Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What About Bob?

We are discussing a hypothetical scenario involving Jennifer, a scientist working for a consulting company, who has a problem with her co-worker Bob (see previous two posts). Jennifer has discovered that Bob is communicating on her behalf with the manager of a refuge where she is leading an important project. The refuge manager feels more comfortable communicating with Bob, even though Bob is not part of Jennifer's project.  Instead of calling or emailing Jennifer, who is the project lead, the manager is contacting Bob, with whom he is better acquainted and has dealt with in the past.

Jennifer initially thought that Bob was just trying to be helpful....but now is not so sure. 

I posed the possibility that Bob might have an ulterior motive for his actions, evident by his persistence in intercepting and responding to messages about Jennifer's project. In the last post, I noted that Jennifer failed to deal effectively with Bob in the beginning. In addition to straightening things out with the refuge manager, she should have confronted Bob and asked him not to respond to any more messages on her instead forward emails or otherwise direct any communications to her.  Instead, she made the mistake of thanking Bob for the forwarded messages, which apparently encouraged him to continue.

Let's assume that the situation has not improved, and Bob is still interjecting himself into Jennifer's affairs, even after being asked to stop. This is a warning sign that Bob is probably trying to undermine Jennifer.

What should Jennifer do? Storm into Bob's office and demand that he butt out? That's not likely to work, especially if Bob is deliberately trying to sabotage Jennifer's project.  Even if Bob is simply a bumbling idiot who doesn't realize the damage he might be doing to Jennifer, her tirade will likely backfire.  Should she go to her boss and complain?  No, that will just send the message that she can't take care of the problem by herself. 

Jennifer takes some time to think about her options and comes up with a three-pronged approach for dealing with Bob and his interference in her project:

1.  First, she stops responding to or acting upon any emails or other messages from the refuge forwarded to her by Bob.  She does not thank Bob or contact the refuge manager about whatever the email was about.  By no longer acknowledging Bob or acting on these forwarded messages, Jennifer takes the first step in removing Bob as Gatekeeper of the information flow between her and the refuge. Bob no longer gets any feedback that his interference is working.  The refuge manager, no longer getting responses to messages sent via Bob, begins to have second thoughts about communicating with Bob instead of Jennifer.     

2.  Second, Jennifer sends email progress reports to the refuge manager each month, enthusiastically highlighting significant findings.  And, most importantly, she copies her boss at the consulting company on these emails (not Bob).  This action accomplishes several things. She shows her boss that she's keeping the client updated about the project (which will counter any hints by Bob that she's having communication problems). Her boss responds to these messages with, "Great work, Jennifer! Thanks for keeping us all informed."  Her emails regularly remind the refuge manager of who is in charge of this project and that the consulting company is supportive of her in this role.  In addition, she creates written documentation of her communications with the refuge (in case the refuge manager later complains). Finally, her regular email correspondence prompts the refuge manager to begin responding directly to her once it's obvious that she is the one with knowledge about the project, not Bob.

3. Finally, Jennifer develops another line of communication with the refuge. She befriends the refuge manager's administrative assistant who readily agrees to provide Jennifer with a heads-up about any goings-on that relate to her project. The assistant sees and hears everything and, having had her own run-ins with the "good ole boys", is more than happy to help Jennifer out.  This action might be useful if the manager continues to be obstinate about keeping Jennifer informed about refuge activities involving her project.

In the end, Jennifer successfully completes her project.  Her boss is very pleased with how she kept the client (and him) informed about the project.  He is confident that he can put her in charge of larger projects in the future.

And what about Bob?  Well, he tried to tell Jennifer's boss about her communication difficulties with the refuge.  However, things didn't turn out quite as he imagined. The boss, instead of asking questions about Jennifer, began quizzing Bob about his role in the situation and why he was wasting time monitoring Jennifer's activities.  Bob ended up being reprimanded for interfering with Jennifer's project and was put on probation.

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