Manipulating Supervisors

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctor about a boss and boss’s boss who both dislike each other:

I work in the building industry as a sub foreman. I am an assistant to the supervisor (I’ll call him Sam) on a work site. I think Sam is manipulative. We work on the same project so I am forced to interact with him. The person above the supervisor (the site manager who I’ll name Jason) is a master manipulator.

Both Sam and Jason dislike each; they clash. I am good-natured and have managed to stay out of taking sides. They both gossip about each other to me. I haven’t said anything to either party; however, recently I feel like both of them are trying to get what they want from me. I refused to do a task because it wasn’t in my job description, and they both threatened my job. I am happy in this company; however, this individual with whom I am teamed up, has made my life frustrated.

I’d like to confront Sam; however, if I do, then he will do anything he can to turn everybody against me. His greatest strength is his charm and ability to turn fellow co-workers against each other.I feel as if I am the underdog in this situation. I’ve thought about talking with other co-workers and telling them about Sam. This might defuse some of his power. But before I confront him, what suggestions do you have? Going to Jason, his Supervisor is not an option because he will use this whole scenario to back-stab Sam and me to the directors.

Signed, Manipulated

Dear Manipulated:

You are learning that no matter how hard is to come to work day after day, that the politics within a workplace can make the job harder. (Incidentally, in order to disguise your query, I have changed the name of your supervisor to Sam and his boss’s name to Jason.) It is apparent that you don’t trust either of these who rank above you and you feel that you are pushed and pulled (what you characterize as manipulated) by them. You don’t say how this manipulation is expressed or over what issues. You do say that you refused to do a task because it was not in your job description.

What or why you refused is not stated. Just because it is not in your job description might not be a good enough reason to refuse to do it. Nor do you say in what tone or words you refused. You have titled our question “Manipulated Coworkers,” but I changed that to”Manipulating Supervisors” based on what you say is your problem. Finally you asked for advice before you confront your supervisor. You are wise to think through what you might say when and if you confront Sam. What would be your goal in a one-on-one with him? Do you just want to provide reasons to justify you refused a task? Or do you want to hammer out an understanding about what could make your working together more effective and less frustrating? I expect that is what you want. So how might you approach this?

Here are a few things to consider:

1.You are working with resentment and are scared of what might happen if you voice your thoughts. Unless and until you are able to push that fear to the side, the very thought of confrontation will make you so hesitant and timid that you could come across as a wimp.

2. Think through your goal in a confrontation; what specifically would make your working life better? In short, if you had an ideal supervisor, how would you want him to speak to you and about what, when and where? Would your day be better if you could think of him as a coach and might your work go better if you two had a huddle each morning to talk about what needs doing? Does he make assignments without inviting your input? Does he bark orders or tell you what to do with a disarming smile rather than consult with you about a project?

3. You are wise not to ignore the gossip you hear from one about the other. I might be wise the next time one badmouths the other for you to say, “I sorry, but I prefer not to hear gossip about what _____ has done or not done. Can’t we just talk about how I might help you and this company improve the quality of our operations?” I’m OK; he’s not OK gossip, from what you say, is frequent. Stopping it probably will take more than one extinguishing “Let’s talk about something different.”

4. Although you say your supervisor and his boss clash, you also say that they both manipulate you and you fear that they could turn others against you. Therefore, your challenge is to think beyond the boss. Think cutting wasted supplies, wasted effort, money, and time. Earn your worth by talking quality, talking cutting defects and re-dos, talking innovation, and talking making your supervisor’s job easier.

5. Think beyond boss-bossed antagonism and aggravation; beyond to the work group. What are you and your supervisor doing to help your crews pull together as a team? Might it be smarter to make that the center of your confrontation and working out an understanding about how you want to be manages as secondary? If you study some of the Q&As in our Archives, you will find many address team building and ways to come to an agreement on the dos and don’ts of boss-bossed communication. Also, click on associate workplace doctor Tina Lewis Rowe’s name you will get her special site and find it quite helpful.Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Can you think WEGOS?

William Gorden