Demoted for Personality Conflict with Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about  pushed out: She writes harsh comments on my work and says she is doing this to push me to get to the next level.

I was working for an attorney in a specific area of law and I was the only assistant who had any experience in that area although I only had a limited amount of experience. That male attorney, whom I assisted, left the firm and they hired a woman lawyer and made me her assistant. I set up her practice and got her familiar with the files she inherited from the man who left. After a few months I was too busy and they promoted the floater in our firm (a much younger woman than me with very little legal experience and no experience at all in the lawyer’s area of practice) to assist me and the lawyer.

The lawyer and she got very friendly. Now after 6 months they are making the young woman the lawyer’s main assistant and removing me from working with them. The lawyer said that the clients like me and have great attention to detail but said she can’t “read” me. She writes harsh comments on my work and says she is doing this to push me to get to the next level. I am sensitive and find this bullying instead of encouraging. She treats the other woman differently. If she does say something mean to the other assistant, that young girl just sticks her tongue out at her or talks back. The lawyer and young girl act unprofessional and immature. I am serious & go to work to do my work. I have never experienced not being able to get along with my boss. I am a hard working assistant. I need advice how to deal with a new lawyer I will be assigned to soon.

Signed, Frustrated and Anxious about What Comes Next

Dear Frustrated and Anxious about What Comes Next:

I have slightly reworded your question to make it clearer to me. I trust that I have not changed its meaning. As I understand it, you have weathered an increasingly difficult boss-bossed relationship with a woman attorney who gets along well with a young woman assigned to help her and you.

Soon you expect to be assigned to a different attorney. You worry that this same frustration you now experience might reappear under this new attorney. How might you prevent this? Hopefully, the new assignment will enable you to develop the kind of serious cooperative relationship you desire. Must you just wait and hope for that or might you be proactive?

You are asking the Workplace Doctors the kind of question you need to ask the new attorney. By that I mean within the first few days, either the newly assigned attorney or you need to talk about the kind of working relationship each of you wants. Too frequently boss and bossed just assume they know that. Unspoken rules of communication and action become the norm without collaborative discussion. In short there is no talk about talk. And the fact is that how a boss-bossed communicate determines their effectiveness and happy/unhappiness on the job.

Attorneys are aware that “process” is important in their practice and that entails developing the rules of process with their assistants. Doesn’t it make sense for you spell out the tasks you expect to be assigned in light of what you know about your job and then to take that list with you to meet with this new attorney? In such a session, you would invite her/him to examine this list and discuss the what, where, when and how of each task? Such collaboration sets the stage for clarifying rather than assuming what each of you thinks will be most effective. Such a session should also establish precedent for reviewing and modifying the rules you two formulate.

This exercise is one of shaping a job description in ways that you might otherwise just bite your tongue about or in retrospect approach the boss when things displease either of you. Talking about what is expected in a concerted fashion is an important stage of becoming a boss-bossed team, one that discusses rather that gives and takes orders. It is what I think of as a wego relationship. WEGO is my coined word to acknowledge that the interdependent micro and macro relationship of a workplace at best is one in which each party takes his/her responsibility for voicing how they mesh. If you have scanned any of our many Q&As, you probably have seen my signature: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

This is my way of saying the success of an organization hinges on collaborative shaping its mission day to day with those with whom you work. My best to you over the next few weeks as you anticipate a new assignment. Guard against talking about frustrations in your the current one now and later. Rather think of what you are experiencing now as learning what can be better. Often we learn to make good rules because of unhappy situations. Please don’t think of this advice as a fix for your new assignment so much as an approach that you might take in light of what is happening. And if you can make time to do so, let me know what you do and if it works and or doesn’t.

William Gorden