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There are both practical and psychological reasons why a colleague might try to go above you, says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and coauthor of "Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both". Practically speaking, they may want a different answer or outcome than you’ve given. Psychologically, it’s possible that they’re keen to show they have more clout or authority than you do. It could also be that they’re conflict averse and afraid to address the issue with you directly.
Webb suggests you start by considering what you actually know. You may think your coworker went over your head to spite you, but perhaps you’re misreading the situation. Look at only the facts and avoid snap judgments. For example, rather than thinking, “He completely disregarded my authority,” tell yourself, “He had a conversation with my boss about the initiative he’s working on.”
If you don’t know all the facts of the situation – perhaps you just heard about the conversation through the office rumor mill – try to find out what really happened, says Webb. You might go to your boss and ask in a neutral way about what transpired: “Hey, I heard you and Carlos were talking about his new idea.” Take care to maintain a casual, non-accusatory tone so that your boss doesn’t think you’re trying to start a feud.
Ask your coworker if the two of you can talk — preferably in a private room. Keep an open mind as you enter the conversation, says Webb. “Don’t go into the conversation with the intention of sticking it to your coworker. Instead think about the importance of your working relationship.” Focus on your ultimate goal, whether it’s to restore trust or to protect your authority. And be ready to hear what he has to say about the situation and why he did what he did.
Begin by saying what you know in a “straightforward” way, says Galinsky. Explain why you’re disappointed, but stay away from words like “angry” or “betrayed,” Webb adds. That may be how you feel, but it’s going to put your coworker on the defensive. You might say something like: “I heard you talked to Roger about your initiative after we discussed it and that made me feel a bit concerned that we’re not communicating well.” Then ask for — and listen to — his perspective.
Once you’ve shared your views with one another, decide together how to remedy the situation. “Try asking them for their thoughts first, then build on their suggestions. Research shows that people feel far more attachment to any idea that they’ve had a hand in shaping,” explains Webb.
You should also discuss how you’ll handle similar situations in the future. Ideally, you and your colleague will agree that she should come directly to you next time. But if she’s not immediately on board with that plan, try to show her that going over your head is not only hurtful; it’s also ineffective, says Galinsky. Explain that you and your boss are in regular contact, so you’re going to find out if someone goes over your head. You might say, “I meet with Roger regularly to discuss our group’s priorities and he usually lets me know if he gets requests from other teams.”
This breach in the chain of command may have annoyed your boss or caused her to question your ability to do your job. And, if she failed to redirect the colleague to you, you might be ticked off at her. So, once you’ve settled things with your colleague, make sure to also sit down with your manager to talk about what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid similar situations in the future. Again, lay out what you know and how it made you feel, then listen to her perspective: “I heard that Carlos talked to you about his initiative and that made me concerned that I might be out of the loop.
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