How To Manage A Co-Worker Who Acts Like A Boss

We all had that kind of colleague at one point in our careers—the one who has the same set of deliverables and likely earns as much as you do but treats you like you’re working for him. He thinks he’s the boss.

He always has a “but” when commenting on your ideas, gives you unsolicited “expert advice” about your reports, and sneakily assigns you tasks without your boss (the person you both report to) knowing it.

You feel you’re going to lose your patience soon.

But you know you’re better than this because you got class and you’re not going to make a scene out of it. Your goal is to rise above when people go low. How do you manage the situation?

Here are three routes you may want to consider:

Step 1: Make yourself heard.

No one wants to look like they’re the most hated person in the office, so give your colleague the benefit of the doubt: does she really enjoy bossing around? Perhaps she’s just passionate about the team’s project, and she’s leading because no one is. Moreover, try looking yourself in the mirror—if you also have intentions of leading, have you ever vocalized it anyway? You can’t blame your eager beaver officemate if she’s campaigning better than you.

Step up your game and show what you got. When the opportunity knocks, take the wheel and say, “I like your idea, can we also try doing this route..?” or “This project is right up my alley, and I’d like to help in taking the lead…”

Finally, if you’ve proven that your colleague enjoys the spotlight excessively—perhaps it’s time to let her know? She may have the sincerest intentions, but she just unknowingly comes across as opinionated to some, and she needs to know this for her own good.

I once had a colleague whose daily habit was commenting on how I design my slides, and it started to get on my nerves. I firmly said one day, “I appreciate your help in guiding me on this, but I’m more comfortable with this other method. If I need an extra hand, I will let you know.”

Step 2: Neutralize the dominant voice through others.

All types of feedback may be taken as someone’s personal interpretation—and thereby easily dismissed by the recipient as subjective. How do you then make this colleague value your opinion?

Consider this: Are you the only one who’s feeling the “bossy attitude” or do you have allies who can support your case? A good way to improve your colleague’s self-awareness is to show proof in numbers. Try huddling him for a chat and say, “I may sound like I’m criticizing you for this feedback, but all I want as your teammate is to help you succeed in your role. Our teammates, including myself, think that….”

There’s also an upside to leveraging on your teammates to prove your case—you want this bossy colleague to realize that his way is not the only way. That there other people in the team, not just you, who also want to present their ideas on the table.

As someone who works with different nationalities across Asia, I’ve been in countless of projects where two type-A workers from the same company outdo each other at the expense of making teammates choose sides.

Over the years, I’ve learned one useful question that neutralizes these egos: “I think that concept also makes sense. Can we test both of your ideas first and see which our customer wants?”

Step 3: Seek advice from a common ground: your manager.

If options 1 and 2 aren’t working well, then it may be time to escalate the situation to an arbiter. In most cases, your manager is unaware of this, especially if the bossy colleague is operating under discretion.

Approach this discussion with professionalism. Keep your emotions at bay and avoid sounding like a kid who got her candy stolen by a bully. Steer the conversation towards “your career” and not about Mr. Bossy Pants.

Try saying, “I think I’m ready to sharpen my leadership skills. Is there a way I can step up in my role on this project…?” or “I feel that some members of the team are louder or more expressive. May I ask for some advice on how I can improve on my visibility?”

Your next steps, and a word of caution when raising these conversations:

Managing critical conversations is an art that we know is easier said than done. Practice the conversation with a friend or mentor, and check if your message is sending across clearly.

That is, either a) you also have aspirations of climbing up but someone is monopolizing the spotlight—which should be equally shared with others; or b) you don’t necessarily want to step up as leader for now, but someone is hovering above you like a helicopter, and it’s keeping you from doing your job well. You want this person to step back or your boss to help intervene.

Good luck and I hope things get better with your colleague!

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