7 Ways to Deal With a Coworker Who Won’t Stay In Their Lane

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 19, 2024 at 7:42PM UTC

Feel like your coworker keeps stealing your opportunity to do work? Maybe they're snagging all the high-profile assignments or stepping up for all the challenging ones before you ever get the chance to speak. 

That's what's happened to an FGB'er who recently took to the Fairygodboss Community to share her concern. 

She says she works in a very demanding field under her boss with three people under her boss that she directly supports. And one of three always seems to have an issue with her.

"I do my job with 99.9% accuracy — no one is perfect; we all make a mistake here and there," she says. "This one person complains all the time that they have way too much work, can never meet a deadline, asks for meetings to be moved that were planned well in advance because it doesn't meet their schedule. On top of this, this person also likes to take on other projects that I normally would be doing just to try to make them look more impressive — and then joins all of these external organizations for professional development. Then when I complete something, this person is the type that will go behind my back to redo it and send it to the boss."

She says that, if she confronts her coworker, they'll deny that they're doing anything wrong. And her boss doesn't seem to care so long as someone is stepping up.

"At the same time, this person is taking work away from me, leaving me with less to do and them complaining more and more that they have too much to do," she goes on. "Also, when I take a day off here or there, I get called unreliable and get told that I could have been used but instead was gone, whereas said person takes extended vacations a few times a year and will call in sick with a sneeze."

She asked the Fairygodboss community whether she should grin and bear it or speak up. Here's what they had to say.

1. Talk to your boss about this toxic behavior in the team.

"Schedule a meeting with [your boss], and ask for their advice on how to handle the situation," wrote an anonymous FGB'er. " Not only will it inform them of what is happening, but they should be able to give you sound advice on how to handle the coworker."
She says that she would make sure to go into the meeting with clear examples of what's happening and make the discussion conversational. 
"This shows that you aren't overreacting and that you are sincerely asking for advice on how to handle the situation," she explains.

2. Figure out a way to work together on upcoming projects.

"What if you asked this person for help with a project rather than waiting for her to take it from you?" wrote Lynne Cogan in response to the post. "Maybe there is something you don't enjoy doing that she does and really does well. If that goes well, you could offer to help her with something that she is having a challenge getting done that you do well."
For instance, if you don't like working in Excel, and she's great at it, this could help you. She would enjoy the work and maybe feel needed and wanted — which could be the issue — and your manager would think your presentations or reports are the best in the department, Cogan added.

3. Tell the coworker that they need to stay in their lane.

"Sounds like the office martyr," wrote Ahderman. "Every office has at least one of these self-important attention-seeking ‘squeaky’ wheels. Someone needs to find a professional way to tell her to get off the cross; it’s occupied."

4. Confront the coworker (maybe even in front of others).

"Can you confront her directly when she swoops in on your turf?" wrote Kelly Harvey. "You can say, 'I was given this initiative directly to manage, and you are taking it over. I resent the implication that I cannot handle it, and I want you to back off. You have stated repeatedly that you are overworked. It is inappropriate for you to take on something that is mine. It is intrusive and unprofessional. I need you to stay in your lane.'"
Harvey says that it may be possible (although unlikely) that this person lacks self-awareness and doesn't even realize what they are doing. It is also possible that they think they are being the office savior, and they are unaware of how obnoxious their behavior is.
Other FGB'ers agree that you should confront this coworker.
"It’s a tough situation, but it sounds like maybe you need to tell her, 'No, thank you, I’ve got it,'" wrote IntentionGirl229469. "And then stick to your guns. If she tells people you’re not able to handle it, firmly tell her that you are in front of the people she is saying it to, and then do it." 

5. Talk to your boss' boss about the situation.

"Does your boss have a boss?" wrote Gina Diamante. "If so, it's PAST time to go to that person with documentation of everything. The problem is not simply that you have a toxic co-worker. You have a bad boss who is letting that person get away with it to create a hostile work environment."

6. Study up on the coworker's personality type (and how best to work with it).

"Please study the Myers Briggs personality types — I'll bet you'll find hers and yours, and it may bring you some understanding of the conflict," wrote Katie Henderson Ladyboss752675. "It is a mark of maturity to be able to get along with different personality types. While it may be uncomfortable, try to focus on what you are learning about human nature."

7. Start hunting for a new job.

"If the supervisor or manager doesn't see to have any issues with that person and they continue to do the same thing (turn a blind eye), then I would suggest attempting to transfer to a different department or a different job," wrote Roberta Pryor.
Others concur.
"I agree that you should have your resume ready and active," added A.N. "I understand that you’re not causing the problem, but moving on may be the best way to resolve this matter productively."

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.

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