Tension Between Manager and Me

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss/bossed tension:

About six months ago, I was moved from my work area to work in a newly created audit office. My new manager and I didn’t exactly hit it off on the right foot; I felt that he didn’t think I was “good enough” to work for him, as at our initial meeting, he was rather condescending. After my initial hesitation, I focused on my work, giving him 110% and my loyalty. I say that because there are several manager here that do not particularly like him, him getting the new position of audit manager, etc.

I have always defended him (not over-the-top) and have tried very hard to say nothing negative. Fast forward six months, we’ve been getting along great, he gave me my annual review, scoring my performance at the highest ranking. We’ve been working well as a team, and communication hasn’t been an issue.

Now the problem: In our office area, there is another manager and his admin person. She and I have never had any problems that I know of. She DID lose her office when we moved in and is now in a cubicle area instead. Other than making some off-hand remarks about my manager being a little different (uptight) nothing has been said. About three weeks ago, she and I were the only people in the office. She asked me if I had seen my managers grass-roots survey results. I replied that I had not. She said, “I did. They were on the printer when I came in.” She brought them over to my desk, and I told her that I didn’t think he would want me looking at it without him and she was VERY shocked by that, and made several comments to the effect that she knew everything with her manager and dept. I told her my manager was pretty private and he and I didn’t have the completely comfortable relationship yet that she and her manager appeared to have. She literally snorted and said that she couldn’t work like that. She went back to her desk, and I started working.

Later that afternoon, my manager was in and asked if the survey results were on the printer when I had come in that morning, or if I had taken them off the printer. I had not, and I believed that the other girl still had them. I told my manager that I did not, but “Sue” had been in the office before I had; check with her. He did, and she told my manager that she gave them to me. She left her desk and walked to mine, and said “remember, “Beth”, I gave them to you this morning?” I was dumbfounded, and said, “No, I don’t remember.” And then she further said, “I left it right there on your desk”. I knew I didn’t have it, but had no idea what to say, without causing confrontation. I looked through the papers on my desk, with both of them standing there, but they were not there. My manager said not to worry about it; they would turn up.

My manager worked later that evening, and the next day, it was obvious that he had gone through the stuff on my desk. He also acted quite differently (more quiet/private than usual) the next couple of days. Several days later, “Sue” said there was tension in the air about it, and that she knew it wasn’t her and my manager because, “they had talked about it that night”. She further said she didn’t know what happened and asked if I had gotten scared or what? I told her what I recalled of the situation, and she hasn’t talked to me or even looked my way since. Now, I’m rather upset about the whole thing. I would like to think that my manager and I have come far enough along that he would talk to ME, not another employee about what happened. I also believe that I deserve that respect, no matter how our personal working relationship is. I want to talk to him about it, but I’m pretty mad (?) and not sure what to even say.

Signed, Frustrated and Irritated

Dear Frustrated and Irritated:

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we deny something that was not that big a deal to begin with, right? I’m not making light of your concern, but I hope you can see how much easier it would have been to have told the truth. “Sue brought it over to me this morning and she said it was on the printer, but I didn’t look at it and I don’t have it.”By implying you knew nothing about it and Sue may have seen it, you attempted to lead your manager to believe something that wasn’t true. You did see the item, even if you didn’t read it. And, there was no question about the fact that Sue had it at some point, because you saw it. Then, when Sue was truthful and admitted she saw it, her credibility was strengthened. They came to your desk and you once again said you didn’t know what she was talking about, and that you didn’t remember what had taken place. That probably sounded rather lame, especially since you then searched through your papers.

I’m sure your manager was thinking you wouldn’t have a reason to do that if you truly hadn’t seen the print-out.What he should have done was to call you in and tell you that he was disappointed in the subterfuge and that he would have preferred you to be honest with him to begin with. That way the two of you could have talked about it and you could have worked to make it right immediately.Sue may not have your best interest at heart–which I’m sure you knew already. In this case though, she may have felt you were trying to set up her by denying knowledge of the print-out and saying she was there first so she may have seen it. That took you out of it completely and put it all on her.I don’t know if you could hear what your manager said to her, but there may have been something in his tone or remarks that upset her even more than it might have otherwise.You are concerned that your manager talked to Sue but didn’t talk to you. Don’t assume he sought Sue out to talk to her. Perhaps SHE talked to HIM first and he responded with courtesy. After all, it isn’t like he didn’t have the file, he just doesn’t know where the print-out ended up.It doesn’t sound like you made an effort to talk to him right away or even since then–which gives the appearance of a guilty person who doesn’t want to discuss the offense.So, my advice is to get this out in the open and on the table right now.

Talk about it openly and make it a big learning experience. Take the embarrassed silence out of it and discuss it. Go to your boss and say something like, “Stan, I’ve lost sleep over what happened last week and I HAVE to talk to you about it. I should never have denied seeing the print-out, and I will never do something like that again. But, I can assure you I didn’t read it or look at what was on it, and I never held it in my hands. Sue never placed it on my desk. I don’t have it. But what worries me most is that I don’t want you to think I’m untrustworthy. This was poor judgment but I won’t make that mistake again. I hope you can forgive me for it.”Then, let him either forgive you and give you a way out, or be prepared for him to say something more corrective about it.Either way it will no longer be a secret and a barrier between you.As far as your relationship with the manager goes–it sounds as though he values your work, so that may be the best you will achieve with that relationship.

You and he likely have a different dynamic than Sue and her manager, but that doesn’t matter as long as work gets done and the environment is generally pleasant.I know you feel awkward about it now. You are probably as much embarrassed over all of it as you are irritated. But, you can move past it if you deal with it openly and with an acknowledgement that you could have handled things differently and you wish you had.Best wishes to you in this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happened.

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.