how to help a coworker who hates our boss

A reader writes:

I work for a mid-sized production company. I believe our manager, “Jane,” manages well, but I’ve had some issues that have affected my performance and attitude, which I have now owned and I’ve resolved to work on being an excellent employee. Since recovering from a health condition and addressing my personal issues, I have volunteered for more projects, brought forward more ideas, and communicated more positively with Jane, and it’s really improved my work life.

Some last-minute decisions by Jane have put my workmate “Dave” offside. The decisions had consequences for Dave, and I supported him emotionally during this time. Dave felt badly burned and is now very negative about anything from Jane. He is steadily case-building against her, and describes her in very unflattering terms. He feels that he is being deliberately excluded from projects, his skills not being recognized or utilized, etc. This may be accurate, and he has a particular affect that does appear to affect his assignments. However, he has a truly remarkable and deep range of skills that are under-utilized. Jane does appear to favor people who volunteer themselves cheerily and proactively, and are more enjoyable to deal with.

I suspect Dave thinks I have “changed teams,” and it’s making our working relationship difficult. He frequently comments when he sees me talking to Jane, and I’m struggling to get input from him on projects or ideas. Our team has a strong pitch-in culture, and although he has capacity and is often the only person with the necessary expertise, he doesn’t follow through or uses the opening to complain about how something is done. I see his frustration, but I think he is shooting himself in the foot by not moving on (having been there myself) and I don’t really know how to address this without damaging the relationship. In a way I am changing teams, in that I’m not willing to get stuck in old issues and want to do the best job I can, including fostering positive relationships with people I would not necessarily have a personal relationship with outside work.

Is there a way to salvage my relationship with Dave while also moving forward with my own professional goals? Dave and Jane are both intelligent, skilled, good people. Is there any way to help them repair their relationship? Is there any way I can mention the tension to Jane without dropping myself or my workmate in it?

I answer this question 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.

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. Clorinda*

    Can’t imagine why Jane doesn’t want to work with Dave. He doesn’t follow through, he withholds his expertise, he’s not cheerful or proactive, he’s case-building against her — what’s not to like?

    1. Snark*

      Right? He sounds overwhelmingly negative and, given opportunities to demonstrate his skill set….doesn’t. And he wonders why Jane finds him difficult and unproductive?

      OP, you’re a kind person, but cut bait.

    2. CDM*

      Well, if Jane wasn’t a lousy manager to begin with, Dave might not be where he is now. Good managers don’t make decisions that have a negative impact on good employees and then proceed merrily along ignoring the repercussions completely.

      1. LQ*

        Good managers make decisions that have negative impacts on good employees all the time. And there are LOTS of managers who are not good at the communication thing, just like there are lots, maybe most, humans who aren’t good at it. So yeah. Fault enough to go around. But you can either decide to fight your boss, leave, or try to make it work. The one you are usually going to fail at is fighting your boss and it’s going to make you miserable the whole time.
        (We don’t know that Jane merrily proceeded ignoring the repercussions, there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that at all. Jane may have tried to address it many times, and again back to the communication thing.)

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Except sometimes they do because those decisions are unavoidable. Sometimes directives come from above the Janes of the world, or the Janes of the world have to choose among several non-ideal options and if the Daves weren’t negatively impacted, somebody else would have been. And sometimes people blame their managers as the messengers instead of keeping things in perspective.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes. I work in a demanding industry where shit happens sometimes, and I cannot control it. Things like an attorney scrapping something you spent a ton of time working on because the client didn’t like it, having a major project pop up late in the day that ruins your dinner plans, or having someone on the team decide that they prefer to work with someone else for any variety of reasons. I have also had situations where we’ve had, for instance, to ask people work a ton of hours in a short period of time (as advertised in the interview), offered them comp time and special bonuses (on top of the free meal and transportation they already get), and STILL had people complain about how crappy management treated them. You honestly cannot win with some people.

          I honestly can’t tell from the original letter what sin Jane committed against Dave, but the idea that a manager making a decision that negatively impacts someone can only mean they’re a bad manager is… odd? I’d be interested to know what specifically Jane did to get on Dave’s bad side as we have far more information about how Dave is behaving (which is not positive).

          Also, the longer I do this, the more I realize I’d rather have competent but not exceptional people who can work well with others than exceptional people who sigh, eyeroll, and condescend to the mere mortals they’re stuck working with.

          1. LQ*

            I just read something about this.
            I get it, I want to work with exceptional people, but if I have to work with the bad ones, Nope! Give me a mediocre/poor coworker I can help who wants to do well any day. I do my best to be exceptional and work well with others. I hold myself to the notion that if I’m really exceptional I owe it to work well with others. (Owe it to myself and the people I serve, I’m in public service, and the people I work with. If I can’t figure out a way to work well with people I’m not really that smart, dammit! So I need to figure it out.)

          2. Burned Out Supervisor*

            “Also, the longer I do this, the more I realize I’d rather have competent but not exceptional people who can work well with others than exceptional people who sigh, eyeroll, and condescend to the mere mortals they’re stuck working with.”

            Exactly. I don’t want a bunch of “yes people,” of course, but having to deal with attitude on the daily from someone is really exhausting, too. Most of the time, they don’t even bring their own solution to the table, just their complaints or the explanation that “I shouldn’t have to work this.”

            1. LQ*

              I think this is a good point. I’d go so far as to say that you can (weirdly) have “yes people” who have an eye-rolling condescending to mere mortal attitude which is sort of the worst of all worlds. And on the other hand an enthusiastic positive attitude person who will call out things they disagree with. (I know someone who is like that and she’s my favorite person to work with. If I had to drown in really bad people forever but got to keep working with her she’d make it worth it. She’s great to work with and she’s called me out on bad ideas, on things that I was doing that weren’t my job, on my poor communication, on bad ideas, on projects that weren’t ready and I needed to work on, on just about everything. And she’s spectacular.)

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Most of the time, they don’t even bring their own solution to the table, just their complaints or the explanation that “I shouldn’t have to work this.”

              Particularly for high-performing but complain-y people, we have made having a solution (or at least an articulation of what you’ve tried/considered and rejected) a requirement. You’re welcome to come and tell us how you think something could be done better (at an appropriate time and place) or certainly to ask for help figuring out something tricky, but not just to complain about it. I’m happy to sympathize/empathize about how much something sucks for a minute or two before we move into problem-solving mode, but complaining for the sake of complaining is tiresome.

      3. The Original Stellaaaaa*

        I agree. It’s one thing if OP wants to put herself first and be done with it, but Dave is right to keep to himself if OP is pushing for everyone to meekly get along after Jane burned Dave.

        1. Observer*

          As long as Dave works there, he needs to “go along”. That is, he needs to do his job, which includes giving his input when asked and following through on parts of projects that are his job.

          Of course, if Jane really didn’t handle things well, he should be looking for a new job. If he’s as good as the OP says, that should be doable if he has a reasonable attitude.

      4. Psyche*

        Not necessarily. We don’t know why Jane made the decision she did. Maybe it was the best option overall. Sometimes the best decision for the company as a whole is going to be terrible for a few employees. We don’t know that she ignored the repercussions, just that Dave was unhappy.

      5. Roscoe*

        This was kind of my thought. I fully acknowledge OP didn’t do a great job of explaining exactly what was done, but I’ve definitely had my share of managers where it was essentially surviving until I got something else. Maybe Dave is doing that right now. But from the tone of the letter, Dave isn’t completely wrong to feel the way he does.

      6. Observer*

        That’s true. But it still doesn’t excuse him. If she’s that bad of a manager, you continue to do your job well and start looking for a new job. If you’re really good, you’ll find something. Assuming that you haven’t burned all of your bridges, of course.

      7. n*

        Managers are human. Managers make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that their mistakes should be held against them for the rest of time if they are currently trying their best to improve. Reverse the situation– as an employee, would you want your manager to hold your mistakes against you forever, even if you were working hard to correct those problems? Probably not. You’d want recognition that you’d learned your lesson and are proactively trying to move forward. Same thing for managers.

    3. Arctic*

      Why is building a case against a bad manager a bad thing?
      This seems a lot like employees should just be silent and let themselves be whipped.

      1. Washi*

        I’m confused by the comments about Jane being a bad manager. The OP says that “I believe our manager, “Jane,” manages well” and that past issues were mainly due to the OP’s own attitude. If Dave gets fewer opportunities because he is unpleasant and unwilling to pitch in (when that’s the culture of OP’s team) that’s his own fault.

        1. Arctic*

          She favors people she likes (“enjoyable to work with”) while ignoring someone who has skills and ability. Not utilizing assets because of your personal enjoyment preferences is bad management.
          And it’s a pretty big coincidence that both the OP and Dave just happened to have a bad attitude about this manager.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is assuming facts not in evidence. There is no indication from the letter that the people being selected for projects do not also have skills and abilities on top of being more team-oriented. I think, generally, we all prefer working with people who are pleasant and not overtly negative.

            OP has also not indicated a “bad attitude” about Jane. The very first sentence says that she feels Jane manages well.

          2. KTB*

            Alison’s advice was pretty clear here, which is that “enjoyable to work with” is a pretty good reason to want to work with someone. That’s not favoritism. There have been multiple case studies/articles/etc that describe how working with a skilled jerk can be very detrimental to a team.

            I don’t think that it’s a big coincidence that the OP and Dave have a bad attitude about this manager at all. The OP made it clear that fixing their attitude genuinely improved the working relationship and has paid dividends. It does seem as if the problem is Dave.

          3. hbc*

            If you really think you’d go to the person who “doesn’t follow through or uses the opening to complain about how something is done” as easily as the person who’s easy to work with, I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure there’s value in that kind of fairness, but if there is, it’s an awfully high bar for most humans to clear.

            This is not like giving the plum assignments to the other sports fans, but working with people who don’t make things difficult.

          4. LQ*

            Enjoyable to work with is an actual skill and ability. If you aren’t, you are lacking what is sometimes (often even) a key skill to get the work done. There are almost no jobs that don’t require interaction with other people in order to accomplish the work. Being able to work with others is a workplace skill. Dave may have some skills but not the right ones, or not in the right measures.

          5. Snark*

            Skills and ability are not the beginning and end of the criteria for whether you want someone to be handling a thing for you. Particularly when Dave declines to make it clear that he is skilled, able, and willing to take on projects.

      2. Snark*

        Because it’s almost guaranteed to be a bunch of overly personal, petty, scorekeeping horsepuckey. If he has a real, significant professional disagreement with Jane, he can bring it to her, or her boss, or to HR. Accumulating a mental list of petty slights and perceived insults to justify your opposition to someone is bullshit.

      3. Observer*

        The problem is not that he’s trying to build a case, but that that is his sole focus, while he is also not doing his job properly.

  2. Amber T*

    Any time there’s a “need” to pick a side at work, someone is being unprofessional. Unless you’re organizing your work’s softball teams, there are no sides – everyone should work together. So like Alison said, maybe he does have legitimate complaints about her, but he’s handling everything inappropriately. What would he like you to do, shut her out completely?

    I think Alison’s right – there’s a lot that needs to be done, but I don’t think much of it needs to be done by you.

    1. Snark*

      And in fairnes, Jane does need to communicate clearly with Dave about his attitude and her decisions, but yeah. Not OP’s monkey circus.

      1. Burned Out Supervisor*

        Yeah, I’d be very careful with what I would say to Dave at this point. He’s already shown that he’s keeping score against the manager, and he might start that behavior with the OP. If the OP needs something from Dave to do her job, and he’s not giving that to her, that’s a convo the OP should have with Jane.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Having worked with a few Dave’s, I realize one can be careful about what they say and still end up in hot water with Dave. Do your best but don’t be surprised if it backfires anyway.

          At some point we have to consider the angle that Dave may not be consolable. I think that time is here or very near. If Dave is not considering quitting right now, he will be very shortly. He has painted himself into a corner. I am doubtful that even if Jane tried to make amends, Dave would change his angry attitude.

          I think the only remedy he has left is to leave. And this is because Dave has decided that no amount of talking to him, from anyone is going to help him. He will not let others help him.

  3. Jennifer*

    I have worked with Daves. I agree that it’s time to separate emotionally a bit. My Dave didn’t understand that in order to move forward in your career you may have to maintain cordial, professional relationships with people that he didn’t like. Every conversation or commendation was seen as a betrayal. It got to be exhausting.

      1. Jennifer*

        Very much so, at work and outside of it as well. I’m allowed to be friendly with people that you may not like. Unless they’ve done something completely horrible, just stay out of it.

    1. Artemesia*

      This is spot on. Siding with a problem employee is a great way to derail your own career. Dave needs to either learn to work with Jane or find a new job or if it is that horrible on Jane’s part to go over her head. Being closely associated with the disgruntled person who can’t get along with authority in the workplace will do the LW no favors. And beware anyone who tries to pull you into their dysfunction. Next thing he will be writing a nasty memo to Jane and CCing you so it appears that you are ‘on his side.’ Had to deal with someone like that once. We had lost a drive to get a new project adopted. I thought it was a bad call but it was the boss’s call. Unfortunately one of my subordinates took it over her head and CC’ed me and I had to deal with the appearance that I had decided to go nuclear over a reasonable management decision. I don’t think I ever completely got that dog crap off my shoe in that workplace.

  4. Properlike*

    Listen to Alison. My husband found himself on the outs with the CEO simply from being on the same team as someone with a very negative, us-vs-them mentality because he (my husband) did not “manage up” and let the negative guy set the tone. Once husband changed his approach, which included distancing himself from negative guy, things improved dramatically.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If you let someone negative set the tone for your team, it’s not ridiculous that people might perceive you as being part of a team with a negative tone.

      2. Snark*

        How is it ridiculous? A loudly negative person on your team can, and should, affect how people think that team operates.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Maybe Dave should try to hide his feelings better, but for what it’s worth the OP seems to agree that Dave was unfairly affected by some “last minute” decisions and that his skills are being underutilized and that he’s deliberately being excluded from certain projects.

      So I suppose if you’re Dave you should have a talk with the manager, or start looking for a new job. But it seems understandable that he’s not thrilled at the moment

  5. LQ*

    This feels very much like something someone I work with could have written. It’s hard to admit you might be part of the issue, and I think it feels harder if the other person has done things that are wrong (which it sounds like might be the case here with Jane, or at least perceived that way).

    Something I’ve said to coworkers in the past is “You know you don’t have to stay right?” Oddly everyone I’ve said that to has stayed but sometimes (not for everyone) it helps because it feels more like a choice rather than a requirement. It’s something I try to remind myself of on my worst days too.

    Dave sounds a lot like someone I work with who, sure he’s smart and sure he’s got some skills and knowledge, but here’s the thing. So do lots of other people. And I’d rather work with someone who doesn’t have the same skills today but wants to be engaged rather than someone who sullenly withholds that information unless I spend a whole lot of time stroking his massive ego. I’d much rather work with someone who is enthusiastic and volunteers and tries to solve the problem than someone who sulks and makes me ask exactly the right question in exactly the right way.

    On the upside my Dave has improved some, it’s slow, very slow. But he’s trying and he’s recognizing that being sullen isn’t helping but that trying to work with me makes his relationship with his boss better because then he’s seen as a team player.

    I do think there’s room to improve but Dave has to do the work, and it’s hard. Huge good job to the OP for doing that work and sticking to it!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      One of the greatest bits of commenter advice here was to frame going to your crappy job as a conscious choice. One you made because you had considered the other options (e.g. quitting with nothing lined up when you didn’t have enough savings; burning a bridge you would need later) were worse than going to the crappy job. It really helps to not view yourself as passively trapped.

      1. LQ*

        Very much so. It definitely is something I come back to frequently as a piece of wisdom. It is a power employees have and they should use it.

      2. CatMintCat*

        Not for everybody. I work for a statewide government department. If I walked out on my (theoretically crappy, actually it’s fine) job, I’m done in this career. I can apply for a transfer (average waiting time 8 years) or apply for “merit selection” to a new job (these jobs ALWAYS go to somebody already working on the site in a different capacity), but otherwise I’m here for the duration.

        1. LQ*

          But you could shift to a different career. It’s not saying walk out, it’s saying make a choice. Sometimes the choice is “I like the work but I hate the workplace and this is the only one so I’m going to stay and focus on the work” sometimes “I like the work but hate the workplace can I move to a nearby state and get a job there doing this work?” sometimes “I hate the workplace so much I see spots maybe it’s time to find a new career.”

          Assuming that there are no choices you are making make it harder to be there. You made and make choices. That’s not to say you can make a choice tomorrow and be president or a ceo or a ballerina. But you can decide, “Turns out while I really value the opportunity to work with the vocational services the state offers/be a DNR officer in the field/be a park ranger/manage voting/etc I can’t stand this workplace anymore and need to look at other opportunities for me in the world because there are other careers, other jobs, other lives I could lead that would be more fulfilling.” And deciding, nope, this is still the one that I want is ok too!

      3. TardyTardis*

        I live in a rural area where a job with benefits makes you aristocracy, even if you’re getting paid less than $20 an hour. Finding another job is sometimes easier said than done. And sometimes you can’t move.

    2. RUKidding*

      Yup. OP doesn’t need to/shouldn’t spend any energy at all stroking Dave’s ego. He needs to self soothe. OP needs to do what she needs to do for her own job and let Dave sink or swim on his own.

      Story time: Husband fell on ice this morning. In urgent care waiting. He is whining. Sure he’s in pain and I am sympathetic and doing all I can for him, making appropriate soothing noises and gestures, *but* he is 40 damn years old and needs to act like a grown up.

      I will only do so much “poor baby” before telling him to grow up. He is *injured.* He is my *husband.*

      Dave? ::Office Space voice:: Yeah….

  6. TeacherNerd*

    I’m going through something similar with a colleague who doesn’t respond to e-mails (despite repeated requests); doesn’t do his agreed-upon tasks either in a timely manner or at all; etc.; despite (mis)representing himself as an “expert,” he is not one, and he is known to glower when he’s (kindly and professionally) approached about any these issues. Best thing I did was to learn how to just keep it professional and ignore the personal bad behavior, because he’s sinking himself in terms of how he’s establishing his own reputation. Very alpha male who is now being seen as somewhat difficult, uncooperative, and not someone many want to work with.

  7. Falling Diphthong*

    Jane does appear to favor people who volunteer themselves cheerily and proactively, and are more enjoyable to deal with.

    People who don’t view these as plusses in the humans with whom they have to collaborate, at work or elsewhere, tend to throw off all sorts of warning signals.

    I like the insight into how you can have sound reason to be irked, but your ongoing irkedness is hurting you more than the original irker. And life would be easier if you could find a way to Let. It. Go.

  8. Classic Rando*

    I’m curious if Dave helped to feed OP’s previous attitude problems. It seems likely to me that he’s a problem employee, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on a PIP or in the process of being managed out. I’ve worked with plenty of people who hated on their managers and created a negative and unpleasant work environment for the rest of the team, and in many cases they were shocked to be shown the door at the end. I’d definitely pull back from this guy, and in my spare time review the quality of the tasks he does actually complete, just for shiggles. I’m guessing it’s sub-par.

  9. Dust Bunny*

    Dave’s skills will continue to be underused as long as he withholds them and is a pill to work with.

    Jane probably does need to manage him better, but that’s not your wheelhouse. You can suggest that he change his attitude but, beyond that, it’s past time to extricate yourself from this.

  10. Mrs_helm*

    “Dave and Jane are both… good people”. I kinda question if this can be true. I don’t think “good people” punish their coworkers for being congenial to their own manager by deliberately being less cooperative. I don’t think “good people” deliberately withhold their skills and expertise at work over a grudge. I can see it would be tempting…I can even see maybe – maybe – pouting out for a day or a week. But beyond that, this is a person who cares more about their hurt feelings than their career or their coworkers.

    1. Observer*

      I’ve seen this kind of thing happen. Keep in mind that “immature” is not the same as “bad”, and something people just have a skewed view of the world.

      1. Anon for this*

        Absolutely. I have a friend who I had to pull back on our work friendship with because of negative attitude (in not one but two jobs). They can’t seem to pick their battles and get really rigid in what they think is the right thing to do and will be loud about it. They’re also someone who is kind hearted, smart and a hard worker. Not a bad person at all but not always the right employee for the job.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I was negative for a while, and running into problems despite doing a ton of work–but changed my attitude and landed a lateral out of from under a manager who seemed unhappy at people who couldn’t read their mind.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Good people make bad choices. Often. I think that most of us will make a few bad choices before we leave this planet.

      Dave might be a very likable person, just not right now and not in this setting.

      Here’s the thing, we have to be careful to react to what is actually happening vs what we think the person’s potential might be in the future. I get that OP sees the good in Dave. That’s great, we should all see the good in each other. However we can’t exclude poor behavior/bad choices when we see them. The fact that Dave can do good work in the future is of less importance than the poor work he is doing right now.

      Eh. So much of life seems to hinge on what we do when the the chips are down. It’s those little poor choices that can unravel us. I get that Dave feels the chips are down. He could have noticed that OP pulled herself out of a pit and asked her what she did to get back on track. Instead, Dave is tugging on OP’s shirt sleeve and trying to drag her down into the pit again. Now he has made a long series of little poor choices that are starting to add up in a meaningful but negative way.

    3. Elsajeni*

      This is a theme that I’ve seen coming up in comments a lot lately, when someone says that their manager or coworker is “a good person” or “a nice person” in spite of something obnoxious they’re doing, and it strikes me as awfully… drastic, I guess, and ignoring the actual nuance of human relationships. It is absolutely possible for someone to be a basically okay person with one obnoxious habit! But more importantly, I don’t think it’s really helpful — if we stipulate that actually Dave is not a good person, does it change the advice you’d give the OP?

  11. RUKidding*

    OP you are doing too much emotional labor. Do your job. Let Dave do his job. Let his chips with Jane fall where they may.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah. You’re not the middle child sticking up for your little brother with your parents. You’re not mediating a falling-out within a friend group. You’re not his counselor or his career coach or his big sister or his BFF.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Sometimes we do this and sometimes we can do it successfully. But if one is emotionally supporting a coworker there are quite a few things to look at:
        –Does the person what help or do they want to wallow? The wallowers don’t follow up, they don’t take notes/write things down. Sometimes they seem up set when someone offers a proactive activity.
        –Is the person trying to help themselves? Sometimes they will indicate, “I tried A and ran into X problem. I tried B and ran into Y problem.” They are trying at any rate.
        –Does it seem reasonable that this is a temporary, one-off type of reaction from this person? Sometimes this is clear cut, life is just raining down on them at the moment and the difficulty is understandable given the life stuff.
        –How much or how long am I willing to put this additional effort in? This is a personal tolerance thing.
        –How will I figure out if I am helping or if the person is just draining my time and energy? One thing is to watch for incremental improvements and small success stories.
        –Are others also helping this person? This can be a big tip off, if no one else is helping them there MIGHT be a reason for that. This point is helpful when there are others around who are able to directly help this person. People who want to get out of a bad spot will often accept help from a few well chosen people. This is because their willingness to accept help goes up at the same rate their desire to get out of their bad spot goes up.

      2. RUKidding*

        Yeah. I don’t know but I’d bet OP is a woman and what we have here is just one more example of a male expecting a woman to do the emotional lifting for him.

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

    OP: “Hey Dave, we’re adults in a professional office not an elementary schoolyard dodge ball court; we don’t line up and pick teams.”

    And also, “Is there any way to help them repair their relationship?” No. Stop trying to manage other people’s feelings and relationships — they’re entitled to feel their own emotions and, for better or worse, express them as they see fit. You’re business is your relationship with Dave, and your relationship with Jane, separately.

    1. Observer*

      I pretty much agree with this. A key problem is that Dave seems to be asking the OP to “choose sides” which they don’t want to do. Fix the relationship seems like a reasonable solution to that problem. But, it’s not a good solution.

      The solution is to refuse to “choose sides”. “I understand that you are frustrated with Jane and her decisions, but I have a job to do.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have gone with, “I have to have food on my table and a roof over my head. I have very little choice here.” For people in this state of mind, my statement here seems to get them to slow down a bit. Most people can relate to concerns regarding home/security.

      Repairing the relationship. Dave doesn’t want it repaired. How he is treating the boss is telegraphing where he will probably go with his friendship with you,OP. And even if he backs down he may decide that he has done so much damage to your friendship, why try to fix it. Every time he sees you he is reminded of his own poor behavior. Not seeing you is easier for him to live with himself.

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

        The problem with “I have to have food…” justification is that it doesn’t call out that his behavior is wrong. In a way it reinforces it — like if only it weren’t for the OP’s bills, she would totally side with him; but she wouldn’t and shouldn’t. Every time he sees her, he won’t be reminded of his bad behavior, he’ll be reminded that he’s totally right but OP is just too scared to stand up to Jane.

  13. Anonforthis*

    Up until she recently got fired, I disliked my manager to the point she was “bitch eating crackers” level as far as I was concerned. That being said, Dave is totally shooting himself in the foot. As much as I disliked my manager, I didn’t advertise this fact nor did I force coworkers to “choose sides” – this kindergarten behavior. Instead, I performed my badassest performance despite my manager. It didn’t take long for people to see that my manager was the problem and fire her.

    1. Anonforthis*

      Also, to this point, something I learned recently is that I actually think it’s far more important to be a good coworker than a good employee, as weird as that sounds. At this point in my career, I would rather my coworkers like and respect me than my boss, because they actually do the day to day work and know what that’s like. So I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing what Dave is doing – he’s making for a very negative atmosphere for his coworkers.

    2. Washi*

      This is a good point. Even if Jane were a terrible manager, Dave is doing himself no favors with this attitude. A talented employee who refuses to actually demonstrate their expertise and is instead grumpy and resentful is not going to be seen as a misunderstood genius (by anyone other than the OP apparently) but as a PTA to work with.

  14. Amber Rose*

    Boy, have I had managers I didn’t like. And with one, I was like Dave. Started not following through and dropping the ball. It was HER fault though, of course, even the stuff that was technically mine.

    Long story short, I quit that job. Some of the problem was me, some was the manager, the end result was that it just wasn’t going to work out. But that decision was one I had to get to myself. No amount of advice or poking from other people could have salvaged that mess or made me see it for what it was before I was ready.

    You can’t do anything about Dave. You can’t make him process his feelings in any other way than the way he wants to. You can’t do anything about Jane. I’d bet she knows about the tension and has come to her own conclusions on dealing with it, and does not want your input.

    Accept that and focus on what you can do, which is your work, and staying out of it.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Or as my coworker so succinctly put it: this is an A and B situation, time for you to C your way out of it.

    2. Tabby Baltimore*

      “You can’t make him process his feelings in any other way than the way he wants to.”
      I want to needlepoint this on small pillows and give them to my adult children.

  15. I should be anon for this*

    My workplace has a Dave. His problems are entirely self inflicted. When people have to talk with him (and everyone goes out of their way to avoid having to ring things to him) he is incredibly unpleasant, and constantly complaining “why are you bringing this to me?”. When he’s being paid overtime to handle the case that is brought to him, ans the person bringing him the case is NOT being paid overtime, but still has to hang around and can’t go home until he finishes the thing.

    He almost got himself fired a few months ago. Since then he’s been almost pleasant…. though the complaining continues.

  16. hbc*

    So, what kind of case is Dave building? Because you don’t want to be associated with him if/when he presents his Big Book of Jane’s Failures to the grandboss and it’s all petty nonsense. I say that having been the recipient of a few of those Jane Reports, and they have only ever resulted in undercutting Dave’s credibility. For example, Dave might have a point about her favoritism, but when he’s documenting her every last typo or judging her simultaneously for always being late *and* sneaking into the office early to steal scrap metal, my biggest problem becomes Dave’s major attitude problem and not Jane’s minor favoritism problem.

    You don’t want to have the appearance of being in Dave’s corner if he’s the one irrationally picking fights.

  17. somebody blonde*

    I had a couple Daves at my last job. We had a pretty rough merger with our main competitor, and so there was a very obvious us vs. them dynamic going on. I finally got it to stop by saying I was really tired of the negative atmosphere and that maybe we should just try to start fresh and give them the benefit of the doubt for a month. Funny enough, that was long enough for them to break the habit- they switched from being mad about the entire other office to realizing that they were individuals with their own specific problems.

  18. CastIrony*

    I bet this is for the open thread, but I have a Dave, but my Dave is actually the best tea-maker (He puts in a lot of effort other tea-makers do not) at my job may actually be right about the bosses!

    How can I see the truth when I hear Dave make these complaints that may be right? How can I emotionally separate myself, even though I have been at this tea diner for a long time (slightly longer than Dave) and have seen management suffer recently?

    1. Observer*

      You accept that he’s right about the bad management, but wrong in how he is handling it. Then you *decide* whether you find a new job, in which case you start looking, or not. In either case, you do your job as best you can and don’t get into the complaint fest.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would say that you need to keep these complaints about management in the back of your mind, but draw your own conclusions. You’re only hearing one side of the story. After working with the bosses, you’ll soon figure out if there’s any validity to what he’s complaining about. I’d also distance myself when Dave starts complaining – change the subject or find a reason to walk away. Even if he’s correct, that negativity can weigh on you and turn you into someone you don’t want to be. Bottom line is, take everything Dave says with a grain of salt and take care of YOU.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Take it under advisement, keep it in the back of your mind.
      But actually go with what you see. Respond to what is happening in front of you.
      YMMV is an expression for a reason. It’s possible that you may have a totally different experience.

      Sometimes people learn their lessons. Sometimes a certain personality can bring out the worst in another person. You don’t have that personality so you will never see the worst.

      I take 50% of what I hear and throw it a way. Just get rid of 50% off the top. Of the remaining 50% I try to pick out a few critical things. And I focus on those. So let’s say Dave is griping about raises. Okay fair enough. I will just watch and see how my raises are doing. Next Dave complains that Sue in accounting is the most miserable person on earth. Until I have a bad upset with Sue, that is Dave’s issue not mine. I will wait for proof that Sue is miserable.
      You can see I am going line item by line item. And I am letting what I see myself to weigh in first and foremost. And each step of the way, I ask what is that person seeing/thinking that would cause them to say/react in such a manner? After a bit the truth does bubble to the surface. Always.

      1. CastIrony*

        This is great advice. I just need to trust myself and think about the truth. Just wait and see how it turns out. Sadly, I think one of Dave’s things is becoming the truth, now that I’ve thought about your advice. Oh, well.

  19. Maya Elena*

    What would it take for Dave to feel appreciated or to be happy? I’m sure that is a question LW could ask in a non-accusatory way in response to a negative comment from Dave. It might be quite reasonable (i.e., not “address me me as Lord high emperor of IT and give me no deadlines and double my salary”), in which case the discussion can go down the more productive route of “how do I get Jane to so this, and if not do I want to stay?”

    Some people are at base 25 pieces of flair people and some are 37, and both are bad in their extremes. Most people will evidence one or the other behavior depending on how they’re treated. It is the mark of a truly great manager, of whom there are few, when they can get even difficult people to want to wear the 37+ pieces of flair.

    If Jane isn’t a Great Manager (on the level of Vito Corleone), or if Dave is in fact too bitter or unreasonable to move in Dave might just not be the right fit and might be better off somewhere where his skills are more needed and his work style fits better…..

  20. Chelsea*

    I actually find this case very interesting, because it’s got a parallel to my current work life. My boss is mean, and universally despised (although everyone pretends to like her). Yet my coworker (in my same role) is very good at “playing the game” and ends up getting a lot less work than I do just because she takes forever on other assignments, calls in sick all the time leaving me to pick up the slack, and just generally agrees with me in person but not in action. Am I justified in feeling resentful of her, and “whose side is she really on”? I bet this coworker in her mind says the same thing that OP does, that “oh, the boss just likes wonderful cheery people”. I would say actually that probably in this case, the boss is favoring OP and hanging the other person out to dry, and that isn’t fair. It’s honestly a terrible situation.

    1. ComeOn!*

      Really? Seems like a very different situation than you are describing. Dave is making it harder for OP to do her job. That is not the “mean” boss making OP’s life easier — that is Dave taking his opinion about the boss out on Jane. Your boss sounds mean and clueless.

    2. LQ*

      It sounds like you have a shitty boss in which case you should be annoyed with the boss, not the coworker. Part of it is putting the blame in the right column, if the boss is universally horrible then the boss is universally to blame. Blaming a coworker for having better mechanisms of coping with bad boss (which is sort of what it sounds like here but I could be wrong) doesn’t make sense.
      (And I assume you are looking for a new job.)

    3. Not So NewReader*

      She is on her own side. She has Team Me and that’s it.

      Sure, you are justified in resenting her and you can ask yourself constantly whose side she is on. But all this does is allow you a mental vacation from a much larger issue. You have a toxic boss and probably a toxic workplace.

      A better use of your energy might be to think about getting something better for yourself in life. Let your cohort do whatever she wants. Meanwhile you can run at life with all you got.

  21. Amethystmoon*

    I have worked with that co-worker, too. Unless you are absolutely bestest buddies ever, there is probably not going to be much you can do to change their mind.

  22. ArtsNerd*

    I have a firm philosophy that all of your genius/talented jerks are replaceable. All of them. Every single one.

    You might not replace it with the same exact flavor of genius, you might have to invest in someone less tested, but there are plenty of extremely competent and civil people who can still work wizardry — and add way more value to the organization/company for it.

  23. Beth*

    OP, sometimes problems are not yours to fix.

    You ask if there’s a way to salvage your relationship with Dave while also maintaining your own professional path. Since Dave has set himself up in direct opposition against your manager, and takes you having any kind of non-adversarial relationship with her as a betrayal of his cause, the answer is probably no. You can continue being friendly towards Dave (and certainly should stay civil/professional, at a bare minimum), but you can’t make Dave be friendly back–that’s out of your power.

    You also ask if you can help Dave and Jane repair their relationship. This is even more not in your control. You can’t make Dave like or even accept Jane; you can’t make Jane accept Dave’s poor behavior. You have no power here, and I doubt it will go well for you if you try to interfere.

    Focus on what you do have power over. You can keep doing the things you’ve been doing to improve your own performance and your own relationship with Jane. You can keep asking Dave for input when his expertise is needed (and escalate if you’re unable to get what you need after a reasonable number of attempts). You can ask Dave to include you on work for projects that you’re part of (and, once again, escalate if it doesn’t happen). You can do your best to ignore and stay out of this weird, tense power struggle Dave has going on. In short, focus on doing the best job you can do, and try to keep out of everything that’s not yours.

  24. A Differing Opinion*

    I guess i have a differing opinion then Allison and most of the replies. When i read the article, one thing that jumped out at me was that both the OP and Dave have had issues with Jane. Granted, there is not enough detail to fully understand the situation- but i wanted to share a similar situation i had.

    This hit home pretty close to a similar situation i dealt with a few years ago. I worked on a ~10 person, well functioning team. When our 30+ year experience manager retired, the team was assigned a first time manager and some chaos ensued. Productive, experienced team members reacted quite similar to Jake under the new leadership. Some felt unused\unneeded and became disenfranchised. There really was a workers-vs-manager tone to the workplace.

    Long story short, some workers adjusted, some moved on, and the manager got better. The key takeaway though is that it wasn’t just one side- we had to meet the manager in the middle, both had to give a little from out initial positions. It seems that part of a team should be helping identify and set that work environment.

    The response that the OP should sit back and watch what happens- seems very passive and unhealthy for said team.

    If the OP has had similar issues in the past (as the post seems to suggest) why can’t the OP try to help?

    1. voyager1*

      This is a good response. I went back and looked at the comments when this letter originally got posted back in 2014. It seemed commenters were way more open to the situation of the manager/Dave dynamic having more going on then what the letter actually explained. In short people today are filling in that Dave is bad for no real reason when we really don’t have enough evidence to support that.

      I personally would like more about how the manager is more willing to work with happy people vs the nonhappy ones. Could be a real reason why those folks are not happy. And the LW even states she was one of those nonhappy ones up to just recently.

  25. boop the first*

    I would echo other comments that suggest that Dave isn’t REALLY a good employee at all. He has hands-on skills, but completely lacks interpersonal skills which makes up at least 50% of what you’d call a Good Employee. There are SO MANY PEOPLE who have both great hands-on skills and interpersonal skills.

    I imagine that eventually, this Dave will punish your boss by finding a job elsewhere, and it would be more of a relief than anything.

    1. boop the first*

      Aaaannnd yeah I do feel a little bad after the “he’s just frustrated and justifiably so” comments, but OP was justifiably frustrated too. But OP grew, managed her actions, and got on with it. There’s no reason why Dave can’t do the same.

      1. boop the first*

        And I say this as someone who witnesses my boss and coworker screaming at each other daily. The boss is absolutely the problem, and yet, when the coworker is away, the workplace is almost peaceful in comparison. It takes two to make drama, folks.

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