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Federal Worker Question of the Week: Your shutdown voicemail message

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A manager asks about managing someone who has applied for your position. Please share your ideas and suggestions for the column by commenting below and by sending your questions to the fedcoach@ourpublicservice. org.

How do you manage someone who wanted your job?

— Federal manager (GS-13) from the U.S. Census Bureau

To help you navigate this awkward situation, I want to start by sharing the story of a friend who was promoted into a position that another colleague felt entitled to assume after filling the job in an acting capacity.

My friend didn’t realize that he and this colleague had been competing for the same job until he noticed some passive-aggressive signs of discontent. After speaking with his supervisor about the staff member, my friend learned that they had in fact pursued the same job.

Armed with that understanding, my friend scheduled a meeting with his former colleague, now employee, to have a difficult but professional discussion about their situation. He began the conversation by saying:

“I just recently learned that you were interested in my position, and I understand that you may be frustrated by the outcome. I probably would be as well. That being said, I was selected for the position based on my qualifications, and we now need to figure out how to work together effectively.”

Once they cleared the air and confronted the real issues, my friend and his colleague proceeded to have a productive conversation that led to an effective working relationship moving forward. They never became the best of friends, but they became respected colleagues.

Although each situation is unique, there are some important take-aways from my friend’s example.

First, consider whether a conversation between you and your colleague is necessary. Perhaps your colleague simply needs time to overcome the disappointment.

However, if you believe the competition for the job will permanently affect your working relationship and your team’s performance, it’s important that you have this difficult conversation. Before going directly to your teammate, I suggest soliciting your supervisor’s advice about the best approach, given their knowledge of the individual, your team’s dynamics and the agency’s culture more generally.

Finally, you should strive for respect as the final outcome. You don’t need to be the best of friends with your colleagues, but you should respect what each of you brings to the team and find ways to actively support one another’s work.

I hope that my friend’s experience is of some help, and I invite others who’ve had to deal with similar situations to offer their advice. Send an e-mail to
fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Visit On Leadership at views.washingtonpost.com/
leadership/fedcoach.

There are three weekly installments: Mondays: “Getting Ahead” — advice on “leading up.” Wednesdays: “View From the Top Floor” — interviews with federal leaders. Fridays: Answering questions about navigating the federal workforce terrain.

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post’s On Leadership site jointly produce the Federal Coach, hosted by Tom Fox, director of the partnership’s Center for Government Leadership. The goal is to “engage, inspire and learn from you, the federal worker, whether you are a new hire, a contractor or a manager at the highest level.”

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