Long story short, our team is now out of its team leader and our manager is not quite involved in our day to day operations. We're a small team with two more senior guys (another guy and myself) and one more junior.

I will be applying for the promotion and so is my colleague (I think). For the last week, I can sense a small increase in competition, which is normal. However, my coworker's been acting bossy, even so far as instructing me how much time to allow for task XYZ, not to bother with improvement ABC if it takes more than some threshold of time, etc.

He does this in front of other coworkers and this feels like him trying to establish himself as the de facto team leader.

My question is specifically how to address instances where he is making such bossy remarks. If I let them go without commenting I feel like I am enabling him. If I go see our manager, this would look quite childish and may hurt my chances at the promotion. I do not want to pick a fight with him but I would like him to know his behaviour irritates me and I would like it to stop.

Edit: I feel this question is different from this one as it deals more with bullying whereas my question is more how to defuse specific attempts at "managing me".


4 Answers 4


At the end of the day, it is up to senior management to decide.

However, if, as you say, your boss is somewhat hands-off and uninvolved, when he finally realizes that he has to do something, it will be normal human nature to act on his perceptions.

Therefore, do not let yourself become Malcolm in the middle.

When your colleague tells you to do something, ask him explicitly if he is telling you or advising you. With most people, that will be enough to cause him to ask off and say that he advising, at which point you thank him politely and say that you will take it into consideration.

Personally, I would leave it at that, but YMMV, and you may want to explain why you disagree. You might see a win in that; I don't, but it's up to you.

And, if you are too "delicate" to confront him with such a question, then you are not cut out for management. No offense intended, but I rose from the trenches and can assure you that it's a dog eat dog world in management, and the higher you rise, the eatier it becomes. Please see my final sentence.

As it happens, I have been you boss, and after 10 minutes with each of you, I spent half a hour with the junior developer before deciding. Ponder that

Thinking again, as to how to react when your colleague "tells you what to do", my first thought was

Yes, no, maybe I don't know
Can you repeat the question?

You're not the boss of me now
You're not the boss of me now
You're not the boss of me now,
and you're not so big

You're not the boss of me now
You're not the boss of me now
You're not the boss of me now,
and you're not so big

Life is unfair...

See here

And, as to "this feels like him trying to establish himself as the de facto team leader". It doesn't "feel like" - it is.

And the higher up the tree you climb, the more it is so. Ask yourself how high you want to climb.

  • 3
    This is the right answer. He is bossing the OP, because he allows it. Jun 2, 2018 at 6:18
  • 5
    Thanks for this answer. For the record, I deliberately made my question more generic but the specific act of bossiness occurred once, yesterday, but I do view it as something that is likely to happen again so I wanted other peoples' view on how to deal with it. I also don't care about stepping on his toes or not making friends with him, I just don't want to get a bad rep by doing it the wrong way.
    – ApplePie
    Jun 2, 2018 at 13:55
  • Then I would stick with "thanks for the input" and a fake smile, while pointedly doing nothing that he says. Please come back when it is resolved and post how it worked out.
    – Mawg
    Jun 2, 2018 at 15:20

Your co-worker is acting like your boss.

In deciding who to promote, it is easier to simply promote the person who is already acting that way.

This is because that person - in this case your co-worker - obviously wants the role, so they won't be upset getting it, but they probably will be upset not getting it.

It is also because it is not obvious that you want the role, so there is no reason to think you will be upset if you don't get it.

You need to start telling your co-worker what to do too. You need to push back on everything he suggests you do. You need to literally start planning ahead for reactions to what he might say.

Even better: implement agile or some sort of management practice in your team. This shows direct management ability and an interest in management. If you already do agile read around the topic and implement it in a better way or implement kanban or something.

While currently downvoted, TheRealLester's suggestion of telling the co-worker privately you don't appreciate their "leadership" will also be effective. It will be because it makes it harder for the co-worker to act your boss publicly, and it shows conflict resolution skills.


I would try and schedule a quick face to face meeting with the coworker in question and explain to them in a polite way that he is not yet in a position to be giving out orders.

Try to avoid using sentences such as "You were wrong because..." and focus more on 'killing them with kindness'. Accept his responses to show that you have listened but point out that you have a different way of looking at tackling the project.

  • 2
    The one on one meeting does not change the perception the the colleague is giving to others. Imo is even giving more fuel to that perception, because you ask for a meeting as you would do with your boss.
    – Paolo
    Jun 2, 2018 at 6:10

If I let them go without commenting I feel like I am enabling him.

No, commenting is enabling, it means that you think a dialogue over this is important enough to do so.

Shrugging and ignoring and then doing your job is not enabling him, it's quietly putting him in his place without confrontation and leaving any confrontation initiation up to him/her.

  • 1
    I don't agree here. He is saying it in front of others. If he does not say something they might assume he is going to do what he was instructed.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 2, 2018 at 15:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .