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Any tips for surviving office politics?

For instance, and this is just one type of example, I work with a COO who repeatedly follows this three step process:

1. Sends me an email with a question requiring my somewhat detailed opinion.

2. Receives my email response.

3. CCs the CEO in her response in order to roundly criticize my answer to her original question.

This happens almost every time. I don't even want to respond to her emails anymore and this example is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems she is clearly out to get me.

And the crazy thing is, I don't think it makes her look all that great either.

Any suggestions?

 

Answers

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I'm supposing you have not worked with this person for long? You could bring it up to her directly in a calm and professional manner, and see if she is willing to iterate with you before looping in the CEO. Downside to this is that if what she is doing is intentional, I find most people are dismissive and disingenuous when called out on certain behaviors.

You can try limiting your detailed responses if solicited via email. You may not be getting a full breakdown of the business issue at hand. Plus It's time consuming anyway. Render your opinion via in-person discussions or by phone. More than once I've asked a question and gotten a "call me to discuss" response.

Since she is cc'ing you, you could interpret this as an indication that she is not out to get you so much as looking to move forward a dialogue. She could just as easily forward your email to the CEO with her criticism and leave you none the wiser. It comes back to how well you know the person.

Anonymous
(Director of Finance and Accounting) |

Why not CC the CEO directly when responding to the COO's email requests? This way the CEO can read your response without the color of the comments made by the COO.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I would speak with her and ask if there is a reason she is communicating this way and explain how it makes you feel. Get her feedback as to a more constructive or effective path of communication.

Most people don't like confrontation and judging from the way she is communicating with you now; you may catch her off guard and it will open up the door for the two of you to break down this barrier that is currently affecting you. It may be a total miscommunication. You're assuming you know what she is up to and her motives. Ask for a meeting and hash it out. I agree with Ken, it doesn't sound like the two of you know each other that well or have worked together long; this may be what is needed to strengthen your relationship and change this to a positive team centered relationship.

Anonymous
(Manager) |

I really appreciate the responses. Yes, I have only worked with her for six months.

The suggestions of speaking with her directly about it couldn't hurt, but that is mostly because things are so bad... there isn't much room to get worse.

Yes, I will suggest we discuss answers to her emails in-person rather than give her my email responses to shoot at.

On the suggestion of cc'ing the CEO, he has her original question, my response and her criticism in the cc she sends... so he gets the full communication.

On the notion that I may not understand her motives, I'm open to the theoretical idea of that. I have to say that getting thoroughly attacked as wrong over and over again makes me wonder what other less toxic motives she may have that are only a perception of mine away.

Ken, I don't see how, as you noted;

"Since she is cc'ing you, you could interpret this as an indication that she is not out to get you so much as looking to move forward a dialogue."

She is responding to me and cc'ing the CEO. She doesn't need to cc the CEO to move forward a dialog with me.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I was thinking she may be attempting to move forward the dialog among the three of you rather than playing pong with you and the CEO separately. This would especially make sense if you are in different locations.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

This situation presents you with a great opportunity. If you are providing quality responses and then these responses are being directed to the CEO, you can't loose. The CEO will see what you can produce. Unless the answers are not that great. Suggestion - allow a colleague that understands the business and the people involved read a response...and then ask for an honest opinion. I worked for one person in my career that was brilliant. I would leave his office with a clear understanding of what was required. My responses never hit the mark. Before you take the suggestions above, which are very good, make sure it is not your fault.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Regarding your question as stated, you are experiencing what I call an email trap. This is not executive behavior and it is intended to ruin you. Make no mistake.

A person that engages in this type of behavior is immature and usually does not understand their role. In addition this person likely had a series of terrible bosses that treated and unfortunately trained them to be this way.

The simple solution is to not engage in email with this person, ever.

There is no obligation to respond given the past behavior. If they want to speak with you, they will call a meeting, or walk down to your office, or call you on the phone.

This is very junior behavior, do not enage. If asked just say you want to avoid miscommunication due to the complexity of the matter.

Cheers.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

My advice is threefold:

First, take your answers off-line and discuss with COO in person. Then send an e-mail summary that clearly states that you are providing a joint position on an issue based upon your conversation.

Second, try to engage with the CEO directly whenever possible. If you can open up that dialogue, then she/he can see the quality of your work.

Third, sit down with HR and chat about the relationship - it would be good to have a 3rd party involved since it may be a combination of reasons from both of you. You're biggest risk is assuming it is all one sided - since it's tough to see our own blind spots.

The advice above about not engaging in the same behavior is spot on.

Good luck.

Anonymous
(CFO) |

Talking with HR or informing CEO of this situation is bound to backfire. People like this COO are manipulators and narcissistic. Execs don't want to hear about it. HR will use the info to "shoot the messenger" rather than take sides in the matter.

I've encountered situations like this too many times to count anymore. It is almost impossible to "win". The better course of action, as has been recommended elsewhere, is to avoid responding. In fact, avoid contact as much as possible. When the bully no longer is able to get a rise out of you, they'll focus their energies on a new victim. That increases the likelihood that the higher ups will begin to recognize a pattern and dismiss the bully.

If you are an executive reading this, please take note. Bullies below your level will pick on colleagues in ways you can't imagine. It costs your organization plenty. It can lead to expensive lawsuits. It demoralizes staff, leads to higher rates of turnover and stifles productivity. Don't dismiss it as "personality conflict'. Identify the perp and take action! Don't be afraid to dismiss a bully outright. Anti-social behavior has no role in a productive workplace.

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

Anon CTO, have you thought about reversing this?

Do you have something that YOU need to initiate with her? Spend time figuring out how YOU would like it to go, then put it into action and plan for her response: it could be positive, negative or "grudging acceptance :) .

Use that as an example to try to persuade her to change her ways, or at least compromise on some issues that bug you today.

You may need a few cycles to get the message home and the relationship on a better track.

Regards

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Anonymous CTO - thank you for introducing a personal and sensitive topic such as this to the forum. I'm finding the responses quite enlightening...

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