update: my manager doesn’t defend me from mistaken complaints

Remember the letter-writer last year whose manager wouldn’t defend her when other people had mistaken complaints about her work? Here’s the update.

Thanks for your advice! I realized through responding to comments (which were pretty vicious toward my supervisor! no one believed me that she’s actually great!) that the problem was limited to the two people in my examples. Like a lot of people, my supervisor didn’t know what to do about our director and this one coworker who is BFFs with the director and our VP, and that floundering was spilling into her trying to advise me on working with them. After it was clear that Coworker was going to complain about me anytime she was asked to do anything, we switched to having all requests come directly from my supervisor.

This worked well until my supervisor was out of the office one afternoon when Coworker came by. She asked me if there was anything I needed her to do, and I said just the one thing my supervisor had emailed her about that morning (and cc’ed me on). She said no, my supervisor had said she was going to do that herself. I said, “Hm, maybe I’m wrong” and pulled up the email, and then read the relevant part aloud that asked her to complete the task. I then asked if she needed any help with it, and she got super snippy and said she knew how to do it, it was just that my supervisor had previously said she was going to take care of it (definitely not true). I shot off a brief email to my supervisor explaining the exchange I had just had with Coworker.

At my next meeting with my supervisor, she brought up the fact that Coworker had complained about me and said I was very rude to her and that I couldn’t order her around and tell her to do things. Again, my supervisor said she didn’t actually think I’d done anything wrong, especially since she’d already gotten the whole exchange from me first. Based on the advice I’d gotten from your site, I pushed back and asked if she’d clarified for Coworker that she (my supervisor) had indeed asked Coworker to do the task. It turned out that she had actually gone to bat for me 100% and defended everything I’d said. But I gathered that after Coworker kept complaining, she had made a vague promise to talk to me about the incident, and this was her way of fulfilling that promise. I pushed back again and said, so was there something specific that she wished I’d done differently or could do differently in the future? She stopped and thought a minute and said there really wasn’t anything I could have done differently except to do what Coworker wanted, which was to say no, she didn’t have to do anything, and then to take care of it myself, which my supervisor agreed would not really have been a good solution.

That was about six months ago and the issue has not come up again! I think she realized that it didn’t make sense to bring things up with me if there wasn’t something specific she wanted me to do differently. I still route most requests to Coworker through my supervisor, and that minimizes the drama. My supervisor and I continue to have a great working relationship, and she is a big support to me in a variety of ways. Thanks again for encouraging me to push back on this one thing!

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Whip*

    “Coworker had complained about me and said I was very rude to her and that I couldn’t order her around and tell her to do things”…but… she asked you directly if there was anything you needed her to do. I guess she was really just banking on you saying “no” or not pushing back on her refusal since the supervisor was out of the office. Anyway, I’m glad you were able to talk to your supervisor about this and get her on your side, but it sucks that you’re working with a person like Coworker.

      1. Sami*

        Yeah. She (supervisor) may be a great person (?), but she’s not quite a great manager.
        Obviously, she not like some that we read about here, but her backbone could use some strengthening. Which, again, doesn’t make her a terrible person.

        1. OP*

          In case it’s not clear from my letters, my supervisor does not manage Coworker. Both report to our director. Who does not manage anyone well, but that’s another issue.

          1. AD*

            Granted, but your manager is still a bit spineless (despite the improved outcome in your update).

            1. MillersSpring*

              I think that’s a bit unfair about the supervisor. Remember that she and the OP both are dealing with a coworker who is BFFs with their director and VP. That’s a horrible position for the OP’s supervisor to be in.

              1. AD*

                A manager’s job is to manage, and if you read this post and the OP’s original one you’ll see that she isn’t doing that.

    1. Vicki*

      Dear OP –

      Get a voice recorder. Set it on your desk.
      Practice saying “Do you mind if I record this?” as you press the record button.

      All calls will be recorded and monitored for Quality Assurance Purposes.

  2. Petronella*

    Thanks for the update! I’m glad that you are no longer having to hear about it when Coworker and Coworker’s Supervisor complain about you, but I wish your supervisor would go one step further and actually lay down the law to them, rather than simply shielding you from their continued attacks.

    1. Nicole*

      I agree. If she knows their complaints are unfounded she needs to grow a backbone and tell those two to stop bringing petty complaints to her that aren’t even true. With nicer verbiage, of course. That’s Alison’s forte, though, not mine. :)

    2. Laura*

      Absolutely. It’s nice that the supervisor is standing up for OP now, but she needs to be a little tougher and lay down the law (as is her right– she’s a supervisor!) and tell the problem coworkers to knock it off.

  3. CM*

    This was a very diplomatic way of dealing with this situation! Seems like the supervisor has started dealing with these complaints on her own without bringing them up with OP, so even if the supervisor could stand up to coworkers more, it’s no longer affecting OP.

  4. TootsNYC*

    “But I gathered that after Coworker kept complaining, she had made a vague promise to talk to me about the incident, and this was her way of fulfilling that promise. “

    I think that lots of times us managers feel pressured to do this, to make a vague promise.

    But that still validates a very unfair criticism. The Coworker walks off thinking that she’s “won.” Maybe a better response is to say, “Hmm, I have trouble believing that OP was truly rude–I’ve never seen any indication of that, nor has anyone else here. And I did get a report on that conversation from her already, so I’m not sure where the problem is. I’m sure you can find a way to work professionally with my staffer. I think we’re done with this conversation, no?”

    Given that this Coworker is BFF’s w/ someone higher up, it might be harder.

    But just because someone is upset doesn’t mean they’re right, and it doesn’t mean you truly need to placate them.

    I’m glad that at the very least, your supervisor has decided not to bring you what is essentially gossip.
    I think your laser focus on, “Is there something you want me to do?” was so brilliant. (such an AskAManager tactic, no?)

    1. Artemesia*

      If she doesn’t ‘bring it to the OP’ but allows it to fester with the boss a level up this could be constantly undermining the OP’s job until any change results in her losing her job. What if her direct supervisor takes another job? She has allowed this situation to continue and the uber boss to have a constant message that the OP is rude, unprofessional, inappropriate etc. Whether this is presented to the OP or not, it needs to be dealt with or she is sitting on a time bomb.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Believe me, I don’t wanna rain on your parade or anything… but my mom had a boss she had major issues with and she was looking forward to his announced retirement next year… for 6 or 7 years in a row. Here’s hoping you don’t go through that!

      1. TootsNYC*

        well, my suggestion would be to not “bring it to the OP” but to push back on the idea that there’s anything wrong at all.

        To say, “I don’t consider this to be a job issue–I am OK with the OP’s work.”

        Of course, then that puts the supervisor on the hot seat–but that’s why she gets the big bucks, no?

        True, if the animosity will not abate, or the supervisor doesn’t have the political capital to push back, then it’s reasonable to say, “Oh, I’ll speak with her,” and then just blow it off completely.

  5. animaniactoo*

    I’m really glad this has worked out so well for you!

    From my own standpoint of drive-by curiosity, I wonder what would have happened here: “This worked well until my supervisor was out of the office one afternoon when Coworker came by. She asked me if there was anything I needed her to do, and I said just the one thing my supervisor had emailed her about that morning (and cc’ed me on). She said no, my supervisor had said she was going to do that herself.” if you had simply taken her word for it and said “Okay, then no, there’s nothing I need you to do.”? Was it something that couldn’t wait until the next day?

    1. OP*

      Well, my supervisor was out of the office that afternoon because it was the day before Thanksgiving. Coworker was several days late on completing a task and my supervisor had sent off the e-mail before she left that morning, saying, “Please do this.” She wanted it done before the Thanksgiving weekend. So no, I didn’t feel like that was an option.

      1. Artemesia*

        There is something to be said for letting the chips fall where they may and letting the supervisor deal with it. Why should she be shielded from this employees passive aggression or aggression?

        1. OP*

          I don’t see how she’s shielded from it. She’s voluntarily taken on the brunt of it for me. This was a rare case where she was out of the office.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Can you explain how she’s taken on the brunt of it, and how that is specifically for you rather than just part of her job? I think that’s the piece I (and others) may not be understanding in our responses to you here.

            1. OP*

              See my explanation below. The area of our department that handles these matters is just me and my supervisor. Following up with people who don’t complete tasks that affect our processes is a routine part of my job, but Coworker is so nasty about it that my supervisor has taken over reminding her every time she drops the ball.

          2. Artemesia*

            You missed my point. Your boss directed CW to do something on Email. You took it upon yourself to tell her to do this although the boss had already done so by email. Why didn’t you just direct her back to the boss’s email rather than taking it upon yourself to direct her. Then let boss deal with it if she doesn’t do her bidding. THAT is letting the chips fall where they may and not making yourself the story. I am not sure why you felt you should direct her when the boss already had beyond saying; you need to check our email from boss; she told me she had already told you what she needs. Or even ‘I have nothing to ask of you beyond what boss asked you to do.’

            1. OP*

              The first thing I did was direct her to my supervisor’s e-mail (who, again, is not Coworker’s boss). The only reason my supervisor e-mailed her in the first place was because I really needed her to complete the task ASAP, but she reacts badly when the requests come from me. Coworker had not seen the e-mail yet and insisted that my supervisor couldn’t have possibly asked her to do that because she (my supervisor) had said she was taking care of it (which was not true), which is why I proceeded to pull up the e-mail myself to tell her what it said.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            She is NOT taking the brunt of it. She’s just not passing along the complaints because you are now pushing back.
            Which means director is still getting complaints about you, and your reputation is bad.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                Do you know that your coworker is no longer complaining or that your manager just isn’t telling you anymore because you pushed back?

                1. OP*

                  Oh, I’m sure Coworker probably still complains about me, although we’ve limited my contact with her so much that I don’t know what she’d have to talk about. She complains about my supervisor too. She generally hates anyone who asks her to do administrative tasks, which is our whole area. But my supervisor doesn’t take anything she says seriously. I had my performance review yesterday and it was glowing and I’m getting a raise.

        2. 2 Cents*

          What if you had just said “I think the email Supervisor sent outlines some tasks,” and then that’s the end of your responsibility. You’re not to blame that Coworker has poor reading comp skills.

          1. Menacia*

            +1 That’s exactly what I was thinking…just say no and let the chips fall where they may (and don’t pick up the slack for her by doing the task yourself).

      2. animaniactoo*

        Okay, but here’s where I and other commenters are coming from – is your supervisor leaving you in some sort of supervisory capacity when she’s out of the office? Because you say that supervisor wanted it done, but not that it impacted something you were working on where you could reasonably be saying “I need this so I can do my work, that’s why I’m having this conversation with you about who is doing it.”

        If you don’t personally need it, you can let her fail on her own terms and become a big enough problem that it can’t be overlooked by those she’s friendly with above her. This leaves you in a position to not have to reinforce to her that she needs to do it, but at best “Oh, I wonder why she asked for you to do it in this morning’s e-mail. You might want to double check with her on that just to make sure.” and leave yourself completely out of the relationship between your coworker and your supervisor.

        From over here – to somebody who has a history of dealing with an enmeshed family, a people pleaser, and massive triangulation – it looks like what happened here is that you essentially took on making this happen for your boss. You had the confrontation she hasn’t been willing to have. And I understand that you have a great relationship with your supervisor, and you want to have her back. But I’m just wondering how your supervisor would have handled it if you had not countered your co-worker and “proved” her wrong, and let supervisor deal with it not being done on Monday?

        1. Kyrielle*

          It sounds, to be honest, like OP’s coworker was baiting her – and it worked. Disengaging and saying something like, “Oh, the last I saw was her email this morning, which I thought requested you handle that. I don’t have anything additional, if that’s already sorted out.” would let OP disengage and avoid the mess – and then OP could still email the info to her boss right away, of course.

        2. OP*

          So the issue involved is a task that directly affects my work. Coworker and everyone in her same position have to complete certain steps so that I can then deal with important billing, access, etc. pieces. Occasionally people drop the ball and forget to do this, and I will remind them, and they’ll do it and we’ll get everything sorted. However, Coworker repeatedly forgets to do this task, and she was lashing out and complaining about me every time I followed up when it didn’t get done, asked if she needed help with it, etc. So my supervisor and I decided that every time Coworker forgets to do this or similar tasks, my supervisor would be the one to reach out to her. This specific situation was one where I said to my supervisor, “Coworker didn’t do the thing again,” so she e-mailed Coworker asking her to do the thing before she left for Thanksgiving, and then Coworker stopped by after my supervisor had already left and asked if there was anything I needed from her. I said I just needed her to do the task (which is a very easy thing), and she claimed my supervisor had said she would do it (which is totally against our policy for legitimate reasons). So for me to just let it drop would have meant another five or so days with billing and access problems for the person involved.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Ah, okay, thanks for the clarification.

            Glad you’ve managed to resolve this with your supervisor and things are going better now.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            Honestly, this sounds like a whole bunch of passive-aggressive axe grinding. She didn’t do the task, was sent an e-mail reminding her to do the task and then she just *has* to come by your desk — conveniently when your supervisor is away for the day — and asks you if there’s anything you need from her? Right. I don’t know what bee got in her bonnet when you started your job, but she’s got issues and they’ve got nothing to do with you, OP. I really hope that she does retire, she sounds exhausting.

            1. OP*

              Oh, she is. But to be fair, at least based on how it relayed to me later by my supervisor, Coworker just literally hadn’t checked her e-mail yet that day (totally reasonable given her role). She came by our office to check her mailbox and poked her head in before she left for Thanksgiving to see if she needed to do anything else. So it wasn’t quite as nefarious as you make it sound. The part that was annoying was when I said, “Supervisor e-mailed you asking you to do this thing,” she had to argue and say my supervisor couldn’t have possibly done so because she (my supervisor) had said she was going to do the task herself.

  6. hbc*

    It’s easy to be a good supervisor when no one is pushing boundaries and yanking chains. OP, I know you like your supervisor, and I empathize with her because I have some of her See-All-Sides tendencies, but what she’s doing is lousy. Imagine a situation like the original PTO request/approval/complaint. What do you think is happening now?

    Director: “I don’t like OP working out of the office unless it’s special circumstances and approved by me. Make sure she doesn’t do that again.”
    Supervisor: “Um, I think that’s what happened. She asked us and you said yes.”
    Director: “Well, I don’t remember that, so make sure you talk with her and that she follows the rules.”

    Response 1 (aka your supervisor’s approach): “Okay, I’ll tell her and make sure she asks and only when it’s important.” Note that this is the *same* before and after your pushback. Director still thinks you needed correction, only now you don’t know about the conversation.

    Response 2 (aka a better approach): “I don’t need to tell OP that because she already followed that procedure. If you think we need a documented procedure so that everyone else knows the rules, let me know.”

    I’m not trying to talk you out of being okay with the situation–if all you want is to not have those conversations dumped in your lap, that’s perfectly legitimate and this has been a rousing success. But just don’t consider your supervisor a model of management skills.

    1. Vera*

      Exactly. “Shielding” the OP is simply hiding what’s actually going on. If supervisor will never take an approach like Response 2, then I definitely would prefer to know if others are making complaints even if supervisor disagrees and they are unfounded. I appreciate that the OP pushed back on the supervisor in a “why are you even telling me this?” kind of way, but that doesn’t mean the supervisor is changing her behavior.

      If this were me, I’d want to know. I’d at least know who to tread carefully around. But I know for others, ignorance is bliss.

    2. OP*

      The original conversation with my supervisor and the director happened in my supervisor’s first couple months in the job. I don’t blame her for not being confident that she remembered the original conversation well enough to push back, especially with our director, who loses his mind when anyone disagrees with him.

      It hasn’t come up again in the past year. The director has nothing but positive things to say about my work. I don’t understand the insistence on continuing to damn my supervisor for not perfectly handling this one conversation last year.

  7. Amy G. Golly*

    When I started my profession as a parapro, I had a boss like this! People (also under his supervision) would complain about work I did, and somehow the fact that I did this work with his full knowledge and consent would never come up in the conversation! Sure, he’d be very sympathetic and commiserating when he shared their feedback with me later – “Oh, just Crazy Coworker at it again!” – but that wasn’t half so comforting as knowing he had my back would have been.

  8. TT*

    Good job standing up for yourself OP. I think it’s great that you and your supervisor are aligned in this, and that you are confidently standing up to the co-worker. IMO, the co-worker is a bully. What she told you that day was a lie. She knew it was a lie, she probably knew that YOU knew it was a lie. I’ve had that happen to me as well – the bully came to my desk insisting that a task would have to be re-done due to the tiniest of errors (office newsletter had an incorrect font). When I offered to confirm the task with my supervisor she immediately began to back off.

    There are just some people like that – and her reaction of claiming that you were somehow rude because you asserted yourself is typical of bullies. I think you did a great job handling it and clarifying things with your supervisor.

  9. Vera*

    Wouldn’t this be a situation where you’d just talk directly to the coworker? I’m sure it depends on company dynamics, but if coworker is complaining about OP to director, it seems like OP doesn’t have much to lose. When coworker started getting snippy, it seems like OP could have responded, “Have I said something to upset you?”. It sounds like coworker is about to retire, though, so maybe that’s not even worth it.

  10. FairyGetStuffDone*

    I understand where OP is coming from when she says she has a great supervisor. Not all supervisors are perfect all the time. I love my boss, but she can get a little “wishy-washy” when she is trying to anticipate what her boss or C-suite management will say before they even say it. Regardless of her beliefs or convictions she will impulsively respond with what she thinks they will want. Sometimes this causes a conflict and we have to work through because having learned this about her I will have to be direct and ask if this is her speaking or what she thinks someone else will want her to say. This helps with communication, but it really bothers some of my colleagues who think it should “never” happen and makes her weak. Weighed against all the other things she is great at, that is pretty minor if you are good at communicating with your manager.

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