Archive for July 18th, 2010

Careers Question: Should I Confront The Other Intern? Or Should I Tell My Manager?

Have you ever saved a file at work, just to return the next day to find out that it looked different than it did the day before? I have.  And I bet you have too. Did you think that someone else changed your file, either purposefully or mistakenly, and that your real work was compromised as a result? Or instead did you assume that it was your fault and that you must have done something wrong? It’s often the case in these situations that a manager will come up to you and to address the mistakes. In such cases, you can either defend yourself and ensure that your boss understood that the mistakes were not your. Or you can agree to fix the work that you’ve, often never actually resolving the misunderstanding that actually happened. In my experience, most people have been in both situations before and often they find it hard to manage this conflict.

In a recent on, a person asked me just that. “I believe someone is trying to sabotage my work” the person said. The person mentioned that they love their job, and want to make a good impression because they’d like to return to the firm, but on multiple occasions they have found their work on the shared drive changed and the person has reason to believe that one of the fellow co-workers may have played a part.

It’s a tough question, and a hard one to answer without knowing more of the facts at hand. But I did have a few thought to share around the idea of handing conflict at work.  See below for the message (part of the message), and below that for my response.

And also be sure to check out for hundreds of similar question on careers guidance and information.



For the summer I am interning at a financial services firm.  I love it.  However, I think an intern in my group is trying to sabotage me.

On at least three occasions work that I saved to the shared drive was altered and errors were inserted.  I don’t have proof it was her, but I’m 100% sure that the documents were altered because the last two times I kept hard copies of my work before I left for the evening.  When I returned in the morning the documents had been changed.  How should I handle this?  Do I tell my manager or confront her directly?


Dear (Name),

The advice you received that you should “not insinuate bad motives or imply fault” hit the nail on the head. And I also agree that you should definitely not be quick to point fingers if you decide to chat with the supervisor.

Why? First, because you don’t actually know what happened. After all, mistakes do happen. Maybe the wrong copy of something got saved or perhaps there are IT or Microsoft problems. Similarly, maybe someone was given permission to check out the file and happened to make a couple of honest mistakes. And it’s also possible that at least of the errors did turn out to be yours. It’s happened to the best of us.

But even if neither of those are the case and someone did change your files with malicious intent, you still don’t have the proof that it happened or that there was mal-intent behind the action.  And even if you did have proof, in most cases, it’d still be a really bad idea to battle a coworker, especially give you’re still an intern. And that’s especially true now, given that economic times are tough and getting a FT offer for a job is more difficult than ever. At the very least you’ll want to walk away with a recommendation letter but ideally you’d like to come back, as you mentioned.

So instead of thinking about confrontation, and rather than playing the blame game when you discuss the situation with your manager, in my view the best thing to do is stand up for yourself without being defensive, and without blaming.

Being defensive is rarely the right answer. It usually comes off as a negative reaction, it tends to evoke negative emotions from others, and no matter what actually happened, it may look like you are doing your best to avoid responsibility. After all, the project was yours, and you were responsible to finish the work both accurately and completely. And from what you mentioned, it looks like you likely did a pretty good job of that.

On the other hand, keeping your cool tends work well in a majority of cases. Keeping your cool as you summarize the details of the project, walk through the facts of the answers and the subject change, and as you show the original file so that the manager knows exactly what happened. Part of that means being prepared to give any factual details if the supervisor asks you questions about the “right” answer and about what happened. It also means being patient to let the supervisor speak, even though you’ll be excited to tell your part of the story.  Similarly, you should try to keep your composure, smile when you can, and show confidence in your work, rather than anger at the situation.

And finally, if you’re up to the challenge, you should also be thankful for the parts of the feedback that are constructive, even given in the midst of controversy, because that shows that you can keep an eye on the bigger picture and that you’re above the back and forth that often happens at the ground level. And if you do that you’ll not only be better off now as an intern and be more likely to get an offer at the end of the summer, but it will also be good practice for when you get a high impact leadership role and need to manage conflict of an entire organization.

Sunday, July 18th, 2010 Careers, Leadership No Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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