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A rather unfortunate situation has been developing at my workplace, which doesn't directly affect me but I would like to get involved because it looks like people are about to get hurt.

A dispute over a rather important issue (regarding this year's bonuses) has began between a department and upper management. In order to address the issue, said department has chosen a representative to talk with management to resolve said issue.

Unfortunately the person that has been chosen has the backbone of a paramecium. She is mediocre at her job, she's shy and doesn't have that good relationships with some people in upper management. Arguably, she is the second best choice from that group, since the best choice has a bit of an anger issue and might make things even harder.

I would like to get involved since there are a couple of people in that department that I am good friends with and possibly offer my help in the matter. I'm a good negotiator, I am a part of the upper management but in another department and I also am in good terms with this department's management. I believe it would be all around beneficial.

I was thinking of approaching the current group representative and asking them to step down for the reasons mentioned above.

How can I tactfully approach this person and ask them to step down?

Another option would be to approach this department's staff directly and ask them to drop their current representative but it seems dishonest somehow and I would rather not ask multiple questions in one post.

Update: I was actually approached this morning out of the blue and was asked my input on the situation (possibly someone from my work reads IPS). The answers below were very helpful in maneuvering the situation. It seems most of the department has little faith in their representative but they will go with her nevertheless since bringing the head of another department to an internal department discussion might be perceived as a threat to the current department head.

Although in reality this is not a corporate office, this is a hospital and the head of a department gunning for another department's head position is impossible.

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    You may seriously consider asking that over at The Workplace. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 23 '17 at 15:15
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    @AnneDaunted I imagine this is less about the workplace aspect of it and more about trying to find a tactful way to convince someone to let you handle something in their place. – Cronax Oct 23 '17 at 15:16
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    @Cronax The expertise of the people over at the The Workplace would come in quite handy in such a situation, I would think. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Oct 23 '17 at 15:18
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    The team selected her. It is not up to you to replace her even if you convince her to step down. – paparazzo Oct 23 '17 at 15:27
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    The phrase "Not your circus, not your monkeys" comes to mind. Unfortunately, it's not your department, not your area of responsibility, and doesn't affect you professionally. – JohnP Oct 23 '17 at 16:00
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How can I tactfully approach this person and ask them to step down?

I'd say don't do that...

I'm assuming you only heard of the conflict after the department already picked a representative.

First of all, you go the chosen representative. You don't say she's not up to the job. You offer her your help with it.

Hey, I just learned you're the representative for the department with regards to ... I only learned about the troubles now, but I've got some contacts here and there, and I think I might offer you some help if you feel you need it.

she's shy and doesn't have that good relationships with some people in upper management.

Maybe she sees it as a task that will allow her to build those relationships. As for the being shy part, tasks such as the one she's doing now are a good way to build confidence and learn to assert yourself better (trust me, I've been very shy myself, to the point of not daring to go collect a coffee cup my mom served a construction worker coffee in).

If she takes you up on your offer of help, give her all the support you can provide. But make sure you don't take over her responsibilities. She needs to learn to do such things herself, and she needs the connections. Having an ice-breaker is nice, having a rock to lean on is perfect. Having someone do everything for you isn't, it won't help you overcome any shyness or create new relationships.

If she accepts your help, feel free to let the department know (or even better, let her tell the department) that you're helping her, and that's its good to keep you in the loop.

If she refuses your help, let it go. Don't go behind her back, don't tell the department you offered her your help. Just make sure you're there if she gets in too much trouble and be approachable if she decides to come back on her decision to refuse your help.

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How can I tactfully approach this person and ask them to step down?

Simple: don't. Why?

In order to address the issue, said department has chosen a representative.

So, don't try anything to jump over her head, and stand in the front line.

Offer your help and show your skills and capabilities to ensure the group (department) an efficient clearing over the obstacle and reduce the risks of being overwhelmed by their strategy.

If the persons within this department think you can be of any help, they'll go back to you.

I would recommend that you list all the things that may be argued, bullet-list each point, and how you can help with each and every one of them. Then, give the list to the group, and ask them if they think it's a good idea, if it can be helpful, if they want you to step in. But taking over her responsibilities is not only rude, but will mostly be seen as arrogance.

Not to say going, alone, to the management and offer to take over...

It's a department (read: all people together) battle, not an individual fight.


At many workplaces, as I've seen many individuals who tried to take over others' responsibilities in their back, I can tell you it never went the right way...

Last but not least: how would you feel if someone was doing this to you?

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You don't.

In order to address the issue, said department has chosen a representative to talk with management to resolve said issue.

A department has made a choice. You have no business asking that person to stand down. It's not only "not tactful", it's egregiously inappropriate to both the person chosen and the department that did the choosing. You are basically saying,

Although this is none of my business, I feel I can handle this better than you can, so step aside (you paramecium), and let a real man (or woman) do the job.

If you are a good negotiator (as you claim), offer your help in a manner that doesn't undermine her confidence in any way. It's a hard thing to imagine, but here goes...

Hey, Amy, I hear your department picked you to represent them in (x dispute.) Congratulations! If you want to practice your presentation, I'm happy to listen. But don't feel you have to take me up on it. I'm just offering to help if I can.

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She is mediocre at her job, she's shy and doesn't have that good relationships with some people in upper management

Yeah, don't say any of that.

What you should focus on is:

  • Availability: Say you have some time on your hands. This can backfire a bit if it comes across that you don't do much in your day-to-day work and that gets back to management.
  • What you bring to the table: Ideally something concrete, try to avoid implying that you're just better at negotiating than her.
  • Assistance: Offer to assist, don't ask to replace her. She's unlikely to just step down, especially if you ask her, no matter how politely. Asking to replace her implies that she's incompetent - that's not a good message to send.

For example:

Hey, I hear you're the representative ... . I thought I'd just tell you I'm available to assist if you'd like. I have some negotiating experience and I know management well, so I may be able to provide some valuable insight or contacts or you can just use me as a sounding board.

This may lead to her letting you take the lead eventually, but the more likely scenario is that she'll just ask for some help here and there.

If you want to force your way into the position, you may be able to use your contacts or seniority, but that's definitely going to burn bridges.

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