Boss Puts Me Down Through Comparisons

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss’ personal comparisons: She made fun of me in front of her male friend. She has also told me I should have chosen a richer man to marry

I’ve been working with this lady boss for 2 years plus. I work together with a colleague only, so it’s a small workplace, only 3 of us in this company.When I started work, she always used to tell me that man can change at certain age, but as a woman and wife, we must be quiet and patient because the husband will eventually come back normal, and she has gone through that. I wondered why she kept telling me that. After a year, she told me that she has actually separated from her husband, that’s how I found out she doesn’t have an easy marriage.

On the other hand, my relationship with my boy friend is good and my boss knows that we’re stable and loving. Lately, quite a few things that my boss said and did made me really frustrated and feel offended. She made fun of me in front of her male friend. She has also told me I should have chosen a richer man to marry.

She compared holiday destinations where I’ve gone with one that she chooses; she compared a car company that my boy friend works for with the car she’s driving (insisting she made the best choice). She said those things occasionally, not just once (except the part with her male friend). She also had changed her car after I got a car. These kind of things are getting me, I feel really uneasy with her and try to avoid her. Should I change jobs?

Signed, Tired of Comparisons

Dear Tired of Comparisons:

It certainly could get irritating to have someone, especially your boss, frequently making fun of you and your life choices by pointing to her choices and saying they are better. However, whether or not it is irritating enough to quit your job is something you alone can decide, based on several factors.

Let me share some thoughts that might help you in your decision.

1. The main issue, of course, is if you can easily find a job you enjoy that pays as well and that offers you the same opportunities. If you think you could get another job fairly easily, there may be no reason to continue to work where you feel uneasy and where you dislike the boss so much. If work is hard to find and you fear you will have to accept something far below your capabilities, you may decide you can tolerate the situation until something really good becomes available.

2. A second thing to consider is whether you think the boss dislikes you and is purposely being mean or do you think she is thoughtlessly rude but in her heart she likes you and wants you to have a good feeling about work.If you think your boss will never improve and if you think she does what she does because she’s basically not a nice person, that would be more reason to leave. If she is basically nice to you and others and you sense she doesn’t mean to make you feel badly, that might indicate that you could stay and try to improve things or learn to tolerate them.

3. Does she treat your coworker the same way she treats you? If she is doing the same thing to your coworker, you have a good indicator that it isn’t personally directed toward you, even though it’s irritating. That might make it easier to tolerate. If you are the only one she talks that way to, that might indicate that you and she just don’t get along very well anyway. OR, it may indicate she has some sort of jealousy about you for some reason. That situation would be less likely to improve over time.

4. Consider your workplace and the type of work you do as maybe a prime cause of the problem. With only three of you, there may be a lot of conversation unless you are working far apart. When there is a lot of conversation there are many more opportunities to get on each others’ nerves. You might want to take the lead in discussing more neutral topics. Even though she might argue about them, there would be no personal insult to the arguments. Topics might involve favorite travel destinations (not yours compared to hers, just generally favorite places), books and movies, music, recipes, food, TV shows, history, etc. Another good topic is your business and how to improve it or how to make work easier and save money. When three people are focused on work, there is less time to argue or talk and the work benefits as well.

5. Have you ever indicated by your reactions that her remarks were upsetting, frustrating or embarrassing? You don’t need to be rude back to get your idea across. One way that sometimes works is to simply acknowledge differences of opinions. So, if she says something to compare her choices with yours, you could say, “Well, Carol I guess this just proves that we all have different opinions. But mine works for me.” Or, “That’s why they say, to each his own.” Or, “I guess differences are what makes the world go around.” Or, “That’s why they make more than one kind of car, huh?”You could even push it a bit more and say, “Gosh Carol, are you trying to make me feel bad about my choice?” That may be a verbal reminder that her remarks can hurt.

By those remarks you not only shut off the comparison game but you also indicate that her decision is hers and yours is yours, and you don’t want to talk about it.6. Let me mention one more thing for you to consider. It could be that your boss is simply making conversation and thinks she is giving advice or giving you the benefit of her age and experience. She may not realize that you view her remarks as being a put down or being embarrassing. It may also be that you dislike her now to the point that everything she does seems focused on comparing the two of you. For example, she may have bought a new car to show you up (as you think) or she may have bought a new car because your new car sounded fun and she decided to get one too. Or, she may have been planning to get a new car and your talk of getting one pushed her to do it.The bottom line on this is that your boss doesn’t seem to be doing anything that harms your paycheck or that keeps you from working at your best.

She is perhaps rude and insensitive, but she apparently doesn’t yell at you or criticize you directly. But, if you don’t like working there, don’t like her, and have gotten to the point of avoiding her, when there are only the three of you in the workplace, it may be time for you to move on and find a better place to work. You probably didn’t plan on working there forever anyway, so making a move may give you a chance to better yourself, especially if you can find a place where there is a chance to move up or to increase your knowledge and skills. Best wishes to you as you make this decision. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.