Manager Blows Hot and Cold

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss who is cold at times: I really don’t want to approach her and not have her look at me when I am talking. I don’t know if something is going on with her personal life

I was really excited about working at this new company because my Manager came across as a very strong, competent, fair person. I felt she was someone I could emulate. As the months progressed, I noticed that she sometimes talks to her staff in a condescending way in front of others and she can be cold and non-engaging. For example, she came in one day and just stayed in her cube. Normally she comes around to see how everyone is doing and if anyone needs help. On this day she didn’t engage. I went up to her to ask a question and she never turned her face from her computer. She answered me but I could tell her interest was half-hearted. I thought that was rude. I don’t want to say that I was hurt because the workplace is not a place for personal feelings but I just felt a little let down by her attitude and it made me not really want to approach her in the future for anything.I asked other co-workers if they noticed how odd she was acting and they voiced my same observations. If she’s a manager, why is she acting like this?

Then in the next instant she wants to engage and to be chummy. I don’t understand this behavior. I want to call her out on it and ask why is she acting this way but I don’t want to be accused of needing hand holding or personal attention. But I really don’t want to approach her and not have her look at me when I am talking. I don’t know if something is going on with her personal life or other stressors on the job, butĀ to Ask the Workplace Doctors about Can you advise on how I can handle this? I really just want to ignore her on Monday.

Signed, Let Down

DearĀ Let Down:

As you have probably discovered in other employment, your manager may not be as engaging with you and others as you would like, but you don’t have the option of ignoring her if you want to keep your job. So, you certainly would not want to react to her in that negative way, as you are tempted to do. However, I can see that it would be disappointing o have high hopes about the character and behavior of someone then find out they don’t live up to all of the good qualities they seemed at first to possess.It doesn’t sound as though your manager is an ogre or demeans you, yells at you or makes your life miserable (as some managers we hear about have been reported to do). She simply is not a consistently friendly person, is sometimes condescending and is sometimes preoccupied with her work to the point of not responding in an encouraging way.

Overall it sounds as though she is not very effective in her communications. I think you would be wise to not talk negatively about her to other employees though, because that is likely to get back to her. Just keep your focus on your own work and treat her and others as you would want to be treated–which is to say, as though you may not always be at your best.It could be there are things happening that are much, much worse than you have described. If so, you and the others may need to talk to HR or the manager above your manager. But if what you describe is the primary thing you are concerned about, you may find you will simply have to continue to work effectively even though your manager isn’t always very effective herself. I realize that isn’t advice that will fix anything. However, you don’t have it within your power to force your manager to change and the actions you describe, while irritating, are not so extreme or so harmful as to make work impossible.

In most workplaces the employees find their support and resources from within their own team and the manager provides oversight and occasional supportive interactions. Perhaps you can take the lead to strengthen relationships within the team and let that dilute the effects of the manager’s behavior when it is at its “cold” stage. According to the culture of your workplace and how well you have come to know your manager in spite of her behavior, perhaps you can talk directly to her and ask her if there is something bothering her about you or your work. You can use that to segue into why you are asking. You might have to tone that down a bit so you don’t sound as though you are reprimanding your manager–but even a few mild words might be helpful.Best wishes to you with this. 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.