I have a peer who is very insecure. She’s a lovely woman but she frequently asks me to review important emails before she sends them and when she’s made a decision she’ll often run it by me. She has a difficult boss and I want to help but she’s starting to feel like my direct report. Suggestions? B.P., Hoboken, NJ
You don’t mention whether or not her work is good. If you’re simply validating what she’s already done, it’s an easier fix. When she comes to you, instead of telling her what you think, ask her what her opinion is. If you agree with it, tell her it sounds like a good plan. If not, instead of telling her directly, ask her a question that will help her get to the answer. Occasionally tell her that you just don’t have the time to review her work; it will force her to take action without your input. If you do this consistently, she’ll gain confidence in her thinking and stop coming to you for regular validation.
Normally I wouldn’t encourage you to expand the scope of your job. In this case, though, you’ve already done so and shown that you want your colleague to succeed. She’s behaving as if she’s intimidated by her manager and your second opinion is helping her function. Taking this approach benefits you beyond helping your colleague because it reinforces how you should behave with your actual direct reports.
If she’s struggling, it’s a different story. You’ll need to direct her back to her manager. The next time she comes to you, say something like, “Sally, I’m not the right person to help you because I don’t have context around the project. Joe will be able to help you.” And leave it at that. Keep it simple and don’t over-explain.
Another approach is to say to her, “Sally, I realize that I’m doing you a disservice by reading your drafts. In order for Joe to do his job as your supervisor he needs to know how you’re performing. When I get involved, I muddy the water and it might cause him to draw inaccurate conclusions. I think it makes more sense for you to take these requests to him since he’ll be able to help you more efficiently.”
Rehearse your “speech” so that you don’t stumble when you tell her. Be sure that you are crystal clear when you speak with her, because it’s hard to draw the line after the fact.