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Is Your Equal at Work Acting Like Your Manager? Here's How to Handle It

Why are you dictating my day-to-day duties?

When the hierarchy at work isn’t clear things can go downhill fast. Especially if your work neighbor and equal has suddenly just started telling you what to do. Ummm, and you arrrrre?

We all want to avoid confrontation at work, yet this person seems to have no idea he or she is not your boss.

A couple of things may be at play. One, it’s possible your boss has passed down his or her own duties and no one has informed you of the changes. Two, this person is just bossy and has taken it upon themselves to lead the way, not that you want to follow. Or maybe you are brand new, bossy pants is not, and they think they are being helpful — or they are being territorial. It could be that you are being super sensitive and don’t like anyone telling you anything, and that you have to get over it.

But if a work equal is suddenly dishing out tasks, what can you do?

Workplace expert Alison Green (creator of the popular blog Ask a Manager) has some good advice. Obviously you have to talk this out — with your boss first. And you have to find out who is in charge here.

“Talk to your boss first. Tell him that you’re getting the sense that your coworker thinks she’s supposed to be managing you and be specific how, that she’s checking up on your projects or asking for daily status meetings about your work, and that you want to confirm with him that that she’s not in fact your manager before you talk to her,” Green advises. “If he’s actually told her that she should manage you, this will hopefully prompt him to tell you that, yes, she’s actually supposed to be doing these things. And if that’s the case, boo to him for not telling you that earlier.”

But assuming that your boss says that no, you don’t report to her, do this:

“Talk to her and say something like, ‘Hey, I normally manage this stuff on my own and report directly to Bob on my work. I checked with him to make sure he doesn’t want to change that and he confirmed that it’ll continue that way.’ You could add, ‘I’ve gotten the sense you’re interested in me updating you on my projects the way I might with a manager, so I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any confusion there and you know I report to Bob.’”

It’s very possible this person knows they are not your official manager but thinks they are in some sort of lead role.

“Tell the person there’s something she could do that you’d welcome — like running interference with Bob or with clients. This is a good place to mention it and it might redirect her energy in a way you’ll be glad about.”

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