Interpersonal Edge: Steer clear of "dragon" wars at work
Sunday, January 12, 2014

 By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Media Services
 Q. I have a new job that I love. My boss just took me aside and told me there was a female manager who thinks I dress inappropriately and don't do my job well. I can tell she doesn't like this woman one bit. I want to take feedback well, but I'm not sure what to do. I'm also concerned I could end up being in the middle of fight they are already having. How do I navigate this? 
  A. Your instincts are right on; you are about to be pulled into a fight that has nothing to do. To steer clear you need to make sure you stay neutral and supportive of both your boss and the other manager.
  When your boss dislikes another manager, he or she may set you up unintentionally to fight with that person. We all like the person we dislike to be disliked by everyone else. We all want to be on the side of our boss. You can see how tempting it would be to take your boss's negative feelings and start your own war with this manager.
  As a new employee, you simply can't afford to make powerful enemies right out of the gate. You need to go back to your boss and her enemy and make sure neither person sees you as a threat.
  While your positive attitude regarding accepting "feedback" is commendable, what your boss said is too vague to count as feedback. Consider this question: What exactly do you need to change regarding your "inappropriate dress" and "doing your job badly"? If you can't see feedback on a video screen, then you need to ask more specific questions. 
  Go back to your boss and tell her that you are certain the other manager is just trying to be helpful in coaching you on "appropriate" dress and doing your job well. Point out that currently you don't have any facts about what this manager wants. Let your boss know you plan to go back to the other manager and get specific suggestions that, of course, you would run by your boss.
  Now return to the other manager and make clear that you are new and want to deliver the performance she expects. Make it obvious as well that you have to run everything by your boss. Then ask specifically what dress or services she would prefer to receive from you.
  When the other manager is reminded that you have to obey your boss and that you do want to give this manager what she wants, you'll have sidestepped the war between her and your boss. 
  As Scott Adams, the "Dilbert" cartoonist has perceptively observed, "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, 'cuz, like, you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup." When you are caught in your office between people higher up than you, get out of their way. 
Last word(s)
  Q. I have to make a lot of accurate, fast judgments about people I do business with. Are there any quick ways to correctly evaluate a stranger?
  A. Yes, absolutely assume what they do when they first meet you is not an accident but a habit regardless of excuses they might make.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006).   Contact her at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. 

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