how to solve a conflict between two strong-willed employees

A reader writes:

What do you do when you have two very strong-headed and opinionated employees working closely together, one a team leader and the other a newer employee, who have a personality conflict?

The team leader has been with the company for five years and feels as if the newer employee talks to her in a condescending manner. The new employee has knowledge in the industry and has done the job for many years but is learning a new way and tends to ask lots of questions and wants specific details as to why our company does it such and such a way. This employee now feels that she asks too many questions so she stopped asking and then feels like she is looked at as a show off. I don’t think either of them is right; it’s just a power struggle.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should I not have shared with my staff that I have cancer?
  • Employer offered the job to someone else while we were still negotiating salary
  • Updating an interviewer on achievements that happen after your interview
  • When should I bring up a request to telecommute?

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. Jerry Vandesic

    “The following day, I called back to confirm I would accept the position but also wanted to negotiate the pay.” (OP3)

    I can understand the confusion. These two statements are contradictory. If you you accept the offer, the negotiations are over. If you want to negotiate, then you haven’t accepted the offer. You can’t have both at the same time. While the hiring manager seems to have jumped the gun, they might have factored your uncertainty into their thinking that another candidate was a better fit.

    1. F.

      The company found someone else who was willing to accept the job and agree to the offered pay. Had I been the hiring manager, I would have been concerned that if you have accepted the position at the offered rate of pay, you would have continued to look and jumped ship when something better came along.

      1. fposte

        But wouldn’t that end up penalizing everybody who tried to negotiate and didn’t get exactly what they asked for?

        1. Chriama

          Agreed. I think what happened was more likely that OP was not a super top contender, just ‘good enough.’ When they asked to negotiate salary the hiring manager figured they might as well go and lock down another candidate who didn’t want any more money.

          It’s kind of like if you put an ad on Craigslist and one person offers you a price that’s kind of below what you wanted, and then another person emails you a couple hours after you’ve already responded to the first person with a better price or offering to come pick it up sooner. You go with the better offer, even if you’ve already started communicating with the first person (confession, I did this recently on the buyer’s end where I contacted a few different ads and the first person I heard from wasn’t available for a day or so while the second person was). In the hiring sphere it’s pretty disrespectful because people depend on their jobs for their livelihood, and it’s really only possible if you see no material difference between your candidates.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian

              I didn’t know there was a word for it! My bosses became interested in a property for their office and were bitterly disappointed to find that it was already under contract by the time they learned of it. They decided to contact the owner anyway and made a much better offer (it was for a derelict property on a very desirable street corner in the downtown). Lo and behold, the contract for the other buyer fell through and they were able to get the property. Is that gazumping?

          1. INFJ

            It sounds to me like it was a miscommunication, not that the company had the nefarious intent to try to get the cheapest candidate they could. According to the OP, the hiring manager had indicated that OP was “the best fit.”

            I agree with Alison, though, that the hiring manager mishandled this. She shouldn’t have “assumed” that OP wouldn’t take the job at the originally offered pay. She should have informed the OP of the best they could do, and then leave it to OP to decide whether or not to accept the offer on those terms.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian

            I did that on Craigslist awhile ago, too. One person was going to buy the thing, but they couldn’t come pick up for a couple of days. Another person could pick up right away, and so I took their offer. I felt bad about it, but I wasn’t certain the other person really would come pick up or they’d change their mind. I wanted the thing gone from my house, so I chose the sure thing over the uncertain thing.

            1. AcademiaNut

              That’s my standard policy for selling or giving away stuff. The first person who shows up with money and a way to transport the item gets it – I will only hold stuff with a cash deposit. Otherwise you hold the item for someone and they flake and you’re stuck having to post it again.

              1. Jessesgirl72

                I do the same. But I am transparent about this with the people who contact me. I will tell Contact #1 that Contact #2 says he can be there at 4 with cash in hand, if that he can’t get there first (and bring up his offer) I won’t hold the item.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Hmm, I don’t think that makes sense.

      While I agree that the OP’s language was confusing, it shouldn’t have led the hiring manager to move on to another candidate. If anything, I’d expect it to cause the hiring manager to go in the other direction — assuming that the OP would end up taking the original offer (which was right, as it turns out).

      I also think we should be careful not to assume that they way OPs describe things to Alison are the way they said them in their actual lives. I can easily imagine her conversation with the hiring manager going like this: “Leo, I’m thrilled about this offer and eager to join your team. Can we talk a bit more about the salary? I’d like to see a salary of offer+$5,000.”

      1. Jerry Vandesic

        “Can we talk a bit more about the salary? I’d like to see a salary of offer+$5,000.”

        In that case it’s reasonable to conclude that you declined the original offer, but you would take it if the manager added $5K. There is no agreement, the original offer was declined and no longer in place, and there is no obligation on the manager to re-offer the original salary.

        The same thing happens when you are negotiating the price of a house. If a buyer offers X, and the seller counters with X+$5K, the buyer is free to decline, and is not obligated to pay the original offer of X.

        1. Kyrielle

          Legal? Sure. Reasonable? Not really. The conventions around selling a hosue and taking a job are different. If the seller of a house is willing to accept the original offer, they normally don’t counter.

          But job-seekers are encouraged to negotiate and it’s a standard part of the landscape. The expected response if the price isn’t flexible is something like, “I’m sorry, but $offer is as high as we are willing to go. Do you still want the job under those circumstances?”

          And if the difference between offer and negotiated ask is high enough to raise questions of credibility or flight risk, such that they want to simply move on to their next candidate, then the response should be, “I’m sorry; it soudns like we’re not on the same page, and we are rescinding our offer.” But make that last part explicit at least.

    3. Audiophile

      I’ve done something similar to the OP. With a previous employer, they offered a very low salary (nonprofit world) and during the initial discussion I didn’t ask for time to think over the offer. So it appeared I was accepting the offer. I followed up the original discussion with an email asking if there was any flexibility with the salary they offered. We scheduled a time to talk and eventually agreed to a higher salary.

      If I could do it again, I’d certainly be clearer in my attention to negotiate.

  2. DatSci

    #3 Disagree with Alison on this one. Obviously (if OP3 is in the US) contract law likely isn’t in play here but it does lay out parameters for negotiations. Any counteroffer of commiseration is considered a refusal of the initial offer. When OP3 told the manager they wanted to negotiate salary and offered a different salary amount, they refused the initial job offer. At which point, the manager was free to offer the job to another candidate. It would have been better in practice to be transparent with OP3 on that point, but the manager chose not share that information until later. This is part of the risk/reward that comes with negotiating any deal.

    1. Mike C.

      This isn’t how things are normally done, and shouldn’t be considered a normal or reasonable risk of negotiating the terms of a new job.

      1. Uzumaki Naruto

        Yeah, this.

        Like, okay, you’re right about the elements of a contract and their legal obligations… but so what?

        The company’s behavior here is outside of business hiring norms. Typically a company will say “no, the pay is $XYZ, are you still interested?” not “oh, when you asked if there was room for negotiation with the salary we decided to go with someone else instead.”

        I mean, sure, it’s a risk. But it’s more like the risk of finding a mouse skull in a can of your favorite soda, rather than the risk of the soda causing you to gain weight.

    2. BRR

      I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that but the hiring manager should have spoken with the LW and finalized that offer before extending an offer to another candidate. This could include rejecting the LW (although candidates should not be penalized for negotiating).

    3. Artemesia

      No one is suggesting they don’t have the legal right to do this which is what all this parsing is about. One is suggesting that they are jerks for behaving like this. Which they are.

    4. Triangle Pose

      Are you a 1L in Contracts? This sounds like a classic 1L analysis. I don’t think any of it applies here, but it does make for a fun class hypo.

      1. DatSci

        Yes I am a secret 1L in Contracts who is masquerading as a data scientist. ;)
        Since it likely takes one to know one, are you a 1L in Contracts posing as a yogi?

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Well, Triangle Pose is not wrong. As a (long ago) former 1L, it was a 1L kind of comment, and it’s not like you couldn’t be a 1L with that username.

          (Also, Mike C. is right)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Totally agreed (that it was a 1L’ish comment, that what’s legal is not necessarily what’s right, and that what happened is not “how things are done” in most fields).

    5. sstabeler

      it’s also legal for a manager to fire you because you didn’t call them “their supreme holiness the god-emperor of mankind” but it wouldn’t be a reasonable thing to do. We’re not saying what the manager did was illegal. We’re saying it wasn’t particularly reasonable, since negotiating salary is a normal part of looking for a new job. It could well be that between the chice of OP #3 at X+5k and the 2nd place candidate at X the 2nd place candidate would be better. However, the response should be to see if you can get OP for X, not to be the metaphorical toddler who takes their ball and goes home. ( the reason for the comparison is because the company effectively penalized OP for trying to get more than what may have been the minimum salary he would accept.

  3. Cancer sucks

    OP2 – I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. I was very open about it and made sure everyone knew that things would be fluid as we figured out whether it had spread (it hadn’t) , what my treatment plan would be, when I would be out and for how long, etc.

    I fully agree with Alison’s reply on this one in terms of it not being a disaster that you told people! I’m glad I was up front about it with everyone. It headed off the biggest thing I’ve noticed in past workplaces when someone was out with a medical issue – whispering and gossip, and people’s not being sure what they are and aren’t allowed to tell people. It did get a little tiring having people fuss over me, but I found I could head that off pretty quickly as soon as I said “we caught it early, my chances are great, I’m okay!”

    The way harder part, for me, was not while I was dealing with the treatment. It’s been the part afterward when I’m back at work and “back to normal.” It’s super not normal at all – it’s taken a long time for a lot of the reality of this to set in – and nobody understands that, and I don’t really want to explain it. Everybody’s cancer experience is very different, of course, but just be prepared for that – it can feel really strange to go back to the way things were, or it could be just what you need.

    1. Language Lover

      It all depends on office culture but I really appreciated when people who had been diagnosed with an illness that took them out of the office regularly shared it. For our office, at least, it pretty much put the kibosh on gossip, speculation and those trying-not-to-be-nosy-but-really-nosy questions about if someone was okay. When the people had to miss work or had an appointment, it became normal and not the cause of a new flurry of speculation. And most of us don’t fuss but you’d have to ask the people who were actually dealing with the issue.

      Again, there’s no requirement, especially if it’s something someone would rather keep private, but sharing is definitely not a disaster.

    2. Viola Dace

      Yep. I was diagnosed with BC in early 2013 and that was my “cancer year”. While I was busy with treatment I felt like I was doing something. Then it’s all over and your whole life is different in a way that I certainly didn’t anticipate. Navigating these subsequent years has been a challenge. The fear of recurrence is number one…the monkey on your back that never goes away. And no one really gets that. For sure, having cancer in your rear view mirror is something most people don’t get, and it’s not all unicorns and rainbows just because you got through treatment.

    3. OP# 2

      OP #2 here. I am so glad to see the comment from “Cancer Sucks”! My cancer was stage 3C (advanced) and the treatment was more involved than I expected. I originally said I’d be off 6 weeks after surgery and planned to work through chemo (hah). I ended being off 12 weeks, then worked about 1/2 time for another 7 months of chemo and radiation. I’m back at work full-time more or less now but the side effects from treatment were debilitating and I miss a few days of work (FMLA) every month. You’re right; coming back – bald as an egg – was strange and I ended up changing to a less stressful position in the company. But I’m still kicking and doing pretty well!

      1. Jessesgirl72

        Congratulations on getting this far and kicking cancer’s butt as well as you have! I know it’s a process, but am thankful you’ve made it this far!

        Like with most things in life, you don’t know how something is going to play out until you are doing it. I’m glad you had a supportive workplace. Best wishes and continued good health for your future!

      2. 42

        Oh, you checked in! When I read your letter I had a “I wonder how she’s doing” moment, and came back to the comments to see the very thing. I’m glad you posted an update! My best wishes for you, OP2.

  4. Nancie

    I’m not sure that #2 is talking about their first successful proposals. They say that two were just approved, and that doubles their fundraising total. To me, that reads as their two recent successes being the 3rd and 4th.

    It might even be their 14th and 15th, if they’re literally referring to the fundraising total, and the dollar amount for the last 2 happen to equal the dollar amount for the previous ten or twelve or whatever.

  5. Feo Takahari

    #1: Beware of anyone who doesn’t like when you ask questions. The last fellow I worked with who didn’t like questions was stealing our cash deposits and trying to frame another employee for it.

    1. Nancie

      There’s an enormous difference between “doesn’t like when you ask questions” and “doesn’t like when you ask the same question for the 14th time.”

  6. Epsilon Delta

    #5, the telecommute question
    I assume it’s ok to ask about telecommuting in general during the interview, like if/how often current employees do it, or if it would be possible for the role you’re in. And then you wait till the offer to ask “Can I work from home 1 day a week” or whatever your request is.

    That’s one of the big perks at my current job, and I would want to know if there’s a similar setup available at New Job before I accepted the offer.

  7. NotAnotherManager!

    #5, please ask about this during the interview/negotiation phase. Bringing it up a month into new employment may not reflect well on you, if your employer isn’t telework friendly. I have just had this happen with an employee who took the job and then started peppering us with requests to work remotely, which is not how our office works. (They also kept asking after we said no and were very huffy about it. Which I also don’t recommend. :) if it’s very important to you, make it part of the hiring process conversations.

    1. Arielle

      Yeah, at my former company we had to rescind an offer of employment because we hired a sys admin who only revealed after he had been hired that he actually had another job, and he could only work a) remotely and b) between the hours of 6 pm and 2 am. “Mostly remote” would actually probably have been fine, “totally remote and during the opposite of normal work hours” was not.

  8. This is So Apropos!

    #1 – glad I saw this post. I’m a new person, with 30 year’s experience at other companies and product types. I’ve been at my 10 weeks. It’s a completely different product/manufacturing supply chain/order type, everything except the very basics of handling clients is different. I am having a hard time feeling confident, and I do ask questions, just to make sure I’m doing things right. I take notes, read my notes, review them…and yet something else comes up. I call it institutional knowledge, like someone who worked there for years would know exactly what to do, but I don’t have the relationships or connections yet, so I have to ask. She referenced an emailed report, and when I said I didn’t have it, she told me to look in my inbox because “we ALL get this report”. Turns out, I’m not on the distribution list. I solved this with another coworker today. She asked me to email a client with changes, and when I did, she said that’s not how she would have phrased it. Now, she’s calling me “confused” and she can’t understand why I am asking questions. Today, she totally shut me out of things she needed to get done and asked others to do them.

    I had such a rough time the last 2 1/2 years of my last job, and I thought this would be a good switch. I researched, asked questions, there were no red flags, the new company offered me more money, it’s a closer commute (only 10 miles round trip), but yet here I am.

    I came home, ready to cry, but instead, I’m going to talk to my manager on Monday, and ask her point blank if I’m progressing in a timely manner. I am so tempted to ask for my old job back. The company left that door open, and the manager who caused all of my woes is gone.

    I’ll think about it over the weekend.

    1. not me

      I feel for you. #1 is pretty much my real-life situation day in and day out, except that I’m caught between the two strong-willed personalities. I have to be careful to not be perceived as though I’m siding with one or the other because they are both easily offended and take things personally, carry grudges, etc. I pretty much just try to only interact with them when I need to and keep things very professional and leave feelings out of it (rise above their pettiness)

    2. not me

      Also, and I don’t know how to say this more nicely but if you let it bother you, then they win. Never let them see that they’re getting to you. Fake smiles and being overly courteous works well. Being really cheery around those types works well too, and it lets them see that you’re not so easily discouraged.

      1. This is So Apropos!

        Thanks for that. I am starting to think I made a huge mistake, leaving a job of 14 years, stress or no stress. I have been the senior person, training many people over the years, and I never, ever, phrased things like that. If someone said they didn’t have a report, I’d check the distribution list, make sure that person was on it, and then go help them to make sure it wasn’t getting caught in spam or something. If someone asked me a question, even more than once, I’d answer them (to a point) but geez – 10 weeks (and that includes all the holiday time off) is not a lot of time to grasp an entire new environment, computer system, reporting structure, learn all the employees, what they do, etc. Honestly, I didn’t leave stress to find it again.

        1. LassLisa

          About three months in to my current job I was feeling this way. Then I went to a training class at work where they went over the standard model they use for any new skill acquisition: at first (stage 1) you have high confidence but low capability: “I can do this new thing! I will work hard and learn!” At stage 2 your confidence drops. “Crap! This is actually much harder than I expected!” At stage 3 you start to actually get the hang of things, but are still very cautious. And at stage 4 your confidence rises back up as you start to realize you’ve been doing well.

          I mention this because when I was in the depths of despair about how hard it was to get to know who were all the right co-workers for all the right issues, and where were all the right reports to read for all the right status updates, and which database has which information, it was suddenly extremely helpful for me to be told explicitly that this was normal. And not just normal in one person’s experience, but a key part of this whole system of understanding employee development was that there is always a disheartened stage.

          1. This is So Apropos!

            I understand, but the biggest red flag is that my manager didn’t even have 5 minutes in the last 10 weeks to check with me in person and ask me how I was doing. There’s no training checklist. There is so much institutional knowledge, my coworkers are in their own cliques, and not once has anyone reached out to ask me if I’d like to join them in the cafeteria or when they go out to lunch, which is multiple times per week. When people gather and talk about things, I try to listen but I’m not included. The other day, coworkers from another office (out of town) dropped by, and were introduced to everyone on the team except me.

            It’s not just that it’s harder than I expected, much of it is a huge mystery and I don’t feel like I’m part of the team.

      1. This is So Apropos!

        I just sent an email to my “grand boss”, and asked her to keep me in mind if they are considering hiring anyone. I am going to try at my current job, but I think this might be my one “short time job on the resume” card. It’s a shame. I thought I had done such a good job researching, but apparently I failed.

        1. bluesboy

          You have NOT failed. You have found yourself working with someone who (wrongly) has no sympathy with the fact that a new person might need some time to get up to speed.

          Now this job might not be the right fit for you, for this or for other reasons. But you couldn’t possibly have foreseen this! So in no way have you failed. Sure, you’ve been unlucky. But don’t put it on your shoulders, it could have happened to any of us.

          Good luck!

          1. This is So Apropos!

            I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’ve had only 1 short check in with my manager since I started, and that was in the first 2 weeks. She emailed me right before Christmas, saying she would catch up then, but didn’t, apologized and said she would reschedule, didn’t, and basically I’m left with going to other lead people trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be learning. And it’s not so much learning, but learning how this company does the things I know how to do. There is also no training list or schedule, so I don’t really know what to ask. To top it all off, we’re moving to a new computer system soon, and it’s even worse and more convoluted than the one we have now. Ugh.

            1. bluesboy

              Is it possible that the new computer system could work in your favour? If it’s new for everyone else too, then you’re all learning together, and they don’t have the years of extra experience on you that they have with the current software. If you manage to pick it up quickly you could even have them coming to you asking for help!

              1. SarahKay

                I was thinking that myself. Plus the training on the new system may help clear up some of the other things you’re not getting good information on.

  9. Artemesia

    Asking questions can come across as condescending and know it all; I know because I have had to deal with my own tendency to appear this way. I have when questioning professionals developed a little coda that ‘I am not questioning that this is (good advice, the way it should be done, your information etc) but am trying to understand it more clearly. I find I remember things and can follow processes more effectively if I really understand the material. ‘

    In a job context it would be ‘I am new to this and to how things are done here and so I am trying to catch up and understand clearly what needs done . . . .’ Asking questions repeatedly or not using job aids is one thing, but being curious ought to be a plus.

    1. NonProfit Nancy

      Ugh, yes, it is so hard to come across correctly! I have a bad habit of finishing people’s sentences when I’m confused, with my “guess” – it actually does often reveal where the source of the misunderstanding is, but it comes across as crappy, and I have worked so hard to stop doing it. Sometimes it still pops out.

  10. Hrovitnir

    Re: letter one. I feel like this line has been ignored: “This employee now feels that she asks too many questions so she stopped asking and then feels like she is looked at as a show off.”

    The situation as it stands in the letter is no longer about how many/what kind/how to ask questions because the new employee has been so put off that she’s now afraid to ask questions. I think that’s pretty unfortunate.

    1. This is So Apropos!

      I feel this way. Another thing I learned this week was that I had old information on decision making…think how much time do we need to process the teapot order, load it on a truck, and then how much time the truck needs to get to the teapot warehouse. My chart was not the most updated one (and I can’t remember who gave it to me when I started), so no matter how careful I was to put all the dates together, I wasn’t coming up with the right number of days from start to finish. Again, I was asked – how did you come up with X days? I “showed the math” and was told, that’s wrong, I don’t know how you are getting those numbers. I said, my chart says X days, and we’re shipping on X carrier, so X+Y+Z = A days. Nope, still wrong. So, I walked around, looked at other charts pinned to cube walls, and sure enough, mine was different. Now I have the updated one. It’s little things like this that are driving me nuts, and it seems like every time I think I have it all put together, something else changes.

      1. Anon3

        My advice is to just relax, don’t ask so many questions and just observe. At my job things change daily. If you get something wrong it’s not the end of the world, live and learn. After a while you’ll see pattern and catch on.

      2. Candi

        I walked around, looked at other charts pinned to cube walls

        I think this summarizes your problems at your work place. No one who had the updated chart offered you a look or a copy; you had to look for yourself, and not at a centralized resource either.

        I’ve read your other comments, and all I can say is, it’s your coworkers that are the issue, and it’s not your fault you didn’t detect it earlier. That’s the kind of thing that would require a walkthrough and extensive discussion with employees, and you still might not catch it. But it’s not your fault you’re being excluded, people are making assumptions about what you have access to without checking, ignoring you, and just not reaching out to the new guy. It’s an unpleasant environment, and not your fault.

        Do what’s right for you.

    2. NonProfit Nancy

      This can certainly be the effect of strong personalities. It happened to me at a prior job; I was enthusiastic and asked lots of questions, but it ended up just annoying the woman who was training me, who had a very dominant personality and wanted me to hush up and listen respectfully. I was hurt and confused by her strong negative reaction to what I thought was enthusiasm, tried to change course, and kind of undercut both my morale and my excitement about the job. And stopped learning as much for a while. We did reach equilibrium after a while and worked together with reasonable success for a few years before she was promoted away from my department and I got her old job. But all the effort to accommodate her style came entirely from me – she continued in the same forceful vein throughout our relationship, and never really warmed up to me. If I had to do it over again, I would have tried to start out in a more calm and patient manner, with less bouncy enthusiasm, but I was young at the time.

  11. Anon3

    L1- I was a team lead in a similar situation. I was fine with the new person asking questions the first few weeks, but it was irritating after a while when she constantly interrupted my trainings asking very detailed questions that weren’t pertinent to the specific training at hand. It was especially frustrating to realize that no matter how many questions I answered, she simply wasn’t retaining ANY of the information. Add to that, she was hired because we needed work done, but she was slow catching on, work was falling very much behind, and guess whose job it was to “get it done”, mine. My manager was not supportive and after 12 weeks I was beyond frustrated.

    I trained 3 others before her without issue, but this one, WOW. If I was in this position again with someone like her, and no support from management, I’d start looking for a new job.

    1. NonProfit Nancy

      Yeah, at some point I think you have to call it out (politely and not in public) to the junior employee. “I have explained this to you before – please consult your manual with these questions instead of coming to me again on this” or, “I have a specific order I’ve developed to explain our systems – please let me get through the agenda before we get sidetracked. I’ll be happy to circle back to your question at the end.” I’ve also politely repelled people who insist on disrupting group lessons – “that question is more suited to a one-on-one discussion of your particular role, in the interest of everybody’s time I’m going to stick to the agenda and I’ll catch up with you later about that.” I’ve never had to do this more than once. Although I’m sure there’s people out there who can’t. catch. a hint.

  12. Geekster

    #3

    If the situation were reversed, then what?

    Potential employee interviews with two companies. One offers him a job. Then another offers him a job. Should he decline one offer before trying to negotiate the other?

    The company had two qualified candidates. The OP was the first choice. Maybe the second choice had already accepted elsewhere. If the manager told the OP there was no room, and the OP declined, then the manager would be down to zero prospects if the second choice is no longer available. I don’t understand what’s ethically or morally wrong with asking the second option, “I’d like to offer you this job. Will you take it?” Yes? Great. One offer accepted. Now, tell the OP that the job is no longer open.

    Surely it wouldn’t be reasonable for the manager to say to prospect #2, “Look. You’re my second choice. If you’ll agree to work for this choice, then I’ll tell my first choice the salary is fixed. And then if he accepts, I’ll cut you loose. But if he doesn’t accept, then it’s all yours.” That would be silly.

    Perhaps the company would have been willing to pay more for OP if prospect #2 was unavailable. Keep that option open.

    It’s business. It’s not personal. And it doesn’t sound unethical. As a candidate, I’ve had multiple offers that I juggled before.

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