My Boss Won’t Use My Name

Question:  I work for family owned business. The owner and his two sons are white. One employee is White, one is Hispanic and I am Black. My boss addresses me as “ helper”, never by my name. I’ve been there a year. I’m feeling discriminated against. What should I do?

Response: I’m not clear on how someone could avoid calling someone by their first or last name for a full year! Does he say, “Hi, Helper, how was your weekend?” Or, “Bill, why don’t you and Helper work on this?” That would seem very odd. Or, does he just introduce you as a helper in the company? Or, put you on the organizational chart as “Helper” instead of putting your name? I would like to know more about that!

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How To Deal With A Rude Boss In A Temporary Job?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about  a rude boss: I am walking on egg shells every day and dread going to work – I have a nice job to return to and can do that tomorrow if I choose.

I am currently on assignment at my department’s managing director’s office. I am helping them set up a new unit which is very high profile. I was informed that I was asked to do this because of my background and longevity with the organization (17 years) and solid track record in the field. My boss at the Managing director’s office just recently brought in a friend to be the ops manager for this new department.

Since this woman arrived, she has been rude and dismissive with me and another colleague who is on loan from another department. For example, she asks questions that have already been answered via email (She doesn’t read her emails) and then when you again give her the answer, she cuts you off mid-sentence. When her superiors are around she is a totally different person. All sweetness and light to them. I have seen her resume. She does not have a background in this field, and has had 10 jobs in 10 years – the longest job she has had was for 1 year and 3 months.Since I am only on loan, I was planing to stay with this project until January when the department is created – I then would have the option to return to my old position or seek a management position within the new unit. Because of this woman and her attitude, I do not want to stay beyond the timeline for rollout.

I decided that this week because working for her long-term would be impossible. (Although what’s long term to her? she apparently can’t hold a job anyway!) However, now its become increasingly difficult to work in this negative environment day-by-day and I am thinking of getting out sooner. I would like to stay for the length of time I signed on for, so that I can add this experience to my resume and realistically, I could leave now since I have built a solid foundation for the area I am in charge of but I believe in this project and want to continue to do a good job. I am conflicted – Should I tell her I will not tolerate her behavior towards me – I.E., cutting me off mid-sentence when I am simply just answering her questions, or discuss it with the chief of staff (not her immediate boss and friend) or just go back to my old job without saying anything? I am walking on egg shells every day and dread going to work – I have a nice job to return to and can do that tomorrow if I choose. Please advise.

Signed, Undecided

Dear Undecided:

Your situation certainly IS challenging, especially given that the problem person has organizational authority over you and is a friend of the person above her. Because of that, some of the things you might say to a coworker would not apply in this situation, and you want to make sure the higher level person will support you.

Let me just share some thoughts and see if they can be used to help you determine a plan of action.

1. I wonder how much support you would receive from other employee you mentioned. If you are not the only one who would be willing to talk about negative feelings that are developing, that would be helpful.

2. What other support do you have generally? Do you think you have influence with others or have you had too many conflicts? (I would doubt you have, but it’s good to think about.)

3. What is it the Managing Director sees in this manager? What knowledge and skill makes her particularly useful?4. What do you think would be the self-justifying viewpoint of this manager about her behavior? What reason would she give for cutting you off as you talk or being unnecessarily curt?Might she say that you and others speak too slowly she wants to cut to the chase? Is it that she feels you and the other person are difficult to deal with and resentful of her? Is she under time pressure and feels that things aren’t going right or are going too slowly?Is it possible that your style and hers are simply at war with each other? For example, is she quick and unstructured, while you are methodical and don’t want to be rushed?Do you think she sees herself as being rude? What do you think she would say about her behavior? About your behavior? That introspection is useful for finding out some root causes–both in her and you.5. How do you think you would feel if you don’t stick it out for the next three and a half months? Or, does it not really matter to you?

6. As to action: The best person to talk to is the person who brought you to the assignment. I assume that is the Managing Director. The MD wants this project to succeed, and he or she wants YOU to help make it happen. Even friendships won’t stand in the way of that. He or she also wants you to have a good work environment so you can do a good job.Ask for a meeting, and let your MD know that you are frustrated and not feeling that you have the role you had anticipated. Explain that you thought it would be a great experience, and a lot of it is,, but it isn’t working out well and you’re wondering if you should leave while you still feel good about the task and others still feel good about you being there. (That’s a good way to put it.)Have your mental list of things that are bothering you, but keep your focus on the management style and interpersonal style of your manager. Be able to describe, in a sentence or two, the overall conflict. Then, use specific examples to show what you mean. If you have sample emails or a record of emails not being read, have those. Be able to say what you would prefer instead and what would seem to you to work better. You may not get to say it all, but at least you’ll have it.

When the MD tries to convince you that it’s just bumpy times in a new assignment, stick with the fact that you don’t like to be treated as you have been treated. Don’t give in on that and say you’ll try to get along, or some such thing.Consider asking your MD if he or she thinks you are creating some of the problem. Or ask if he has something to suggest that would be a good area of improvement for you. Put him in the position of either critiquing you and giving you ideas for change, or critiquing you and saying you’re fine.If he seems to think you are doing fine, ask him what you can do about the bad treatment you receive. Let him know it affects your work, and how negative it feels.The main thing is….don’t let him off the hook with just giving you advice to “hold in there.” Make sure he knows there has to be change in how you and others are treated, or you will not be able to stay. I should note here that you don’t want to sound as though you are demanding anything. I think a good approach is to show your frustration but still to reassure your MD that you are continuing to work to your highest level. You just don’t know how long that can last the way things are.I think it’s a good idea to give the MD something he can say to the manager. For example, in this case you could say, “I don’t want to make her even more angry by having her know I was talking to you. Do you think you could just tell her you heard or saw something that probably would bother me, since you know me so well?”

The truth is the MD probably won’t replace this Manager. But, he may be concerned enough about you and the project that he would give her some guidance about how to interact with you and others.If that doesn’t help, THEN you may want to go higher. But honestly, if that doesn’t help you might be burning bridges to do anything more, except ask to move back to your other assignment and say why. I’d hate for you to do that, but I’d also hate for you to draw a line in the dirt over this, OR have to endure an unpleasant situation.

7. In the meantime, keep your focus on work, as I’m sure you are doing. You only have a short time to go and a lot of things can happen in that length of time.

See if you can be the one to encourage a more positive workplace in many ways. Be the leader for others and show that you can keep moving forward in spite of conflict. You know that others must be aware of your feelings. Let them see you keeping the faith and continuing to do your best.I hope these thoughts will help you think of some of your own and maybe lead you to a successful result for this situation.If you have the time and wish to do so, let me know your solution and the result.Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe read more