I have a problem with a direct and I don't know how to handle the situation... I would love some others to share their perspective or suggestions.

Sorry this is going to be lengthy... We work together at an office remote from the main office and any co-workers. She has been with me for about 4 months. I move between the two offices. I'm the GM, she's my bookkeeper. She's somewhat older than me.

She freely heaps encouragement on me, tells others that they should appreciate the great work I do and expresses to me how loyal she is. I have had a lot of difficulty whithin the business so she seems to think I need her visible support. It is sometimes nice (sometimes embarrassing) and I modestly accept her kind words. And I also try and not raise an eyebrown when she gives me advice. 

She is very forceful in manner and extremely talkative. She tells me constantly how much of a hard worker she is, how good she is at her job, how important it is to her and how good our relationship is. And also how much alike we are (?).

I have recently started one on ones but hasn't really made much of a positive difference yet. The biggest problem being that our relationship is nowhere near as professional as it should be. I don't need to build a personal relationship, I need to change it to a professional one.

She will often bend my ear for an hour at a time which is making me incredibly unproductive. How can I let this happen? She has some SERIOUS baggage, and the things she tells me are extremely personal. She is going through some huge emotional and mental turmoil and she is using me as her counsellor. Yes, i do care and I have a lot of empathy for her. AND I also want her to do some work and let me do mine! But I can't exactly say, "When you spend hours telling me about your personal issues, and crying on my shoulder, it makes us both unproductive. Can you keep it to yourself in future?" And even so, I'm not at the stage where I'm meant to give adjusting feedback.

Besides that, she has issues with her own remote direct (who is an underperformer) and a remote peer (who has his own serious communication issues which I am desperately trying to manage). She has had several altercations with him to date and has 'put him in his place'. A lot of issues are a result of her showing absolutely no control over her emotions in the workplace.

She completely flipped out at me today for a bit of a gaff on my part. I'm remote at the moment and emailed a request I admit I should have spoken to her on the phone about. The dynamics are so wrong, and there's so much drama being created, I'm feeling compelled to make a significant change to the relationship somehow or to let her go (I think if I gave her negative feedback she would leave). Is this unreasonable?

I'm way out of my depth trying to manage someone with serious mental health issues. By the way, that's not a judgemental comment, it is a fact and I'm very sensitive to it. Having a mental illness isn't the problem, it's her behaviour as a result of her illness that is the problem.

vonigan's picture


Humble opinion:

re: Filling your ear  - there's a podcast (I think it's "Gossip Avoidance"?) in which M&M speak about how to remove yourself from those situations (look at your watch; turn your body a bit; eventually excuse yourself since you really do have to go do....). I would think that based on your situation (it's only you and your direct), that that tactic should be used carefully - if you use that flippantly, you may erode your relationship (and trust) quickly with your direct.

re: Behavioral Feedback - the podcast "Greetings in DISC" i believe relays some information on how to make some quick assessments of people's DISC profiles, or at least their most prominent behavioral tendency. This can be used in conjunction with "Improve your feedback with DISC" (once you've reached that stage).

re: Emotional tendencies / 'flipping out' / drama - For your part, stick to the facts, and do not argue. In my relatively short experience, I've realized that starting with their name (if you're cutting of their sentence), keeping an even tone of voice, and sticking to a solution to the problem/situation at hand projects some authority without promoting conflict.

P.S. - I guess you've achieved M&M's definition of 'conflict' within your department, since there are only two of you there (just kidding!)

P.P.S - I'd like to take a shot given the information you've detailed that your direct's DISC profile is high I/ some S, based on your words 'forceful', 'talkative', and 'heaps encouragement'. This suggests that she wouldn't think much if you interrupted her mid-sentence and similarly that she interrupts you often in conversation (likely by speaking over you)?? 


DISC: 1377

shell76's picture

Hi Vaughan,

Thanks for your comments. Very much appreciated.

Yeah, I've been trawling through every possibly relevant podcast I can find, and I'm still feeling unsettled about how to handle the situation. After dwelling on it over the weekend, I'm thinking that it's not the long term management of our relationship that troubles me the most. It's probably more to do with the incident we had the other day where she 'flipped out' at me and how her inappropriate behaviour should be addressed. One minute I'm furious about it, then I'm self doubting and wonder if I'm being reactive becasue I feel insulted. But I think it would set a bad precedent if I let it slide, but unsure about what the result of the 'intervention' will be.

In a nutshell, I asked her (very very nicely) what I can only conclude to be a perfectly reasonable request from somebody's boss. Her reaction (in my mind at least) was completely unnecessary and unprofessional. It's apparent that she thinks it's appropriate for her to give me a dressing down because she took offence to the request and that "she's allowed to be upset". But at the same time preaches the need for respect from her direct to both her and me... Where's that big red flashing sign above my head gone that Mark talks about which says "Watch out, I'm your boss and I can fire you!"? Only joking. Sort of.

To elaborate on the 'incident' - her response to me was along the lines of "You need to re-read your email as it was very offensive and how could you do that to me because I am the most loyal employee you could find and have worked so hard and I'm so very good at my job and it was me that made sure you stayed confident every day by giving you lots of encouragement because I actually care, and you've gone and treated me like you treat other employees and I am so horribly offended and hurt by you acting so insensitively and that you don't trust me! How could you? etc etc etc".

What horrible thing did I do to insult her and undermine our relationship? I emailed her and asked a favour (with a smiley face) - if she could give me a 5 min update at the end of the each day because although she tells me what's going on all the time, I need more structure with how I receive status updates so I can take in and process the information in my head. That would make me more effective and I need to keep my finger on the pulse because I'm having increasing demands put on me from other people about our financial status all the time. AND I made the point when I made the request that it was by no means a question of trust in her doing the work as I absolutely believed she was doing a great job and had great faith in her.

I did apologise to her at the time for upsetting her (which she also told me off for because I kept saying sorry) as she was pretty mad and upset and I COULD have delivered the request by phone instead of by email (which was also one of the things that had upset her). But in regards to the request, I don't think it was unresonable or that she should have reacted like that. I didn't think I was giving her negative feedback, but it seems that's how it came across to her... Jeez! How careful do I have to be?

As far as DISC goes - she's all over the place. Her behaviour is so erratic because she's so unstable that I don't know how to place her from day to day. And I'm not sure how a depressed version of each of these behavour types manifests itself. That's one of the questions i'll pose to Mark at the ECC this week (not soon enought though!) If I was pushed though, I'd say High I. So maybe I'll try and work on that premise.

And of some relevance - early on in her employment, we had a difference of opinion on how to do something which she argued with me about. I gave in as she wasn't getting my point. The next day, I was quieter than usual because I wasn't feeling well so she promptly told me in no uncertain terms that I didn't get to ignore her just because we had a disagreement... I was so stunned that I just let it go. I'm not quite so willing to let that happen this time.

So, I will be face to face with her tomorrow and I'm still agonising over how to address it. Negative feedback a la carte? If so, what specific behaviour should be the focus? Or pretend it never happened if she acts normal when I see her? Apparrently she's "not so shallow as to let it affect our relationship". Maybe I'M shallow then...


jrosenau's picture

couple questions:

1) do you have other directs?  do you allow them the same leeway as her?  They could still talk your ear off even if they are on the phone.  If not, that is one way to approach it.  Say that you understand that being in a remote office together means that you have more face time; however, there are certain things that need to remain private and you are uncomfortable with some of the personal details.  

2) Do you have an EAP (employee assistance program) that you can direct her to?  You could direct her there for help rather then you.

3) Are you managing your calendar (find the "Right of First Refusal" podcast)?  If you have time booked off for important tasks, you can kindly say, "I'm sorry, I booked time to work on some priorities.  I really need to get back to work.  Thanks."

4) Have you talked to HR? Given the erratic behavior, you may at least want to discuss your next steps with HR so they are on the same page as you if she goes to them with any concerns, valid or not.  My concern is to make sure you are covered should something "blow up".

Hope this helps.


tiomikel's picture

This thread is old and perhaps I can find another place to post this However, shell76's original post describes to some degree an issue I also have. I have a direct described to a tee by: "She freely heaps encouragement on me, tells others that they should appreciate the great work I do and expresses to me how loyal she is. I have had a lot of difficulty whithin the business so she seems to think I need her visible support. It is sometimes nice (sometimes embarrassing) and I modestly accept her kind words...She tells me constantly how much of a hard worker she is, how good she is at her job, how important it is to her and how good our relationship is. And also how much alike we are"

In addition to the above, she shares personal information via all staff emails that exceeds professional boundaries in my opinion. If she is running late to work and wants to alert the team, she will do that and add how much time she has been spending with a sick baby and what she plans on doing to help put him to sleep. Or, she recently went on medical leave for surgery and she felt the need to communicate the details (replete with hotlinks to the Mayo Clinic) about various aspects of her condition. 

Her "oversharing" is talked about by others and I think it undermines her credibility. Her credibility is important because she is also an internal trainer of staff. I have heard it said from some that some folks will just turn off listening to her because of her repuation and lack of credibility. I think I have the ingredients here for feedback - when you share undermines credibility for you and our team...

However, I am very open to additional guidance on how to address this behavior.

thank you,