Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a controlling and back-stabbing boss:
How do I deal with a boss who has been controlling and back-stabbing from the start. During one of our first behind closed-doors meeting, she accused me of hiding information, an accusation that absolutely baffled me. I have never understood the practice of hiding information and have never engaged in such a practice. She has been sarcastic toward me on various occasions and recently gave me a very poor performance review based on a recent incident where I had lost my patience with a co-worker who is very slow to learn and who asks me a multitude of questions daily.
The one part of the job review that she marked very high had to do with my job knowledge and customer responsiveness. However, she was able to weave the co-worker issue into just about every other area of the review. I was very disappointed about the review but not shocked given her outward display of just flat out “not liking me”. My friends all say that she is jealous of me and this is what motivates her actions. Please comment.
Signed, Very Disappointed
Dear Very Disappointed:
There are a number of issues to consider about your situation and although you only asked for thoughts rather than advice, I’ll include that too!
1. Your co-workers say your boss is jealous of you. As you likely know, co-workers are among the least reliable sources for such things. For one thing, they do not want to tell you something that will make you angry with them and for another, they often have a conflict of their own with the boss and make incorrect assumptions based on that. But, let’s assume they believe what they are saying. Do some evaluation of that yourself to think about it. If you have some characteristic or situation that your boss has reason to be envious about, that might be part of it. Rather than jealous or envious, the feeling may be resentment. According to the size of the organization, the comparative tenure, salary, position and status of the boss and you, there may or may not be a reason for your boss to be envious. If you have some favored status and she thinks it’s wrong, that might cause it. If you have some skill area that she lacks and is supposed to have, she might be envious of that or resentful if she is compared unfavorably to you. One way to decide if resentment or envy is part of the feelings is to decide what it would be about you that someone of a higher rank would have reason to think is unfair, puts her in a bad light or results in something negative for her.
2. It may be that rather than feeling resentment or envy the two of you have different styles and she has difficulty dealing with the differences. This would especially be true if she felt your style created problems of some kind for her or others. She may be wrong about that, but often style differences are at the root of many workplace problems. One person is very verbal and the other isn’t or one person is very upbeat and the other isn’t; and the next thing you know both find plenty to criticize in the work of the other. When one of the two is a supervisor or manager that can create the problems you’re describing. Age differences often create major differences in work habits, approaches to work and communications and other issues.
3. It may be that your boss genuinely feels you are not behaving the way she wants you to and the way she feels you behave or perform. She may feel you are not responding when she gives you direction about doing things differently. You say there have been problems from the start. According to how long that has been, it may be that she felt you were not a good fit for the job but she had no control over it. Or, she may have had concerns all along but they don’t rise to the level of taking more serious action about it.
4. Apparently, even though your boss accused you of hiding information, she took no further action. If she had a reason to think it and then realized her error after your explanation, that could happen without her having malice about it. But, if you think she purposely lied, exaggerated or was digging to say you did something wrong, that’s something else. If you can prove it, that would seem to be something you should take to your HR section or to the person over your boss.In the case of the performance review, if the only; absolutely only; negative incident was the one with the co-worker, it would seem she used that as the primary basis for her review. Once again, you may have recourse with HR about that. If the review doesn’t affect your salary, you may not care, but if you have documentation of ways in which you deserved a higher evaluation, you could perhaps present it.
5. I do want you to think about this: I don’t know what happened with the co-worker, but if there was an inappropriate reaction on your part, you can see that would justify in your boss’s mind that she had been right about you, if she already had a negative attitude. If you talked about your issues to the co-worker in a courteous and helpful way, your boss may not be aware of it and only knows what the co-worker told her. If you did, in fact, say or do something discourteous, that might be reason enough to weave it into other areas, since all areas tend to be related. However, your boss does not seem to be very effective about communicating her concerns and issues to you, and this is a good example of that. Your performance review would have been the time to tell you what you are doing now that must stop or change. In addition, she should have reinforced the customer service aspect and used that to show that you are capable of effective work with others, especially combined with your job knowledge.
6. So, where does that leave you? This will continue as long as you work there unless something is done to make it better. You may want to consider going to your boss and being at least semi-open about it, but avoiding any unnecessary conflict. Say, “I’ve been thinking about this and decided to talk to you. I feel like I’m doing a good job, but I don’t think you see it that way. Is there something I need to know about or change?” Or, “Look, I haven’t said anything before and I guess I should have. But, I have to be honest and tell you that I’ve felt like we’ve had a conflict of some kind from the beginning. I want to do a good job and keep my job, so I wondered what I need to do to help mend fences here.” Or maybe you want to simply try to develop a different kind of relationship without talking to her about it. Here are some ways to do it:*Do your best to not talk negatively about her to other employees. Not only does that make you feel negative, but you can bet it gets back to her at some point. It always does, even when you think you are talking to your best friends. They say something and that person says something and the next thing you know someone tells your boss that you hate her. *Look at your work from your boss’s perspective. Apparently you’re knowledgeable and work well with customers. Now, look at your co-workers and see if you are doing equally well with them.
If there are some that you gossip about, are rude to, make fun of, roll your eyes at, or whatever, even inadvertently, you can see there would be problems. Another area to consider is your reaction to her authority. Do you seem open to her suggestions or resentful? Do you smile at her and at co-workers and try to make the workplace positive? Do you support her as much as you’d like for her to support you? All of those things work both ways. Yes, supervisors should be an example, but employees have responsibilities for making things better too. No good comes from showing negative feelings to the boss or being cold or withdrawn around her. I often remind people that no one owns their attitudes, but their paycheck rents their behavior. Consider also with whom she gets along well. You may or may not like them, but consider what characteristics they have that she reacts to positively. My experience is that bosses, like all of us, like to help people who treat them with respect and who treat them like real people instead of a boss role all the time. Are there some who like your boss and respect her? They apparently see something that you do not; see if you can find out what that is and if you can learn to appreciate that. For a real tough challenge, get one of your friends to agree to give you a brutally honest critique. Say, “You don’t have to be mean about it, but considering what you know of me and my personality and work, what would you say might create problems for me with bosses in general or this one specifically?” If they start by blaming the boss, you know you’re not getting an honest critique. None of us are so perfect that there isn’t something about us that gets on people’s nerves! 7. If you really feel you have done your best to work well with your boss and follow her directions about work, and if you feel you can show some hostility on her part that you have done nothing to create or reinforce, then perhaps you should consider talking to her boss about it. If you don’t you may find yourself without a job some day; and no record that you were ever concerned about the boss’s attitude toward you. I realize that wouldn’t be easy to do, but it may be necessary at some point.
These are always difficult situations. The bottom line is that it is usually up to those at the lower level to learn to deal with the supervisor or manager effectively, rather than the other way around. That may not be fair, but is the reality of work. On the other hand, if you can show an exceptionally unfair situation, you may find you can help the work environment for others by saying something to the right person above you. I hope these thoughts help you as you work to gain a better relationship with your supervisor. Walking in another’s shoes is central to a WEGO relationship.
Tina Lewis Rowe