Boss Belittles

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about belittling comments: I never know what to say back in the moment so I just laugh with her (at myself! yuck) or just respond promptly to her question.

My boss and I used to be very good friends and are still friendly at work but not outside of work (just due to life circumstances). My boss consistently makes observations and comments. She says them in a joking way but they are annoying to me because they make me feel self-conscious and picked at. I said something to her about it a couple of years ago (in a nice pleading way) and she said that I was too sensitive and that that is how she acts when she likes people.

I am at the point where I don’t like to be around her and I get nervous about seeing her. I dread the observation or comment that she is going to make about the way I am walking, what I am doing, what I am carrying, wearing, saying. Some of it isn’t outright rude or critical but it is said so I take notice and feel like I must be weird because she pointed it out and laughed. An example is – “look at you color coding” (highlighting some notes) and “why are you walking like that” (walking with arms crossed because I was cold). I never know what to say back in the moment so I just laugh with her (at myself! yuck) or just respond promptly to her question.I don’t like that I don’t stand up for myself, but also feel like if I do I may have interpreted what she said wrong and am over reacting. If I stand up for myself and confront her (even nicely), am I being disrespectful because she is my superior? I also question my instinct about the comments and saying something because she can be very nice also.

Signed, Just Laugh at Myself

Dear Just Laugh at Myself:

Since this uneasiness has accumulated across the years and you spoke to your boss about some of her remarks bothering you, probably the best path for you is to accept the fact that as she says, that’s the way “she acts when she likes people.” You have three choices before you:

–Allow this feeling to fester from annoyance to anger that you are being criticized by any comment that points up something a bit different you are doing.

— You can speak up saying, “I’m ok, Ms. Don’t worry about me” or whatever else is a reasonable response.

–Laugh at yourself and bite your tongue. Much incidental talk between boss and bossed evolves from comments about something that appears a bit different, odd and/or critical. This also too often is the unwritten rule with respect to a boss’ comments about one’s work.

You are fortunate that you end your question with “she can be very nice also.” Rather than approaching her again about your discomfort about her comments, might you be comment positively about something you have seen “good” about her? “Ms. Jones, it’s nice that you take an interest in your employees” or “I like the way you care about what we are doing.”

Attitude and process are what makes a boss-bossed relationship positive or negative. You can do much to make your attitude positive if you think about ways of making your boss’ job easier and more effective. That can happen with you throwing back your shoulders and using the smile muscles in your face. That can happen by suggesting ways to cut wasted supplies, time, energy, and money. That can happen by cheering and praising coworkers. That can happen by not saying something about your boss or coworkers to others that you would not say to them.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS is my way of suggesting that good relationships at work are not a matter of luck. Like a marriage they can deteriorate with attention to the small stuff rather than what matters. What matters is getting the job done so that it pleases your internal and external customers and makes your organization successful.

William Gorden