two of my employees don’t get along — is it just a personality conflict?

A reader writes:

I could use some advice about some staff, two of whom report to me and one who doesn’t.

Bob reports to me. He assigns cases to both Sue and Sally. Sue reports to me and Sally doesn’t. Sue and Sally don’t like Bob. They don’t like his brusque (but still professional) style, they don’t like that he’s not “nice” like his female predecessor, and they don’t like it when he seems inconsistent.

Bob doesn’t like his decisions questioned. He comes from a legal background and really can be pretty officious. Again, it’s not unprofessional, but it’s certainly not friendly or collegial. He could go a long way in being collegial.

In directing Bob to be patient with Sue and Sally, as they frequently do have good questions and suggestions, he sees it as I’m asking for him to “coddle” Sue and Sally. In asking Sue and Sally to accept Bob’s decisions, they see it as my asking them to never question Bob, whose judgment usually is correct but not always.

In a functioning team, these folks would all show a little patience and grace. In this group, they take turns complaining to me. I’ve directed them to work it out themselves, as this seems mostly to be personality clashes. But I also would like a functioning team.

Any advice? I’d like to lock them all in a room and tell them to come out when they can be civil. I’ve tried team-building, asking them how they would solve the problem, being an ear to cry on, etc. Gender issues are complicating this, but surely we can get past this. I’d like Sue and Sally to feel like they have agency and are respected for their questions, and I’d like Bob to feel like he can count on them to back him up.

This doesn’t really sound like a personality conflict. Bob is brusque with people he assigns work to and bristles when he’s supposed to be patient with questions and suggestions. Those are performance issues, not personality clashes.

It’s possible that Sue and Sally are contributing to the problem as well. But based on what you wrote here, they have good reason to be frustrated with Bob … and honestly, with you too if you’ve been responding to their legitimate complaints with team-building and a sympathetic ear rather than more actively managing Bob’s behavior.

If Bob were, say, missing deadlines, I’m guessing you wouldn’t try to solve that with “team-building, asking (others) how they would solve the problem, being an ear to cry on, etc.” You’d presumably explain that meeting deadlines is part of his job, and you’d hold him accountable to doing that. This isn’t all that different.

Instead of trying to encourage or cajole Bob to interact differently with Sue and Sally, you’ve got to make it clear it’s not optional. Tell him that maintaining good relationships with the people he works with is part of his job — and so is ensuring that Sue and Sally feel comfortable asking questions and raising concerns when they see potential problems.

Those things need to be requirements for him — and part of how you evaluate his success in his position — because otherwise people will start going around him for help and will stop flagging legitimate problems, and will generally feel shut down and demoralized. You’ve got to coach him on this stuff like you would any other area where he was struggling, and you probably need to paint a very specific picture of how you want his interactions with Sue and Sally (and maybe other colleagues) to go, because it’s clearly not intuitive to him. You probably need to walk him through some recent interactions, point out specifically what you want him to to do differently, and even give him better language to use (because people like Bob often can’t fully envision what the changes you want would look like).

You also need to look at what Sue and Sally might be contributing to this. If they’re questioning every decision Bob makes, that’s not okay and needs to stop, and you’d need to give them guidelines on what is and isn’t worth pushing back on. But you can’t credibly tell them to treat Bob with more respect unless they see you addressing the problems with him more seriously than you have in the past.

The key to all of this, though, will be seeing this as more than a personality clash. (Although even if this were just a personality conflict, at this point — where it hasn’t been worked out and is continuing to cause issues — you’d still need to take a firmer approach and require that it stay out of your workplace.) These are performance issues, and seeing it through that lens — and using that framework when you talk about it — should make addressing it more intuitive.

{ 321 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Thank you for explaining the difference between a personality clash and unacceptable behavior. I get annoyed when employers cling to the former because the latter is too difficult to address.

    When I went to my former boss about a workplace bully, he called it a “personality clash.” That’s how he chose to describe her eye rolling, “forgetting” my requests, and cutting me out of meetings. His solution was for him to be “hands off” and let us work it out never mind the fact she was actively trying to get me fired.

    If he’d sent us to a team building event, I wouldn’t have shown up. That’s so insulting.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I worked for someone similar! He basically said that he wasn’t going to “manage people’s personalities” and that everyone needed to get along. That gave the bully the freedom to be absolutely evil to everyone because she knew the boss wasn’t going to tell her to stop.

      And honestly (to OP), saying someone comes from a legal background so they’re brusque is a cop out. Plenty of us legal beagles are decent humans and don’t bark at people. Observe how Bob talks to Sarah and Sally and if he’s being a jerk, tell him he’s being a jerk and to tone it down. Offer to record him so he can play it back and hear how he sounds. However, If he’s saying something as simple as “The deadline is Friday” and Sarah and Sally can’t handle it because it’s too direct, there’s some coaching needed for them, too.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for the insight! Without writing a novel, please know I also know good lawyers who get along with people. I brought up the legal aspect as it’s part of the reason (the main reason) we hired Bob–his legal expertise and training. In trying to be fair I may have gone too far. I was trying to note that when he makes a decision, it’s usually a solid one made with context the others don’t have.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          But it’s still his job to a) convey enough of the background so that the decision doesn’t seem arbitrary, and b) do it nicely (enough). He doesn’t need to give the whole process but nobody likes “because I said so” any better as adults than they did as kids, and it’s not an excuse to be snippy in the delivery.

          My supervisor is very discreet about what he tells the rest of his department, but he gives us enough information that we don’t feel like we’re being pushed around, even if the outcome isn’t what we’d have liked. And he’s firm but *never* rude.

            1. Irishgal*

              Yup. Not being “rude” is the bare minimum required and is not the acceptable level of communication.

          1. Sparrow*

            Completely agree, especially since they’re used to being listened to when they spot a legitimate issue or have a solid suggestion. It sounds like they’re going from getting context and being valued/respected to when they have feedback to being mostly in the dark and getting sniped at when they try to engage deeper. To be honest with you, if I was in that position, I’d be looking for a new job.

        2. Annony*

          In that case maybe it would help to explain to him that part of his job is to get the team to understand why he makes the decisions he does. Context is important and getting Sally and Sue to understand that context is not coddling. You cannot excel at a job if you don’t understand why you do a task one way in situation A and another in situation B.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah, I think this is the key. I’m a woman and I have been a Bob – put in charge of something because of my expertise, and then struggling to be patient with questions that would really run the gamut from thoughtful to completely missing the point. It was easy for me to get into the mindset of wanting people to just DO THE THING that I had spent so much time putting together, and I had to really shift to thinking of it as 50% technical work and 50% getting people on board.

            Bob may need some strategies of how to do this, like giving more context upfront and briefly stating other things he considered but decided against (helpful in heading off the “but we always used to do it this other way….”). He may also need some strategies on how to politely exit the question merry-go-round, like telling Sally and Sue that they need to try it his way first and then he can reassess, or saying they are welcome to bring their issues up with OP.

            1. OhNoYouDidn't*

              This, so much. We have a saying in our household (for our kids), that I use in managing people: Rules without reason often leads to rebellion. If Bob gave a bit of context and reasoning along with this requests, AND was open to constructive feedback from his team, he’d have a lot more cooperation. It doesn’t do any good to have the best idea in the world if you can get people on board to help you implement it.

          2. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Bingo. Bob seems to act like asking questions means Sally and Sue are challenging him and his authority, when they’re really just asking for clarification or direction. Sally and Sue may well need to adjust their own behaviors, but Bob’s is bothering me largely because of this.

            1. Just Tell Me Y*

              I work for lawyers. None of them have any trouble explaining why we do things the way we do. Something the answer is “I just like it that way”, and that’s fine. Sometimes the issue I have is that way x is significantly more difficult and time consuming than y, and nobody has a problem with explaining why x is necessary to me, or sometimes changing to y once they realize the issue on my end. If I were treated as if asking is being “coddled”, that would be awful.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I have said to people who work for me, “I just like it that way. I know there are other ways, but I’m the one who gets to pick and none of them are wrong, so in this instance, I’m going to indulge myself.”

                (I also try to go with their recommendations too, so it’s not “all me.”)

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              Yeah, it almost sounds like Bob is not thinking of Sally and Sue actually being part of his team, but “others” that shouldn’t question his authority. I would get pretty snarky dealing with that, even if he was usually right. A little respect goes a long way when bringing people along.

        3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Well he can say that, in as much or little detail as he feels is appropriate. Brooking no question is bull shit.
          Honestly, I’d shout “objection” and see what he does. At least if he’s going to over rule you, he’d half to explain.

        4. Tim Tam Girl*

          My perspective on this comes from healthcare. A US report in 1999 (‘To Err Is Human’) found that poor communication was a major factor in 70% of sentinel events (unexpected deaths in care that could be directly and exclusively linked to medical error).

          I work in a subset of medical education that addresses communication and teamwork issues along with clinical practice, and I find it utterly infuriating that ‘soft skills’ (HATE that term) are still seen as optional extras or nice-to-haves, and are almost always ignored in favour of technical clinical skill/knowledge. *Bad communication kills. Bad teamwork kills. It is not a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have.*

          OP, your work may be less literally life-and-death but I urge you to think about this. Bob’s job involves effective communication with Sue and Sally. You don’t need him to be nicer or more patient, you need him to do his damn job. All the field-specific expertise in the world won’t overcome his deficits in communication and teamwork. They are their own skill set and they deserve respect and attention.

          1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

            I cannot second this more, and the example of deaths in medicine is probably the best illustration there is. I am hired out to teach “Soft skills” to professionals of all levels and also hate the label, because it makes them seem optional. It’s simply professional communication protocol. Just as there is parliamentary procedure, we can’t cop out of effective and courteous communication. …and that’s all fronts, personal included.

            And I love your screen name!! I miss TimTamSlams!!!

          2. DaisyGrrl*

            It’s also a major issue in aviation (described as crew resource management – the wiki article is a good starting point for those interested). Clear communications in cockpits are essential to avoiding crashes, and there have been several crash investigations that found a copilot recognized something was not right but communicated it (or failed to communicate it) in such a way that the pilot didn’t recognize the risk and act.

            There are a number of medical safety practices that borrow heavily from aviation safety. It’s always neat to see how advances in one field influence others!

          3. LJay*

            Aviation communication is big too. Lack of communication and lack of team work are both cited on the “dirty dozen” list of issues that contribute to accidents and incidents.

        5. JSPA*

          That’s a great reason for him to say, e (completely) g:

          “I hear your dismay, but there’s a lot of background and case-law precedent behind this. It’s outside of what you’d need to know–that’s what I’m supposed to be doing–but if you’re interested on a personal level or particularly invested, the legal keywords here would be ‘attractive nuisance,’ ‘social host liability’ and more broadly, ‘secondary liability.’* If you want to do a short dive on that in your own time, and after that, you still see a way forward and feel strongly about the event, write up a paragraph detailing how it can be done while mitigating risk from those standpoints, and I’ll give it serious consideration. However, you’re looking to thread a wide rope through a tiny needle, and you’re not the first to try. Pushback on this is common. The usual pushback of others doing it or our having done it before, and nobody having gotten hurt or having complained, isn’t going to protect us in court.”

          Even the strongest, “absolutely not” can be delivered with sympathy, a smile, and without blocking further avenues for discussion. Our lovely accountant must say 50 times a day, variants of “that used to be a deduction, and I understand it seems like it still should be, but it’s just not, I’m so sorry” and “Oh, yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if things worked like that? I’d be happy, you’d be happy, and we could all go home early. Sadly, that’s not an option. Can’t do it. Love to in some alternate universe. But, no. Complete no. Not even slightly possible.” Or for the merely inadvisable, “If we can find a day when we both have several hours to spare, we can open that can of worms and sort through them. If it’s up to me, though, we leave the worms where they are, keep a tidy desk, and move on to something more rewarding.”

          * or whatever

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        My spouse’s (entirely inept) boss recently told him that she was told in management training that she could only provide feedback on people’s performance, not their conduct. This is an very, very large division of the federal government, I have multiple acquaintances in management at the same division, and it appears that this woman got entirely different management training than everyone else did. (Since I do not think there was a special, exception-to-the-rule management training that applies just to her AND she’s a crappy manager in other ways – including the infamous generic-email-to-group-in-lieu-of-direct-and-specific-feedback-to-actual-offenders – I think that she simply did not understand the training.)

        Mind you, the coworker in question routinely makes racist and sexist comments (including about the boss, when she’s not around), insinuates or states that others on the team or in collaborating teams are stupid/lazy/incompetent, and is so difficult to work with that people literally say when my spouse picks up a call or team email, “Oh, thank goodness I got you instead of Jackass Coworker.” – all of which seem to indicate a performance issue that stems from his inappropriate conduct, but what do I know?

        1. Artemesia*

          I’m guessing that if this occurred it was about ‘conduct’ in their personal life and not the way they treat other people.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I’ve given up trying to guess with this boss. She has a lot of weird ideas about management that would drive my (highly competent) HR head to remove her from the position quickly. My spouse lets a lot roll of their back, but there was a fairly severe incident recently that they requested the boss address – and she declined because it was “conduct-related”.

            1. Crass*

              That is so weird. I work in a government context and we have a strict Code of Conduct that applies to all of us in the service. The last thing you want on your record is any Code of Conduct violation as it can lead to serious consequences for your career, right up to dismissal.

          2. LJay*

            Or about specific behaviors rather than impression.

            I’ve been taught I shouldn’t cite things like, “You’re really negative” or “You have a bad attitude” but with actual behaviors like, “When Charlie came up with ideas in the meeting, you shot them all down with hypothetical edge-cases, but could not and did not offer any suggestions as to what could work,” or, “Rolling your eyes and sighing any time someone asks you to do something is not acceptable behavior,”.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I completely agree with the last paragraph. It’s tough to tell, particularly in light of OP’s follow-up comments it Bob is a problem or if Bob is simply not as warm and personable as the well-liked prior supervisor. Bob probably does need to work on his people skills (if I may generalize from my many years working with even the nicest of attorneys) as they need to be applied outside a law firm environment, but OP’s followup comments lead me to believe that Sally and Sue may be interpreting Bob less favorably based on their relationship with their prior supervisor. It’s hard to lose a boss you really like and respect, particularly when your new one is so different.

      4. yala*

        Oh hey, that’s what happened to me!

        Then the boss became friends with my bully, so now she automatically dismisses all of the bully’s microaggressions and views everything I do or say in the worst light. (Latest most frustrating thing was being reprimanded for my tone being perceived as being “afraid” that the bully would physically attack me–I was just trying to sound accommodating because I realized belatedly that I’d interrupted them. Meanwhile, boss saw “nothing wrong with” the bully’s tone of voice when they spoke to me, even though I would’ve absolutely been reprimanded for speaking like that to the bully.)

        1. TardyTardis*

          You need to find something else, if at all possible, because it’s only going to get worse unless an Upper Boss steps in. I’ve been in the middle of that one before, and I almost did lose my job till Upper Boss shut down the bully (and the regular boss hated my guts ever since).

    2. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      Been there, done that myself. A former boss thought an assistant who questioned decisions (she was 100% unqualified to contribute her opinion), tried to get her supervisors in trouble and wrote pretty awful Facebook posts about her coworkers was just an issue of “personality clash” especially since she would cry when the office manager tried to address the issues.
      It was just another symptom of overall bad management. 2 of the 3 long term supervisors quit at once and the new one started looking immediately for a new job. Most of the company’s work could only be done by highly trained and certified professionals so it’s not like the assistant could ever get promoted to that level without many years of education, similar to a medical assistant becoming an MD.
      OP needs to deal with Bob or you might have several positions to fill soon.

    3. Sleepytime Tea*

      Agreed! When you report someone’s unacceptable behavior, the worst response is “well that’s just the way Bob is.” That may be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an actionable issue and a legitimate problem. If Bob was “just” the type of guy who sexually harassed others, would that be ok? Would it be ok if Sally were “just” the type of woman who was 30 minutes late every day? No. Those may be “personality traits,” but that doesn’t mean they are acceptable in the workplace.

      Soft skills are extremely important in the workplace and in getting work done efficiently. Stop brushing it off as something that is unchangeable. The person themselves do not have to change who they are, they have to stop behaving that way IN THE OFFICE, and that’s it. They can go home and be brusque or late to dinner with friends or whatever it is. But if part of their job is interacting with others, they don’t get to just get a pass on poor behavior.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Nothing burns my toast like being told you have to accept a coworker’s bad behavior.

        I had a coworker who was very competent but hard to work with. They would do things like interrupt you to point out irrelevant minor errors, snap their fingers to get your attention, request something be white and then get angry that you were supposed to know that meant eggshell instead of powder (and throw you under the bus for the delay), and lots of other hard to describe actions that boil down to them being very frustrating to work with. Because they produced good work and a majority of their bad behavior was done out of site of the boss, boss would wave concerns away and constantly tell me that “they just went to a wedding/had a cousin in from out of town/celebrated a friend’s milestone/etc and are just tired/hungover today”. Once I pointed out that coworker always seemed to just have had a late night, boss switched to telling me they just “had a big personality”.

        Ugh good riddance to both of them, so glad I don’t work there anymore.

        1. Funbud*

          The snapping of fingers would happen. Only. Once.
          And Big Personality does not automatically equal Obnoxious Personality.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            A peer (that I admittedly did not like at all) complained to me once that one of my team members asked them not to snap or clap at them to get their attention as they felt it was disrespectful. Said peer felt this was an “insubordinate” thing to say and wanted me to back them up on it and address it with the employee. I told them that I did think snapping or clapping at subordinates was disrespectful and that I could not see a reason to “coach” my team member on what I saw as a professionally delivered request to address them in an equally professional manner. That is just not how we address other humans at work.

          2. The Rafters*

            A higher ranking person in my old office did this to me once after being called into an impromptu meeting. I had been interrupted by another higher ranking person while on my way. I entered the conference room barking. No one reacted or said a word, but it did not happen again.

          3. KoiFeeder*

            My first instinct would be to leave an anonymous note with that “fingers break as easily as baby carrots” alternative fact, but I also feel like that’s a good way to get fired if caught.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            I have never the term “big personality”used to mean something other than a negative. That could just be me.
            I tend to think if a personality is so big that there is not any space for others to be in the room with the big personality, then it’s a problem. Big personality could be an exuberant, happy person, but if they are dominating a room to the exclusion of others then it’s a problem.

            1. twig*

              I’ve never understood what “big personality” means. It seems to always be delivered with a metaphorical wink and an unsaid “you know what I mean”


              I don’t know what you mean.

                1. Funbud*

                  Most probably. But I have known positive “Big Personalities” – gregarious, outgoing, often loud…the classic backslapper …but also someone who can motivate others because they are energetic and enthusiastic.

                  For difficult people I always remember my father’s expression: “He/she is no walk in the park.”

          5. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah. That. If someone tried to summon me like a dog or some sort of serf would get a “over the glasses look” and maybe, if I was feeling generous, an inquiry about the music they were snapping or clapping in time to…

        2. Not Enough Spoons*

          I was told that I had to accept my co-team member (we were a team of two) because it had cost the company so much money to acquire him.

          Things I was told to accept: Him dropping his pants every morning to show me what underwear he’d worn that day; him miming m@sturbating; him hitting his mute button while on calls with clients and screaming a stream of cussword-laden filth; him needing to reach for things on my side of our shared u-shape cubicle in such a way that he always — ALWAYS — brushed his hand or arm across my breasts, etc., etc.

          I quit within three months of him starting, which was about 5 weeks after I was told I needed to “figure out a way to make it work.”

          1. KoiFeeder*

            I assume you took those five weeks to find a new job, although I can definitely understand if you quit without anything lined up because AUGH.

          2. 'Tis Me*

            I would have been tempted to state outright that a sexual harassment/hostile workplace lawsuit would be even more costly but I guess if you were the only person he worked with it’s hard to phrase that as anything other than an outright threat.

            I would be livid in your shoes though – they all but told you outright that part of the cost of hiring him is allowing him access to touch your body, in their eyes. That’s beyond insulting and offensive.

            1. Not Enough Spoons*

              I was in my 20’s and had never experienced anything so egregious. I just wanted out. When my manager *and HR* told me that I just needed to find a way to make it work, I knew it wasn’t a company worth staying at. The whole place was a hot mess, run by some seriously old-school 1950’s types. (As in, back in the early 1990’s these guys still looked like they’d be at home in a post-WWII FBI office). We were in sales and one of the junior sales guys was killing his numbers. He was really, really good. He asked the bosses for a raise and they said, “No, there’s no way we could pay you more than Fergus, who has been here for 15 years.” Awesome Sales Guy pointed out that Fergus wasn’t even meeting quota, and hadn’t in a long time. Nope, seniority took precedence over sales. (Not surprisingly, the company folded about 5 years after I quit).

      2. JSPA*

        Yep. The trait is how you tend to react, if you don’t take responsibility for that, and exercise some control (either by mindfulness or scripts and protocols, if your mindfulness circuit is unreliable). The actions are actions, not traits.

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Yes – “They are both doing things wrong, I wish they would just get along and work it out” does not work when one of the people has power over the other people. If Bob will not answer questions or gives them a hard time when he does he is not managing correctly and is not doing his job. Sally and Sue don’t have the power or leverage to make him do his job or give them respect. Someone needs to step in.

    5. Mockingjay*

      We had a “Bob” on our team. He was a technical expert in his area and thought that gave him carte blanche to do everything “his way” instead of the prescribed team process. He made my job (process compliance and document deliverables) extraordinarily difficult. When I complained, showing legitimate examples of non-compliant deliverables, I was told it was “just a personality conflict.” Others also complained of his arrogant attitude but nothing was done because Bob was considered so valuable.

      When he left two years later, management were astounded at the incomplete and inaccurate (plain wrong) work he left behind. (“Duh” moment.) We’re still finding his errors.

      Possessing an in-demand skill or rare knowledge does not excuse an employee from observing the norms of office etiquette with coworkers, or for not conforming to project methods the same as everyone else.

    6. ynotlot*

      In my experience, “personality clash” means “We are not going to fire or discipline the mean employee, so get used to it or good luck.” And sometimes that extends to “Your possession of a personality clashes with this mean person’s desires, so you have to change yours, sorry”
      Leaders don’t know what to do to solve it, which makes them feel bad, so they look for a way to not have to feel bad, which leads to them hypothesizing there must be some way this person called it on themselves. They reframe it in their mind as an equal conflict related to personalities, when actually the problem is that they hired a rude person they can’t control.
      And then they are s h o c k e d when the people on the receiving end leave for other jobs.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I hear “personality clash” a lot less now that I am older and have whitish hair…. sigh. But to me the term personality clash means, “You are female, therefore it’s your fault.”

        What bosses fail to realize is that we are all being compensated for our willingness to get along with others. A personality clash indicates that one or more people are not willing to get along. I’d be trying to sort out who is inflexible person.

        Sadly, women will say this to other women. It’s not just men who lean on this crutch.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          This. This. This. This.

          I don’t necessarily think that this is entirely rooted in gender…but I do think the OP should think carefully about how gender could play into this. Is Bob reacting so negatively to Sue and Sally asking questions or asking for clarification in part because they are women, and therefore Not Supposed to Challenge or Question Him?

          Please note, I’m not saying or trying to imply that Bob is a raging misogynist. I’m only saying that because our society is structured the way it is, people can often react negatively to behavior in women that they praise or perceive neutrally when it comes from men. It’s one possibility that this is playing into the dynamic between Bob and the others.

          Also, could it help to encourage Bob to reconsider his perception of their questions? Instead of seeing them as being a challenge or obstructive, see them as trying to gain a better understanding of his expectations. Sometimes, I will ask my boss questions, because having more background or information helps me decide what approach to take when things get nuanced.

          For example, on one project he had me working on, I asked him who the intended audience for the end result was. Knowing that helped me decide how much detail to include in some sections.

          1. miss_chevious*

            Is Bob reacting so negatively to Sue and Sally asking questions or asking for clarification in part because they are women, and therefore Not Supposed to Challenge or Question Him?

            Not just this question, but also, “is Bob being allowed to behave this way because he is male?” As a woman in a leadership position, more than once I have been given feedback about how I am “abrasive” or “aggressive” sometimes by men who literally yell and throw things in meetings. (I do not do either of those things, obviously.) If Bob were a woman behaving in the way that he is now, would that be *more* of a problem?

            It’s entirely possible that this is a two-way street and both sides are being inflexible in adapting, but first place to start is with Bob, and once he is communicating within expected norms — being receptive, polite, encouraging feedback, etc. — then tackle the challenges with his reports adapting to his style.

    7. Jam Today*

      I’ve had an identical experience, including the eye rolling, “forgetting” to add me to meetings, and yes also trying to get me fired. Managers need to manage — that’s their job and its what they get paid for. I have a close-to-zer0 tolerance for a-holes in the workplace; they are corrosive, decrease productivity as people’s stress levels rise and they avoid having to deal with them, and eventually lead to attrition of good people. There are a lot of smart and talented people in the world. Its relatively easy to find ones to work at your company who aren’t d*cks to their coworkers. Hire them instead.

    8. Julia*

      I had the same issue with a colleague who sabotaged me! Boss told me this wasn’t school anymore and I needed to resolve my personality conflicts on my own. (Way to be condescending, dude!) Boy did he get surprised when I finally quit. “But why???”

  2. Lara Cruz*

    … OP and Bob both need to learn how to manage people, and insisting the problem is “gender issues” that would be solved by shouting it out in a room is why OP’s team is so dysfunctional.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. Women who have problems with bullies or jerks in the workplace often have their concerns dismissed as personality conflicts. It is always management. Bob is not being managed.

      1. Lady Heather*

        Whenever my famliy member complains about her employees, I always reply by saying that the mistake was either in the hiring or in the managing/supervision (or in both) – but never with the employee.

        In my relative’s case, they hire certified teapot painters for a low wage. Then, they also make them responsible for teapot design and other tasks they weren’t trained for or hired for (or paid well enough for), and when it does not go well, they blame the employee(s).
        It makes me angry.

        A person walking around on the street cussing at people is a ‘problem person’. An employee walking around at work cussing at people has a problem manager. If they had a good manager, they would either not be cussing or they would not/no longer be employed. It is really that easy.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I can’t tell you how many times I have thought of this. I saw X behavior and said to myself, “If that happened out in a public are such as on the street, it would be a huge problem. But because it happened in a workplace it’s okay.”

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      I know, the “gender issues” in this context comes across as “ugh, the women are making drama and being difficult, amirite” rather than the real issue being that Bob is rude and not open to questions.

      1. Blaise*

        Interesting. I took “gender issues” to refer to Bob- meaning he takes being questioned as a threat to his masculinity, and maybe has a problem with the women due to some misogyny.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Fair point, but it came off weaselly — which is a problem we have in business-speak. It’s never “that guy’s an a-hole,” it’s “the team has a personality conflict.” It’s never “that guy’s a misogynist,” it’s “gender issues.” It’s never “literally no one except Jeff keeps microwaving fish until they explode,” it’s “we can all be a little more thoughtful about how we use the shared break room.”

          The people with baseline adult emotional intelligence were already making all the effort to be “thoughtful,” and the bullies just keep ignoring the hints.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              Since my mental visualisation involved a while live fish going into the microwave I think Jeff may be a sociopath as well as antisocial and poor at preparing food.

        2. HoHumDrum*

          I definitely think that the gender dynamic you mention is a big part of it, but I will say that I think the legal background thing is definitely relevant as well. I have two different female family members who are lawyers who are pretty damn officious as well, and sometimes have to be reminded that they can’t bark orders at a family member like they do their clerks.

        3. Yorick*

          OP says they don’t like that Bob isn’t as “nice” as his female predecessor. IMO it seems like OP thinks the women are being a little sensitive.

          1. OP*

            Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the predecessor’s gender. Sue and Sally say they miss her “girl talks” which is a whole other thing (they’re women, not girls, for one). Bob’s predecessor was great at relationships and they miss that.

            1. andy*

              Their main concerns are that Bob is unwilling to answer question, shots down good suggestions and is inconsistent. Bob thinks that being consistent, answering questions and dealing with good suggestions would be codling them. It sounded like these concerns are described as “bob is not nice” or “not as good in relationships”.

              It is drowing in euphemisms toward Bob and make them sound almost silly. While it seems to me that only coddled person is Bob and their complains are reasonable.

              The issue might be more how it came accross then how it was intended, but the framings matter. If you will frame it like this in front of Bob, he will end up tripple sure they are silly and he is codling them.

            2. Djuna*

              The relationships part is key here. Building and maintaining good relationships at work is so important. It doesn’t mean Bob needs to be everyone’s best friend, but it does mean he needs to be seen as open and approachable, especially by the people who work with him most.

              Part of my job is explaining context for decisions to people who have questions or feedback about why we do thing x like this, and not like that, or why we say not to do thing y ever. I took this on because we’d noticed feedback was slowing down and the person doing it before me had given what I’d imagine to be Bob-like responses. The folks giving us feedback often (like Sue and Sally) don’t have wider context, and I’ve found that if you’re willing to take the time to give context and are not brusque about it people don’t feel like they’re being shot down, they feel like you hear their concern and are willing to address it.

              At it’s most basic level it’s an inclusion vs exclusion thing. I’ll include you by giving you context so you know why thing y is not good, and not exclude you by cutting you off with “that’s just how it is”. That way you keep giving me feedback, and I’ll be able to work with you on the things that we can change, or make a better case for a change we’ve been told before that we can’t make.

            3. Nic*

              The phrasing is one thing – “girl talks” does sound kinda casual/unprofessional – but the actual meat of the complaint is valid. Bob’s predecessor was good at maintaining the team relationship, and that was one of the ways she proved skilled at her job. Bob is not, and that’s a work skill that he needs to work on. He doesn’t need to braid hair or paint their nails – but then, they’re not asking him to. He needs to stop assuming there’s a mutiny with every question or that the women are being sensitive, and start accepting that when someone questions him, sometimes it’s just because they don’t know the answer.

              And you really need to figure out if Bob is being inconsistent, or if it’s the missing context that’s making him look that way. If it’s the latter, then you have proof positive that more communication from Bob to Sally and Sue is needed so they aren’t working with holes in their knowledge, because that’s obviously affecting their work negatively. If it’s the former, then it’s yet another good reason for Sue and Sally to feel insecure in his leadership.

        4. Perbie*

          I took it as a perception of clash between “men are from Mars women are from Venus” communication differences (note i’ve never read the book just guessing what’s in it)

          1. TardyTardis*

            But of course it’s always the women’s fault for not understanding their overlords well enough. Right?

    3. Former Young Lady*

      Yessssss, thank you. “Gender issues” are why so many men get so far professionally without learning social graces, and why women are cut down for being “rude” anytime they dare stand up for themselves. Bob sounds like a product of that double-standard.

      Having lower expectations of men, just because they’re men, is also a form of coddling.

      1. OP*

        OP here–thanks so much for the thoughtful comments so far! I brought up gender not to excuse Bob, but to highlight some of Sally and Sue’s complaints. Bob isn’t his predecessor, who took the time to chat with them, get to know them as individuals, and build a relationship that could withstand disagreements in a collegial way. Please know I think Bob should be able to do this, as good team members do everyday, regardless of gender.

        1. Grits McGee*

          I’m not sure what that has to do with gender, other than assuming that male communication=brusque and female communication=friendly/socially involved.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          That’s still a double standard. If you want Bob to do that, tell him you want him to do that. It’s not the same as being “social friends”, which is what he’s probably thinking it is. But right now he’s getting a pass and it at least has the appearance of being because he’s a man (I don’t think you’re thinking literally, “Well, I can’t ask him to do that because he’s a guy,” but his female predecessor did and things went well, and he’s not and things are not going well, and the team is being told to hash it out instead of Bob being managed, which is not a good look).

        3. Smithy*

          I think including characteristics of “relationship building” as gendered is really problematic and how certain jobs often get devalued. If women are some how seen as “more natural” at cultivating a relationship – then it has nothing to do with their professional expertise, skill and decision making and therefore doesn’t warrant a salary to match.

          Building a personal relationship with colleagues is work. It may be work that comes easier to some and is a growth area to others – but it’s still a work skill.

          1. Not All*

            So much this.

            Employees who are used to being treated courteously and with respect are not going to tolerate having a new supervisor (team lead? whatever the title) who is a condescending ass who refuses to listen to legitimate input or information about how things were previously done & why. The genders involved are irrelevant to the behaviors…except that both OP and Bob are making it about gender stereotypes instead of the genuine problem that Bob thinks he’s too special to have to interact courteously with female colleagues.

        4. Sparrow*

          This is just one piece of the puzzle here, but it sounds like it needs to be made clear to Bob that meeting people in the middle is an expectation of his work, even if that wasn’t the case in his previous positions. Does making small talk with people or adding a more personal greeting in an email fit my “personality”? (I’m a woman, btw) No, I’d much rather just get to the point, but I recognize some compromises are necessary to work harmoniously and productively with other adults, some of whom have different priorities. His norms for interacting with coworkers (on a relational and a team level) sound very out of line with the rest of the group, and it’s reasonable to expect him to adjust that. Sally and Sue may also need to compromise – they shouldn’t expect to be BFFs with him – but there’s a whole lot of middle ground between that and the current situation.

          1. Genny*

            Exactly. Regardless of the culture in his previous offices, it sounds like the office culture here is more friendly, connected, and collaborative. Bob needs to adjust to that. He doesn’t have to be as warm and friendly as his predecessor, but he does need to make an effort not to alienate his staff.

        5. tangerineRose*

          How close do people need to be to have “a relationship that could withstand disagreements in a collegial way.”? Can’t people who work together be willing to accept that they’re going to disagree sometimes?

          Bob has to answer questions. If Sue and Sally are asking too many questions, they can be talked to about backing off.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Or Bob can be better about conveying what he wants in the first place so they don’t need to do so much follow-up.

            1. Sparrow*

              Agreed. I admit to projecting a bit on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re asking for context for the decisions he’s making, and that feels to him like they’re questioning or making him justify those decisions when he just wants them to shut up and follow his direction. Presumably their desire to have more info is legitimate if OP says their insight is often useful, and they may well need that info to decide how to best move forward with the work. If that’s the case, he can cut down the number of follow ups by just providing a bit of context from the jump.

              1. Julia*

                This. My work schedule at my last job kept changing, and sometimes in very convoluted ways that were not marked clearly on the team calendar. When I tried to ask my boss about it (in order to be at work on time!), she would always get super annoyed about how I couldn’t just figure it out on my own. Once I said screw it and just went to work extra early to be on the safe side, and she had the nerve to be angry!

              2. 'Tis Me*

                When I was 20, on my university placement year, I worked for a tiny family-owned business. I wasn’t in Sales but the Sales manager (brother co-owner) would give me jobs to do. He would get ridiculously and disproportionately angry when I would ask him questions to clarify what exactly he wanted me to do. It was such a relief when one of the other women in the office told me in a quiet moment that she and the third woman we worked with found it utterly hysterical when he would come over to talk to me because he was a raging misogynist and could not stand being questioned by a woman, and I would often have follow-up questions (I had no background knowledge on the tasks or experience doing similar things under slightly different circumstances, and his instructions would be brief – I’m not sure if they were lacking or assumed knowledge I didn’t have, but I needed more information to do what was being asked of me). I had been completely unable to understand why he would get so worked up so quickly for no apparent reason; it was so nice to understand what was going on! I didn’t change my behaviour because I can’t help being female (nor is this something I am ashamed of) and if somebody is asking me to do something and I need information from them to do it, I do need to ask them follow up questions, but it did mean I could stop wasting time trying to work out why he acted the way he did!

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I would be curious as to why these two people have so many questions. Is it because Bob changes him mind, or is unclear, or expects them to mind read?

            I think I might tell Bob that answering questions is part of the job, is he able to answer questions or not? If not, then he is not able to part of HIS job.

        6. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          OP, you don’t have a gender issue. You have a Bob issue. Men are not inherently brusque and women are not inherently chatty–I’ve worked with plenty of people across genders who fall into each category. I don’t mean to be unkind, but by leaning on gender, you are most likely making the situation worse. It diminishes the input you are getting from Sally and Sue.

          1. TechWorker*

            I would agree mostly, but OP also mentions that Sally and Sue have complained about missing the ‘girl talk’ they had with the previous person in Bobs position. That makes it sound like at least part of the problem is with them – they object to Bob being *different* and male, as well as being brusque. Yes, it’s his job to not be a twat, but they also can’t expect a friend.

            Signed, a woman who works with quite a few brusque people (men and women – in tech you get them both and the prime offender recently has been female :p though I do understand that’s probably not the average!)

        7. PollyQ*

          I’ll take you at your word that you believe all bosses should be able to do this (which they should — this is a totally normal expectation) if you promise to ask yourself why you’re couching this in terms of gender.

    4. Jedi Squirrel*

      To be fair, it could be a gender issue: Bob might not like working with women. But whether he does or not, OP still needs to focus on Bob’s behaviors and not his preferences. Gender issues in a case like this is really irrelevant.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, I’d really like to know if Bob is also brusque and dismissive with men.

      2. Junger*

        Which would be a big problem on its own, and definitely not be fixed by locking people in a room with him until he stops doing it.

    5. Remove Worker and Dog Lover*

      I don’t think Bob learns to how to manage people – I think he needs to be more accepting of being managed and working more effectively with people who are on his level. That’s part of the problem here. Bob is acting like he’s Sally and Sue’s manager when he’s not. Not that his behavior would still be acceptable, as another commenter pointed out down below. I think step one is getting Bob to understand his place in the organization.

        1. TardyTardis*

          But he’s a man–of course he’s a manager and the others are women, so they are not. Sometimes it really is that simple.

  3. New Fed Here*

    I’m guessing that being brusque when dispensing work is a personality trait, but bristling when approached with ideas/alternate paths/fresh perspectives/requests for help or guidance etc is unacceptable behavior?

    1. AndersonDarling*

      It sounds like the manager only wants one way communication, “I tell you what to do and you do it.” That’s 1950’s management.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I just reviewed the letter, I was thinking Bob is a Manager but it sounds like he is a peer to Sally and Sue. So I need to correct my statement that Bob is a Manager, but he should still be open to 2-way communication.

  4. Bear Necessities*

    The way you summarized the personality conflict is really interesting to me, OP, because it sounds like you’re overlooking some of the fundamental core issues here.

    You said:

    In directing Bob to be patient with Sue and Sally, as they frequently do have good questions and suggestions…

    (emphasis mine)

    If they’re raising good questions and suggestions for the work, why does Bob need to be “patient” with them? Why wouldn’t you direct Bob to listen to them? Patience is what we extend to people who are wasting our time. It really sounds as though you’re telling Bob he just needs to put up with their noise, not that he needs to be respectful toward the people he works with and lend their admittedly good contributions some weight. If this is your angle, it’s probably exacerbating this situation, as you’re more or less telling him that he’s right and they’re wrong.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Really good point. Women do not antagonize men by the mere fact of our existence; men should not be rewarded for making a big whiny show of barely tolerating our presence.

      This is the workplace, not a 2000s-era beer commercial.

    2. OP*

      Ah, I probably should have picked a different word. I want and expect Bob to listen and respect their opinions. Sometimes their complaints are that they’ve always done something one way, and Bob wants to change that way. After several rounds of this, I’d like him to still be patient.

      1. Silly Goose*

        OP, what are the reporting relationships on your team? IF Bob is a team lead, he should have the right to change some things with round and round of questioning. If that’s not the case, and Bob wants to change how the team works unilaterally and without regard for what his peers on his team want, he shouldn’t have to be “patient” he should actually listen to them. It’s not really clear from your letter which is the case.

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        That does sound frustrating–if he’s got the authority to change things, nobody wants to keep hearing “But we’ve always done it this way!” But actually, does he need to be patient at that point? He still needs to be polite, of course–but he can politely say, “Okay, I’ve heard you, but I still need X to be done Y way.”

        Of course, part of the problem may be that he hasn’t built up the relationship with Sue and Sally to be able to succeed in this. If he routinely dismisses questions and suggestions, they’re not going to trust that he’s heard them–because he probably hasn’t. Sounds like he needs some very careful coaching on communication techniques rather than patience. Good luck!

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, Bob needs to have other strategies in his pocket besides being Scar from Lion King and moaning “I’m surrounded by idiots.”

          It sounds like Bob is getting stuck on a lot of shoulds – they shouldn’t be asking questions, they shouldn’t need this or that – and it’s preventing him from seeing the situation clearly. What do Sally and Sue need from him to be successful? What does Bob need from OP to be successful? What are expectations he can realistically have and what are somethings he can do if they are not being met?

      3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Hi OP. Picking up on the gender issues, I have heard many men say they need to be “patient” with women. It’s not meant as a compliment or nice gesture. It’s often belittling, as one needs to be patient with children or inferiors.

        You should think about how your framing is shaping your own thinking. Take the gendered words out and you may see this as a completely different situation. In the example you cite, is it (a) Bob needs to be patient because his female co-workers don’t want to change, or (b) Bob won’t listen to co-workers providing good reasons why change is counterproductive? And even if it’s (a), is your framing inhibiting your ability to see this as a performance issue for either side?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Since Bob is such a direct person, I think I would drop the word patient entirely and tell Bob that he needs to listen and respect their opinions, just as you said it here, OP.

          Telling him to be patient probably gives him the idea that this will change and things will be all his way at some point in the future. Reality is that he is not fitting in well with his group of people and he needs to know that.

          You mentioned his legal back ground, you could tap that by saying something such as, “You are not arguing a death penalty case in front of a Judge. You can dial back your tone of voice and you can dial back you brusqueness. It’s not necessary for the work we are doing here.”

          1. 'Tis Me*

            Not “you can”, “you need to … in order to communicate effectively and work collaboratively with Sally and Sue, which is a large part of your role.”

      4. Rachel in NYC*

        I’m not sure if you can expect Bob to be patient endless- no one is a saint- and it’s obviously reasonable for Bob to make changes to how things are done but the fact that this is going on for several rounds is concerning. Is there an issue with either how Bob is explaining it or how the S’s are understanding him? There are definitely times my supervisor wants to change things and I need him to explain his logic to me- sometimes different ways because we think differently- but if this is going a multitude of rounds, that seems concerning.

      5. Zillah*

        It seems like you’re seeing each instance as existing independently, though, and I’d challenge you to really reconsider that. If Bob hasn’t listened to and addressed their concerns in a respectful way when they’ve brought things up previously, it makes sense that they’re continuing to bring them up – there hasn’t been a resolution. The issue isn’t that Bob needs to be “patient” with their “complaints” – the issue is that Bob has repeatedly failed to address their concerns.

        1. TechWorker*

          But ‘Why do we have to change things, we used to do it x way and it was fine’ is not necessarily a quick or easy objection to answer. For all we or OP knows, Bob *did* answer that the first few times, but it keeps coming up… I don’t know. I disagree with the interpretation that all the fault is with Bob here, Sally and Sue also sound like they need to understand that things aren’t going to be exactly how they were with his predecessor…

          1. Autumn Lights*

            It should be. If you’re going to change things, you should know why you are doing it, at minimum, and what objectives you are hoping to achieve. If you can’t convey that clearly to others, it’s not only bad practice, but you will continue to run into employee-buy-in problems.

            If Bob is the team lead, it is 100% his job to manage things like employee-buy-in and explaining why he’s changing things to promote team cohesiveness. And if Sue or Sally are so alienated by Bob that they are making this harder than it needs to be, then that’s also something Bob needs to work to repair – or else this will never be a functioning team.

          2. Zillah*

            I’m not saying that all the fault is definitely with Bob; I’m not there. However, the OP explicitly says in their letter that Bob is indeed “brusque,” “could go a long way in being collegial,” “doesn’t like his decisions questioned,” and that he comes off to Sally and Sue as inconsistent. They also say that Sally and Sue “frequently have good points” and that Bob’s judgment is “usually but not always correct.”

            All of that says, to me, that the patterns of behavior that the OP has observed from Bob are both more pervasive and more problematic than the patterns of behavior that they’ve observed from Sally and Sue (which seem limited to them not backing Bob – specifically Bob – up and asking too many questions).

            Sally and Sue probably do need to understand that things sometimes change under a new boss – but I don’t think it’s out of line to expect an explanation (whether or not it’s an easy answer) when you’re being asked to change something that’s worked in the past. And, tbh, if Bob can’t communicate a straightforward synopsis most of the time, that feels to me like a problem in and of itself; consistently failing to provide your team with relevant information to their work is not a recipe for success.

    3. Librarian1*

      Thanks for this. The word patient made me bristle too, but I couldn’t figure out why.

    4. Bear Necessities*

      Coming back to this, because I’ve had more thoughts — OP, you mentioned in a comment that Bob was hired in part for his legal expertise. Is he there explicitly as a change agent? If so, that’s something you probably need to clarify with Sue and Sally. It might look something like this:

      “Bob is here specifically because a lot of our procedures, such as X and Y, are no longer industry best practices and need to be updated. I know he’s not always the best at communicating the changes we need, and I’m working with him on that, but I also need you two to be cooperative with him and responsive to these changes. Being willing to make necessary process changes and stick with them is a fundamental expectation of your job.”

      (Since one of them doesn’t work for you, you may want to loop in her manager on this as well, but since you’re Bob’s manager I think you do have standing to have this talk with them both.)

      And then, on Bob’s side, remind him that Sue and Sally are professionals, that they were also hired for their expertise and skill, and that he needs to treat them respectfully as professionals rather than barking orders at them and expecting instant obedience. Since S&S have raised that he has consistency issues, collect a few direct examples from them and review those with him. Updating processes needs to be done in a reasonably organized fashion.

  5. Roscoe*

    This kind of reminds me of a former working situation. Our manager was “direct” to say the least. It was also a situation with a lot of people, majority women, in their 20s working there, and he was a man in his mid 30s. I bring up the age thing because, while I was closer in age to him than some of the really younger people, I think there was definitely a difference in styles that people of different generations were used to. I loved his direct communication style. I’m personally not someone who needs (or wants most of the time) the oreo statements. Just tell me what I’m doing wrong so I can fix it. Kind of like a football coach. Me and him got along great most of the time, even if he was correcting me in some ways. But, he talked to everyone the same way. And to say some of the people didn’t like it would be an understatement. Specifically some of the women saw it as him yelling at them. To be clear, he wasn’t. I had seen him yell before, and you definitely knew if it was happening. But it was amazing how if you spoke with different people how different their interpretations of him were. And I say this after coming out of meetings with the entire staff and just seeing the different reactions to how he spoke.

    Eventually someone higher up basically told him (I assume this happened anyway) that he can’t have a one size fits all model on how he works with his subordinates. So he remained very direct with people like me, but softened his demeanor for others who preferred that. After a while, it was good for everyone and people really liked him. But it took a while to get there.

    All this is to say that, I’m not sure anyone is “wrong” here, its just that he isn’t communicating with them in a way that is going to get the best results from them. If its framed that way, it may go over better.

    1. Fikly*

      Refuing to entertain questions from people because they are subordinate to you is wrong. Especially given the context that these questions (and suggestions) are often good ones.

      It’s not a communication problem, it’s a bad managing problem. The OP states that Bob’s judgement is not always correct. So given that, what do you suggest, that Bob’s employees never be allowed to question Bob, and when Bob’s making the wrong calls, they should just absorb the consequences, or they should go over Bob’s head to OP? Both are inappropriate. A good manager is open to the idea that they can be wrong about things, and is, frankly, glad to have mistakes caught before they cause problems.

      My team’s lead owned up to a fairly large mistake she made the other day. It involved an area only she dealt with, and none of us would have known it had happened if she hadn’t told us. She told us about it, and then went on to say, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and I want you to know it’s safe to make mistakes and to own up to them, and it’ll be ok. That’s good management, not justifying refusing to let your subordinates question you because of a different style of communication.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Refuing to entertain questions from people because they are subordinate to you is wrong. Especially given the context that these questions (and suggestions) are often good ones.

        Yes! Part of the reason you hire people is because they have knowledge/skills/information you don’t. You can’t know everything.

        Sounds like Bob wants servants, and not employees.

      2. Roscoe*

        You are right. I kind of skimmed over that he doesn’t entertain their questions, more focused on the communication styles. That part is definitely not good on Bob’s part

    2. Happy Lurker*

      he isn’t communicating with them in a way that is going to get the best results from them

      This statement gets a gold star!

    3. Project Manager*

      Yeah. I’m direct, and that doesn’t work for everyone. Fortunately, it’s engineering, so there’s a decently high percentage of people it does work for. But I do adjust my approach for the individual.

      Wasn’t there a discussion here a while back about being task-focused versus relationship-focused? Could be part of the problem here. I know my sister once shared an email with me that she was worried was too mean/angry. It went something like, “Hi Soandso, Please provide X document by COB tomorrow. Thanks, (name).” I write emails exactly like that all the time, and they’re not angry in the least – just concise. But to her, it was mean, and if she received an email like that, she would be convinced the person was angry with her.

      That being said – it sounds like this particular case could cross the line from direct to rude. Hard to know at a distance.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Superiors who don’t like to answer questions about why they’re doing something a certain way are not people who are ‘direct’ they’re people who ‘shouldn’t be in management’.

        (and yes, before anyone jumps in, this is aside from fast-moving life or death decisions or when you have someone in your team who questions everything)

        Someone who’s straight forward and direct is just as likely to answer questions and listen to feedback as someone who waffles.

      2. OP*

        Yes, right on. What I may consider rude Bob considers direct. I’m willing to put in the work here, and much of this is spot on with my expectations of Bob and how I need to be clearer. If you’d bear with me a minute, though, a challenge comes in parsing a single email to death, for example, to show how I see it and how I’d prefer he write it. That can go from coaching to micromanaging very quickly, and I don’t want to micromanage. However, maybe Bob needs it for us to move forward. Thanks.

        1. Rainy*

          Coaching someone on how to improve at a specific thing they’re demonstrably bad at is going to require providing specific examples and better ways of handling them than the person has previously used. That’s not micromanaging, that’s providing feedback using direct examples.

          1. boo bot*

            Yes – micromanaging would be insisting on going over all his emails before he sends them, or something. Showing him an example of what you want him to do and explaining your reasoning is giving him the tools he needs to actually do his job well.

        2. Remove Worker and Dog Lover*

          Sometimes you have to micromanage with a difficult employee, unfortunately, especially if coaching isn’t working. 

        3. starsaphire*

          OP, I just want to let you know that I really appreciate your coming to the comments, and your openness to the suggestions of the commentariat. I know it’s really hard to hear “you’re probably wrong about this” and still have the grace and willingness to listen.

          I’m glad you’re getting some good suggestions and guidance here, and I hope it is helpful to you in managing this situation.

          1. Juneybug*

            I agree with starsaphire – OP has been very mature, gracious, and open to these comments without becoming defensive or placing blame. We all should act more like OP when we need to change/grow.

          2. Blueberry*

            +2 I was just about to say the same. This has been a really interesting and informative discussion, not least because OP is participating so positively.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Ironically, OP is actually very good at doing what Bob is falling down at. OP is listening and responding in a professional and engaged manner.

        4. Smithy*

          If what you’re specifically regarding tone in written emails, then I do think that having examples of what you’d consider a “professional friendly” email vs his that are problematic.

          I used to work with some non-native English speakers, who had email styles that were straight forward and short to the point of being rude to internal colleagues. For his role and needs of communication, getting insight that it was ok and encouraged to use emojis or exclamation marks to soften messaging that was coming across as short.

          Again, sharing some examples can be very helpful in the “fake it, till you make it” space if something feels unnatural. If I’m running out of ways to professionally email people saying “man COVID-19 sucks, hope you’re not anxious, miserable, and/or sick” – having 2-4 examples of how others are doing it can be helpful to copy/paste until I find my own voice.

          Maybe more micromanaging needs to happen – but there are intermediary steps and advice that can be given beyond “make this more friendly”.

        5. Trout 'Waver*

          Micromanagement isn’t bad per se. There are times when micromanagement is needed. Like responding to an immediate crisis, or when someone’s completely new at something. Or, in this case, where an improvement in communication is needed.

          It gets a bad rap from bad managers who never use other leadership techniques or use micromanagement when it is the wrong technique to use.

        6. Fikly*

          That’s not micromanaging, that’s training.

          Micromanaging would be doing that with every email. And additionally, making your changes without explaining why.

        7. Genny*

          You have a valid concern. You don’t want to over-analyze one email, because that one email isn’t the crux of the problem. Focus on the pattern that needs to change. You don’t need to correct every little thing.

        8. Not So NewReader*

          OP, if you have to micromanage this then you might have the wrong person doing the job.

          For the career level he is at, Bob should be able to take one example and correct a number of issues. That is not what is happening here. You talk to him and he just keeps doing what he is doing. He either does not understand or he is not willing to understand and follow directions.

          I think it’s fine to say, that you cannot monitor every interaction it is up to him to do that on his own.

  6. MK*

    If Bob doesn’t like to have his decisions questioned, too bad. Look, I don’t know anyone who enjoys it, but you don’t get to demand that your coworkers follow your orders without question. If you are a boss, ok, it’s not a great style, but you get to ask that. But as a peer, you simply don’t get to order people around.

    That said, if your coworkers expect detailed justifications for everything that falls to your perview, yes, that’s a problem, but it doesn’t sound like this is the case here.

  7. Wednesday'sDay*

    Anyone else wondering how it seems that Sue has two bosses, “Bob reports to me. He assigns cases to both Sue and Sally. Sue reports to me and Sally doesn’t.” Or am I missing something?

    1. Silly Goose*

      Yes, the reporting relationships here are confusing and may be contributing to the problem. Sue and Sally may see themselves as Bob’s peers, while he sees them as his subordinates. Either way, if they had good ideas and questions, and Bob’s instincts aren’t always right, OP should be encouraging him to be more open to the help, and to stop being a jerk to his team.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        That’s a really good point–OP, are you sure that Bob and Sue and Sally all see the hierarchy the same way? If Bob is bristling about having his decisions questioned by his subordinates and Sue and Sally are bristling about having a peer order them around–no wonder there’s trouble!

    2. The New Wanderer*

      That’s a pretty common scenario in our company. I also read it as Bob is a lead who reports to OP, the manager, and Bob’s team has some people on it who report up to OP and some who report to another manager, OP’s peer. I myself am a Sally for one group and a Bob for another (but without the problematic behaviors!).

  8. SugarFree*

    I have a colleague at my home office that is this way. I find anyway that I can to not have to interact with them by phone unless it is absolutely necessary. Wish their boss would talk to them!

      1. SugarFree*

        They have been there longer, but beyond that I don’t believe they are senior to me as far as hierarchy.

  9. Lizzo*

    “I’ve directed them to work it out themselves.”

    Please, please, please do not do this. If they had the ability to do this, they would’ve solved the issue already.

    Managing and coaching Bob (and Sue and Sally, if needed) to be a better manager *is* your job. And unlike Sue and Sally, your position means you have authority over Bob that they do not have. Bob has a very good reason to listen to you–you are his boss, and you can implement consequences if there are no changes to his behavior.

    Also, it doesn’t seem like you’re doing this, but you do mention that gender is playing a role here. Please be very aware of asking Sue and Sally to do most of the “heavy lifting” in this situation with respect to behavior modification…women are frequently expected to adapt to the way men choose to communicate and behave in the workplace, and to keep the peace as much as possible. That’s not okay.

    1. Remove Worker and Dog Lover*

      I actually think it’s good that the OP had their employees try to resolve the situation first. That would be my first question as a manager – have you talked to your colleague about your concerns yet? Now, though, the OP has to step in.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for weighing in! I don’t want to step in as part of this triangular issue if there was a way for them to communicate with each other. It has now risen to something where I need to intervene, but my first try was to ask them to speak with each other.

        1. Nesprin*

          But the power dynamics of this was never going to work- asking a subordinate to solve a problem with someone higher up the power chain basically means that they have no control over half the problem.

        2. Lizzo*

          And if they felt that they could confidently speak to each other about the issue and have a productive conversation, then they would have done it.

          Bringing it to you–which includes complaining about it–is asking for help. You don’t have to intervene at that point, but you should be managing/coaching/advising/responding to their request for help in a way that gives them the skills and confidence to have that crucial and very awkward conversation, with (hopefully) good results. That’s good management and leadership, and it empowers everyone to be able to solve these problems on their own in the future.

          1. TechWorker*

            This seems a little unfair on OP – Alison’s advice is usually to at least try to resolve issues yourself prior to going to your manager – and it’s absolutely true that not everyone does! I do think it is useful to give actual suggestions – eg if someone comes to you and says ‘Bob does x and it’s upsetting/annoying me’ rather than say ‘try to sort it out yourself’ you dig a bit deeper into it and suggest language they could use or things to try. It’s definitely not guaranteed to be the case in every situation that if someone comes to you with a problem they’ve already tried to resolve it.

            1. Lizzo*

              ^^Yes, this is exactly what I’m getting at. Help guide the conversation from a distance. Empower the employee with the skills they need for these difficult conversations.

        3. anon now*

          Ugh, I’m in this situation right now though. I have a colleague who in my professional assessment is presenting inaccurate information about COVID-19 in ~company-wide emails. I raised my concerns with my supervisor and have been asked to talk with him and offer to collaborate to help make his emails more accurate. I value speaking directly to colleagues, but I just don’t know how to do this, especially since I feel that since he was hired he’s cut me out of meetings, ignored my suggestions, and thrown out my previous work. We don’t have the same boss, though. And I just don’t know how to write this email. “Hi, you’re totally unqualified to be doing epidemiology; can I collaborate with you to catch your wishful thinking before you send your emails out?” “Hi, I have some concerns about your approach to the coronavirus narrative. I’d like to chat about how you can improve, except I’m your coworker and have no power to enforce anything and you don’t like me…” In private conversation, at least four other coworkers are also concerned, but no one wants to say anything at all because it’s seen as political. I just cannot figure out how to approach this peer to peer. So I’m letting it slide, too, because… there are fewer negative ramifications for me personally if the company makes bad decisions based on inaccurate data than there are if I get into a ‘discussion’ with this guy who has publicly berated people for questioning his expertise when they ask a simple question about how he came to a decision.

          1. misspiggy*

            I think I’d say something like this in an email:
            ‘Hi Jeff, thanks for taking the initiative to share COVID-19 information in your emails on llama manicuring. Felicity suggested I get in touch with you to make sure the advice is fully up to date, as my professional connections give me access to information that not everybody might have.’ [Then very bald bullet points on what statements can be made and what statements cannot be made.] ‘I hope you will be able to use these in your next email. Happy to provide detailed sources or talk you through any of the issues on the phone.’

          2. Lizzo*

            Is this colleague somebody who is authorized to be sending company-wide emails about this topic?
            If not, can the person in charge send an email out saying something like, “Facts are important, and here are some factual resources where you can find out more information: [include links to WHO, local and statewide public health authorities, etc.].” And maybe also request that if people wish to speak about pandemic, they do so with their supervisors, and refrain from distributing company-wide emails with “resources”…? That last part may not be necessary. Or productive. But it makes expectations clear.

            If that’s not likely to happen, I might go back to your supervisor and ask for advice on language/approach for your message. Maybe draft something and then spend 20 minutes on the phone with your supervisor talking through the message content, and being clear about your concerns and your desired outcomes in the situation. That way if the colleague responds poorly to the message, your supervisor can back you up, saying that you made a thoughtful and professional attempt to address the issue.

            I do like what @misspiggy suggests below as far as the email content.

            I hear you on choosing the path of least resistance, though. Been there, done that.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      I’m sorry OP but telling them to “work it out” is not a good way to manage. These are adults who aren’t understanding their work expectations. Bob needs to listen to Sue and Sally and interact with them in a respectful way. Sue and Sally need to understand that the old process ARE changing and that they are going to have to roll with and accept that. It is okay for them to explain why something was done in a way that might not make sense (we have to put the square pegs in the round holes because the square holes are too small for our pegs), but bristling and pushing back just because it is change is not okay. That isn’t something for either side to “work out” — that is a work expectation that you need to set.

  10. Jedi Squirrel*

    He comes from a legal background and really can be pretty officious. Again, it’s not unprofessional,

    So, I had to google the definition of “officious”. Found this at the top of the google:

    assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters; intrusively enthusiastic in offering help or advice; interfering.

    I’m not sure I how “annoyingly domineering” or “interfering” matches up with “it’s not unprofessional”. If you describe Bob’s behavior as officious, it is, by definition, unprofessional.

    1. Important Moi*

      Officious is not a good look, but a good word to add to my vocabulary.

      I’ve worked with those people and not known how to describe them without getting lost in my own frustration.

    2. Annony*

      Yep. Being collegial is a part of being professional. He needs to hear that. Working well with others is a part of the job. Showing respect to people who don’t have the same legal background is a part of the job. This needs to be non-negotiable and he needs to hear that if he can’t do that, he is actually doing a bad job despite his legal expertise.

    3. HQB*

      “officious” actually has a bunch of different meanings, including:
      adj. Marked by excessive eagerness in offering unwanted services or advice to others.
      adj. Informal; unofficial.
      adj. Motivated by the desire to help others.
      and the two you listed above. If when OP says “officious” she means “overeager in offering unneeded/unwanted advice” (which is how I most often hear it used) that’s irritating but not necessarily unprofessional; it could just mean he tediously overexplains the tasks he’s assigning to Sue and Sally and how to go about them. If she means ” assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way” that’s a major issue. But officious behavior is not automatically unprofessional.

    4. Renata Ricotta*

      We’re all getting pretty language nitpicky in response to this particular letter …

      1. JediSquirrel*

        I’m not nitpicking OP’s language. I’m just saying, if he actually is officious—that’s not a great thing.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yeah, I don’t think OP was using it as a positive :)

          I was at university with a dude who ran the sports society I was heavily involved with and ‘officious’ was a good descriptor (as was ‘odious’). He was an utter nightmare and I cannot imagine having to work with someone like that so I hope Bob isn’t as bad!

  11. EAB*

    “he sees it as I’m asking for him to “coddle” Sue and Sally”

    This really jumped out to me, because the degree of contempt for Sue and Sally implicit in this phrasing is super not okay. If he views his teammates as inferiors who need to be coddled, and whose judgment he can’t respect or trust, that’s a serious performance issue.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Especially since the OP already said they often have good questions. I mean, we all muff it sometimes, but I didn’t see that Sue and Sally were incompetent or prone to wasting time.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Condescending at best, mysoginist at worst. Both are not good.

    2. LabTechNoMore*

      This comment helped crystallize the issue with my current job: Boss has contempt for me, to the point that the feedback has no bearing on my actual work.


    3. Sara without an H*

      If Bob is interpreting OP’s feedback on relating to Sue and Sally as “coddling” — Sue and Sally aren’t the only ones Bob is showing contempt for.

      It sounds to me as though Bob is actively dismissing the OP’s input — which isn’t good at all. I think OP needs to work on his relationship with Bob stat, before this turns into insubordination.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you.

      That line made me go “LOL WUT”, I’d put a foot down on someone if they wanted to tell me I’m coddling anyone else by addressing their concerns about someone’s attitude/uncomfortable behaviors.

      That goes against our entire office culture of “be kind and courteous to colleagues”, it’s that whole “internal customer” aspect.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, that got me also.

      “Bob, asking you to listen to and respect other people has absolutely nothing to do with coddling anyone. I am asking you to do a basic component of your job.”

      OP, does Bob argue with many of the things you try to say to him?

  12. BradC*

    Something I didn’t see addressed: Bob is NOT Sue or Sally’s manager, correct? The letter writer manages both Bob and Sue, who work together on different roles?

    I ask because it sounds a bit like Bob views himself as the “boss” here, that he’s “assigning work” to “his team” and therefore bristles at what he views as “pushback”.

    That might be a way to help Bob more fully understand why he’s in the wrong: “Bob, you’re not their boss, you are simply the teapot team’s project coordinator. You need to treat everyone on the teapot team like colleagues, not like subordinates.”

    (Now even if Bob WAS their manager, he would still need to improve the way he dealt with them, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.)

    1. Remove Worker and Dog Lover*

      I was wondering if this setup could be contributing to the problem, too. Bob is acting like he is Sue and Sally’s manager.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        I wonder if Bob is responsible for a specific task so as a result for that task he’s their supervisor. I play that role for a colleague- and it’s not fun.

  13. Master Bean Counter*

    I’ve actually had to tell one of my employees to quit being an ass and act professional. It is not their job to like their coworkers, but it is their job to communicate with them in a way that things get done. Bob needs this talk.
    Sue and Sally need to be checked to make sure they aren’t making life harder on Bob because they liked the old manager. If they are truly just trying to do their jobs they need to be coached on how to get an actual answer from Bob, like including you in the conversation. This way you know what’s going on.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      It is not their job to like their coworkers, but it is their job to communicate with them in a way that things get done.


      When I was teaching, I used to tell kids this all the time. They were often utterly amazed—it’s as if we always have this expectation that everybody needs to like everybody else. It would be nice, but what we really need is for them to get things done.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        It makes sense for kids to struggle with this. So much of school is “be friends with everyone, invite everyone to your party, don’t exclude anyone,” from adults, and then “ewww you like/are friends with Fergus? Why are you talking to Tangerina, she’s not our friend?”

        By the time you’re an adult you should have that under control.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Probably the one thing is feeding into the other thing. The more officious Bob is being towards Sue and Sally, the more bitch eating crackers they feel about him, the more that they feel he is making the wrong call and doing the wrong thing and question him, which makes him more annoyed by them and treats them worse. Bitch eating crackers is a hard stage to get back from, and once you feel that way about a supervisor the more you feel that they are terrible at their job all around. Its hard to feel like someone you intensely dislike is good at their job.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Seconding that coming back from BEC is a challenge.

        I’ve worked with plenty of Bobs over the years, but man, the last “Bob” was a doozy. He would email a question at 6 am and follow up with a text at 6:30 and a series of calls by 7 (to you and others on the team if you didn’t answer). It was to the point where he could send a nice single email at 11 am or ask a perfectly reasonable question that only I could answer and I’d still curse it to myself. (The off-hours contact was not the only problem, and it was not only me. I was warned before I worked with him, which is great going into a yearlong working relationship.)

      2. azvlr*

        I’m working on building a training module about nondefensive communication. It sounds like Bob, Sue and Sally are stuck in loop.
        I’m certainly no expert on this content, but I ended up having to come up with the wording (essentially, I’m writing a research paper). I’m learning some fascinating this about defensiveness that really hit home for me in my personal life.

        OP might want to look into some nondefensive communication strategies for these folks, along with some of the other advice about requiring people to behave themselves.

        1. paxfelis*

          If you are willing, able, and permitted to share any of this when you’re done with it, I’d like to see it, please.

      3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        He’s Charles Miner from the Office. There’s nothing objectively wrong with him but he just does. not. fit. in. with the office culture.

  14. Megumin*

    This part sticks out to me: “and they don’t like it when he seems inconsistent.”

    Are Sue and Sally questioning Bob often because his communications and directions are actually inconsistent? Does Bob shift priorities arbitrarily, does he not stick to timelines, does he say one thing and then change it the next day? That may be part of the problem too.

    1. Bear Necessities*

      Yeah, this is a good point. I’m hearing mention of Bob being inconsistent, and Sue and Sally being resistant to change. These two things are very related! No one really likes dealing with a shakeup on their established process, and if he’s doing it more than necessary or seems to be doing it for arbitrary reasons, that’s probably contributing heavily to their reluctance to adapt.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I had a boss (ages ago) who never remembered what new procedures he’d told us to do so we were always getting in trouble first for not doing in the new way, then for doing it the new way, then for not doing in the OTHER new way . . . you could never get it right, and he always denied that he’d changed anything.

      If this is Bob’s MO it needs to stop yesterday because it’s maddening and unfair.

  15. CommanderBanana*

    OP, you’re a manager, and telling your team to “work it out” is not managing. Bob’s behavior sounds pretty awful to have to deal with on a daily basis, and you’re going to start losing employees because of him if you don’t step up and actually address this issue. Of course Bob doesn’t see his behavior as problematic – and it doesn’t matter, because if you as the manager know that it is, it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t.

  16. designbot*

    The mention that, “he’s not “nice” like his female predecessor.” really stood out to me. Do you believe her niceness and her femaleness were related? If not, why did you feel the need to mention her gender? Would you have tolerated Bob’s behavior from her? What if it was a man who said Bob’s attitude offends them? I don’t mention this to dive into a bunch of hypothetical scenarios, but to point out your perception of this issue seems to fall along some clear gendered stereotypes, and I think could use a little more examination and challenging.

    1. Lyka*

      Right. Bob isn’t “nice” like the “female predecessor,” and “gender issues are complicating” the situation.

      What is all this code for? What is Bob getting the benefit of the doubt about that Sue and Sally are losing capital over?

      1. designbot*

        The assumption that interpersonal “soft skills” are things women are just naturally good at and men are too concerned with hard results to waste time with, is what I read it as. I didn’t even notice the “Gender issues are complicating this” remark on the first read, and now I feel more fully vindicated in my read! Of COURSE gender issues are complicating this, because you’re handling them in a gendered way!

  17. NW Mossy*

    I have a similar situation, with one very limiting wrinkle – the one I don’t manage is Bob, so I’m not able to address the problem at the source. I’ve had repeated candid conversations with Bob’s boss Lucinda and while I believe her when she says she agrees that it’s not appropriate and she’s coaching him on it, the results aren’t showing up yet. If anything, it’s gotten worse over the last couple of weeks and my team is at their wit’s end with his approach.

    I’m doing my best to mediate for my team on this, but it’s maddeningly difficult because he crashes into my team’s inboxes on a daily basis with unreasonable demands, insistent follow-ups, and unfounded accusations of incompetence on their part. He has so much form with this behavior that no one can get an email from him and give him the benefit of the doubt that this is the one time in a hundred that he’s not trying to bully them into submission. I understand how derailing and demoralizing it is to be on the receiving end, because goodness knows he gives me plenty of grief with this garbage too.

    Ultimately, I think this is going to come down to how well I can make Lucinda understand that this isn’t a “oh, Bob should get a crappy raise because his behavior sucks” problem but a “Bob’s internal relationships are so horrible that he needs to be on a PIP” problem.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Can you at least make your Bob send the e-mails to you directly so you can triage appropriately and protect your team? Then instruct your team to disregard any e-mails from Bob directly.

      1. designbot*

        That’s exactly what I was going to suggest. OP could say that Bob should send requests directly to her and then just absolutely refuse to engage with his tone. If she receives “Sally sent me this but it’s all messed up and I don’t understand why she can’t just follow instructions, blah blah blah” OP could just pass on to Sally, “please double check against the initial directions, I think you’ve missed A and B.” and send back to Bob, “I’ll have her double check. Please leave the commentary out and stick to the action items.”

        1. MonteCristo85*

          This is something we implemented at my office because one person outside of my department hated the person in my department that they have to communicate with, and the behavior was atrocious. It stopped the one person from being able to be a jerk to my team member, but it completely and totally demoralized my team member. That basically the decision was made that they weren’t capable of doing the job on their own, and had to have constant management oversight. It also involved me having to step away from my actual job duties in order to constantly manage this interaction. In my mind this is the wrong way to deal with things and that what actually should be addressed is the behavior. This is doubling the overall work load just because someone can’t act right. If the person acting inappropriately had been under my responsibility, this would NOT have been the way I would handle it.

          If this was just a training method where you review Bob’s instructions and teach him how to assign without being a jerk, that would be different, but I’m sure the manager here already has a full plate on their hands and running every interaction through them is not an efficient solution.

    2. BradC*

      Even if you don’t manage Bob, your position as manager still gives you more weight to push back AGAINST BOB DIRECTLY than your team likely feels they can do. It sounds like so far all you’ve done is had side conversations with Lucinda.

      Your options on how exactly you can do this may depend on your corporate culture, but you should absolutely be interceding directly in the email chain to stand up for your team.

      In some cases, forward the email to Lucinda for a side conversation. In other cases, reply to the thread (keeping everyone on it) and publicly defend your team. In others, reply only to Bob and tell him to cut it out.

      1. NW Mossy*

        I definitely do this in situations where I’m directly involved, either because I’m on an email string or in a meeting where it’s happening. The scenario I’ve yet to be able to solve for (preemptively, anyway) is the backstage stuff – sending a professional email to all but then being a jerk via IM one-on-one and so on. Those I only learn of post-fact, and by then, much of the damage is already done. It’s also like whack-a-mole – he can easily generate these problems faster than I can call them out.

        Basically, it comes down to the fact that he’s well aware of the limits of what I can do as a peer to his boss. He knows I don’t determine his performance rating/raise, control his work assignments, or whether or not he’s on a PIP. He’s gambling that I can’t show Lucinda enough to make her take action, and we’ll have to see whether or not he’s right about that.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          Can the people receiving the IMs screenshot or otherwise copy them and send them to you? I mean, can you tell your team: please forward to me ANY communication you receive from Bob?

        2. TechWorker*

          I’m not sure what your relationship is like with Lucinda, or what the reporting structure is like in your case… but I know that if I were in this scenario and it were serious enough (which, it sounds like this guy is a big issue), I would also have the option of going up a level to my own manager, who has more authority to make sure ‘Lucinda’ takes it seriously. Obviously to do that you still need to be able to share the context and give examples, but if it’s a big enough deal that people are in danger of quitting then worth making that clear…

    3. tangerineRose*

      This may be a case where you need to make sure Lucinda is fully in the loop and “feels the pain” of what her subordinate is doing. Maybe forwarding the rude e-mails to her or discussing them with her every few days might help.

    4. Juneybug*

      Lucinda –
      Have you thought of writing down the ways Bob is causing team problems, delays, issues, etc., and presenting to his boss Lucinda? Have you asked her when you should expect improvements from Bob?
      Could his emails be directed to one person instead of various team members? That might help lessen the bullying your team is dealing with.
      You –
      Could the emails come to you directly instead of your team and you call Bob out on his behavior?
      “Bob, that was unwarranted.”
      “Bob, your email was rude and I am going to ask you to be professional from here on out.”
      “Bob, this email is unprofessional/rude so therefore I am cc’ing your supervisor.”
      “Bob, do not be unprofessional/rude/demanding with my team.”

      Good luck!

  18. Trout 'Waver*

    I don’t why there’s all this Bob bashing in this thread. Sue and Sally seem worse to me.

    I too, would have little to do with people that undermined me, gossiped about me, complained to my boss about me, and resisted the changes I was hired to put in place. All because the previous person was ‘nicer’. I’d be more professional than Bob is here, but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for either Sue or Sally.

    Also, if they’re questioning his changes and their only defense is, “we’ve always done it that way” I can understand how one might eventually become dismissive of such questions.

    1. Fabulous*

      Even without the other context OP provided, Bob still needs more effective communication though.

      Sue and Sally aren’t necessarily undermining him when Bob’s the new player. They’re simply trying to inform him how things have worked in the past. If he thinks something will work better a new way because of XYZ, then he needs to explain that instead of barking at them and ignoring their comments.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Someone who doesn’t take criticism well is not a good employee.

    3. Fikly*

      How is asking questions undermining? Especially when OP states that their questions and suggestions are often good ones.

      No one is always right. It’s inappropriate for a manager to expect, desire, or want to never be questioned.

      What indication is there that they are gossiping? They are having a problem with their team lead, and when they have been unable to resolve it, and it’s interfering with their ability to do their job, they are reaching out to their manager for help. That’s entirely appropriate.

      Are you Bob? If you are causing a problem, refusing to be questioned about it, should you just be allowed to continue causing this problem unchecked? What way do you think would be reasonable for Sue and Sally to act?

      1. Ralph Wiggum*

        Questions are undermining if they are raised repeatedly despite being given credence the first time.

        At that point, it amounts to saying, “You’re wrong” over and over again.

        1. Fikly*

          But they weren’t given credence the first time. He’s refusing to entertain them at all.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        Refusing to entertain proposed changes by an expert because, “We’ve always done it that way” and going around his back to complain to his manager about it is undermining.

        Discussing, “Can you believe how rude Bob was….” with a colleague is gossiping.

        How much questioning is appropriate is a sliding scale, depending on a lot of things. If our lawyers say no, there’s no questioning that. If our innovation director says no, you can and should question that a lot. What’s the appropriate amount of questioning for Sue and Sally to pose Bob? That’s for OP to figure out and manage effectively.

        1. Fikly*

          But there’s no evidence whatsoever that this is what is happening here.

          Asking a question doesn’t mean you are refusing to entertain anything. It means you have a question. Again, we don’t know that Bob is a lawyer. Everyone can be wrong – if no one could be questioned just based on their job title, well, leaving aside the problems that would happen if you had two people with the same job title and they had different takes on the same situation, this still leads to problems, because you are accepting someone’s decisions as always right when this is 100% impossible. That’s why you need checks and balances, to prevent mistakes from having bad consequences.

          The letter mentioned nothing about what questions were being asked, pointed out that the questions and suggestions were often good ones – which is the opposite of what you are claming they are – and it’s not going around Bob’s back (to their actual boss) about a problem they’re having with Bob when Bob is refusing to deal with it.

          Why are you judging this specific situation based on all these imaginary details?

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            You’re not understanding my comments. If you’re going to act like you’re somehow refuting what I’m saying, please at least comprehend my posts.

            Also, asking a question vs asking tons of questions you don’t have standing to ask are two very separate things. There is a lot of grey area here, and saying Bob is 100% wrong an Sue and Sally are 100% correct is not supported by the amount of information provided by OP.

      1. Cobol*

        I think if you read OPs letter and comments, they want all three to change. Bob more, but still all three. The answer and comments are all about Bob.

        Trout definitely tends Bob/listen to the expert, but is pointing out that all three are at fault, but there’s little talk on how to get the other two to change, which also matters.

          1. Cobol*

            But that ….. sort of doesn’t matter. Just like Bob needs to change how he deals with people, so do Sue and Sally. That’s from OP.

            There are so many potential reasons, the previous manager could not have been doing a good job, Bob could have been brought on to expand the role/business, the manager prior to the prior one could have been more brusque and was the best they had.

            Ultimately not liking/listening to a manager because they are mean, is almost as bad as being Bob.

    4. Eukomos*

      It’s not like “nice” is an irrelevant skill to business. You can’t be mean to your coworkers and expect to maintain good working relationships and high productivity.

    5. The Supreme Troll*

      I tend to agree with Trout ‘Waver and Cobol a little bit here. I’m wondering if, with Bob’s predecessor, it wasn’t more of a “democracy” type environment. Where if it was something that either Sally or Sue didn’t agree with, they could omit that part, or even put it to an informal vote. Yes, I know I’m speculating, but an environment like that would feel much more relaxed than what Bob has brought with him, so to speak.

  19. AllTheSpamInTheLand*

    Oh, do I have a story for this letter. Buckle in.

    I used to work with a woman who later went on to have a VERY well documented racist tirade in a craft store and coffee shop in a large midwest city. Keep in mind as you’re reading this: This coworker and I were 2 of 3 white people in our department. Everyone else was Hispanic or black (including our mutual boss, grand boss, and great-grand boss). I promise this is EXTREMELY relevant later.

    Her first day on the job, she sent my spidey senses tingling. She tried to schedule a meeting about process change among all of her equals (so five of us total) and when I pushed back by saying “I really appreciate your enthusiasm but give yourself some time to settle in! Let’s revisit this in a month and if it still makes sense to have this meeting, we will.” She responded by going directly to our mutual boss, who then sent out the meeting invite on new hire’s behalf. The group spent the entire meeting explaining to her why that process change wouldn’t work because it relied on xyz background that she did not yet have.

    For the next 6 months, she constantly had a target on me. Everytime I spoke in meetings, she would roll her eyes. If I hit or exceeded my goals, she would loudly proclaim to the group how much better seh was doing (even if the concrete numbers did not reflect that). It even got to the point where she and my boss, when they would have meetings with myself and other department managers, would roll their eyes at each other when I was speaking and it was so obvious that I had several managers from other departments ask me what was going and why they were being so unprofessional.

    I brought up this corworker’s behavior to my boss, my grand boss, and my great-grand boss and all of them said I just needed to deal with, it’s a personality conflict and they’ll lock us in a room if necessary to figure it out. Long story short, I married rich, handed over my resignation, and gave my boss, et al. a stern warning that she was NOT mentally well, I am the conduit for her workplace rage/aggression/hostility, so with me leaving, they needed to be very careful with her.
    *Flash forward to s***hitting the fan less than a year after I resigned*

    At this point, I’m happily working on a second career when I get urgent texts from all of my old coworkers telling me to google said coworker. And lo and behold, there she is in all her republican glory yelling at people in a craft store. I immediately call my most senior coworker to get to lo down and boy was I not disappointed. In no particular order, here’s what happened after I left:
    -She filed 36 separate complaints of racism towards her by her coworkers in her department (most of which were against our boss – the one she had been rolling eyes with at me while I was there).
    -They had to bring in a lawyer to try and settle these complaints costing the not-for-profit company thousands of dollars
    -After these complaints were seemingly resolved, she received an incorrect sandwich during a luncheon department meeting and accused the person who ordered it of racism
    -she promoted herself to “Sr.” on LinkedIn without receiving said promotion
    -She started acting paranoid and claimed everyone was out to get her (this is probably legit mental illness for which I hope she receives treatment)
    -She took a group of people in a different department out to happy hour and spent it bashing their c-level boss
    -She would constantly slam her bag down and scream at people who made her unhappy
    -Her behavior made the entire department walk on eggshells and was actively destroying the department’s reputation throughout the company

    FINALLY: when our mutual grand boss decided she’d had enough, she told my senior friend to just fire her and offer her severance. My senior friend looked grand boss right in the eye and said “AllTheSpamInTheLAnd was right. She tried to warn us.”

    After she was fired, grand boss walked into her office and gave her a box for her things. As they were walking to racist cowoker’s car, the bottom of the box broke and racist coworker said to grand boss, “of course you’d give me a faulty box you ****** (ya’ll know the word).”

    And that is why you should not chalk up bad behavior to “personality” conflict.

    1. Juneybug*

      That was a wild ride!! Thank you for sharing!!
      You are so right – some folks are jerks and it is a personality conflict – their personalities are jerks!!

    2. No_Aholes*

      Google “racist tirade craft store Chicago”. I’m just sorry that anyone had to work with this person.

    3. cncx*

      wild ride! one thing i share is i am also the conduit for personality issues- i’ve tried and tried, in several jobs, to warm people that for some reason my personality makes me a dumping ground for the crazy and when i’m gone it goes to someone else- it always does. People who can’t get along with me can’t get along with anyone, but people don’t see it until i get fed up and leave.

    4. Lizzo*

      I remember when this story broke. (I’m local to you.) I’m so sorry that you had to work with her.
      I’m glad you’ve moved on to greener pastures.
      And I hope that she is receiving the help that she needs…whether that’s mental health services, or a severe reality check that there are consequences to behaving in such an awful way.

  20. MsClaw*

    Reading this letter made my blood boil. Are Sue and Sally actually complaining that Bob isn’t friendly? Or are they complaining because he’s being an ass? Because he is indeed being an ass. It is, in fact, unprofessional to respond to genuine questions and suggestions in a ‘my way or the highway’ tone. He should not be ‘patient’ with his colleagues, he should evaluate their input and answer their questions. Because that’s what colleagues do. No one here has to be friends, but they do have to work together and that means more than just barking orders and expecting them to be blindly followed.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I think the fact that Bob is legal expert is relevant here. If your hired legal expert tells you it really has to be one way, that’s not really up for debate.

      1. Fikly*

        But there’s no indication Bob is a hired legal expert. The letter only states he comes from a legal background.

        Also, the letter states that Bob has times when he’s wrong.

        If Bob is in fact their hired legal expert, and sometimes he is wrong (as are we all!), and you combine that with his refusing to be questioned, that’s a super dangerous mix.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          OP updated in one of the comments that Bob was hired for his legal training and expertise.

          “I brought up the legal aspect as it’s part of the reason (the main reason) we hired Bob–his legal expertise and training. ”

          Also, it’s been repeated many times in the comment section that Bob is refusing to be questioned, but I don’t see where OP said that. The problem is that Bob is impatient and annoyed to be asked questions. There’s a lot of projection going on in here.

        2. PX*

          Well OP clarifies that his legal expertise was a significant reason for hiring Bob, so at the very least I think the intention is that he is an SME on certain things which does probably add to some of his ‘do things as I say’ approach.

          However your point still stands that he needs to be able to handle questions and input from the team in a graceful manner. OP needs to coach him on that. As someone who is an SME in my team on certain things myself, any opportunity for someone to help me catch a mistake early (or at the very least double check my work) is very welcome!

        3. UKDancer*

          Absolutely. I often speak to the firm of legal advisors to my company for advice. I expect them to tell me what’s right and wrong. I also expect them to answer questions, be open to challenge and explain to me clearly and without needless Latin the reasons why they are giving me particular advice and help me come up with other options.

          Just being a legal expert doesn’t mean you get to run roughshod over the rest of us. Especially not if I’m the client with the virtual chequebook. I would not retain a lawyer who tried to lay down the law (pun intended) and didn’t listen.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            So agree. Any professional, attorney, accountant, doctor, etc., who cannot deal with questions or perceives questions as questioning their opinion, is no one I’d ever want to work with.

          2. Eva Luna*

            Amen. Even if Bob comes from a legal background, that doesn’t mean that he is a subject matter expert regarding the work at hand, which may not be legal at all.

      2. Anon attorney*

        I’m the hired legal expert and I don’t issue orders and refuse to listen to feedback or questions. If I did, it wouldn’t matter how correct I was about the law, nobody would want to work with me, and that would be justified.

    2. Ralph Wiggum*

      I’d like to distinguish between refusing input (“my way or the highway”) and avoiding rehashing decisions (“I’m the one empowered to make the decision, the decision’s been made, why are we revisiting this?”)

      It sounds like Bob is conflating the two.

      If it’s really the former, then yeah, Bob needs to change. If it’s the latter and it’s happening often, that would read as undermining to me.

      1. MsClaw*

        Is Sue or Sally are really just stirring shit, then that is something OP should address.

        If they are asking questions or offering alternatives due to a lack of understanding, then Bob is missing out on an opportunity to explain or educate his team/colleagues. Now, if that is happening a lot and it’s stuff that Sue and Sally don’t really have any standing to question, okay, I can see why Bob would be bothered. The letter doesn’t really give us enough context to know what the relationship and roles between the team members look like.

        What really bugged me was the Writer seeming to think this is a gendered problem, where Sue and Sally just don’t find Bob cuddly enough.

        1. MsClaw*

          Also, Sue and Sally could be asking questions or offering alternatives because they do have standing to be involved, and they don’t care for being treated like drones.

        2. TechWorker*

          OP also mentioned that Sue and Sally say they miss their ‘girl talk’ with Bobs female predecessor – it’s not just OP bringing up gender here… aside from the fact that’s a weird way to phrase it I think it’s worth at least considering the possibility that some of the hostility between these 3 is coming from Sue and Sally – especially if as a pair they’re spending a bunch of time discussing how much they dislike Bob and preferred the person who used to be in his role who they considered a friend. Bob is absolutely not in the right here but that doesn’t exactly sound like the most welcoming working environment to walk into.

          1. Silly Goose*

            We also dont know if “girl talk” is their words or OPs characterization of what they’ve said. Given the gender stereotypes present in the way OP presented the issue and seems to look at the issue, I’m leaning toward that being OPs characterization. That’s honestly part of the issue. It seems that Sue and Sally aren’t being taken seriously and having their opinions sidelined by both Bob and OP, simply because they perceive it as being “girl” issues.

            1. Ralph Wiggum*

              I think it’s pretty clear OP is directly quoting Sue/Sally.

              “Sue and Sally say they miss her ‘girl talks'”

              OP then expresses disappointment in the language used — “they’re women, not girls”. It would be rather strange for her to choose the word girls then criticize its use in the same comment.

    3. Julia*

      For all we know, Sue and Sally could mean “Bob is an insufferable a** who mistreats us”, but what they’re saying to OP is “Bob isn’t exactly the friendliest guy” because they’re trying to sound professional.

  21. CupcakeCounter*

    Would the advise be different if the source of the problem was Sue and Sally refusing to take assignments from Bob because Bob isn’t female/exactly like the previous person in the position?

    I ask because I have seen people being driven out by a group of coworkers who refuse to accept change or outsiders. My old employer was notorious for it – one department was staffed by all women because they would drive out any man who dared apply and get the job. I walked in on a conversation where 2 members of the department were talking about changing some of the instruction manuals so the new guy would not make it through his probationary period due to significant errors and then Sue’s friend, who was passed over for this guy, could reapply. Another coworker would “double check” with the grand-boss to make sure what boss was assigning was what she should really be doing and was always second guessing everything boss said and undermining his authority any chance she got “Oh, Bob is new and doesn’t understand how things work around here. Just do it my way” (which “her way” is the total opposite of what Bob said to do and in fact wrong due to context that Bob has about the new regulatory statutes around X industry which he distributed 2 weeks ago but she didn’t read because Bob sent them and he is stupid and knows nothing).

    My point, is that instead of just honing in on Bob being a terrible person maybe look at when the issues started. If Sue and Sally refused to do accept Bob as a team lead/member/boss-like-person starting Day 1, I could see how someone would turn into a totalitarian a-hole with a “just freaking do what I said” attitude. Hell, I (female), became that person when I took over a team that was managed by someone who was fired due to not complying with state and federal regulations and was met with “but Sally didn’t have us do that” every time I assigned certain tasks. It eventually erupted into a “Well that is why Sally got fired and is now facing potential criminal charges so if you want to do it her way, we’ll get the separation paperwork started”. It took 2 people being fired and seeing Sally’s mug shot on the news to get the rest of the team to shut up and start doing things the right way without complaints. And yes, when I took over I did review the regulations and what was going to be changing and why to the team so they had full context going in. Didn’t matter – everything was easier and more fun when Sally was in charge so I was the enemy (until they realized how much Sally put their lives in jeopardy and even then there were battles).

        1. Fikly*

          Well, he might be a team lead rather than technically a manager, but clearly he is acting in a superior position to Sue and Sally, and exercising power over them (by assigning them cases). He is not a terrible person, but he is terrible at this aspect of his job.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Where do you see anything about him acting superior or exercising power? In a matrix organization, work can come from all angles.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      It is beyond aggravating when the longer term employees keep mentioning how the old boss did things to the new boss, especially if it is for every single thing (big or little) that the new boss appears to be doing differently.

  22. voyager1*

    Sue and Sally liked their former manager because she was “nice.” I bet she was more of a coaching management style with her team VS. Bob who is commanding (or pacesetting) when it comes to style. If Sue and Sally are used to the coaching style I imagine it would be quite of a shock to go a commanding style.

    I do think you need to talk to Bob about easing up on Sally and Sue. But at the same time Sue and Sally need to know that different managers have different styles of leading. It is up the employee to adapt.

    If Bob is too commanding it is on you to address that since he is your employee.

  23. Mayati*

    Officious and demeaning behavior isn’t professional in the legal field, either. It’s unfortunately more widely-accepted than it should be, but it’s not considered “normal” in healthy workplaces. Please don’t give this guy a pass because he has a legal background or hold him to a lower standard of interpersonal communication skills than you’d hold anyone else to.

    If he’s a lawyer, he has been trained in effective communication. He almost certainly knows how to be respectful when he disagrees with someone — we have to do that with judges or senior partners all. the. time. So if he’s disrespectful to people who have equal or lesser power, it’s not because he just doesn’t know how to treat them better, it’s because he doesn’t think they’re due such respect. (Same if he isn’t a lawyer but he still knows how to treat people above him with respect.) That’s bigger than a personality conflict.

  24. Inad*

    I would just like to say that I too once had “personality conflicts” with a coworker, and the way that we “worked it out” is we both admitted that we had a lot of challenges with our manager not managing. Once we realized the manager was the problem (manager would tell us different things, forget to tell one person something very important, set up a weird quasi management structure between us) we got along swimmingly.

    I didn’t realize how pervasive this problem is, and I thought I was the only one who experienced something like this. It’s lovely to see otherwise. Sort of.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I remember reading in a business course that this is fairly common, when leadership doesn’t lead then the employees will bicker with each other. This is because it’s more acceptable to be frustrated with your peer than with your boss.Studies have been done on this.
      The same pattern goes with family groups also. If mom and dad are odds chances are pretty good that the kids are at odds with each other also.

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m just going to put it this way. You’re going to lose Sally and Sue at some point due to your decision to just want them to “work it out” between all of them. They tried to voice their issues and you backup Bob’s poor treatment of them. Nobody is “giving” anything here, this is your job to force the subject to fix it or again, you will lose Sally and Sue because usually the ones who don’t like people to be bristly and harsh don’t stick around after awhile.

    When you decide to pitch anything back as “deal with it yourself”, remind yourself you’re now refusing to do a part of your job and that tends to lead to people deciding to leave their positions if possible.

    1. Rainy*

      I agree. I was reading the letter and OP’s comments and thinking “Sally and Sue are definitely on their way out the door if you don’t get a handle on this”.

  26. Ralph Wiggum*

    I’m reading into this that a lot of the conflict is in how decisions are communicated.

    I know I’ve bristled at managers/leadership communicating a decision that I believe adversely affects the company / my team and not providing context of the decision-making process.

    Notably, I want leaders to say “We’re doing X. We understand that this makes Y and Z harder, but A is too compelling and takes precedence.”

    Why? Otherwise I don’t know if they even know about Y. I don’t want to say, “Hey, did you realize how bad this is for Y?” to every decision, because I feel that would be undermining.

    Maybe Bob would find the above template to work better. He can also follow up with how he’d like feedback, and what feedback is actionable at this time. For example, this decision is final, but let me know if there’s something I should be aware of for the future.

  27. Diana*

    For OP#1, he may want to suggest Bob read “what got you here won’t get you there”. It talks about the similar issue that many managers face when trying to get to the “next level”. Pure functional and technical skills will get you pretty far, but that last bit is people management. The book talks through some of the issues that different c-suites had to face when rising.

  28. Jennifer Juniper*

    Bob sounds like an old-school manager who expects to be obeyed without question. I’m guessing he’s of a different generation and/or culture than Sue and Sally.

  29. PX*

    Yeah, everyone sucks here, but I put a greater portion on OP and Bob.

    OP, thanks for chiming in in the comments. As many people have pointed out, dismissing things as ‘personality conflicts’ is…never a good look. It often comes paired with some very gendered biases and typically means people are actively avoiding doing their actual people management duties (which I know not everyone likes, but does tend to be part of your job so…). This is a case where you needed to set expectations all round of what kind of behaviour you want to see, and then hold everyone, but mostly Bob, accountable for.

    Bob needs to learn how to adjust his communication style if he is in a leadership position. Doesnt matter what his background is or how senior he is. Once you need to work with people, and especially if you are nominally in charge, you need to know how to get things done. And if that means you change your preferred way of communicating? You do that.

    Sue and Sally? Eh. They seem to be somewhat resistant to change, but I would hazard a guess that if OP and Bob cleaned up their act, they would also follow.

    I will take a moment here to say that several commentors have pointed out that clashing communication/leadership styles is probably also contributing to this. I agree, and would say that rather than generic “team building” (which again, focused on personality rather than actions), a more focused session on something tangible and work appropriate such as learning your preferred communication style, other styles and how to identify them may be a useful thing for your office in general. Though many people here dislike them, they can have their uses in helping people be more self aware and a bit more understanding if they have to work with someone with a completely different style of communication/approach to work.

  30. CastIrony*

    This is me. I have a Bob who flat out refuses give me the info I need because I “freak out” too much. He goes around to others in my position because he prefers them.

    Now I’m thinking of never going back to my job after being laid off because I don’t want to work with someone my supervisor has shown favor towards because they don’t have enough tea makers right now (I am a mere tea server.)

    So, in other words, I would resent OP for making me work with sarcastic, disrespectful Bob.

  31. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP —
    Just curious, but is this your first management job? Because you’re making a bunch of the same mistakes I made as a newbie. One of the smartest HR people I ever worked with once counseled me, “Don’t talk about their feelings. Focus on their behaviors.”

    Based on a close reading of your letter, I think you’re giving all three of them — Bob, Sue, and Sally — very mixed signals. Do they all clearly understand their roles? Frankly, it’s not clear to me who is responsible for what in this group. Your first step should be to clarify roles and define levels of responsibility.

    You said in an earlier comment that you didn’t want to micromanage Bob. That would be fine in normal circumstances, but right now this group isn’t meshing at all, and you need to be much more present and involved.

    Please take some time and work out in your own mind what good performance in Bob’s role would look like. Don’t just focus on the behaviors you wish Bob would not do, but what an excellent employee in Bob’s role would do. Then start coaching Bob towards performing at that level.

    Oh, and if Bob is interpreting your request that he “be patient” with his co-workers as ‘asking for him to “coddle” Sue and Sally’ — he’s defying you. You need to start addressing that, stat.

  32. Christina*

    I’m curious what the LW means by “gender issues” and am surprised that Alison did not address that more directly in her response. I bristle a bit at the way that the LW seems to attribute “niceness” as a female quality that was a natural trait of Bob’s predecessor and not one that could be expected of Bob in all of his professional male brusqueness. I guess what I am a little unclear about is whether the reference to the “gender issues” at play here
    is simply that the LW feels that Sue and Sally’s desire for “niceness” is somehow innately connected to their femaleness and the femaleness of Bob’s predecessor, while Bob’s lack of collegiality and his overall controlling response to being questioned is an innate part of his maleness. If this is at the root of what you mean by gender issues, then I urge the LW to examine how these stereotypes might be effecting them as a manager, particularly with regard to how they are allowing gender bias to inform the expectations they have for different employees. The other possible reading of “gender issues” is that the LW suspects that some part of Bob’s general dismissiveness towards the ideas presented by his female colleagues stems from the fact that they are women. If this is the case, LW, or even if you don’t read it that way personally but hear from Sue and Sally that they suspect that this is related, then it is something that requires immediate action on your part (both because it is the right thing to do and also because you are opening yourself to all kinds of legal liability if you don’t).

    1. JediSquirrel*

      It was addressed quite a bit in the comments. But Alison kept her response squarely on the behavior of the employees in question, because it’s a lot easier to manage behavior than attitudes.

      Also, it may be that there aren’t any gender issues at all between Bob and Sue and Sally, just that that is how OP is interpreting (or misinterpreting it). All they say is “gender issues are complicating this” but we don’t have any details on it. And really, it doesn’t matter. You don’t get to not get along with someone because you don’t like the fact that they are a man or a woman.

      In the end, this is much more about OP’s management, or lack thereof, on this issue.

      1. TechWorker*

        Again, I’m gonna point out that OP added in the comments that Sally and Sue mentioned they miss ‘girl talk’ with Bobs predecessor… that makes me give them a lot of side eye and believe that’s it’s not just OP who is introducing gender explicitly into the equation – literally part of their complaint about Bob is that he’s not a woman…

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          No, I don’t think we can say that they are complaining that Bob is not a woman. They miss their former boss and have said so – that’s fine, and normal if she was a good colleague and they were friendly. They *also* complain about Bob, and some of the complaints appear to be very legitimate, and distinct from simply missing the former colleague – that he is brusque, dismisses their questions and input. OP is certainly conflating the two, deciding that this is a “gender issue” – which in this particular instance feels like code for “those women just don’t like a man in the role.” But I don’t know if the two employees are *also* conflating their respect and collegial relationship and “girl talk” opportunities with the current situation in a “we miss having a woman here and don’t like Bob because he’s a man” thinking. Maybe they are, but through the comments of OP all I can say for sure is that OP was conflating that.

        2. Black Horse Dancing*

          It may very well be they told OP they liked the predecessor better because she treated them as human colleagues not servants. If Bob is horrible at soft skills and management–which he obviously is–of course they miss their former manager. I don’t know who used girl talk but I bet it’s simply code for “Jane used to say hi and ask about how we were doing and explain the work. Bob doesn’t do crap except order and get po’d when we point out issues.”

  33. Tidewater 4-1009*

    Alison, thank you for supporting the staff. <3 What a big difference from when I was young, and all authority sided with each other.

  34. Colin Robinson, DayWalker*

    I’ve worked in many different jobs, did I like everyone I worked with? Nope, but I was professional enough to realize that you don’t have to be buddy buddy with everyone to get my work done, but I did need to respect them and learn how to communicate and conduct myself in a manner that made it possible to be productive and meet my goals.

    It sounds like Bob, Sally, and Sue all need a sit down (individually and as a group) to work out their problems.

  35. Zona the Great*

    This is all so so great. I never understood people’s issues with “brusque” personalities. I’m not brusque but I have never really had issue with those who were. This is a great way to help me understand how people are impacted by such messages. I actually struggle with knowing where the lines are.

    Thanks for providing such great narrative.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My mother is brusque and her life would definitely have been easier all these years if she weren’t. And it’s not that people are too soft–I have personally witnessed her snap at people over completely innocent, non-invasive questions. She laments that she never fits in anywhere but also won’t take responsibility for her own tone of voice or expectations; she can be kind of self-centered and clings to ideas of how things “should” be, and then can’t deal when they’re not. I’m a lot less reactive than she is but more than once when we’ve butted heads and she complained about my attitude, I’ve reminded her that I don’t come by it strangely.

  36. Batgirl*

    The good news about Bob’s direct style? He’ll respond well to directness in being told to cut it out and to start interacting like a modern colleague.
    Honestly OP, I have to wonder why you are encouraging ‘patience’ and talking about his inner workings or feelings at all, once you’ve realised it isn’t relevant to what he actually needs to do. Why are you an ‘ear to cry on’ when someone is refusing to do as they are asked and calling it ‘coddling’?
    I have to wonder if it’s their styles clashing or if it’s actually his and yours. When you use words like patience and listen to words like coddling youre leaving too much inference in the wind that you don’t actually need him to change, you need him to carry on enduring a failure of change in others. Far simpler to just tell him what to do.

  37. Susan*

    I worked with two people at my last job who if you took them at face value might be considered Bob’s. Both were very intelligent and straightforward in communication. One was fired from the company, one was retained. The difference? The one who was fired was always intent on proving himself the smartest one in the room and argued his point until he “won” by having people give in; this led to his eventual firing. The other was very straightforward but was willing to listen. I am decidedly the opposite – very much a person who uses a lot of social lubrication – but he was one of my favorite people to work with, because we balanced each other out at times. Brusque should not mean dismissive.

  38. Heffalump*

    I’ve had my share of Bobs, and I’m male. Maybe he’d treat Sue and Sally with more respect if they were male, or maybe not.

  39. J.B.*

    I worked with a Bob. Bob was not my boss, although he liked to run things. And our big boss had very clear ideas of how things should be run, but very vague communication about those ideas. Tacking between the winds of office politics was complicated to say the least, and shall we say that Bob didn’t like disagreement even when his ideas were rotten for reasons obvious to those who did the work.

    People went to big boss over and over and over about bullying. Big boss kept coaching. It was a disastrous long term decision. Please consider the possibility that for Sue and Sally to come to you the situation might be worse than you would ever realize.

  40. DKMA*

    I’m confused about this letter and the generally consistent response. Are we 100% sure Bob is the problem here? If I strip interpretation from the LWs response and limit to what seem like facts I see:

    1) There are fuzzy reporting structures and lack of clarity on authority
    2) Sue and Sally are spending a lot of time questioning Bob’s direction
    3) Bob is responding brusquely and dismissively to Sue and Sally’s questioning
    4) Sue and Sally are routinely going around Bob to his boss to complain

    OPs comments also note things like “Sue and Sally miss their previous manager’s girl talk”, which makes me question overall professionalism here.

    My read on this situation is much more “pox on everyone’s houses”. Sue and Sally need to stop complaining and undermining Bob and make better faith efforts to do the job as effectively as possible. Bob needs to be more open to questions. OP needs to set clearer expecations and better define roles and responsibilities – if Bob was hired to be an expert and supervise Sue and Sally on these topics, they need to be clear that ultimately they need to adhere to his direction. Bob also needs coaching on how to better manage Sue and Sally, but also support from OP that she won’t undermine his authority.

    This situation is a mess and I don’t think it’s helped by painting Bob as the “bad guy”.

    1. Silly Goose*

      Girl talk could very well be OP interpreting what they have issues with rather than the actual words they may used. I have a really hard time believing two otherwise professional women went to their boss complaining about a lack of girl talk.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      This was my take too, and I took a beating upwind in the comments for pointing out the Sue and Sally component.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      It’s entirely possible for a boss to be warm and collegial without it being dismissed as “girl talk”, thanks. My department all get along fine and are friendly with each other but there is no “girl talk”. And, frankly, the term itself is pretty gross. The fact that my [male, not that this literally matters] boss is open, approachable, and occasionally friendlier in more personal, but still work-appropriate, ways (we have some overlapping outside interests) makes is easier to work together.

      But, as the saying goes, Bob needs to command respect, not demand it. It’s all well and good to say that Sue and Sally shouldn’t question and undermine him, but that assumes that Bob’s directions are clear and complete enough to not require questioning, and the kinds of people who are short with coworkers and subordinates are often the kinds of people who give meager directions in the first place.

    4. Ralph Wiggum*

      I speculate two things are happening in the comments:

      1. Advice for Bob to improve is clear and can be expressed easily, but it’s harder to give concrete steps for Sue and Sally’s improvement.
      2. More commenters have experienced feeling shut out from decision-making rather than have experienced having their decisions questioned, so they empathize more with the former.

      I agree that Bob, Sue, and Sally all need to improve here.

    5. tom*

      I had manager I had good connection with, we talked about a lot of things and I missed those talks after he left.

      That does not mean my complains about different boss are wrong that that I am not professional.Even if someones talks they miss were about makeup or calls those talks “girl talk”. None of that means another boss can not be in the wrong. That is like male saying he miss previous boss on soccer team, that does not mean the guy should not be trusted from now on.

      Honestly, if just mentioning that you miss girls talk with previous manager that you liked makes your complains discounted and you unprofessional, then it this is nice example of subconscious sexism.

  41. Qest*

    OP, I would re-check Bobs references.
    Lets just say that if people refuse to answer any questions about their core qualifications that put them into this job, they may not have them.
    No wonder the 2 S lost respect and doubt what he is saying or doing.

  42. Tram*

    I think it’s clearly not all Bob. The OP says upfront: “Bob doesn’t like his decisions questioned.” It’s not that Sue and Sally are merely asking good questions. It’s that they question Bob’s decisions, which actually is quite a different thing altogether. And they report to him.

    1. Silly Goose*

      Who reports to who isn’t actually made clear. OP in fact says one of the women reports to her, while the other does not. They very well may have every right to question Bob’s decisions, especially if he’s gotten it wrong before and doesn’t listen to them.

    2. Heffalump*

      There’s nothing wrong with Sue and Sally questioning Bob’s decisions, within reason. There’s a big difference between “The decision stands” and “Don’t even question the decision.”

  43. Rockin Takin*

    This is the part of people management that managers tend to lack understanding of. My last supervisor position my company was big on evaluating people not just on the “what”, but the “how”. It really helped me in how I shaped my understanding of managing. It doesn’t matter if someone is your best performer and knocking all the projects out of the park. If they are toxic and upsetting the team dynamic, then they are not performing at 100%.
    It is so difficult to talk to people about issues like this, because you have to speak carefully and avoid your conversation seeming like an attack on their personality. But it still has to be done if you want a successful team.

    1. PX*

      Oooh excellent approach from your last supervisor. Definitely need to squirrel that away for future reference.

  44. Zillah*

    OP, I have worked with someone who was very direct in how she approached people – initially she was above me in the hierarchy, and then I got promoted and we were on the same level. Sometimes that worked fine and was more a matter of individual style, but it crossed the line into brusque and defensive frequently enough that I ended up being really uncomfortable bringing up certain topics. Regardless of whether or not I had a point, my feeling like my input wasn’t being respected or considered – and like she wasn’t making an effort to change it – made us less productive and ended up meaning that we didn’t always find the most effective solution (there were some things I had concerns about that there was broad consensus around changing after she left, so I’m pretty comfortable saying that).

    There isn’t one right communication style, but there are wrong communication styles. Making yourself approachable isn’t optional – it’s an integral part of having a functioning team, and the more responsibility and authority one has, the more the onus is on them to adjust accordingly. There are obviously limits to that and sometimes it’s going to be give and take, but this doesn’t sound like that – it sounds like Bob isn’t performing in crucial aspects of his work, and the result of that is two demoralized employees, stress on the entire team, and sometimes failing to find the best solution to issues. That’s not good.

  45. Stella*

    I feel like the fact that two of your employees have the same complaint about a different employee should have made you consider whether they might have a point. Usually personality conflicts don’t involve two people having the same complaint about someone but no issues between the two of them. The only person on Bob’s side is Bob. That doesn’t guarantee anything on its own, but particularly when you didn’t have success with what you were trying, ideally this would have been a nudge to reconsider things. Particularly given that no one had a problem with the previous person in Bob’s position. At the very least, that indicates that this problem does not need to happen and didn’t happen until Bob got there. In general, if an employee you haven’t had trouble with in the past comes to you with a complaint, it is worth taking seriously.

    1. Zillah*

      this is a really good point – especially with employees who don’t seem to have a history of this kind of behavior.

      1. nate333*

        It’s not. Sue and Sally have been with the company longer. Bob seems to have joined lately. If Sue and Sally have known each other well for some time and Bob is the new one who they for any reason don’t like, it makes sense that their complaint will be similar. They are sure to have discussed him.

  46. StaceyIzMe*

    It’s frustrating when people get so locked up in the mechanics (power and politics) of communication that they don’t remain focused on their jobs. It does sound like Bob is out of line. But I’d want to make sure of that by actually quantifying where he’s messing up. If he’s just brusque, that’s one thing. If he’s not checking for clarity, comprehension or acting in any capacity that would be reasonably expected of his role, that’s where it seems prudent to focus. If it’s “get along with the team and be a warmer, more available person”, it’s too open to interpretation. Equally, if he SEEMS like the problem, but investigation turns up that the team mates are annoyed with his style and retaliating by complaining inappropriately, that would be a different discussion. To be fair, maybe it is both. But you won’t know without getting more baseline information that’s factual, not subjective.

  47. Fabulous*

    OP – I saw in one of your comment threads that emails are a specific challenge for you and Bob. Here’s something that I recently shared with my manager, who specifically asked how she can soften her written tone from a very direct/brusque manner:

    Conversational tone
    The first action is to create a conversational tone in your writing. Anything you write should sound like it were coming out of your mouth, and contractions are an easy way to do that. We use contractions when we speak, and we can use them when we write too! Use of contractions give your writing a more casual, relaxed effect that helps to build a relationship with the reader.

    Think positive
    Second, and probably more importantly, here are a few bullets to keep in mind:
    • Avoid authoritative phrases. The words “don’t do this/that” sound like you’re a parent scolding a child, and we don’t want that type of relationship with the reader.
    • Avoid sarcastic remarks. Because tone often isn’t always obvious in writing, we want to avoid phrasing that can potentially be construed as negative or insulting.
    • Be careful not to talk down to the reader in your documents. We want to treat the reader as an adult, not a child.

    Here is an example from a recent draft:
    •Original: “If all work isn’t complete prior to the session, you will not be allowed to participate.”
    •With positive phrasing: “Session participation is contingent upon the completion of all assigned work.”

  48. nate333*

    Has Bob always been like that or has he become like that with time?

    I don’t know this particular situation of course, but I once started a job managing several people, where the whole team was against me from the very beginning. My team members used to spend the whole 1:1 hours with me telling me how they hated their jobs and wanted to change everything about them. They actually put my competences into question during my very introduction to the team.

    At first, I listened to them and tried to make it better for them. Then I discovered they didn’t want to change anything e.g. by introducing new, more efficient processes to replace those they criticized so much. They just needed something to complain about. When I started to introduce changes, I became the something to complain about.

    I went to great lengths to consult them and discuss everything with them and accepted their ideas when they made sense, but at some point we just needed to take the best decision possible, no matter that some people still weren’t happy. There were cases where I needed to say: “We’ve discussed it, analyzed the possible options and the best seems to be A. Let’s take it for now and review whether it works in 3 months”.

    My “Sue and Sally” still weren’t happy, since I didn’t accept exactly their solution. They wouldn’t do what they didn’t agree with, because it wasn’t exactly what they had proposed. I guess with time, I did become brusque, although I’m not happy about it.

    Horrible experience.

  49. DeeBee*

    It seems there’s a difference in how they view their job roles. Bob sees decision making as solely his responsibility. He views Sally and Sue as subordinates who carry out his orders but don’t have any input into the decisions he makes. Sally and Sue view themselves as collaborators, who have valuable input into the decisions and want to work with Bob to ensure the best decisions are made using all of their collective knowledge. Which model do you view as the correct one? If you want the second model, you need to make it clear to Bob that his job is not simply to make decisions, it’s to lead the team in reaching those decisions, taking everyone’s input into consideration.

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