I fully admit that I’m not the reality TV junkie that many of my friends and co-workers are. In fact, I can only think of two non-scripted shows I watch. (Well, “non-scripted” is used loosely here.) Regardless, one of those shows I’ve found myself drawn to is The Rachel Zoe Project. Go ahead, judge me. I’ll wait.
OK, the reason I bring this up is because last night’s episode had a good lesson for workers (and employers, too). Let me summarize what’s going on in this show:
Rachel Zoe is a fashion stylist and she has two assistants. Taylor’s been there since the beginning and Brad has only been with her for a year. Taylor and Brad don’t always get along–naturally, because if they did, the show would be boring. Well, Rachel tells Brad and Taylor that their schedule is open and all three of them will be going to Paris Fashion Week, which is basically the Super Bowl of couture. Then some clients need Rachel’s services during that scheduled trip and she has to leave one of the assistants behind. Who will go to Paris? (Insert dramatic stares and camera cuts here.)
Rachel first sends an e-mail to Taylor and Brad telling them what’s going on and that the two of them should figure it out themselves. She secretly wants Brad to say, “Taylor has seniority. I’ll stay; she can go.” Taylor knows this, too. Brad doesn’t do that. Taylor tells Brad what’s going on. He gets mad at Rachel. She sends an e-mail to Taylor saying that she should decide who goes and who stays because she has seniority. Brad’s reaction is what most viewers were probably thinking: Rachel has the most seniority–she’s the boss. Throughout this entire ordeal all three players mention the fact that Rachel has issues with confrontation. She even says that her least favorite part of being the boss is doing the things that a boss has to do.
Ultimately, Taylor decides Brad should go and that she wants to deal directly with Rachel to discuss the issue. Rachel knows it’s all coming. Everyone agrees that Rachel royally messed up and should’ve made the decision and been unafraid of angering her employees. That’s what happens when you’re the boss.
Now, for me and you, the regular people who don’t have our own shows and who don’t have the luxury of worrying about who gets to go to Paris and who has to stay home and deal with celebrities, there are still some valuable work lessons here. Here are some things to do when your boss relegates a little too much responsibility to you:
- Be nice to your co-workers
If your boss wants you and your co-worker to tackle a problem, try to do it. Bickering back and forth and getting passive aggressive won’t advance the situation. It’ll just escalate tension and eventually you’ll end up running to the boss sounding like a whiny baby because the other person was mean to you.
- Think about office politics (sometimes)
I’m not saying you should get involved in the gritty side of workplace politics, but recognize that seniority, tenure and titles play a role in how (many) companies operate. In some cases, deferring to the senior member of the team shows that you respect their time at the company and that you’re cooperative.
- If you are senior, act senior
Pulling rank can often be annoying and unnecessary, but sometimes the boss looks to the second-in-command to step up and show leadership. Take the opportunity and run with it. Acknowledge that your role might be strange for everyone because you’re not the boss. It will diffuse some of the tension while telling everyone that you are embracing the role and will be the decision-maker.
- Politely confront your boss about the issue
If a boss handled a situation in a way that affected daily operations and relationships, you need to address it. Be respectful and remember that he or she is the boss–so preparing a fiery 20-minute speech isn’t the way to go. But feel free to ask to discuss the situation and then explain that the group needed a little more guidance. Use it as an opportunity to step up by saying, “I felt that I should take control because of my seniority, but I didn’t want to appear as though I was undermining your authority.” Or, if you aren’t one of the highest ranking people on the team, tell the boss that there was some confusion and that, “We wanted to be certain that we were staying on track with your goals, but we didn’t know if plans had changed and we were supposed to listen to [so-and-so] instead.” Word it however you want, but while showing respect and not whining, voice your concern. Sometimes bosses are so busy they don’t even realize there was any misunderstanding in their directions.
The whole situation was kind of bananas, to be honest. But it doesn’t have to be if you act like an adult and talk things out.