A reader writes:
Soon after I started in my current job, “Bob” joined our team in a similar role as me. He was noticeably very anxious and insecure, and he struggled with getting the basics down. The job includes giving feedback on others’ work, and I noticed that I kept having to ask him to fix the same basic issues constantly. I didn’t shy away from giving him feedback directly but professionally – the same way I give feedback to everyone else – and while no one else in the company seems to have a problem with me, he would get angry and defensive when I critiqued his work. I invited him to coffees with our other colleagues, in the hopes that being more friendly could improve our working relationship. But he was hot and cold socially; sometimes he was kind and funny, and other times withdrawn and sullen.
Over time, I was promoted to a more senior role, and then our boss announced that he was leaving the company. I applied for our boss’s job and I got it. Bob abruptly took the next day off and emailed HR his resignation. The timing of his resignation seems too immediate and sudden to feel like a coincidence.
I’m having so much trouble figuring out what happened and if I could have prevented it. I’ve spoken to multiple people about the situation who agree it’s a distinct possibility that Bob didn’t like having so much feedback come from a woman, especially one who was on the same level as him at the time, and especially one who was younger than him. I’ve wondered if I should have been gentler when I was giving him feedback – but I didn’t want to condescend to him by assuming he couldn’t take it, and his work had so many obvious errors that that letting them slide would have negatively impacted the quality of our products.
Worst of all, I have to manage him until his exit date. It feels like he found me so intolerable that he didn’t think it was even worth giving working with me a shot, so I’m not sure how to deal with talking about his remaining projects that I’ll have to help him hand off to someone else. What can I do to try and keep the peace until he leaves? And is there anything I can do differently to avoid a situation like this ever again?
I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.