44

I work for a large international company based in the USA, where I am a 'posted' overseas manager based in the UK. The company has many overseas branches, such as Canada, Australia, Singapore etc. My direct manager is based in the USA, alongside the head office and the rest of the support team.

Our company has internal titles (Which are only used internally for HR purposes/pay scale) - e.g Specialist II, but an external title which is used everywhere else - e.g Manager, UK Logistics.

I frequently deal with a co-worker back in the USA, who keeps trying to present herself as my manager, or 'higher ranking' than me, particularly when writing emails. She is a co-worker, and is actually an internal grade lower than me (I am Specialist II, she is Specialist I).

When she writes emails to other colleagues and external parties, she consistently refers to me by my internal title (Specialist II), rather than my actual title - Manager, UK Logistics. She will also refer to herself as a 'Duty Manager', when she is more an 'Operations Controller'.

For clarity, my position - Manager, UK Logistics, is responsible for overseeing all operations in the UK. An 'Operations Controller' (her), is responsible for coordinating logistics, e.g the truck with the parcels should go to London at 2pm.

How can I deal with this behavior, as I have noticed it is starting to undermine my position to other external parties? I normally don't include an email signature in my emails, as I find it quite obnoxious especially when it is on every single email - however I will start to include my email signature slowly on my emails.

Would appreciate any other suggestions you may have.

Thank you!

21
  • 76
    What does your actual manager say about all this? Apr 21 at 13:07
  • 22
    You are over thinking this massively, just add a signature to your email, a simple 2 line signature is not obnoxious at all
    – PeterH
    Apr 22 at 8:44
  • 3
    Thank you @PeterH, that is the first action I have done. Apr 22 at 9:16
  • 28
    But remember also to never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
    – Strawberry
    Apr 22 at 10:10
  • 4
    Good Question @neubert we use a social platform, similar to Slack/Workplace by Facebook which allows us to chat to other colleagues. When we have a chat window open with other colleagues, it lists our Photo, Name, Title (both internal and external) and location. It's also listed on our email on Outlook, where you click the profiles name. e.g Jane Doe Senior Manager, Procurement, Specialist IV Apr 22 at 12:25
148

In contrast to Fattie's answer, I think it may be more appropriate to begin with a less aggressive tone, if this is the first occasion on which the matter is being raised.

For example,

"I've received feedback from our clients that they do not clearly understand our respective levels of responsibility, and I think inconsistent and inappropriate use of our pay scale grades may be contributing to this confusion.

From now on please refer to me in external communications only as the UK Logistics Manager. I would not recommend any further use of pay scale titles in external communications.".

From a UK perspective, titles like "Specialist II" are obtuse, non-descript, and uncustomary, but from what I understand they have become a feature of American HR practice of late.

Save the bad-tempered language and copy to the boss for the second time the issue arises, if it does.

10
  • 26
    This is the best answer. As a customer, I don't care if the person who solves my issue is level 1 or 2 or 3 or the darn CEO as long as they're able to solve the problem. When forwarding/escalating, I find it's best to introduce the person in terms of their role as it pertains to the present situation. "Specialist II" is utterly meaningless. Apr 22 at 0:05
  • 3
    I do understand the "gentler" approach Steve has suggested here, but, I can only take the question at face value. The fact that the culprit has been doing this nonsense to clients is just totally unacceptable, nuclear, bizarre, and wildly outside the norm of business behavior.
    – Fattie
    Apr 22 at 11:12
  • 23
    @Fattie, the OP still has to follow a reasonable process of escalation, not just go from silence to pressing the nuclear button. It may be inconvenient for external parties to confuse the management structure, but it's hardly the end of the world and can easily be clarified, and the nonsense numbered titles emanating from their own HR has clearly contributed to it.
    – Steve
    Apr 22 at 13:10
  • 2
    I may have missed some information or comment... but where are you getting "I've received feedback from our clients" from? I agree with your overall point though... if you don't like the title she is using, ask her to stop using it. If she refuses to do that, then you have good reason to escalate the issue. (assuming of course the OP is correct about these titles being internal only).
    – musefan
    Apr 23 at 11:35
  • 2
    @Steve: Which sounds like speculation at best. All the information from the question seems to be open to misunderstanding. I don't really see anything (other than misuse of title, which is a fair concern) that is actually substantial. I feel either this isn't a problem like the OP claims, or the OP is just really bad at picking out good examples to backup the points.
    – musefan
    Apr 23 at 13:10
63

I am from the United States.

I have seen this kind of behavior before, thankfully rarely. She is trying to sabotage your role to move herself up the career ladder. Rather than through hard work and skills, she is trying to move ahead through manipulation, and she is deliberately disrespecting you.

Is she in the chain of command below you? I think your post implies that she may have a separate chain of command. She needs to be reported.

I would talk to her directly to address the issue, then follow up with a summary email to her, to document what was just discussed. (People like this will say one thing to your face, then something else to the next person). Then write an email to your boss, with the original email attached, so the situation is fully documented.

Try to nip this behavior in the bud early on. It can get worse. She might try to test what she can get away with initially. If she gets away with minor acts, she may try major acts in the future, until the situation gets out of control.

I wish you luck. And, yes, you should put your title in your email signature. It implies authority, so people will know to have more deference towards you. That, in turn, will help you do your job better, through smoother communications.

7
  • 23
    "Try to nip this behavior in the bud early on." WELL SAID.
    – Fattie
    Apr 21 at 17:46
  • 36
    It’s absolutely important to establish and defend boundaries. There used to be a guy in my company (lets call him Mark) who would introduce me to clients as “This is Kaz, he works for me”, to which I would always reply “hah, Mark wishes”. Light hearted, but also making it very clear that he didn’t have the authority to say something like that, and I wasn’t about to allow it.
    – Kaz
    Apr 21 at 19:13
  • 3
    Agreed! Be aggressive. Be swift. Deal with this problem decisively and as a manager who knows how to solve problems
    – Frank
    Apr 22 at 5:35
  • 1
    Agreed. This needs to be nipped in the bud to stop the misinformation spreading, and before your coworker moves onto other tactics such as using you as a scapegoat, or setting you up to fail in front of customers. Apr 22 at 16:02
  • 1
    Also, make sure to get and save a paper trail and to document all instances of this. Apr 22 at 16:02
25

So you've provided two specific examples of emails that she's sent out:

  1. I am cc'ing in our Specialist II who can shed further light on this
  2. You may contact me and the rest of the Duty Manager team if you need further guidance

For #1 I'd probably say something similar. "I am cc'ing in our resident expert on [...] who can shed further light on this". Using your internal title doesn't explain to the customer why you're being looped in but the general idea of the email doesn't sound like a bad one and I certainly don't think she's making herself out to be your manager.

For #2... saying "you may contact the rest of the Duty Manager team" is a bit pointless unless the customer actually has the contact info of everyone on the Duty Manager team. The general idea of the email, however, doesn't sound like a bad one. No where in it is she implying that she's your manager.

So based on the examples you provided I think you're probably reading too much into the emails. I mean, how would you write them differently?

Also, from the customers perspective, if she's their main point of contact for an issue, then, for that specific issue, she kinda is the manager, after a fashion. The customer has needs and its her job to make sure that those needs are met. I mean, I know that when I'm emailing customer support I want to be talking to a confident employee who is going to get my problems solved.

The last thing I want to hear as a customer is stuff like "Let me email our Specialist II and see if it's okay to loop them in on this convo since they know this stuff better than I do". If I got a response like that my confidence in that companies ability to provide adequate support would be shaken. Like seriously, as a customer, I don't care whether or not another employee is "okay" with being looped in. I want you to do whatever it is you have to do to get the issue resolved and if you have to bruise someone's ego to do that, bruise away!

12
  • 6
    +1 Maybe I'm not nuanced in the titles used but neither example sounded like it was pulling rank to me. Apr 21 at 18:48
  • 7
    I agree this doesn't sound too bad. However, there could be more to OPs experience than is articulated here (small comments made to OP, tone, body language, etc...). It can, understandably, be difficult to portray in a single post (without turning into a ramble). That being said, an email to her or a boss with the "evidence" as currently portrayed would be weak. I would, however, suggest correcting the use of the internal title where the actual title would be most appropriate.
    – noslenkwah
    Apr 21 at 19:31
  • 7
    Thanks for your reply neubert, however @noslenkwah has got it right here. The single sentence(s) I provided above were only two examples out of hundreds of full emails, meetings and phone calls. For obvious reasons, I cannot attach the whole email chains and full communication history, but she is definitely making herself out to be my manager. Other colleagues have also commented on this as well. Also by external parties, I mean vendors (e.g contractors), not customers. I have amended my question to make it more clear. Apr 22 at 3:49
  • 9
    I really hate this type of answer. It's basically saying, in a deceptively polite tone, that the problem doesnt exist and that the asker is delusional or paranoid. This doesnt address the problem, is outright rude, and ignores the obvious issues with the coworker's emails by pretending they don't have any!
    – Frank
    Apr 22 at 5:32
  • 4
    @Frank - you're completely right. Based on the evidence presented I'm not sure that it does exist. The OP later says there are "hundreds of full emails, meetings and phone calls" of this sort of behavior. idk about you but if I am trying to demonstrate a problem I'll post my best examples of the problem and if the examples provided are the best examples then I do think the problem is more with the OP than it is with her US colleague. I know people like to assume the "customer is always right" (the OP being customer in this case) but in the real world sometimes the customer is wrong
    – neubert
    Apr 22 at 10:16
19

I would privately respond with:

Kelly,

From now on, please refer to me as "Manager, UK Logistics" in our communications with our customers.

Do the same with any of our vendors as well. It's my official title and it's what external parties already know me as. Thank you.

I would email this to her and see what she says. This way, if she ignores this instruction, you have an actual paper trail of your request being ignored.

And yes, you may need to escalate, or you may need to send a second written reminder, but before you escalate, you need to try to handle this on your own first with a direct written request. My apologies if you've tried this already, but your question doesn't tell us what you've tried thus far. And if you've tried this, your question doesn't tell us how she has responded.

And no, as to the difference between 'Duty Manager' and 'Operations Controller', I disagree. To me at least, 'Operations Controller' sounds much more important than 'Duty Manager'.

I also think that 'Duty Manager' would be better for customers to know her by because it implies that her job is to be there for them. It's like when you arrive at a hotel at 2 AM and the only person milling around at that time of the night is the Duty Manager. In my mind, that's not a real manager, that is just the most junior person who drew the shortest end of the straw.

With that said, even if you disagree with my assessment regarding 'duty manager', which is very subjective anyway, I think it would be wise to pick your battles and to only focus on correcting the way she refers to your title. After all, your own title is really what's the most important, and if this issue escalates to management, you don't want to muddy the water with other lesser issues, especially since this kind of person might try to twist your words into something else, and you won't be there to defend yourself if she does.

4
  • 3
    It may seem trivial, but if you have business cards, I would add that it's what's printed on your business card. Just to give "official title" a little more weight -- "this is what external parties know me as".
    – B. Ithica
    Apr 22 at 9:14
  • 1
    @B.Ithica, I've amended my post to include your suggestion. I've also added the bit about the vendors because I didn't realize she was doing this with vendors also. Apr 22 at 21:16
  • 2
    A good, sensible answer based on the information provided. Unlike some of these other answers that seem to be making facts out of assumptions. My faith on the advice from this community seems to drop each time I visit, but it's nice to see some people still give rational and good advice.
    – musefan
    Apr 23 at 11:46
  • 1
    @musefan, Thank you for that, but it's a process. I probably wouldn't have noticed the fact that the OP clarified her question with an addendum if someone had not made a comment about it in another thread. Also, my initial impulse was to upvote Fattie's answer after I had only skimmed the initial post. And it's only after I read Ben Cottrell's comment on Fattie's answer that I decided to take a closer look at the initial post. In other words, think of us like a hive mind. If my answer is somewhat ok, I think it's because of the previous answers and comments that I used to build upon. Apr 23 at 20:38
6

As a leader based in the US with a lot of Customer Service/Technical Care experience, I think you are reading too much into this.

This is fairly standard vernacular/connotations and is meant to give customers reasurrance.

Duty manager - Gives customers reassurance that someone in charge is handling their issue.

Specialist II - Gives customers confidence that their issue is more complex and is getting attention by an even higher specialist. In the US, companies are notorious for making it hard for people to have any interaction by "teir 2 or tech 2"

I assure you she is getting better customer experience scores than others that don't do this. And, these are the type of things we teach our employees to do. Americans (Karens) love hearing they are being helped by a manager and by teams that are higher up.

4
  • 2
    Thanks for your reply on this, however our title structure is very different to the above as we are a logistics company which is structured different to other companies which may use titles like Lvl 2. Our Specialist (I/II/III/IV) are our internal titles only used for payscale and on our payslip. That's it. Our external titles are used everywhere else, in that case mine: Manager, UK Logistics // and hers, Operations Controller. Apr 22 at 4:01
  • @DebbieWilliams And an American using common customer service reassurance practices negates my answer somehow? I'm telling you, this is standard US customer service speak/practices. Perhaps you have other examples of undermining behavior.
    – Austin759
    Apr 22 at 4:33
  • I edited the comment minimally to take out some unnecessary words. I didn't want to delete the comment as it seems a valid enquiry for more info which hasn't yet been answered.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 22 at 8:46
  • 17
    "Americans [...] love hearing they are being helped by a manager" - then hearing that the "Manager of UK Logistics" will be handling their problem would be just as impressive as hearing that a "Specialist II" will be handling their problem, wouldn't it?
    – B. Ithica
    Apr 22 at 9:00
3

Take things slow and be careful. You don't want to do something that you might later regret.

There seems to be a couple of different aspects to your problem that you can deal with separately, rather than trying to solve the whole thing in one swing.

The job title

It seems from your question that there is a company-recognised procedure with job titles. This is a great place to start. Inform your co-worker (in email) that you want her to use your customer-facing title in all correspondences going forward. Start off by making a simple, polite request.

If that fails, follow up with a second, more firm, attempt that you have to insist that she uses your correct title. If this second attempt fails, take it to your manager - no need to follow up further, you have been reasonable enough already at this point. Depending on what your manager says, you may need to escalate it even further if you think it is worth the effort.

Do this first, and await the outcomes before you take any further action regarding her trying to be your manager.

The claim she acts like you manager

I will start by saying that your examples are not good examples. They do no support your claim that she is trying to be your manager, and although others on this site seem to think they are, they definitely won't hold up as any substantial evidence to support a formal complaint against your co-worker.

Keep in mind that "co-worker gossip" isn't your friend. Other people saying "she sounds like your boss" does not prove that she is, nor that she is trying to be.

If you have better examples that you don't want to share, but you feel do support your claim, then it is on you to decide if you feel they will justify and support a formal complaint.

Having said that, the import thing to consider is what you feel you have to gain from making a complaint, and are your superiors likely to agree with your concerns.

Let's assume it's true and she is telling people she is your manager. Does that affect your ability to do your job? Does it affect the companies image and revenue? Does it have a negative impact on the vendors/customers? These are the concerns that the company will have if you raise a complaint, and these will be what motivates them on how they respond.

And perhaps have a bit of self-reflection and ask yourself why do you even care? You know the truth, your superiors know the truth, and by the sounds of it your other co-workers also know she isn't your manager. Don't let it get to you.

If however, there are knock-on effects to your ability to work or to vendor/customer relations, then perhaps you may need to take further action later. But for now, start with addressing the job title concern and go from there.


Why I think your examples are bad

In case you are wondering why I think your examples are weak here is why. I feel this may be important to help you see a perspective as to why you might be reading too much into them.

'I am cc'ing in our Specialist II who can shed further light on this'

This is essentially just saying: "I am not the best person to help you with this, I will pass this on to our "Specialist II" who is better equipped to help."

If anything, that is suggesting she isn't capable of helping and you are actually more capable. I would take that as a positive to be honest.

'You may contact me and the rest of the Duty Manager team if you need further guidance'

This is simply saying: "If you have any further concerns, please let us know."

Remember the customer contacted her first, so she has to be the one to "take control" of this communication. She can't very well turn around any say "I'm not the right person for this, don't email me again". That would be very unprofessional.

I think somebody commented this already but: put yourself in her position, what would you say in those emails?

-4

Politely and firmly squash the behavior immediately.

The key here is IMMEDIATELY.

Each time it happens, do this:

Email privately the Culprit, Kelly, and, cc'ing your higher manager.

Hi Kelly, you recently wrote to Jim at ClientCo.

In the email you are positioning yourself as a senior manager and as my superior.

This is obviously completely unacceptable for our business. Please do not do this again.

I'm cc'ing Steve to ensure this extremely unbusinesslike behavior is immediately nipped in the bud.

Let's get back to making money for the company. Cheers, Deb.

As is often said on this list "It's not high school".

When someone (Kelly) does something idiotic like this, it's entirely on YOU to IMMEDIATELY fix the issue.

(You know how in personal issues we sometimes talk about being "enablers"! Business is like that but more so. Your question is kind of "not a question": You're identified a problem - well done - fix it. "It's not high school" so as always in business just address issues absolutely directly in the shortest possible language. (Obviously with no emotion, whatsoever: it's a workplace.) Just fix it and move on.)


† (Just for the record, it obviously goes completely without saying you would never, ever say anything about this in front of a client. This is internal.)

1
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 23 at 17:46
-8

Your co-worker is a potential narcissist. The only way to win the game is not to play it. Smile and wave goodbye.

You can't beat a narcissist unless you're going to up the narc, and that can be a dangerous and potentially draining experience. They are child-like and will drop to a level that most people don't go below. The narc can't actually compete, and trying to point out their flaws will lead to the person screaming foul play and even to a point of accusing someone of sexual discrimination. Boundaries and laws are only good for those who follow them. The person will up the ante, no matter what.

3
  • 3
    Whether or not the person is a narcissist is irrelevant. You have to set boundaries and take action when you feel those boundaries are being crossed. "Smile and wave" is complacency, not a solution.
    – Kyle G
    Apr 22 at 14:04
  • Agreed. That's just letting the narc get away with it. And it gives out the signal that they could potentially get away with even more. When that happens, the next boundary violation attempt will be worse than the previous, as the narc keeps upping the ante to find the real threshold that you'll push back against. Apr 22 at 16:09
  • Personalities and behavior are relevent in understanding motive. You ever tried to beat a narcissist? Unless your going to up the narc, and that can be a dangerous and potentially draining experience. There child like and will drop to a level that most people don't go below. The narc can't actually compete, trying to point out there flaws will lead to, the person screaming foul play and even to a point of calling sexual discrimination. Boundaries and Laws are only good for those that follow them. The person will up the ante, no matter what. Apr 23 at 11:58

You must log in to answer this question.

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