Loud and Insulting Supervisor

Question to Ask the  Workplace Doctors about an efficient, but loud bossy boss:

We have a supervisor/trainer in the office who talks loudly and is bossy. She insults the other staff by her snappy comments. She is very short with other staff. She is very efficient at what she does but as staff trainer and supervisor she needs to tone down. Please give me suggestions as to how to how to deal with her.

Signed, Looking For Answers

Dear Looking For Answers:

The answer to what you can do will depend upon your role in relation to hers. If you are her manager it is fairly easy, if you’re willing to do it, to change the situation. The way to do it is to correct her words and behavior every single time you hear her say something that creates ill feelings. Use your organizational policies to warn her and take further sanctions as needed.No matter how efficient she might be, she’s not effective if people are frightened, unnerved or distracted by her. I always use this guideline: Would she have been hired had people known exactly what she was like? Probably not. So, why should she be retained? Unfortunately, many managers allow a supervisor to continue treating people badly rather than deal with the discomfort of correcting him or her. I hope, if you are in a managerial position you’ll do the right thing.When you correct her for the negative actions, tell her what she could or should have done or said instead. “Instead of barking orders to Jenny, you could have asked her in a normal tone and said ‘please’. Do it that way from now on.”

Then, you must monitor her behavior to ensure that she breaks the bad habit of being unpleasant to others. Document your actions and examples of her behavior.If you are a subordinate employee and report to her, your options are very limited. You can’t require her to change you can only let her know how you feel about the way she talks to you. Even that may have no impact.You can start by pushing back a little, according to how well you know her or feel comfortable doing it. Don’t worry about trying to correct past problems, just focus on the most recent thing. “You sound angry with me. Are you?” Or, “You said that like you think I won’t do it as you asked. Do you think that?” “Lauren, all you have to do is ask me, you don’t have to yell it or treat me like I’m stupid.” One woman I know went to her boss and said, “Cheryl, I have to talk to you about the way I feel when you say sarcastic things to me or act like you’re mad at me. It makes me depressed and discouraged and I just can’t take it anymore. Could you please start showing me more courtesy, like I show you?”Her supervisor was afraid she was going to sue or complain and she immediately started treating her better! I don’t know that I’d recommend that, but the woman said, “I figured I’d pour it on thick and it worked!”

If you are very, very comfortable with her and can talk to her about her overall behavior, you might say, “Maria, I heard you yelling at Gloria while ago. What was going on?” She’ll probably deny yelling and you can say something like, “You might not have meant to, but that’s what it sounded like to everyone else.” Perhaps a few times of that kind of reminder will help her understand how she sounds to others. Now, here’s the bad news: Frankly, I don’t think those measures by an employee will change her. She may even resent having an employee presume to correct her. I hate to say that, but it’s true. You can’t make your supervisor change. And she probably thinks she knows enough and does enough to justify her behavior.

As someone similar once told me, “I don’t live my life to talk in some sweet, kind way to employees. They can learn to adjust to me or leave.” (Fortunately I was her manager and she was the one who had to leave.)

Here is the one thing a subordinate employee might be able to do to bring about a change, but it’s severe: Tell her manager, the person two levels above you, how the supervisor’s behavior is affecting employees and ask for some assistance with the problem. Have some specific examples to provide, so you can clearly show what you mean. Don’t use general terms (she’s bossy), be specific about the exact words and tone of voice (“She used a loud and demanding tone and said, “Get that done and get it done now.”)

The risk, of course, is that the higher level manager will support the supervisor. But, if you feel that things are truly miserable, it might be the only way to make a change.I wish I could give you some better options–and maybe things aren’t as bad as I make them sound. But, I know from experience that the kind of behavior you describe is habitual and not likely to change unless someone makes her do it. The people she treats badly must either complain formally or shield themselves mentally and emotionally. If you are her manager I hope you will intervene to improve things. If you are not her manager I hope you will at least try to find a way to not let her behavior wear you down. Keep this in mind: She is a lot of bluster and steam but almost certainly doesn’t have the power to fire someone without good cause. Good employees aren’t going to be fired just because she says she doesn’t like them.

So, all of her bossing and being rude doesn’t have the power to harm anyone permanently. Document specific situations and save the documentation in case you need it. Then, see if you can hold on until she becomes so obvious her manager can’t ignore it or until she leaves. Or, until you develop a very good coping method.I would be interested in hearing how you deal with this and if there are any outcomes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let me know if she improves, gets worse or whatever else happens. Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe