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About a year ago my boss was fired, and I was put in his place as a new manager. Our team was already understaffed, so I ended up doing several jobs, including team lead, project lead and PM for a big project, and admin work. I begged my boss to hire a PM to help me with admin tasks and PM work on the big project.

Finally, "Jane" was hired to do that job. She interviewed extremely well, appeared smart, capable, and confident in her skills, and had relevant experience. Jane was reporting to my boss, but was assigned full-time to help me.

Since Jane was new, and we were in the middle of a busy delivery, I wanted her to focus on the admin tasks first.

I started noticing that Jane was not very good with follow-through. Among the things I noticed are that she wouldn't proactively update me on the status of a task, lack of sense of urgency, missing emails and notes, and other "basic" things (like searching her inbox for an email, etc).

The effect that it had that I had to constantly follow up and micromanage her to ensure that things stayed on track.

I have given her feedback that I really wanted her to "own" those tasks, and see them through to the end. That I wanted her to over-communicate status to me. I pointed out mistakes and asked her to pay more attention. She would either brush my comments off or get offended that I'm nit-picking: "everyone makes mistakes, even you".

At the same time, like I said, we were in the middle of a massive delivery and were understaffed, so our team had to work overtime for some months. Several colleagues pulled OT, but not Jane. Some weeks she didn't even put in the full 40 hours.

Over this entire time, I have been communicating with my boss. I would show him examples of issues and ask him how I should handle them. After about 6 month of this, my boss said that we've been having issues long enough, and decided to transfer Jane to report to his subordinate, where she would get more training, and transition her to work on other projects. He assured me that her position in the company wasn't in danger.

The transition happened a few months ago while I was traveling, so I don't know what Jane's initial reaction was. But I haven't heard from her much after that, except for being in the same meetings occasionally.

But a couple of days ago, she contacted me over IM, and started asking why I was so critical of her and how it was unfair of me to give all this negative feedback to her boss, and how "I didn't think about how that would affect her career, confidence, and emotional state". She also insisted that I am personally biased against her.

I explained to her that it's not personal, and that my feedback was directly based on my experience working with her. She demanded examples. I gave her a couple of examples, which she "refuted" according to her - basically offered excuses, or insisted that I was wrong. But even if I wasn't wrong, those were just minor mistakes and they're no big deal, and that I need to either find better examples or reassess my bias and why I'm being so critical of her.

After having a think about it yesterday, I went back through our IM history, and pulled several more examples of different issues. I explained that while each individual mistake can be small and insignificant, the collection of those mistakes created a pattern, and caused me to spend more time and mental energy on things that she should have been taking care of as part of her job.

She responded with the same thing: mistakes are no big deal, and everyone makes them, even me. And also that she was new and was still learning the job, and that those mistakes happened during crunch, and she was busy (which, like I said, she put zero overtime hours during crunch).

She also told me how I'm the most critical person she has ever worked with, and how she "expected praise for all the hard, big, complicated work that she's done", but all she got was unfair criticism.

The thing is, after all this, she made me feel quite guilty, and made me second-guess how I handled this. But I also don't know what I could have done differently. I was in an impossible situation, and needed help, with a person who was not giving me the help I desperately needed.

Am I being overly critical and unfair to Jane or is she being overly sensitive and entitled? I'm really having a hard time seeing her side of the story, but if you do, maybe you can help me understand?

  • 10
    Please reduce the length of this, as it is quite extensive. No need to give much details, try to keep only the ones relevant for your question. Try to summarize your incident(s) could help reduce the length also. Try to stick to the facts mostly, consider removing parts where you say what you think could have been done, or assumptions. That will also condense your post. Feel free to ping me (@) if you need help doing so. Welcome to The Workplace :) – DarkCygnus Oct 25 '18 at 23:27
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    @JoeStrazzere you're right. I just realized that I've seen this behavior from her before, when she just couldn't let a disagreement go, and kept talking to the person for days insisting that they see the error of their ways. And now I've played right into that. – Cannot2468 Oct 26 '18 at 1:02
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    I agree with the previous commenters, you made your point, your org handled it. That she is not satisfied with this is understandable, but not your problem, so you shouldn't engange in any conversations about this topic anymore. – Simon Oct 26 '18 at 6:43
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    ""I didn't think about how that would affect her career, confidence, and emotional state". If she really wrote that this is an example of why you did it. You're at work not for her good emotional state but for the job to be done and company earn a profit. Her POV is that your decisions regarding work should account for her feelings. – SZCZERZO KŁY Oct 26 '18 at 10:16
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    It's a personality thing. She sounds disorganized, unfocused, unable to prioritize. We had several discussions on here lately on interviews and your thread is really just another example that shows that people who sell themselves very well during interviews aren't necessarily the best for the job. You won't change her. Don't get involved in discussions anymore. If she approaches you with the same topic again and again, turn to get boss. My answer could be different if she had been completely new to the work life, but she doesn't seem to have been. – BigMadAndy Oct 28 '18 at 6:34
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Am I being overly critical and unfair to Jane

No, she's impacting negatively and persistently on multiple tasks

is she being overly sensitive and entitled?

No, she's just trying to protect herself, and that is all she has

Your mistake was entering into a prolonged dialogue about things. You don't owe her an explanation. So when she wouldn't meet you halfway by taking some ownership, you should have written the communication off as a waste of time. You're the person with the full grasp of what needs to be done, not her. And be careful with messages like this, she's probably documenting everything for her own protection. So you always keep them as short, general and professional as possible.

I'd have interrupted early on and told her I'm really only focused on solutions and I don't have time to go into details. We can discuss details and excuses all day but it doesn't get the work done properly. And then asked her if she has any solutions to propose in a helpful tone. This immediately shifts the dynamics of the communication into something that may actually become useful and puts the onus on her to think things through from a different viewpoint (which she probably isn't prepared for, but she may have spent the last 30 minutes preparing in front of the mirror for a detail argument).

And, again, if she won't take ownership of anything, then she's documenting it for future reference and playing the maligned innocent role. If you're going to analyse a confrontation (this was a confrontation initiated by her, not anything else) then don't analyse it at face value, look for the agenda behind it. In future if someone initiates one when you're not prepared, defuse or defer it until you are. The best strategy is just to turn it around and they start confronting themselves.

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    Thanks for this perspective! I was definitely very aware of my responses and didn't say or put anything in writing that I would be uncomfortable with my boss or HR seeing. – Cannot2468 Oct 26 '18 at 2:14
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    you shouldn't have gone in to detail, small issues look petty when taken out of the big picture... but that's for the future. – Kilisi Oct 26 '18 at 2:17
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As Joe says in the comments, your are making a mistake by giving her more and more examples. One more response should be adequate:

You were new and yes, it is easy to make mistakes when you are new. Unfortunately, I needed someone who took the initiative to quickly reduce mistakes, and to let me know quickly when help was needed. In the job working for me, mistakes DO matter, and not dealing with roadblocks quickly is a problem. I expect you are doing better in the job you have now, and this job was probably just a bad fit, or at least bad timing.

And then, let it go. Don't say bad things about her, don't dwell on what you could have done or what she wanted you to do. Read AskAManager to learn how to be a better manager each day, and let the past go.

  • I am, indeed, ready to move on. I just don't know if there's anything I can say to her that can make a lick of difference. I have actually brought up "bad fit" before, and her response was that "this is not dating". I guess I'm just trying to understand for myself if I was really being unfair and unreasonable. But maybe it's not that black-and-white. – Cannot2468 Oct 26 '18 at 0:59
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    What's there to understand? You gave her some tasks, she failed at accomplishing them as expected. Assuming you took the time to explain to her what you expected of her, any further discussion and argument is futile. She failed at following your requests. I always like to think of colleagues (whatever their role may be) as providers of a service and myself as a client for that service. If you were a customer of her, would you be satisfied by her work? If not, then whatever excuse she makes up for not delivering is... well... not what you asked for. – BoboDarph Oct 26 '18 at 7:11
  • @Cannot2468 As you described it, no, you were not being unfair or unreasonable. Nor is it that black and white - people see the same thing in different ways. It sounds like your goal is to improve, and also to appropriately end this interaction. – thursdaysgeek Oct 26 '18 at 20:14
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Am I being overly critical and unfair to Jane

Nope.

or is she being overly sensitive and entitled?

Yeah this.

The thing is, after all this, she made me feel quite guilty, and made me second-guess how I handled this.

Which of course was precisely her intent.

If I had to hazard a guesss as to why she's suddenly dredged this up out of the blue it would be that she's running into exactly the same issues in her new position and she's trying to lay the groundwork to blame you for it:

"I didn't think about how that would affect her career, confidence, and emotional state"

Yep, she's aiming for the "I'm not crap at my job - I just had my confidence etc destroyed by mean old Cannot2468" defense.

I don't think you've got anything to worry about - you've got your own documented trail of everything that went on and it sounds as though you kept your boss informed during the time she worked with you and that he agreed with your assessment of her performance.

reassess my bias

this is the only line that had alarm bells ringing for me - either she genuinely believes that it's not her fault (you wouldn't believe some of the contortions I've seen people do to convince themselves that they aren't to blame) or (with my cynical hat on) she's deliberately throwing words like "bias" around to build up for playing a discrimination card.

Honestly I think the first option is the most likely - particularly given her "mistakes" hand-waving was going on while she was there at the time - she most likely sincerely believes that she was an awesome employee despite all the evidence being to the contrary.

  • Regarding the bias thing... She would have a really hard time proving discrimination, since I'm also a woman, and a rather vocal one about diversity in workplace. And yes - she actually genuinely believes that she was doing an amazing job. Using phrases like "I expected to be praised for my work", and "I can count on one hand the times when you thanked me or praised me for something". That is actually what made me think "entitled"... I've heard the term thrown around before, but this really seems to fit the definition. – Cannot2468 Oct 26 '18 at 22:26
  • That's not what "entitled" means. Someone who feels "entitled" would think they deserve praise, no matter what. Just for breathing. Someone who genuinely believes they did a super job and expects to be treated accordingly is maybe unrealistic, but not entitled. – gnasher729 Oct 27 '18 at 18:32
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Am I being overly critical and unfair to Jane or is she being overly sensitive and entitled? 

I think that, based on your description, you were not unfair nor over-critical with her.

You gave her feedback several times, in a professional way, which she dismissed (can't force her to take it). This denotes a lack of interest in learning and handling criticism/feedback.

We ignore what exactly happened on premises when she was transferred, but considering the rest of the story seems that she is overreacting.

The best thing you can do is to stop this "Who is right?" game you are playing, as it will not make things better.

Just don't keep showing her "evidence" to be "refuted"; at this point those details are a thing of the past. It's better if you move on, and let her do the same and adapt to the company in her new role.

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The candidate was in the position less than 6 months and did not report to you. A manager’s job is to guide and support and train a new associate. There is a learning curve in any new role. It sounds like you made it all about what you need and you did not have the patience to coach her, yet you had plenty of time to complain about her work (and hours) to her real manager. I call that nit picky backstabbing but you succeeded in getting her out of the way.

  • I appreciate your take, and I'm sure this is how Jane feels as well. However, I was not equipped to train her in admin tasks. First, I simply had no time to train her, because I was working until 10-11pm daily on the shipping project. But more importantly, my job isn't in production, and Jane is part of our actual production team, which was much better suited than me and to guide her and train her in those tasks. I referred her questions to the production and operations team members several times, and she was even moved to sit right next to them. – Cannot2468 Oct 27 '18 at 18:25
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Summarize the situation to Jane as follows:

Your and her boss assessed the situation and came to a conclusion on the measures to take. It it not up to you to criticize or justify your and her bosses decisions regarding her, and that you do not like to continue the discussion with her on this, since you are confident that your and her boss took the things into consideration which need to be taken into consideration, and that, if she has the feeling that this was unjust, you are not the right person to address

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