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There is this female colleague in my office who is not strong technically. Yet, she manages to complete her work by taking help from the rest of the team.

Of late, I have been observing her and found out quite a few interesting things about her.

She understood the psychology of every other team member and treats them accordingly.

She always tries to dominate the rest of the team and is quite successful at that.

She is not even in the lead position; she is merely in a junior role.

She talks a lot with others whenever she needs their help and gathers every tiny bit of information from them.

I have never seen her helping others.

If she doesn't like anyone in the office, she tries to psychologically dominate them. She purposely starts whispering with her friends when the said person is around. It stops immediately after the person leaves. She gives death stares to them or stares them from head to toe repeatedly or hijacks their conversations and many more that makes other person uncomfortable. She uses a third person to interact with them, or withholds information from them.

But, she is super sweet with those who oblige her. She never harasses them.

She calls everyone to her desk to help her; if anyone doesn't oblige her, she calls out their name multiple times till it irritates them and they are forced to go.

The list goes on. There are chances that I might need to work with her in the near future. I do not want to oblige to her psychological tricks nor do I want to get insulted by her.

Talking to the manager is of no use as he keeps traveling most of the time.

How can I protect my work reputation if/when she does this treatment to me. This is not a hypothetical question as there are chances that I might need to interact with her in the future.

  • 3
    Many questions on this site have one simple answer: you must learn to be able to say No. It's really just that simple. – Fattie Apr 6 at 15:21
  • @Fattie in this case, OP might have also to handle how that person could try to backstabbing them. So just learning saying No in that answer is not enough in my opinion/ – Walfrat Apr 8 at 11:39
  • I think it's important to distinguish whether she gets other people to do work for her, or just gathers information to do the job herself: For instance if she needs help with a form, you don't go out of your way to print it and fill it out for her, you just show her how to get the form and guide her on filling it out herself; If she offers you to sit on her office chair don't do it, etc. – lucasgcb Apr 8 at 13:36
  • @lucasgcb she pretends to gather information but in fact she makes them sit at her desk, almost till she finishes the task. It is as good as the other person has done it. – Sara Apr 8 at 13:53
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How successful this will be is going to depend on your own reputation in your organisation, but my advice is don't try and play her game.

Help her as much as is appropriate, and be professional when it's not appropriate to help her (eg if she calls your name across the floor let her know you'll be over in 10 mins, or whenever is appropriate, and if she keeps calling your name then calmly reiterate that you said in 10 mins).

Having said that, if she's a junior then it's completely appropriate to give her more help and guidance than it would be for most other team members (and as a junior she's probably not very well placed to repay that help yet).

You've identified behavior that you don't like, so just don't engage when it happens.

  • This. "Don't try and play her game" +1. – Captain Emacs Apr 6 at 12:53
5

I have been observing her

Stop that unless you are her manager. Let her run forward.

  • If she is smart in doing what she does, she will make a very valuable project or line manager later.

  • If she is not smart (e.g. takes attribute for the whole work done by other people), she will bump into a hard wall soon.

4

I see two possibilities:

  1. Things are as you think they are, and she's taking advantage of people, aka work-vampire. This is the more likely scenario, to be honest. If this is the actual situation, try to avoid her, don't boast about being an expert on anything that she might want to take advantage of, and do your job well.

    If she asks for your help on something in a way that doesn't have a record, and you're not working on a priority task, try to appear like you're trying to explain to her how to do it, but you're struggling. Make it clear it's a challenge for you to do this task, and having someone watch you do it compounds the issue by causing you to be flustered. In my experience, work vampires usually hate being shown how to do something by someone barely more competent than them.

    If she asks you for help while you are working on a priority task, after she leaves, document that she asked for your help and state what task you were working on that was more important. Note that when judging whether your priority task is urgent enough to punt her request for help, you're comparing the tasks. How urgent is it for the department for each task to be performed? If her task isn't something that needs to get done for the department, any work of course takes priority.

  2. She's noted a critical power vacuum, due to your manager's frequent travels, and she's stepping in to help. By your description, in this case, she has many of the skills she needs to do this job, so despite the fact that she does not have the seniority or the official recognition, she's probably not an issue in this case. She's untitled management.

    This is the more complicated situation. If your work environment allows for her to distribute work to you in a way that will be officially recognized, she is likely to use that if she's really just filling in the hole as needed. If she does assign tasks to you in a way that you will get recognition for having contributed, don't prioritize it over your other work, but otherwise do it as expediently as feasible. (Basically, since she's not actually in charge, she can't assign priority work. But if she assigns you something that needs to get handled and you're good at handling it, you'll look better for handling it than not. If she assigns you something you're not good at handling, and you can reassign it to a third party who is, hot potato that task to the person who can do it better.)

    Not all environments have official tracking of exactly who does what work. Since she's new to the group, even if there is a way to punt things officially, she might not know how to do that, so not making use of it is not a guarantee she's a work-vampire. After she leaves, document any requests she's made of you that you're not authorized to make. If she asked you to help her with something, and you followed the direction for the other case, state in your description of what happened that you attempted to train her on how to do it.

    Alternatively, if your environment does have an official way for coworkers to punt work to each other, and she's asking for help on something that you're good at without using the official way to do that, direct her to use the official tool to hand the task over to you. After she leaves, document each time that you direct her in that fashion.

When I say 'document' stuff, I don't necessarily mean writing it down on paper. That can work, but it's not necessarily the best method. You want to record the start and stop times for each event, along with a summary description of the event.

One of the best ways I've encountered to document this sort of thing is to send an email to yourself with all of the particulars, and save it in a folder dedicated to tracking this stuff for her. If you have multiple people that you're tracking this stuff on at once, it's a good idea to make a folder for each person. If your email system deletes older messages, make sure to archive these to permanent storage. If you don't have a dedicated computer at work and you can't save the emails to a USB thumb drive, this isn't a good way for you, so document them via another means. It's important that the documentation method be something permanent.

In pretty much all situations, doing your best to make sure you're not making major mistakes in your own job is in order. A lot of people already do this, and you're probably one of them. But I've known an awful lot of people who were surprised when they got fired, even though they weren't paying particularly close attention to detail. "It was never a problem before, why is it a problem now?" is a common quote. But any time you feel like you're at risk of being somebody's enemy is a good time to double-check on your own work quality and compliance with company policies.


At least four of the best managers I know started out their careers as an untitled manager. They needed a first job out of school, and non-management jobs are far more common than management jobs. None of them studied management, as their understanding of management growing up was 'incompetent'. But they had the talent for the position, and their first or second job was either working for an incompetent manager, a missing manager, or an overworked manager. They saw what needed to be done, and they did it.

All four of the ones I know started their careers like that had some people who accepted their direction, and others who thought they were work vampires. I've heard of other untitled managers, and they were all accused of being work vampires by some people. I just don't know if they were all recognized as helpful.

One person I heard about having worked for a time as an untitled manager was even fired as a work vampire, and then hired back two weeks later, once the boss realized that everything fell apart without him. (This person is not one of my four mentioned above because I haven't worked with him professionally, so I can't say for certain he's a good manager. Also, he was in the industry for a decade before he had this experience; it was not the start of his career.)

Identifying them is not always easy. Some key differences to look for:

  • Work vampires almost always want credit for doing the work. Untitled managers tend to want credit for expediting the work.

    In some environments, untitled managers will need to claim credit for some work others do for them, and in environments where work is only credited to the person assigned, they may have no readily available option to give credit appropriately.

  • Some work vampires couch their requests for assistance as requests to be trained how to do this task. The training will take longer than just doing the task. But they won't learn, and they'll be back for more later. It'll go just as slowly the next time.

    Untitled managers are much more interested in passing the work off to someone who will do it, and getting on to some other task.

  • A team with a work vampire will be less productive overall than they were without the person. After we fired the first obvious work vampire I encountered in my career, the three people most impacted at least doubled their productivity and everyone on the team was measurably more productive.

    A team with an untitled manager will overall be more productive than without the added guidance.

  • Either sort of employee may be willing to work broker, if there's someone else who can do the other task better. "I'll do this thing for me if you take this other thing I need to do off my plate." If it's a work-vampire, the traded task will never get done. An untitled manager will make sure it gets handled by someone who can do it, if it needs to get done.

2

You should understand the source of the problem.

And as much as she is the source, the manager is the source of the problem as well; because it's managers job to ensure that such things don't happen, and if they do, that they're stopped.

If talking to the manager is useless - because he's always traveling or because of any other reason - well, that shows you something.

So, then your question becomes the old question of "Company I work for sucks; what do I do?". And the only realistic answer to that is "find another job".

They're not going to change. The rot starts from the top. Leave the company to the consequences of its actions; you should move on.

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