      I think you can use the same script Alison provided. The age difference doesn’t actually matter. If you’re the decision-maker, you’re allowed to, and entitled to, pull some rank.

      Reply
      1. Alli525

        Exactly! There’s an added social factor of “they’re older than me = do I have to show them respect*?” (*whatever that means – it seems to mean different things to different generations) … but in the corporate world, rank always outranks age.

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    2. Jesmlet

      At any age, if you grew up in a culture of “respect your elders”, it’s hard to break that and change your habits in the work force. How you proceed is with the exact same process as Alison outlined. It’s no different, it just may be a little harder.

      Reply
  7. Bibliovore

    Alison, you often conclude a meeting with a report with “Can you do that?” I have said, “I need you to do that. ” I am sensing there is a difference. Would you be able to explicate?

    Reply
      1. Lizcat Editor

        And if they don’t follow through, the boss can hold their word over them. As in, “You said you’d be able to follow my lead/back me up and you did exactly the opposite. Can you tell me the problem?”

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      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yep — it’s because if you just say “I need you to do this” and stop there, there’s no obvious opening where the other person is expected to indicate they agree. Plus, if they are going to carry around objections to this, you need to know it now. You want them to explicitly say “yes, I get it.”

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    1. BRR

      I think because in this case, the coworker is having an issue recognizing and respecting what her and the LW’s roles are that this needs to be a directive and leave no holes that this could be up for debate.

      Reply
    2. NW Mossy

      I tend to go with “can you” over “I need you to” because what you’re looking for as the leader is not blind compliance, but a conscious choice from your direct to commit to a certain course of action even if they disagree.

      I’ve also found that “need” is tricky when you’re dealing with a direct that’s defensive, as they’re somewhat more likely to respond with efforts to logically undermine the basis for the need, which can become tiresome and frustrating for the manager. By asking for their commitment through “can,” you’re emphasizing that the discussion is centered on whether or not they’re willing to do what’s asked, not the logical foundation for the ask.

      Reply
  8. Lil Fidget

    Let me just add, my org LOVES this set up (an assistant doesn’t report directly to the person they assist) – and I think it sucks, and it sets up this exact dynamic, so this is also a structural problem for OP. At the end of the day, an employee listens most to the person who provides their review and who has authority to fire them – they know where their paycheck comes from. It makes it very difficult to appropriately manage someone who knows you are not this person. They don’t really “have” to listen to you, if there’s a “big boss” waiting in the wings whose opinion ultimately is the one that matters (to make it even better, mine is offsite so they really don’t even know what’s up).

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Ugh, I loathe this setup. I think it’s rooted in a “well, but Dweezil is only a Llama Scratcher II, management isn’t in his job description, so he can’t have a direct report” kind of overly literal organizational thinking that’s super rigid and pedantic.

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      1. Lil Fidget

        Yeah only some roles here can supervise reports, and that does not align with the org chart. In a dream world, the formal manager would carefully consult with the non-managing supervisor or whatever you want to call it in things like hiring / firing / raises / reviews – but often they don’t. It stinks, and it robs authority from the person who needs it.

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    2. Mazzy

      I very much agree that this is a structural thing and so I am sympathetic to the Assistant and I would be direct while handling the situation with alot of empathy and “I understand why this might not be clear” type qualifiers. Yes, I believe that women in business should be more direct and unapologetic, but in this situation, I think it fits.

      I can see why the Assistant is confused. First off, the OP is NOT the manager. She/he may be the manager is practice, but not on paper. Been there, done that. It is a huge pain to deal with, but at the end of the day, you are not actually the person’s manager. So if they are too personal with you or overshare, you can’t deal with it exactly as you would with a subordinate.

      Also I need to add that it is really confusing to hear about a recent-ish graduate who is already “a few rungs” about anyone. Unfortunately, the past coworkers who I’ve had that had high-level job titles not long out of school were usually given a title that was higher than their actual role. I don’t mean that as a knock to anyone’s ability, OP or former coworkers, but they were never in charge of the same amounts of money or projects as those in similar roles at the same or other companies. This created a strange dynamic where you’d go to them for Director or VP level questions and they wouldn’t really be able to help you because they weren’t truly at that level yet, and they’d have to delegate the thing upwards or parallel, or worse, they’d go through the motions of working through the issue, but not really doing it, so you’d have to circumvent them in the interim to get something done. Just food for thought. I don’t mean this as a knock on anyone, but some companies aren’t great at structuring job titles and chains of command.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Eh….I don’t think this needs to be padded as much as you’re advocating. Yes, it should be handled with diplomacy and empathy, but it really should have been clear, and even if it wasn’t, deferring to the person you’ve been directed to assist is the obvious way for a new, inexperienced person to go.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          Also, it sounds like OP’s job title is right where it needs to be, given that she actually does make the decisions and is in charge of the projects, and let’s maybe not second-guess her. It’s not actually that confusing for someone who’s a recentish graduate to be hired for a role above entry level if they have specialist knowledge or education that supports that.

          Reply
      2. Luna

        Yes, I’ve been in this situation too, and I second that it can be very confusing. And can be made more confusing when managers don’t clearly explain the situation from the beginning, as I’ve had happen (you would think it would be very basic to tell a new employee who her official manager is, maybe even make the effort to put together a simple department org chart for onboarding purposes, but sadly it isn’t). It’s very possible the assistant doesn’t know, especially since it sounds like she is younger and might not have encountered this structure before.

        I’m also curious, what is the assistant’s actual title? Is it “project assistant” or something similar? Some places now hire assistants that have job titles that are Coordinator something or other, so while she seems to realize that she is in a lower level position, she might not see herself as just the OP’s assistant.

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          This is a good point, sometimes the “non supervising manager” role is never properly explained to the new hire! And we’ve had letters on this very blog about senior colleagues who try to slide into this ‘non supervising manager’ type position – one very recently, in fact! – in which we all advised the OP to stand firm on their boundaries. So there’s always a chance that authority is legitimately unclear in this situation.

          Reply
          1. Luna

            Yes, exactly. I’m not saying that the OP is wrong about her & the assistant’s role, but that there is a good chance this setup was never properly explained to the assistant. So while the OP is thinking the assistant is being rude and too pushy, the assistant might be thinking “why is this co-worker being so bossy and ignoring all my ideas!” It just needs to be clarified in a firm but polite way, as the misunderstanding might not be entirely the assistant’s fault.

            Reply
    3. Duffel of Doom

      I’ve been through this too, and it was awful. Someone was hired to help me as half her job, and then when they decided to have her be my full-time help, I still wasn’t her boss and she tried to take over my role. It was only exacerbated by the fact that our boss had no idea how to manage her, and in failing to shut her down just encouraged the drama.
      Total nightmare. I don’t miss that job.

      Reply
      1. Genny

        I worked for a company that did something similar, except their version was the integrated team. They hired someone to work in teapot marketing, but in order to foster a learning environment, they would spend some of their time in teapot design. They didn’t report to anyone in teapot design and their manger in marketing wouldn’t have any visibility on their work in design. No one knew who they actually reported to and supervisors didn’t have the information needed to fill out mandatory annual evaluation reports. They finally changed it a couple years ago when an external auditor noted that it wasn’t working in their report.

        Reply
    4. Lab Monkey

      Yes, it’s awful. I’ve been that supervisor – had to manage people but had no say in hiring/firing/promotion. It’s fine to good if the people you’re supervising understand the situation (complicating factor for us was that the managers were a team of 4 who all comanaged the 60 staff and never more than 1 was good at it at a time, and everyone including the managers hated the grandboss, so if I had to enforce stuff my staff didn’t like the blame didn’t go to me). When I had a person who didn’t care for the arrangement…I quit for other reasons, but I can’t say I wasn’t relieved about that, too!

      Reply
      1. Julia

        It’s the worst. I was in that position, and as a young woman on a contract basis managing a group of older male permanent employees as well. Every time they refused to do something, my boss would tell me I was “not communicating with them well enough.” I’m so glad I left that job.

        Reply
  9. Lisa

    Frankly I would not include her in the meeting with your boss. It’s not usual for assistants to be included in project meetings.

    Reply
    1. WFH

      I disagree. It sounds like the assistant is a project assistant, which would make it very typical for the assistant to be present.

      Reply
  10. Doreen

    I’m wondering if the assistant has a type of confusion I’ve seen before , where someone doesn’t quite understand the difference between the “assistant to the buyer” and the “assistant buyer”. It would explain some of the back and forth.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      From the letter I actually think OP might have it around the wrong way – she keeps saying she’s not the assistants boss/manager and that this person is a general assistant, but it could be that she’s ‘assistant buyer’ rather than OPs assistant. That would explain her behaviour a bit more and why she thinks they’re more equal.

      To me, OP sounds like she really wants a lackey and not a colleague who is slightly junior to her.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        “Lackey” makes it sound like a bad thing. Sometimes, especially with fast-moving projects and a lot on your plate, a more authoritative working relationship is the way to go. If one has a lot of tasks that they can’t do and need to delegate, a collaborative, consensus-building kind of working style is a pain in the ass – particularly when one is working with someone who doesn’t have enough experience to collaborate terribly productively.

        Reply
      2. Delphine

        If she was hired specifically to help with the OP’s workload, but also acts as an assistant to the entire office, I doubt she’s an “assistant buyer”.

        Reply
      3. Lil Fidget

        Well, we shouldn’t doubt OP’s account, and she says this person was hired specifically to assist her (and the wider team but specifically her) so … lackey is literally the job description.

        Reply
      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I read it the same way as Doreen—the assistant has been asked to play the role of “assistant to OP.” Even if she’s a project assistant, her behavior is out of line with OP’s needs (and out of line with most organization’s culture/habits regarding the role of junior staff, whether assistants or project assistants).

        I agree with Doreen that this sounds like a straight up Dwight Shrute problem.

        Reply
      5. Lindsey

        I agree. I was wondering if her job is something like “assistant analyst” vs. regular analyst. She may help out the whole team and not lead her own projects, but it doesn’t really sound like she’s an admin either.

        We’d probably need to know the job field to get a better idea of the possibilities. My job field doesn’t really have “assistants” other than executive/admin assistants. There are people with “assistant” in their job title, but they are just the more junior versions of other jobs, and they’re expected to share ideas and make decisions and contribute – think “assistant programmer” or “engineering assistant.”

        Reply
        1. sstabeler

          I’m not sure it makes a massive difference, honestly. At a minimum, it’s OP’s project, so OP does have the authority to make the decisions they have regardless of the exact job titles involved.

          Reply
      6. Bess

        Idk, I’ve had a couple of coworkers who assumed we were peers even when we weren’t, and who were, frankly, as exhausting as the OP’s assistant sounds. They tended to argue decisions when they had very little expertise to do so, and they insisted on a version of “collaboration” that meant “eventually you need to agree with me.” And they never accepted, or seemed to really even hear, explanations about why their thoughts didn’t apply in a particular case, or failed to consider this or that, or were against X policy. So I could see this assistant being that type of coworker, where “collaboration” means “won’t take no for an answer.” Nothing really worked with them except to eventually shut them down.

        Reply
    2. Trig

      Yeah, could be the assistant was told “assist OP with her projects” and took that to mean she’d be ‘pitching in’ or ‘helping out’ and they’d be working together as peers, while OP understood it (and management meant it) as a more formal hierarchy with “do what she says so she has more time to do other stuff”.

      So. It could be worth clarifying that with the assistant. I’m not sure how to have that clarifying conversation… “Listen, I’m your boss, not your collaborative peer.” seems a bit blunt, but perhaps it does actually need to be said.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        I’d say if there’s any uncertainty, it might also make sense for OP to check in with her boss / (the assistant’s supervisor?) on this. OP should give a heads-up of how they want to proceed so there’s no wires crossed.

        Reply
        1. JessaB

          Yes before the OP does anything with the assistant they should absolutely have the direct manager on board. It needs to be clarified post haste for both the OP and the assistant what the relationship is supposed to look like. And despite it not being good business and any help to the OP if the assistant is not supposed to be “doing what the OP says, but collabourating,” then the OP needs to know this too before they step in it.

          It’s highly probable that the direct manager is not being strictly clear in the use of language to the assistant as to what the job is. I’m inclined to believe the OP straight out that they were told by the manager that the person was to be their assistant (IE to get tasks off their desk so they could do the big stuff,) and yet was either vague or wishy washy about how much authority the OP had over the assistant when talking TO the assistant.

          Reply
  11. Artemesia

    I would also not include her in a project meeting with the boss. You the manager of the project should sit down to review it with the boss; there is no reason your assistant should be there as if part of the decision making process.

    Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      But she’s a project assistant. If I wasn’t included in these types of meetings, it would entail yet another meeting for everyone to get me up to speed.

      Reply
  12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, it sounds like a lot of these “conversations” are happening by email. I wonder if that’s contributing to your assistant’s lack of awareness.

    What you’re describing sounds a lot like what new college grads (undergrad and grad) do. They’ve been asked to interrogate ideas and push back, but they don’t have the experience necessary in that specific industry to determine when their pushback is appropriate or when something is simply not up for debate. I find that folks make this error most severely when they’re involved with teamwork, because they’re not used to being in teams with varying levels of hierarchy (i.e., they’re used to teamwork being peer-to-peer work where each participant has equal standing).

    Email exacerbates that problem because there’s no context/tone. The fact that your assistant is saying passive aggressive things like “well, it’s your decision,” indicates to me that she doesn’t get that you’re not asking for her input—you’re giving her a directive, and she’s debating it. I think it would be a great service to sit her down face-to-face to provide feedback on the behavior you’ve identified as problematic.

    For example, I supervise students. So when I give someone feedback, edits, or comments, those changes are not actually up to the student to decide whether to accept them. Nonetheless, I have students who think we’re peers or that my edits are suggestions. When this happens more than once, I have a kind but firm conversation with them explaining that—unless I’m making a mistake like misstating facts or the law—my edits are required changes. And I have this conversation with them because this is what they’re going to experience in the workplace, so they need to learn how to determine when feedback from a more senior attorney (or supervisor) is up for conversation and when it’s really just a kindly worded directive. And I do this face-to-face, not over email.

    It sounds like your assistant could really benefit from a face-to-face conversation along the same lines. This is going to come up for her throughout her career, and it would be a great service to intervene so she doesn’t keep overstepping.

    Reply
  13. Phoenix Programmer

    Ok are you sure you are not the confused one?

    You describe being 6 months her senior and then make a lot a statements about how much more you understand office culture/the industry/the company. I find that really confusing and would definitely push back like she had unless the role was explicit.

    First I would clarify with your boss whether you are correct she is your assistant. Then I would clarify with her boss if that is also his interpretation.

    I once had a manager that explicitly told me to manage and monitor someone who had a different boss. I immediately went to the other boss to hear their thoughts on my role and *surprise! Me managing their direct report was not in that vision. You can very easily become an interdepartmental turf scapegoat when it comes to unofficially managing anyone.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      This is what I was trying to say upthread – I think perhaps OP should confirm with her manager before she says anything to the assistant.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        I think you’re being patronizing to OP. They were tasked with projects and given an assistant on the project. They don’t need to clear this up the org chart.

        Reply
        1. Phoenix Programmer

          I don’t see it as patronizing to confirm that both managers involved are on the same page. These miscommunications happen all the time.

          Reply
            1. Lily in NYC

              You’d be surprised. There was an AVP here who used to try to get me to do crap work for him and I pushed back (I’m an EA and he seemed to think he deserved an assistant even though only SVP and higher here get one). The guy tried to pull rank and was very surprised when he found out that even though my formal title is executive assistant, I’m also an assistant vice president. It would have saved him a lot of embarrassment if he clarified before being a bossy hoser.

              Reply
          1. Phoenix Programmer

            My last example is an explicit example of how this type of miscommunications can occur.

            If assistant has a different manager then that’s the potential area for confusion and it’s really not hard to confirm.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              But the confusion would be on the assistant’s part, not on OP’s part, and having this discussion would resolve it.

              Reply
              1. Phoenix Programmer

                In my example the confusion was not on the person I was asked to manage though. It definitely would have feel on me. If assistants boss is different is really not on her.

                Reply
                1. Clever Alias

                  Jumping in to say that a very similar scenario happened to me. So yeah, it’s worth checking. Because I’d want to be 100% be sure I’m in the right when I have this conversation, and it only takes a few minutes to double check.

                2. Genny

                  In addition to what you mentioned (which I agree with), mission creep is also a thing. In a previous workplace, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be hired with the understanding they’d split their time 70/30 between their home office and an additional office. It also wasn’t uncommon for the non-managing director from the additional office to give them more and more work until their managing director realized they were no longer working the agreed upon 70/30 split. Interdepartmental turf battles ensued.

                  It’s possible in this instance that the assistant is getting mixed messages from LW/LW’s boss telling her she’s an assistant to LW’s project and her own boss telling her that as a project assistant she needs to be more proactive and manage up.

              2. Kate

                I don’t understand how it’s so easy for the assistant to misunderstand the situation but impossible for the OP to have done so?

                Reply
        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

          You don’t think it’s possible there could be a misunderstanding? I could easily see the boss having said “we need to get you some help” and not actually meaning that the assistant would actually be the OP’s assistant. For example, my current position was because another person in my office was overworked and needed help. But I’m not their assistant. I’m their peer who is picking up slack as needed.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            No, I really don’t. OP states that the assistant was hired specifically to help them with their workload – their words, not mine. Let’s take that on face value. And this person is pretty clearly not a peer, because they lack experience at the company and in the field.

            Reply
            1. MCMonkeyBean

              But like they said in their comment, hiring someone to help with the workload doesn’t necessarily mean assistant. It might just mean they realized they need more employees for that level of work.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                But like the LW said in their letter, this person was a temporary hire, hired specifically for LW and others on her level to delegate work to. This person is very obviously not on the same level.

                Reply
                1. JessaB

                  yes but it’s very easy for management not speaking clearly TO the assistant to give that person the impression that they’re not what they told the OP they were. It needs to be cleared up with management first.

        3. Cleopatra Jones

          I agree with Kate and Phoenix, LW may be confused about their roles.
          LW states that she took over her old boss’s job duties, she didn’t state that she had been promoted to the position of manager/director. To me, it seems that LW is doing those duties until someone else is hired into the director’s role. If that’s the case, then she is the assistant’s peer and not her boss.

          Reply
          1. MCMonkeyBean

            Yeah, I took on a lot of stuff from my boss when they left but it wasn’t a promotion. I was eventually able to use that to convince my company I should be promoted but it took like a year and even then I was still well below the positing my boss was at.

            Reply
          2. Snark

            Two people can report to the same boss and yet still not be peers, either organizationally or in the sense of needing to work collaboratively and as coequal contributors.

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              This. Just because you have parallel jobs does not mean one is not higher on the org chart. Or in the case of certain projects the “boss” of the other one. If you’re in charge of project x, in some companies that means in regards to project x you function as a manager to people on the project giving out jobs. It doesn’t mean you’re their boss, but it does mean you direct their output to your satisfaction. It definitely would not make you peers as to that particular project.

              Also in a lot of companies it doesn’t matter who is the boss, if you’re a temp, every single permanent employee is higher up the chart than you are. Unless you’re specifically a temp covering a management position or some special subject area. General temps though are almost ALWAYS on the low end of the org chart.

              Reply
    2. Snark

      “You describe being 6 months her senior and then make a lot a statements about how much more you understand office culture/the industry/the company. I find that really confusing”

      Why is it? OP could have had internships and work experience in the industry during college, could have gotten their degree in a closely related field, and could have a year or two, maybe three, (they did say “recent-ish” grad) of professional experience in the industry. Several of my reports are 25-26 and understand the field infinitely better than a 22-23 year old new hire with no experience.

      Reply
      1. Phoenix Programmer

        I am putting myself in the assistants shoes.

        I am told to work on project with op. Op doesn’t let me contribute and starts acting like my boss. That’s going to result in tension in our relationship unless my boss was explicit.

        Op’s boss may have indeed said “I got you an assistant” but if the “assistants” boss doesn’t see it that way it explains the disconnect and continuing to expect simple assistance vs collaboration isn’t going to work.

        I have been in this situation many times with projects that span departments and have no formal manager due to unexpected leadership turnover. It never hurts to clarify work the other contributors managers to align their vision to how you treat the direct report.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          But what I don’t get is why you think that can’t just come from OP. Whatever the org chart says, if someone is assigned to assist me on a project, and they’re giving me attitude and litigating my decisions, I’ve been delegated enough supervisory authority to unilaterally clarify how I want that working relationship to look. And frankly, if it’s not clear to the assistant that she’s not a peer, that’s her mistake and her problem, not the fault of anybody else. When you’re a temp hired to provide assistance to someone, especially someone who obviously is delegating work to you and has more experience and expertise than you, you’re pretty far off base if you take that as license to act like a coqeual peer and give them attitude when they make decisions you disagree with.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            Also, I suspect that OP’s manager is the assistant’s on-paper reporting superior, not that there’s a third party not involved in the day to day.

            Reply
    3. Myrin

      OP says “Because of the amount of work I’ve taken on, my boss hired an assistant specifically to help me with my workload.” (emphasis mine). I don’t think there’s much confusion to be had on the OP’s side here. She is also in her former supervisor’s role, which she describes as being “a few rungs above [assistant] in the hierarchy”. Both of these statements sound very explicit to me.

      Reply
      1. Phoenix Programmer

        Agree from ops manager side but the “assistants” manager may not be on board with that view. It’s easy to check. If they have the same manager them no check needed.

        Reply
        1. Myrin

          Ah, I see what you’re saying! It actually sounds like they both have the same manager, though; not only because of the sentence I quotes above where I’d assume that if OP’s boss hired the assistant, she’d also be the assistant’s boss, but also because OP says “I doubt she speaks to our boss the same way”.

          Reply
    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s certainly worth the OP getting clarification from her boss about their roles if she hasn’t already, but I don’t see any reason to assume that she’s wrong (as I’ve seen a bunch of people doing in the comments here). What she’s described sounds entirely realistic and plausible, and it’s not cool for people to insist that they know better than she does what her own work set-up is. By all means, suggest she confirm it with her boss — but that’s much different than insisting she must have it wrong.

      Reply
    5. Sunshine on a cloudy day

      Seconding the suggestion to check in with management (if the OP has had direct convos with their manager about this subject, then sure, disregard) but if there’s even a slight chance for confusion or that the OP could be mistaken, I would err on the side of caution and do a quick confirmation before pulling rank or having a discussion on this topic with the assistant. It’s also a very easy way to alert the OP’s manager (and presumably the assistant’s manager – from what I understood they are the same person) to the situation.

      Suggesting this b/c I too have been in an assisting/reporting lines/miscommunication situation before and it really, really sucks. I was the department assistant and this person on my team (one step higher than me) thought that seniority automatically equaled the authority to dictate how I did my work. Anything that we worked on jointly or that involved her, I did defer to her but she tried to micromanage things that I did solely on my own or things that she was not involved in the process of. Ex: she accused me of being insubordinate for refusing to change the set up of a very simple tracking spreadsheet, that only I used for internal purposes, from vertical to horizontal, b/c she preferred horizontal spreadsheets. This person felt they just need to “pull rank” and show me my place, but in reality they just looked like a nutbag with poor grasp of office norms.

      Now I will admit, I did not handle the situation well and it did end up blowing up in my face – but it all started with someone who truly believed they had authority over me when they didn’t. I also think its very possible that our dept head did say something that either sparked this belief (or mistakenly confirmed her belief) – he was a horrid communicator.

      Reply
  14. Just rediscovering how much I love this website

    OP, I’m assuming you and the assistant have different managers? I wanted to clarify because I’m wondering if you have gone to your boss to get advice/coaching on this issue? I would hope that part of your manager’s job is to coach you on things like this. But I don’t know your office dynamics so even though you took over many of your predecessors responsibilities perhaps you are not considered management. And if that is the case, and also since the assistant does not report directly to you then maybe your boss doesn’t know you could use some coaching in this area (and again I’m making another assumption that because you said you are a relatively recent grad that you don’t have people managing experience). I don’t know if you talked to your boss or not but I’m kind of thinking you didn’t because you reached out to Alison. If you haven’t talked to your boss about this I suggest you do. And I hope you have the kind of boss who sees this as an excellent opportunity for you to get that management experience and for him or her to relish this coaching experience for them. Just my 2 cents.

    Reply
  15. Scott

    Am I the only one who feels like this situation is kind of unusual. For someone who has 6 months of experience in a company, a new grad, to pull rank on an assistant who also ostensibly a new grad.

    Who does the assistant report to? Can you speak to her manager? Does she even have a manager? Can you decide how much work to delegate for her? Can you decide not to use her? Can you choose a different assistant?

    I don’t know the context, field, etc. But the whole thing rubs me the wrong way.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Like I said above: “OP could have had internships and work experience in the industry during college, could have gotten their degree in a closely related field, and could have a year or two, maybe three, (they did say “recent-ish” grad) of professional experience in the industry. Several of my reports are 25-26 and understand the field infinitely better than a 22-23 year old new hire with no experience.”

      And they’d be totally entitled to pull rank on an assistant with less experience in the field and at the company. OP said they had been at the company for six months, not that they’d been graduated for six months, and they were tasked with their departed supervisor’s workload. Checks out as far as I’m concerned.

      Reply
    2. Murphy

      If the assistant was assigned to act as OP’s assistant on certain projects (and OP says “my boss hired an assistant specifically to help me with my workload”) I don’t think it’s unusual at all.

      Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I’m feeling perplexed because we’re asked to take OP’s at their word, and these questions focus primarily on why OP is wrong instead of on how to help OP address a performance and communication issue with someone who is playing a “junior” role in this specific context.

      I don’t find it unusual for someone with 6 months’ experience at a specific company to be at a higher level of experience/rank then an assistant. First, OP notes they’re’s not a new grad—just a “recent-ish” grad (which could mean 1-3 years’ experience). Second, OP could have practice experience that’s deeper or longer-term than the assistant. Moreover, OP and OP’s assistant have the same manager/boss.

      Reply
    4. Observer

      Just because they are both relatively new grads doesn’t mean they have to be at the same rank in the company.

      The OP is pretty explicit about the titles. And, also about how she got into a role that would normally take a longer time to get into. The fact that she seems to have been able to leapfrog a bit doesn’t negate her current authority.

      Reply
  16. Student

    Before you talk to the assistant, please talk with the manager. Make sure you actually understand the assistant’s position with respect to you, and make sure that your boss will back you up, before you assert your authority over this colleague.

    One thing that sticks out at me is that her job isn’t solely to be your assistant. If the rest of her job involves her working more at a level equal to you, then it’s not surprising or unreasonable that she sees you less as a boss and more as a peer she helps out. Another thing that sticks out is that you say she’s good at her job. Is it possible you’re micromanaging a bit too much, that she can actually handle a bit more slack than you’re giving her? While there are lots of times where you want to quickly kill a bad idea, sometimes it helps people to understand the business better if they actually give their bad ideas a bit of a trial run and see in action why the idea is bad. Every once in a while, the idea turns out better than expected.

    All that said, if the boss does fully back you up on this, you should then talk to the assistant, preferably in a conversation with the boss, to set the expectations straight that you’re managing her work.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      This is the issue:

      “When I tell her that X won’t work and why not and suggest something else, she usually argues with me or else sends back very terse responses that indicate she thinks it’s a terrible/dumb idea.”

      That response is really enough for a reasonable, thoughtful person to understand why the decision is made. OP already said she’s spending too much time litigating the reasons why, so they definitely don’t have time to humor a trial run for an idea she knows is infeasible just for educational purposes.

      And honestly? If the person is pretty new, pretty inexperienced, and doesn’t have a clue what makes an idea feasible, the idea usually doesn’t turn out better than expected. If it’s not feasible, and there’s a reason why, that’s the end of the debate.

      Reply
      1. Student

        When one person says these two things:

        “She does her work well”
        and she’s “very new to this industry and very very early in her career, so sometimes her ideas aren’t feasible or just wouldn’t work for our company.”

        That’s a contradiction. Is she a clueless newbie, or is she pretty good at what she does?

        Since things aren’t falling apart, it’s at least possible that the OP is not giving the assistant enough credit and enough leash, and possible that the OP has misread herself to have more authority over the assistant than she actually has. I’ve had plenty of bosses who won’t give me the time of day on topics or issues that I am an expert in, because they figure their X years of experience means I couldn’t possibly have anything to offer that they don’t already know. I’m not saying that is exactly what’s happening here, but I think it’s at least possible.

        I’ve also had bosses who let me do my thing to get their project done, and sometimes they disagree with specific choices I make, but those choices didn’t ultimately impact the project’s overall outcome, so they let the decisions I make stand. Letting me make these less-critical choices lets them focus on decisions for more important things. On the flip side, I have bosses who won’t make a decision in a timely manner, so I make a decision, and get the job done, but the boss decides to nitpick the decisions that are different than what they would’ve done had they been bothered to make a call. Guess which type of boss I work for longer?

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          That’s not a contradiction. Her work is to do junior-level assisting, and she can do that well while not being great at idea generation, which doesn’t sound like is supposed to be a major part of the role.

          Reply
        2. JB (not n Houston)

          It’s not a contradiction, not really. Say her core tasks are checking press releases about new teapots for accuracy and grammar and making sure information about the new teapots are distributed to the sales team. She could do those tasks really really well, yet still come up with ideas about new formats for the information that aren’t at all feasible for the company.

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        3. Snark

          “That’s a contradiction. Is she a clueless newbie, or is she pretty good at what she does?”

          Porque no los dos? She could be very good at routine, low level tasks, but due to her newness and lack of experience, be fairly clueless when it comes to broad strategy and approach stuff, knowing how the industry works, and so on.

          Reply
          1. Lucy Montrose

            I think she wants to be good at idea generation, and is concerned that her current job description won’t enable her to get idea-generating skill. She has to pay the bills, but she sounds worried that if she colors within the lines of the hierarchy, she won’t grow beyond her role.

            Reply
  17. Manager-at-Large

    It could be that she understands that she has an office assistant role and you have a different role BUT she thinks that working with you on a project is like a group project at school and not an assisting-with-some-items task. If her only experience of working closely with someone on a project was in a peer role in school, this might be her view of it.

    Reply
  18. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

    This feels a LOT like a situation I sometimes encounter as a project manager. I manage a team that is dedicated to a project, but the team members do not report to me.

    Occasionally, I will have a team member that decides that YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME and shows all the behaviors described by the OP — pushback on my decisions, arguments on every direction I give. My most recent problem person, M, accuses me of overstepping when I review expectations with the team, and publicly corrects me regularly.

    I really don’t know what to do with M, because she and I work for different managers, and although both of our managers see it as a problem, they have chosen to view it as a personality conflict rather than a management issue. The direction I’ve been given is that I’ve done nothing wrong but that I need to be “nicer” because M is “very sensitive.” I found this less than helpful (not to mention fairly gendered, I’ve never heard of a dude being told to be nicer at work, but I digress), so I’m going to try out some of AAM’s scripts and see if that helps.

    Reply
    1. LCL

      After reading your post I am very angry. Would pointing out to your manager how sexist the advice you have received do any good? How about asking how and why M’s sensitivity has become your problem? And again with the need language in a business setting, argh! I am livid on your behalf.

      Reply
    2. the_scientist

      ahhhhhh, the classic problem of the matrix organization!

      (I am writing my PMP in <1 month and just reviewed the HR management chapter yesterday :))

      Reply
  19. Cucumberzucchini

    I feel like a lot of the suggested scripts are too soft. I would end with “Do you understand” or something like that that’s more directive. It need to be clear you’re not asking her for her opinion or ideas nor should she offer them up unsolicited. She really just needs to execute. This person seems dense and to date has been given too much leeway, so I think an overcorrection is going to be necessary to paint a clear picture. I’m concerned the current state of affairs are going to reflect negatively on the OP even if they’re not 100% this person’s boss.

    Reply
  20. Luna

    I’m curious OP, you said that you took over your supervisor’s work after she left, but were you officially promoted into her position and given your former supervisor’s title? I hope your company isn’t using this as a chance to save money by giving a supervisor’s work to someone without also giving them the corresponding title and salary.

    Reply
  21. NDR

    I wonder if the assistant sees the OP – someone close to her age who moved up quickly – as an example and is trying to emulate that successs. Instead of blatantly copying the OP, which wouldn’t show independent thought, she is trying to compete with “fresh” ideas and alternative takes. Maybe she thinks all junior hires are eligible for quick promotion if they show enough “gumption,” instead of understanding that she was specifically hired to assist.

    Reply
    1. Lucy Montrose

      She may be afraid that assisting is the only thing she’s allowed to do, and doesn’t want to wait for the company to say, “OK, we think you’re ready to be a bigger cheese now”. So she probably sees what she does as practice to be a leader/major player/idea person.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous72

      I’m super late into this thread, but… I was specifically hired to assist two years ago: receptionist, secretary, overflow work, clerical things, etc. I just got promoted to a full-time, salaried Director of Teapots position in the same department I was specifically hired to assist, because I showed independent thought, fresh ideas, alternative takes, and “gumption.” And I have a great boss who is receptive to what his employees, even the assistants, say.

      We’re all hired specifically to do things. It doesn’t always mean much.

      Reply
  22. Meghan

    I don’t understand why it matters at all how old anyone in this situation is or how recently they graduated. The OP has been explicit that her role is above the assistant’s on the organizational chart. Why are people assuming that the OP is confused about what her role is?

    Reply
    1. Anonymous72

      IMO, it’s eyebrow-raising for the OP to say that s/he is only six months out of school but then to go on about how his/her assistant is too fresh to know a whole lot about how things run. Yeah, maybe OP works in a magical industry where this is true, but, on my end, I don’t work in that magical industry – but I do work with kids like this. I’m having to deal with a kid who had a two year internship and now has four months real work experience and thinks that means she knows how to run the whole show and the after party, everyone else be damned.

      So, a knee-jerk reaction born of experience, I suppose?

      Reply
  23. MonkeyPants

    I’m getting some big red flags in the letter and I’m a little confused about why Allison isn’t. She’s worked at this company for 6 months, and makes it sounds like this is her first job (she says she’s a recent grad new to the workforce), and she’s obsessed with pulling rank on someone the same age who she has 4 months seniority over. She is disdainful of the assistant’s ideas and opinions because she’s such a newbie, as though her 4 months seniority makes her the expert?

    My crystal ball is telling me that management is thrilled that this eager 22 year old is doing 3x the amount of work she’s supposed to be doing at 1/3 the cost of the previous manager. And that there’s a chance that she is going to pull off this project with only her 6 months of expertise, and without taking any suggestions or opinions from the equally-new, equally-qualified, equally-smart “assistant.” But there’s a far greater chance that once she burns out or makes a mistake, her bosses will fill the position her manager left, and she’s going to get a serious dressing down about overstepping her mandate and her inability to work with coworkers.

    I’d like to know if she actually got promoted (including pay raise) to the old manager’s position, or if she’s just a stop-gap until they get the budget and the candidates to replace the manager. If the latter, I’d suggest she start being a lot nicer to the other peons, because she’s going to end up back at that level soon.

    And one more thing… if two equally young, equally inexperienced people are disagreeing over a project, I would personally try to find a third person who has significantly more experience to be the tie-breaker. Because your 4 months of seniority do not actually mean that you know everything or have all the answers.

    Reply
  24. OP

    OP here. I see how people are concerned that I don’t understand my role in the company, but I can assure you I do. The reason I’m ahead of this assistant is because this isn’t my first job out of college, I graduated a year earlier than she did, and I had a number of internships during college that made me more qualified for my role. She hasn’t worked in this industry previously and had no internships. When she was hired, it was made clear that she was hired specifically to help me out, and I participated in the hiring process. I did receive a promotion that reflects the amount of work I do.

    THANK YOU to everyone who gave their two cents. I’m definitely going to have more of a discussion with her. I really appreciate everyone’s thoughtful responses!

    Reply
    1. Anonymous72

      As an anecdotal data point: the person I was hired to assist sat on my hiring committee. My role was to help her out – it was literally written in the job description. Less than three years later, with a decade less experience in our industry, I’m so far above her on the corporate ladder that she’ll barely talk to me. On paper, she’s MY assistant. (In reality, I’d never ask her to do a thing for me, out of respect and avoidance of Sheer Awkwardness.)

      Part of my fancy job is to make sure internships are happening and that our students are performing well. What I can tell you is that, in a couple years, but more likely in just a few months, no one at your company is going to care who had or didn’t have an internship. It’s about what you do on the job, not what you did before you came. This is true of almost every industry I know. YMMV.

      Good luck.

      Reply

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