My Boss Promoted And Then Demoted Me!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about stress of being promoted:

I have been working in a furniture sales store for 5 months. I started out here as a cash-wrap girl, doing office work and taking money. Within two weeks the owner (the man who hired me) decides without talking to me about it, that I am going to be the assistant manager. And he tells the sales associates this.

Let’s just say this didn’t go over well with anyone. Let me remind you that I have no more that 8 months worth of sales experience (at Home Depot no less). Of course my ego got a major boost, but it put me right in the line of fire for all kinds of verbal and emotional abuse. Within two-months and much abuse, I get promoted to the sales floor part-time. My boss says I’m a natural. This causes even more problems. Two sales people start verbally attacking me with unwanted comments and sarcasms on a daily basis. Needless to say I want to quit.

My boss’ intern is constantly reminded of what a wonderfully opportunity that he has given me, and that makes me feel obligated to stay on no matter how hostile my work environment is. He as even said, “I blame you if you let them get to you.” I have always been a pretty strong person and usually retaliate aggressively to this sort of behavior. But I have been biting my tongue and holding it all in.

Each time I go to him and vent, he proceeds to tell me negative things about by co-workers while trying to boost my ego. It makes me wonder what he’s saying to my co-workers about me. I have even gone as far as to tell him that I think he is manipulative and fake. He thinks I’m joking.Next thing I know, again with no discussion with me what so ever, I am no longer Assistant Manager. That role has been given to another co-worker who was constantly complaining. Don’t get me wrong, that was fine with me. It’s not like anyone ever respected my so-called authority anyway, and I certainly didn’t ask for it. Since this happened, one of the hostile co-workers, the one who is not the assistant manager, is not civil to me (except when the other one is around).

Now you’d think I should be an equal, right? WRONG! There is still one sales person who is constantly belittling me, butting in on my sales, stealing sales, accusing me of stealing sales, and yet at the same time trying to be my buddy and mentor. (Psycho!!!!) I even went as far as having a one-on-one with her to address these things. She denied it all and blamed are problems with each other on the other co-workers. Now, we have another new sales person on the floor, and she is doing the same things to them. Her attention has shifted from me a bit, but I feel sorry for the new girl!!! The new girl and I get along great, and I know that tears this other person up. I am at the end of my rope and have even warned my boss that I am about to lose my cool. Any suggestions?

Signed, Losing It

Dear Losing It:

I can understand that you would feel frustrated. Your boss seems not to have put much effort into helping employees develop cooperation, communication and effective job skills. However, the fact that you seemed almost set-up for problems doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Let me share some thoughts, which may or may not work for your situation, but at least might trigger some thinking of your own.

You need a plan of action rather than reaction and that is where you should put your efforts.First, keep this in mind, as you feel frustrated about other employees: They are working under the same conditions you are; only they’ve been there longer. So, give them a little empathy in your mind if possible. That doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it certainly explains some of it. Your boss has likely pulled the same tricks on them that he has on you, and after awhile that can take its toll on anyone’s emotions.

1. Your first decision may be to decide if you want to stay there or not. I don’t ever recommend that someone should quit her job, and I wouldn’t in this case either. But, that is an option if nothing else works. Rarely are there any jobs in the marketplace for someone who is a hard worker and who deals well with others. If you decide to stay, vow to yourself that you will make an effort to change things as much as you can, given that the owner is the only one who has the authority to do so; but if that doesn’t work, you will accept that it was your decision to stay. We often hear from people who tell us of their miserable work situation, and at the end of the message, they will say they have been enduring it for ten or fifteen or twenty years! You don’t have that much of your life invested in this place, so it would be much less difficult to leave. And, you already have a resume that would show you have experience in a number of areas.

2. Before you make that big decision though, there may be some things that would help. There are two approaches to take: One is to work through your boss. The other is to work as a team of employees. You should start with the boss and see if you can get him to support improved teamwork and communication. If that doesn’t work, you will need to do something informally. If you don’t already have meetings, suggest weekly or monthly meetings to talk about concerns, ideas and recent successes. Do your part to focus everyone on the three things that we all need at work: Support, Encouragement and Assistance.

All of us, when it comes right down to it, tend to be big chunks of ego, so it’s all about me, me, me and I, I, I. That comes through in our conversations and our behavior. We could all benefit from showing more thought about others. I’m not talking about phony sweetness, but about such things as “How are things going today?” “How are your kids doing?” “Can I help you with that?” “I overheard you on that sale. You did a great job!” “I know you feel discouraged today, but it’s just temporary.” “Congratulations on your sales for the week! I’d love to get some tips from you.”

Most of us can tell when someone is being dishonest about the way they communicate. Often they are only friendly when others are around. Or, they go way overboard with the cheerful good morning, but it goes downhill after that. Instead, what you want is to simply think of everyone else as having life and work issues just like you do and doing what you can to put yourself in their place once in awhile. That doesn’t mean you have to be a saint and turn the other cheek over and over and over. But it does imply giving people a break about their behavior and being civil and courteous even if they aren’t.

3. It may be too late to start over completely; but often you can do that, at least in part. One way to do it is to simply start acting differently. You say you have tended to react aggressively in the past, but you’ve been biting back comments at this job. It may be that a facial expression or some other aspect of your behavior sends a message anyway. As an assistant manager, it would have been appropriate to explain that although you had limited experience, you wanted to do a good job. Then, you could have found out what each employee needed in the way of support, assistance and encouragement. If you didn’t do that, there may have been hard feelings, added to the fact that a new person was promoted over others. NOW you have a chance to support the new assistant manager. She probably feels just as much hostility as you did. You be the person who supports her efforts. Be friendly and never talk about her to others. No matter how you may view her, accept her authority and do what you can to follow her directions. Don’t think of her as a psycho and don’t treat her as one. To paraphrase: Do unto her what you wish others would have done unto you!

4. The new employee does need your support, encouragement and assistance. But what you don’t want is to make it a clique of you and her against them. That doesn’t help her as much as encouraging a better team all the way around. Likely there will be one or two who will never be pleasant, but you may be able to at least gain their assistance in teaching the new employee some good sales techniques or at least helping her learn about the line of products you sell. Purposely pull one of the others into your conversations. When you’re talking to the new person and one of the others is around, say, “Jan, Pam and I were talking about what to do when someone has taken a lot of time, but doesn’t seem inclined to buy. How do you handle that?” (Or whatever seems appropriate for your situation.)Support and encourage her as much as possible, but try very hard to not criticize the others to her. If she mentions them, focus on how she can learn to adjust, rather than on stewing over it. Include her in your plans to maintain a good level of communication with everyone.

5. Keep in mind that all of these things are things that your boss should have done. But he may be that type of business owner that feels as though if he is making a profit he doesn’t care how the employees feel. Or, he may wish things were better but not know how to make it happen. If you think you are close enough to him to share your thoughts try doing it and ask for some feedback from him. You say you have told him he’s a manipulator but he thinks you’re joking. That’s probably because you say it in a manner that can be taken as a joke if he chooses to do so. But, even if he took it seriously, that’s not the way to bring about positive change. For one thing, you are a new employee and he’s the owner, so you will want to remember your overall role! For another, no good comes of making those kinds of value judgments about someone. Instead, focus on talking to him about how you feel and the results you are seeing in the overall work environment. Talk to him about how his life would be easier if people weren’t venting to him all the time about conflicts. Emphasize that sales certainly wouldn’t decline, and might increase, if people weren’t angry at each other all the time. Be serious about it. If you have to, write it down and explain that it’s easier for you to express your thoughts without emotion if you write it down. If he starts to make negative remarks about other employees, try to turn the subject and say, “That may be, but what I need to know is how we can make it better.”No matter what he says about someone else, don’t sit there soaking it in. That’s what he is after. Instead, shrug things off and say you have faults of your own so you’ve decided to stop criticizing other people. That will not only stop him after awhile, but will remind you that it is true. He seems to think highly of you. If that’s the case, he won’t want you to quit. Without drawing a line in the sand, let him know that you are really unhappy with the way things continue to go downhill and you don’t know if you want to stay in that environment. If he doesn’t try to talk you out of quitting, that will tell you something too! At least be sure you let him know that you feel discouraged and hurt over how things have been going. Feeling discouraged says a lot more than only feeling angry. And you need to absolutely be able to show that you have made every effort to overcome the problems. If others can truthfully complain about you to him, he’s not very likely to listen to your concerns. 6. Do a self-assessment to make sure you are doing all you can to get along well with everyone. Try, one day at a time, to let negative things flow over you and replace them with positive actions while doing your job. Monitor your actions to ensure that you are not inadvertently “stealing” sales, and if it appears you have, apologize and do what it takes to correct the problem. Don’t jump on accusations of stealing sales unless you can prove it. I once talked to an appliance sales manager who said he could be watching the sales area and see everything going just fine, but at the end of the day everyone would accuse everyone else of stealing sales. The key is to view customers as people with needs that you can meet; not just sales for you. That’s not an easy thought process when you’re on commission; but the customers, who ultimately support you financially, sure appreciate it! I once walked out of a store when two sales people started subtly arguing over who had helped me first! Neither got the sale and I didn’t go back there. If you were a customer in your store, what would you want the focus of the salesperson to be…on your needs and financial concerns, or on getting a commission, no matter what? When there seems to be bad feelings with one of your co-workers, ask about it. Just come right out and say, in a tone of voice that sounds sincere, not hostile, “I can tell you’re upset with me. Tell me why and give me a chance to make it right.” Or, wait until you have some privacy and say, “You said that while ago as though you were joking, but you sounded like you might be serious too. Did I do something that made you angry?” You said you had a one-on-one discussion with one employee. That was the right thing to do. Often just talking about it at least stops the obvious actions because people realize then that you are noticing what they thought were subtle jabs. Or, it shames them enough that they re-think their actions. If nothing else, it gets it out into the open.

When things really seem tough, try taking breaks in which you go off to yourself and remind yourself that you choose to be there and you have enough strength to deal with irritations and frustrations. If the time comes when you can’t do that anymore, you’ll know you need to move on!Develop your life away from work in a way that brings happiness and contentment. Exercise, eat right, and enjoy your family and friends. Your job is an important part of your life, but you are only there part of your day. Spend the rest of it well. Especially avoid talking about your job at home in a negative way. Many times we cause stress for our families by bringing home all the details of work. Try to find something outside yourself to enrich your life…a hobby, your faith, a club, an activity in the community, going to local sites of interest, doing things for others. Build a life apart from work, so you will have something better inside you to bring to every setting. I hope some of these thoughts will help you as you consider your plan of action. You can lead the way to a better situation if you work at it. You will at least know that you were part of something positive, not just dragged down to the negative level of a few. Best wishes as you work on this challenge!

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.