my coworker keeps saying he’s my boss … he’s not — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I am having a really weird situation at work. This guy who I became good friends with recently, having just started working with him — Edward — has suddenly taken to saying things like, “So you know most people here think I’m your boss.” The other day it was, “I’m not into hierarchies, but if we wrote one down, I would be your boss.”

I said something to the woman who IS my boss and she said, “WTF? He is not your boss, I am!” She said she would simply pull me from projects I’m on with Edward and have me work more with her. Well, she’s the VP and crazy busy and that basically hasn’t happened yet.

Yesterday evening, Edward calls me and says he just got off the phone with the owner of our company and he’s been made head of marketing and is officially going to be my boss! I am flabbergasted. So I contact the woman who is my boss and she is also flabbergasted, having never heard a word of this. She tells me she’s going to call the owner and call me right back. She calls back and says, “That guy is definitely not your boss and I made the owner promise he would never put that guy in a position over you and he agreed. That guy is not nor will he ever be your boss.” She says she will not confront him because he will be moved from his marketing position soon to another position within the sales team so we won’t be working together much longer anyway. In the meantime, she will be making sure I work more with her and a new team she is creating.

Well, I couldn’t help myself: had Edward purposefully lied to me? I had thought we were friends! What is going on?! So I message him: “I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this. The owner said you would be my boss?”

He calls me and says, “Your day to day isn’t going to change. You know how I know? Because I will be your boss and I’ll make sure it doesn’t!” (Laughs.)

I feel like I am being punked! I don’t understand why he isn’t being let go for spreading lies about his position in order to have more control over a colleague! I have ADHD and this kind of thing makes me feel like I am going to burst. I don’t know how I will keep from confronting him. Any advice?

What on earth! What is going on with Edward, and why is he so obsessed with imaginary power over you? Even if he did have some kind of authority over your work (and it sounds like he doesn’t), it would still be really weird for him to constantly be announcing it to you and declaring his sovereignty. And when your own boss is telling you he’s wrong — and when the owner is confirming he’ll never be right — this is incredibly bizarre.

For the sake of thoroughness, I should note that it’s possible that your boss is being cut out of the loop in some way — that you really are going to be moved under Edward and there are political reasons for why she doesn’t know yet. But I’m really skeptical that that’s the case, in part because if that were the situation it’s highly likely that Edward would have been told to stay quiet about it for the time being. All signs point to him just being a jackhole.

Personally, unless your boss specifically told you not to, I’d want to go back to Edward and say, “I don’t know if you thought I’d believe this without running it by anyone else, but I spoke to Jane, who spoke to Gavin, and they both said very firmly that you’re not my manager and won’t be my manager. It’s really weird that you keep saying it.” If he insists you’re wrong, you should say, “Well, it sounds like you should verify that with someone higher up because I’m being told the opposite, and I consider it closed unless that changes.”

And then … reconsider your friendship with this guy? If you need to continue to have contact with him for work and he keeps claiming power over you, feel free to ignore him/roll your eyes/laugh at him/say “get back to me when that’s official”/say “it’s super weird that you keep saying that”/say “are you not concerned with how you come across to people when you say stuff like that?”/say “‘I’m sure if that’s true I’ll hear about it from someone other than you at some point”/anything else that doesn’t engage too much with whatever is going on in Edwardland.

One note: that advice assumes there’s no real damage Edward is doing and that you can afford to treat it as the somewhat boring rantings of an ass. If that’s not the case and this could undermine you professionally with others, then you need to treat it differently. In that case, go back to your boss, explain the impact it’s having, and ask that she shut this down with either him or his boss.

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