Advice column: how can I deal with a particularly manipulative member of our team?

Dear Ash

I am at pains to understand how to deal with a particularly manipulative member of our team. She has a tendency to gossip and moan about everyone in the company and despite her lack of experience or rank, seems to think she is effectively running the department. She seems to have very little work to do, but manages to give the impression, at least to senior management, that she is overworked and under stress – yet every time someone asks a question of me she interrupts before I have had a chance to respond and attempts to take over the situation. I can see her screen from my desk and she is frequently on social media sites; and if not, she is gossiping. Despite all this, our manager seems oblivious to her behaviour and thinks she is perfect. I am beginning to lose my patience, but feel powerless as I would probably be accused of being the nuisance for raising any concerns.

Ash replies

Welcome to the world of office politics!

Some people are skilled at the art of manipulation and seem to get away with it because it is all done with a smile. You are clearly now savvy to this person’s act, and your frustration is understandable as she is devious in hiding her true colours from management. However, you need to learn to adapt your own personality, whenever you are in her vicinity. You may be reluctant to essentially adopt another persona in that way; however, in order to ensure a degree of self preservation, you sometimes need to adapt in particular surroundings.

For example, on a practical level, try to ensure, where possible, that you speak about work to other colleagues away from this person in order to prevent her butting in. You could also take steps to show you are not willing to partake in her gossiping by walking away when she attempts to gossip in your vicinity. It may make her less inclined to berate others so openly if she does not have a receptive audience. It may indeed have the positive effect of making her feel awkward talking about someone in your presence.

You are clearly agitated by her behaviour, but try not to lose your cool around her as she clearly will only use this against you and act as the innocent party. Hard as it may be, always retain a degree of professionalism, although this does not of course compel you to adopt a constant fake smile.

Also, when you are next meeting with your manager, you could highlight your own workload and question whether more tasks could be allocated to others; in particular, suggest that this person be given certain tasks. This may give the subtle hint that she has little to do, or at least ensure that he provides her with further work, reducing her ability to cause further problems.


Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or KatieWood@lawscot.org.uk
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