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I am a department head in a mid-sized nonprofit agency. Another department head with much more seniority than me refuses to work with me. She consistently goes behind my back to her staff or over my head to supervisors. This involves all kinds of issues pertaining to my work where she wishes to have input or that involves any of her staff. I am mystified by this behavior and prefer the direct approach - come talk to me about anything that involves both our departments. The most recent occurrence involved a project that had been discussed and accepted in a meeting with her. Later that afternoon she instructed her staff to not return to me the informational forms I had sent to them. Rather than letting me know in advance about her concerns or decisions she cut me out of the process and it took me two days to figure out why I was not receiving paperwork.

In any given week I may get a summons from a superior to discuss something that she has brought to them (not problems, usually just normal operational decisions). In these meetings I try to not get my feelings involved but it is difficult to ignore that perhaps she thinks I don't belong there. I have tried every way I can think of to be conciliatory and to be open to and inclusive of her departmental needs and her managerial wishes. In each of these actions I have focused on the issue at hand and worked to meet her where she is. I have NOT yet had an angry outburst or confronted her about her behavior. My goals are to forge a working relationship with her, but I'm beginning to wonder if it is possible. I would love to hear suggestions, interpretations, alternate viewpoints. At the end of the day, feeling demoralized is not helping me further our mission.

  • "she cut me out of the process and it took me two days to figure out why I was not receiving paperwork." Do you know why? If so, I think that detail would be helpful in answering your question. – Lumberjack Mar 9 '18 at 18:52
  • @Lumberjack the OP seems to be completely in the dark. – Retired Codger Mar 9 '18 at 19:01
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    Well before calling it avoidance did you make it clear to the department head that you are the person to contact on issues processed by your department? Could be that she simply does not know you are in charge or maybe unclear. Don't assume malice. – Dan Mar 9 '18 at 19:10
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    I don't understand why you are sending anything to her employees. Shouldn't you be sending the stuff to her and letting her send those out? – NotMe Mar 9 '18 at 23:08
  • We had a similar issues, to resolve it we write action plans after each meeting, each action is assigned to a person (not department), that person is then responsible for completing the task. If it's not possible, email the person after the meeting with key points and actions you will take, if you were to be undermined you have evidence to show what your responsibility's were. In your case, you could of emailed that you expect the forms to returned to you, if the forms were not returned, then write an email asking why they were not sent. Emails can be referred to if there are any issues. – 5202456 Mar 15 '18 at 11:34
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You go to HER superior (presumably yours, as well), and say:

Ms. Boss, it is very clear that Ms. Colleague has some sort of issue working with me. She has directly instructed her staff not to cooperate with my team even after having agreed to do so in meetings.

I have repeatedly tried to work with her on her terms, but nothing seems to be effective.

Is this something we can resolve, or is there something I'm not aware of that's leading to this behavior?

Obviously this is harming our organization, so I'd like to resolve it as quickly and amicably as possible. What would you like me to do?

Some will call this approach "too confrontational," but it's really the only thing that works with power-mad mini-despots like this.

If you can't get a resolution, then it's time to move on. Life is too short to put up with this.

  • It might be helpful to keep a log of specific issues or events to support the OP's claims as well. – Dan Pichelman Mar 9 '18 at 18:41
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    I worry that we don't know enough about the situation. It is possible that OP is overreacting, and escalating to senior management would be counterproductive in that case. – Lumberjack Mar 9 '18 at 18:54
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    @Lumberjack please feel free to provide your own answer. – Retired Codger Mar 9 '18 at 18:59
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    If you choose this approach, I suggest you stress the last paragraph; demonstrating that their is organizational harm occurring will get the higher-up's attention. If they take action, great. If not, it's time to polish your resume. – user1008090 Mar 9 '18 at 19:00
  • @RichardU Thanks Richard! I appreciate the encouragement. You too! – Lumberjack Mar 9 '18 at 19:27
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She consistently goes behind my back to her staff or over my head to supervisors.

A department head can't go behind your back to staff that reports to her. That's just not possible. Also, generally speaking, going over someone's head isn't the same as that person going to their own boss.

This involves all kinds of issues pertaining to my work where she wishes to have input or that involves any of her staff.

Seems to me that because those people report to her then she should not just have input on what those employees are doing but actual direct control over what tasks they are performing.

Later that afternoon she instructed her staff to not return to me the informational forms I had sent to them.

Although this is passive aggressive behavior on her part, I would suggest that in the future when you need access to another department head's staff you go directly through that department head. There exists some reason why these divisions exist within your agency and as she is the one ultimately responsible for their output you shouldn't be in direct communication with them.


If I were in your position and I needed something from a different department head's staff I would do the following:

  • Have a meeting with that department head and explain what I needed.
  • Get that person to agree to the task and have them provide me a timeframe on when they think it will be completed.
  • Send all information necessary to get started to that department head, cc'ing our shared boss, with the timeframes discussed.
  • Wait until that timeframe comes up. If it passes by without an answer I'd have another meeting with them. If the outcome of this meeting isn't satisfactory then I'd approach my own boss and ask how to proceed.

It sounds like the biggest issue is that this person likely sees you as a threat due to your direct assignment of tasks to "her" people. The point is, don't give her people tasks. Give them to her.

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