my condescending coworker tries to take over my work and is a disruptive know-it-all

A reader writes:

I work for a large company where employees very often contribute to community resources, either as part of their paid work or as volunteers. (Think open source software, but it’s not that.)

Because this work is important to our business (and there are legal considerations), I work on the team that manages the rules around this work. It’s very rewarding and interesting, and the team is collegial and full of smart, kind people. We get to work with people across the company and across the world. I really enjoy it and feel lucky to have this job.

Someone not on my team or in my division who regularly volunteers to do this work on their own time is becoming a serious problem. He (let’s call him Aloysius) is active in an external volunteer project he started before joining the company. The project directly relates to my area of expertise and he spends a lot of time asking people across the company to donate resources or work hours to the project.

The problem is … it’s *my job* to create resources for this kind of work. At first I tried to work with the group that Aloysius champions, but unfortunately he exhibited some behaviors that violated our rules for working with external groups (not harassment, but insensitive comments). He also blocked plans to set up enforcement of a code of conduct in this group, calling it “a waste of time.” This led us to withdraw our sponsorship, and Aloysius had to have a discussion with HR.

Aloysius has very grandiose plans (multi-year road maps), sends around poorly-written “thought leadership” presentations, and uses hyperbolic language (“we need to make Company the standard-bearer in this space,” “we will be heroes”). He recently set up a meeting with more than 30 people (!!) to talk about (among other things) how to lobby leadership to carry out this agenda.

If I give critical feedback on his plans or decline his suggestions on how to do my work the way he thinks it should be done, he escalates questions five or six (!!) levels above me, to senior management who, frankly, do not care and who bounce the questions back to me to deal with (because it’s a very small part of what the org does, and because it’s MY JOB). Oftentimes Aloysius sends these messages because he does not understand the legal implications of the company policies around this work.

We are about the same age and I actually have more work experience and a higher title (and recognition in the field), but Aloysius treats me like a very junior person and often “suggests” that I take on grunt work on his pet projects. Aloysius will send emails to me “reminding” me that a project I’m working on was originally his idea (!). (Think: making a checklist for some volunteer tasks, not some brilliant innovation.) He asks for status updates on things I am working on (since he wants to ask for the output to be donated to his project).

I have been brushing off his suggestions and inquiries, and am spending a lot of time with people across the org who have been the targets of his insistent requests. (“Aloysius is very enthusiastic, but …”) I copied his manager on his most recent and egregious escalation. (“You keep asking this question, which we have answered. The answer will not change, please stop asking.”) The manager did not respond to me, and Aloysius’s behavior hasn’t changed.

Is it worth it to have a meeting with this person where I tell him his behavior is disruptive and that it’s reflecting poorly on him and his volunteer org? Anything else I can try, or should I just wait for Aloysius to self-destruct? Or am I just being unreasonably annoyed by this waste of time and energy and should laugh it off?

It’s no surprise that you’re a woman and Aloysius is a man. That’s not to say this dynamic never emerges with other gender configurations, but it’s so common for women to end up fending off the unsolicited, poorly conceived contributions of men who are overstepping their roles. It’s exhausting.

I do think you should meet with him and tell him he’s being disruptive and counterproductive. Lay out what you do want to see from him so it’s not all “don’t do this,” and see if any of it seems to register.

But you’ll probably need to talk with his boss too. You can wait and see if the conversation with Aloysius changes anything first, but I’m fairly skeptical that it will and at some point you’ll need to enlist his boss in shutting it down. Plus, it’s useful for her to be aware that he’s being so disruptive (and patronizing!) because those are areas of development she should be addressing with him. Normally it’s courteous to give people a chance to fix a problem themselves before you talk to their manager, but in this case his behavior is so over-the-top that it’s reasonable to give his boss a heads-up now that it’s happening, paired with “I’m speaking with him about this too and wanted to let you know.”

You might also decide that in some cases it’s more effective to let him do things like escalate questions six levels above you because (a) it doesn’t reflect on you that he doesn’t understand how things work and (b) when those executives bounce his questions back to you, it gives you an opportunity to say to him, “Jane sent this back to me because it’s my job to decide things like X and Y. Is there a reason you sent it so many levels up instead?”

You can also try being blunter when he’s really out of line. If he suggests you take on grunt work for his projects, feel free to look surprised or confused and say, “No, that not the type of thing I work on” or “it sounds like that’s better suited for a more junior role” or “that’s something you should ask an assistant about” or whatever fits the context. (That’s going to feel snotty, but he clearly needs this stuff spelled out for him. And when someone is being this patronizing to you, sometimes you need to be quite pointed if you want them to hear what you’re saying.) If he asks for status updates on something he doesn’t have the standing to ask about, it’s okay to say, “Why do you ask?” or “I’m juggling a bunch of things right now but that’s on the list” or otherwise decline to function as if he’s entitled to reports on your work.

You can also continue cc’ing his manager on some of the most egregious/annoying stuff, but I wouldn’t do much more of that until you’ve spoken with her directly about what’s going so she has context to place it in. Suddenly getting cc’d on a lot of messages from someone outside her team could otherwise be a little odd, especially if she’s not reading between the lines to see what’s happening.

You do need to be cautious about one thing: Sometimes when a person is crossing the line as much as Aloysius is, you can end up wanting to shut them down completely. Be careful to recognize what portions of this actually are okay for him to be doing (within the structure your company has set up for this work and within the political realities there too). It can be easy to get so frustrated with someone who’s behaving like this that you inadvertently shut down too much of what they’re doing … which can then make you look inappropriately heavy-handed to other people (including management above you), who won’t necessarily have the full context and who may rightly think, “Well, sure, shut down X but don’t tell him he can’t do Y.” And that can detract from the credibility you need to address the rest of it.

Given that, try to be rigorous about assessing what pieces of this are annoying but ultimately things you can live with versus what is genuinely disruptive and needs to stop. For example, maybe it’s fine for him to keep sending around poorly-written “thought leadership” presentations and using hyperbolic language because no one pays much attention to that anyway (and to the extent that they do, it just reflects badly on him), but he needs to stop circulating grandiose multi-year road maps because that’s work you’re charged with doing yourself and it’s explicitly outside of his purview.

I’m curious, too, about what kind of response you’re seeing to Aloysius from others. If people seem annoyed/dismissive/taken aback, that might be a sign that there’s not a lot you need to do here because it’s likely to take care of itself in time (or, at least, that how much energy you put into dealing with it can be based largely on how much you do or don’t feel like taking it on).

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 215 comments… read them below }

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I hear “thought leader,” and I think “So, you think you have all kinds of expertise that you probably don’t, and you want to tell everyone else what to do and how to do it, but you don’t want to do any actual work, nor have you ever done any. Got it.”

      I…may have had to deal with a few of those before, and they are PROFOUNDLY annoying and frustrating.

      1. Maisie*

        At my last (toxic) job, a “thought leader” was someone who kissed-up, talking in circles, was disruptive, and created extra work for everyone. And of course, were treated as gods and put on pedestals. I’m so glad how at my current job (with sane and normal coworkers), I’ve never heard “thought analysis” ONCE.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Thank you! My most prominent personal example is in the context of some of my own volunteer work…so it is literally true that I have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I get shades of 1984 from it every time. Happily so far that’s been on this site not on the job.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I hate this term so hard. Like “disrupt,” I don’t even know what it means anymore.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I always think about the scene in Daria, where her father freaks out about what “edgy” means. (Bonus points to the writers for using him to display the older definition. In anyone’s on edge, it was that character.)

      2. JustaTech*

        I may have gotten a bit sharp at a party or two (in the Before Times) where someone in computer tech was talking about how every industry needed to be “disrupted” and I would eventually ask “including the supply of life saving medication?” Or “Including air traffic control?”

        The smart ones would pause and go “well…”

        1. Romulan disruptor*

          Well, it would appear from the situation in India that life saving medication supply chains indeed need to be disrupted my good sir.

      3. Process Geek*

        “Thought leader” – shudder. As much as I love my job, I nearly bolted in my first month when I discovered that one of three “business goals” for my application was to “enhance clients’ perception of Employer as a thought leader.” The utterly blank stares when I asked how we were going to measure our success in meeting that goal was terrifying.

      4. Mongrel*

        From context;
        “We’re a company that’s doing an old job in a way that shows why we have piles of legislation but are relying on a sparkly app and a rabid fanbase to brigade any meaningful discussion.”

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      My employer is making ‘thought leader’ into part of our assessments. Sigh.

      1. So true!*

        Yup, the one person I know who calls herself a “visionary” is usually several steps behind everyone else.

    4. T. Boone Pickens*

      I hear the term ‘thought leader’, I see red. Or start laughing uncontrollably. Usually both.

    5. Your Local Password Resetter*

      Like, what does that even mean? You’re the idea’s guy and also like a manager but without any formal authority or responsibility? You lead all the group discussions? Senior plan guy?

      1. Overeducated*

        “I’m more of a visionary, my strength isn’t figuring out how to get the work done, it is more fun to move on to the next thing”

        1. On Fire*

          I work with one of those. He (of course) loves to come up with ideas that will require significant effort and investment, tries to dump it on someone else to make it happen, and then goes on. “I love coming up with ideas for people to implement,” he has literally said. Luckily, he’s not in a position that anybody has to actually pursue those ideas. But he’s the big boss’ protege, so there’s that risk eventually.

      2. redflagday701*

        A thought leader is an individual or company that is supposedly on the cutting edge — sorry, sorry, forgot my corporatespeak there — on the bleeding edge of the industry, constantly innovating to better service their external and internal customers.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Every time I hear someone talking about “servicing the customer,” I think back to my farm upbringing.

          1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            Yep, that’s when it’s tempting to slip a herd of cows into someone’s PowerPoint.

          2. Tisiphone*

            You have to “penetrate” the market somehow, and wouldn’t you want to “excite” the customer base and “stimulate” demand so you can “expand” your offerings?

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Glad I work remotely so I don’t have to explain why I am now giggling at my desk!

          3. Keymaster of Gozer*

            George Carlin used to do a wonderfully NSFW bit about ‘servicing the customer’ that frequently made me laugh.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          Bleeding edge? Blech! :p First time I’m seeing that and I hope it’s the last.
          If they’d ever worked in medical, they would not think that’s a hip, cool image!!!
          Also, yesterday I did four hours of onboarding videos to work part-time at a grocery store and one of the things I learned was only those who’ve been trained are allowed to clean up blood.
          Yikes…

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            We’re past bleeding edge, now into the ‘scabbing over and starting to smell funny’ round here..

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Then you can just skip that training module so you don’t have to clean blood up!

    6. redflagday701*

      I’m a marketing copywriter, and my old company loved to talk about being thought leaders. I pushed back so many times, saying that using such a hackneyed term demonstrated that we were in fact not at all “thought leaders,” but more like thought followers. Upper management disagreed, but then, they also decided to adopt “Move fast” as one of our corporate values — because that’s one of Facebook’s corporate values, and they wanted to be successful, like Facebook. (I don’t think “Move fast” is a great value for a healthcare-adjacent business whose consumers are expecting accuracy and conscientious, but what do I know?)

      1. Rbeezy*

        I don’t think “move fast and break things” is a great corporate value for Facebook either. It’s getting a lot of flack for mishandling a things that it should have thought through – like providing a platform for intervention into the 2016 election. Let’s all heartily embrace “Let’s progress at a reasonable place, taking care along the way to get it right!”

        1. redflagday701*

          Absolutely agreed. I just thought it was especially egregious that a company desperate to be perceived as innovative and unique would lift a core value from one of the most famous corporations in the world, and a core value that clearly conflicted with its mission at that.

        2. Homophone Hattie*

          Facebook’s responsible for properly breaking Myanmar and Ethiopa. And those are just the worst examples! Not a company I’d want my healthcare provider to emulate.

      2. A tester, not a developer*

        Especially if you go with the full quote: “Move fast. Break things.” LOL

        1. Self Employed*

          Which is fine if your product is a free game on people’s phones and “broken” just means the game won’t work for a day till you figure it out. Elsewhere… not so much.

    7. NeutralJanet*

      I had never heard of a “thought leader” before, so I looked it up, and I hate it! It seems like another one of those terms that you can use to describe someone else, but that you should never use to describe yourself or use as some sort of performance goal, but of course, self-described “thought leaders” will never understand the difference.

      1. Pickled Limes*

        “Thought Leader,” on top of being a completely ridiculous term that could be entirely replaced with “person that has interesting ideas,” feels like one of those designations you shouldn’t be allowed to choose for yourself.

        Don’t tell me you have good ideas. Tell me your ideas and let me decide if they’re good.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          Right, I hate the term “thought leader” in any context, but if Michael tells me that Eleanor is a thought leader and has a lot of great, interesting, innovative ideas, I might still internally roll my eyes at him, but I’ll respond about 300% better than to Vicky telling me that she herself is a thought leader.

      2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        One definition I found was this: “Thought leadership is influencing a narrative by understanding what needs to be done.”

        That sounds completely vapid and meaningless to me. Why not just do (or delegate) the thing that you understand needs to be done? Why is that not enough? Why do you need to “influence the narrative,” and by the way wtf does that even mean?

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think you can also say “shape the narrative”, if that helps! (sorry I’ll get my coat)

    8. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

      All I can hear in my mind chatter is, “What would you say…ya do here?”

    9. hot priest*

      “Thought leader” sounds to me like a Huxleyian replacement for the dying class of public intellectuals. Sad.

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    One ironic quibble. ;)

    “…because he does not understand the legal implications of the company policies around this work.”

    It sounds like he just doesn’t *care*. Knowledgeable and expertise tend not to be a requirement for these personality types. They see rules like suggestions and options, not requirements.

    This detail is relevant because if he’s ignorant, you can correct it. But if he doesn’t *care*, there’s nothing you can do about that.

    Don’t waste your time.

    1. pancakes*

      It’s far from clear that his job doesn’t require him to have any such knowledge. The part about him “exhibit[ing] some behaviors that violated our rules for working with external groups,” for example, strongly suggests that rules for this workplace are not in fact optional. Whether he cares about following the rules or not is beside the point in assessing whether he has relevant expertise and in deciding what should be done if he doesn’t, likewise in deciding what should be done about his disruptive behavior.

      1. Your Local Password Resetter*

        I think SA didn’t mean that the rules are optional, but that people like this guy think they are.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes, I see that! I don’t see why his personal views matter so much, considering that he isn’t self-employed.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Well meaning but clueless generally requires and deserves a different corrective action than deliberate jackassery.

            1. EmKay*

              I sure af hope that OP works somewhere deliberate jackassery wouldn’t be tolerated…

    2. AnonEMoose*

      This brings a thought to mind…if you do shut him down based on the legal issues around a specific thing, and then he comes back with other unworkable suggestions about that thing, I think you’d have room to come back with something like “We already discussed this in reference to [previous thing], and this is the same. Is there something that was unclear?”

    3. Emilia Bedelia*

      As someone who works in a regulated industry in a regulatory role – I would definitely not recommend trying to educate someone who seems this clueless.
      In my experience, giving more information than necessary leads to people literally knowing “just enough to be dangerous” – people love to run with their own misunderstanding of a rule, and it wastes a lot of time for me to defend my input from people who truly do not have the expertise to interpret the rules and regulations. That is why specialist roles exist. Do not try to explain your job to people to get them to agree with you.
      OP has all of my sympathy here. I totally agree with Alison’s advice – OP should feel confident in their role in the org structure. That’s what gives OP the authority in this situation.

      1. NotCreativewithNames*

        Agreed and, I have to say, love the user name. I can be concrete in an Amelia Bedelia kind of way sometimes (not THAT bad, but…) and not a lot of folks get the reference when I make it.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This.

        Every time I told my employee X, she’d apply it and repeat it in the most bassackwards way that her version resembled about 1% of what I originally told her

        1. Liz*

          I’m going to have to remember this “theory” I have a friend/neighbor who does this all the time. Hears or sees a snippet of something, or all of something, but then twists it into her own (most of the time incorrect) theory or idea. It’s so maddening!

          1. A Person*

            I’m very fond of “Well, that hasn’t been my experience” in reaction to outlandish pronouncements.

          2. Mongrel*

            They’re not looking for actual input, they’re looking for confirmation that they were right

      3. Good Vibes Steve*

        That’s SO true. I’ve worked in the marketing to children industry, which is (rightly) highly regulated, especially around how you disclose something is an ad, how long the ads are, how you may not use “pester power”, use special promotions etc. I’ve had colleagues spend hours trying to find the loophole in the rules, and it did not matter how much I explained to them that in this case, regulators always go for the spirit of the law and not the letter – so loopholes didn’t really exist.
        There was a time when I would spend 30 minutes introducing the rules (which were quite simple, as it was simple a green list of what you were allowed to do; anything not on the list should be assumed o be forbidden) and then 2 hours saying “no, you can’t do that” to all the people playing the loophole game.

    4. Chickaletta*

      If he’s making suggestions or doing things with his volunteer org that are cause for legal concern, I would definitely give your corporate attorneys a heads up. They would be very interested to know that the company could be in legal mush because of this guy. That would be a way to help reign him in,and would get the attention of his manager and higher-ups.

      1. Pants*

        So much this. My last position was in the Compliance and Ethics department and we constantly reinforced early notice on stuff like this so we could take care of it before it actually became A Thing. Our lawyers were proactive without being expletive-nouns.

        I can’t guarantee all of them will be like that but I do think they’ll appreciate any sort of notice *before* they have to clean up a mess. They are a lot saltier when there’s suddenly a lawsuit that results in judgement against said company that requires payment of very, very large sums of money. (We had to pay millions in a few cases, billions in another. The company no longer exists.)

      2. LKW*

        Agree 100%. The lawyers may also determine if he’s authorized to speak to anyone on behalf of the organization (he’s likely not) and make sure he understands the consequences of not following policy.

    5. EmbracesTrees*

      >They see rules like suggestions and options, not requirements.
      … for *themselves.*

    1. AnonEMoose*

      If only people like this had enough self-awareness to know how others perceive them…but in my experience, their self-esteem is impregnable. Good for them…I guess, but they cause a lot of headaches for those of us actually doing the work.

        1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

          I love this reference and this is exactly how I see this guy. This is buffoon behavior and I’d be very surprised if others he interacts with (including the higher-ups he keeps hassling) don’t see him that way.

          1. MassMatt*

            They may, but that doesn’t seem to have resulted in any of them, or his boss, doing anything about it. I’m amazed that someone like this repeatedly escalates many layers up the chain (in most orgs, that’s the executive suite) and the only consequence seems to be sending it back down to the OP to deal with. People at the top of the org chart generally consider their time valuable and don’t allow someone to do this repeatedly without consequence.

            Unless this guy has some hidden pull (he donates large amounts of money, he’s the founder’s cousin, etc) his seeming untouchability is inexplicable.

            I think you don’t have a coworker problem, you have a coworker’s MANAGER problem.
            CC’ing his manager is clearly not working. Just as you cannot expect gentle hints and eye-rolling to get an oblivious bore to change behavior, CC’ing the manager is not getting the point across. I would meet with his manager and find out what (if anything) they are doing about this behavior. If they don’t have an answer, go to THEIR manager, assuming you have the capital.

      1. Artemesia*

        The thing is ‘change agent’ is a thing and there are a lot of skills related to that but volunteer change agents who can’t do diddly and so want to meddle in your work are also a thing, alas.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          Ugh, you’re giving me flashbacks to my last job and the middle manager who liked to suggest significant changes to work areas she knew little about, apparently just to shake things up.

      1. Pennyworth*

        Chief impact officer (Prince Harry). I’d love to know exactly what that means, not to mention how much he is being paid to do it.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      If someone referred to themselves as a “guru” in my workplace, I’d make it my personal mission to work “guru meditation” into every conversation with or about them.

      (“Guru Meditation” is the Kernel Panic, Blue Screen of Death, or Swirlie of Doom from the Commodore Amiga Operating System.)

    3. Heffalump*

      A coworker of mine is the go-to guy for the CAD software we use. When I referred to him as “[name of software package] guru,” he said he didn’t care for “guru” because of the religious overtones but was OK with “expert.”

      1. I take tea*

        We actually use “whisperer” for some things, as for example “copy machine whisperer”. Sometimes I do whisper the name of our biggest recycling plant, if the machine is misbehaving. It usually works a charm.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Never anthropomorphize your electronic equipment. They hate when we do that.

          1. nonegiven*

            I laughed, my wife laughed, the toaster laughed. I shot the toaster. Good times.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          At a previous job, I was somewhat famous for walking up to the notoriously cranky laser printer and saying, conversationally “You know…16 stories is a long way down.” And the printer would give me what I wanted. It would even print transparencies for me, which almost no one else could get it to do.

      2. Batty Twerp*

        Yeah, this is my stance after being called both an Excel Guru and [Internal Bespoke System] Guru.
        I tend to reply that I’m thinking of putting it on business cards and seeing if it pays more.

  2. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Oh, yes, the ‘I know how to do everything better than anyone else so I’ll order others around and fling my viewpoints in people’s faces but it’s okay because I’m a genius!’ type.

    (Encountered a few in my career, rather suspect because I’m a) female and b) work in technology where it’s still got an undercurrent of ‘only men can really understand computers because women are not logical’. But I digress)

    These types generally don’t get it into their heads that no, the company ISN’T applauding you and isn’t going to promote you and give you tons of money until they get into a serious amount of trouble.

    Now, by serious it can just be a very stern and formal meeting where they’re told ‘you are bang out of line and you got to stop what you’re doing’ (one guy did respond okay to that and clean up his act – apparently nobody had ever told him ‘no’). I hope you’ve got one of those types because generally they sulk for a bit but then behave better.

    Realising you’re not in fact ‘smarter than everyone else’ can sting.

    1. Rbeezy*

      In my experience, the Venn diagram of men who insist that they’re strictly logical beings/aren’t emotional like women and who have temper tantrums at the slightest thing (what is that? is that an emotion?!) is a circle.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        No disagreements here! The one I told wasn’t getting a pay rise (because his work and attitude were appalling) definitely didn’t act like an emotionless machine…

        (I often wish I could have the self-confidence as some of the young healthy cis white men I deal with)

  3. Heffalump*

    There was a Danish polymath, Piet Hein (1905-1996) who published a number of epigrammatic poems called “grooks.” The LW’s idea of letting Aloysius self-destruct brought this one to mind:

    I see and I hear and I speak no evil;
    I carry no malice within my breast;
    Yet quite without wishing a man to the Devil
    One may be permitted to hope for the best.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I often think of a quote from Dorothy Parker: “Look at him; a rhinestone in the rough.”

        1. Solana*

          That’s why I love watching Westerns with my dad.”He’s the only man I know who started at the bottom and went down.”

    2. I take tea*

      Oh, I love grooks. It’s a bit like XKCD, you can usually find one that fits.

  4. anonymouse*

    I would also put his emails on a time delay. Wait three days to reply to his great insights. See how many more he’s had in the time.

    1. redflagday701*

      Oh, that’s good. If he pestered the OP about a reply, I would say something in the most sincere and openhearted tone I could muster about needing sufficient time to fully absorb all the intelligence and creativity that went into his suggestions.

    2. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      Oh good idea! Or setting up a rule that emails from him goes into a special folder, that the LW reviews once a week or whatever. I bet it will help the LW feel they have more control over the situation.

  5. Charlotte Lucas*

    I think all Alison’s advice is perfect here.

    I’m getting a sense of Judd from Avenue 5 from this guy.

  6. RC Rascal*

    Where is your boss in this?

    I would have a discussion with my boss. It makes them aware of the issue , they might give you input on handling this situation, or they might have a word with Aloyisus’s boss.

    1. No, Really, Aloyisus, I Got This*

      Hi! I’m the OP. My manager has been really great about this — they pushed to have Aloysius have a discussion w/HR when his problematic comments came to light, and they’ve also reached out to his manager (with varying levels of success) about his OTT behaviour.

      In the time since I sent this letter, a couple things have gotten better … people have stopped responding to Aloysius’s exhortations, and he’s quieted down a bit. Also other volunteers who are MUCH better to work with have stepped up in the external org. :)

      I have found myself being inclined to dismiss all of Aloyisus’s suggestions out-of-hand, so I’ve been running them by a trusted colleague to see if any of them actually make sense (even a stopped clock, etc.). There have been a few … I don’t want to call them ‘gems’ … but non-rocks in the avalanche of ideas.

        1. Selina Luna*

          I own a clock that is broken but not stopped. I can assure you, it is not right twice a day. It’s not even consistent how wrong it is.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Surely eventually it will be right by sheer chance then? May not be during your lifetime though.

            I have a stereo which displays the time and can only be adjusted using the remote, which has died. It is an hour plus a few minutes out during summer and a few minutes out during winter, but like your clock it doesn’t appear to be consistent about how many the few minutes are. It is baffling.

            1. Self Employed*

              The clock in my microwave varies too. I believe this is either because temperature influences the quartz timing rate or it’s counting the AC electrical cycles (which can also vary).

      1. HelloHello*

        I’m really impressed with your solution here! I’m guilty of wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to annoying people like this, and finding a trusted colleague to run things past to make sure you’re not doing that is a fantastic idea.

        1. Tea Fairy*

          It is a good idea to run things past another when you are frustrated with someone/some situation. At work we do this to check for our level er, crossness. Sometimes our crossness comes through a little too much when you are dealing with a real pain and colleagues who know us well can pick up on it. We also pass around the office stressball to throw at things until the crossness passes.

      2. anonymous 5*

        There’s a point at which it’s no longer worth shoveling manure away in the hopes that you’ll find the horse, though. Do his “non-rocks” actually contribute anything worth the effort that it takes to vet them with your colleagues?

        1. Snailing*

          I love this analogy, such a great visual!

          In my mind, sorting through the rocks for the non-rocks is more an effort to make a show of good faith to her employer versus actually giving Aloysius any merit. Kind of in line with the part in Alison’s answer that it could reflect badly on OP is she just outright refuses to play along at all. It may be frustrating, but it also further highlights to the bosses that OP is firmly in the right in this situation.

          1. anonymous 5*

            Mmm. True. And the bosses knowing that OP has *truly* done all that could reasonably be expected is certainly worth plenty.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          I keep thinking of Meatloaf’s song “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”: specifally this –

          “I know you’re looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks,
          But there ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box…”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I got a nursery rhyme caught in my brain as I read along.

            Bobby had A Little Thought
            It’s fleece as white as snow
            And every where that Bobby went the Thought was sure to follow…..

            On a more serious side, it seems to me that this person could be using resources that were needed for something else. And how can a non-boss person ask paid people to do something on paid time? I wonder if he has the authority to spend payroll moneys.

            I am glad you chimed in here, OP to talk about the downshift on this one.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              “person could be using resources that were needed for something else”
              Like atmospheric oxygen?

      3. Kevin Sours*

        I’m going to differ with Alison slightly here and suggest that there is a point where the signal to noise ratio favors shutting someone down completely. Particularly when you aren’t in a position to improve S/N. I’m not saying he’s there yet but you do need to consider how much effort it requires you to filter out the rocks vs the value of doing so.

    2. Jesse*

      +1, for sure.

      I had one of these in my job, who was angling for a promotion by… ignoring their own job and trying to do mine. I told my boss “This seems like a lot of overreach.” and was told I was free to ignore the intrusions. When I couldn’t ignore it, I’d just say “Okay, thanks” and never use their input at all. Eventually the person burned out and asked for a voluntary demotion to another position, guaranteeing they’d never advance again, so that worked out fine for me.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        One of my go-to phrases for these sorts of people was this: “I will certainly give your suggestion all the consideration it merits.” Somehow, the Aloyisuses in my workplace never really parsed out what that meant and went away for a longer period of time than when I said “OK, thanks.”

    3. What’s behind curtain number three*

      I was thinking this too. My boss would be very unhappy to hear that this was occurring and she would be helping me to shut it down.

  7. Interviewer*

    My spouse had one of these at his office, grand idea man was supposed to report to him, but instead worked around him and kept going to the Grandboss. Claimed he left his last job over a misunderstanding of his pay owed for all the huge amounts of work he brought them. Proceeded to ask for origination credit for every client who showed up at his shop, showed up on jobsites uninvited to have meetings, and claimed to be great at building relationships while making cringey personal comments. He would also blatantly lie if he didn’t know the answers. The only thing he could do was talk, he literally never worked. A few months in, he came up with a strategy and went straight to the grandboss. Grandboss was completely snowed by the powerpoint, funded his dream and gave him an inflated job title. My spouse had lots of feelings but kept mum and let the grand idea man hang himself out to dry. Sure enough, after a year of talking about work but doing very little work, the projected growth in revenue in his territory was nil and costs were super high. Grand idea man moved out of state “to be near family,” just ahead of getting fired.

    1. Generic Name*

      It’s funny how often these types fool upper management. I worked with a guy who would let’s just say overpromise and underdeliver. Management loved him. For a while. Until project managers started complaining about his work (it needed corrections, he constantly went over budget). He was eventually put on a PIP and found another job before he was managed out. Now my company won’t even do work with his current small company.

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        I think I worked with the same guy! Constantly pitching his great ideas to upper management that would get funded but if he had talked to someone who knew something, he would know it wouldn’t work. One time, he paid a contractor to create an app that was incompatible with our systems (which I could have told hi) and I ended up having to find 60 hours of developer and testing time to make it work because the higher ups were so infatuated with the idea. Of course, no one used it (which I also could have told him.). I made very sure everyone saw the usage metrics. He had a few more of these hare brained ideas but my management flat out refused to clean up his mess after the first time. He ended up getting fired and escorted out of the building for trying to get hired at a vendor while he was part of a project team negotiating terms for a big contract with them. Major conflict of interest. I don’t miss him..

      2. Bluesboy*

        Me too! I remember the guy who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk in one particular meeting…we had a quarterly report that would take me roughly a week to prepare. He couldn’t produce it himself (no valid reason, he was just terrible with Excel).

        In one meeting, the boss was talking about improving our services to clients – the colleague volunteered the idea of doing the report weekly instead of quarterly. Yes, the report that takes a week to prepare. The boss liked the idea…

        Obviously I made it clear that I didn’t have time to do it, he replied that he was sure it was doable, and ended up backed into a corner – if he’s sure it’s doable, he can do it, right?

        Wrong. Turns out he was assuming I would just do it (we were the same level). I didn’t do it. Ooh, he got told off for that “Why would you say it is doable if you can’t do it? I already told the clients we were going to up the report frequency!!”

        I don’t like to see people get into trouble, but I must admit it was nice to see that type of overpromising and underdoing tactics lead to his comeuppance…

    2. Chickaletta*

      Uh, can you imagine what it was like for his wife? I always wonder who marries people like that. Throwing his weight all over the place but leaving all the actual work to his wife.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        One of spouse’s coworkers is like this guy. Said coworker’s relationship status is best described as: “desperately single.”

        Which he sometimes rationalizes as “he has yet to find a woman good enough” for himself.

        In the before times during office social events that involved the whole family I would give him a very wide bearth.

    3. DJ Abbott*

      I worked for one of these long ago, when I was too young and clueless to understand. He also did little work and quit one jump ahead of being fired, after spending the company’s money to fly all over the country and schmooze potential clients. He was married with two children.
      He was one of those guys who couldn’t even send a fax by himself, so he gave me his personal documents to deal with. He was living in an expensive suburb on borrowed money. All this was lots of fun for his family.

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

      I knew one of those, a former Gifted Child that never accepted that he was neither. He left before one of my coworkers went to HR for sexual harassment.

  8. PuzzleObsession*

    I have no quality contribution regarding his behavior, I just wanted to say +1 because Aloysius the stuffed pet from Brideshead Revisited is a favorite.

    1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

      And it’s the given name of Agent Pendergast (sp?) in the Relic and it’s sequels. Loved that character.

  9. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m wondering if the LW could go to her own boss about the problems she’s having, especially if Aloysius’s manager is not doing anything. Just a simple conversation like x is happening and I’ve brought it to Aloysius’s manager but I never get a response. Is this something that you could mention to them? Its really disruptive because of (reasons).

  10. Database Developer Dude*

    Have you tried the Gibbs method of colleague course correction? (I am kidding, of course)

    1. Rural girl*

      Seems to be quite effective but probably opens her up for a lawsuit lol. I’m sure it’s tempting!!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I have friends who really are rocket scientists so to me Gibbs method is an orbit calculation… and gave me the image of yeeting the guy into space.
        Also lawsuit potential. ;)

  11. HR Exec Popping In*

    I love letting people like this self-destruct as they usually do. Sometimes it can take longer than I would hope for, but it generally happens. You can not constantly be going over folks heads, trying to take over and be a pretend expert for too long without others catching on.

    1. JustaTech*

      When the word “audacious” is used to describe you regularly, it’s not necessarily a compliment. And depending on the kind of work you do it can be a very much not a good thing.

  12. No Name Today*

    When I first found this blog, there was a letter from a young man looking to land a position as an “idea man” with the goal of providing, well, ideas to corporations. He didn’t specify services or products, but what he lacked in detail he made up for in gumption.
    I think he found his place in the world.
    Another AAM success story?

  13. CG*

    Whenever someone is being a “visionary” at work, I think of the Onion spoof TED talks.

    (Favorite one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkGMY63FF3Q. “I’m an idea man. I link up with implementers, and then we share the money.” “Economists will try to tell you this is impossible. I’ve already thought of that! Feasibility deals with implementation, and I’m not involved in that.” “Behind every great achievement is a visionary. I’ll be your visionary, and you do the things I come up with! Thank you.” *standing ovation*)

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I have seriously seen someone argue that they didn’t want to hear from people with experience because those people were “too negative,” and this person wanted to “encourage creativity.”

      To which I thought of a fortune cookie I got once. Something like “Imagination without education is like having wings but no feet.”

      1. JustaTech*

        I’ve had whole departments say that to me, that I always say “no” to their latest brilliant idea.

        I don’t just say “no”.
        I say “that’s a really interesting/good/smart idea! We tried it last month/last year/five years ago and sadly it turns out that it doesn’t work because of [physical limitations].”

        But all they hear is “no”. So they stop asking, and then get mad when they spend a bunch of time and money implementing a thing that won’t work.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Sadly in 30 years of understanding city council meetings – there is always at least one of this person – and they are also frequently the loudest talker on the council.

            (I am exempting my childhood blissful ignorance of politics from this length of time. My father had the sort of job when I was growing up that meant I spent far more time at city and county council meetings than I ever felt I needed to.)

  14. La Triviata*

    Sounds a good deal like someone I used to work with. I commented to a co-worker that if she was half as good as she thought she was she’d be twice as good as she actually was.

  15. Phil*

    Possibly I’m just blind, but I’ve read through the letter twice, and I didn’t see where it said that LW was a woman. Did that come out in correspondence not shown here?

    And would that change the advice given if LW were a man? Like, would you suggest that LW deal with a coworker exhibiting these behaviors because they’re sexist differently from someone who does these things for some other reason?

    1. No, Really, Aloyisus, I Got This*

      Hi! I’m the OP — Alison checked with me about my gender (I’m a woman, and a fairly femme-presenting one, at that) and asked if it was okay to share. :)

      Since Alison pointed out that sexism was probably part of the problem, I have noticed that Aloyisus does not treat my male co-workers (even those junior to me) with the same expectation that they will jump to implement his directives … and I’ve seen him harangue other non-men co-workers about taking on extra volunteer work, implying that if they ‘cared as much as [Aloyisus] does’ they would make time to do what he wanted them to do.

      1. Allypopx*

        I applaud you for not rolling your eyes constantly. You’d probably strain something.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Sounds like you could band together with other Alyosius sufferers to reinforce saying no to his rampant sexism. My condolences.

      2. Book Nerds Unite*

        I’d like to recommend the book: Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair by Kim Scott (author of Radical Candor). I’m only in Chapter 2, but I think she has some advice that is spot on in this situation!

    2. Elenna*

      Allison often knows the LW’s gender when it’s not stated in the email, because she sees their email address.

    3. Allypopx*

      I don’t see why that would be the case. The advice isn’t gendered, it’s about respective positions in the company and LW holding their ground after a frank conversation. That’s pretty universal. The gendered aspect is just an acknowledgement that this happens to women all. the. time.

    4. Nanani*

      It is relevant that it’s a gendered, sexist dynamic because that makes it part of a pattern. In a company with good HR and leadership, a pattern that they want to stamp down.

      And no, it does not matter what the dude secretly may or may not ~intend~. Sexism is sexism.

      1. Phil*

        This is kind of what I was thinking. That if there was evidence that Alosyius’s actions were the result of sexism, then there might be an additional avenue of approaching to get them resolved (ex: the behavior violating company policy or an anti-sexism law).

    5. MCMonkeybean*

      Alison also has more detail than we do from the emails she receives.

      And I think she’s clear that it doesn’t impact what OP needs to do but it is still just worth acknowledging.

    1. Thought Leader*

      My company (a 100-person startup) has used this term in career growth conversations. Your skills / role as you progress could focus on a combination of: people leader, business leader, thought leader.

      People leader is a manager who manages people, provides mentorship.
      Business leader drives metrics and goals.
      Thought leader brings new ideas to the table, participates in problem solving and pushing new initiatives forward.

      Just want to mention that this can be a useful way to define a skill / role, except obviously in this case Aloysius is not doing it correctly :/

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Seems like arbitrary and pointless distinctions to me. “Brings new ideas to the table, participates in problem solving, and pushing new initiatives forward” sound to me like things every manager should do. Indeed, all of those “leader” divisions seem artificial. A good manager does all of these, managing people, driving metrics, solving problems. I mean, it’s useful to note these different skills but I don’t get why you’d want them all covered by different people.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – if the “thought leader” is involved in figuring out, trouble shooting, and implementing their ideas then a thought leader (while a wonky sounding job title) is a good thing. Far too often though it’s the person that drops their ideas and expects everyone else to “drop everything to make my latest brainstorm reality.” That person is not a great coworker to have.

  16. Ardis Paramount*

    “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” – Sarah Hagi

      1. Pennyworth*

        I think Alison should publish ”’The Collected Wisdom of the AAM Commentariat” with all these gems. They should not be lost.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Also: “What would a mediocre white man do/how would a mediocre white man handle this?”

      Application has to be carefully considered though, as sometimes you’re looking at “how should I negotiate my salary and benefits” and other times you’re looking at “how do I handle this potentially awkward situation with a coworker”

  17. RunShaker*

    I’ve found managers, especially ones higher up in the company don’t read any emails they’re cc’d on. The head of my department set up his outlook to move all emails he’s cc’d on to separate folder which he never reviews & his admin will review when she has the time! I’m wondering if this is happening now & reason why his manager hasn’t addressed his crappy behavior.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m wondering if his manager stops reading the second they realize it’s another email about Alosyius’s antics in other departments.

      Alternately, I wonder if the manager doesn’t encourage some of this out of the department time to give Alosyius’s team members a break from him so that they can actually get work done?

  18. H.C.*

    Ohh I’m definitely dealing with an “Aloysius” at my work – regularly punches above his weight, provides unsolicited input/feedback (wo knowing situation’s full context), often loops in superiors several levels up for fairly trivial matters, and tries to claim kudos wherever possible.

    Most amusing/annoying one was a recent instance that combined all of that. Aloysius emailed our department director – at least 3-4 levels up – & CC’d a bunch of us about modifying some process that neither of them have insight on. Our director basically responded, “thanks for your input, we’ll look into it” and Aloysius immediately replied saying, “Can you let my supervisor know about this so I can get credit on my P.E.?” I literally guffawed when I read that.

    1. Maree*

      Oh boy! I have one of these too! I am higher than him on the org chart though he doesn’t report to me. He has a terrible habit of overstepping and interfering in other departments, the last time almost caused us legal issues. My boss asked me to speak to him about this on two occasions, which I did. After the last conversation, he sent a three page email to the directors and myself saying how much more qualified he is to do my job than I am, and that he doesn’t care what I have told him, he is going to keep doing what he is doing.

      I have a meeting with my boss today to address this so that will be interesting.

    2. Sacred Ground*

      Aloysius: “Can you let my supervisor know about this so I can get credit on my P.E.?”
      Director: “Absolutely, I will tell her. This incident will most certainly be considered in your performance review.”

  19. Cat Herder*

    I just came here to agree with Alison that it’s exhausting to have to talk about sexism all the time. It’s been a long day/week of sexist behavior from the men in my job world and I’m sooooo tired. Can I get FMLA for the crushing exhaustion of sexism?

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I wonder if I could claim an emotional RSI for all the tiptoeing around fragile egos…

  20. Looby_Lou*

    Somebody in my government department once shared the memo sent to a very senior female Aloysius by an very senior male.

    It was a courteous 3 sentence summary of why it was not the time to take a particular action.

    There was a PS; why go to the Head of the Department over something like this? I would have died on the spot if anything similar was sent to me. I think Alison’s suggestion for replying to things senior members of staff pass back down to the letter writer is a good one.

  21. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    One other thing to consider, since it sounds like there are specific reasons why your company is not working with his volunteer org more closely (he violated your rules for working with external groups and they lack a code of conduct), you might make a templated response that basically responds to all of his attempts to steer your work into something related to his volunteer org, and use that as part of your replies to him (and others, when he drags others into things).

    I’m thinking something like “As previously discussed, [company] is not able to partner with [volunteer org] as [volunteer org] does not have the needed Code of Conduct [and whatever else] required by company policy for that kind of partnership. [Volunteer org] is, of course, welcome to use our publicly-available resources along with other such groups, but it is not appropriate for us to do work specifically targeted for them as they are not eligible to partner with us.”

    This may be a boundary that you need to ask his manager to draw for him as well – sounds like he’s trying to use his company time and connections to get things done for a different organization that he’s passionate about. I’m on the Board of Directors for a non-profit and pretty involved with their various efforts, and I try very hard not to let the bleed over into anything related to my actual job unless it’s of clear benefit to my workplace (in which case I run it by my boss for approval first, since we do sometimes work with various non-profits and there are times it would make sense, but I have enough of a conflict of interest that I shouldn’t be making that call myself).

  22. Amaranth*

    This seems like a situation where a letter might need to go out to employees that they are welcome to volunteer for this organization but NOT as representatives of their company, because the org doesn’t meet follow the code of conduct, etc. If there aren’t guidelines in place as to what that means, LW should spell them out — such as Aloysious can’t represent this group as ‘from Rutabega Corp.’, they can’t be listed that way in promotional materials, signage, wear company shirts and logos, etc.

    Now, it might also be worth a conversation with the development team at the nonprofit, who might be totally unaware that this friction is being created by Aloysious’ choices. They might be fine signing a code of conduct if that gets them a good pool of corporate volunteers, potential future sponsorships, the means to promote their projects to the employee base, etc. Then they’d also know to contact LW for overall organization.

  23. IfIKnewThenWhatIKnowNow*

    Fwiw…I’d also say: be careful.

    Be careful about how he’s presenting you to others. Pay attention, and follow up as needed. Be sure you know how he’s talking about the work you do (or how he frames what you don’t do). How he explains how he doesn’t need what you do/could do better/blah blah. And of course, to whom he might do it.

    I’m not saying he’ll try to actively undermine you with other stakeholders (including bosses), but he may do it carelessly–lifting himself up while dragging you down.

    I mean, it sounds like he already is, but I wonder if it’s going to get worse.

    It sounds like he’s socially inept, so this may not be a worry, but if he *is* doing this, and hits the right target, he could make things bad, and put YOUR chances/work/opportunities in jeopardy.

    I only say this b/c it happened to me. With a man. And I, as a younger female, had no idea what was happening in the larger scheme of things–I just thought he was a know-it-all puffer fish. But a new director came in while I was training him in a specific protocol that I’d been hired to develop & implement, and she was taken by his smooth, self-aggrandizing spirit of, “all this isn’t necessary, I know what I’m doing, in fact, I could do it better”, and things got bad for awhile.

    Promote yourself as needed. Keep an ear to the ground. Confront him head-on when necessary, with facts & figures (so to speak), so his blah-blah-blah hyperbole gets exposed the moment it hits the ground, so it can’t take root. He sounds like someone who can fester in a workplace, and damage healthy systems & people.

  24. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Given the history, does it make sense to meet with both Aloysius and his manager for the discussion about boundaries?

    Maybe if his manager sees him in action, he’ll do more to rein Aloysius in.

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