how to tell an employee to stay in their lane

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my company for about a year, and I inherited most of the large team I manage. Their job descriptions and roles are pretty clear and specific, but one of our subject matter expects, “Jane,” is constantly questioning the work of other team members on projects she doesn’t have a stake in (and by default, my support for that work/the decisions being made). I want to encourage feedback and discussion, but I also need to let this employee know she has to trust her coworkers and their expertise, and the boundaries of who “owns” what.

I think one of the issues is the company and my team has grown from a small one to a larger one with new leadership (including me!). So we’ve gone from a place where a lot of decisions were made by committee to one where some people are stakeholders and others are not. Jane has been at the company for a while but is not in a leadership or management position, so is often not a stakeholder in key decisions/projects.

I’ve tried to put better guardrails around feedback or limit involvement in some projects but then she says she doesn’t feel heard. How do I respectfully communicate that she should focus more on their role and her direct sphere of influence, without stifling creative collaboration and discussion?

For example, in meetings she’ll announce that something feels off-brand to her, or she doesn’t like the colors used in a design or particular language chosen to describe something, or she doesn’t think sufficient progress has been made on a campaign — all for projects that she’s not involved with. This is all addressed to me — she’s not in any meetings with the other stakeholders and decision makers so when these questions come up, especially in all team meetings, it feels like things get derailed since I have to try and defend things and walk her through hours of discussion or context she wasn’t present for (and make it clear I support the decisions of the people who run those areas).

She is great at her job. But she doesn’t have experience in any of the areas where she questions decisions and wants input.

Am I being a grinch when I want to grit my teeth and want to flat out say “You don’t have to worry about that because it has nothing to do with your job — plus trust your team to make good decisions based on their expertise”?

Nope, you’re not being a grinch.

Of course you want your staff to feel free to ask questions and give input. But you also want them to have the judgment to know where it does and doesn’t make sense for them to weigh in, and to pick an appropriate time and place to do it, and to understand what their role does and doesn’t encompass.

It sounds like you need to have a conversation with Jane where you say something like this: “Jane, you’re great at your job and I’m glad to have you here. But there’s something I want to talk to you about that is impacting the team and I want to ask you to change. You often question other people’s decisions in meetings — like saying that something seems off-brand, when it’s been thoroughly considered by the people whose job it is to make branding decisions, often in meetings that you weren’t part of, or criticizing the direction of a campaign, when you haven’t been in those strategy meetings and don’t have the full picture that the people making those decisions do, or other criticism of choices that other people are in charge of thinking through, like design and copywriting. I know that when the team was smaller, decisions were more often made by larger groups — but as we’ve grown, that’s no longer practical. We have people now with specific expertise in brand strategy, design, social media, copywriting, and so forth, and the reality of this larger staff — and of your role — is that you’re not going to be a stakeholder in most of their projects. Constantly questioning those decisions and criticizing without full information isn’t great for our working environment, and it’s derailing our meetings. It’s not practical for me to walk you through hours of context that you weren’t present for, so I need you to trust your coworkers to manage their own realms.”

You should also say, “To be clear, it’s fine to ask for more information about why we’ve chosen a particular direction if you genuinely want to better understand to do your own job better. But I need you to stop the frequent criticism of projects that you haven’t been involved with.”

And then, importantly, talk about where she does have room for input, and where she doesn’t: “In your role, I’d expect you to have substantial input into things like X, Y, and Z, and there’s a lot of room for creativity there. And certainly you might have occasionally questions about A, B, and C. But your role isn’t brand strategy, design, or copywriting, and I need you to respect the expertise of the people in charge of those areas.”

If she says that she feels she’s being stifled or that she doesn’t feel heard … well, that might be a sign that the role, as it’s evolved, isn’t a great fit for her anymore. And that’s okay! If she’s only going to feel fulfilled if she gets to keep questioning her colleagues and derailing meetings, it’s better for both of you to be realistic that her job isn’t delivering what she wants from it anymore. That happens! Roles evolve, organizations grow, and sometimes a culture that was a great fit previously evolves into something that isn’t right for the person anymore.

So if she says that, you might say something like, “I understand. I want to be clear with you about where your role does and doesn’t have substantive input. I know this is a change from how things used to be, but I do need you to respect these boundaries.” If you want, you can add, “If you decide the job has evolved in a way where it’s no longer for you, I’d certainly understand, but I hope that won’t be the case.”

Ultimately, though, your job is not to make Jane feel heard and creatively fulfilled at all costs. Of course you want your staff to feel those things, and you should never shut down someone’s input or questions altogether. But when someone isn’t respecting reasonable boundaries for where they do and don’t have involvement, it’s okay for you to set up those boundaries yourself, and to say “this is what will work for us and this is what won’t.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 247 comments… read them below }

  1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Great advice from Alison. You need to be direct and honest, and let her know what is and is acceptable.

    I’m have someone on my team who needs to be in control of everything, even when it’s not their concern. They will argue until they’re blue in the face, and when I shut it down so we can move on (after EVERYONE else is in agreement), they claim they don’t feel they’re being heard. But what’s really happening is that the rest of us either don’t agree with them, or we have to do what the client wants regardless of what they think is correct. It’s very frustrating.

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

      “hey claim they don’t feel they’re being heard. But what’s really happening is that the rest of us either don’t agree with them” Yeah, often whenever I’ve met someone who claims they don’t “feel heard,” it’s usually that they aren’t being obeyed, like their opinion was not a suggestion but a directive.

      1. boo bot*

        I’ve found variations on, “I hear what you’re saying, I just don’t agree with you” to be useful. It sounds a little snarky as-is (which is sometimes all to the good) so I also try to extremely briefly paraphrase their point, e.g. “I understand, you think squirrels would be a bolder choice, but we’ve decided on butterflies to avoid all the gnawing.”

        At the very least it shuts down “You don’t understand!” because you’ve just demonstrated that you DO understand. See also: “I know the issue you’re referring to, but because we’re bypassing the llama effect with whistles, quicksand actually isn’t a factor.”

        1. alienor*

          I used to work with someone who would straight-up say “I don’t agree” when he didn’t agree with something. It felt a little shocking the first few times, but I ended up kind of admiring him for it. He didn’t usually try to force decisions based on his lack of agreement, although he was a manager (we both were at the time) so there were points when he had to, but he definitely made it clear where he stood.

          1. boo bot*

            My mom used to do this when another family member went on tirades – she would say either, “I don’t agree,” or “That isn’t true,” and over time I started to see it as a really powerful tool. She would say it in a normal tone of voice, and the tirade-goer would keep ranting over her, so it wasn’t about convincing him; it was about refusing to give in to his version of reality just because it was louder.

            I’ve found it helps me to keep calm in situations that would otherwise make me apoplectic, because it changes the dynamic of “X goes on and on and I don’t get a word in edgewise” to “X goes on and on and I disagree,” and I don’t feel like I’m being steamrolled. Not so much a work situation, but your comment made me think of this!

            1. AnnaBananna*

              I recently had this conversation myself. I think I said ‘I respect your position, I just don’t agree that it’s relevant’ or something, and laid out why it wasn’t relevant. Respectfully disagreeing isn’t a bad thing, and once you outline why it’s difficult to argue with logic.

              For the OP though it sounds like a case of where the employee isn’t being challenged anymore and they’re trying to get involved the only way they know how. If there were NO other issues with the employee, I would try to find a new avenue for that determinism. Maybe they can start a committee for redesigning a certain webpage or learning document, and invite others to collaborate with. That way she’s getting what she feels she needs/wants and it also helps the organization. If there simply aren’t any opportunities for her, then I would probably start coaching her out of the role seeing as it’s simply not collaborative enough for her, and it seems that collab/team work is important to her.

            2. Jennifer Juniper*

              When someone is going on a tirade, I assume they won’t listen to me. Instead, I see it as an opportunity to give them what they need, which is validation and/or expressions of empathy. “That’s certainly possible” or “that sounds frustrating,” etc. repeated ad infinitum until the tirade is over. I don’t care if they think I’m wrong. I want to calm them down so they’ll leave me in peace. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to actively listen and be supportive.

              NOTE: That does not apply to someone spewing out bigotry. When someone does that, I argue with them/shut it down. Not giving a platform to bigots is more important than active listening in that case.

              1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

                The problem with this is (at least in my case) that we’re all busy, and I can’t allow this person to take over every meeting we have because she can’t get any of us to agree with their points. Most of the time they’re either just plain wrong, or we can’t do it their way because of what the client dictates. If you want to be heard once, that’s fine, but if you continually bring up the same thing over and over, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

                I think that’s also the issue with the LW. Jane is wasting everyone’s time by questioning things on a project that she knows little about. If the project relates to something she’s worked on, there may be a time where her opinion is valid and she brings up something nobody brought up earlier. If that’s the case she should frame it in that way. “This sounds like project ABC.
                Have you thought about doing it this way for this reason?” But it sounds like she just feels as if she’s the the authority on everything, and always knows best.

          2. Flash Bristow*

            I guess the answer to his forthright comment is “well, you don’t have to agree. Moving on …”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There have been a couple times where I have said, “We don’t have to agree or even like X and that is fine. We will be doing X anyway.”

              1. Auntie Social*

                “Not every person here can be heard on every issue.” As my dad told us kids, “God answers all prayers, and sometimes the answer is no.”

              2. AnnaBananna*

                My 6th grade teacher, Mr Brook, used to say to us kids whenever we interrupted to complain about something:

                ‘thank you for your input’.

                I still use this with my husband. ;)

                1. DataGirl*

                  My eldest’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher would say, when kids complain, “We get what we get and we don’t get upset”. That was 13 years ago but I still use it all the time. Probably not the thing for a manger to say to an employee though. :)

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I am so glad I wasn’t drinking anything. I got SUCH an image about llamas and quicksand… picture the Princess Bride fire-swamp scene, but substitute llamas for ROUSs. And add a ref on the sideline blowing a whistle.

          1. boo bot*

            LOL awesome! I had no idea what the whistles were doing in there, so I’m glad to have a mental picture now!

      2. Engineer Girl*

        “We did hear you and the answer is still no”

        If you want to include “because of A, B, C” that’s fine too.

        You could even ask “what specifically has happened that makes you feel that you’re not being heard?” And yes, demand specifics. Usually you won’t get any.

        But yeah. It’s also been my experience that people who claim they aren’t being heard are the ones that aren’t being obeyed.

        1. valentine*

          OP: You can say, “You don’t have to worry about that. Trust your team to make good decisions based on their expertise”. She doesn’t need to be or to feel heard on everything she has an opinion on.

          1. On Fire*

            Yeah. I’m “not heard” on a lot of things – because it’s not in my role! I legitimately don’t HAVE a voice in those decisions – and I’m okay with that, because I’m a reasonable, professional adult. I do have *my own* job to do, and that is where my voice belongs.

      3. Dee-Nice*

        Yep. Usually this type of person feels their opinion is so self-evidently correct that they truly cannot imagine someone understanding them but still disagreeing.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Miss Manners once mentioned in an answer telling a relative who used to argue endlessly and repetitively, “Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean that I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

      4. Emily K*

        Yes, it’s so interesting because to me the expression “feeling heard” is almost made for situations where you’re ruled against despite being heard. Like if I’m frustrated about a situation, maybe I’ll bitch about it to my boss, and he’ll sympathize but ultimately tell me there’s not much he can do about it, and I’ll later tell someone else, “I know things aren’t going to get any better on this front, at least until XYZ changes, but at least I feel heard and I know management is aware of my concerns.”

        If people do what you want, you’re getting a lot more than just being heard.

    2. Clawfoot*

      It sounds like the problem isn’t that they’re not being heard; it’s that they’re not being heeded.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Jane needs to realize that being allowed to express an opinion at all in the workplace is a privilege. At LastJob, we were actually required to enthusiastically agree with everything that management decided, regardless of how we really felt.

          If Jane is a manager or other higher-level role, then that doesn’t apply, obviously.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Seriously, I think you just solved about 90% of my marital arguments with one sentence; I’ll be using this going forward. Thanks. :)

  2. Marvel*

    There’s at least one of these in any group, I feel. My response to “I don’t feel heard” and its derivatives has started to be, “That’s actually fine in this case, since this isn’t something where we need to hear from you.” It simply isn’t appropriate or reasonable for everyone to be heard from about every issue, and I like this wording because I think it gets to the heart of that issue succinctly. You can (and should, I think) say it gently, but it gets the point across.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Exactly this. Sometimes, at work, the answer is no.
      “Why aren’t you doing it this way instead?”
      “The decision has been made, it’s a go.”
      “Can I just add/ask/say…”
      “No. That decision is not up for discussion and this meeting is not for that discussion.”
      “You are not listening to me/I don’t feel heard/I don’t feel valued.”
      “You are a valued employee, in your area.”

      1. Flash Bristow*

        I like that, the “valued employee in your area”, perhaps needing to add “but this isn’t your department”.

        The comment above about being heard but not needed is also spot on.

        Not sure how to say these things kindly in the moment tho…

      1. Auntie Social*

        Or she can apply to be in the art/other creative departments (for which I bet she has no qualifications).

    2. JSPA*

      “When you’re not a direct stakeholder in a project, the appropriate forums for having input on design and strategy choices are informal chats at the water cooler, becoming an upper level executive, or participating in public focus groups. If you want to schedule a meeting to talk about your advancement goals, I’ll have time in a couple of weeks.”

    3. VivaL*

      This. Or even “You have been heard, but we’ve considered that and moving in a different direction.”
      “Heard” does not alway mean that something changes because of the feedback.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      But if Jane has gone from being heard on these issues to not being heard on these issues, putting it bluntly like that is kinda rude. And honestly, I’d expect her to leave over it, as it’s effectively a demotion.

      1. Zona the Great*

        I disagree about it being rude and agree that it was blunt which I think is actually quite a kindness for Jane. She should be told flat out when hearing from her won’t add value.

      2. Snark*

        It’s not a demotion. I effectively ran five compliance programs when I first started at my new job. Now I’m down to three, because we hired two more people and those programs are fully staffed. It’s not quite the same all hands on deck situation, and so staying in my lane is a natural evolution of my role back to its clear boundaries, not a demotion. Same for Jane. Many would perceive the change in their role naturally, she’s going to need to be clued in.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Isn’t that a bad sign for an employee, though? I’ve been trying to determine what would indicate I’m going to be laid off. One of the signs often mentioned is having less work.
          If the function of my job was narrowing for any reason other than the remaining duties had increased enough to be a full work load, I would be wondering if I’m going to be laid off. Actually, I’d be updating my resume.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Narrower focus doesn’t necessarily mean less work.

            When the Wright brothers were inventing airplanes, they had to handcraft it all from frame to brakes to the stiffed wing fabric — AND find some way to help pay for their newfangled contraption. Today’s systems are massive and an engineer could work full-time for months on one system of a specific engine. Since I’m feeling silly, I’ll point out that there’s good money in wing nuts these days.
            (And if you ever get out to Dayton Ohio, go see the Wright equipment on display at the USAF museum!)

          2. Ethyl*

            “One of the signs often mentioned is having less work.”

            I don’t want to say this is bad advice, and I don’t want to panic you, but it certainly isn’t necessarily always true. Layoffs happen for a lot of reasons, and lots of those reasons are really opaque to the day to day workforce. When I was laid off, I was in the middle of a project and two HUGE projects were starting literally three days later. Didn’t matter, layoffs were across the company and based on the company deciding to go a different direction entirely. The layoffs came entirely out of the blue with no warning at all. It sucked, and the projects I had been about to start were huge disasters and really impacted the company’s image in the region, so there’s that. I would say it might be a better idea to keep your resume up to date and maintain good relationships with your coworkers rather than trying to read tea leaves about layoffs that might or might not happen.

            So to bring it back to the topic at hand, I wouldn’t necessarily think that narrowing my job focus was an indicator of possible layoffs coming. Sometimes it’s just the right thing to do as the company grows! If the LW wanted to make sure the employee wasn’t stressing over nonexistent layoffs, though, they could certainly stress that she’s doing a great job and is a valued employee. That could help buffer the “please omg shut up” message she also needs to deliver :)

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            Sometimes it means there isn’t enough for you to do, but sometimes it means there was previously too much for you to do and now they are fully staffed and better able to delegate responsibilities.

      3. this way, that way*

        Its not rude to tell someone the truth bluntly. Your boss should never have to sugar coat your responsibilities its part of being a grownup in the workforce.

      4. GrandBargain*

        I agree, Trout. She has been/is being pigeonholed in a way she didn’t sign up for or probably expect.

      5. GMN*

        I agree with Trout’Waver, but I can see why a lot of people might not feel that way if they are used to large corporate environments. Coming from a smaller company/smaller team can lead you to effectively feel like and function like a part of management, because you’re all actively participating in strategic activities. It is great motivation and creates ownership. If that changes it would feel like a demotion to me even if it’s not a formal one.

        1. Casual Fribsday*

          Yes, this, so much. I’m one of a staff of three, and change in leadership two years ago has put me in a very similar position to OP’s employee (but I *think* I’m better at knowing when my input isn’t wanted). It does feel like a demotion though, and it’s hugely demoralizing.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Agree. If someone goes from being in the thick of things to being on the sidelines and being told that’s where they belong now, it’s a tough adjustment and can leave the employee feeling devalued.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I watched a Dr. Phil episode years ago, and someone that her local government wasn’t listening to what she had to say about an issue. She outlined all the town hall meetings she spoke at, the letters she sent, the protests she was part of, etc. Dr. Phil said, ‘They heard you, but maybe their answer is “no.” ‘ The look on the lady’s face almost madde me feel sorry for her. She’d clearly never thought of that.

      Can’t believe I’m quoting Dr. Phil but it was a good response.

  3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

    Please, please have this talk with Jane. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for all the other people in these meetings to have to listen to this all the time. I can feel them rolling their eyes every time Jane derails things from here. Also – if she does try to derail a meeting after the talk, and a quick ‘this has been discussed by the team’ doesn’t deter her, tell her you will discuss it with her later and firmly move things along. No reason to pull everyone there into a a Justifying with Jane discussion.

    1. Kimmybear*

      I had a supervisor who encouraged that everyone’s voice needed to be heard even when those voices had no experience in the areas they were talking about. I didn’t last long on that team and now that team is crumbling because nothing got done.

      1. nonymous*

        I’m in one of those groups now, with the added wrinkle of not being interested/too busy to take in the context. As I try to move on to greener pastures, this has the detrimental effect of not being able to build my portfolio with work duties and so I have to take personal time to keep my skills sharp (which isn’t as competitive to potential employers compared to other mid-career applicants).

    2. JediSquirrel*

      This is an important point. Other people have things that they need to accomplish and input that they need to give, and they can’t do that if Jane is hogging all the bandwidth.

      “Jane, this is about teapot handles. When we need input on spouts, we’ll ask you, since that’s your department and your area of expertise.”

  4. lindsay*

    This is great advice from Alison! I’d also add that by answering her questions in these team meetings you are encouraging her and validating her concerns, which probably irritates those who realize she doesn’t have any say in these matters. Instead of answering her questions about things that aren’t in her role and trying to explain things she doesn’t need to understand, I’d say something in the moment like, “I appreciate your interest, but this has been decided by those of us on the blank committee” or “We are going to leave that up to the experts in the marketing department.” If she continues I’d say “Let’s discuss this outside of this meeting” where you can reiterate that it’s not her job.

    1. Four lights*

      Yes, for meetings especially you can say, “That’s not on the agenda for this meeting. We’re here to talk about X. If you want you and I can discuss Y later.” Definitely don’t let her (or anyone else) derail the meeting.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Or as we say in my department, “Let’s take that offline and stay focused on this.”

        It might include a corporate buzzword, but it’s useful in that context.

      2. Anon for Now*

        Honestly, I wouldn’t even invite later discussion. Because that will derail the rest of the OP’s day rather than just the meeting.

        1. Blue_eyes*

          I think saying you’ll discuss it later could be useful to get her to stop her questions during the meeting. And then the “discussion” you have later can be, “these decisions were made by the X department about their work and I don’t have time to give you the full background on those choices, but I support their decisions.”

      3. JSPA*

        I would not leave it so open-ended. “If your increasing interest in design is pulling you away from your highly-appreciated skills in budgeting, we can meet about exploring a long-term plan for a career shift, including making time for the requisite education and training. Until that happens, neither you nor the other non-designers in this room get a vote on the new design.”

        “I’m happy that we all care a lot about the company and the product. But ownership of a project doesn’t go to people on the basis of who cares extra-passionately.”

        “I don’t encourage people in the Design team to pop off at meetings with ideas about how to improve our supply contracts. I need you to give Design and Copywriting the same respect. It’s their due as trained professionals. Going forward, please refrain from sharing ‘I know what I like’ ideas at meetings. If something strikes you as a complete train wreck, you can email me a one sentence summary after the meeting. If it’s a serious issue we have not already considered, I can follow up with you, as needed.”

        1. Observer*

          Too confrontational and disciplinary for a public meeting.

          Shut it down, yes. But tell her to stay in her lane in private. The fact that you’re shutting her down will tell the ACTUAL stakeholders that you’re not going to make them do her bidding.

          1. JSPA*

            That was for after… once… or better yet, for now, before the next meeting. But also, for in public, if the private conversation doesn’t do the trick.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Ouch. Any of these responses would have me job hunting, to be frank! Especially in front of a whole meeting! But I do see your point. Maybe OP needs to have a private meeting to discuss these issues but hopefully with somewhat gentler language.

          I imagine that if her input on these matters has been sought out in the past, Jane probably does feel slighted or even demoted, even if that’s not really the case. Maybe framing it as “now that we’re growing, you can focus on your special subject and let the marketing people worry about this other stuff”. Point out that it’s a benefit for her because she isn’t responsible for the other details.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      When OP sits down to talk to the employee, OP could say, that going forward she will have to steer the meeting back on track when the employee tries a derail. This can be said nicer than that of course. “Going forward, I need to make sure that comments and discussion remains in the hands of people who are directly working on that particular project. So what I will be doing is redirecting conversation back to the main topic.”

  5. animaniactoo*

    As a recipient of a never-ending process because people have gotten to have their opinions heard AFTER all the initial research and development was done..


    As a department, we are currently in the process of actively reducing the possibility for somebody else to have an opinion.

    Mostly, in meetings I would say “Okay, but this is what they’ve come up with and there was a lot of thought put into this, so I suspect that your vision of what’s “on-brand” is different than theirs and they’re the ones in charge of this. So from now on, this is what is going to be “on-brand” for the company.” and just leave it there. Don’t defend why. Support them by stating their authority to make that decision and acceptance of what they’ve come up with. If she wants to argue that, it becomes “I can discuss that with you later, but for this meeting we need to focus on how to implement our portion of this.” and so on.

    I would actually do that a couple of times before pulling her aside for the “you do this a lot and you need to stay in your lane” conversation.

    1. LCL*

      Yes. Part of managing people is telling them that we, or the group, don’t make decisions about X. If you are going to walk her through hours of discussion, cut that down and explain who had the authority to make the decision. And be prepared for the ‘why’ questions from her, which is a variation of ‘why wasn’t I consulted?’

    2. Psyche*

      Yeah. “I don’t like those colors” should be met with “The colors have already been chosen. The purpose of this meeting is XYZ and we don’t have time to revisit decisions that have already been made.”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I really like this bridging back to the original conversation.
      However, I do respectfully disagree about waiting to speak to her. If it’s bad enough to write into AAM, then it’s gone on long enough and it’s okay to take corrective steps.
      My rule of thumb is if I see something three times then I have a pattern. If I have a pattern, then I can speak up.
      Many of these things work into just explaining or teaching, “here’s how to handle this, here’s what is expected.”
      Generally, I open the subject by saying, “I have seen you do X a couple times now. Will you tell me what your thoughts are here, what is your objective/goal?”
      I have opened with this a lot because, eh, sometimes I can really step in crap if I don’t check all sides. I can honestly say that sometimes people blow me away with what they come up with to say. I mean that in a positive sense. I find that there is some real thinking going on behind the action or words. It can work into a conversation where I learn something too.

      In this particular instance, the employee is overreaching. A thing that I would look at with her is what does a viable, constructive comment actually look like? I would also stress with her that she is not the only one who has to live by these guidelines, we all do. If true, I would add, “myself, included”.
      Yeah, it’s a lot of extra effort for a boss/supervisor but if you have a basically good employee who is clearly thinking about the job, it’s wise to tap that willingness. Your subordinates can save your butt, BTDT. So it becomes a matter of teaching them what is under their watch and what is not.
      One thing I have done is tell the employees that if they have an idea, see me first. If I see a path to move forward on the idea, then we will discuss that also. What happened next is they brought me ideas. Some ideas were good and we used them right off the bat. Some ideas needed modifying then we used them. And some ideas did not fit, and I would explain why so they could craft a sharper idea in the future. And they did grow sharper.
      If my boss gave me kudos, I had no problem saying, “Tell Mary, it was her idea.”

      1. Natatat*

        “Generally, I open the subject by saying, “I have seen you do X a couple times now. Will you tell me what your thoughts are here, what is your objective/goal?”
        I have opened with this a lot because, eh, sometimes I can really step in crap if I don’t check all sides.”

        This is a great approach. Thanks for mentioning it. Good reminder for myself not to jump to conclusions – I don’t necessarily have all the information.

  6. GreenDoor*

    It might be worth exploring with her why she feels the need to give her input on everthing. I think the OP is assuming it’s because she was used to doing so back the the company was much smaller. But maybe she does see that her role is changing, there’s more experts present, and she’s fearful that her role will be eliminated or that she’s lost respect somehow and this constant weighing in is her way of fighting for relevance. So I like the particular suggestion to very explicity say, “I don’t need you to weigh in on A, B, and C….but you are considered the expert on X and I value your experience with Y and Z so I want you to continue to speak up about those things.

    1. boo bot*

      “Fighting for relevance” is a great description, and it gives me more empathy for Jane. I think this is likely; I can’t tell if the OP has had a conversation with Jane about this or if she’s just dealt with it in the moment, but Jane clearly needs a “this is your job now,” talk regardless; if she’s worrying about not being valued, that conversation should help with that, too.

      (I don’t mean the OP should go overboard to reassure Jane, just that “Your role is X” also means “You have a role.)

    2. GrandBargain*

      I guess this largely depends on whether Jane is, in fact, an expert on X. And, on what X actually is (ie, an area that would actually have a lot of room to exercise her creativity). If Jane’s X is more along the lines of being a subject matter expert in providing technical support for a particular product, there isn’t going to be much opportunity for her to have input.

      I’d be very curious to know what management has communicated to the longer-term employees who have lived through this period of growth and are actually the ones that made it happen. Have they been told what the future holds? Has the need to change culture and leadership styles been clearly presented? Or have they been told that they are super valuable, that their input will always be solicited and appreciated, and that they will continue to be just as important to the organization as they ever were.

      1. GMN*

        This is a good point and I suspect your last sentences are true. Company growth is hard to adapt to for the early employees! Would be great to hear back from the OP on this.

    3. TerraTenshi*

      This. It’s also worth asking her about it because sometimes people get blow-back from things that shouldn’t be in their lane but because they’re the most junior person, the last person to touch something, etc. people tend to blame them. I’d also be really clear about what you consider to be “her lane” and let her ask questions as necessary because sometimes it feels clear to you but when you’re actually doing the work it’s much muddier.

    4. n*

      I think this is a compassionate take on Jane.

      I also wanted to add, maybe the decisions being made do affect Jane’s work, but in a way the rest of the team isn’t aware of. This may be another reason why she does feel some sense of ownership. She’s clearly not doing a great job of communicating that, but if she’s already sensing apprehension when she questions these decisions, that may not encourage her to continue to articulate her concerns.

  7. AKchic*

    Ugh. This so sounds like someone who feels (and probably is) low-level now, and realizes they are now more low-level than they used to be in a growing company, and they resent being shut out of all of these meetings, and they are calling attention to it. There will always be one (or more), especially when a company is growing, or recently grew. It’s their way of pointing out that they used to be more “in the know” and now they aren’t. That they used to have “an opinion that mattered” and now they don’t. It’s a (not so) subtle guilt trip and passive-aggressive “why aren’t you inviting me to these meetings?” hint.

    Firmly, yet kindly, tell Jane to stay in her own lane, but if it keeps happening, shut her down less kindly, out in the open, because I guarantee that others are annoyed by it too.

    1. Clay on my apron*


      I also wonder why Jane was not promoted as the company grew – it’s common to move people up as new and more senior roles become available. Was she overlooked or is she simply not a good fit for a leadership position?

      Perhaps she is wondering the same thing, and her lack of promotion combined with her diminishing influence is causing frustration and resentment.

      Nonetheless, this behaviour is a waste of your time and you should put a stop to it. “I have to try and defend things and walk her through hours of discussion or context” – no, you don’t, and by doing this you are validating her constant need to give feedback. You need to nip that in the bud and I think Alison’s script is great.

      1. Cassandra Mortmain*

        The OP said Jane is a subject matter expert, which is a very different role from management or leadership (and does not necessarily overlap on skills or interests) — it’s possible she’s being overlooked or passed over, but it’s also possible the company has decided she’s more valuable in her current role.

        1. Psyche*

          Another possibility is that she wanted to stay in this role and didn’t realize that would mean diminished scope. Not everyone wants to be management. She may have wanted the influence without the responsibility and that simply isn’t an option anymore.

          1. AKchic*

            I had this issue. I was offered a managerial role once and I turned it down because I felt that I was too young (I had a GED only and was 28). I was already being undermined with the authority I’d been given by some of the managers due to my youth, but more importantly, my lack of education, so I was really feeling like a promotion was not the right course of action for me.
            It bit me in the rear, big time. They hired someone roughly my age with roughly the same education to fill the position.

            1. Artemesia*

              One of the best bits advice I ever heard was given by my son to my daughter when she was being considered for a top level management position in her company and didn’t feel ready for it. He said. “Would you rather take the role and get up to speed, which I know you can do, or would you rather work for someone no more experienced or competent than you whom they will bring in instead?” It is one thing to refuse promotion because you don’t want to do that role — I am pleased to see more producer roles that are high level and well paid so that management is not the only way to get ahead — but to refuse it because you aren’t sure you are up to it, often results in reporting to someone no more up to it than you were.

              1. Flash Bristow*

                That’s great advice, as long as the only concern was “I’m not ready yet”. Some people just don’t want to manage, because they don’t want to give up projects they really enjoy being stuck into, in return for overseeing it. And other reasons.

                But yep if it’s just “I don’t feel ready *yet*” then that’s a really good way of putting it. And it shows them that they have support and there’s belief in them.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Agreeing this is great advice. Frame it and hang it on a wall somewhere, please.

                Sometimes we just have to trust other people’s ability to evaluate our potential accurately. It’s much easier to let Negative Nancy/Ned run around inside our heads, than it is to just trust someone else’s judgement.
                It took a couple times of me stepping back and I figured out that the next person is probably not better than me and in some cases actually worse. I started pushing myself forward more often.

                In turn, I have had people question my judgement about their potential. So we had a chat and worked it through.

      2. Oh So Anon*

        It’s possibly because Jane never had the communication skills needed to give input without being presumptuous, unnecessary, and/or irritating.

        That’s cold, but I’m just irked over what happens when SMEs and more junior staff aren’t held to reasonable soft skills standards, regardless of their desire to move into leadership positions.

      3. Jennifer Juniper*

        I’m guessing a lack of soft skills cost her any advancement opportunities. Jane sounds very abrasive.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          Janes never know they’re being abrasive, they think they’re being helpful, which is the problem.

          OR, they don’t care how they come across because they think it doesn’t matter so long as they don’t want to advance to a leadership position.

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

      The OP indicated that she’s a content expert — so I’m going to guess that she isn’t necessarily low-level, but her lane is narrow. It’s even been my experience that people at the highest levels in their area start to feel like their input is essential in other areas. For example they have a PhD in Brewing Green Tea, so of course they expect they know EVERYTHING having to do with tea…tea growing, tea selling, health benefits of tea, tea packaging, teapots, teaspoons, tea towels… except that usually they have a lot of depth of knowledge in a small part of the subject rather than a breadth of knowledge in the whole subject. Jane used to be able to drift over the lines a bit — or else the lines weren’t really clearly marked — and now she isn’t because those lanes are occupied by other experts. She needs to hear that — those lanes are occupied by experts. I think the OP should consistently acknowledge and affirm the coworkers know what they are doing, rather than reminding Jane she doesn’t.

      1. Jane's Boss*

        This is OP — YES that is very close to the situation. We have also hired people recently who are other SME experts so in the past, the lane may have been empty…but now it is occupied and we all trust the driver. I am pushing the metaphor, but you get it. Ah, growing startup company woes…

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If your subject matter expert thinks they’re now low-level, that’s a different problem. Your SMEs are probably the ones building the product — without them, marketing will have nothing to sell.

      1. n*


        I think it would be especially frustrating for Jane if creative and strategic decisions are being made that don’t accurately reflect the product, which she is an expert in.

  8. Dust Bunny*

    “it feels like things get derailed since I have to try and defend things and walk her through hours of discussion or context she wasn’t present for (and make it clear I support the decisions of the people who run those areas).”

    Stop doing this. Walking her through stuff makes it seem like she does have a stake in it, or else why would you be spending this much time woth her on it? Remind her that it’s not your group’s project, the reasons are many and too complex to address, and she needs to focus on her own work.

    1. pleaset*

      This. Say things like “We had a lot of discussions about this, including examining many of the issues you’re raising, and this is how we decided to proceed.”


      “Yes, we thought about that already, and this is how we decided to proceed.”

    2. TootsNYC*

      also, when you walk her through it, the subtle message you are sending her is that she DOES get to make you justify the decisions that are made.

      Clip it off.
      “That’s interesting input, Jane, but the team in charge of this went into all the issues, and their decision is already made. Let’s move along.”

      Maybe even take out the “the team in charge went into all the issues”–because that implies that she deserves that info, and really she doesn’t.

    3. Snark*

      Absolutely. “Jane, I’d have to walk you through hours of discussion and context to get you up to speed here. I fully support the decision that was made, and we’re not looking for feedback at this point.”

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        I like this wording. “We’re not looking for feedback here” is a somewhat less aggressive version of the “We don’t need to hear from you” above. You might be blunter with her in private, but this works well as a firm but unmistakable check in a group meeting.

    4. Jane's Boss*

      This is OP. Yes, so true — I needed to hear that. I think I’ve hedged on the “well if I give them ALL the context they’ll see we made the ‘right’ decision” but truly, that is setting the wrong expectation.

  9. coffeeforone*

    Oh man, this could definitely have been written by someone at my work. We have one very specific Jane, but I think a lot of people have the potential to express “Jane-ness”.

    I think Allison’s advice is spot-on, because it sounds like this Jane clearly just wants to have an opinion on everything, but can I also bring up that:
    1) You need to be sure you’re not giving mixed messages if your company loves to say it “values collaboration” or “encourages teamwork”. A lot of people take this to mean “everyone has a voice on everything, all the time”. Allison’s script is great for acknowledging things might have changed recently, but I do think it’s worth reflecting on if your company actually has clear “lanes”. My workplace definitely does not, so this feedback would come across as downright confusing and frankly kind of rude (since we get all sorts of messages All. The. Time. to share feedback, critiques, ask questions, etc etc., regardless of the project).

    2) This doesn’t apply to this particular instance, because Jane’s comments do seem very nitpicky, but I do think it’s really important to confirm if someone’s criticisms are actually valid or not. Fact: the “Jane” at my office was right once. She brought up several times that a particular piece of marketing collateral expressed something that was not at all in line with our company’s style guide/voice and the marketing VP brushed her off and told her to stay in her lane, that the “right” stakeholders had been consulted, etc. He was wrong, Jane was absolutely right and the VP had not done any of the consultation he claimed to. The piece went out and got some very bad public press.

    …So. Like I said, this Jane does seem to need to receive this message, but I feel like all the commentators so far think ALL Janes need to receive this message loud and clear and I don’t think that’s always the case. Sometimes the so-called Jane might actually be picking up on real issues, or highlighting some structural problems at your organization about who gets to be considered a stakeholder/expert and why.

    Feel free to tell me off though, since this was a pretty Jane-y way to respond to Allison.

    1. WakeUp!*

      But maybe OP’s company DOES value feedback and encourage collaboration…and ALSO doesn’t want Jane weighing in on every decsion everyone else makes.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Exactly. Only challenge is, it’s really difficult to explain to someone with poor soft skills that what that company isn’t looking for is being officious and annoying.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          Well, I guess there’s a difference between wanting to input to a current project and being told “thanks, we’ve got it covered but we’ll come to you if it overlaps” and wanting to input when it’s a case of “the decision has already been made and signed off so input won’t help at this stage”.

          Timing is going to be important as to whether anyone considers “hmm I wonder if Jane has a point” or just gets frustrated because it’s a done deal and energy has to go into the next thing.

    2. PollyQ*

      The key difference is whether the office “Jane” is constantly criticizing, or just pulling it out when it’s really needed. It sounds like your Jane may have been the “stopped clock” that got one thing right, but was ignored, at least partially due to her being off base the other 1438 minutes a day.

    3. Cassandra Mortmain*

      It’s also possible to address this issue in terms of the values of collaboration and teamwork — spending team meetings talking about decisions made by other teams that she wasn’t part of is neither good collaboration nor good teamwork!

    4. AnotherKate*

      I totally agree with you that sometimes Janes are right…but that still doesn’t make it their lane! And I would hope that in your example, Jane was not held responsible for the VP’s error. That’s the upside to having lanes; it means if something goes wrong in someone else’s, that issue is also not your responsibility.

      I’d also argue that the less time you spend being a nitpicker across lanes, the more capital you’ll have if you happen to notice something and bring it up (especially if you do so one-on-one rather than obnoxiously in a public meeting where it comes across as showboating or scolding). As an editor, I sometimes notice things that aren’t strictly under my mandate, but I’ve found that an email or quick conversation hedged with some language to show I don’t assume I’m right is usually well received. E.g., “I may be totally off on this since I’m not the expert but I noticed this said Y when normally I’ve seen us use X, just wanted to flag!”

      1. coffeeforone*

        Such a good point and I agree. I think explaining it as a matter of accruing capital (or choosing battles, mountains vs. molehills, whatever you want to call it) would also be really helpful framing for those who seem to be trying to claw their way into decision making. I agree with the responses here and differentiating what collaboration and teamwork actually looks like.

      2. TootsNYC*

        As an editor, I sometimes notice things that aren’t strictly under my mandate, but I’ve found that an email or quick conversation hedged with some language to show I don’t assume I’m right is usually well received.

        I’m in this same position. I sometimes worry that I’m a Jane (and sometimes it’s fun to feel like I have some influence on things that are really outside my responsibility–it makes me feel like part of the team, and part of the bigger mission).

        But I also do the “this isn’t really my business, but I had a thought” or “just a suggestion; we could…”
        I don’t derail everyone; I take it to the one person whose lane it IS. And I come with a possible easy solution.

        And I’ve worked to develop a relationship with the person whose business it IS so that I can say, “I don’t think this lingerie is OK for wearing outside the house, actually–flagging for you.”

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I totally agree with you that this does indeed happen and it happens a lot.

      And there are plenty of times where employees do not speak up but they all know that the light at the end of the tunnel IS an on-coming train, as opposed to daylight.

      My thought here is that Jane isn’t the one who wrote in. It could be that Jane would add to the story in ways we cannot foresee right now and Alison’s answer would be tailored to that particular setting, such as, “Now’s a good time to start your job search.”

      We have to assume that OP’s company is doing well and does not need Jane’s inputs. OP did not say, “Jane is usually right and my company ignores her.” If that were true, that would be a huge piece of this story to leave out and probably would lead Alison to say something different than what she has here.

      Additionally, there are plenty of examples of people using the small group mindset and not realizing their group has grown substantially. I have seen this happen in towns/communities where people complain about not knowing their neighbors and they “used to know everyone”. I have seen it up close in my family, “Cousin Sue did not make it to Uncle Bob’s b-day party.” And the tsk-tsking that follows…. I feel like saying, “We are no longer a small family, there are well over 120 of us, so yeah, some people will not be able to make it to Bob’s party. That is just a fact of life. And where would we put all these people IF they did show up. Personally, I cannot request 120 days off to go to everyone’s birthday party.” This is a large family that thinks it’s still a small group of people.

      Since this problem with going from small group to large group is a frequent thing in many aspects of life, I would want to start there by addressing that part. Larger groups have to operate differently than smaller groups.

    6. Jennifer Juniper*

      I translate “encourages teamwork” as “you are not allowed to say no to anyone unless you are at a high level.”

      Teamwork means a lot of people doing as they’re told without complaint, IME.

  10. Cassandra Mortmain*

    This question hits close to home. My team started as a very small group several years ago, essentially a startup atmosphere within a bigger company, and has grown immensely, and the few of us who were present at the beginning and are still here definitely have strong opinions about how everyone is doing their jobs. I

    But yeah, Jane needs to cut it out, especially in meetings. Allison’s script is great.

    It sounds like she’s an employee you value, so it also might be worth having a discussion with her at another time about her role, the organization, and its direction. I can’t speak for Jane, but being part of a small team initially gave me and my coworkers a huge sense of responsibility and ownership over our whole organization and our mission. It felt like what I did and contributed was much bigger than my job title implied. Five years later, it feels much more like I’m just a cog in a machine someone else is building and maintaining. Of course it’s great that we’ve expanded, professionalized, hired more leadership, added new divisions, etc., but there is a sense of loss.

    One thing I’ve seen help me and other coworkers in the same situation is getting more opportunities to invest and dig deeper into our individual roles — some have taken ownership of projects they’re working on, others have developed more expertise in their field, I’ve moved into management. If I’m worried about coaching up an intern, or my coworker is applying for a grant to take a project to a new level, we’re less concerned about what Bob in branding is doing. And we know that, sure, we might miss having a say on branding, but if we did, we wouldn’t have time to do the cool stuff we’re doing now.

    I don’t know if those opportunities exist for Jane, and I’m not saying you should reward her bad behavior. But if she’s a valuable employee otherwise, it might be a way to channel some of this energy in a more positive direction.

    1. LQ*

      I agree about the sense of loss, I think there may be also a little left over, “If I don’t do it who will?” If I don’t ask this question, if I don’t bring this discrepancy up, if I don’t check on the thing…No one will. Because when you’re small sometimes that’s true. If you only have 3 people and you see something wrong even if it’s not your lane sometimes you need to see it, because you need to and they need you to. So I think that instilling some confidence not just in the individual coworkers, but in the new processes and in the professionalization of the entire system (there are checks baked in, it doesn’t have to be you (and shouldn’t be…)) can be really helpful with that.

      I know I’ve been in roles and tried to step aside to let other people in but I always have this sort of terror that somethings going to fall and I’m going to be hauled back in to fix the thing I no longer understand, even when it wasn’t a thing that was fully mine in the first place. (Which has happened, this week!) That makes me nervous and interjectier and Janier than I’d like to be.

      1. Cassandra Mortmain*

        Yes, that’s such a great point — five years on I still often feel like “If I don’t do [thing that is way outside my lane], who will?” And sometimes the answer is “Someone else,” and sometimes the answer is “No one,” and that’s ultimately OK! I don’t plan to die at my desk, and so the organization needs to understand that there’s a need here and that the answer to the problem is not me.

  11. designbot*

    If you get pushback from her, one thing that helps me manage this for myself is, “Do I have specific relevant information/expertise that may change how others see this? Or do I just have an opinion?” For example, there’s a whole area of work directly adjacent to mine that I mostly choose to keep my nose out of because it would only bog things down to try to insert myself. BUT when I saw that they were sending out a holiday campaign that used almost exactly the same messaging/graphics as a framework that was constantly used as my last (very large, very well known in our industry) workplace, that’s when I decided to use some social capital to speak up, because I had specific information that I didn’t think the team working on this had access to, but would very likely make this campaign fall flat with our client base who had seen the same from others.
    It may be useful to encourage her to ask this question of herself when she feels the need to speak up. Especially if she pushes back about not being allowed to have an opinion, etc. it may help to clarify the bounds of when that opinion warrants speaking up vs. when it does not.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “Do I have specific relevant information/expertise that may change how others see this? Or do I just have an opinion?”

      I sometimes do this w/ blog comments. And I do it in meetings, especially when I’m worried that I’ll interrupt or talk too much.

      “Has someone else already made my point? Do I have anything original to contribute?”
      (and in meetings, I wait and see if anyone else will make my point so I don’t have to–I write my point down, and then I wait a little while)

      1. Sled dog mama*

        Not to pile on but I try to do this too. I don’t know how many times I have typed out a response to something here and then think “this adds nothing to the discussion” and deleted the whole thing.

    2. hbc*

      That quote is great, and should probably be the first suggestion to Jane to see if she can get herself under control. The other way I’ve seen people control themselves is to limit yourself to X number of critiques per meeting/week/month (so you make sure you use them wisely.)

  12. Cat*

    So definitely not disagreeing with any of the advice given, but I’m also wondering if it makes sense to revisit some of the meetings you’re having. It’s possible she needs to be informed of these final decisions to do her job, but if not, it is pretty frustrating to sit in meetings where people are talking about projects you have no role on and no input into. Are they all necessary?

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      This is a good point. I think it’s worth it to make sure Jane isn’t being set up to fail here, especially as comments above are asking if the company culture talks a lot about collaboration and everybody being a the table. If this isn’t true any more, maybe the change needs to be more clearly articulated and some of these meetings need to be restructured. Or maybe not! I think I’m sympathetic to Jane because I can be kind of a know it all and get bored in my own lane :P

      1. Argh!*

        Being at the table but being expected to be a passive observer would be extremely frustrating for an experienced employee! I totally agree with the idea that employees whose input is not welcome should not be in meetings where their input will be ignored. If “not being heard” means “being made to feel irrelevant,” there could be a real point there.

    2. Ali G*

      I agree with this. Maybe Jane is thinking “They wouldn’t make me sit here and listen to this for an hour if they didn’t want my input, right?” And then she gives her input and OP even spends time catching her up and explaining things to her!
      OP it might be time to recognize the group has grown to a size and has too many disparate functions to work as one cohesive group all the time. Maybe think about meeting less as a big group and reframe the purpose as “informational” so people are plugged into what others are working on, but the meeting is not intended to be garnering feedback, unless there are Red Flags.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This is a good point: If she doesn’t need to be in all these meetings, don’t make her come.

        I am very often not a stakeholder even in decisions that do affect my department, but my supervisors don’t make me come to the meetings about those decisions. Is it possible your company is blurring the lines here by including employees in meetings for things that aren’t ultimately their business (perhaps as a holdover from when the company was smaller and less compartmentalized)?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I read it as these just being general team meetings where the OP is running through quick updates and Jane is interrupting to criticize stuff she’s mentioning.

    3. Cassandra Mortmain*

      I read the OP’s question as being about Jane derailing team meetings to ask about decisions made by other teams who are not currently in the room — which the OP has either updated his team about or not discussed at all — not Jane weighing in on meetings that are specifically about those decisions. But “Does this employee who is annoying at meetings need to be in so many meetings?” is always a good question to ask, tbh.

    4. Psyche*

      Another thing to consider is whether it is clear that they are presenting decisions that have already been made rather than ideas that they are refining. Jane may be under the impression that they are looking for feedback.

      1. Snark*

        And in that case, “Jane, the purpose of meeting today is to get everyone up to speed on decisions the working groups have made. At this point, we’re not looking for feedback.”

          1. Snark*

            And then you can use a classic phrase my wife uses to shut down her students: “I understand you don’t feel heard. But even still.”

  13. Liz*

    Totally agree with the advice here. I might also add something about the impact to the team, Jane’s relationships with other team members, and the impact to Jane’s reputation when she openly criticizes her teammates/coworkers in front of others. That is not the way to build trust and rapport with your teammates, and it demonstrates that Jane is more focused on Jane, not the success of the team. Sometimes people really need to hear, “this isn’t about you, and your behavior is negatively impacting the team in these specific ways…” in order for the message to land.

  14. LaDeeDa*

    “But she doesn’t have experience in any of the areas where she questions decisions and wants input.”

    UGG I have this same problem with a person, unfortunately, she isn’t my direct report so I don’t really have an avenue/authority to correct this.

    She said to me today “I don’t know why it takes you that long to do X.” I replied with “Well, since you don’t have an X background, I wouldn’t expect you to know WHY that takes that amount of time. But it does.”

  15. Samwise*

    Our office has a lot of people who “need to be heard” all the time; it’s pretty ingrained in our office culture. There are many times when that’s exactly what’s needed. The problem is, it’s not always needed.
    For my projects, I’m very clear about please share your feedback about X by Y date. When decisions have been made, I then make it clear, Now I’m presenting how we are proceeding with this project. “Suggestions” from the Hear Me! people get a kind but firm, Actually, we’re past the suggestions / feedback stage and have to go with the project this way. I get very little pushback anymore, but that’s because I spent a couple years (yep!) setting the expectation that there is a time for feedback and there is a time to move forward. Some of my colleagues think I’m b!tchy (that’s their problem lol), but almost all of them want to work with me when it’s a project that has to keep moving along.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      This is a great way to handle the over eager beavers, especially if there’s more than one: be a lot clearer about roles and time-frames where input is appropriate. Unfortunately if Jane was going to take a hint I think she would have done it by now. If it’s just her and nobody else, the direct conversation Alison recommends is probably the best.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      One place I worked we set a suggestion box in a main area for this reason that everyone wanted to be heard.

      The problem that happened was that no one ever mentioned their suggestion being used. The box was more like a garbage can.

      People can be given avenues to present their suggestions. However, if this is done there has to be a method of letting them know where and how their suggestion lands.

      As the company got bigger and bigger the suggestion box was totally ignored, no one even put suggestions in the box.

  16. Dutchie*

    On the other hand, I’ve been ignored when I pointed out obvious mistakes affecting our customers negatively, and my coworker was told to stay in their lane in the same situation. Sometimes there are teams that are horrifically incompetent.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I admit I sympathize with Jane a little here, I would prefer to work in a more collaborative workplace where I get exposed to lots of different types of work, and would definitely be bruised by being told to stay in my lane if I had been with a company for a while. (Obviously I wouldn’t be making comments if I didn’t think they were on point, but it’s a bit of a “you don’t know what you don’t know” situation too).

    2. Observer*

      Well, if you have the background to understand that these are actually “obvious mistakes” not something that is actually correct, but LOOKS obviously wrong, you shouldn’t be brushed off that way. But, Jane does NOT have the knowledge and experience to have an opinion that needs to be taken seriously.

      That kind of thing can be infuriating, and burns social capital very quickly. When it happens occasionally it’s not that big of a deal. But when it’s a constant thing, it’s going to create major problems. Which is why the OP will be doing Jane a favor if they can get her to stop this altogether, not just in meetings.

      Just recently I had someone decide that I’m “obviously” overspending on certain technology purchases. This person knows NOTHING about the technology in question, except that prices have effectively gone down over the ears and that refubs exist. So, to them it’s “obvious”. But it is TOTALLY incorrect for our situation, and it’s infuriating to me because it’s contributing to significant hold ups for multiple projects. The good news is that this is someone who actually is REALLY good at what they do, and they rarely overstep in this way, but if this were a regular issue, it would torpedo the relationship.

    3. Becky*

      Yup I’ve been on that side too. I have had some sweet “I told you so” moments when down the line (sometimes 6 months or a year) the very thing I asked about and was told wasn’t my lane is now a crisis and how did we miss this. and I usually have email evidence of where I brought it up and foretold the issue.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This is why I am not a fan of the expression “stay in your lane” to me it sounds like it’s just this side of “sit down and shut up.” Sometimes streamlining longer explanations into catchy little phrases just does not translate well at all.

      I remember decades ago, it became in vogue to say, “failure to communicate”. It took a while but we collectively started to realize that almost every problem has a failure to communicate nested in it somewhere. Failure to communicate became a crutch and empty catch-all phrase that at best was a lame attempt at problem solving.
      I think “stay in your lane” does not really instruct the person as to what is under their watch and what is not.

  17. yo*

    I am someone who has a hard time being pulled into the middle of projects. I love working on things from start to finish, but I have a tendency to challenge certain things if I didn’t get the full context. I can’t tell what’s going on here or why she is in these meetings after decisions have been made. It sounds like either she needs to be excluded altogether or be pulled into these at the beginning. I also can’t tell if her feedback isn’t valuable (even if you do disagree with it). Would her ideas be taken seriously if she had a chance to express them earlier? There is also a difference between an opinion and a fact…. so if she doesn’t like the way something is written and it is grammatically incorrect, I would argue she should chime in. However, if it’s a stylistic concern, that could be ignored. Same goes for things that are “off brand”… Is it off brand? Then yes, she should say something. If its not and just something she doesn’t like, then maybe not.

    She might just need some coaching on when it’s appropriate to give feedback (error) and when it isn’t (opinion).

    1. Express Lane*

      Jane may have good ideas. I just wrapped up a major, months-long project about four weeks ago. As we were nearing the big finish, which required a lot of participation from people in the organization who run in other lanes, I called a logistics meeting. My intent was for this to be a courtesy for several organizational leaders, letting them know what would be happening and alerting them that for a couple of days our activities would be disruptive (in a positive way) to the routine.
      There were several long-tenured co-workers in the room who began expressing ideas that were not necessarily aligned with the plans that had been made. One director, who was far outside her area of influence or expertise, had an idea. It stopped the room cold because it was a GREAT idea, and none of us so-called “experts” had thought of it.
      We enjoy some satisfaction from being nimble, so we implemented her suggested changes and the end result was very pleasing. But, what if we had shut her down and told her to stay in her lane?
      I worry about Jane, who clearly wants to be part of the process. This proposed meeting, with this script, might be really demotivating for her.
      Is there a chance you’ve just begun to filter out her input because she’s become so annoying? Who knows? She may make a brilliant contribution; you need to be alert for it.
      Good fences don’t always make good neighbors. Or co-workers.

      1. Snark*

        Jane may have good ideas occasionally! She also has a lot of ideas and critiques that are pointless and a waste of time. She needs to save her professional capital for times when it’s actually worth swerving out of her lane, because it is actually completely valid and reasonable to begin filtering her input and shutting her down when most of her show-stopping questions and ideas are annoying and time-wasting.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          Yep. Otherwise it’s just crying wolf and people are less likely to listen to any of her comments. If she can learn to rein it in until the one time when she needs to hold firm and say “actually guys, I really think we are missing something here, because…” then she’ll get much more respect (and satisfaction?) over all.

      2. Observer*

        Is there a chance you’ve just begun to filter out her input because she’s become so annoying? Who knows? She may make a brilliant contribution; you need to be alert for it.

        It’s hard to be alert to brilliant suggestions when they are part of a stream of useless and time wasting verbiage.

        Good fences don’t always make good neighbors. Or co-workers.

        That may be true, but in this case that is EXACTLY what Jane needs. If anyone is going to pay attention to anything she says outside of her lane, she needs to limit herself to things that really ARE valuable. Given that she does not have the necessary background, that is not likely to be very often. So her suggestions should be rare.

    2. Snark*

      “I love working on things from start to finish, but I have a tendency to challenge certain things if I didn’t get the full context.”

      And sometimes, you won’t get to work on something start to finish, and there might not be time or ability to give you the full context. And in those kinds of situations, you do not need to challenge things. Take a different tone, because I guarantee you’re annoying people doing this.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Snark, I want to send you a first-class plane ticket to [place where I live] so you can give a dressing-down to someone I know. It is so difficult to tell someone with this issue that they are not always entitled to getting their needs met.

        1. Snark*

          I had this person at a previous job, and I spent literally hours crafting verbiage to tell them to stay in their goddamn lane. If they are confused or disagree or have a strong opinion, stop! hammertime, because this whole deal needs to get hashed out right here and now, to their satisfaction, regardless of whether they have a stake or know what the hell they’re talking about or if they need to get brought up to speed on three months of work or whatever.

  18. Sloan Kittering*

    It seems like OP’s issues with Jane are often around meetings. I’m a Hermione type myself and something that’s helped me curb this tendency is to make specific rules for myself, because I tend to talk to much in meetings if I don’t watch it. One thing I started doing was making a check mark on a piece of paper every time I piped up, so I would be more conscious of it. Ideally, a meeting where my expertise wasn’t the subject would have maybe one or two check-marks, but definitely not five or six. I also trained myself to write my questions down and hold them till the end. A lot of times that helped the urge to pass and at the end of the meeting, I realized many of them were addressed or just not that urgent after all. Over time, I’ve been able to relax a little more as I got into the habit of just listening in meetings.

    1. coffeeforone*

      A boss I really respected once told me to ” aim to leave 3 unimportant things unsaid every day”. No idea if this is a business line, or something he pulled out of his ass, but since he was very well-respected as a quiet leader, it really stuck with me and has been super useful advice (as a fellow Hermione).

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Another Hermione here, and I’m working on the same thing! Tallys are a good idea for keeping “piping up” in check, I’ll have to try that :)

  19. LGC*

    I like how my boss wrote in about me.

    Okay, but to be serious, I’ll write some advice column fanfic about Jane. (That is, I’ll speculate what she’s thinking about.) She may have been involved in similar campaigns in the past and is pushing back against doing it in a way that doesn’t feel like “your company.” (I have to stop myself OFTEN because one project is very behind now – and it’s a project I’ve helped manage in the past AND hasn’t had major process changes since I transitioned off AFAIK. What makes it more complicated is that I’m also the AR guy, so I have a small stake in getting us paid. And the revenue…isn’t great.)

    So yeah, the advice is beautiful (as always!), but focus really heavily on the problematic behavior. That is, the real issue isn’t that she has Opinions on things that aren’t her business. It’s that she’s derailing meetings over them.

  20. Alice*

    I’m something of a Jane, at least internally. I see how our customers interact with the systems our company designs, and the customers give me feedback about specific features they don’t understand, and yet the UX team just says “we tested that, it works.” If it works, why are customers complaining to me? So I don’t 100% respect some departments in my organization.
    Of course, there’s a time and a place to raise issues, and sometimes that time is “never.”
    I hope that OP will have a good conversation with Jane to clarify when her feedback is welcome and when it isn’t.

    1. Observer*

      There is also something important here – you DO have clearly relevant information, which is the fact that your customers as complaining and saying that they do not understand specific features.

      In your case, when they say “this works” I would respond with two things. Firstly, you didn’t say it doesn’t work, but that customers are confused which is a different issue than if the feature actually works. Secondly, what do they want you to tell the customers? Obviously (I hope!) the answer is the the apocryphal “you’re too stupid to use a computer.” If the team is good and well managed, you should actually wind up with some useful responses.

      Also, keep a few things in mind. A lot of things work but still generate complaints. It could be that the interface is too confusing or difficult to use, the documentation is inadequate, your product’s workflow doesn’t match theirs (leading to confusion), they were not properly trained, the implementation was poor, the sales people gave the bad information etc. There are a LOT of different parts that could be at play here. So what really needs to happen is that someone needs to look at that feedback and figure out what is REALLY happening.

    2. n*

      I feel you. I am a fledgling UX person who partly decided to go into the field because I worked customer service for years and was the front-line person hearing feedback about what did and did not work with products.

      I would think (hope!) most UX folks would really value your input. If you have a chance to interact socially, might be something to chat about over lunch. Or perhaps suggest putting together a report of top-presenting customer issues/feedback on a regular basis that can be shared with the UX team.

  21. Cruciatus*

    So the answer is not to yell at the coworker in front of their colleagues and tell them they need to “STAY IN THEIR LANE” and then kind of apologize for yelling, but not for making it public but basically saying they made you yell because of too much lane changing (which in this case was answering the main desk phone when the main desk person wanted a break). Asking for a coworker…

    1. Cruciatus*

      I wasn’t the coworker, but I was the one who wanted a break from the phone for a second and wanted to sink into the floor when my coworker got yelled at in front of the rest of the office. Ugh. Don’t miss that! I had forgotten about it until I saw the wording of this question!

  22. restingbutchface*

    This is why I love RACI diagrams and why I wish every single interaction involved one (I find boundaries tricky myself).

    OP, it may be worth looking at including a RACI diagram for bigger projects to make boundaries clear. It’s just a way to display, without emotion, who is Responsible for the work, who is Accountable, the people to be Consulted and who should be Informed.

    Example – I’m Head of Teapot Design and we need to create a new teapot brochure.

    My designer in marketing is Responsible
    As project manager I am Accountable
    I will Consult with finance for budget and manager for sign off
    All the sales team need to be Informed

    Stops the salespeople thinking I’m asking their opinion when I’m telling them the situation. I hope that’s of some help.

      1. restingbutchface*

        Another RACI fan! That’s true but I find the elimination of argument helps. When someone disobeys a written and agreed on instruction, it removes the argument of “I didn’t know!” or “but I always do X!”.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Wow, never heard of RACI, that makes a lot of sense. Is it just for your personal reference as manager, to get clear in your head, or would you be explicit about it to everyone in some way?

      1. restingbutchface*

        Be explicit about it! If there is any paperwork or meeting notes when kicking off a project, put it in there. But I find myself using mental RACI diagrams for all sorts of things, including when I’m very tempted to do a Jane and start giving unasked for feedback.

      1. restingbutchface*

        Now that’s one for debate. Maybe it’s just my industry and the sales teams I’ve worked with :)

    2. Jane's Boss*

      Ugh, yes! I’m the OP. We use RACI for project briefs and such but the lines definitely get blurred as things move along, typically. I can be better about hewing to those roles, for sure.

  23. Oh So Anon*

    The challenge with Janes is that they typically don’t have the ability to self-monitor or “read the room” well enough to understand when their input is or isn’t welcome. Janes often cannot manage this behaviour well enough to maintain team effectiveness. Janes will alienate the rest of your team and damage morale.

    I work with a Jane. She’s a nice person, but I’ve lost patience for her constant derails and what has begun to look like a lack of respect for others’ professional judgement. The rest of us have needed to learn how to be effective contributors, but she has not and will not. I spend most of my emotional labour at work trying to Jane-proof my conversations because I know she likely lacks the social awareness to change or possibly doesn’t want to change because she thinks she’s better than everyone else.

    1. the_scientist*

      This is the thing; that it really belies a lack of respect for the competency and professional judgement of others. I am also dealing this in a volunteer capacity where these interactions are happening in FRONT OF A PUBLIC AUDIENCE which looks terrible and makes the organization as a whole as well as individual people look incompetent.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        I’ve straight-up talked to my Jane about this (we’re peers, I’m a fair bit younger than her, but I actually have graduate education + more work experience in the thing we’re supposed to be SMEs in. Jane has an unrelated graduate degree from a more prestigious institution and was probably the most degreed member of the team when she was hired, which I suspect plays a role in what’s going on.)

        Jane pays a lot of lip service to her supposed belief in her colleagues’ abilities, which makes me wonder about her intentions, but the problem is that she doesn’t understand that 1. perception is everything and 2. other people are not perceiving her walk as lining up with her talk. Jane also has made excuses about being “trained as a scientist to question things critically,” which is…just, no. Being officious isn’t a learning outcome of any doctoral program anywhere, sorry.

        1. Snark*

          “Being officious isn’t a learning outcome of any doctoral program anywhere, sorry.”

          Louder for everyone in the back!

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      I think it’s good to remember that this tendency to raise objections goes with certain personality traits so is somewhat fixed, BUT ALSO that the skill of realizing when it’s appropriate (not all the time), and the behaviors necessary to raise issues (eg, privately in an email after a meeting), can and should absolutely be learned. In some ways, I would rather manage a “Jane” who is motivated but off track than an employee who doesn’t have any initiative or enthusiasm, which I can’t usually fix. However, the enthusiasm here clearly needs to be redirected. It’s also probably true that Jane is bored in her role, and this may not be OP’s problem to solve. I still think it’s helpful to see where OP’s energy should be directed – at the behavior – and not the tendency, because Janes are gonna Jane.

      1. Bopper*

        I worked with someone who would only want to talk about the boundary conditions/what could go wrong/risks…but the main part of our job was to define what happens when every thing goes right. You can’t be all objections…you have to actually do something as well.
        He is gone.

  24. Midwest Academic*

    Reminds me of a quote from Sports Night: “You didn’t expect me to substitute your judgment for mine, did you?”

  25. the_scientist*

    OH WOW I NEEDED THIS TODAY. I am dealing with this both at work and in a volunteer capacity and it is both entirely exhausting and extremely derailing. This is super, super helpful!

  26. TootsNYC*

    “I don’t feel heard.”

    “That’s OK–this is not an area in which the team needs your input.”

    (oh my God, is this me? I don’t think so–I’m pretty good about just complaining in private, and I make out-of-lane suggestions privately. But…)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “I don’t feel heard.”
      Welcome to the group. I tell myself why should my experience be better than the people around me.

      I have found it helpful to look around and see how many people I am working with who are saying, “I don’t feel heard.” If there’s a lot of these folks, then it might be the company. If there is only a couple, it might be ME, I might need to change what I am doing so I do get heard.

      I would be surprised if this person did not end up quitting the job. Unless, of course, she is able to adjust her perspective.

  27. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP Do you have any suspicion that Jane applied for the position you were hired for?
    If yes, I believe I’ve read other letters elsewhere on AAM that address that question… advice there might be worth trying even if you don’t think that’s Jane’s issue.

    1. Jane's Boss*

      This is OP! She definitely did not. But I believe she does have strong opinions about what type of leader the team needs. So it’s not so much she wants to be the boss but perhaps…she wants a different type of boss.

  28. hbc*

    “…she doesn’t think sufficient progress has been made on a campaign…” Oh, hell no.

    This is so far from her business that she’d have to cross the horizon twice to even see it. This part of her feedback needs to be shut down right quick. Maaaaybe this is something she can raise with you in a one on one if she has a specific reason to believe she’s got information you don’t, but she definitely doesn’t get to denigrate others’ progress publicly with little information and even less at stake.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, there’s basically no context where this would be appropriate coming from anyone but the boss – OP, in this case.

  29. recovering Jane*

    Hi LW,

    Recovering Jane here LOL. I feel I could write this letter from Jane’s perspective a couple years ago. If you want to know why she speaks up it is because she feels she is not be listened to when she used to be. There is a good chance she has seen folks promoted/advanced that have been there for shorter period of time then her. Possibly she had a manager who listened to her before you as well.

    Now that is all out there, here is the tough advice. You need to follow AAM advice and you need to make sure that you don’t come off in any way as making it personal. Don’t use the language of “stay in your lane” for example.

    Next move will be up to Jane, two things will happen:
    1. She does not follow your instructions to stay in her own lane. In that case you are going to to have to explain to her that she is really being insubordinate and start the write up process or whatever y’all use.

    2. She takes the hint and really cowers back to her own lane. While this may sound good, understand right now she is speaking up because she cares, if she cowers back she will stop caring about things, including things that you may want her to care about.

    Hope this works out and hope my ramblings helps

    1. MoopySwarpet*

      Your second point is a really good one. I have no idea if this is actually pretty typical or not, but I tend to handle stay in your lane/butt out types of conversations as: “I’ve said my piece, and I can’t care about this more than the person doing it.” I encounter it a lot more in my personal life than at work, but the premise is the same. I can offer input and opinion, but at the end of the day, if it’s not my decision to, I have to respect the decisions that are made . . . even if I can see the train wreck coming from a mile away.

      1. GrandBargain*

        “… [I]f she cowers back she will stop caring about things, including things that you may want her to care about.”

        This is a great insight.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Pending train wreck. Sometimes the best we get in life is the heads up that things will not be good in the near future. This gives us time to make preparations.

        I have had times where I could see pending train wrecks and I dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s. This did help to at least keep my part of the story neat/acceptable/legal.

        Then there are times where I moved away from the scene entirely, because I just did not want to deal with the enormity of the problems.

        It’s not our (meaning each of us as individuals) responsibility to fix every train wreck. Heck, it’s not our responsibility to prevent every train wreck. We can’ and that is reality. Some situations are such that the ONLY thing we can do is save ourselves by extracting ourselves from the situation. “You have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” (Thanks, Kenny R.)

    2. Jane's Boss*

      Hi, this is the writer of the Q! I definitely, definitely know she had a better rapport with an old manager (not the one right before me, but the one before her). I have asked her straight-up “I know you enjoyed working with Joe — what made that successful and how can I bring some of that to our relationship? How did he lead the team and what can I learn from that?” and have not received helpful/specific examples, unfortunately.

  30. Amethyst*

    OMG, I’ve had a few Janes in my life. One “Jane” was in a retail store who took on every single project & wouldn’t let anyone help & proceeded to whine about how she had to do EVERYTHING herself & no one was helping her. This Jane is still at that store nearly 15 years later, & she holds the same entry-level position she held when she first was hired. From all accounts, she’s gotten worse.

    The other Jane (“Brenda”) was much more subversive. I was her backup for her client’s deposit, & she deliberately sabotaged me while teaching me her process. She taught up to a certain point, saying I was “done”, didn’t allow me to complete the deposit, didn’t upload her spreadsheet for this client onto the shared drive (new hire me unknowingly used an older spreadsheet for this client from the drive), so the entire week after she came back from her vacation was a flaming ball of fire. I have PTSD from an unrelated trauma, so this was one horrific week. She charged up to my desk every 5 seconds (I kid y’all not) yelling about how I did X wrong, or Y wasn’t done correctly, or “Why’d you do Z when you should’ve done C?” I had to tell our boss to contain her because I couldn’t handle it. It was so bad that I walked in in tears & left as early as I could each day physically trembling. This woman, come to find out, has a 10 year long history of doing exactly this to every single backup she’s had in that company. Because she has OCD, they reason it as “She has to control everything” & “We’ve been working with her on this issue. She was much worse when she started.” Brenda also refused to communicate information to my client to me, which caused even more issues down the line. She was reprimanded several times by senior management yet nothing was done. Quite a few more incidents later–including completely unacceptable physically threatening behavior that I immediately reported to our boss–resulted in open hostility. She had damaged our working relationship to the point where I trusted nothing she told me & reported every hostile comment she hissed under her breath (because email would be proof, you see) to our boss. I limited our conversations to social niceties & kept as much as I could in email because she was a complete witch.

    I was not her only target; everyone else who had run-ins with her did the same thing. She was just much worse to me because I called her out on her behavior (in email!) about six months after I started, lol. (I got a verbal reprimand for it, but she really deserved it, & I still don’t regret what I said.) Her file in HR was several inches thick. I was laid off from that job in November because it came down to Brenda or me, & I had only been there 2.5 years to her 10, so I got the boot. I’m glad I don’t have to work with her anymore, but I wish my former employer had fired Brenda much sooner.

    I hope this LW’s “Jane” won’t be like my Brenda. Good luck!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am sorry you lost your job.
      But I think that company got the employee they deserve. Crappy employer with crappy employee. You will find an employer who actually values you. And you deserve that.

  31. Observer*

    As usual, excellent advice from Allison. I’d just add one thing. Have this conversation ASAP. And then, if / when she pulls this again in a meeting just tell her that the relevant team has thought this through carefully and you are not going to derail the discussion by going through all of this. If she pushes back, shut her down and continue with the meeting. Depending on how far and how hard she pushes this in a meeting, you might remind her that this is exactly what you had in mind.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Also – in this conversation, talk seriously with Jane about what her job is. If the company went from 4 people to 15 people in the matter of a couple years, and became departmentalized, it’s possible Jane’s job changed but that her job description hasn’t. She might be stuck in the mindset that they all made decisions together, but she might also be in the mindset that she doesn’t totally know what her job is right now.

  32. Mr Mybug*

    This is great advice but I would like to present a counter perspective. I am aware of an issue at my husband’s workplace where certain individuals are so focused on “staying in their lane” that a major contract ($2 million) is likely to be lost. Now these are great operators and valued workers but because they don’t care about the bigger picture they are unwilling to make some small uncomfortable changes to their processes that would make a meaningful difference to their client.

    Questioning a process & thinking outside the narrow parameters of your role is valuable and losing this quality in a team member is sad. For some, feeling part of the bigger universe of their organisation and industry can bring work satisfaction *and* vision to your business.

    What I would focus on is figuring out is she just interested in “feeling important” or is she genuinely invested in a way that might be an asset? If you give a talented, committed long-term employee some insight into how to redirect their energy into a less annoying and more career-growth-oriented path you can yield great results. She might just be a blow hard who needs checking but maybe she’s a hidden treasure?

    Instead of insisting that she doesn’t have enough experience to comment on something, you could mention to her that you noted her interest and would she like to participate in a project to gain more experience? Do the “lanes” always need to be that defined?

    1. Snark*

      In most of the cases discussed by OP, yes. She’s apparently a subject matter expert in a small area, and she’s weighing in on things she feels strongly about but for which they have other SMEs doing good work the OP supports. Nothing could be more demoralizing to them than inviting Jane to take on a formal role way outside her area just because she’s the loudest voice in the room.

      These people are not generally hidden treasures. They’re usually just really invested in being the smartest person in the room, feel that everything needs to be justified to them, and want the attention and respect on them at all times.

      1. Snark*

        And sorry, that “These people are not generally hidden treasures. ” comment came off really dismissive. It’s not that they’re stupid or not able to contribute or worthless, they’re just generally not genuinely invested in a vision or by curiosity, they just want to be the smartest person in the room and get attention paid them.

        1. Mr Mybug*

          That can be true for sure! I just personally bristle at the “stay in your lane” terminology as it implies that you shouldn’t be invested or curious about how your organisation works. Narrowing your focus to only what falls in your purview can be bad for business.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I agree that the “stay in your lane” expression is dismissive. I’d tend to go with something along the lines of, “It’s up to X department to decide about X’s.” This might help the person to come back around to the focus of our department.

    2. Observer*

      Now these are great operators and valued workers but because they don’t care about the bigger picture they are unwilling to make some small uncomfortable changes to their processes that would make a meaningful difference to their client.

      This is not “staying in your lane”. It’s resistance to change, failure to grasp that the whole is bigger than any given part, and (possibly) insubordination. Jane is not asking for more information about the larger picture so she can figure out how to make her job more beneficial to the organization. She’s criticizing others for not doing things the way she thinks they should be done, despite not having the expertise or knowledge to credibly push her position. That’s a very different thing.

      1. Mr Mybug*

        Hmm, I can see what you are saying. The point I perhaps am making poorly is that the success of our work isn’t always as cleanly defined within a role as we might think. I have worked in so many organisations where people just don’t care enough to question how things work (to the ultimate detriment of the business) that to me at this point even a misdirected curiosity and criticism is something I would try at first to work with rather than shut down.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          People can be shown/taught how to make suggestions that will actually get used. Of course they have to be willing to change what they are doing in crafting suggestions. Part of what to teach or show is the perimeters of where a department is allowed discretion in their work. For example, “We can’t go into other people’s departments and tell them how to do their jobs. Number one, we aren’t being paid for that. Number two, we don’t know everything there is to know. Likewise they can’t come into our department and tell us how to do our jobs.”

        2. restingbutchface*

          This is a great counter point (and wow, your husband’s company is dysfunctional). Critical thinking is a skill that is often see with suspicion instead of welcomed.

          There is a time and a place though and it sounds like Jane isn’t being curious, she’s being rude in meetings and imposing her views on other people’s time. That’s not really “stay in your lane” behaviour, that’s a lack of manners. I admit I don’t love the phrase “stay in your lane”, whenever I’ve heard it in real life there is an element of “sit down, shut up, who do you think you are?”.

      2. Dust Bunny*


        I had a former supervisor who was so focused on “staying in our lane” that she actively refused to do work or learn skills that our organization needed us to do, because it was an expansion from the things she considered to be our responsibility. Lanes can shift; if the lane shifts and you don’t, you’re still no longer in your own lane.

  33. HigherEd on Toast*

    Alison’s advice is very good! I have a colleague who is very focused on “being heard” in all things at all times, and gets extremely upset when she feels people are “ignoring” her, but the attempts to give her long explanations about why her suggestions didn’t work or, in a few cases, were actually illegal didn’t help; she would nod, say she understood, and then go off and e-mail the person who explained to her, along with other people, and claims she was still “being ignored.” What she really wants is for people to implement her suggestions and tell her she’s right. No explanation works, which has made some of our colleagues essentially write her off and, yes, completely ignore her. This kind of behavior often produces its own punishment.

    If you do have authority to make Jane stop wasting time in meetings and make her understand that she can’t change people’s decisions, please use it. I have no such authority over my colleague, but have often wanted to tell her “STOP’ because I like her as a person and can see how she’s damaging her reputation. She just doesn’t listen.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      The person is your example is putting themselves in a place where they are not teachable. This is not a good thing, it’s really bad. In order to keep almost any job we have to have a willingness to learn.

      I thought about mentioning upthread that the people who cry that they aren’t being heard MIGHT be ignored for a legit reason. This is a great example of how this happens.

      To her I would say, “You can either be right about not being heard OR you can start listening to what you are being told in response to your questions. You CANNOT have both of these things. You can only have ONE. Which one would you like?”

  34. giraffe*

    I agree with Alison’s advice; definitely have that conversation with Jane, but also make sure it really is clearly defined to everyone who’s in charge of what decisions. Jane may not be the only person unclear of her role in this bigger company, just the loudest. A lot of workplaces don’t have clear decision making processes and it can be hard to tell when a decision has been made and by whom. Make sure that’s clear; use flowcharts, org charts, etc so that *everyone* understands their role and it will probably help everyone, not just Jane, be able to figure out where their lane is.

    Also, make sure your team meeting agendas are crisp and specific. Instead of just “Teapot marketing campaign,” be more clear about what exactly is on the table for discussion (ie “Choosing a vendor for the teapot marketing promotional materials”). That will probably help Jane’s other teammates redirect her, also — they may not feel they have the authority to respond to her overreaching comments and criticisms, but they may feel more comfortable gently redirecting her to the topic at hand based on the agenda provided to everyone. “Jane, that’s an interesting thought, but the focus of today’s meeting is actually X, like it says on the agenda. Let’s get back to it.”

  35. MissDisplaced*

    Ugh! I have this problem in reverse.
    I get questioned all the time by a whole department of “Janes” who criticize or object to decisions that have been well thought out and planned by my department over many meetings and strategy sessions. But they object because they haven’t been involved in all of those sessions and meetings (which would be impossible) and we just need them to execute certain parts of it without twenty more discussions about the strategy behind it. It’s exhausting.

    1. PlainJane*

      Random thing… if this is an ongoing problem, it could be helpful to let them know the process that went into it. Not in a meeting, just whatever communication you usually use interoffice in order to say, “You’re on the project of executing X.” Like, “As we mentioned at the staff meeting in December, the committee to develop better tea whistles has decided to go with a digital kitten meow after several focus groups and a lot of research. If you’re interested in the process, you can find the notes on the company intranet. Now, we’re going to move into implementation! Jane, I need you to find some good kitten meows.” And the above mentioned strategy of having a specific period for input is also good.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Alas my internet search did NOT find a meowing teakettle. That bit of whimsy might get my daughter up moving more happily in the morning.
        (And double alas–the advertisement bar has ALREADY decided I need to buy tea supplies.)

    2. hamstergirl*

      If you have a whole department of Janes then you should probably take a real look at how you present these ideas and whether the department should have some input.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Or whether the department on the whole is sort of dysfunctional and in the habit of putting their noses where they aren’t needed.

  36. AliV*

    Why not create a process for “out of your lane” ideas for other teams? Just because someone isn’t an expert or has experience doing a job doesn’t mean they don’t have ideas for improvement. For example, my job isn’t running or managing events, but attend them and there is input I would love to give to make future events better. People might also have ideas to improve customer experience, or ideas for internal process improvements.

    Seems to me like the problem is the way she is bringing these up, and shutting down all input for other teams isn’t going to help the company as a whole get better. Create the idea tracker and the next time she tries to disrupt the meeting redirect here there.

  37. SenatorMeathooks*

    Not only is it a good idea to be self-aware as to the necessity of your input, it’s also good to know when to *stop* giving that feedback and advice (even if you have some expertise in it).

  38. pcake*

    While Jane complains that she feels she’s not being heard, this is what occurs to me. The problem is that others are not being heard by Jane, not the other way around. It appears she feels that it’s okay to ignore what everyone else – including the people who are actually involved – have decided to do based on… nothing, really. She has no interest in what decisions have been made, the processes involved in making those and the people who actually went through those processes.

    She may feel that she has no input in these decisions, and she’s right because they have nothing to do with her job in any way. Everything isn’t everyone’s decisions to make. You can hear her through once on each, but not in a meeting where she makes people feel bad or annoyed by her. Btw, why is she even at those meetings?

    1. Jane's Boss*

      Wow I love the way you framed that! I’m the OP who asked the Q. She’s at the meetings because they’re kind of project update meetings where people are seeing new work or we’re sharing results/decisions made so people are in the loop.

  39. Jennifer Juniper*

    Psst, Jane. The workplace is not a democracy. Also, questioning other departments’ decisions is not a good look. It will make you seem like you’re not concentrating on your work and will really, really, really alienate your colleagues. Be quiet and concentrate on your own work, please.

  40. Sakura*

    While I think this is great advice, I don’t necessarily love the ““If you decide the job has evolved in a way where it’s no longer for you” language, because in this case, coming after what is essentially a reprimand, it almost sounds like a passive aggressive threat. While it’s possible that such a statement might be necessary if you are getting significant push-back from her, I would want to open that to a broader conversation regarding where she sees herself in the company, her goals, etc. It’s possible that after being a more integral part of the company she feels a lot of ownership, and her behavior is symptomatic of wanting to be more involved and do higher level work. Since she sounds like an employee you value, it might be worth exploring what skills she would need to pick up or what you would need to see from her to see growth if she is inclined in that direction. A broad conversation can go either way, but with the “if this job doesn’t work for you” language it really goes in only one direction.

    1. Someone Else*

      It’s not a passive aggressive threat. It’s a direct and clear statement. It’s true. If she’s not cool with how it actually works now, it’s probably not for her and best that they part ways.

  41. Annieruok*

    I have sympathy for the management position on this but I’ve also been that person at a company for a long time that grew and in that process, ended up with a more narrow less interesting job. It was frustrating and very, very demoralizing to go from, “this is your job but you are also involved in building all these other things great things” to “this is your job. thanks for helping us build all these other great things that you no longer have input into because thanks to your hard work we’ve been able to hire people to do that so now can you stay in your lane?”

    That’s a very hard transition to make. I ultimately wasn’t ok with it and I left. I still think my former org really missed out someone passionate who loved the organization, cared deeply and had a lot to offer because they didn’t care to find a way to harness that energy in the transition. I wasn’t the only one who bailed at that point. But I have a job I love now so in the long run, it worked out for me.

    1. AlwaysAnOutlier*

      Finally – someone with some empathy for Jane. You hit the nail on the head. When the employee is the same but the organization has changed, and the organization (in the form of a new manager!) is now telling Jane “you can’t be that person anymore”, Jane needs to take her experience and passion and concern to a place that will give it the value it deserves. Run, Jane, run!
      Note especially that the manager doesn’t say Jane’s comments frustrate anyone but her. This strikes me more as a new insecure manager wanting to make sure her employee doesn’t upstage her.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        I think this too. Poor Jane helped grow the company and ow is being basically told to shut up and sit down bty a newbie.

        1. PlainJane*

          Bingo. The whole tone of the letter came off as “those old folks won’t get out of the way and let us do whatever we want, regardless of their experience with the company.”

      2. Jane's Boss*

        Hi Outlier,

        This is OP. I am def trying to be sympathetic but rest assured — I have heard form multiple other people on the team that these comments are frustrating (specifically from the people whose lanes are being merged into, to continue with the analogy…ha). They also can walk away a bit confused and wondering whether they truly have ownership over their roles, so I want to make sure I am making them feel like I am supporting their decisions and respect their expertise.

  42. Argh!*

    I found this piece a bit disturbing:

    “So we’ve gone from a place where a lot of decisions were made by committee to one where some people are stakeholders and others are not. Jane has been at the company for a while but is not in a leadership or management position, so is often not a stakeholder in key decisions/projects.”

    If she’s not a stakeholder, why is she at the meeting?

    If she feels she’s not being heard, perhaps she really is a stakeholder and her input should be sought.

    Stakeholders include the people who have to implement a decision & defend a decision, not just the people who make a decision. Moving from a collaborative culture to an authoritarian culture may seem to make sense to the authority figures, but the people who have to live with the decisions will become demoralized if they aren’t heard in a meaningful way when they really should be.

    1. Pop*

      Are you new to this website? There are lots of people asking for help on how to communicate in a workplace environment. If this question irks you I don’t think you’ll enjoy many of Alison’s posts.

  43. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    A lot of the people are being hard on Jane. This employee helped grow this company, OP is new, and basically Jane is being told to shut up and sit down by newbies. Of course this rankles. Maybe OP should be talking to all the employees who report to her–reassure them and see what they want to do/how to grow and expand their roles.

    1. PlainJane*

      You’re presuming that they *do* want this, rather than that they want Jane to be marginalized until she decides on her own to quit. I don’t know that I’m feeling that generous, honestly.

      There really is a certain arrogance involved in this recent “stay in your lane” meme. (And whatever happened to the “out of the box” meme? Seriously, where do these fad sayings come from?)

      I recognize that sometimes companies do change, but this sounds like it was a forcible change that ended up marginalizing employees with experience. Of *course* she’s going to comment after the fact, if, as someone who has experience with input, she was not given the opportunity to do so before, and it’s something that has an impact on a company she cares about and was on the ground floor of. It would be strange if she *didn’t* say something.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        I got that impression too–that OP is rather annoyed with her ‘inherited’ people and hopes Jane quits. Why in the world wasn’t this company expansion done so old employees felt valued? Honestly, Jane should look for a new position and simply ‘not care’ anymore. That just might cost this company. And I’m saddened Alison and others didn’t push the OP on this. (Has OP talked to Jane/her other reports? Have the experienced employees been shunted aside?)

        1. Jane's Boss*

          Hi Faceless And PlainJane!

          This is OP. I hear you, and I can see how it might come across that way. However, I have had multiple convos with Jane about where she wants to see her career go and how she wants her role to evolve. Head-scratchingly, she has consistently and clearly said that she does not want to switch lanes/expand her lane beyond her current one. I am her bosses’ boss, and rest assured her boss is also having those convos with her and getting the same answers. I do my best to keep the convo going, so in addition to my weekly 1:1s with my direct reports (aka Jane’s boss and others at her level on my team), I also meet monthly with the people who report to them (aka Jane). I feel like the line of communication is open for input, especially 1:1 input.

  44. Anon for this one*

    I see myself in Jane a bit. I started my current job about a year ago, I still don’t have much to do, and I have a largely absentee boss who ignores emails. My position was vacant for about four years after the previous person in it left, and my coworkers are now accustomed to functioning without it.
    I admit I’m probably being a pain in the ass, acting like Jane and trying to insert myself into things that are outside my lane, but it’s because I feel invisible and I want my job to be more than surfing the Internet all day.

  45. Jane's Boss*

    Hi! I am the OP — thank you all for these amazing comments and Alison for answering my Q. I have never had such a large team before so I’m learning so much about all these new dynamics, when so many people are working together.Since I posed the Q I’ve had many convos with the individual in question but I have to admit I have shied away from being so direct as Alison and many of the commenters have suggested. The big project that was eliciting a ton of this unwanted feedback is pretty much wrapped up, but I see some more on the horizon. Definitely going to be using this advice when it next occurs, with this individual or others on the team. I also feel that the people here have a ton of love for the company I work at, so I am trying to remember that their passion comes from a good place…at least they care too much, instead of too little?

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