How Should I React To Boss Who Has Let Me Down?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about anger over time off:

I got along with my boss really well until this past week. A month or more ago I told her and the assistant manager that I needed time off for my sister’s 50th wedding anniversary, in Maine. The assistant does the schedule and said the manager was taking her vacation that week. Since the manager has always been fair to me I said if she was going to be on vacation, to forget my request. Two days before the time I would have left, they told me I could take the time off. I told them it was too late to make arrangements. Then,I found out that the manager isn’t taking her vacation until the next week.This was very upsetting to me. Since then, to reduce friction I have only discussed job related items and have avoided direct contact so I wouldn’t say something I shouldn’t. Now, my manager acts like she doesn’t know what is wrong and she is letting it carry into the job situation. What do I do now?

Signed, Wondering How To Handle Bad Feelings

Dear Wondering How To Handle Bad Feelings:

One thing about communication: People notice when we change and they notice when we are angry or upset. The more we distance ourselves to avoid saying the wrong thing, the more our very distance says, “I’m angry at you!” Now, you have a situation that has grown to the point that it could cause a permanent barrier between you and your boss–and by extension, the assistant manager too.

It is important to deal with this now, before it gets worse. Do you think your boss never had a vacation planned for that week and purposely misled you? Or, do you think her plans changed and the minute they did, she let you know? She may have felt terrible about messing up your plans and is even more defensive than usual about the coldness between you. Or, if her vacation plans were changed against her wishes or because of something unexpected in her life, she may be as disappointed as you.

Having you treat her coldly only makes her more upset, since she may know it was not her fault and resents you blaming her. You say you had a good history with your manager. Is it like her to tramp on the feelings of others or did she formerly seem to care about how you and others felt? If this recent situation isn’t like her, she may feel you are being unfair to react so strongly. If she normally isn’t very caring of others, she may resent your apparent attitude that she should feel badly for changing her vacation plans, given that she is the boss.

Either way, you will come out looking badly.The thing you have to decide now is, can you only move forward if your boss acknowledges how badly this worked out, or can you put it behind you and not hold it against her in subtle or not-so-subtle ways? One thing you know for sure: You don’t want things to be bad all the time or even get worse, no matter how upset you were or if she wasn’t very thoughtful about the way this was handled. Work is too much a part of our lives to have it be unhappy!You can approach this two ways: Try to return to your former positive relationship and not discuss what caused this recent problem or discuss how upset you were and explain that you have felt badly since then, but don’t want it to cause a permanent coldness between you two.

How you approach it will depend upon the relationship you have with her and how open she would be to discussing this. You know that best. Consider a combination of those two responses. The next time you’re at work, bring up a conversation that was more like your former interactions with your boss. Remove the barricade you’ve erected and see her response. She may be very relieved to have things start to be the way they were before. Ask her for advice or assistance, if that is something you would have done. Be the one to reach out. Then, if you feel you can do so, say, “Jan, that whole situation about my time-off request and the last minute change where I could have gone to my sister’s if I have known sooner, has really thrown me for loop. Just what DID happen with all of that?”

You’re not making an accusation, but looking for an explanation. Your boss may be happy for the chance to give it to you. Or, she may indicate she is angry with your reactions, which gives you a chance to say you want to get back to normal but you have been upset that no one seemed to care about how you felt. Those are the kind of back and forth dialogues that slowly get to the root of problems and allow both sides to say what they want to say–as well as allowing both sides to hear another perspective.Also consider this: Yes, you missed your sister’s main anniversary event. But, apparently you would have had the money to go if you could have. Why not go now? Relax, make a toast to her and her husband and enjoy the fun of it being just you and them instead of you lost in a group. That way you won’t have unfinished business in your mind, keeping you from feeling good at work. Or, set up a time in the Fall and plan for it as way to extend the enjoyment.Whatever you decide you will likely have to be the one to start the re-building of bridges. You are likely a good employee.

Keep that focus and every day add a plank of good will and your former positive communication, until the bridge is solid again. A smile and eye contact is the place to start. Then active talk rather than monosyllables about work. Follow with personal conversation when it is appropriate. Perhaps a frank discussion of how hurt you were and how disappointed you felt. Keep moving forward and every day will be better. Your boss probably doesn’t like it this way any more than you do and may be grateful if you make it easier for her to talk to you again.Keep your eye on the prize: A warm working relationship in a workplace where you look forward to work rather than dreading another day of estrangement from your boss.I hope these thoughts will give you a beginning for developing a plan of action. Best wishes to you! If you wish to do so and have the time, 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.