How to stop a coworker from ruining your reputation

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(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady

I was recently moved to a new position at my company. I am unable to interact directly with my boss daily as he travels a great deal. I usually work with one of his other direct reports. She is new to the company. I have 6 yrs with the company. My HR file is empty of negative feedback.

She recently told another co worker that I have issues.

My first thought was I wonder what issues I have, or more bluntly put - what issues does she have with me?

People tell me I am very easy to work with - they have for the past 25 years. I have a huge work ethic. I get my work done and on time. Always have, always will.

The last thing I need or want is for people to say or think that I am not productive and hard to deal with. How do I approach this woman to determine what her issue is with me?

She definitely has issues. You may too, but as you said, that's not the point. You have a good reputation at your company. This woman is new. My guess is that it is precisely because of your good reputation that she's targeting you.

And yes, I just said "targeting." Some people are not happy until they are top dog and rather than working to climb to the top, they just try to bring people down. Therefore, you must have issues. Because if you didn't have issues then she'd have to admit that you're better than she is.

I'm a fan of two approaches: 1. The direct confrontation and 2. The cover your behind. Both are needed in this situation.

First, the direct confrontation. There is a magical phrase that I learned from Alison Greene, a management consultant who blogs at Ask a Manager:  Can you clarify? 

So, your whole line of inquiry goes like this: Jane, I heard that you were telling people I have issues. Can you please clarify?

She may or may not answer you. She may deny it. It really doesn't matter. It lets her know that you're not a doormat. It also lets her know that her little gossipy chats are not working to endear people to her because rather than gossip behind your back, these people are going to you. And why wouldn't they? You have six years of history here.

Now, when people tell you additional bad things that Jane has said, your job is to laugh and say, "Oh my, Jane has way too much time on her hands!" If you're not bothered by it, it highlights the ridiculousness of the whole situation. 

Now the cover-your-behind portion. I'm not naive enough to think that a simple question can defeat a seasoned bully. (I swear, people who do workplace bullying started out by stealing lunch money in 2nd grade and have been honing those skills ever since. This is not an amateur.)

First, send an email to your boss (face to face is good, but you said the boss travels frequently). Here's your phrasing: It's been six months since I've been in this position. I just wanted to quickly touch base with you and make sure I'm doing what needs to be done. Jane has expressed concern that I'm doing/not doing X correctly. Can you please let me know if that's the case? Thanks so much!

The boss will respond and either let you know that X is a problem or that X is not a problem. If it is a problem, you can fix it. If it's not, then the next time you have a clarifying discussion with Jane  and she complains about X you can be confident that your boss is okay with it.

Now, will this make Jane go away? No. Will it mean that your life will become blissful and perfect No. Will it make your boss aware of the situation? Yes. Will it discourage Jane? Yes.

If things don't get better, feel free to ask your HR person for help navigating this situation. Just make sure you ask for help with your behavior, not Jane's. Jane may be the person that needs fixing, but by framing it as you needing help responding, you're more likely to be taken seriously.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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