Suggestions for dealing with a challenging colleague?

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I'm new and hoping for some constructive feedback on this one. I like my colleagues and workplace. We manage, despite some ideological, pedagogical and discipline-approach differences to get along fairly well as a department and school. (We have our standard share of petty infighting and factional wars but it is largely a good faith and pleasant place to work).

One colleague, senior to me, has caused me some frustration. She is not well liked and probably marginalized by others in the area. Lately we both volunteered, at the last moment, for a small but interesting interdisciplinary project after the key person in our area dropped out. I did a lot of work on the project, colleague did none. I kept her updated on progress (forwarding relevant emails mostly) and reminded the committee she wanted to be involved when i first got in touch with them about what i could/needed to contribute. Submitting the paperwork for the project (think philosophy meets new media meets sociology) was a scramble and I did not get to see the preliminary report before it went off to the highers up. (As we were last minute ring ins, we had about two weeks to contribute before deadline). Colleague then wrote me an angry email demanding to know why her bio had been left off the project pitch. (presumably because she had done no work for it but I am not leading the project, did not submit it and am fairly junior - have vague equivalent of tenure/associate professor status as I am outside US - in the whole process). Although I sent a friendly and polite reply, saying I was sure it was just an oversight borne of tight deadlines and poor communication, colleague has since done a number of odd things including attempting to direct/instruct me (she has no managerial responsibility for me and is not much involved in my area and is only one step above me in the hierarchy) and writing sharp high handed emails or ignoring my emails altogether.

All my senior colleagues warned me about this person when I joined the school three years ago but I'm finding this very unpleasant (not because colleague has influence in the dept or any capacity to impact on my employment directly, just because I find it demoralising and unnecessary). I can see that if she has been sidelined by others in the past, she might feel vulnerable and be on the alert for perceived 'slights'.

Here's what I've tried so far:

Remaining friendly and collegial, making an effort to attend her events or seminars she has organised.

Gently confronting her saying 'hey, I didn't realise your bio was missing on the project proposal either; I thought X (project leader) and you were already talking about the project together'. (That ended in her vague mumbling and evasion and no clarity.)

Ignoring her and doing my job as best I can. (I can live with this but it seems a shame and I would like us to have a civil working relationship.

As she is now choosing to ignore half my emails - ones that need to be answered to address and resolve and action events and courses in our shared field - I'm at a loss.

I suspect the advice here may to be ignore it and toughen up. I would just like to salvage collegiality if possible and not end up battling passive aggressive point scoring. For what it's worth I have a better publishing and grant record than senior colleague but am extremely happy in my current role and not interested in moving up the hierarchy (I love teaching and loathe admin.) She has recently suggested I write a draft for her regarding a review we are both expected to contribute to (wording very much hinting she expects me to do her part for her; I've replied saying I'm happy to swap draft notes).

She doesn't manage me. I don't report to her and she can't fire me. I do not have this issue with any other colleagues (with whom I work collaboratively and productively all the time). Any tips on how I might improve the communication and relationship between us or should I just let this one go?

Many thanks for your input!

Sorry, just to clarify and not to colleagues and I often step in to help each other out with projects and joint responsibilities. I've carried the load for others, and they for me, so I'd have no issue with doing some extra work to help aforementioned senior colleague out. It's the tone that bothers me (emails reading like instructions and not requests, clear attempt to shift her responsibilities across to me without a please or thanks to be seen).

Ach! I've blathered on enough now.

I had to read your post twice to make sure it wasn't, in fact, me who had posted it and just forgotten that I had done so. There are only slight differences between our situations.    

That said, I choose, reluctantly: Quote

Ignoring her and doing my job as best I can.

If she's ignoring emails that need responses, call her or ask her in person - she'll have a harder time ignoring your questions that way.  In my case, I've stopped seeking input from my colleague and looked to others for ideas and answers. This has resulted in me taking the lead on things that would have otherwise just never gotten done.  I'm okay with that.

With empathy,


Take her name off any of the work to which she did not contribute. If she asks why, you say "I am surprised you want your name on there. Could you remind me what you added to the project?" Then disentangle your life from hers the best you can. And give your senior colleagues a heads-up about what is going on, even informally over coffee or beer, so they have the background when she gets to publicly trashing you.

Wrap up this current project as smoothly as possible, and quietly step away. It's not you, it's her. You can't fix her.

So, yes, let it go.


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