did my boss throw me under a bus, or did I screw up?

A reader writes:

I recently had an issue with a department that was not following through on their assignments in a way that directly impacted my work. This has been going on for a while, and I went to my boss with my concerns. He asked me for documentation on specific instances, and left it at that.

Later that day, the department head from the other department and two of his employees asked to speak to me (the ones who had mishandled the deliveries), and had the documentation I’d given my manager in hand and proceeded to be quite upset that I had not gone to them first. We resolved this despite them coming at me, outnumbered and “guns blazing” (they’re not bad people – just upset that I didn’t go to them first, though one reason I didn’t is because I don’t think they take criticism well at all… but that’s another story). I’m not concerned about that so much, but I feel like my management and their management threw me under the bus.

I agreed with the department head that I would go to her if I have problems in the future (she is at the same level as me, hierarchy-wise), and they agreed to a number of things I asked they do to make their side of the process more reliable, but I’m really bothered that my boss just chucked what I said to them rather than dealing with this, or even asking I deal with this myself. If he thought I should do that, I would have. One of the reasons I told him about my frustrations was so I could get his advice! I feel like I can’t trust him now, as he might just “tattle” me out when I’m filling him in on problems or looking for help/advice. What do you think?

Well, had you talked to them about the problems directly in the past? If so and if that didn’t resolve things, then you were right to involve your manager and the other department has forfeited the right to be bothered by it. But if you hadn’t already tried that, then they have a point here — in most cases, it makes sense to try to resolve things with someone directly before escalating things. (If there’s a major safety, legal, or ethical breach occurring, that would be an exception to this rule.)

Your manager really should have asked you if you’d talked to them directly yet and, if you hadn’t, suggested that you do that first. That said, not everyone manager takes that stance … and there are some issues that are serious enough — or chronic enough — that it can make sense for the manager to do the talking. Of course, in that case, a Perfect Manager would have given you a heads-up about how she planned to approach it. Sadly for all of us though, Perfect Managers don’t actually exist; managers fumble this stuff sometimes, even when they’re otherwise basically good at their jobs.

It sounds to me like everyone involved here erred a little bit: your manager, in the way I just described; you, by not talking to the other department directly first, if indeed you didn’t; and the other department, by being “quite upset.” (On that last point, they could have calmly said, “Please come to us if you have concerns in the future so that we can try to address them; we don’t always know when things are causing problems outside our team.” No need for any guns to be blazing.)

Anyway, I wouldn’t take this as a reason not to trust your manager, not unless there’s some larger pattern of outing you to people when you think you’re handling something confidentially. Instead, I’d just be very clear about what you’re looking for when you approach him about anything like this in the future. In this case, he may not have realized you were just looking for advice and thought you were asking him to address it for you (in fact, that’s what I thought from your opening wording, until you clarified later in the letter), so make sure you’re being explicit when that’s the case. For instance, you could say, “I’m hoping this is something I can handle myself, but I’d like to get your advice on the best way to proceed.” And when the conversation ends, if there’s any doubt that the next steps are completely in your court, you can say something like, “Okay, I’m going to do X and Y and then will come back to you if that doesn’t solve it.” And if your boss proposes that he step in, you can say, “I want to be careful not to cause tension with Draco and Malfoy. Is there a way to frame it so it doesn’t seem like I’m complaining to you about them?”

However, on that last point: There may not always be a way for your manager to address things without disclosing that you’re the one who raised the issue to his attention. Sometimes it’s not practical or possible to avoid that. What your manager should ensure is that you don’t experience negative repercussions for appropriately bringing issues to his attention. If you notice someone has a pattern of reacting poorly toward you for that, that’s something your manager should be in the loop on too. But sometimes your name does need to be attached to things in order for a manager to address it, so that he’s not going around making vague statements about how he knows things.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

    1. HeyNonnyNonny*

      Lol, I think I’m the only person bothered by it. I can’t stop thinking, “But…Malfoy is a last name!”

          1. Brit Chick*

            It’s a British public school* thing….pupils were generally referred to by their surnames, “posh” people (particularly men) often carry this on into university and adulthood (or use a surname based nicknmae e.g. “Jonesy”).

            *in Britain “public school” is a private school, state run schools are called “state school”.

    2. Carrie in Scotland*

      Whatever happened to Lucinda, Apollo and…the other one, I forget their name? Did they just go for a coffee break and never come back?

        1. Apple22over7*

          I do wonder if Wakeen has to correct people’s spelling of his name
          “No, it’s not Joaquin as in Phoenix, it’s just as it sounds.. W-a-k-e-e-n..”

      1. GOG11*

        I can’t recall if Fergus and Percival have been used recently…

        Completely unrelated, but…. I’ve finally realized my dream of owning a sloth plush toy (I went to the zoo recently for my birthday). I named him Fergus. He works in accounting.

        1. SerfinUSA*

          I have a corgi named Fergus. Not the bunny-butt royal kind, but the dopey-looking long-tailed Cardigan kind. Almost as goofy-looking as a sloth.

          1. Mabel*

            And on the other end of the size-of-dog scale, a neighbor has a large Irish Wolfhound named Fergus.

      2. Audiophile*

        Chuck Cunningham syndrome. (And for the ’90s kids: aka Judy Winslow Syndrome and Morgan Matthews Syndrome).

  1. BRR*

    I hope this isn’t too off topic but I feel like the topic of tattling has come up a couple of times recently (last paragraph in the OP’s letter here), I wonder if it would be a good idea to do an independent article about it? I would say I am relatively uninformed about the topic beyond reporting anything illegal.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      I agree with this – it has seemed to have cropped up rather a lot lately and would also welcome a separate post about it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, great idea!

      Meanwhile, as a general rule, I’d say that the main idea is that the concept of “tattling” doesn’t really belong in the workplace. There are petty complaints about things that don’t affect anyone’s work (“Jane is five minutes late every day” or “Apollo won’t stop slurping his soup”), and then there are comments about things that truly do affect the organization’s work. It’s not tattling to bring the latter to your manager’s attention.

      Of course, it’s generally better if people bring mistakes to your attention before escalating it to your manager, and it’s annoying if they don’t. But sometimes people just don’t (maybe because it’s a large pattern of issues and they don’t feel they can effectively address it all with you, or because the mistake is a huge and serious one, or because you’re not easily approachable, or because they’re bad at approaching people about sensitive topics, or because they just didn’t think through the best way to address it). It’s still not tattling though — it might be a less than ideal way to approach it (as may have been the case with the OP if she didn’t talk to the other team directly first) but the “tattling” concept doesn’t really apply when it’s something that does affect the work or the organization.

      1. SCW*

        I think the issue in this post, and in the discussion of tattling in general, is a distinction between going to your boss and saying “Jane is always late, what are you going to do about it!” And going to your boss and saying “I’m having an issue with Jane leaving early and not giving me the report I need before she leaves, so I can’t get x done, and I’d like to talk to you and get your advice on ways I could handle the situation.”

        To some degree I think it is in how it is given to the boss, and your relationship with your boss. My particular supervisor likes to do a lot of coaching and has encouraged me to talk to him about the things I’m dealing with. So I might discuss issues I’m having with a staff member’s attitude that I know I need to address, but am not sure the best words or best approach. I’m not tattling, I’m looking for advice. I don’t want him to do anything to the staff person, but I appreciate when he can guide me to a new way of looking at it or the right wording to address it.

        But sometimes people might think they are going for advice and not want or expect the boss to do anything beyond advise them on workarounds or priorities (aka don’t worry about that report getting to you on time, you have enough x to focus on) but then the boss thinks they are being asked to address/fix the problem.

      2. PlainJane*

        I’m probably splitting hairs here, but I would humbly suggest that tattling–or something an awful lot like it–can happen in the workplace. I agree that raising a concern about someone’s behavior–when that behavior affects the work or the organization–is generally not tattling. But I also see people who take it upon themselves to police everyone else and criticize everyone else. “She’s always late.” “He didn’t put the whatzit in the proper place.” Etc. Now if that behavior affects that person’s work, fine. But too often it doesn’t, and the complainer just likes creating drama–just like a schoolyard tattletale. Then there are the ones who run to the boss for every minor issue instead of communicating directly with the people involved.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      There is a good post in the archives about tattling that reads there is no such thing as tattling in the workplace but there are petty complaints such as Bob taps his foot all day, etc. However, I’d love a post that outlines what was stated above about it’s best to try to resolve issues with coworkers directly except when it’s a legal matter, safety, or pattern that hasn’t been corrected. Not every matter needs escalated to management unless as Alison posted above.

    4. OP here*

      Yeah, I didn’t see this as tattling. I saw it as an issue I was trying to resolve, and wasn’t getting fixed with my efforts, and hoped my manager could help. Unfortunately his idea of helping was to print out my complaints and deliver them to the department.

      I agree that there’s no “tattling” in the office – it’s about being effective and people need to quit taking things personally.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Whoa, wait. He printed out your complaints and showed them to the other department? If those were emails that you’d written for his eyes only (as opposed to just forwarding correspondence with the other team), that IS a bad move on his part. If you had things in there that you’d written not intending others to see, that’s really not cool of him and I can see why you’re upset.

          1. Broke Law Student*

            I was having trouble getting stuff from someone in another department at my last job, and I knew it was because she was completely overworked. I could never get ahold of her for anything, and the stuff I needed was urgent, so I sent an email to someone else that essentially said “I know Jane is a very hard worker, but there’s just too much work for one person to do. I’m not getting what I need in order to do my job, so is there anyone else I can send my requests to for processing?” They deleted the first and last part from the email, and then forwarded her just the “I’m not getting what I need from Jane” part, without answering my questions. That did not go over well.

            1. It Might Be*

              A great reason why an ‘in person’ or phone call chat is a thousand times better than an email. While the person that altered your email made a wrong choice -(different issue) the potential for emails to create a bigger problem is huge.

          1. Koko*

            I’m so paranoid about saying anything less than flattering about another staff member in email because of the fear of this happening. If I want to say anything critical, I try to do it over the phone or in person, and if written documentation is requested to support the conversation, my emails will say things like, “Here’s the email thread concerning what we discussed earlier,” whenever possible. Of course, that’s not always possible, but I’m a naturally conflict-averse person and don’t want to rely on my teammates’ ability to use discretion about what should be forwarded (or printed). I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of email chains I was forwarded or late-added to that contained confidential information down at the bottom I was not supposed to see.

            1. No name this time*

              I get so frustrated with this. If I could have back the time I spend rewriting e-mails, then finally marching over to someone’s office to tiptoe around the information in person just to protect someone’s fragile widdle feelings, I wouldn’t have to work a full workweek. I do not have any reason to believe I’m a particularly harsh person, either-it’s not like I’m calling all of my coworkers unreasonable jerks. More along the lines of “Percival made an error on this report, we need to get that corrected before we move on, and please be sure Percival knows that X goes here in the future.” It’s frustrating that so many workplaces (it seems) have come to the point where no one feels comfortable saying anything critical for fear that it will be blown out of proportion or taken personally. I just assume anything I say can and will be used against me…not exactly conducive to great workplace communication.

              1. Cassie*

                I hate how much time and effort we have to put to making our emails sound “nice” even when we’re pointing out something that went wrong. We have a couple of coworkers that blow up at the slightest whiff of a critique. The higher ups are fully aware of these blow-ups but they want to keep the peace so essentially asks everyone else to “be nice” and kill them with kindness.

                Personally, I think they should be treated just like everyone else – professionally but expected to behave like a grown up. Their feelings get hurt? Our feelings get hurt too but we don’t throw tantrums.

          2. KAZ2Y5*

            So sorry OP! I learned my lesson about emails in my last job. I had emailed someone higher up than me asking a question about a certain procedure. Luckily it was not anything controversial/heated because he answered my question by replying to “all” and letting everyone know what needed to be done. Shocked me to no end–but I did learn to word any emails I sent very carefully.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          I guess my question here is did the boss print out the emails and deliver them to the other dept, considering his part done, or were these emails printed out to give further clarification? I have seen this happen in situations where the boss tries to communicate an issue, gets frustrated because the other party involved isn’t understanding or is completely denying the problem, and then just hands over the documentation. Not that it’s the best way to handle the situation, but there might be something to this – the boss may not be completely untrustworthy, just clueless.

      2. BRR*

        I also see it as an issue you were trying to resolve. I hate the word tattling or tattle tale. Your letter more just prompted me to think an article about tattling might be a good idea.

  2. LBK*

    If I’m going to my manager for advice on how to handle a situation, I always make sure the conversations starts with me describing what I want to do to address it – “I haven’t heard from Jane for 2 weeks on this issue, I was going to email her manager to see what’s up, do you want me to copy you on that?” Even if your manager usually agrees with your plan or trusts your judgment in these situations, it has the benefit of keeping them in the loop in case things escalate further.

    1. OP here*

      Oddly enough, a lot of conversations with my boss go this way, and generally he just agrees with my course of action, adding some info/advice where he has it. We’ve had a great relationship in the past because of this, and I felt he would provide advice here. I feel pretty shattered that he handled things this way, since my expectations from him were that he’d give advice and genuinely help me get results from this other department.

      1. LBK*

        Interesting. I wonder if there’s something at play with the dynamic between your department and this one? The few times that my manager has decided to take ownership of an issue instead of letting me handle it, it’s because there’s some delicate politics involved and he wants to have a manager-to-manager conversation with someone in charge. It sounds like this group may be pretty volatile, so maybe he thought addressing it himself would actually head off the tension, but instead it backfired because they felt like you went behind their back? Obviously this is all guesses without more context.

        1. OP here*

          This is a possibility. I think one of the big problems is that the department head is a very sensitive person who can be a force of nature, whereas their manager is allergic to confrontation, and my own (usually really great) manager is pretty new to the game, as am I (though I am not in management, of course). I think this dynamic can cause screw-ups like this.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, that’s a complicated constellation for sure. Though another takeaway is that the department head’s going to be upset whether you go directly to him or to your boss, so it doesn’t necessarily mitigate anything to go to your boss.

  3. C Average*

    This is sort of a side conversation, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole concept of asking a colleague to provide documentation of some problem, issue, occurrence, etc., lately. (This is in reference to the first paragraph.)

    I’ve realized lately that when I ask others for documentation of something, it’s often a dodge or a kick-the-can-down-the-road approach to addressing a problem I’m myself aware of and/or having an honest conversation about what is and isn’t a problem, and I’ve been making a concerted effort not to do this unless it seems truly necessary.

    It’s really easy to say “I need more documentation” when what I’m really thinking is, “This is a big, hairy problem and solving it is going to be really challenging and I’m going to need resources and buy-in from the higher-ups and I need to build a case for that by gathering up a bunch of really persuasive examples” when, the truth is, I have enough political capital on my team to say, “This issue has been (or has the potential to be) a problem, and here’s the plan I’ve put together for dealing with it.”

    It’s also really easy to say “Can you provide me with some documented examples?” when the honest and more effective thing to say would be, “This is a weird one-off that we could never have anticipated, and I truly believe it would be a poor use of resources to create a policy designed to address something unfortunate that will probably never happen again. Let’s see if there are some broader principles here that we can think about.”

    In my efforts to not do this, it’s made me aware just how much other people DO do this. I’d urge everyone everywhere to pause and think before saying “I need more documentation.” Sometimes you really do, but often that request is a procrastination or avoidance tactic.

  4. OP here*

    I’m the OP of this issue – and in case anybody is interested in an update, I’ve decided to just let the entire thing go and to lower the expectations I have regarding my colleagues, management, and responsiveness/follow-through because it’s just the culture here. I’m pretty alone in how I manage my work, and while I’m thanked for it, I don’t feel like it’s my role to proselytize to the organization the glories of responding to email in a timely fashion. I think it’s management’s role to set out and enforce those expectations, not a sole peon’s.

    Alison wondered if I had gone directly to the other group and said, “Hey, I need you to do X better.” – and I did not, at least not bluntly like that, though I had expressed to them that it’s frustrating to have to remind them constantly of things that are needed, and that customers were coming to me for things because they couldn’t get a response out of them. Not blunt enough as it turns out, but I did communicate this to them in a way I felt appropriate coming from a junior colleague.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s not usually so much “I need you to do X better” but more something like, “I’ve noticed that I’m having trouble getting responses from your team as quickly as I need them. Is there anything we can do differently so that I’m hearing back within two days to most issues?” (Or whatever.)

      1. OP here*

        This is pretty much the sort of conversation I’d had with them in the past, minus the “What can we do differently?” part because I didn’t want to sound like I was telling them how to do their jobs. The department head takes things VERY personally, so I was trying to leave it to them.

        1. KerryOwl*

          Unfortunately, though that’s the hardest part to say, it’s also the really important part. It turns it from an observation, into a request for action. If you don’t say it specifically, then it’s too easy for people to get away with keeping the status quo.

          1. AMT*

            Given what we’ve learned in this thread about their behavior when confronted with criticism, I can understand why the OP is afraid of being blunt. If they don’t respond to a repeated “Things aren’t getting done in time,” the addition of “How can we handle this differently?” is probably not going to fix their cluelessness. These gentle nudges tend to work better with people who are capable of taking feedback.

        2. Shazbot*

          All of this passive aggressive ways of handling things is just corp b.s. Im sick of politics and backstabbing.

    2. AGirlCalledFriday*

      Thanks for updating, OP! Yeah, expressing your frustration is really not being direct and open enough. I think that maybe the disconnect here is that you may feel it would be taken as rude to criticize their process, but you certainly can address issues in a way that is neither rude nor critical. For example, “I’m having some issues receiving X from you, which is causing some difficulty with customers. Is there any way that we can address this issue going forward?”

      I’m also unsure about the hierarchy here, you mentioned that the other dept head was the same level as you in the original post, and in the update you mention that you are a junior colleague. Did I perhaps read this incorrectly?

      1. OP here*

        I had tried an approach similar to this, but softer because the department head is a very sensitive person.

        I am junior in that I have been with the company only 2 years, and that entire department has been here for 8+ years. We are equal in the hierarchy, but I manage products, not people.

    3. RG*

      But why would you need to say “You need to do X better?” If I have told you multiple times that I have had to do something because of your mistakes, or lack of communication, or whatever, and there’s still a problem, then why wouldn’t I go to my manager?

      1. OP here*

        This! I don’t think it’s appropriate for a peer to attempt to manage another’s performance. I informed them of the impact of their (in)action and when it never improved, I went to my manager for help.

        1. Lipton Tea For Me*

          That was my thought as well. If my work is affected by the performance of another team, then is it not management’s responsibility to address that issue? Number one, if management is doing their job, they should already be aware of the issue without another manager let alone an employee of that manager telling them something is not right with their own team. Going to the manager of the other team directly would get me in all kinds of trouble for not following the chain of command.

        2. Anonsie*

          Maybe I’m naive but I agree here. Do I really need to go into another department to someone on my level and tell them that when they mishandle something, that’s bad and shouldn’t happen? It’s one thing if it’s an issue that may or may not have a negative impact (like how often people check a shared inbox or something) but once you’ve seen it cause repeat problems with another department (where important emails are getting chronically missed and it’s causing some kind of panic chaos) so you really need me to tromp over there and explain that panic and chaos should be avoided?

          Sure, I’ll ask if we should come up with a better communication system, contact someone directly, call someone, route the requests differently, whatever. I’ll ask what I can do to make it easier so you can see our communications when needed and I’ll do whatever guidelines you give. But if that doesn’t but back on the amount of panic and chaos and you seem pretty unfazed by it when it happens, then moving up the chain seems pretty fair at that point.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This. Any place I have ever worked you do not EVER go into another department and tell people there is a problem.

            What I am seeing is that it was more than one person and it was another department.

            In cases like that, I would have expected that my boss would talk to their boss. I do understand that in OPs setting this is something that she needs to have in a timely manner in order to do her job and the department was not accomplishing that.

            If it had been just one person, my answer would be different, I would say try talking to the individual. But OP, tried talking to people. The one thing I have done with that is to tell myself, when people do not respond then chose an entirely different set of words and ask again. This means totally rephrasing/reframing the request.

            When I started working I learned that any sentence can be construed at least ten different ways. I had not realized that.

            But, OP, I feel for you, because given the description of the relationship you have with your boss, I would have been blindsided by that one, too.

            1. Lipton Tea For Me*

              When I started working I learned that any sentence can be construed at least ten different ways. I had not realized that

              Oh yeah and then we take into account the perception as to how you meant whatever you said as well as the body language and pretty soon, what was actually said is lost in the chaos.

        3. Koko*

          I think it’s all in how you frame it. Everything they do that’s unrelated to you is their and their manager’s business, but when they’re working with you, you absolutely have a right to vocalize your needs. Telling a coworker what you need from them isn’t managing their performance. I think the right balance is in leaving it up to them [i]how[/i] to solve the problem, because they know their job better than you and may even have a way to solve the problem that you hadn’t even considered. But it’s not speaking out of turn to call attention to a problem and ask for a solution. In fact, in any role that involves collaboration or passing work back and forth between multiple individual contributors, having peer-to-peer conversations about how to meet each other’s needs is essential to success in the role.

          Again, you’re not telling them what to do – you’re telling them there’s a problem that needs a solution. You might say, “I was thinking I/we could do/change X to solve the problem. Would that work for you, or is there a better solution?” or if you don’t have a particular proposal you might just say, “Do you have any ideas how to avoid this problem cropping up? Is there anything I could do differently to make it easier for you?” (It’s really hard for someone to react poorly to that last question, though I’ve encountered a few truly difficult people who would manage to.)

    4. TOC*

      Reading all of your comments here, it kind of sounds like you couldn’t have won this one no matter how it was addressed. The department head and other manager are the problematic ones in this scenario, and you’ve tried several different techniques that would have worked on a reasonable person. While you and your boss maybe could have done things a little differently, it was the other team’s reaction that was out of line, not your behavior. I think you’re right to just let this go and adjust your expectations and future work accordingly.

      1. OP here*

        Thanks, I thought I was taking crazy pills over here! I thought I was doing the right thing. Not gonna try that again!

    5. INTP*

      Sounds like this whole situation is the indirect result of volatile and unapproachable personalities in the other department. You didn’t word things bluntly enough to the department head because they tend to take things personally and your manager likely passed on your feedback the way he did for the same reason (“you can’t freak out at me because these aren’t my words”). Not that this is a reason to stoop to anyone’s level and not make an effort to communicate as “correctly” as possible – just don’t be too hard on yourself when it doesn’t work out well. It’s tough not to have periodic blowups around difficult personalities, especially multiple ones in the same line of command.

  5. Preston*

    “I didn’t is because I don’t think they take criticism well at all… but that’s another story”

    That one line is what stands out with me. My advice, if you have a problem address it, don’t try and predict what their response is going to be. You have no way of knowing.

    I agree with AAM and what she wrote

    1. OP here*

      I see what you’re saying, and I agree I should have been much more blunt in my approach with that department (I’d tried to diplomatically let them know their unresponsiveness was hurting sales), but trust me when I say that the department head is not a stable person. He isn’t known for taking criticism (perceived or real) well, and is known for holding long-standing personal grudges against people he sees as enemies because he just doesn’t like them. He’s not monstrous or anything like that, just EXTREMELY sensitive and insecure about his authority, so I didn’t think my telling him what his department was messing up would go well!

      1. LBK*

        I think there’s a difference between being blunt and being direct that’s important to take into account here. You can say “I’m having trouble getting responses from your team, what’s up?” without saying “You’re not doing your jobs and it’s screwing up our business”. The first one removes the stress of waiting for someone to pick up on hints about your frustration but generally gets a better response than the second.

        1. OP here*

          I had tried this approach almost exactly and nothing changed. I really did try to address this with the (very sensitive) department head, but I think they either willfully ignored my message, or just didn’t get it even though I feel this is a blunt-enough approach.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            From reading your follow-up comments here, it sounds like you may have fulfilled your obligation to give them a heads-up about the issue. They didn’t fix it from there (it sounds like) and at that point it’s reasonable to loop your boss in.

            1. OP here*

              Thanks, though I could have stood to be a bit more blunt, and will definitely try that next time.

              One of the problems I had was that much of my talks with the department were verbal, so they just pretend those conversations never happened. I don’t like treating adults like children, but I’ll keep everything documented in email now (though they also tried the “I never got that email” approach)

      2. AGirlCalledFriday*

        Having worked for similar bosses, I can most definitely sympathize! What worked for me was making it sound like it might be my issue, or that I was confused about something while at the same time playing to his need to be right. For example, “I am having a problem with this, I thought that perhaps I was missing something and I wanted to ask you about it since I really appreciate your expertise in situations like this,” has never failed to get me what I needed, and often with a smile from them!

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            No problem, I hope it does help! I know that it can be difficult to work with people like this. For me it’s extremely overwhelming and I never think of the right thing to say in the moment, so I don’t fault you at all for not being completely direct. Learning to be comfortable saying what you mean directly can be counter-intuitive and takes a lot of practice for some.

            1. OP here*

              Yeah, it’s hard for me to remember that other people take this stuff personally and that not everybody is as driven as I am for perfectly reasonable reasons, and I can say/assume things that are taken in a hurtful manner. I don’t think my view will ever change (that people should be less sensitive) but I need to strike the right chord with people who will shut-down if they think I don’t like them as a person. I think the fact that I really do not like this department is probably coming through in some subconscious way!

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Bingo. I have been there, where I just could not muster up anything positive about a department or a person and that reeeally worked against me. It was really easy to assume the worst and it was really easy to get the worst.

                We do send out a vibe. People pick up on it.

                Sometimes just giving a nod to human nature goes a long way:
                “Ugh, I know you are busy, so I am focusing on what is urgent” or
                “This sounds nit picky, I do understand that, but the page number needs to be at the top and not the bottom and here is why…” or
                “I missed this one a lot, too. Here’s a memory trigger that I have been using that helped me…”

                Just one sentence or even a phrase can open people’s ears right up. It works very well with me and I can see what you’re doing, yet it still works.

        1. HeyNonnyNonny*

          I second this approach! I am fairly junior and one coworker is extremely impossible, and I’ve been told that I just have to basically manage her without her knowing. Veiling questions and check-ups as ‘my’ fault– or even things like, ‘Hi, did you get my note? I know my handwriting can be hard to read!’– gets it done every time.

          1. Zillah*

            I think that this can certainly be a useful approach at times, but unfortunately, over the long run I feel like it can really backfire. If you’re telling people that you’re careless, forgetful, or incompetent on a regular basis, they’re going to start to believe it, as will the other people around you who you’re not treating with kid-gloves.

            1. Koko*

              Yes, I prefer to just be direct without over-explaining. If I haven’t gotten a response to an email that I wrote 3 days ago, I just Reply All back to it and say nothing but, “Just nudging you for this. Thanks!” If there’s a deadline approaching I make sure to nudge at least a day in advance, saying, “Just checking in here. Tomorrow is the deadline, so I’ll need your comments before then. Thanks!”

              But unless it’s someone I manage, I don’t even get into the “why haven’t you answered yet?” question. Not my prerogative to get into. Just bumping the email back up with a note that I need a response sidesteps their need to get defensive, because I haven’t called their work into question–I just restated my need and thanked them in advance for their help.

            2. AGirlCalledFriday*

              Oh, agreed! I wouldn’t ever suggest that anyone ‘create’ incompetency in order to make the other person feel better, but I do think that wording a request that shows you are aware that the situation might be different than you perceive is helpful. It’s the difference between saying, “I didn’t understand/forgot, so I thought I would come to you for help,” and “I tried doing A per the request, but it doesn’t seem to be working – is it possible that I may have made a mistake here?” You may know that it isn’t your mistake and it is the boss’s, but if the boss is particularly sensitive it provides them a way to fix things without feeling criticized.

              I’m all for being direct, believe me! I think it’s the best way to communicate and avoid issues. I’m also sensitive, but I believe in sorting things out with the people involved and being direct about any problems while being empathetic to their own feelings. Unfortunately, I do not ever seem to be working with those who appreciate it. I always end up working for people that take offense when I am direct, and who never try to communicate with me about it which always leads to bigger issues.

              To give an example, when I worked as a vice principal of a school, I suggested during a staff meeting that all teachers – myself included as I was also teaching – have students practice orderly walking and quiet sitting in preparation for a very large event we were having. There was one teacher whose students were never orderly, and he thought I was making a backhanded comment against him. Everyone needed a bit of help so the comment was not directed against him. He began to treat me very disrespectfully. When I saw him later, I asked him what was wrong, and he responded by shouting and swearing at me while making obscene gestures. I’m 5’1” and about 20 years his junior – it was incredibly intimidating. It turned out that for months he had been taking comments intended for the entire school as directed to him personally, because he felt insecure about his personal performance. It had nothing to do with me, but once he made me his target he continued harassing me until he was eventually fired.

              I believe that when you are dealing with volatile people, you do have to protect yourself because you don’t know how your direct comments may be taken. While it’s good to assume most people are reasonable, some are just not going to be no matter what your efforts, and with these people you need to behave differently than the rest. Anyone else who is reasonable will understand what you are doing anyway and it won’t reflect negatively on you.

              Also, as someone who has worked in other countries, I feel it’s important to point out that many cultures find American directness to be extremely rude and off-putting. I still feel it’s best to be direct when you can, but it never hurts to be aware that the approach won’t be ideal in every situation.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              I think this approach works well in some instances. I think it works best when you are a senior employee and are well established as an awesome employee. C Average was talking about political capital (likin’ that concept), if you have any sort of capital built up this probably will not hurt you.
              Additionally, you have to look at who you are talking to. If you are talking to Gossiping Gloria or Truth-stretcher Travis, you should consider another approach.
              I would further narrow the usage down to one-to-one conversations. Saying stuff like this to a group may or may not fly well.

              People are people. Rarely is there one magic bullet that works with everyone, but there are patterns where x approach works with y type person.

  6. The IT Manager*

    Hmmm … I don’t think your boss is at fault here. He recieved your documentation of an issue and passed the complaint onto the department head. His attention got her attention. The department head and her employees showed up “guns blazing,” I don’t think it’s your boss’ fault that they were overly defensive.

    I don’t think you should expect your complaint to be anonymous; surely this office knows who they support and who they failed to support that day.

    I suspect I am missing something. Were you annoyed/less than polite in your descescription of the problem and wish your email had not been passed onto them directly?

    You say you only wanted advice from your boss, but once he asked for documentation it sounds to me like he’s planning to take action.

    1. OP here*

      I didn’t expect anonymity, but I expected to know how they’d handle the complaint from there. As I said, I would have been happy to talk to the department head myself… but that individual is volatile and can often take things VERY personally, so I wanted some management help in handling this so they didn’t do exactly what they ended up doing (coming at me guns a blazin’ and probably holding a grudge against me from now until time immemorial).

      My documentation of the issue was nothing more than some forms documenting the timeline of a few deliveries, and my attempts to get responses from the department – nothing beyond that to be read into beyond a “this is the thing we talked about” type intro.

      1. A Teacher*

        What do you mean by very personally? I guess that to me is a vague explanation. I have co-workers that take things very personally too and can hold a mean grudge. I can’t change who they are but if there’s a major issue, like 5 different students across the spectrum coming to me about an issue in someone else’s class, I’m going to go to my colleague and say, “hey did you know this was up?” That’s not calling them out on it and sure they may take it as I’m saying their classroom management is a problem, but when students start talking about the problem to the point of distraction in my classroom it becomes my problem too. They either deal with it and get over or don’t, and that’s not my problem. It just further proves that they are the issue in the situation.

        1. OP here*

          I mean “very personally” as reacting to something like, “I need these requests handled within 3 business days.” With “don’t you think I’m doing things fast enough already?!” In a defensive/aggressive tone, and a glare.

          General unprofessional behavior too, like referring to another colleague as “a total b****” for, from what I can tell, no reason whatsoever except personal dislike. Generally spends most of the day gossiping about others, complaining about their personal lives, etc.

          1. Koko*

            This person does sound like a bear to work with. You might look into some resources for working with difficult people, there are a bunch out there and I’ve found them helpful at different times in my career.

            In your example above, I’d probably respond to “Don’t you think I’m doing things fast enough already??” with, “Hmm. I appreciate you have a lot going on that I don’t see. Are you saying that it’s not feasible for you to get a response to me within 3 business days? That would definitely impact my ability to meet my own deadlines, so I may need to just talk to my own manager about adjusting her expectations for me if that’s the case. Is there anything we haven’t considered that could make it easier for you to get requests back to me in 3 days?”

            A couple things I tried to do there – lead with something that makes the difficult person feel heard and demonstrates you’re considering their POV. Restate what you think they’re telling you to confirm that you’re understanding the message. (This is great for clear communication in general, but also handily works to get difficult people to back down from an untenable position that they aren’t willing to come right out with–e.g. she’s implying that at her fastest, she can’t meet a 3-day turnaround time, but is much less likely to directly say she can’t do it when asked to stick her flag in it.) Then you explain how this impacts you and what steps you plan to take. Then you give them an open-ended opportunity to volunteer their own solution, explain their position, etc.

            If you’re looking for resources, I highly recommend the book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High.” You might also just try googling “dealing with difficult people in the workplace.”

            1. OP here*

              It’s really not as bad as it seems – most of the time the department is OK enough to work with. Never stellar, but they’re not abusive of anything. More of a little club that serves as the gossip mill. Frustrating, but nothing that really bugs me because I don’t really care about that aspect. I just want them to follow-through on things. :)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Do you ordinarily discuss things in email with your boss? Or would you usually discuss something like this in person?

  7. TotesMaGoats*

    Given the other comments you’ve made OP, I think I too would be upset with my boss. Mostly because he didn’t give me the heads up that the other department would be coming to me in a tizzy. Like all of us there was probably a better way to handle the situation but it sounds like you did a good job to start with. I don’t know that you could’ve anticipated this response.

    I had a similar thing happen to me. I’d sent my boss an email about a situation. It was rushed and not a professional in tone or grammar as I normally send. This was fine because of the relationship I had with her. She didn’t care. However, that email got forwarded up the chain to a boss that would care. I was pissed. So, in emails that I worried might get up to big boss, I included a line like “if this needs to go up the chain, please let me know and I’ll reword.” It worked in the cases where I needed to be more diplomatic about things. When I couldn’t trust my boss to handle things the right way, this saved my butt.

    1. OP here*

      Thanks. I feel like I should have provided more detail in my original letter, but wanted to keep it brief. Still, I definitely should have tried a more blunt approach with the other department, but they are a sensitive bunch and I was worried about their reaction. After this though, I won’t bother.

    2. The Toxic Avenger*

      Hi, OP. I don’t think you are taking crazy pills, and I’m with Totes…if I were in your shoes, I’d be very disappointed. You got what I call a “Sh*t Boomerang.” You took a situation to your manager hoping for help, and ten times the pain came right back on you. It would have been a lot less stressful if you had not said anything at all! It sounds like you did the best you could, and that you kept your composure when you were ambushed. The people who are not delivering on time are not kids who need to be reminded of their responsibilities. If you tried the diplomatic route, and it failed, then you did the next logical thing, and your manager mishandled it.

  8. Iro*

    I really hope you are not “marked as a troublemaker” with that department, because it’s an unfortunate reality that if people engage in this sort of behavior, they will read insult into nearly EVERY email you send them. You will have to walk on eggshells around them, and your productivity will suffer as will your reputation. My advice is to monitor this closely, if you start to get complaints lodged to your boss about your communications to them (quite the double standard right?) you may have to find a way to disengage your work from this group.

    I may be reading way to much into this post, but I had something similar happen to me at a previous company and I could do nothing right until I no longer had to work with those managers. It’s also highly relevant that “those managers” all went to the same high school and it was a huge clique situation.

    1. OP here*

      Oh, I’m sure I am marked. It’s generally known that the department head is a grudge-holding and rather unreasonable person though, so I don’t think it’ll hurt my reputation. Seeing how upper management handled this definitely makes me think I won’t stay here terribly long anyway… I need to be able to trust me management to let me focus on my work, not waste my time soothing some overly sensitive colleague!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, it may end up that you have nothing to lose and something to gain by going back in on this one with your boss.

      First ask what happened. Just say you were surprised to see the posse descend on you and you would appreciate a heads up the next time. (Don’t bother mentioning there will be NO next time. You are just framing it this way so you both can have a conversation.)

      Let your boss know that their collective contempt for you is creating a negative environment.

      It sounds like you had a good relationship with your boss before this. I would draw on that. Of course, tell the truth, but say things like “we have always had a good relationship, I have counted on you for advice…” Set the conversation up with these positives to show why you were so surprised by this. And yeah, say “Gee, I was surprised and unprepared to be confronted by a group like that.”

      I know this sounds hard. But it is not harder than disconnecting from your boss and your workplace. I have done that “retreat” tactic after a problem with a boss and I know that it only gets worse. Then I have to go find a new job. Much better to find a calm moment and say “hey, what’s up here?”
      Maybe you are inching your way toward the door anyway, if so, then skip what I am saying here.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Question for y’all.

    If you stop trusting your boss over something she did, do you tell her?

    Situation. I confided a vulnerability to my ex-boss. She was sharing some of her vulnerabilities too so it wasn’t like I did this randomly. Technically she did keep my confidence, as far as I know, but a few days later, she began criticizing me for what I confided in her. In front of coworkers and every chance she got. Even though she knew I was working on it.

    I was done with her after that. She kept on, but I kept my distance — something she picked up on. She criticized me even more.

    Obviously I couldn’t trust her again. Should I have told her? I never did because she was too volatile.

    1. A Non*

      You’re asking if you should have told your ex-boss that her actions were hurtful? I’d say no. Telling a reasonable, kind person why you’re upset with them tends to help resolve things. Trying to have that discussion with an unreasonable, unkind person is like dangling fish in front of a shark. I bet you dollars to doughnuts she’d act hurt that you would think/say such a thing and expect you to apologize to her. In that scenario avoidance is the best way to get out with your skin intact.

      I am very cynical about people like this, so YMMV.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        My coworkers disagreed with and felt I should have been more open and engaged with her despite the fact she obviously didn’t care for me.

        But you know what it really was?

        Like one of the OP’s responses above, I thought certain behavior would be a given. I didn’t want to go to a 60+ year old woman and say, “While you technically didn’t break my confidence, viciously criticizing me on something you knew I was working on, in front of staff and the general public, is inappropriate and mean. That’s not why I told you that.”

        It felt so degrading to tell someone, who is clearly out of middle school, that her behavior is awful by the most basic standards of human decency. It is insulting to do.

    2. jillociraptor*

      So, I once shared with my manager that I felt our relationship had taken a turn for the unproductive and I was concerned about how I was being treated in certain circumstances. It…didn’t go well. And I didn’t handle it as well as I could have either. This is really personal criticism, and it’s so hard to to get it right, because emotions are running high on both sides, so it’s a big risk to address it. Especially in a case where you’re trying to talk about a pervasive pattern of behavior across varied circumstances, rather than a discrete situation.

      I’ve heard people say about relationships that once you reach the point of contempt, there’s no turning back from there. I think that’s true of professional relationships, too. I ended up going to HR to help talk through what were my actual concerns and what were the various other things that I had piled on to those concerns (a real challenge when you’re just totally done with someone), which was helpful to an extent, but ultimately I got to the same spot you did, professional distance. We uncovered that my manager thought the problem was me, and vice versa, and neither of us was able to move past that assumption.

      All this to say: I can definitely imagine giving this feedback and having a good experience. Having your manager apologize and say she didn’t realize how that issue affected you, or reveal some other context that helps make more sense of the decisions she’s made. But in my opinion, it’s so sensitive, and relies on trust in order to go well, that when it’s something as important to you as this, it may be challenging to have it addressed productively.

      1. C Average*

        “[O]nce you reach the point of contempt, there’s no turning back from there.”

        THIS, a million times this.

        1. JB*

          So much this. Which is why, if you see yourself going down that path with someone you work for or have to work with, you either need to start looking for a new job or start looking for a way to not get to the point of contempt. It may be that the person is completely deserving of your contempt, but that’s irrelevant because working without someone you feel that way about is very, very difficult to do without it somehow affecting you professionally. You have to find a way to keep it more in the “don’t so much like” category or find a new place to work.

      2. AGirlCalledFriday*

        “… once you reach the point of contempt, there’s no turning back from there. ”

        Absolutely. I experienced this with my manager once. A coworker had invited us all out for his birthday, and I asked my boss not to bring his brother because the last few times this brother had made sexual comments and touched other female employees (including myself) inappropriately. Everyone knew this was going on, NO ONE wanted to be the one to tell the manager this. It was a foreign country and none of us knew what to do. Of course my manager completely blew up, discussed the situation with his brother who went berserk and threatened me, then tried to sue my place of employment for character defamation! Luckily the owners sided with me and protected me from the manager as much as they could, but he still treated me terribly. I kept my distance after that and was nothing but professional and polite. It wasn’t long before other coworkers had amassed a bunch of complaints about him and he was asked to step down from his position.

  10. OP here*

    Question for the group:

    In thinking about this, I wonder if I should bother telling my own boss that I was bothered by how this was handled. He’s generally an ideal boss, and I’d like to rebuild the trust I had in him before – and he wasn’t the one to forward my complain, afterall. My gut instinct is to just move on and be careful to not share my concerns in the future, as they might be mishandled, but I’m interested to know what more seasoned people think (I’ve been working professionally for only 5 years – so still pretty green to the workplace).

    1. RGB*

      I wouldn’t. I dont think it was done with malice, and it was actually the right thing to do, you escalated an issue, and your manager raised it with the appropriate person to achieve a solution.

      I would perhaps, to avoid feeling like you were thrown under the bus next time you have a similar problem, specify that you either dont want him to handle it directly, or that you are concerned about how sensitive this person is and dont want this issue to impact your long term working relationship and can you approach this together?

      At the end of the day I dont think it’s worth stressing over – sometimes the difficult and sensitive people we work with are the best learning grounds for developing our professional and people skills.

    2. TotesMaGoats*

      I guess it depends on how long it’s been since this whole thing went down. If it was yesterday, then I might try to find a way to bring it up. But if it’s been more than a few days, then I wouldn’t. It’s going to seem like your concern is coming out of left field.

    3. Iro*

      I would not approach your boss this way, but I would follow up with your boss at you next one-on-one. “Hey just so you know I had a meeting with X department. They were not pleased I had discussed it with you at the stage I did, so I’d like to review how I handled the entire situation and get feedback for improving the way I handles these sorts of issues moving forward.”

    4. HumbleOnion*

      I’ll bet your boss doesn’t like dealing with the sensitive department head either, which doesn’t excuse the way he handled this. Have you seen other interactions between these two?

      I wouldn’t bother telling him that you’re not happy with how it was handled. In the future, I’d get clarification about how he’ll handle situations where you need his help. Is this documentation for him, or will other people be seeing it? You can frame that as a way to gauge how formally you’ll need to write it or something.

      1. OP here*

        Department head does not like my boss, and frequently says pretty awful things about him to others. They do OK enough in interactions I suppose, but there’s no love lost in either direction, though my boss is very professional where the department head is not when he does not think anybody is looking/listening!

    5. BlueSunday*

      In this comment, you say: “he wasn’t the one to forward my complain.” Do you mean, he didn’t forward your emails to the the department head? If not, who forwarded them to the department head?

      1. OP here*

        My boss forwarded my complaints to the department head’s boss, who then directly gave them to the department (head and staff).

        1. Marcy*

          If your boss is unaware of what the other boss did, then yes- go talk to him. He needs to know how the other boss handles things in case anything like this happens in the future.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      I put a post above regarding this, so I hope this is not too redundant.

      Yes, I would go back in on this one.
      You have some major good reasons- one is that you seem to like your boss (probably that made this whole thing more shocking, if he had been a jerk it would be just another jerky thing that he did).
      Another reason is that you are interested in rebuilding- you have not gotten to the point of no return mentioned in an earlier post. It’s no different than life relationships- if you are interested in rebuilding a professional relationship- go and try.
      If he is half the boss you say he is, then BOTH of you will grow from this experience. And you will never have to revisit such a situation again. It takes quite a while to build a relationship with a boss. But I have had relationships where we could tell each other “your slip is showing” or whatever else we needed to say. We were able to do that because we both knew that it came from a safe place with “got your back” type thinking. (Granted, a male boss is never going to point out your slip is showing, but you get the idea.)

    7. Student*

      I think it might be more useful to you to have a take-away message that you should act like anything you email to this specific boss might end up on the front page of the local newspaper. He treats business correspondence as if it was not inherently confidential.

      I had a similar, but much lower-stakes, exchange with a co-worker. I was asked to peer-review an article he wrote, and I put in some very frank comments on his work – specifically, I said I didn’t think a guns-related metaphor was appropriate, because it might not play well to the target audience. Co-worker forwarded the document with my mark-up to the boss’s boss, who is an avid hunter and gun-collector, who promptly called me at my desk to harass me about “anti-guns” views. I don’t even care if people own guns, I just don’t think guns references play well to our audience in our PR material. Lesson learned – co-worker will forward marked-up documents to upper management, so give less editing feedback to this specific co-worker.

  11. RGB*

    Oh OP, I feel your pain! I am a direct person who is always always always asked to work with less than optimal performing teams who contain sensitive wee bunnies (my husband finds this particularly amusing as my directness and calling the situation how I see it, is a bit of a running joke among our friends and family).

    I don’t think you could have won in this scenario – your boss let you down in a minor way by not telling you he was forwarding your complaint directly to a very sensitive person, who I assume he knew would react poorly. However in the scheme of things it really is minor, and can be caught next time by perhaps phrasing your request for advice/escalation more specifically – we live and learn.

    I laughed reading some of these comments, I am of the school of phrasing things as if they perhaps are my misunderstanding or problem, which to be honest makes me roll my eyes internally a lot of the time, however it gets results and at the end of the day sometimes you just need to manipulate people to get the result you’re after – “hey did I misunderstand the process here, I’d appreciate your feedback”, “Is there something I could do differently to help achieve the result we both need to achieve?”, “Can you confirm what the standard lead time is for a request like this, am I supplying everything you need to turn this around?”.

    As a direct person it does feel like I am wiping people’s butts sometimes but I keep the end goal in sight and generally it works. Best of luck OP!

    1. OP here*

      We might be kindred spirits, haha. One of the biggest challenges for me is the “pretend it’s a misunderstanding” way of taking instead of using plain English like I was talking to regular folks instead of sensitive wee bunnies! I would be insulted if someone thought I was so fragile that I needed to be talked to like that!

      1. Judy*

        I guess I see “pretend it’s a misunderstanding” as more a tool to give the other person a way to save face. Many people will dig in if you try to prove they’re wrong, but if there’s a way to let them reverse themselves without looking bad, some will take it.

        Do you want to be right or have the right things done?

  12. sophiabrooks*

    It is interesting to hear that one should go to ones peers first with issues. The climate where I work (a University) is very much that you go to your boss with a problem, your boss goes to their boss, and then the problem is resolved. I actually hate it, but the respective bosses (this is mostly professors and admin assistants) get very angry and reprimand you if you don’t do it that way.

    Now I am working with someone who came from a more business setting, and she wants to coach me on handling things myself, which is great, as long as the person doesn’t tell their boss, and then the boss is annoyed because they feel everything should be funneled through them! Of course, every time I volunteer to do something or say I will be handling it, they all say “well, you need to check with your boss to see if you can do that!”, because they do. My boss doesn’t have territorial issues, and trusts me to manage my time.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I used to work in a University and while I do miss some aspects of that world, I do NOT miss the work through your manager culture. It is so much more effective to talk directly to colleagues and address issues head on.

      1. sophiabrooks*

        The hierarchy is so important to people I think, because they don’t have much power and they see it slipping away, so they try really hard to control what they can, their AA’s. We have a very flat structure- all tenured professors report to the dean of research, all non-tenured (which is most of them, I work in nursing and they only tenure research nurses with PhDs and grant funding, which means we have about 5 tenured profs) to the Dean of the School, and all staff (technically) to the Dean of Finance. However the tenures and the non-tenures wrangle like crazy, and all of them want to control the staff that reports to them (which I don’t blame them for, it is a little weird the way we work it).

    2. OP here*

      Everywhere is different, even department to department sometimes… it can be hard to call, hence why I (stupidly) thought it would be good to loop my boss in for his opinion. ;)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That would be a good question for when you two chat. “When do you want me to loop you in and when do you want me to proceed on my own?”

        I usually ask that of a boss- What is my range, where are my limits, how big is my playground? It’s a good convo to have.

  13. Richard*

    Not saying this was the case here – but:
    1. I would generally like to assume – rather than asking – that someone bringing an issue to me is bringing it to me because they’ve tried to resolve it and failed. I prefer to have them tell me what they want me to do with it – and it’s best if they’re specific if there’s a solution they have in mind.
    2. Because of that, I’d be likely to call up the other group with my own guns blazing, and I’d feel disappointed if I found out that there hadn’t been a direct attempt to fix it – even one that was unsuccessful: “Hermione said you’re not swishing and flicking right, and it’s causing all sorts of problems… What, she never told you that?”
    3. Being put in that position is like being the parent of a couple of recalcitrant toddlers, each trying to get me to make the other one realize that they’re the center of the universe, and it should bend to their will. As a father of twins, I’ve had enough of that. (And they are jointly the center of the universe, for the record).
    4. I’ve had people who worked for me who would never try to resolve things themselves without me telling them, and who I’d have to repeatedly ask if they’d tried picking up a phone and talking. (Vs. sending a passive-aggressive email and hoping things would change, then escalating). For folks like that, if they gave an issue to me, I wouldn’t feel too guilty about having them get beat up by someone else for not trying to resolve the problem directly. Instead, I’d hope that they’d get the message if they heard it from someone other than me.
    5. If you find yourself in this position a lot, rather than delegating to your boss, I would invite your boss to listen in on your attempts to resolve the situation, and have them give you pointers on how to resolve these problems in the future. It’s possible that otherwise difficult people may be completely reasonable with your boss in the room, but then the problem will still get solved.

    1. OP here*

      I’ve never been in this position before, which is why it’s so weird to me. I’m used to handling things myself, but wanted help here as they hadnt responded to verbal requests and emails.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        We can see how you interact here, OP. You are participating and your responses are well thought out. It’s safe to assume this is what you do at work, also. Next step in logic- you did not cause this problem, it found you.
        I have little doubt that your boss values you and would want to know that the stuff hit the fan in a big way.

  14. JMR*

    I was in the same position before. A colleague of mine had forged my signature to something and I went above her manager to the supervisor of the department. She got a note in her file but I also got reprimanded for going to the supervisor instead of the manager.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Am shaking my head. I used the mindset- there are two of us- me and my manager for a reason. That reason is, in part, because some people find me more approachable, and some people find her more approachable. For some problems, such as forgery, it should not matter who you report it to. It should be pick someone you know you can talk with and make that report.

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