‘My Colleague Is Answering Emails Sent to Me’

Q: Lately, I’ve had a colleague jump in and respond to emails from other colleagues, even though they’re addressed to me and he’s been cc’d on them mostly as a courtesy. It’s starting to get on my nerves — especially because he’s answering questions for areas of the business he doesn’t work on. What’s the best way to handle this without creating a dramatic situation in the office?

A: I hear you and agree: this situation can be frustrating; particularly if he’s answering emails about areas of the business he’s not involved in. However, step back for a moment and observe your colleagues’ behavior from a neutral place.

What do you think his intention is in answering emails out of his business area, particularly when he’s only cc’d on the email out of courtesy? I’d guess he’s trying to self-promote and look like he’s knowledgeable about many areas of the business, not just his own. From his perspective, this is a smart strategy, particularly if he’s looking for a promotion and wants to end up managing multiple business units.

Finesse your strategy and be the expert, too.

The good news is, with some finessing of your strategy, you can also do the same thing. Take a look at my Q&A from last week’s post “Ask Julie-Ann: Negotiating a Raise Above our Typical Cost-of-Living Bump.” I’ll highlight two sections which you may find useful: Start early and don’t wait until your annual review and Don’t be shy on self-promotion; be the expert.

I want to be clear that there are exceptions to every rule. However, my experience is that overall, men are better at self-promotion than women, particularly in the workplace. I’ve seen this time and again: when it comes to working on projects, discussions in meetings and in job interviews, men are more comfortable appearing as the expert, leaning toward overstating their achievements, while women generally take a more supportive role, leaning toward understating their achievements.

Some of the most triggering situations can be a catalyst for great growth. Simply put, this means your colleagues’ behavior could end up being your best lesson and motivator in advancing your career. So my question back to you is: HOW can you be better at self-promotion? And HOW can you learn from your colleague by proactively sharing your knowledge and expertise?

Put self-promotion into practice.

A couple of suggestions: If he answers emails that were sent to you, go along with it. Hit “Reply to All,” openly acknowledge him for his answer and add in your own points. If this isn’t his business area, then you’ll know more about the operations than he does. Find something helpful to say that makes you look like the expert in your area.

I’m not suggesting coming from a place of “tit for tat.” It’s also important to be proactive with this. If you observe something in his business area that’s solution-oriented or the celebration of good news, then compose an email and send it, cc’ing management, other divisional heads and colleagues where appropriate. It’s important to be consistent, proactive and timely. Don’t wait to compose an email filled with great insights because you’re catching up replying to his comments. Find something that adds value in the moment and don’t be shy about sending it.

Good girls don’t boast. Instead, women self-promote.

If you feel some resistance when it comes to self-promotion, consider for a moment if you have any unconscious, limiting beliefs, like “good girls don’t boast,” “good girls don’t create a fuss” and “good girls should be supportive.” Or, “If I work really hard at being a good girl, someone will eventually notice and promote me.”

Check out my Q&A post on “Ask Julie-Ann: Setting Email Boundaries When You’re Off the Clock” where I talk about unconscious patterns and playing the “good girl.” Unfortunately, I still see many women conditioned to play this role and then witness the limiting effects it has on their career. Being respectful, courteous and cooperative in the workplace are must-have traits and should be encouraged, but if this gets confused with needing to be a “good girl,” then stop. Or get comfortable and move into acceptance that people will likely be promoted around you, since they don’t share your fear and judgment of self-promotion.

People are busy. The volume of information we’re exposed to each day is huge and attention spans are short. Being willing to highlight your achievements, as well as consistently demonstrating your expertise helped along by self-promotion, are key ingredients to career advancement.

[Editor’s Note: Have a question YOU would like to ask Julie-Ann? Email your questions to talk@iwantherjob.com or tweet us @iwantherjob using #AskJulieAnn.]