‘Only One of Me’ asks:
Two of my bosses are in an ongoing power struggle. When one wants something “right now,” the other one is likely to come up with something else they want done first. Do I go with the boss with the higher authority, or take tasks in the order I get them, or keep running to the one who’s my immediate supervisor for a decision?
PayCheck ChaCha chatters:
Can’t they just arm wrestle for your services?
Before addressing your two seemingly uncaring bosses, let’s sound a note of caution, which is not to see either party as ‘more right’ or ‘easier to work with’ than the other. If you start favoring somebody because of personal feelings, you risk undermining your organization and your stature within the organization.
The proper work to do is the task the organization needs first – which is related to the question of who has more authority, but isn’t absolutely determined by that authority.
That said, you’re on the right track with asking your supervisor to help you prioritize, not each set of tasks, but the rules for prioritization.
But that still leaves you in a potential no-win situation if there’s a power struggle going on. The loser of that battle will splatter blame on you when they try to discredit the other person in the struggle.
Take a Number
Rather than letting yourself be placed in the position of making a choice for which the unchosen one will always blame you, your ‘First Come, First Served’ idea is the path to sanity. Whoever spoke first gets the next priority and you politely tell the other that you’ve already been given a job with a ‘do it now’ command, so if they need to change your priority, THEY need to consult with the person who gave you the first job and have that person tell you the priority has changed.
When they’re together, tell them nicely but directly that it makes you uncomfortable to feel in the middle of conflicting instructions, and ask them to please get together to decide how tasks are to be prioritized, then let you know their decision.
If they’re really just having a power struggle and trying to manipulate you to gain advantage over the other, it’s fair for you to decline to be a pawn in their game. Turn their problem behavior over to a higher authority and ask for help defining your organization’s policy so that you have clear and formal guidance on how to appropriately respond to conflicting instructions.
Of course, if the one who doesn’t get his way is childish, they’ll still want to blame you, but at least you’ll have gotten a referee’s decision.
Moving to the Front of the Race
All of that is in the short-term category and addresses the failure of two adults to communicate and cooperate so that you don’t get put in that sort of a bind.
The long term solution is to show interest in the aims and needs of both individuals and find out how you can ‘get ahead of the curve’ and train them to invite you into their advance planning so that you can more appropriately plan and pace your work load to meet organizational needs without their urgent ‘do my job now’ demands. That’s the solution that will get you out of their conflict and into a leadership posture.
If the childish power struggle you’ve described keeps going, then your organization is in desperate need of somebody to show true leadership. It might as well be you.
“(People) in business are in as much danger from those at work under them as from those that work against them.” – Marquis of Halifax
E-mail your workplace concerns to PayCheckChaCha@AccidentalCareer.com.