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Originally published Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Interpersonal Edge

Set limits quickly on bossy co-worker

Similar to an imaginary friend, bossy co-workers need no external confirmation from reality to rule their colleagues from their cubicle.

Tribune Media Services

Q: I work with a co-worker who thinks he's my boss. He likes to stop by my office, tell me how to do my work and give me feedback about what I need to improve. I end up in arguments with him about how to get my work done. How do I get my bossy co-worker to keep his nose out of my job?

A: You are going to make it clear to your co-worker that you report to your boss, not to him.

You may find it comforting to know that most of my clients have had at least one co-worker who gives himself an imaginary promotion to boss.

Similar to an imaginary friend, these people need no external confirmation from reality to rule their co-workers from their superior cubicle.

Most of my clients also have spent way too much of their valuable time validating their co-worker's power by arguing with him.

Every time you have an argument with your co-worker, you suggest he has a point. After all, if the co-worker came in and tried to talk to you about the little green men dancing around your ceiling, you wouldn't argue, you'd just figure he was crazy.

If you let too much time go by before you set limits with your co-worker, other people may start to assume that the person indeed is the department lead or has authority over you.

Before you are tempted to stick his busy nose in your pencil sharpener, try the following conversation at your earliest opportunity:

"Last time you stepped in my office, I remember you had some projects you wanted me to work on. I realized that I am happy to go to our boss with your recommendations but I can't work on projects unless our boss gives the green light. Do you want me to tell our boss that you want to talk to her?

When you say these words, a magical event will occur. Your co-worker will have to confront the reality that your boss will not enjoy or support your co-worker's imaginary promotion. Your co-worker will have to argue with your boss, not you.

Your co-worker may find it easy to be your boss in workplace fantasy. The only downside is you get argumentative. However, being the boss's boss brings a whole new set of threatening complications ... like getting fired!

Make sure you deliver your new approach factually and neutrally. You'll find reality a powerful workplace ally when co-workers play make-believe at your expense.

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The last word(s)

Q: Is there any way I can guarantee I can get a job in this economy?

A: Yes, make sure you build a set of critical skills employers need and you won't worry as much about any one job.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author. She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001 by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/ daneenskube.

© 2009 The Seattle Times Co., All Rights Reserved.

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