my coworker is trying to manage me — and she’s not my boss

A reader writes:

I’ve been working in the same department since I graduated college four years ago. Due to a few sudden departures amid a restructuring, I was promoted much more quickly than is typical at my workplace. (I went from the department assistant to an “associate manager” within a couple of years, though I don’t manage anyone or have any direct reports.) My boss assured me that I was more than competent to take on this role and I’ve never felt overwhelmed or out of my element.

But Lucinda, a coworker of mine who shares my title, routinely treats me like I am her subordinate. I’ve worked at the company for longer than she has by about a year, but she’s just slightly older than I am (nearer 30). This is probably her second or third job since graduating college, and she has a master’s degree. I’ve recently been instructed that I will be taking over a large, annual project she had been handling for the past two years. She is apparently too busy to be involved with the project any longer. Problem is, she’s been sending me condescending emails about the work, with my boss cc’d, asking me why a report isn’t finished or a blog post hasn’t gone up. For example, if I tell her I’m waiting on someone else to send me material, she tells me I need to “communicate my needs” better.

My boss has already given me a timeline for the project, which I’ve been doing my best to meet—to be fair, now that we are working from home, things have been delayed. But why does Lucinda feel like she should be the one to reprimand me for that? Especially when my boss seems not to mind whatsoever? If Lucinda is too busy to handle this project, how does she have time to complain about how I’m handling it? I get the feeling she finds me generally immature and is trying to get me into line. I also think she thinks of herself as more qualified and experienced, which leads to her “forgetting” that she is not, in fact, my boss.

I have Lucinda’s cell phone number and we’ve texted before, mostly to complain about our shared bosses or other work woes. Would it be insane for me to text her and ask her to back off? If we were in the office, maybe I could have a quick, in-person chat that wouldn’t feel too confrontational and she’d get the message, but I’m afraid whatever I send her via email she’ll just pass around behind my back (sadly very common in my department) and get me into trouble. I don’t understand why she can’t back off, or why she thinks she is in any position to tell me what to do or when. Does she really not have anything better to worry about right now?

Don’t text her about it! Doing it that way is likely to come across as more confrontational and less professional (exactly what you don’t want when she already thinks you’re immature).

If you want to address it head-on, it’s a conversation for over the phone (normally you’d do it in-peson, but since you’re remote right now, the phone is the next best thing).

But you don’t necessarily have to start there. Another option is to address Lucinda’s interference as it happens, calmly asserting your ownership of the work and not acquiescing to the supervisory role she’s trying to assert for herself … and then, if she keeps pushing, you’d just directly ask what’s up.

For example:

Lucinda: Why isn’t the X report finished yet?
You: There have been some hold-ups that I’m keeping Imogene (boss) in the loop about. We’re on it. Do you need it for something?
Lucinda: No, but it should have been done by now.
You: That was the original plan, but as Imogene knows, we ran into some obstacles. I’m working with her on it. I didn’t realize you were still playing a role in this — can you clarify what role Imogene wants you to have here?

Lucinda: Why hasn’t that blog post gone up yet?
You: It’s on my list. I’m waiting for Jane to get me the materials.
Lucinda: You need to communicate your needs better so there aren’t delays.
You: There’s a bunch of context here that you’re not in the loop on. I’m reporting directly to Imogene on this stuff so she knows.

Depending on how the conversations go, it may then make sense to say, “I’m getting the sense that you still want to be involved in this stuff, but right now you’re half in and half out, so you’re not getting all the info. Imogene has told me to report directly to her on this work now that I own it. I’ll come to you if I have questions I need your help with, but you don’t need to check in on where pieces of the project stand or otherwise oversee it. If we see that differently, let’s talk to Imogene and clarify our roles.”

However! Before you do this, make sure that your boss really did intend to transfer full ownership of this project to you. Unless you’ve explicitly been told otherwise, it’s possible that your boss intended you to be a sort of helper to Lucinda — doing the bulk of the work on the project while she retained oversight over it. (And she legitimately could be too busy to do the work herself but still have time for that type of oversight.) The oversight wouldn’t have to be because she’s senior to you in any way, but just because of the expertise in this work that she’s built by managing this project the last two years.

There’s also a muddier middle ground that might be happening, where you are the one in charge of the project now but everyone figures it’s useful for Lucinda to keep an eye on it and flag potential problems, because of her experience with it. In that scenario, your boss might have no problem with what Lucinda is doing and might even appreciate it, and you risk coming across as overly invested in defending your turf if you push back too hard.

Given all that, before you do anything, it’s worth checking in with your boss and getting clarification on how she sees Lucinda’s role in this work. It’s okay to tell her you’d like to push back on Lucinda’s involvement a bit (since otherwise she may not realize you object to it), but lay it out for her first before you address it with Lucinda — so that you know exactly what’s in and out of bounds in her behavior.

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. Ali G*

    Please stop texting Lucinda to complain about your boss and other work! You are just feeding into her perception of you.

    1. Resistance is Futile*

      This!

      It is a bit unfair because she is doing it as well, but she is judging you about it as well.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, if you know that it is common in your department for people to pass around emails behind each other’s backs then you should never ever put any sort of complaint like that in writing! There is no reason to think a text is less likely to be shares.

      After checking with the boss to clarify your respective roles on the progress, and if they would support you in pushing back about her excessive oversight, send Lucinda an email that is so professional you would not care if it is shown to others.

      It’s hard to tell the timeline of the project transfer–from the letter it sounds like this is very new in which case I would think you do still need some amount of information and/or training from her about how to handle it. If that is the case, then it would change the content of the email a bit as you would need to acknowledge that ongoing relationship while making it clear that you answer to your boss on things like timeline delays as a result of not having information.

      Also, if the transition is still happening it might be worth considering whether her “oversight” is not excessive–just very rudely stated. For example if someone is late in sending you something, it’s possible that is a reasonable thing resulting from all the craziness we are all dealing with, or it’s possible that Lucinda has knowledge you don’t that that person is often late and how to get them to send you what you need. But if that is the case, then she should obviously say so instead of just telling you basically to do a better job which is not useful to anyone!

      1. Letter Writer*

        It’s not exactly newly transferred. She knew I’d be taking over well before I did, probably before 2019 ended! I think I found out in January. But this is the time of year when the work really begins on the project, so there hasn’t been any real transition until this point.

        I agree that I think the problem lies more in her delivery than in her motives. Obviously she could really help me with this! But it seems so over the top to email me instructions and unhelpful criticism and to CC my boss the whole way… that is what makes me think it’s more of a personal issue than a work issue.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Maybe she’s trying to contribute to or reconnect with Old Project in a misdirected way. Have you considered having a turnover meeting with her? Look past her personality to the knowledge she can provide. Might be worth the smooth-over. “Hey Lucinda, this project is really getting going now. Can I pick your brain on a couple things?”

          Set the expectations of what you’ll handle, in line with what Boss has directed, and when you’ll holler to her for help. Make it clear that if you do bring her in to help with a problematic aspect, you’ll loop in Boss first.

          It’s always hard to let go of something you worked on/built and give it to someone else, even tasks you don’t particularly like. I turned over a large task last year to someone who had a much better skill set in this area than me, because I was overloaded and overwhelmed. He’s done a marvelous job. Still, I have occasional pangs when I want ownership back (why, Mockingjay? *shakes head*) or I mentally critique what he’s doing.

          1. Amaranth*

            I think it would be helpful to determine if Lucinda has oversight/QC on the project and if progress reports should go to her instead of Imogene, first. One benefit there is that your boss isn’t looped in on the corrections and minutiae which might be a relief to her, and also doesn’t paint you as the problem in several emails a week.

            1. Sam.*

              Agreed that it’s good to clarify before moving forward. But if ownership was fully switched over and Lucinda is just being overly invested (or whatever else), I actually *wouldn’t* pick her brain or ask for feedback or anything like that unless absolutely necessary. because it will suggest to her that her input (read: meddling) is wanted and it will never stop.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Good point. She is the instigator in all our text conversations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought her criticisms are fine and mine aren’t.

      1. SusanB*

        And not to scare you but I’ve had one experience in my work history where someone that I was close to at work and had shared some of those similar gripes turned on me when I got promoted a few times and anything that I’d told her in confidence was attempted to be used against me. Lucinda seems iffy as a friend so I’d deflect, deflect, deflect any future complaints.

        1. valentine*

          She is the instigator in all our text conversations
          She baited you. For all you know, she’s telling everyone you won’t stop talking about people behind their backs. I’d take an eagle eye to those texts to see if they paint you in the worse light.

          I would’ve answered her questions with questions and some version of, “It’s handled” or “Lucinda and I are all over it.”

          1. here we go again*

            I recently got out of a job full of this. These conversations are absolutely being screenshotted and sent to multiple people.

      2. write it, regret it*

        Also if people share emails behind people’s backs in your office what’s to say she won’t be sharing texts?

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Not only that, but you’re giving her ammunition, OP. You do not want someone who is already acting like your boss for no apparent reason, to have dirt on you, in writing, that she can use against you as part of that weird power game that she engages in.

      You can text her to compliment the bosses and gush about the other work ;)

        1. Yellow Rose*

          “Say it forget it, write it regret it” sounds good on paper (lol)

          Not necessarily; the sneaky bullies I’ve worked with have recorded convos with their smartphones. My policy now is to grey rock co-workers who try to embroil me in criticism.

  2. Buttons*

    I tend to not give people details about something that is none of their business when people get details, they think they have a right to those details and more. Allison’s messages are just enough, without leaving an opening.

    1. AMT*

      Yes, I’ve also noticed that giving more details seems to mean “feedback welcome on every one of my decisions about these details!” to some people. Fewer details implies that it’s being handled just fine without their input.

  3. Ashley*

    I actually don’t think you owe her any explanation. I would immediately question her back and ask her, “what’s your concern about XYZ? Are you still working on this project?”

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      That could be interpreted as hostile and nonprofessional, though. There really needs to be some clarification from Imogene.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Additionally, her answer to “Are you still working on this project?” could very well be “yes.” Really need clarification from Imogene about what the power structure is here.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That was my first thought, but Alison is right that the LW should go to her boss first to clarify whether Lucinda should be expecting this level of involvement, and if not, what the boss expects her level of involvement to be.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      That’s rather confrontational. I’d take Alison’s advice and talk to my boss first.

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

      I’d be a bit less abrupt and asking questions leads to a back and forth; so, “thanks for your help/concern/reminder Lucinda. I’ve got it all covered with Jane/Imogene.” Bright and cheery with no details. Provided the OP has clarified things with her boss.

  4. Reluctant Manager*

    People sometimes have a hard time letting go of work they own, maybe that’s playing into this. It’s possible she feels an extraordinary amount of personal ownership for her work in general or this particular project – I’ve run into plenty of people like this in my career and sometimes you have to pry the work out of their hands VERY SLOWLY and PATIENTLY with a strong crowbar. Might not be happening here, but if this is part of her issue it could be coloring her communications with you. How could anyone possibly do the project as well as she did?! ;)

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Especially if you got the project and she didn’t really want to let go of it.

  5. LH Holdings*

    While I generally agree with Alison’s responses, these are entirely to wordy and provide to much information to your coworker. The point is she doesn’t need info about the projects or timelines so DON’T give it to her. If she asks about the project, you can say “my manager and I have decided on something different. Did you need it for something?” It’s polite and professional but keeps her away from info she doesn’t need.

    1. Elena*

      I agree she doesn’t have to explain herself to a colleague. Doing so will only add fuel to the fire. Before even responding I would talk to manager to get clarification and backing. Also stop indulging in texts that vent. Regardless of who started the thread or said what it can come back to bite you.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I agree. If Lucinda asks, the only response is “why do you need something related to X?” Put it back on her to explain why she is interfering. If you give her reasons, even by mentioning your boss, that feeds the perception she can check on your work. You need to nip that perception right now professionally but HARD.

    3. RecoveringSWO*

      Yep. You can avoid giving the coworker any explanations while appearing to be a “team player” and professional by sticking to responses like, “The timeline has changed since you passed off the project. But if you need something specific for your work, please let me know and I’ll pass any helpful info I have along.”

  6. Ralph Wiggum*

    Any chance Lucinda is being asked for status updates by stakeholders (or even busybodies) that are prompting these questions?

    If I were getting questions like these, I’d probably ask “Has somebody been asking for this report? If so, can you please send them directly to me?”

    1. What we've got here is failure to communicate*

      This is a good question to be asking. It’s possible some people missed the memo on the change in ownership and people are asking her for stuff.

  7. The one who wears too much black*

    I hear a lot of assumptions coming through your letter, LW. “Apparently to busy to be involved with the project anymore”? Then there are the irrelevant details about the relatively negligible difference between your ages – what do you assume that has to do with the questions she asks? You say Lucinda “repremanded” you when she advised you to advocate more for the materials you need from your collaborators. Frankly, none of this is overtly unkind, but it is very clear from your letter that she rankles you. That’s an emotion I recommend trying to let go by limiting your assumptions about Lucinda’s intent.

    Alison is right that the first step really should be to talk to your boss. Lucinda has been working with this project AND its requirements AND other colleagues’ inputs on it for years, by your own admission. What if, while you work on taking 100% ownership and meeting your bosses expectations of what that means (which you will know from talking with your boss), you frame Lucinda’s “managing” as suggestions and just say thank you and move on? I think a goal of reframing her advice as just advice while also being in closer communication with your boss about your transition progress on this project will make you feel more secure working on this project whether or not Lucinda actually stops.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I don’t think it was totally unhelpful to have the context that LW has been at this company longer, but Lucinda is slightly older and has had other jobs. *shrug*

    2. Letter Writer*

      Sorry, I was trying to establish what I assume is her reasoning for acting like she’s my manager. She has made it pretty clear to me that she finds me immature/not up to speed, despite the feedback I get from my boss. Which definitely *does* rankle me! I don’t think I’m so unprofessional that I need some intervention from someone who is barely older and barely more experienced. It’s not usually a big problem at work, but now that I’m working on this project, I’m afraid it’s going to become a grueling process fielding her “management” alongside actual instructions from my boss all because she feels like she needs to teach me a lesson about how a well-adjusted adult functions in corporate America…

      And again, I’m willing to admit I may need help with this project in the future! But at this stage… all I’ve really had to do is gather some photos for a slideshow and other little things like that. Surely she should believe I can handle this portion on my own…?

      1. Fikly*

        I think you’re confusing age and experience with professionalism. They are not the same things. Also, while she may be barely more experienced than you in general, she surely has much more experience than you with this specific project.

        It’s also not unprofessional to need help with a task at work, nor does it mean you are bad at your job. Almost everything has a learning curve, and it’s to be expected that when you start something new it takes time to master it. You say you haven’t had to do much for this project yet, but she will naturally have closer relationships with the people affected by it because she had been working on this project for however long. So it’s entirely possible she’s aware of problems that you do not have the context for, or that people are not telling you about.

        It is unprofessional to need help at work, refuse to see that you need that help, or refuse to accept it, however.

        Texting her complaints about your mutual boss – regardless of who started the conversation – is unprofessional. That your instinct is to tell her to back off, rather than have a professional conversation with her about her concerns, makes me wonder if she does have reasons to wonder about your ability to conduct yourself professionally.

      2. The one who wears too much black*

        I’m just gonna be blunt – I don’t think she is trying to act like your manager.

        What I see is Lucinda trying to establish that a project she successfully worked on for a long time is in good hands. That’s a perfectly fair concern from her, and it does not mean she’s managing you. Please stop trying to figure out WHY she’s asking the questions because you absolutely cannot change her motives. Try asking this question instead: What can I do to feel more in control of my work and demonstrate value through that control for my colleagues?

        I’ve made a few suggestions as to things you could do – just say thanks when she pipes up and let the comment breeze by you because you really do have this like white on rice; talk to your boss more to understand what they want from you; or prepare a 30-60-90 day plan. However, no matter what you do, not matter how you feel, or how much she rankles you, you will not be able to divorce Lucinda from her questions by speculating about why she has them. Speculation and lack of clear communication is what got you to this point, LW. Please think hard about what you are contributing to this situation. Or not contributing, as the case may be.

        1. NW Mossy*

          I think you’re right that taking Lucinda’s comments in kind spirit is a good tactic here – it helps a lot to see people as well-intentioned, because it puts us in the frame of mind that allows us to more easily forgive minor sins.

          That said, if I’m Imogene in this scenario, there’s potentially feedback for Lucinda too if her behavior is symptomatic of her having low trust in her colleagues. In every team I’ve managed, I’ve always had at least one direct like this – they get great results on stuff that’s directly in their control, but they struggle to have effective relationships because their lack of confidence in others to do the job well (i.e., just like they would) reads an awful lot like contempt to the person on the receiving end.

          In some ways, asking a low-trust Lucinda to hand off something she used to run successfully is a trap for her. She knows exactly how she achieved success and the pitfalls, and it can be borderline painful to watch someone else stumble. It’s likely to be worse if Lucinda still feels/has responsibility for the outcomes, because that’s all the downside (blame for failure) with none of the usual tools to prevent a failure (control). It takes a lot of professional maturity to stand back and let someone else take over, come what may.

        2. serenity*

          There’s a fair bit of speculation on your part here as well.

          Maybe we can be a bit more charitable to the OP and take her at her word that Lucinda’s input at this point – heavy-handed or not – seems to have been directed at some fairly basic busywork before the project ramps up, while we also caution the OP to rethink the back-and-forth text complaining she and Lucinda have engaged in.

        3. Myrin*

          While I agree with some of your points, for whatever it’s worth, this comment and the one above yours seem to view OP in the most uncharitable light possible whereas Lucinda’s actions are interpreted in the most charitable way, which I don’t think is in the spirit of this site’s rule of taking OPs at their word.

      3. Legal Beagle*

        LW, I found that to be helpful context for Lucinda’s (possible) perspective and motivations. The top comment here feels slightly nitpicky to me.

        1. k8*

          agreed! sounds like someone identifies more with lucinda that LW and feels a bit attacked…

    3. Paulina*

      I would consider someone who responds to “I still don’t have materials from Jane” with “you need to advocate for your needs better” as jumping to negative conclusions about the LW, and indeed trying to manage her (badly). Why assume that the LW’s approach is the problem, and not any of a number of other things that could be delaying Jane and her materials? It doesn’t strike me as particularly helpful advice (vs. specific suggestions on how to approach Jane, or examples from her own experience). Cc’ing the boss on such a judgemental response makes it even more problematic.

  8. The Wall Of Creativity*

    I don’t like those scripts. Keep giving her answers to her questions and she’ll keep asking. Me, I’d quite happily go straight in with the “Why is that any of your business?” response.

    1. The one who wears too much black*

      That’s more confrontational that I think this merits. Also, I wonder if being purposefully antagonistic in an office already prone to passing around gossip is the wrong approach?

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Agreed. Lucinda may be the biggest pain in the ass at the best of times, but it’s in OP’s best interest to try to handle this with professionalism and dignity. “Why is that any of your business?” is likely to get OP tagged as a rude pain in the ass at best or fired at worst.

        We had a post earlier about building social capital. Handling things with dignity and grace is how you build it. Being an asshole is how you burn it.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Or simply ignore them. This is assuming that the LW is indeed sure that this project is entirely hers. Confirm that with the boss, and if Lucinda is indeed not in this loop, then let her emails pass quietly in the night.

      1. Marthooh*

        Yes. My first thought was to ignore Lucinda completely for as long as possible, and if need be, answer in as few words as possible. “Thanks, Imogene and I have it all covered.”

    3. Letter Writer*

      I think the biggest problem is that I’m not able to have this conversation privately. If we were in the office, I’d probably just turn around and tell her she doesn’t need to be worried about it and that I’ll let her know if I need her help. But in an email-only world–and especially since she insists on CC’ing my boss into our every conversation–I don’t know how to communicate that to her *professionally*.

        1. Letter Writer*

          To me, calling seemed roughly equal to texting her. I can’t call from my office line when I’m working from home, so it would be my cell to hers, and thus “outside” of the professional realm. But I guess maybe I’m over-thinking that?

          1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            The big difference though is on the phone, there is a *tone.* Some things, just typed (texted) out *could* sound confrontational, whereas the same exact thing used with appropriate tone of voice takes away the confrontational aspect. A phone call is definitely more personal than a text.

            At this point, your cell phone is the only way anyone has of getting in touch with you *via phone.* I don’t think it would be a faux pas to utilize it for this.

            But check with your boss first and find out what Lucinda’s role is/should be in this whole thing.

          2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            Another thing to remember is: say it forget it, write it regret it. She sounds like the kind of person who would store up things to use against you and texting provides her with the ammo.

            Think about it this way: you send her a text that says “[Boss] is a jerk.” 6 months later, you’re up for a promotion and she shares that text with the boss. She’s got proof that you said that. In the same situation, if you just say it verbally, there’s no proof. It’s just hearsay.

            1. tangerineRose*

              This! Be reasonably careful what you say while working (or to a co-worker) and be very careful about what you put in writing. E-mail, text, instant messages are in writing and are way too easy to forward.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            It’s not. Texting is definitely less formal. I have texted my boss but only when I need him to get a message when I know he’s in a situation such as a meeting where he can’t answer a phone and won’t have access to email.

            I think the “outside” phone thing kind of gets suspended in WTF cases. You would call her on your desk phone if you had access to it, right? But you don’t, so this is the next best thing.

          4. Jedi Squirrel*

            Nope, you’re instinct is off on this one, too. Texting is way more informal. You can have a very formal or a very casual phone conversation, because as Destroyer points out, tone is everything.

            And nah, a lot of business gets done over cell phones. Nothing unprofessional there.

            I’m thinking your professional norms are still developing here.

            1. allathian*

              I think the issue is that she doesn’t have a work cellphone. So she’d be using her private phone to call someone at work on a professional matter.
              Conversely, I assume the texts she sent were from her private cellphone to Lucinda’s private cellphone. So while that was unprofessional as well, she wasn’t using her employer’s equipment to do it.

              This argument doesn’t really hold in this situation, I would say that being able to hear the voice of the other person is more important in these exceptional circumstances than who owns the equipment. Although even better would be to use software like Hangouts or Skype, where you can do a voice or video call as well as chat. But if your employer doesn’t provide that sort of thing, you’re out of luck.

          5. londonedit*

            Are you using some sort of communication programme (like Teams or Zoom or whatever) while everyone is working from home? Can you use that to have an ‘official’ conversation with her? I would send her an email saying you’d really like to get some clarification on everyone’s roles within the X project – you could couch it as ‘now that everyone’s working from home, I’m conscious that I need to make sure everyone is looped in who needs to be’ – and suggest a video/phone call to have a chat about it. Then you can ask her what her expectations are for your involvement with the project.

          6. The Other Dawn*

            Yes, I think you’re over-thinking text vs. call. Calling is the next best thing to an in-person conversation, especially now, and it makes no difference if you’re on your personal cell phone or your office phone. With WFH, most people won’t have their actual office phone so they need to use either their home landline or a personal cell phone. If everyone decided they can’t use those because it’s too informal and wanted to wait until they have an office phone, how would conference calls, conversations, etc. get done?

            Talk to your boss first so you know exactly what Lucinda’s role in this project is now, then act accordingly. I don’t think you can reasonably move forward without knowing your boss’s thoughts on this.

            And stop commiserating via text or any other means with her. It will likely bite you in the ass at some point in the future.

      1. The one who wears too much black*

        If the biggest problem you have is that you feel like you cannot just talk to the people you work with about what your workload and priorities for that workload are, then you don’t have the problem you think you have. I’m getting the sense from some of your previous responses that maybe the transition plan wasn’t as clear as everyone had liked? Maybe because right at the time you were supposed to start work in earnest for the project, the whole world went through a shift in business needs?

        Prioritize a detailed transition and ramp up plan of your own, go into the meeting you request with you boss with a 30-60-90 day plan of how you want to demonstrate what you have taken ownership of, what you still need help with, and what you have on the horizon regarding this project – and stop dwelling on Lucinda’s suggestions. If you do all of this and your boss says, “great, you’ve clearly got this smothered and covered,” the Lucinda’s suggestions are just suggestions. Let the gentle breeze of her help blow right past you.

    4. Snark no more!*

      I would think a curious-sounding “why are you asking,” is less antagonistic than the question you are suggesting.

    5. Batgirl*

      I dont know that I’d go that blunt but I might say something like “Boss is in the loop. Is there some effect on your projects would be affected/some reason you need to be updated?”

    6. Sam.*

      I absolutely wouldn’t respond with “Why is that any of your business” but I do agree that those scripts entertain her inquiries far more than I am comfortable with if the goal really is to get her to back off. Unless she actually does need the details of when to expect things, I think I’d stick with vaguer “I’m on it” responses and repeatedly emphasize the “Imogene is in the loop and on board with my plan” side of things.

  9. The one who wears too much black*

    I disagree because it comes off antagonistic in an office already prone to gossip from a person new enough that they may not have built up the capital to manage that.

  10. The one who wears too much black*

    I disagree because it comes off confrontational in an office already prone to gossip from a person new enough that they may not have built up the capital to manage that.

  11. Ralph Wiggum*

    I suppose you could also deprioritize responding to Lucinda. If responses are less prompt, she might lose interest.

    I’m a little uneasy suggesting this, since it’s kind of passive-aggressive, but it doesn’t sound like responding to these requests are productive activities, anyway.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Passive-aggressive gets a bad rap. There are lots of times when it is a bad idea, but other times when it is a reasonable approach.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Appropriately and professional managing people’s expectation is not passive-aggressive, and that’s part of what needs to be happening here.

      Inappropriately and unprofessionally managing people’s expectations by just not responding at all (which is what some are suggesting) is not going to lead to the desired outcomes.

  12. James*

    I’ve worked with people like this. I’ve even intentionally brought them onto a project, despite them being a thorn in my side, because sometimes I need that quality check.

    Here’s how I handle it, in case it’s useful:

    –First, they are NOT friends. I may chat with them about things, but that’s just my personality. I don’t gripe to them about anyone or anything, though. Friendly, but keep them at a distance.
    –Second, I give them very definite boundaries. “I want you to help Polgera with the glazing process. She’s new, and she needs to learn it.” If the person starts veering into the firing process, I push back. “Barak’s handling that. How’s Pol doing with the glazing?” I’ve had to be fairly firm with them in the past, but over time we’ve learned to understand each other better.
    –Third, I keep my boss in the loop. My boss tends to like working with these specific people less than I do, so he tends to insist I keep a very close eye on them.
    –Fourth, I listen to them. In my case, one of these people has more experience at this work than I do breathing (he started in 1980; I was born in ’84); I’d be be stupid to not give them a fair hearing. But listening doesn’t equal obeying. At the end of the day my decision is on my head, not his, after all. But if they know you’re willing to listen to their experience the transition from “trying to manage me” to “offering some advice to a colleague” is easier. It takes the ego trip out of the equation–on their part and mine!

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      I have a feeling that not only does Pol do well with the glazing, but she would insist on doing it with her hands and not the Will and the Word.

  13. Safely Retired*

    My first thought was that the boss asked Lucinda, as the person who has done it before, to “keep an eye on” you. Which would not be unusual in my experience, but it would have been nice to have been told.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      In a good managing situation, both parties are told, usually in the same meeting. Maybe the person who had the project before already knows, but there’s usually a formal hand-off meeting where you *both* here things like “Lucinda will be checking in to make sure this stays on the rails, but the day-to-day is on you.” Or any of the various scenarios that could be true. It doesn’t sound like that happened. It’s not to late to ask for that meeting in a friendly, professional way. That can happen in a call between supervisor, you, and Lucinda. If it were me I might want to have a 1:1 with the boss first, and then have that call w/Lucinda.

  14. NOK*

    “I also think she thinks of herself as more qualified and experienced” – but she IS more experienced. You state that she’s older than you and has held multiple roles in other organizations.

    The advice is spot on, but I do think you need to try to get out of your tree a bit here–it feels like you’re spinning your coworker’s admittedly annoying inability to let go of a past project she’s owned into a larger referendum on her perception of you.

    1. The one who wears too much black*

      +1 – please think about how YOU can contribute to the resolution here, LW

        1. NOK*

          I can’t speak to TOWWTMB, but I’m coming at this from a place of having been in similar situations early in my career: feeling undermined by some passive-aggressive comments and then finding myself getting spun up. I certainly didn’t intend to be antagonistic, so I apologize if it’s potentially coming off as such.

    2. Ralph Wiggum*

      Meh, Lucinda is only slightly older, appears to have more schooling (which usually counts as less experience than work), and has less experience at that company specifically.

      Honestly, I’d put any experience difference between the two of them as negligible, and discourage the OP from dwelling on it. I suspect she’s only dwelling on it, because she feels Lucinda is dwelling on it.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yes, thanks, this is what I meant to convey–the difference to me is pretty negligible and also rendered irrelevant considering we have the exact same title, but I think *she* is unable to see things that way. She’s definitely more experienced for this particular project, to be fair. (But also, it’s not rocket science… I will be just fine with less guidance/interference.)

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          the difference to me is pretty negligible and also rendered irrelevant considering we have the exact same title

          You need to be careful here, because the difference may be negligible to you but it’s obviously not negligible to Lucinda, and probably not to other people at your company.

          Lucinda has more experience (whether at this company or with other companies is irrelevant; she got hired at your company because of that experience) and also has more education. These things do count.

          Also, titles mean a lot at some companies, and not so much at other companies. People are judged by their output, not their titles. Don’t make the mistake that just because you have the same title you are basically equivalent to each other. I’m starting to wonder if Lucinda’s attitude is coming from at least a bit from your own.

          1. The one who wears too much black*

            +1 – ask what YOU can do differently, LW, not how you can make Lucinda do differently.

        1. Letter Writer*

          ^Yep, I readily admit that. And I’m sure it will be valuable to me–but is it not my job to ask for her help rather than hers to check me every step of the way?

          1. valentine*

            is it not my job to ask for her help rather than hers to check me every step of the way?
            This seems reasonable, especially if the project is akin to updating the corporate bios webpage, and you might mention that to Imogene. While Lucinda has had plenty of time to detach, it could be that others are asking her about the project or that she is weirdly possessive of it and Imogene is indulging her.

            I might also point out to Lucinda that my timetable and other details might differ from hers, and nothing is going to catch fire because of that.

          2. Fikly*

            Well, not necessarily. It can heavily depend on workplace culture, for one.

            I’m unclear, too, if she’s checking on you every step of the way, or only when she’s seeing a problem that she needs to ask a question about.

            Personally, I would rather work somewhere where I am not left on my own to sink or swim. But you may have a different preference. Honestly not trying to be judgemental here – but having experienced being given responsibility over something, then not being told about problems that came up, until suddenly they were big problems, was not fun. Sometimes you don’t know you need to ask for help.

            1. James*

              Even if she’s asking about a problem she’s seeing it can get annoying. One of my Lucindas tends to come to me with problems he’s seen, which is nice in a way–at least he cares–but he’s only seeing a small fraction of the information. Then he doesn’t take “I’ve got it covered” or “I spoke with Silk about it, he’s handling it” as an answer; he wants me to explain the plan, in detail.

              It’s one thing to be left alone to sink or swim; having to explain yourself constantly to someone who’s not on the project, or who’s working under you on a project, can be just as bad, though.

            2. Paulina*

              It’s crucial for the person being given the feedback to be told what’s important though, and let other issues go. Lucinda isn’t just managing, she comes across as micromanaging. Getting feedback like that means the LW will have a hard time distinguishing between feedback on things that are actually important (and apparently nothing yet is) and “you’re not doing things the way I do them” commentary. That’s what I like about Alison’s advice, it doesn’t try to shut Lucinda down completely since she likely also knows some important things too.

          3. Batgirl*

            Might be a decent response actually. “Thanks for checking in but I’ll let you know if I need help”

      2. Jennifer*

        Yes, I don’t think the difference between them is that big of a deal. I think Lucinda does because of her master’s degree.

        1. Ralph Wiggum*

          Yeah, people can have vastly different opinions on the value of a graduate degree.

          In academia, it is everything. In most professional environments, it amounts to, “Oh, that’s nice.” Then of course there’s teaching, social work, psychiatry, etc, where certain jobs require them.

  15. montescristo1985*

    So I know my work place and my relationship with my boss is rather chill, but why wouldn’t you just ask your own boss “hey, do I need to keep s0-and-so updated on this project?” If they say no, then just respond with a quick “thanks for the concern, but I’ve got this under control with [boss]” and then just ignore it after that point? Would that be unprofessional?

    1. James*

      It depends. In syntax it’s professional, but it DOES have consequences. This person will be very hesitant to work with the LW again if that’s the case–and the LW may need a favor later on. Sometimes it’s worth burning the bridge, sometimes it isn’t; you’ve got to decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis.

  16. Your Cousin is a Wet Sandwich*

    Allison is much nicer than I’d be. For the scripts I wouldn’t reply to Lucinda like she has a right to details. I’d give her big picture stuff and also imply that Lucinda isn’t questioning me, she is questioning the boss.

    Lucinda: Why isn’t the X report finished yet?
    You: Imogene and I discussed the timeline, and I’ve keeping to her direction – no worries!

    Lucinda: It should have been done by now.
    You: I think Imogene is moving us in the right direction with the revisions to the deadlines as we ran into some obstacles. I’m working with her on it. I didn’t realize you were still playing a role in this — can you clarify what role Imogene wants you to have here?

  17. Jennifer*

    You have my sympathy, OP. I have several coworkers like this. If you don’t respond to their emails lightning fast they follow up with your boss and grandboss copied. It’s very passive aggressive and annoying. I usually respond using a variation of what Alison suggested and things have gotten somewhat better.

  18. Not a cat*

    I’ve been the Lucinda. In my case, the CEO was prodding me to triple-check the project because it was strategically important and she didn’t have that level of trust in the OP or OP’s boss because they’ve never delivered the project. The OP really resisted updating me and her boss (my peer) was deliberately (other priorities) uninvolved. We ended up having a weekly stand-up, so I could get updates, ask questions and look for problems. I also had institutional capital she lacked, so while OP waited 2 weeks for a project element from a contributor, I could get it in a few days.

    1. valentine*

      Did you tell the OP person the CEO was behind it and you weren’t just weirdly interfering?

    2. juliebulie*

      Yeah, the OP person really needs to know why the Lucinda person is involved, because as far as OP knows, Lucinda should NOT be involved.

      In Not a Cat’s case, if I were Lucinda I wouldn’t be eager to share that I’m supposed to be monitoring the project because the CEO doesn’t trust OP or OP’s boss. Frankly, that really sucks. A more effective CEO would find a tactful way to keep Lucinda officially attached to the project (dotted line) with a bland explanation like, “since this is your first time delivering the project.” It would still kind of suck but it would be out in the open and properly sanctioned, instead of leaving OP and Imogene and Lucinda all in a weird position with one another.

  19. Senor Montoya*

    OP, just a bit on the text griping about bosses.

    That’s got to stop. Hard stop. First of all, it’s a text, it’s on-the-record. You do not want that sort of thing floating around and forwardable. Even if it’s talking in person: you have no guarantee that what you said is not being repeated. Possibly inaccurately.

    Second, it’s unprofessional. Sure, people like to gripe about their bosses — don’t do it at work. That’s what your friends/family/pet/diary is for.

    If you are having an issue w the boss and don’t know how to handle it, then a private discussion with a co-worker who has good judgment and is professional can be helpful. I’ve been around forever, I’ve done that when I’ve been unsure how to handle a situation, and I’ve also been asked for help. Usually the advice is to talk to the boss (eventually I figured out that is almost always the first thing to do), and the discussion is more figuring out what to say, timing, that sort of thing.

  20. learnedthehardway*

    The absolutely key thing you NEED to do here is to have a discussion with your manager about where your role begins/ends wrt the project. Definitely have that discussion before you do anything else, because it will give you direction on what your approach should be with Lucinda. Do explain to your manager that Lucinda is requesting updates, setting expectations and telling you how to manage the job – explain that it FEELS to you that Lucinda is trying to manage you. (Other posters are right that you don’t know Lucinda’s intentions, but you can speak to your manager about what this FEELS like, from your perspective.) Ask your manager to clearly tell you – are you in charge of the project? What is Lucinda’s role now in the project? Are you supposed to be answering to your manager or to Lucinda about the project?

    My guess is that your manager will assure you that this is YOUR project now, and will say that Lucinda is having a hard time letting go. BUT, it’s possible that your manager may say that you’re doing the project and they’ve asked Lucinda to provide some support or oversight or whatever. Once you know what the situation is, THEN you can decide how to respond to Lucinda’s continued involvement / comments. It may be that the right response is to tell her that you and Manager have it covered, or it may be right for you to take direction on this project from Lucinda.

    In either case, it does make sense to learn whatever you can from Lucinda – eg. if she thinks you can push back with stakeholders who aren’t getting you your information, that’s a good thing to think about – perhaps there’s some merit to the idea (or perhaps it’s a terrible approach and there’s a better way for you to find). Lucinda may very well be outside of her lane in giving you “to do-s” but you might as well get any benefit there is to be had out of her perspective.

    1. snoopythedog*

      Exactly.

      I’d turn to my manager and go “I’ve noticed Lucinda asking some questions about project updates and providing suggestions, but I haven’t been looping her in on updates so she’s using old information. What is her current role in this project and do I need to be looping in her on certain updates?”

      OP: crucial conversations is a great book and could be very useful for you here. I notice you’ve created a story around Lucinda’s motives towards you and that is driving your irritation and response. This book does a great job in breaking that pattern for you.

      Also, NO TEXT. Don’t text coworkers (or anyone, really) when tone is important…like serious work conversations or when you need to understand something.

    2. DerJungerLudendorff*

      This. Getting clarification from your manager will tell you what your options are.

  21. DinoGirl*

    Having a lateral counterpart can be really difficult and I wish managers would consider this more carefully when they set it up. I’ve written to Allison about a similar issue at a higher level. It seems like someone will naturally try and be “lead,” and if they’re more senior, that may be tough to navigate. Managers need to be really clear on boundaries, in my opinion, if they create lateral roles. If manager wants to be hands-off, even worse.

  22. Dust Bunny*

    I really don’t understand what the hangup is here. Clarify with your boss that you don’t need to keep Lucinda looped in (or that you do) and then when Lucinda asks your questions, let her know that you and Imogen have it under control. If it is the case that clients are asking for updates, remind Lucinda to have them contact you directly instead. Seriously, though, the way to handle this is directly. I’m in my early forties and realized recently that I am done pussyfooting at work–I will straight-up ask somebody for information, etc. Saves me a whole lot of time and everybody a lot of time and confusion.

    But the text griping has to end. It’s a bad habit in general and it’s probably feeding the perception that you’re not mature enough to handle it. I know Lucinda does it, too, but people don’t usually think that stuff like this reflects as badly on them as it does on whoever they want to criticize for it. Take the high road on this and bow out of these exchanges.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I’m in my early forties and realized recently that I am done pussyfooting at work–I will straight-up ask somebody for information, etc.

      Yep. It is glorious to get to that point, isn’t it? It’s a little disappointing that our social structure is set up that people don’t feel okay to just get to the point early on.

      Alison said as much in the intro to her book:

      Surprisingly often, the answers to the questions that my letter writers ask come down to this: Speak up.

      But as a society, we do a terrible job of modeling this for younger people. When I was teaching, I was always giving kids scripts about how to handle things appropriately. It’s amazing how much easier life is when you have the proper words.

      Our society needs to change.

      1. Ralph Wiggum*

        “When I was teaching, I was always giving kids scripts about how to handle things appropriately. It’s amazing how much easier life is when you have the proper words.”

        Thank you for doing this. This is the most valuable thing kids can learn from elementary school — even more important than reading and arithmetic. I wish more people realized this.

        With my son, we often say “You could say …” It’s a very simple and very effective technique.

  23. Nobody Nowhere*

    I have one of those, too. I am older and have a couple decades of experience in the job but she still directs me to do basic job functions as if it won’t get done if she doesn’t make sure I do it.

  24. Analyst Editor*

    This won’t necessarily apply to your experience; most likely not, but I thought I’d share mine.
    About a year into a new job where I started as an analyst, my supervisor was set to leave (we knew months in advance). His replacement hadn’t been determined. At some point during those months, a co-worker with more seniority but the same title started giving me assignments, taking the lead on things, and otherwise subtly behaving like he was my boss. I really bristled at this — not enough to address it, because it was subtle, but enough to notice and complain to my spouse.
    WELL: it turns out he WAS going to be our boss, but the promotion hadn’t been announced yet. And he turned out to be a much better boss than his predecessor…. I didn’t feel micromanaged by a peer anymore once the news was announced.
    So there is a small possibility she might be in line to be over you soon due to an impending promotion that she knows about and you don’t — doesn’t excuse her behavior, but could be an explanation.

  25. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    I’ve had success getting Lucindas to back down by giving a vague answer to their question and then saying “why do you ask?” The Lucinda I was dealing with then got flustered and said “I was just asking” in a defensive tone. But at least she backed down for five seconds.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, but that won’t get her to back down for good.
      The key here is for OP to clarify things with her boss first. If Imogene says the project is OP’s responsibility and it’s up to her to decide how much input she wants from Lucinda, it’s much easier for her to push back. Unfortunately it sounds like Imogene hasn’t really thought things through when she handed the project to OP. Ideally they’d do a 3-way conference call where Imogene could say what she wants each of them to do. I think it’s important that OP states that it feels like Lucinda is trying to manage her on the project, and to get clarification from her boss whether that really is as she intended. Once the rules have been laid down, it’s much easier for OP to push back if Lucinda keeps interfering even when Imogene has told her not to.

  26. Drama Llama*

    I think people are being surprisingly generous to Lucinda on this. Even if she has been asked to help and is more experienced (questionable), she is being extremely obnoxious. Cc-ing the boss in low level emails and unhelpful criticism are a power play. It would be one thing if she was saying things like ‘Bob will need a week to get his materials together so make sure you allow for that” or “give them a reminder if they haven’t responded yet” but it sounds like she is just trying to make OP look bad. Alison’s advice is great so I have nothing to add there but good luck.

    1. Erstewhile lurker*

      I agree, she is just trying to undermine her here under the guise of ‘being on top of things’

  27. Scarlet*

    Nah I have to disagree with Alison here. No need to play so nice, and there’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself and being a little assertive.

    Lucinda: “Why isn’t this report done? You should be communicating your needs better”

    You with your boss cc’d: “Hi Lucinda, I’m not sure what you mean. I’m not having any problems with communication. Since taking over the project, I’ve been working closely with (Manager) to establish appropriate timelines of deliverables, so no need to follow up. I’ll be in touch if I need anything from your end!”

    Sometimes people like this just push back, like “Hey, I’m capable and you need to respect me, I won’t tolerate being spoken to like that”.

  28. Book of Iona*

    In my younger days, I felt a strong sense of territoriality about projects that I was leading. I wanted to prove my competence, and reacted defensively to anyone who checked on me. However, no one is perfect, and sometimes these check-ins WOULD alert me to something that I hadn’t thought of or hadn’t done. I now respond to helpful (or “helpful”) inquiries assuming the colleague has a positive intent. So mostly, it’s “Good thought. Thanks, I’m on it,” but sometimes it’s more like “Whoa! Thanks for watching my back! I will definitely take a look at that!” You don’t have to do everything that Lucinda suggests, but do consider what she has to offer on a project that she has executed before and which you are doing for the first time.

  29. Kella*

    I feel like the folks who are giving Lucinda the benefit of the doubt because of her higher amount of experience on this project are ignoring the fact that even if she has good reason to manage the OP, *she’s doing a bad job of it*.

    OP says: “Problem is, she’s been sending me condescending emails about the work, with my boss cc’d, asking me why a report isn’t finished or a blog post hasn’t gone up. For example, if I tell her I’m waiting on someone else to send me material, she tells me I need to “communicate my needs” better.

    My boss has already given me a timeline for the project, which I’ve been doing my best to meet—to be fair, now that we are working from home, things have been delayed. But why does Lucinda feel like she should be the one to reprimand me for that? Especially when my boss seems not to mind whatsoever?”

    So, Lucinda isn’t looped into the timelines for the project *that their boss has decided on*, she hasn’t asked to be looped in, and is instead holding OP accountable according to what she thinks the timeline should be. “Why isn’t this report done yet?” seems way less effective than, “Can you tell me about the timeline for this report? What’s the plan to make sure it’s done in time for y?” The second option would still be unsettling if OP is under the impression that Lucinda isn’t supposed to be managing them, but at the very least, Lucinda would actually be able to offer *useful* feedback rather than negative feedback without relevant context.

    Saying that OP needs to “communicate her needs better” is also super unhelpful feedback. What does that look like? Emailing more often? Being more direct? Not taking no for an answer?

    To me, it doesn’t sound like Lucinda is managing OP but just picking at them and undermining them.

    I still agree with Alison’s advice and think that civility and professionalism is the way to go here, I just want to validate OP’s perspective a bit more than what I’ve been seeing in the comments.

  30. Voice in the wilderness*

    You might consider keeping it short and simple.

    “Thanks for the reminder. It’s being handled.”

    If they ask for details, just respond that the relevant parties are up to speed and that if they want a detailed update, they are invited to call you directly.

    If they call, that’s the time to go on the offensive; politely but assertively.

    “I appreciate your reminders. They help me avoid missing things, but when you ask for details, it’s like having a duplicate status meeting with my supervisor. I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for that. So, although I appreciate your input, please don’t expect me to give you an extensive report on my activities. Thanks again for your help”.

    Done.

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