Woman feels secretary is trying to sabotage her

Dear Joan:
I have a problem relationship at the office and don't know where to turn. The boss' secretary seems to be on a campaign to discredit me. She's worked with him for 10 years and she considers herself practically a relative to him. She and I never work directly together, but I always sense a coolness from her. We've never had an argument, but I found out she's keeping a log of "problems" she has with me to present to our boss.

I'm the only woman in the office who's not a secretary, and I have flexible hours; she doesn't. One of her complaints is having to take phone messages for me when I'm out. She says it's "disrupting."

She mentioned this to me one day in a huff, but when I tried to talk with her about it, she said she reports only to one boss. Should I go to him? I can't stand the tension, but won't it sound just like "catty" women having a spat?

This lady is waiting to ambush you - head her off at the pass.

Under normal circumstances, I'd suggest you try to settle your difference by talking to your boss' secretary before going to your boss. Since you've attempted to talk to her once already, and got the big chill, I'd seek your boss' help.

Make sure he understands that you are not coming to him to complain but to ask for coaching on how you can solve this problem.

Since he's known her for 10 years, he probably has some insight into her personality. He may even know what the problem is but was unaware it had reached this magnitude.

You won't appear "catty" if you take a professional approach. Don't get defensive or accuse the secretary of trying to discredit you. Your boss undoubtedly likes his secretary and her work, or he wouldn't have kept her with him for 10 years. Placing all the blame in her may put you out on a limb.

Instead, describe the facts of the situation as you know them and ask him if he knows of anything that you are doing that may be causing this problem.

Keep your tone of voice even and your face and body calm and relaxed.

If he offers any suggestions or opinions about the conflict that make you feel defensive, stay calm and ask for more details.

During your conversation, you may want to explore personality differences as well as the secretary's, and your job descriptions.

If personality factors are the cause, you may want to examine the way you treat her. Could she feel you look down on her as "just a secretary?" Or perhaps she resents your position, benefits or relationship with her boss.

If personal factors can be ruled out, perhaps she resents the added workload. If her job description makes no mention of supporting additional staff, your boss will need to clarify her role responsibilities.

Make sure you understand your own job description, level of authority and job parameters. Be ready to make adjustments in your own behavior if you've acted inappropriately.

By going to the boss early, you will probably head off an ugly scene later. No boss likes surprises. You will demonstrate your professionalism by dealing openly with the conflict rather than keeping a "log" of your own.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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