I am a volunteer in an organisation, and running a very successful part of it with a great team under me.

Another part of the organisation is really struggling and the person who is my equivalent in that part has asked higher up in the org for some help. When it was suggested that I take over her part of the org too, she accepted pretty quickly - no resistance or hesitation (in fact, we all had a meeting to discuss the way forward and she caved in on this before the meeting had even properly started) - but I asked her to stay on as my "assistant" to help me as I found my feet.

I've been there a few weeks and it's a pretty toxic environment. I've tried to go about it in a fairly business-like fashion; identified strengths and weaknesses, drawn up a development plan etc. At every step of the way, I've asked the opinion of my predecessor on my findings and suggestions, and to my face she has agreed with everything I've said.

Of the other six-or-so volunteers, one is quite new and seems very genuine. The other are all entrenched and, frankly, I blame for the problems their part of the org is facing. The new volunteer is telling me that behind my back, my predecessor is undermining and contradicting what I've said, and saying things like how she feels ousted, doesn't need anyone's help and I've come in and upset everyone. This last part is probably true, and I'm OK with that. If this was a work environemnt they'd all be on PIPs, but that isn't really an option.

The new volunteer has no reason to lie to me about this and I believe her. The problem is, as she's alone it will be very clear who I've heard it from if I confront my predecessor as the others are all "in cahoots", for want of a better term.

I'm happy to hear constructive critiscism from people and I acknowledge that I'm blunt and to-the-point, but they really need a shake up which is the reason I was brought in, to - quote - "ruffle some feathers".

If my predecessor openly said the things I've heard to my face, I'd ask her how she can objectively claim they don't need help when they are struggling and weak by just about any metric. I'd happily hear her out, but I honestly don't think she can have much of an argument. But to my face, she agrees they needed help.

How can I confront her and have this discussion, without betraying the other person's confidence? I suspect it's a little bit of regret that she's opened this can of worms by going further up the organisation, but that ship has sailed now.

  • 1
    What are you hoping to get out of this discussion/confrontation? Apologies, truth (even though it may be questionable), more ruffled feathers, confronting her with her lies (if she did so), figuring out her reasons for lying to you? Also, maybe you don't need help with your Interpersonal Skills, but just play some office politics: Is this a confrontation you need to have with her yourself, or is there a manager that's above you both that can sort this out for you?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 17:47
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    @Tinkeringbell good questions. The truth would be a start. If she really feels that way I can go some way to assuaging her fears/addressing why she feels like that. I guess I’m a very open and honest person and would prefer to know where we stand rather than someone being false to my face.
    – Darren
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 17:51
  • I think this is a very interesting question from the interpersonal perspective, but I am not sure if you are asking the right questions. telling her that you know what she said only provides factual proof. It may make her feel cornered and she may up her resistance to the next level. She also comes across as a person who is more focused on emotions than facts. You could be much more effective if you privately tell her that you feel she is resisting you.
    – Orbit
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 8:48
  • Some other questions that come to mind: Was it smart to call her your assistant? That sure would upset me. Does your top down management style fit well in this organization/team? Could it be useful to adjust your way of communicating a bit to your audience? I often wondered how some people can stick to their opinion even when facts prove them wrong. The most reasonable explanation I found so far is that they focus on emotions and saying it in a different way can make all the difference.
    – Orbit
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 9:00
  • @Orbit, for the first part of your question; we are a role-based organisation (Scouts) and if she is not in my role, the one below is assistant/deputy (my role). It's just the nature of the org.
    – Darren
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 9:54

1 Answer 1


Just say "I've heard from several people (more than two) that you are trying to undermine me". Doesn't matter that you only heard it from one person, she doesn't know that. You may add "If anyone else want to talk to me, that will be done in strictest confidence". What is the effect:

  1. There is no suspicion on the new employee, because at least two others must have said the same thing.

  2. She learns that trying to undermine you is not a safe thing to do, because several people disagree with it.

  3. The other employees learn that her undermining you is not a good thing, several of their peers agree that it is a bad thing to do that which they don't want to support. And that supporting her instead of you might backfire for them.

("Office politics" is probably only vaguely related to "interpersonal skills", but just enough IMO. Well, the skill is telling them "several people told me" in a believable way. And normally I am against lying, but that is mostly when you want a positive outcome for everyone and white lies can interfere with that. That's not the case here. ).

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