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I’ve joined a robotics team in a consulting firm one month ago. I don’t have any work experience so I’m quite new to almost everything. My co-worker, let’s say X, has been working on this area for one year. On my first of day at office, my managers called me to their room and warned me about this X. They told that she is quite dominant and they are having a hard time disiplinizing her. This quite frightened me, I decided to behave calm and a little bit distant.

The thing is that, as always, X knows most of the things about this area. At least, more than me. The managers want me to learn everything as quickly as possible so that they can fire her. Because they want to hire more computer engineers (X is not engineer) and one of the managers hates X for some reason. I am not really interested about whether she gets fired or not, I will try to do my best at my work. But I have been thinking about how to suppress her. She is not bullying but sometimes talks like a manager and once mentioned my work to the customer like she did it. I have set my mind to work hard and be a good manager in the future. But this is X is my first challenge. How should I behave? Should I become more assertive or stay calm and keep working? I feel quite paralyzed, confused and stressted. I don’t know when and how to make an intervention.

  • I am trying to ask how should a good manager behave. I didn’t say I have the mindset of a manager. I just “want” to be. – velouria Oct 13 '18 at 8:06
  • I feel like that are some things that I should tell. The main problem of the managers with X is that she doesn’t raise the flag when some part of the project goes problematic. She wants to do everything by herself and in scrum meetings she says everything is fine. But in the last day of the project she started crying, telling nothing goes OK, wanted the whole team to work overtime with her. We had a User Acceptance Test on Friday and on Thursday she assigned a task to me at 11pm. I may be OK with working overtime for once or twice, but she doesn’t seem to be bothered doing this nonsense thing. – velouria Oct 13 '18 at 8:34
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    @velouria It sounds like she may have a mild mental disorder. You could hint her when her behavior is off bounds if you are tactful enough, as it's important not to overstress her. Important things to remind with excessive people is to avoid mention therapy no matter how obviously they need one, and try to deflate anxiety by rationalising as much as possible. – Arthur Havlicek Oct 13 '18 at 10:08
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Well, the first thing you should do is escalate this to your manager.

Letting them know how you're handling the situation is normally the best thing to do. As you become a manager, you need to learn when to escalate and ask for guidance - and normally it is "all the time" until you learn more about leading.

Next, given your co-worker is apparently on the way out, you should not really worry about how she presents herself to customers, and instead focus on

  1. having weekly meetings (or fortnightly) with your manager to report your progress
  2. getting along with X

that she acts like a manager or whatever is of no concern - I mean, it might bother you, but you should avoid acting on it. Your role is to learn, not to rehabilitate or discipline her.

Should I become more assertive or stay calm and keep working? I feel quite paralyzed, confused and stressted. I don’t know when and how to make an intervention.

Nothing you've mentioned - she's not bullying, sometimes she acts like a manager - seems to warrant making you paralyzed, confused and stressed. Either you're not describing the whole story, or you are perhaps over-reacting to the problem you're in?

You don't need to lead right now - you need to follow and learn. That's as important a skill (the knowing when to, and the how to gracefully) as leading.

In any event, because you lack technical skill, are junior to her in terms of employment and have not been "granted" any leadership, I imagine that leading would be very hard here. You would have to either know more or having an amazing vision - both of which are unlikely.

I'd recommend you focus on learning, and not worry so much about the leading this particular co-worker. Just make sure your manager knows you want to lead!

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This sounds like a toxic, dysfunctional place to work in.

You don't describe this colleague negatively at all. You stress she is not bullying you. The first thing you write about her is strongly subjective ("sometimes talks like a manager") and suggests she's self-confident and shows initiative, which are both strengths, not weaknesses. And the only thing you mention that sounds negative is:

once mentioned my work to the customer like she did it.

But given that 1) this happened once and 2) is quite subjective and 3) as a beginner you might not know how many corrections she did to your work for it to be usable and that 4) in consulting you frequently do present the work of your whole team in a bit simplified form to the client (you don't need to always list who did what in your team), you really don't have anything against her for now.

At the same time,

  • the management talked badly about her to you at the very first day of your employment there, which is simply unacceptable. This shows your manager is no good.
  • you describe her as "bossy", which is a genderized (sexist) term. Would you describe a male colleague as "bossy"? You should have a thought about how much your perception of her is determined by her gender. Would you have the same problem with the person, if it was a man behaving like that?
  • you stress you want to become a manager and ask about how to reach this goal in the first weeks after starting your professional career. Don't you see a contradiction here? You criticize a good, ambitious colleague but stress you want to progress asap.

For now, it sounds like your knowledgeable coworker is being bullied, not like she's been doing anything bad. (And if she's not completely stupid, which she doesn't seem to be, she knows the manager wants her out. So cut her some slack, since that's a super difficult situation to be in and people behave strangely when stressed).

Just try to be a good, nice, fair coworker and avoid office politics, which you seem to have got involved in really quickly. You should do that for two reasons:

  • For ethical reasons. Morals aren't the highest value in the contemporary corporate cultures, but I would argue it's nice to have them.
  • For pragmatic reasons. You are there too short to know what game your managers are playing and if you try to play along you can end up in a situation you are perceived yourself as a problem and treated the way this woman is being treated now. After a month or even several months, you can't understand and navigate the office politics well enough to avoid that.

If I were you I would have my eyes open for other positions too. During your first weeks at this company, you are discovering the culture is flawed. Who knows what you discover in a month or two. And then it's good to have an alternative, especially if you lack professional experience. And for now, just behave cooperatively towards your coworkers and learn as much as you can.

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There are a number of different things going on here.

The first is that you are new, both to the workforce as well as this particular job. Your focus right now is full on learning mode. Learn the company, learn the product, learn the expectations of management.

Management's future plans with regards to the continued employment of X should not matter to you. That's office politics - just ignore and stay out of it. Getting involved when you are so new to things is a very bad idea as it could very easily lead to you making enemies.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean about "suppressing" X. For all intents and purposes she is senior to you and you'd do well to listen and learn. Again, the issues she has with upper management is not your concern. Quite frankly I find it troubling that upper management decided to share their possible intentions with you at all. That is a failure on their part. I've certainly seen situations where managers have stated they'd like to fire someone then that person is still there years later.

As with bharal, I am also unclear as to why you are confused or stressed at all. Thus far how you have described X is as someone that is highly confident in their abilities and apparently has the skill to back it up. Management appears to believe so as well otherwise they would have already fired her.

So, stay calm and just learn everything you can.

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