I’m helping a peer with a project and she’s wasting a huge amount of my time

A reader writes:

I have an awkward, low-stakes problem at work and I’d love your thoughts.

I’m helping Lucinda with a project – something we need to do eventually, but it’s tedious and never urgent so it’s dragged on. Lucinda’s been here longer than me, and she’s bright and does really great work, but we have different styles. She talks a lot without saying much, whereas I prefer a short, direct email. On top of that, I heard from another colleague who’s known her longer that Lucinda can be possessive of her work, and this is very much her project.

Lucinda’s very busy and I’m in a bit of a lull, so it would be easy for me to move this project forward except that she wants discussion and consensus on every little thing. I’m tempted to just say “not my circus, not my monkeys” – if it gets bogged down because she wants to be involved in every decision, that’s between her and our manager, and if meetings occasionally run long because Lucinda’s chatty, well sometimes you make chitchat so your coworkers like you. But at the same time, Lucinda seems to be acting like she thinks she’s managing me, and she’s doing it really ineffectively.

The parts of the project she asks me to do are really basic. After I finish these simple tasks, she reviews my work and books hour-long meetings to discuss it – a week after our last hour-long meeting about the same simple task. She’s repeatedly suggested that we do the same work in parallel then compare our results afterwards, despite me explaining that that’s not a great use of our time and I’d defer to her preference for whether she or I did the first draft. Lucinda seems to have a strong preference for how we approach the work (there are a few ways we could approach things and there’s no right answer), but she won’t say what it is and I can’t tell. She wants us to work up a few different approaches and consult the rest of our team, who’ve already been consulted and aren’t affected at all by this. I just want someone to make a decision so we can start the actual work we need to do.

So basically, Lucinda isn’t great at managing her time? Or delegating? Really, it’s no skin off my back if she wants to keep the project and it never gets done. But it IS skin off my back to have weekly hour-long meetings with a peer to discuss versions of the same work, or to have my peer try to manage me when she can just make whatever changes she wants and doesn’t owe me an explanation, or to be forced into endless consultations and meetings where nothing gets decided.

I tried to book a shorter slot for our next meeting but she re-booked it for an hour, and I’ve tried asking her directly if we need that long and explaining why I don’t think we do but she seems to have ignored that email. Help!

Ooooh, this tried my patience just reading it.

If Lucinda is indeed a peer, you actually can take back some control here — not of the project, but certainly of your own time.

You can say, “I can’t meet for a full hour about this. I could meet for 30 minutes this week, and I think that will be enough time.” Or, “I’m not able to meet for an hour about this and actually don’t know that we need to meet at all. I think it’ll be more efficient if you just send me the draft back with your edits and I’ll take it from there. I’ll let you know if I have questions about your edits once I see them.”

You can also say, “I want to make sure I’m using my time efficiently, and so I don’t want to do the same work in parallel. If you want to do it, that’s fine with me, or I can handle it myself. Just let me know which you prefer.”

And you can address the big picture as well: “I’m noticing that you prefer to have hour-long meetings every week to discuss versions of the same work. From a time management standpoint, I can’t make that work every week, and I don’t think it’s a good use of our time. I’m happy to meet when there’s something new, but I think we should try to keep those meetings streamlined. And I want you to know that I’m not expecting you to explain all your changes to me! This is your project and you can make whatever changes you want; let’s not discuss each change unless you actually need my input.”

Another version: “Hey, it seems like we have really different work styles. I strongly prefer not to meet so often and for so long, and I don’t think this project requires it. I’m happy for you to make whatever changes you want to my work, and you don’t owe me explanations for that because this is your project. But I can’t keep attending long meetings every week when we don’t actually have that much to discuss! Let me know what work you need from me, and I’ll be glad to do it, but I’ve got to cut down on the meeting time.”

Of course, this is complicated by the fact that you do actually have time for all these meetings, so it might feel weird to tell her that you don’t. But even if you don’t actually have projects that are higher priorities that she’s taking you away from, it’s still a bad use of your time to meet endlessly about small details or to do exactly the same work as her. Surely there’s something else productive you could be doing with that time, even if it’s just “the rest of the year I’m really busy and this the lull time that I use to get some breathing room and reflect on my plans for the next quarter.”

Depending on the dynamics you have with your boss, it might also make sense to give her a brief heads-up — “hey, just FYI, I’m finding that Lucinda has a style on this project where she wants to have a lot of lengthly, contemplative meetings about small details. I’m letting her know that I’m happy to do whatever work she wants me to do on it, but I’m pushing back on the regular hour-long meetings every week when we don’t have much to discuss. Wanted to mention it in case you want me handling it differently.” That might not be necessary, depending on your boss, but you have a decent relationship with her (and think she’ll agree with you), it could be helpful to mention.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloan Kittering*

    Zomg I know this coworker. I even wrote a similar email to Alison about her. Bright woman, well liked, but just … not practical in her approach to what is necessary or valuable. It’s tough because OP is not actually that busy right now, but I just object on principle to wasting time on things like this. To be honest, OP, I think you should try to get off of this project and on to something else where you’ll have more ownership.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Or OP could take ownership of the project herself, since Lucinda is busy and OP is not. OP, if this is actually work you’re interested in and that needs to get done, maybe go to your boss and ask to own the project?

      I also have to wonder how much of the busy-ness is of Lucinda’s own making, if she treats all her work like this!

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        And yet I’m guessing if you tried to do that, Lucinda would see it as making her look bad and stealing the work from her. My read (perhaps unnecessarily unkind): she likes to sit and brood over this project and waste time and make herself feel important.

        1. fposte*

          I was thinking she sees this as a chance to develop her management experience. It sounds like generally Lucinda is smart and capable and is just falling down in this situation, and I’m wondering if she’s trying to get more from it and just doing it very badly.

          1. rogue axolotl*

            This was my read as well, that Lucinda is trying to manage this project and is way overshooting how much collaboration/coaching is necessary. It’s a hard balance to get right, particularly with a peer. I haven’t gone this far, but I have probably been guilty of checking in more than I needed to.

      2. NoMoreMrFixit*

        I’d be careful about doing that. Having had an all too similar situation in the past with a coworker, I tried suggesting that I take on the project to free my peer up to focus on their remaining tasks. It blew up in my face like the proverbial volcano. Turned out my coworker was obsessive about owning the project as much as how it was to be completed.

        In the end I withdrew from that project and left my coworker to rule his little empire on his own, with my manager’s blessings. Thank God I no longer work there.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I work with one of these too, and she insists that the owner of the company not hire anyone to help with her workload and pushes anyone out who tries to help. Says she is ‘stress testing’ the department. Ugh, no,m especially when the Department is HR. So it stress tests everyone BUT her. Also is because she is insecure, makes many mistakes and wants to hide them from people as much as possible.

          I am working on other things fortunately so I don’t have to be impacted by this nonsense.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Oh good lord that’s terrible. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You just know it’s going to come to a head at some point.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              Boss looks at her the way a small child looks at candy. And don’t get me started about how she’s trying to get her boyfriend a job here. Did I mention she is already married and we live in a small town? She takes her direct reports out to lunch and gush about the BF. It’s extraordinary.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That would be a great way to get Lucinda ticked off at OP. I’d be very hesitant to do that.

    2. CoveredInBees*

      My sympathies. I worked for a CEO like this. What it made things worse was we’d constantly get emails and short speeches with the CEO’s thoughts on how we could streamline things or the latest from HBR on how we could be more efficient. Sigh.

  2. Lena Clare*

    Is this one of those instances where you LW are task-orientated and Lucinda is relationship-orientated? Her approach would try my patience too! Good luck.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      As someone who is probably overly relationship-oriented, wasting time having both of you do the same work in parallel and then compare answers doesn’t strike me as a symptom of that. It’s more like someone who’s overly fixated on process and data-gathering instead of being outcome-oriented.

      1. Lena Clare*

        Ah ok thank you for clarifying. I am very much a task-orientated person and find it hard to work out what I should compromise on sometimes., but that makes sense.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          The hour long meetings, maybe … but what a sad way to try and make a new friend … :(

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. I don’t think this is a task-oriented v. relationship-oriented problem.

        1. Lance*

          Yeah, this is very much a time/priorities/control management problem, far more so than anything else. Lucinda either doesn’t have a good idea of what should be done, or doesn’t know how to do it effectively, or both, from the sound of things.

      3. Marissa*

        As a recovering control freak, this sounds to me like Lucinda doesn’t think of OP as a capable adult who can accomplish things without Lucinda’s constant oversight.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          And yet, one of the things OP notes is Lucinda’s need to go around confirming with everybody else, when nobody else really cares, which is more about general insecurity to me, versus wanting everything to be Lucinda’s Way

          1. Mephyle*

            Insecurity and projection (or inability to realize that not everyone is like herself). Lucinda is insecure about her own competence and so she is insecure about OP’s competence, too.

        2. rogue axolotl*

          And for me, as someone who has struggled to make the leap from always handling all of my work myself to delegating to others, I wonder if Lucinda is just really not good at knowing when to back off and let the LW get on with it. If Lucinda is a conscientious worker it might seem counter-intuitive that putting in more work is actually not getting any results in this case.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Yes, thank you for putting your finger on something that I wasn’t expressing – this sounds like Lucinda is an overly conscientious worker – this is a thing, I encounter it all the time. Miss-applied effort where it doesn’t matter and an inability to tell the difference.

  3. Boo Hoo*

    Reminds me of my coworker who had 14, yes, 14, hour plus meetings to approve the exact color and cap of a free giveaway pen. I stopped attending after a while.

    1. Cosette*

      Just make a decision because … really?!…. who cares?!?!? LOL Color and cap of a free pen… if only I had stuff like that to worry about!

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Oh, this beats my previous record of 10 hour-long meetings to determine whether or not we should enable a particular setting on the photocopiers! Apparently this decision required the input of 5 managers, plus me. And I don’t think we ever did come to a decision – fortunately my contract ended before I actually did die of boredom.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Seriously what was the copier setting “Self Destruct and wipe out a 20 mile radius”? I can’t see there being that much at stake with a copier setting.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          I can’t remember – I think it was whether or not to insert a separator page between print jobs.

          Apparently it required the input of the managers of Information Technology (because they would be the ones to format the copiers), Information Management (privacy considerations), Facilities Management (physical location of copiers), and two program managers (impact on operations.) And me, for reasons unknown.

          This was before I was reading AAM, but I was already on board with her “anthropological” approach of pretending I was observing aliens from another planet, because there was literally no other way to get through it without sticking a fork in my eye and sending myself to emerg. On the plus (?) side, it’s made me remarkably blase about weird workplace requirements!

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            That is truly bonkers. I bow to your ability to endure without resorting to a fork in the eye.

          2. Close Bracket*

            With the exception of you, I guess, all those people are stakeholders, so excluding them would be very bad project management. I mean, the copiers do need to be formatted, the data does need to be private (or determination of such needs to be made), somebody, although I wonder why it has to be facilities, needs to provide the locations of all affected copiers, and PMs need to know the cost impact. What seems like a small decision to you as a user does actually impact all those areas. There is a whole lot of overhead that goes into implementing even small things.

            1. Drop Bear*

              Even accepting that you’re right that all these people are needed to sign off on this, or any, sort of photocopier setting (which I don’t for the record!), 10 hour long meetings (plus how ever many they had after Matilda Jefferies left the org) is overkill ++. I’d suggest it could be done via email consultation, but if not, one meeting would be sufficient in even a semi-functional workplace IMHO.

        2. Jean (just Jean)*

          variations on this:
          “self destruct and wipe out [insert name(s) here]”
          “self destruct then self-reassemble”
          “count down to liftoff”
          “insert eggs, butter, and chocolate chips for delicious output”
          “switch SCAN to TRANSPORT or APPARATE”

        3. TardyTardis*

          We had some joker in our department change the global language to French on the main copier on April Fool’s Day one year…

    3. mark132*

      I think your coworker has a future in interrogation. “Tell us what we want to know or we keep having meetings about pen cap color.”

      1. fposte*

        If anybody’s familiar with the British comedy duo of Mitchell and Webb, they have a great sketch about a radio interview with a scientist counting whales, which mocks the interminability of the earnest BBC/NPR type piece by revealing that the two speakers are being tortured to keep them talking calmly about whale counting for days on end. “I am beginning to think that compared to continuing the whale discussion for really any time at all, Death has substantially lost its sting.”


      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I would snap and give up anything I knew… and make up anything I didn’t know!

    4. tink*

      i feel like this is a situation where you send out a survey and ask people to rank 3-5 colors? or just use company colors.

    5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      This is a joke right? It has to be a joke… there aren’t really people who would spend 14 hours x the number of attendees to pick a color, right? There isn’t a manager out there who would allow an employee to waste this much time, right?

      Oh goodness I think I want to cry a little

      1. Someone Else*

        You can have 14 hours of meetings about any simple decision. Someone just has to keep making the decision, and then deciding you need to revisit the decision (or acting as though it hadn’t been made). Rinse, repeat, remember you’re Sisyphus.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          No I physically don’t think I could sit through 14 hours of pen color choices. I would have stopped going after the first one. (Or stabbed someone with the pen prototypes). Even if I had nothing better to do (and there have been extended slow periods in my career, I couldn’t have sat through 14 hours of pen choice colors.

        2. Matilda Jefferies*

          Yes, and also we have to consult with Fergus, but he’s on vacation this week. So now we need to spend half an hour debating whether or not to have the meeting without him, then decide to go ahead anyway and catch him up when he gets back. Then when he’s back, it’ll be important to review aaaaalllll the discussion that led us to conclude we wanted retractable pens rather than caps, but does he have any input before we go any further?

          Then Fergus provides aaaallllll his opinions on retractable pens, and did we remember to ask Jenny in accounting? We did, but she doesn’t care – although this new information might change her opinion, so we might have to ask her again.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Oh yeah, I don’t play that game. Fergus either shows up, gives me an opinion before he leaves, or sends a designee authorized to make a decision. *

            That is truly one thing that I love about my company. The above is our culture, there is an often quoted ‘rule’ “Business doesn’t stop because someone’s out of the office”

            * Even executives are usually really good about designees for decisions. Usually it’s the approvals that get hung up with them.

            1. Matilda Jefferies*

              Yeah, it’s a funny thing about consensus culture. Even if people don’t actually have an opinion, they feel they have to provide one, just because they were asked. So nobody feels comfortable going OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHO CARES???, because everybody *else* seems to care. Then it looks like you’re not a team player if you opt out, and round and round we go. Every individual person agrees that the process is ridiculous, but as a group, it’s so ingrained in the culture that it’s impossible to get rid of.

              1. Artemesia*

                Wholocracy — holocracy? whichever — every place I have seen it in operation has been a disaster of poor management. One business basically went out of business because everyone was in charge of its most critical function and no one did it.

              2. ofotherworlds*

                “Consensus culture” is a good turn of phrase and one that I haven’t heard before. That’s an excellent way to describe how my church’s vestry works. If a vote is not going to be unainimous we work through the issue until it is. This has served us well in the past but needs to change now, so that we can let outside groups that feed the hungry use our kitchen. The little old ladies guild can’t have exclusive use of it, they won’t accept alternatives, so we will have to outvote them. End of an era.

        3. College Career Counselor*

          Exactly. At a previous job, there was much reference made to a series of meetings (before I got there) about THE NAPKINS to be used at an event at the college. Apparently this went beyond “how many do we need for X attendees” to: napkin size, shape, COLOR (just GO with the school color(s), people), and printing (should they say “welcome” or “welcome to X college”, etc.).

          On the plus side, it gave us all a health sense of the absurd, and any time a meeting started to get too far into the weeds, someone would ask, “Hey, what color should the napkins be?” and we’d be back on track.

      2. Boo Hoo*

        I so wish I was kidding. Our boss stopped going but she was free to keep doing it. Finally boss told her to figure it the F out. She was a truly nice woman, I actually helped deliver her child due to an emergency, but truly nutter butters in many ways.

    6. Phoenix Programmer*

      Ugghhh. This exact sort of thing would happen on the non-profit board I sat on. Excruciating.

      It turned me off of politics completely.

      1. Artemesia*

        I was on an association board of a national group that only met a couple of times a year and was like this. Drove me nuts and SUCH bad decisions. They actually had one of those Meyer’s Briggs testers come in and test everyone and then arrange us on a line of ‘types’ — I and one other guy also driven nuts by this whole organization were literally in one corner of the room and everyone else — a dozen people — were in the opposite corner of the room. Explained a lot. The Board eventually bankrupted the organization when they decided to tile representation to whom they wish joined the organization rather than who did and created policies that worked not at all for the 80% of their actual members. People dropped out and there it went.

        1. Artemesia*

          Tilt representation on the board not ’tile’ — basically 80% of the board was designed to represent the fantasy of whom they wished would join the organization, but didn’t and the actual members’ needs were ignored since they had pretty much no representation on the board.

      2. Half-Caf Latte*

        I’ve had this experience at an org. I’m the only one of my MB type, and my diametrically opposed type takes up the lions share across the room.

        Oh, I see.

    7. only acting normal*

      I thought the half hour a working group I attended spent, arguing about whether a square on a slide should be drawn as red/yellow or yellow/red, was a huge waste of time. (Two of us collapsed into hysteria because literally no-one cared except one guy who kept arguing, mostly with himself). But apparently it was actually the model of efficiency.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        This is why it’s a mistake to get too focused on design. Show the info with the emphasis where you want it, in colors bright enough but not so bright they hurt, and move on!

    8. Rey*

      Consensus decisions are for high-stakes issues with complex problems/solutions, when everyone MUST agree on the outcome. But pen colors?! Definitely not my definition of high-stakes.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    This sounds like somebody who either doesn’t really want to do this project, or is unsure of how to proceed, but also doesn’t want to give up the prestige of owning it (and/or possibly the martyrdom of being too busy), and is basically spinning her wheels. I doubt she’ll give it up unless a superior wrests it from her and gives it to the OP or someone else, and even then she’ll probably grouse.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s definitely interesting. If Lucinda didn’t want to do this low-stakes, no-deadline project (or wasn’t sure how to do it, or whatever) you’d think she’d be happy to push it off onto OP. So yes, I think there’s something about the prestige or, as fposte said upthread, she views it as managerial practice for herself, and I agree that she is enjoying the “sooo busy” cachet that comes with wasting a ton of time on unimportant things.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Nah, it’s one more thing on the list of stuff hanging over her head. Personally, I love ticking off finished projects, but some people live for the burden, even when it’s mostly imaginary.

    2. MLB*

      My guess is that she’s a control freak, so she wants it all done HER way, in addition to being one who works harder and not smarter. It sounds like OP has made some efforts to steer her in a more organized and time efficient way of working, but she’s having none of it. I would try and push her into a better direction one more time, and if nothing changes involve the manager. It doesn’t matter if OP isn’t busy right now, she shouldn’t have to waste her time in meeting after meeting discussing the same thing and getting nowhere.

    3. designbot*

      I think we have a winner. She doesn’t actually know the next step, or how to move from one step to the next.
      If I were the LW I’d try to help her with project planning—break out okay, so we made this decision this week but let’s talk about the overall schedule! If we need to do XYZ, this is how this would break down, how many hours I think we need. Do it as a stage-gate chart and get specific about whose approval is needed at what stage!

    4. AnnaBananna*

      I wouldn’t say that. She actually sounds like she’s in higher ed/government. They’re known for absolutely every decision being backed by a committee as a form of CYA.

      My advice to the LW would be to defer to her manager’s preference. If she’s comfortable with Lucinda wasting time and resources, then there really isn’t much LW can do.

  5. Psyche*

    It might be a good idea to double check with their boss that the coworker isn’t supposed to be managing the OP on this project. Clarifying that can help to push back against things like scheduling long meetings and unclear expectations about how it should be done.

    1. Le'veon Bell is Seizing the Means of Production*

      I think that’s worth doing if Lucinda starts pushing back when OP starts declining meetings and following Alison’s scripts, but I think doing that beforehand just opens the opportunity for someone who isn’t intimately involved in this to absentmindedly say “oh, yeah, that makes sense, Lucinda can be your manager for this project, just do what she says.”

    2. Close Bracket*

      When I work on a project that a coworker is leading, I basically treat that person as though they are my manager for the purposes of that project. I work in heavily matrixed environments, where it’s rare to be managed by your actual line management, though.

      Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, it Lucinda actually saw her work style as collaborative. I could see that.

      1. TechWorker*

        Demanding hour long review meetings for small bits of work isn’t particularly collaborative though – especially if LW has explained why they’re unnecessary.

  6. Le'veon Bell is Seizing the Means of Production*

    I’d say, if there are instances where she wants to talk over edits to a section and you’ve already contributed and don’t care how it turns out, you might just start saying something closer to that. “Hey, thanks for the meeting invite; I’ve already contributed and don’t have any more to add. Feel free to do what you like with it. If you need something else specific from me, lmk, but otherwise, it doesn’t matter to me whether you use my contributions or not here.”

    You might even create something like that in your own voice and use it as a template, not only so it’s easy to copy/paste but so she starts seeing the same language over and over again and the pattern-recognition parts of her brain can start to light up. It might not prevent all the meeting invites, but at least you’ll be able to avoid them! Just decline the invite and reply to the cal invite email with whatever your copy/pasted template is.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, there ought to be a way to thread the needle here where you contribute what you’re able to contribute and just decline to engage with her work process – without criticizing her or “taking” this from her. Here’s my part, do what you wish, can’t meet this week but I trust you. It’s kind of 201 level coworker-ing, but it can be done. The slight exception could be if she is viewing this as management practice and you are playing the role of her peon – but I wouldn’t recommend OP get into that role if s/he can avoid it at all, it kind of makes you look bad IMO to be subordinate to what should be a peer anyway.

    2. epi*

      Excellent advice and username!

      Lucinda apparently wants the OP’s buy-in on every little thing. Maybe she feels weird about editing a peer or believes she is supposed to be training the OP in some way. (That’s the only reason I can think of for the two of them to be doing the same work in parallel to compare it.) So give her permission to just make the decisions; decline the training or hand-holding or whatever this is.

      Coming from me in my work situation, it would sound something like, “Feel free to change, correct, or not use my contributions without giving me a heads up! You are the project owner here, I just want to help you get it finished. If you come across specific things that aren’t clear or that you want me to handle differently in the future, let me know.”

  7. Teacake*

    I think you need to start setting boundaries. You don’t have to explain and get her to see – rather, decide what you will or won’t do and stick to it.

    For example if she rebooks a meeting for an hour then decline it and say you don’t have time.

    1. Essess*

      Also, ask for an agenda for the meeting. What are the project topics she wants to discuss, and what are the specific highlights and decisions to be made.

      1. Beatrice*

        Spoiler alert – she won’t send an agenda, but you can decline the meeting until/unless she does.

  8. Cordoba*

    I’d recommend an approach along these lines:

    Lucinda: “Can you help me with this thing?”
    LW: “Sure, I’ve booked 30 minutes to discuss it with you.”
    Lucinda: “But we’ll need more time, so I’ll make that an hour meeting.”
    LW: “Nevermind, I don’t think I’ll be able to help you.”

    At this point Lucinda will either take LW up on that offer of 30 minutes after all, or go have a sad that LW isn’t helping her out. Either outcome is fine.

    I really like the “Nevermind, I’m out…” approach to people who try to re-negotiate something that I’m only doing to help them in the first place.

    1. Competent Commenter*

      Agreed. She can’t make you attend a meeting, she’s not the boss (thank goodness). You don’t have to say no, just stop saying yes.

      I was counseling a coworker of mine to do it. She said another admin was dumping work on her that was clearly not hers to have to do. I said, just don’t take it. I mean really. I visualize it like the other person is trying to hand you an unwanted object. You don’t have to extend your arms and open your hands and take it. Just keep your arms to your sides. Eventually they have to give up.

  9. Remover of Obstacles*

    Perhaps a way to take the time element out of it is to pose the question in terms of value. Asking, “Can you tell me what value these meetings have for you?”or “What value do I bring to these meetings, from your point of view?” might give some insight into what she’s expecting or getting out of these meetings. If her assessment of value doesn’t match yours (and I suspect they won’t), you can say so using some of the excellent scripts Alison provided (maybe substituting value for time in them).

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      It’s a good suggestion, for normal people. But I suspect Lucinda legitimately thinks that they need to have this time together to review the project and plan. I’m basing this on the fact that she wanted to do parallel (duplicate) work with the OP which is a complete and total waste of time.

      Unfortunately I don’t think there’s any value added for the OP to ask this because at the end of the day the answer won’t really matter.

  10. Cardamom*

    Hmm. . .At first I was thinking I would just plow through the entire project and send her my work. That way there would be just one meeting at the end, instead of many meetings along the way. But it sounds like it might be more complicated than that.

  11. YarnOwl*

    This gave me flashbacks to the last manager I had, although she was behaving this way because she was basically not doing anything all day and wanted to feel like she was contributing something. It drove me and my team mates crazy because we were all slammed doing our work AND covering up for the mistakes this manager was always making. Yikes. I feel for OP.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, to me someone who schedules a lot of meetings that aren’t really necessary is someone who Wants To Seem Busy And Important. These people must be avoided by those who actually have work to do!

  12. WhoKnows*

    It sounds to me as if Lucinda’s manager has told her his is her project and she should manage it how she sees fit, so she’s taking this opportunity to play boss with OP (not necessarily with bad intentions at heart!) and try out different project management styles.

    I think Alison’s advice is sound here. Unless you want to talk to your manager and see if you can get yourself taken off the project and ask for different work, you have to address it straight on with Lucinda.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s true, this can almost be a power play where Lucinda is demonstrating that she’s management material, and OP is newbie collateral damage. If Lucinda and OP were ever up for the same promotion, this is the kind of thing that can be played up to make one look better.

  13. Cucumberzucchini*

    Murder is always an option. Just be careful not to get caught. This sounds crazymaking. I hate needless and drawn out meetings. Why do some people love them so much? I don’t understand!!!

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Perhaps because you get to sit and talk about work, rather than doing it? Also there might be cookies.

  14. animaniactoo*

    Lucinda is a *consensus* builder – the question is whether this project really needs a consensus, or just needs something that works.

    “Lucinda, just a head’s up that I won’t be able to put in this much time when my other projects pick up, so if I’m going to be of any real help to you, we need to find a way to work more expeditiously than this.

    Here’s what I’d suggest as a workflow:

    • Let me know what you want to work on.
    • When I’m done you will review and either send back to me with comments for revision or edit yourself and send back to me with the markup so I have a better sense of what you’re looking for.
    • Meet occasionally to brainstorm but then you’ll make the decision on how you want to proceed and I’ll go with that.
    • Once we have a solid portion of something developed, we can put it out to others for comment to cross-check that we’re not missing something that will be a problem for them, and look at adjustments if necessary.
    • Move on to the next portion/phase of the project.

    I feel this is the best way that I can be useful to you given my own strengths and probable future workload. Please let me know if this works for you.”

    And then simply decline hour long meetings. If she tries to book one for something like reviewing minor changes, tell her you can give her 15 minutes. The fact that she re-books what you’ve already set up doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it. You can actually make her accountable to you in that you can decline the longer meeting unless she can justify it with something more than the minor edits.

    If she pushes back, this would actually be the point where you go to your mutual manager and say “Hey, I’m not sure what you want me to do here. Lucinda is so detail oriented that she wants to have an hour long meeting on a weekly basis to go over stuff that’s basically small edits imo that don’t need to be justified to me as to why they’re happening. I’ve tried explaining why that’s not necessary from my end, but she isn’t willing to pull back. How do you want me to proceed? Is there a middle ground that I’m not seeing?”

    In a lot of ways, I’d do it like this because I’d want to make sure I’m not stepping on toes about what your manager has told Lucinda about how this project needs to be carried out. (i.e. the consensus building – your manager may need to give Lucinda a better understanding of how she wants her to go about doing that, not that she doesn’t want it to happen. Or giving feedback to her co-worker, sourcing ideas, trying to work as a team/delegate, etc.)

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I did wonder if it was partly a misapplied “consensus building” approach to work process … but the way OP described Lucinda wanting to personally review each one of OP’s tasks and provide corrections also read like a power play to me.

      1. animaniactoo*

        And it probably is – without intending to be. Lucinda sounds like she’s been told that she needs to stop being a control freak and be a better team player and learn to work more co-operatively. Therefore, she’s running around trying to build consensus and be clear about why every little last thing is happening so there are no hard feelings about why it’s happening.

      2. irene adler*

        That’s why, when I’m sucked into meetings, I get the feedback I need from the attendees right away. Then get a plan of action. Then, and here’s what is key:I stand up, thank the attendees, and leave them to continue the meeting without me. Time is of the essence sort of thing.

      3. misspiggy*

        Ooh. You have just illuminated the behaviour of several colleagues. I could never work out why they always seemed to be fed up with me – they wanted ideas and involvement, right? So why were they upset when others started providing input? Consensus-building control freaks… must look out for the signs in future.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          For some people, consensus seems to mean “everyone agrees with me, so we all agree, so it’s consensus”.

          The thing that gets me is that Lucinda wants to get buy-in from OP on her changes. That’s not being a manager, that’s being an explainer. True managers make decisions, ideally in a timely manner, that allow their reports to continue having work to do.

    2. Tammy*

      A useful tool I’ve learned somewhere along the way is the distinction between consensus and consent. That is, instead of spending 39 hours spinning your wheels trying to reach consensus (which isn’t a really effective way of surfacing true objections, IME), I’ll say something like “The decision that’s on the table is to go with the copper-plated steel teapots with the polonium self-heating liners. Is there anybody who can’t consent to that decision?” And then the people who withhold their consent have to actually make a reasoned argument for why not.

      This technique doesn’t always work, but it helps a lot of the time. (Back in the early days of my career, when I was a system analyst for a college library, I remember a 3 hour staff meeting about what search engine to set as the homepage on the library’s computers.) We wasted sooooooo much time for soooooo many people, and the ultimate decision mattered almost not at all.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yes! That’s why I’m outlining a workflow that still gives Lucinda buy-in without OP having to specifically say “Okay” to every last little bit. I did forget to say OP should be specific about “I’ll let you know if I see a problem with anything, but otherwise will just go ahead and execute your plan/comments/etc.”

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah I think this is part of Lucinda’s problem, and what we’d tell her if she wrote in – you don’t need everyone’s buy-in on this project, you don’t need this much consensus. The project doesn’t merit this much engagement. OP has the additional burden of already knowing this and needing to figure out how to manage Lucinda.

        I wonder if Lucinda would share OP’s sense that this is a low-stakes, do-anytime type project or if this is The Highlight Of Lucinda’s Career to Date.

  15. Data Miner*

    “Not my circus, not my monkeys”…it sort of sounds like you might be deep into this project, in which case it might be perceived as a Group Project and not Lucinda’s Project, in which case you bailing (even if rightfully so) could be perceived as you not being a group player. (I’ve had this bit me before so I’m just more cognizant now of how things are perceived now.)

    I’d suggest going to your boss and instead of Allison’s heads-up verbiage, approach Boss as asking for coaching and advice on working with Lucinda. That way she’s aware of the situation and it shows you’re trying to make it work for the best despite Lucinda’s shortcomings.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s hard to say. If this really is a low-stakes project that is just Lucinda’s pet thing, it’s possible OP could back away slowly and get put on a more important project (one that connects to revenue is always better!). If they know how Lucinda is, they may have given her the new person for fodder because nobody else wants to get drawn into it, but there may still be a way to “scale up” to Important Person whose time should not be wasted on Lucinda’s batty employee manual or whatever.

  16. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I bet a dollar that if the OP starts declining the discussion meetings after the edits, Lucinda will want to sit with her at her desk while she works on it — basically telling the OP which buttons to push and where to move the mouse. I’ve worked with quite a few Lucindas and if their discussion meetings are thwarted, they ramp up to Control Level: Puppeteer because they want to “think this through” WITH you as their audience and have you know their whole inner monologue. Lucindas can’t or won’t process internally — she probably doesn’t even want the OPs input, just her “Witness Me”.

    1. only acting normal*

      Would it be terribly unprofessional to spray chrome paint into the mouths of Lucindas who just want an on-call sounding board? (I have a Lucas I’d like to stop wasting my time).

  17. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    The only thing I’d add is to loop your manager in now on what you are going to do regarding pushback. Like, “Hey, BossLady, Lucinda is having a lot of meetings regarding project X. I’ve provided my input, but she really likes to meet in person to discuss things already handled by email. These tend to take about X hours out my week. I’m happy to provide input and contribute to documentation, but I’m going to start scaling back on meeting times so that they don’t end up impacting my other work.” (You could change “impacting work” to something like “so I can keep refining project Y with added value.”)

    That way your boss is aware and can let you know if they’d prefer something different. It also gets you ahead of the potential “OP is not a team player because they don’t participate in meetings” complaint.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think this is a good script. As a new person OP will want to be careful not to seem presumptuous about the right way to do work (when Lucinda has been there longer), and they want to avoid their boss thinking, “but X doesn’t even have much on their plate right now, why are they declining to go deep on this?” – but I think this script strikes a good tone.

      1. irene adler*

        This is good. I would also keep a list of tasks done and decisions made. So when Lucinda wants to go over something already discussed, pull out the list and show that part of the project is complete. No need to go over it again. Then move the conversation on to the next relevant topic.

  18. Yikes Dude*

    Some people like to play what I call “productivity chicken” where they make themselves looks busy and like they are devoting a lot of time to a project by scheduling a bunch of long meetings in lieu of doing anything. It gives them a constant out on taking on new work and someone to blame during all outcome-driven conversations about the project.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yup! I have to deal with a whole department who plays pass the buck so much nothing gets done. And they HATE it if you try to push through and pass them to like actually accomplish anything. Then they go on the offensive to attack what you’ve done, or worse claim credit for it. Been there.

  19. Competent Commenter*

    Many people are saying this issue is about control or poor skills, etc. on the part of Lucinda, and something like that is probably true. But I’ve also worked with people who just seem to have very muddled thinking. One client, who was/is a very dear person and has become a friend, would go over and over what we’d agreed on, almost as though she couldn’t quite hold onto the information. I was her subcontractor and we’d spend an hour deciding how to deliver the next round of work to her client, agree that I’d do X and she’d do Y, and then she’d need to run over my doing X and her doing Y about three times. I felt like I’d go out of my mind. She was in her thirties or maybe early forties so no, not dementia or anything like that. After I was diagnosed with ADHD I gently and diplomatically suggested she consider getting evaluated too. We were close (and the project was over!) and I was able to do it in a way that she didn’t take offense.

    I also have a supervisor who can get into some Lucinda behavior. She needs to go over all the details of a project in our group meetings when they’re only relevant for some people…and those people could manage it themselves and hand her something to approve anyway. Agony! Please talk about exactly who is on this long mailing list another time! I feel like my supervisor is uncertain, doesn’t acquire new knowledge easily, and because she has trouble with the big picture a lot of the time, it’s easier for her to focus on the little (and I mean LITTLE) details. I think mayube too she’s in over her head and filling up with busy-ness helps her not be able to get to the stuff that’s really challenging for her. She’s gotten a bit better as we’ve given polite feedback, thank goodness.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      If that’s the case it’s way past time to loop in somebody above Lucinda, though, because she is wasting the OP’s time and will continue to waste other peoples’ time if she’s allowed to keep going. It may be that she needs more guidance or it may be that she’s not the right person to manage projects or it may be some other thing, but she shouldn’t be allowed to suck coworkers in. I know OP isn’t busy right now so it’s not really doing any damage in terms of workflow, but it’s a morale-sinker and at some point she may end up working with somebody who *is* busy and can’t spare the hour-long meetings.

  20. Overeducated*

    Eep. I…might be Lucinda. I hope I’m not that bad, but if I turn my head the right way I could see it coming off like that. The reason for this is that a) I can’t manage a peer, but b) I really think I’m right. When I feel strongly about how something should be done, our tasks are not well-divided by management, I’m not supposed to just do it all myself, and I’m ultimately at least half responsible for the outcome…how else can I possibly get there except through talking about it with them?

    I guess my question to OP, from a potential Lucinda, is to think about whether there’s a possibility that you keep having the same conversations because Lucinda’s trying to tell you something and your work isn’t reflecting that you’re hearing her. Is there a fundamental disagreement about this work under the surface somewhere? Are you saying “You do it your way, I’ll do it my way,” when it’s the kind of thing where the final products really need to be consistent? Is it a big or long-running effort where she might think getting on the same page now, even if it takes an hour a week, will eventually save more time than having to revise all your work to her standards? Where is this coming from?

    But OP, the difference between me and Lucinda is that you say this is her project, not a shared project. It seems clear to me from your letter that you’re OK with her having final say over the work product itself (“she can just make whatever changes she wants and doesn’t owe me an explanation”), but don’t want her to tell you how to do it (“have a peer try to manage me”) or try to actively collaborate to make sure your contributions match up (“endless meetings and consultations where nothing gets decided”). Can you just tell her that very directly – that your contribution will be first drafts, but you don’t have time to be part of the revision process or to have these weekly meetings unless they are discuss a specific, recurring, problem?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I would really hope that if there’s a disagreement between OP and Lucinda that OP’s not aware of (so, OP said the pen lids should probably be green, and all this effort is about Lucinda trying to work OP around to realizing for herself that the lids need to be blue) … I would be super annoyed that Lucinda just didn’t say that sooner, instead of approaching it so indirectly. OP clearly doesn’t actually care about lid colors or anything else related to this project, so the person who has the stronger opinion really does have the onus to speak up openly here.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Can I dispel a myth? You can actually manage a peer or more to the point you can manage a project that a peer is assigned to. In this case Lucinda is managing a project that a peer is working on. This means that she does (and you can too) set the parameters and the work divisions. Now, this doesn’t mean turning into Captain Bly and suddenly start talking about performance and asking them what time they arrived in the , but it does mean that you can direct it the way you want it to go if you own the project.

      In a case where roles/overlap and other things aren’t clearly defined at the onset and you and the peer(s) really are figuring out the structure of the work, then the time to define the working structure is up front and one of the first things that should be worked out. But I’m sure that even you as a potential Lucinda wouldn’t suggest you both duplicate the work and then discuss it, would you?

      I totally hear what you are saying and when you have a collaborative project with peers, there will be more discussion than if you were working solo or delegating work.

      In this case though the OP seems genuine in their statements that they really don’t care how it’s done and is willing to do whatever Lucinda wants, except discussing it ad nauseam as your last paragraph indicates.

      1. valentine*

        how else can I possibly get there except through talking about it with them
        By telling them to do what you want or doing it yourself. It doesn’t sound like writing and OP isn’t getting the voice Lucinda wants. It sounds like OP used 1.5″ margins and, instead of telling OP in writing to use 2″ margins, Lucinda spent an hour discussing why she wants 2″ margins, which literally no one cares about except Lucinda, and still not telling OP to use 2″ margins. If your situation is similar, you can just tell the people helping you what to do. If management doesn’t divide the tasks, you get to. That’s part of it being your project. Otherwise, how are you avoiding several people doing the same bit?

  21. Weekday Warrior*

    I forget what Covey Quadrant “tedious and non-urgent” would fall into but it wouldn’t be a good one. Any chance of either a) upping the urgency of this project and just Get It Done or b) getting agreement from your manager or whoever upstream that this is not worth doing and Killing It. Dragging it out isn’t feeding into Lucinda’s strengths and is wasting both your times.

    * looks like it might be Quadrant IV – Not Urgent & Not Important but everyone is pretending it’s Quadrant II – Not Urgent & Important and therefore worth doing even if tedious and time-wasting. Spoiler – Q2’s should never be tedious or time-wasting!

  22. self-confessed consensus-builder*

    I second animaniactoo’s suggestion that Lucinda might just be a consensus-builder or have a more collaborative working style. If that’s the case, it’s possible that if this project is important to Lucinda, and is not all that important to the LW, she may be picking up on that and reading LW’s task-orientedness as disengagement or not caring.

    If you were collaborating on a project that was important to you with someone who seemed really disengaged, would you trust them to do a good job? It’s like working on group projects in grade school and caring a lot about getting a good grade when the other kids in the group soooo do not care.

    Maybe the constant meetings are a (well-intentioned but ineffective) attempt to try to get the LW to be more engaged.

    Definitely think that the LW should still try to set boundaries and communicate their preferred working style. But just wanted to offer a different way of looking at Lucinda’s motivations other than being a power-tripping control freak.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I guess it will come out when OP articulates clear boundaries around the time and attention they’re willing to put into project, because Lucinda’s response will probably reveal the crux of the issue.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. But I’m going to gently disagree with your second paragraph :)

      I fall under the high D in DiSC, meaning I’m results focused and don’t really care how we get to the results. If I have a team of people working on a project and someone says to me upfront “Hey just give me my assignment and deadline, and let me know if anything changes” I’m good with that. I know some people need and want more collaboration and that’s great too.

      But I’d never think someone who told me “Sure just let me know what you want me to do and I’ll do it” as disengagement.

      1. self-confessed consensus-builder*

        I guess my second paragraph should have come with the caveat, “If you are a consensus-oriented person collaborating on a project with someone…”

        Someone who is results-oriented may not see, “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it,” as being disengaged. But for someone more process-oriented, it can come off that way, because for them, the process *is* the work. They care about *how* things get done, and not just the results.

    3. LilySparrow*

      But they aren’t collaborating. Lucinda owns the project, has final say over all the details, it has no impact on OP’s other work, and OP is doing her a favor because she has downtime.

      Lucinda may *want* a collaborator, but demanding deep engagement from someone who is not a stakeholder is unreasonable (to put it very, very mildly).

      Lucinda is also not listening to it respecting OP’s soft no of shortening the meeting. She’s continuing to demand time and attention without asking why OP is trying to disengage.

      That’s just…not collaboration, and that’s not being relationship oriented. People who care about relationships, you know….*care* what the other person thinks about the process.

  23. KX*

    Maybe Lucinda is a control freak, but…

    I work in a company with a strong special project/committee culture. You can’t just assign someone to do something. They have to have other people doing with with them, or it doesn’t count. Lucinda may have the idea that she has to get input or her answers aren’t good enough. I got roped into something that was so easy to resolve that one person could do it, but that one person didn’t have enough authority to just say, This Should Be X. So, we had to form a committee, and have action plans, and discuss the problems, and make recommendations, and submit the plans, and sit in a review meeting, and receive edits, and all kinds of bureaucratic extras/nonsense/impositions/your word here.

    Lucinda could be in an impossible situation. Someone could be pressuring her in some way to schedule meetings, and who knows what else. Maybe the OP would have said something about that if that was the culture they were both enmeshed in, but maybe she is swimming in it and can’t see it. Or maybe I am projecting.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    I sympathize. I actually have a WHOLE ENTIRE DEPARTMENT that operates in much the same manner.
    • This department takes no initiative.
    • This department thinks they manage me, but they don’t. I don’t manage them either, but they are supposed
    to execute on certain technical things for my department.
    • They book a lot of meetings and discussions about how to do the simplest of tasks, or how to proceed when I’ve
    already told them the way I want to proceed and what needs to get done and when.
    • They have an excessive approval process–for everything! (Like 10 people to review and approve content).
    • They are beyond slow! It takes months just to get a project done due to all of the above.

    I’m a DO-er! It frustrates the crap out of me to waste time like this.
    And worse, when they finally do the work, the announce and report it as though they initiated the project, and not me, when in fact nothing would have ever gotten done if it were up to them.

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      I would lose my actual mind. I hate meetings and love that the company I work for is basically allergic to meetings.

  25. LilySparrow*

    I have dealt with Lucinda’s who have zero idea how to own or lead anything, except that:

    1) They want someone else to do the work for them, and

    2) They can recognize what they don’t want, but have no vision or concept of what they do want. So they need someone to endlessly generate material for them to say “no” to, hoping they will eventually hit upon the “yes” by chance.

    It’s an infuriating, soul-sucking waste of life. It’s great that she’s not actually your manager. If you can’t walk away from the Black Hole Project entirely, I strongly encourage you to take the advice up thread, to clarify that you can provide a first draft only, and since she doesn’t need your permission to finalize it, you’re happy to hand it off after that.

  26. chi type*

    My supervisor is a bit like this. She is just very cautious and seems unable to make a definitive decision about anything. Our conversations go around and around with “on the one hand but then on the other hand” and then I end up slowly backing away and no decision is ever made. It’s exhausting.

  27. StanleyTwo*

    Oof. I read this and worried whether I am being a Lucinda myself. In my case, I have ended up sharing a project with another peer. He and I were both dumped with this project in a haphazard way by a colleague handing it over to us both when she left, without discussing whether we had time/capacity to take it on. (I don’t!) I am more experienced in this particular area so I think my peer now expects me to lead on it, but I came into this expecting that he and I properly share the work. It’s not a project I particualrly want to lead.

    As a result of what is probably a miscommunication I’ve scheduled a couple of meetings now to brainstorm specific steps on the project, in the expectation that these meetings help us divide up the work and that he and I both volunteer to take on different components to do. He has not been volunteering though. The meetings lack any momentum and we keep going over the same ground. At the end of each I just keep concluding by volunteering to take on increasingly larger bits of work to progress and suggesting we meet back to discuss, and the cycle begins over again for the next meeting. If this peer were a junior I’d have no trouble just asking him to do some of the work, but I’m being awkward about being so directive with a peer.

    Writing this out makes me realise how silly the whole situation is. Nobody wants to be the Lucinda…

    1. animaniactoo*

      If he’s not volunteering, you can gently steer. “If I take this piece, can you take that piece?”

  28. SusanIvanova*

    I am so happy that when Coworker Coffeecup pulled this sort of thing, *I* was the one in charge of the project, and when I gave up waiting and found the answer myself, there was nothing he could do about it.

    I then told my manager that I never wanted to work with him again. My manager agreed, handled talking to Coffeecup himself, and then reported back that he was “so disappointed not to be able to use his llama grooming skills”. What skills?! I hadn’t touched a llama in almost 20 years, and it took me 10 minutes of google + 2 days of brushing up to finish what he’d wasted two weeks of my time not doing.

  29. LGC (the L stands for Lucinda)*

    I feel like this post is “I’m Spartacus!” except instead of Spartacus we’re all Lucinda.

    So, like…speaking for myself (an admitted Lucinda at times), I do sometimes need to be pushed to let go of things because I like feeling in control. Basically, you kind of need to “incept” me into thinking that it’s my decision instead of you just swooping in and doing it (and I get very angry when that happens)! This almost sounds a little like that – where she’s slow-walking the project intentionally because of her own issues.

    I’d probably try the approach of, “Hey, I have a bit of down time this week, would you mind if I tried X, Y, and Z, and then circled back next week?” At the very least, your meetings would be more productive because you’d have things to talk about. (I’m not sure what you’re doing and what the nature of it is – so this may not work.)

    Finally, I do want to push back on something Alison wrote: you don’t have the time available for Lucinda to meet with you for an hour. More to the point, even if you don’t have a heavy workload at the time, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it with menial meetings to make Lucinda feel better about herself – you’re paid to get stuff done, not to be her therapist. (And on top of that, it sounds like she doesn’t have the time to meet with you for an hour every week about this!)

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