My Supervisor Has Terrible People Skills!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about supervisor who does not know the job or how to speak with staff:

I work for a state government. Last year there was a re-organization. I was placed with a person who was given the position of acting supervisor who does not know the job or how to speak with staff. I’m a self-starter and work very hard and proud of my work and get along with everyone. I always keep my supervisor advised of what I was doing with my assigned projects.When I first started working with her, I was working on a special project with a person in another office. I e-mailed my documentation to that person for review. When I went into my supervisor’s office, I mentioned it to her. She informed me that she was already preparing e-mail to management. I had not e-mailed the information to her yet. She had read the e-mail that I had sent to the other person.Her people skills are terrible. She is trying so hard to prove she is right that she refuses to listen to anyone that may suggest something that makes sense.I tried to help her with suggestions, but each time I receive is a smart answer or comment that speaks down to me. Almost all the communications between us now is by e-mail.Four months ago a new Assistant Director was hired, who is her boss. He has noticed how good my work is and that I work well with everyone. I’ve worked on some other projects and management is now seeing samples of my good work.

The Assistant Director even asked me if I would be interested in the lead position since I have past experience in being a supervisor. I spoke to the Assistant Director two weeks ago. He agreed she lacks people skills, but that the problems were between her and me. Three weeks ago in the Assistant Director’s office she offered to take one of my projects and get the figures together to be approved by the board.I receive e-mail from her at 2 PM, the day before the meeting that she could not get the figures together. I took the work home and put in for 6 hours overtime. It didn’t matter that I had all the information together and ready for the meeting. It did matter that I worked 6 hours overtime. Instead of talking with me, she sent e-mail to everyone in the unit that we must have our overtime approved. I agree I was wrong not asking up front for overtime, but I was overwhelmed with the amount of work I had to do, not only to get the figures together, but to prepare several forms that I rarely work with to input the figures.I walked into her office and said I was a little upset about the e-mail.

She blew up. She told me I am always upset about something that is untrue because I love my work. Then she made the remark “You must feel like you work like a dog in this unit.” I walked out of her office and closed the door. I mentioned it to the Assistance Director, and it was like, Oh yeah I heard about it. It’s my word against her. I told him she is using her office for verbal abuse because she can’t be held accountable where no one hears it. There are others in the unit who she has done the same thing, but they will not come forward and tell the Assistance Director. I just don’t know what to do. My job requires me to write letters and now none of them are good enough for her, so she has to change the words. I have six years more years, and then I can retire. Right now I want to do such a good job, I am hoping management will reward me and transfer me to another department. I welcome any suggestions. Thanks for your help.

Signed, Want To Fix It

Dear Want To Fix It:

This is obviously a tough situation. You probably cannot “fix” it or “fix” your new boss. However, you can take steps to attempt to build a better working relationship with your boss.In a working environment, there is communication that would be generally referred to as “production” communication. It involves work orders, requests, handling the customer’s orders, etc.

There is another kind of communication that would be generally referred to as “maintenance” communication. It could also be called “relationship” or “team building” communication. It has nothing to do with specific work, projects, or getting the work out. It has to do with building and maintaining the understood rules or procedures in a work setting or a department. Though it is really your boss’s responsibility to initiate this, you probably need to approach your boss and ask if you and she may talk about and plan how the two of you are going to work together.Do not precede identifying issues, ideas, problems, and opportunities until she agrees to engage in this conversation. It would be well to do it at a time other than in the heat of the workday.

Ask to meet a half hour before work or some other time. Do lunch together to try to break the ice. Don’t try to control her or imply she is doing a bad job. Approach it from the standpoint that you want to plan each other’s expectations and each other’s needs of the other. Let her tell you what she expects of you. Ask her if you may define the projects and processes you are currently working on, so she may understand what is already in place-and what others expect of you outside your department. Ask her if you may identify what you need or would like from her. Ask her how you should keep her in the loop on things, and to what extent she wants to be involved in projects that may be initiated by other departments.Write it down together – on tablet paper or on a marker board or flip chart. Or. Write one item per index card, and lay them out on a tabletop, so you can sort and organize by category or priority. Be sure to eventually get it on paper so both of you can refer to it. Agree that both of you will want to tweak it as either of you think of things that need to be addressed or clarified over the weeks ahead. What you are trying to do is learn to work with each other by creating a plan. The two of you will actually create your teamwork relationship together. Up to now, each of you has been working from your own perspectives without really “building” or “maintaining” a working relationship. Doing this will establish a mutual understanding and respect for each other. And it facilitates greater productivity. It makes work more fun. Just because you have been working your way under another boss, doesn’t mean the new boss is necessarily right or wrong, or that you are right or wrong. Both of you have your own styles and ways of doing things. The objective is to start now to build a new relationship. You may need to change some things to accommodate your boss. That is your responsibility. If she “blows up” over something, don’t stomp out. Agree to get back together to clarify things a little later – or listen to her right then. She must see you trying to help, not trying to get your own way.

If your new boss refuses to engage in this much needed team building, at least you have revealed to her that you desire to work with her. Give her some time to come around. In any case, it would be helpful to try to communicate with her in person – at least some of the time. Build a face-to-face working relationship with her. Ask her when you should simply inform her of things, or she you; and when the two of you should sit down face-to-face to solve a problem or create an approach to a new project.

She may welcome it. Her behavior thus far may be her way of exhibiting that she is boss. She may have been treated this way by one or more of her bosses in the past. She may not want this job and was forced to accept it. You really do not know the circumstances. It may be the only way she knows how to supervise. Perhaps you can help her. Be sincere and gentle. Let her see you as her friend – not her foe. Do your part. Make it easy for her to reach out to you – to cooperate. Make sure you cooperate with her.Also, maintain your relationship with the new Assistant Director.Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOs. Please keep us posted on what you do and what does or doesn’t work for you.

Don G. Gibson