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My colleague gives me orders to do work…

Dear Office-Politics,

One of my colleagues always gives me orders to do work for her. She is a financial analyst and I am the administrative assistant for a group of ten including her.

Though I support the group and she is in a higher position, I think what she gave me should be handled by her. I feel that she just wants to show people that I am under her and should do any thing for her. She copies her e-mails to staff with instructions for me, but the instructions are not clear and complete. For example, she asked me to send a special form to managers and collect the completed form for her. She didn’t tell me where I can find the form. I think that she can just send the form to the managers and tell the them to return the completed form to her or me. How can I handle this situation as there will probably be more similar cases happen in future?


1. How can I tell her not to do this to me? I want to tell her she has to talk to me every time she wants me to do work for her. How to tell her about this without creating more problems?
2. How to tell my manager without having him thinking that I want to dodge from work?
3. How to tell my manager that the work she asks me to do are in fact her responsibilities?
4. I’m already very busy and doing work for her is only part of my work, how should I set a limit of not receiving more work from her?

Please advise. Thanks.


dina beach lynch

Dear Stuck-in-the-Middle,

If it’s any comfort to you, you’re experiencing a common workplace issue. In a time when hierarchy is frowned on and most people work in multi-function teams, it can be very confusing to figure out who to talk about responsibilities and how to do it without making a CLM (career limiting move). Let’s strategize a bit.

Based on the facts you shared it seems there are actually two matters to address:
1) Your manager may not have been clear with you or the team about authority and how work will be delegated; and
2) Your colleague may not know or understand how to use your assistance. Happily, you can begin to resolve each situation with a brief conversation that seeks to exchange information, not lay blame.

To start, sit down with your manager and explain that there are times when you are uncertain how to prioritize the work of the group. You want your manager’s to help you establish those guidelines and share them with the group so that everyone has a clear understanding.

Hopefully, your boss will realize that you aren’t a slacker and really do care about the team and your work because you took the imitative to have the talk. This talk also puts him/her on notice of team troubles without having to identify any particular person and the fact that you feel a bit overwhelmed. The key to this conversation is for you to avoid being defensive and sincerely put the good of the team first. Once the guidelines are discussed with the team, then you can approach your colleague. You can ask her thoughts about the guidelines and how to interpret them in light of the work you do together. You might also take the opportunity to talk about how you like to receive instructions and who needs to be copied on email.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Colleagues must be proactive in defining working relationships. All it takes is a brief question: how do you do your best work? It may seem scary, may be even presumptuous, but the consequence of not planning for a good work relationship that meets each person’s needs is being unhappy or frustrated.

Good luck taking your first steps towards a happier work life. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.



Dina Beach Lynch, Mediator

Dina Beach Lynch, is an Ombudsman, Author and former attorney. An award-winning mediator, Dina served as the Corporate Ombudsman for the 7th largest bank in the US helping over 48,000 employees to resolve workplace issues.

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