How Should I Deal With An Untrustworthy Boss?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about lying boss:

My manager is the untrustworthiest man I have ever met. My staff and I have found him lie time and time again. He and the manager of HR took me into a meeting telling me it was non-discipline so I would not have representation there and later sent me a three page letter of discipline. This manager has been my supervisor for two years, and from day one he has been a problem for my staff and me. My staff suggested that he was harassing me and I have started to actually see what they meant.

I have worked for the company for 14 years and have been a manager for 8 with constant commendations on file. But he has threatened to give me a bad performance appraisal because he thinks that I am not capable of doing my job. My staff disagrees and so do our customers. I just don’t know what to do with this guy. He is the most unapproachable, untrustworthy, and incompetent manager the organization hired since I have been with them. The company is part government so the pay is great, and therefore, I don’t want to leave. What should I do?

Signed, Have Bad Boss

Dear Have Bad Boss:

First, you should put in writing a response to the letter of discipline, stating that you were not told that the meeting with HR and your boss was for that purpose. In that reply, state what you were told was the purpose of the meeting, and be explicit in the words he used, especially if you can recall the words “this meeting is not for disciplinary purposes.” Do you know for a fact that the reason they told you it was not for a disciplinary purpose so that you could not bring a representative, or do you assume that was their intention?

So take care not to attribute sneaky intentions unless you can read their minds. What is important is that the result of such a statement was to prevent you from having a representative present. If your policy book specifies that someone brought in for discipline is allowed representation, include that statement found there. Even if your policy book does not specify representation is permitted, you can make the argument that it should have been. Also in response to the letter of discipline, if would be good for you to affirm your commitment to your work organization and to pledge your continued desire to add value in all that you do.

Then take up the items one by one in that three-page letter and address them in a problem-solving way; acknowledging what needs improvement and what, if anything, said that were not justified. Ask that that your letter be added to your file along side the many commendations that should be there. By the way, you should maintain a complete file of all this material in a safe place.If what you say about your manager lying “time and time again” is even half true, is it not past time to present up the chain of command a log of these lies or deceptions and other problems you have encountered with him? Government contracted work should have channels and procedures for bringing manager problems to attention of those above.

From what you say, however, I do not see anything he has done that fall within a legal definition of harassment. Usually, I recommend one-on-one confrontation with a superior, but I don’t recommend a confrontational meeting without a third party, possibly a union rep, ombudsman, clergy, or attorney. This is to say that it seems to me that you want to “fight” this manager and ward off any devious action on his part. You want to keep your job. Apparently your staff is involved to some degree. Gossip about one’s boss is to be avoided, and encouraging your staff to join in your “fight” of a manager can add to what is already held against you. But since you allege they too have been lied to, it might be wise to consult an attorney to learn if depositions should be taken from them, assuming that an attorney thinks that you indeed have a case.

Finally, before you do anything, it is time for reflection, not obsession with a wicked boss. Take time-out to assess your role in all of this. For example, you will see that I did some editing of the note you sent the Workplace Doctors. Why? Because there were several places in it that had grammatical errors or problems in stating what you were trying to tell us. I tried to maintain the sense of your e-mail, and I apologize if my changes distort it in any way. When you create a log of lies, for example, you need to include what was said to whom, when, where, and witnesses. Also how you did in response to those lies and in what way did the lies adversely affect your work. Most of all you need to focus on how his behavior disrupted/demoralized the job expected of you and your staff.

A boss-bossed relationship too often is adversarial. That is not good for your party, your work organization or its customers/clients. Is it possible for you to reframe the way you see what’s been going on? Might you see good rather than bad in the intentions of your manager and HR? Probably not. But generally, doing so is a way to get a positive perspective. For example, what would you do to solve this problem is you were the top boss and wanted to do what is possible to make both you and your manager cooperate, even if you don’t like each other? I wish you the best as you decide a course of action. Can you see a little humor in all of this or at least still laugh once and awhile? If you like, keep us posted. I hope you can find some of these thoughts of value and think about the spirit of my signature line: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. A Second Opinion: Hello! Dr. Gorden and I often add to each other’s thoughts on the Workplace Doctor’s site and this is one of those times!I can understand your frustration about having a meeting in which you were told it would not be disciplinary, but later you received a three page letter. Perhaps that letter was formal discipline, but it may very likely not have been. For example, a letter with the purpose of documenting that they talked to you might result in a long letter, but would not be formal discipline.I have often followed up counseling discussions with a documenting letter to the employee reiterating what we talked about and reminding them that any future problems could result in discipline. Occasionally an employee would say he or she had been “written up”, but that was not the case. In fact, a written reprimand would have been brief, too the point and clearly a reprimand that they had to sign.I’m mentioning this to clarify the difference between getting a long letter about your meeting, and getting an organizational disciplinary action. Here is how you can tell: If the letter mostly talks about what you talked about in the meeting an gives examples of problems and/or how things should be done differently, and ends up with a warning that you must improve, it probably is not a disciplinary letter.

If the letter starts by saying, “This letter is a written reprimand” or, “This letter is your official notification that you have been reprimanded” Or, this is an official documentation of the verbal reprimand you were given on XX date”, or something official like that, with a place for you to sign and return, THEN it is almost certainly a disciplinary action.I will also point out that having one’s subordinates and clients approve of your work does not mean you are doing what your manager or supervisor wants done, or doing it to the quality they want it done. For example, one of the people you supervise might not perform to the level you wish, and you would correct them about it. They might say, “Well, none of my coworkers think I’m wrong and neither do the clients.” But, you would be basing your judgment on your knowledge as a supervisor, not on popular opinion.In a similar way, the fact that you have been commended in the past does not mean you are working the way your current supervisor and manager wishes. Times change and work requirements change.

Perhaps your bosses are being unfair, perhaps not. But, they do have the authority to require reasonable standards and to require that those standards increase over time.None of that is meant to explain away everything that has happened. But, it is good to keep those other viewpoints in mind, since they reflect what someone higher in the organization will think if they review this situation at some time. If you want to keep your job and you want to do well, it seems the best way to do it is to identify what performance or behavior areas you are being asked to change. If you can change, do so. If you must, seek assistance to gain the knowledge and skills required for the job as it is now being asked of you. If you do not think the demands are reasonable, document your concerns, as Dr. Gorden suggested, and take it higher in the organization. Former President Dwight Eisenhower was asked to what he attributed his military success, and he said, “I found out what my commander wanted and as long as it was legal and moral I gave it to him.” That is often the key to success everyplace! Sometimes we do not like or trust our bosses, but as long as we are not the boss and they are, it is far easier to find a way to perform and behave to their standards; which usually reflect the standards of those above them; than it is to find a new job!Best wishes in your efforts to work through this conflict. Tina Rowe

William Gorden