Q: A colleague in another office continuously sends me information I already know about a project and gives advice I’m already following. I usually don’t engage because I don’t know what to say, but he started CCing my project supervisor. It feels like he’s saying that I don’t know what I’m doing – and loudly. Do I need to protect my reputation in a case like this? Should I ignore the emails, or is there a way to navigate telling him his messages are unhelpful?
A: It sounds like there may be a bigger story to your relationship with this colleague. Is this a project he has done before, or is it work for him? Is he vying for your job? You call him a colleague, but is that his real role? Is he an internal customer, or is he maybe communicating on behalf of his boss? Always follow the relationships to see what else might be causing this “help.”
In terms of what you need to say, going directly to him in a collegial way is your best first approach. Ask him why he is providing you with this information and what his goal is in CCing your project supervisor. If this project is for him or for his boss, you need to ask him if there is something missing in your work that he expected to see. Alternatively, if you’re not comfortable starting with him, then start with your project supervisor. Try to find out if there are any concerns about your ability to do this project, or if there is a reason this individual is shadowing your work.
Good reputations are developed – by doing great work, and by how you handle challenging situations. There are people who create conflict everywhere they go. This colleague may be one of those conflict creators, or you may be missing a hint about his level of satisfaction with your work. Conflict in offices is typical, unfortunately. Shadowing someone else’s work is not helpful, and certainly copying someone’s supervisor is even less so. The best advice is usually to swim in your own lane; people who are subtly trying to undermine you when they pretend they’re being supportive usually get found out.
Ignoring his emails won’t work. If there is absolutely no need for him to be doing this based on your supervisor’s feedback, then you should send an email saying, “Thank you for the information, you don’t need to shadow this project any longer, I have spoken to (my supervisor) and all is good.” A colleague letting you know they’re willing to help is a wonderful offer, but barging in this way is not. If this person is genuinely trying to help, you can thank him for the expertise – let him know that if you do need or want his advice, you will be comfortable following up, and there is no need to copy your supervisor.