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As a member of a small team of six communication professionals, I value working independently while being a strong team player. I enjoy training colleagues and in particular mentoring younger team members on using various software. However, I have recently been on the receiving end of 'sneaky' competitiveness from a younger colleague who is one rung below me. We both are on fixed term contracts.

When this colleague first came on board early this year, I patiently trained her on how to undertake various tasks for which she was responsible. Now, I am training her in other tasks as requested by my boss. However, the young girl tends to put me down in the office. Firstly, the deputy-director had sent an email out to others outside of our team and across the organisation to tell them to seek my advice and training on producing a particular kind of report. The young girl said in front of other colleagues: "How can you train them on how to do the report when you barely know it yourself. Plus you are supposed to teach me."

When I do train her, she says things like, "the more you teach you will get better at it" and loudly for the others in the team to hear. This extends beyond the report. When finishing with dealing with clients on the phone, the young girl says things to me like: "That sounds difficult. Why do you have to take so long on all that?"

Her continuous put-downs and constant negative talking about my work has required me to stand up for myself. Something, when put on the spot, I'm not the best at especially when I am busily concentrating on my work. At first, I thought I could ignore it and keep working but now I'm starting to see that she is playing dirty office politics.

What is your advice on how to professionally respond to these negative comments?

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    You are asking for advice on how to deal with this problem but that is not what this site is for. Currently this question is just asking for opinions. You could save this question by asking how to accomplish a specific goal like, How can I communicate with my colleague that I am offended by her behavior? As it stands your question is likely to be closed as asking for opinions. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 26 '13 at 15:04
  • ^+1 to your comment for explaining succinctly what's wrong with the question. – user10911 Dec 27 '13 at 7:53
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This behavior doesn't sound sneaky at all. It does however sound rude, and you say it's inaccurate. So I would look at her when she says something like that, wait a beat or two (silence adds emphasis) and then say:

Wow, that's rude. And inaccurate.

Wait another beat and say

We can discuss that later.

And then return to the topic at hand such as addressing whoever just said you should do the training and saying "I'd be happy to set up a session" or "I'm available for anyone who wants a demo" or whatever.

You can get away with the "we can discuss it later" line because you are above her in the hierarchy. It asserts that relationship pretty strongly, so don't use it if you're not above her, just have been in the company a few months longer.

You may have to discuss it later or you may not. But you have let her know how you feel and you have let others know that what she is saying isn't true. Don't get into "Oh my god I SO CAN'T BELEIVE YOU JUST SAID THAT" mode or start arguing the facts of whether or not you know your stuff in front of other people. Keep your dignity and behave like someone who is sure of their own abilities, not someone insecure who needs to fight in public.

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    I totally agree with deferring the discussion. If you join the discussion you will be following in on a situation she started, thusly, she would be in control. Anytime a subordinate tries to get into verbal challenges, remind them who is in control and defer. If they follow-up and want to discuss "later" then tell them you are busy and have them put their notes and objections in an email for your consideration. IME, they usually don't. If they do, however, then you can get back to them with a well crafted, professional response. If they are rude in their email, you will have evidence .. – MikeM Oct 30 '15 at 18:42
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I agree that her actions sound rude, and you should address that. Kate Gregory's answer is a good one on addressing that rudeness.

But I want to point out that part of your professional behavior is treating her also as a professional. Your posting sounds very condescending to her, and she may be picking up on that. "Young girl"? Is she 10? If she is an adult, then start treating her as an adult. Quit focusing on her age and gender, and start focusing on her behaviour. When she does something well, be sure to let her know. When her actions are rude or detrimental to the team, then let her know that too. But quit thinking of her as a kid -- once you start showing some respect to her, it will certainly help her in showing some respect to you.

  • I agree with not treating the other person with disrespect, especially not due to external variables (young/girl etc.). I do not believe that showing respect, though, will help here. She is doing this on purpose. Asserting authority in subtle ways (as in Kate's response) is a better way. – Captain Emacs Jun 21 '17 at 8:11
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I've been 'this kind of person' at various times, and been at the receiving end of it as well. Some people are 'junior' others are 'senior', it doesn't much matter.

Having done this myself, I would look back on the encounter and cringe. It's quite possible that your working associate is shooting from the hip and doesn't think first. So it can't hurt to ask her to think about it after the fact - when she says "the more you teach you will get better at it" immediately invite her to sit at the computer and show you how it's done. Obviously if you don't know and she does, then she can teach you.

What she will perceive eventually is that you're going to call her out on every slight - not by insults or snappy answers, but by "put up or shut up". There's a poster on the wall of my auto mechanic that says something like "Move out now and get a job while you still know everything".

She is probably somewhat tense, as happens when someone either perceives themselves lower in the pecking order or less qualified. There would be some value in giving her some space to relax - while you demand that she show that she knows what she's doing, create some room for her to land 'softly', rather than maximize embarrassment.

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    OTOH, I've "been this kind of person" as well, and when asked to put up or shut up, I proved that I knew what I was talking about. One thing that hasn't been addressed in any of the comments or answers is the possibility that she sees a real deficiency in the OP and is trying, however clumsily, to mentor him--and the situation may be set up where no one is interested in seeing that he actually needs to be mentored. – Amy Blankenship Dec 27 '13 at 19:00
  • @AmyBlankenship - "Firstly, the deputy-director had sent an email out to others outside of our team and across the organisation to tell them to seek my advice and training on producing a particular kind of report." This kind of instruction suggests that the OP isn't seriously deficient. However, it is often true that in details someone doesn't know some functional areas very well. Does this need to be broadcast to everyone in the bullpen, particularly if everyone more or less understands such skills take practice? – Meredith Poor Dec 27 '13 at 22:29
  • Hm, I've worked in places where management described someone's skills in a particular area as strong when I interviewed, but with my larger insight of the developer community as a whole, I found their skills to be sub-par in the extreme when I was actually confronted with their code. So if management thinks your skills are strong, that might or might not be an indication that they really are strong. It's possible that what she said was the politest way she could think of to suggest "you might be wise not too much faith in training delivered by this guy." – Amy Blankenship Dec 27 '13 at 22:58
  • @AmyBlankenship Or attempting to shoot OP down. People like that do not necessarily think in terms of competence, but in terms of, "how can I advance myself through this weakness of that person". – Captain Emacs Jun 21 '17 at 8:14

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