Q: I have found myself in a strange situation at work. After receiving a promotion, I discovered that many of the duties in my new job description were already being performed by "Paul," an older employee who has been here for a long time. Paul is so involved with my responsibilities that I'm beginning to feel unnecessary.
For example, my job description states that I am to recruit, hire and supervise our student interns. But when I tried to give projects to the students, Paul insisted that he is supposed to approve their assignments and monitor their performance. This makes absolutely no sense.
When I tried to reclaim some of my territory, Paul immediately became angry and uncooperative. Our supervisor seems to understand my frustration, but so far she has done nothing to solve the problem. How can I get Paul to back off and stop doing my work?
A: Before getting sucked into an unwise territorial dispute, take a moment to consider Paul's perspective. If he has performed these duties for many years, you may seem like an interloper who is trying to steal his job. So you need to understand that the blame for this confusion lies not with Paul, but with management.
When roles are poorly defined, conflicts almost always arise. Before your promotion, your supervisor should have anticipated this problem and taken steps to differentiate your position from Paul's. Her failure to do so has created a predictable tug-of-war which could easily have been avoided.
Since your boss has continued to abdicate her leadership role, you may have to take the initiative to resolve this issue. Start by listing both your responsibilities and Paul's, then review this summary with your supervisor and identify areas of overlap. Instead of lobbying to "reclaim your territory," ask if she will invite Paul to collaborate with you on creating two distinct job descriptions.
If this process succeeds, you may still not have precisely the job you want, but you will at least have a role that everyone understands. After all, if you're confused about who does what, just think how those poor interns must feel.
Q: Our company recently merged with a larger business, so I know that some departments will eventually be combined and positions will be eliminated. I had been planning to ask my boss about a promotion, but with all the uncertainty created by the merger, I'm afraid this might not be a good idea. What do you think?
A: If your primary objective is to survive the merger, then you want to be in the position which will be most essential to the combined company. Depending on the specific circumstances, that could be either the higher-level or lower-level job.
If predicting the better choice is difficult, consider seeking advice from your human resources manager. You should keep in mind, however, that no one has the power to foretell exactly what may happen in the wake of a merger.
Q: I work with a group of people who like to discuss their personal lives. Every Monday morning, someone will ask what my boyfriend and I did over the weekend. I am private by nature and would prefer not to share this information, but I don't want to seem rude. How should I handle these nosy co-workers?
A: Most of the time, "What did you do this weekend?" is an innocuous query, similar to "How are you?" People are asking just to be polite. They have no interest in hearing a detailed account of events and would probably be dismayed to receive one.
Therefore, you can simply respond with a brief and bland answer — like "oh, the usual stuff" or "nothing very interesting" — quickly followed by an inquiry about your colleague's activities. Since most people greatly prefer talking about themselves, this question should shift the conversational focus. The price you must pay for privacy is listening to the answer.