I'm being treated like an incompetent at work and I don't know what to do about it.
November 22, 2011 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I recently changed career focuses and the way I'm being treated suggests that my boss thinks I'm incompetent and not to be trusted. I don't know how to read the situation and I need perspective.

After a number of years in non-technical roles, I recently moved into a more technical position in the same industry with a very small company that needed a jack of all trades: Someone able to help manage a CMS, troubleshoot problems, train end users, build processes, automate workflows, etc. I looked at this as a career change to match my changing interests. My natural skillset, experience and formal training was on the non-technical side, but curiosity and interest have caused me to pick up a lot of technical skills I'd like to spend more time using.

I didn't enter my new job bereft of any skills: I've got some experience developing internal applications in Rails, basic system administration, a solid "deploy a CMS on a server, make sure DNS is straight, maintain the site after launch" skillset. Not an expert, but demonstrably educable.

My new employers, for their part, didn't hire me unaware of my background: My résumé was very clear about what I'd been up to for the past decade, the positions I reported didn't involve any "title says one thing, responsibilities are another" surprises, and two out of my three references were people who knew me best from my non-technical roles.

When I was hired, the position I accepted was given the classification "Senior Web Developer," and the offer letter matched the way the I described the job above. I was also told that in a small company, everybody has to pitch in and do the stuff nobody wants to do, that the company had plans to grow but primarily expand its technical headcount through contractors, and that they wanted me to learn my way around so when the time came to bring those contractors on board, I'd be responsible for managing them (which is in my official job description). I accepted a small (3 percent) paycut and decided to treat it like the price I'd have to pay to change careers and work for a small company where I'd have a better chance to work without a lot of corporate process and multiple levels of management.

The other thing influencing my decision was that this company is run mostly online. We have around 12 employees, but only three regularly report to an office on the East Coast. I, along with the remainder, work from home. I've been working from home for over 11 years now and prefer it, and I wanted to continue to be more available after school for my children.

I feel like my references should have been a warning: Two of them said that the calls they got from the person who is now my supervisor (and the CTO) were pretty strange. One said the call was dropped a few minutes after starting and they never heard back. Another said that he was given a chance to complete one or two sentences but was mostly lectured about the company without being asked if I sounded like a good fit.

So I've been in the position for six months, and my misgivings about my relationship with my supervisor have been mounting:

- Weekly meetings between me, my supervisor and outside developers seldom involve more than a few words from me. My supervisor dominates the calls and never asks for my input except at the tail end when he'll toss out a perfunctory "have I forgotten anything?"

- When I'm delegated a task that's not something like "change a few words in the terms of service for all our sites," I'm usually in for ten or fifteen minutes of each detail being covered. If I point out that I've already performed a similar task and understand how things work, with specific examples, it doesn't really matter: I still have to hear the task explained to me.

- If I pass a piece of rough code by him (e.g. the basic logic and framework variables for a dynamic page, with a comment to stand in for the 30 or 40 lines of static markup that must eventually go in there), he says things like "of course I don't need to say you can't just have the comment there ... it'll have to have markup."

- On calls with other people in the company, if I'm asked a direct question, he'll cut me off mid-sentence and answer for me.

- If he doesn't cut me off, he makes it a point to rephrase anything I've said. "What Jane's trying to say here is ..."

- If I allude to conversations I've had with other employees, or ask for information to answer a question someone put to me, he makes sullen comments about the fact that I was asked and not him

- Almost every time I'm asked to contact an outside contractor, "cc me" is the last thing he says. If he's not cc'd about something and learns of it later, he asks for me to forward the entire conversation.

- He periodically seems to snap out of it and ask me my opinion on things in front of others, but then he makes a show of double-checking my answers. When the double-check comes back that I was right (and I have been, because I've been in this industry for a while and understand it pretty well), it's either not acknowledged or minimized ("well, it's always good to hear from people who really understand this")

- An outside contractor who's been around for about a year now and used to be a full-time freelancer tells me part of the reason he scaled back his involvement was the sense that my boss just wasn't listening to outside advice and wasn't ever following through on assorted initiatives.

- My wife has met him and agrees with the contractor: He just doesn't listen to anybody and does most of the talking in any given situation.

I'm going to pause now and note that if I were reading someone else posting this to AskMe, I'd probably assume that a quick link to the Wikipedia entry on the Dunning-Kruger effect would be more valuable than any amount of advice, but the behavior being directed at me is completely at odds with the feedback I get from other staff (who repeatedly tell me they think I'm helpful), the CEO (who tells me the CTO "thinks the world of" me), and long-time outside developers who tell me they're impressed with how quickly I've picked up the job. When I ask directly, my boss assures me he appreciates my work and thinks I'm doing a great job of retaining information. When I say "I want to make sure you think you're getting your money's worth" he says "every penny and more."

Another thought, trying to look at things objectively, is that I've only been in this role for six months and I understand it takes time to earn trust. But the behaviors I've listed seemed to be in decline for a brief window then suddenly came roaring back. In fact, not two weeks ago we had a discussion where he said he considered the support role part of my job "beneath" me and that he wanted to move me on to more responsibility. But this week has been particularly bad again.

This is all very new to me. I was trusted with a lot at my last job. I made it through five layoffs over the years, got good-to-great evaluations every year, and while I had my share of micro-managers to deal with, I never ended up enduring anything like this for so long.

So I really just don't know how to deal with this. I don't have any experience that informs me on what to do next. I've done the grownup thing and asked if I'm doing my job well, but the answers are not matching the behavior.

Now I'm mostly scared that I traded away a really solid résumé that showed I was a stable, productive employee with a diverse skillset and steady career progression for a position where I'll never be trusted to do anything meaningful.

I'm afraid I'll look like a flake to recruiters or HR people if I restart my job search, and I feel like what could have been a fairly smooth transition in career focus is now in danger. For a brief window after I accepted this job, I was still getting recruiter calls before I unflagged myself as "looking" on LinkedIn. I quietly raised the flag back up a few weeks ago and the recruiters started contacting me again, but one told me my résumé was confusing because of the change in focus.

I need help understanding what's going on, I need help understanding how to figure out what I'm missing (because I know I'm missing something), and I need help understanding if this even sounds like a salvageable situation.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total)
It's called micro-management.
Plus your Supervisor is a Dick.
And it's not going to get any better. He's never going to change.
Start looking for a new job now.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:26 PM on November 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

you sound like the kind of person who needs to be in a professional environment, and your boss sounds like an amateur. you're not going to get him to "trust" you - that's what you're missing. it's not gonna happen, and you can't make it happen. either detach emotionally or move on. it's not that big a deal, you have a weird blip in your resume - so what?
posted by facetious at 6:34 PM on November 22, 2011

Try to discover how your boss behaves with other employees at your seniority level, male and female. This will help you discern how much of his behavior is just him and how much, if any, is unique to your relationship.
posted by R2WeTwo at 6:38 PM on November 22, 2011

Yeah, this doesn't have anything to do with you at all. Your boss is a super micro-manager and he is being a dick about it.

Is this the only thing on your resume that is going to be short-term? Is every job on your resume less than a year or is it fine everywhere else except for here? If it is only one job that is like this they aren't going to think you are a flake.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:43 PM on November 22, 2011

I wouldn't quit without at least trying to fix the situation. People that micromanage are often insecure, either with their own skills or out of fear that they'll be blamed for something. I think you're being too oblique by asking how you're doing. You're being a guesser and you need to be an asker.

Schedule an appointment to talk about your performance and your frustration. Ask that he not interrupt you, give him the same information you've given us here and tell him that you don't understand his behavior towards you. Toot your horn some but remain friendly. Mention to him that he's said that you do a good job so you don't understand his tendency to micromanage and 1) ask what you can do to change his behavior and build his trust OR 2) ask that he stop and let you do your job and be treated like the professional that you are.

Also, start looking for another job in case he continues to be an ass.
posted by shoesietart at 6:49 PM on November 22, 2011

It sounds like you're taking personally something that isn't personal. This is how the guy interacts with his staff. It doesn't mean you're not doing a good job. It might not even mean that he doesn't think you're doing a good job.

It's a poor way to manage people and a poor way to run a company, but it's just how he rolls.

You are being paid for the job. Part of the job in this case turns out to be waiting for him to finish repeating instructions for trivial tasks you've done countless times, and not roll your eyes while he's doing it. He's a drain on your productivity, but he doesn't feel comfortable unless he's handling everything himself.

I suggest that you don't sweat it, and do as R2WeTwo suggests and confirm that this isn't about you. This stuff is not a slur on you, it's just a boss who is annoying to work with, but you're being paid to gracefully accommodate this annoying behaviour.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:51 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

As others have noted above, I doubt this is personal. Your boss doesn't trust anyone but himself to do anything. The fact that he needs staff to get things done is an inconvenience at best for him.

Even in good situations this is unlikely to change, and given your remote location and inability to even have a telephone conversation you can count on it staying the same. This means two things:

* You aren't likely to get more respect, this individual just doesn't know how to give it
* The company isn't likely to grow, when everything "requires" this level of micromanagement things may swell beyond his capacity to deal and then will fall back again

So ultimately, you just need to decide how long to put up with this. Meanwhile build a rapport with others in the company (CEO) who will ultimately be a good reference in the future. It doesn't sound like your boss will leave a good impression in that department either.
posted by meinvt at 6:59 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The guy is displaying dominative behavior. Pretty simple, crass and obvious dominative behavior at that.
posted by krilli at 7:35 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds exactly like my former supervisor, exactly, right down to the cutting you off on calls. He is a weak, insecure manager. Things never improved and only got worse as he proceeded to minimize my efforts and our relationship deteriorated. Consider all your options, build a good reputation and relationships outside of your department. An inter-departmental transfer may be in your best interest.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:37 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have dealt with some of this from managers at work.. This is my advice, for what it's worth..

One of the things to keep in mind from the manager point of view is that he is responsible and if anything gets screwed up it's on him. Six months is really not very long.

You're going to have to speak up and make your points on calls in an assertive way. Speak up and give your input on the conference calls, don't wait to be asked. But don't get testy or hostile about it of course.. Are you worrying out loud about whether or not you're doing a good job, or have learned enough about the CMS and such, or frequently asking if you've been helpful enough? Don't do that - approach it like it's already assumed by everyone (because it is!) that you know your stuff and that's a given. I have also found that expressing feelings of frustration or stress really can hurt me, as a woman working in IT - it just doesn't go over well and they don't know how to handle it - whereas handling frustrating people and stressful, unexpected work issues in an even-tempered way impresses people.

Take the initiative of cc'ing him on outside contractor emails and just accept that he expects this to happen. No big deal. Again, when he is answering to higher-ups he probably likes to be in the loop, especially with newer employees.

Don't try to prove to him that you know how to do the work when he explains. That can kind of serve as a reminder that you're still learning, and thus reinforce the dynamic in which he feels the need to explain more to you and double check everything - take the approach of "I'm already secure in my knowledge."

the behavior being directed at me is completely at odds with the feedback I get from other staff (who repeatedly tell me they think I'm helpful), the CEO (who tells me the CTO "thinks the world of" me), and long-time outside developers who tell me they're impressed with how quickly I've picked up the job. When I ask directly, my boss assures me he appreciates my work and thinks I'm doing a great job of retaining information. When I say "I want to make sure you think you're getting your money's worth" he says "every penny and more."

I would take them at their word that you are great at your job and valued, and don't ask for more reassurance. And this also tells me his behavior toward you isn't personal. It's just how he is. He wants to give you more responsibility - go for it. I'm sure they will value you even more and you will keep moving up if you can cheerfully let his more irritating behaviors go by and focus on the work. It might just take him more time than usual to feel that he trusts you and then the micromanaging will go away.
posted by citron at 8:01 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe the technical term for a person like that is Blowhard. All of the behaviours that you are interepreting as him not trusting you are really just him trying his best to be in charge, and make himself feel smarter than you. Because he knows that he isn't.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:32 AM on November 23, 2011

You have described my boss. Our designer has worked for him for almost 4 years and doesn't have any creativity left in her poor demoralized imagination. I've been here just shy of a year and I think I have him (sort of) figured out. The main thing is to not take it personally, and to develop relationships with other people in your company, clients, etc. so that everything you do is not filtered through him. Because according to him, your team's mistakes will be your fault, and your team's successes will be his doing.

My boss is, like your boss, a blowhard. He is a control-freak and actually pretty insecure in his role. He doesn't communicate, he pontificates, so I don't engage him in conversation anymore. I just give him copy, or ask him very specific yes-no questions. He will still go off on tangents to show me how much he knows (or remind me how much I don't know?), but eventually he runs out of steam, and then I bring it back to the yes-no. When things are slow, I ask him to teach me about various aspects of our company that I know nothing about. At these times, I am happy to sit back and listen to him lecturing me, because he's actually very knowledgeable and I know I can learn a lot from him. When it's about my work, which I am already good at, I tend to cut him off more, and say "yes we talked about that yesterday; do you want to go with A or B?"I think he's reasonably happy as long as he isn't threatened by me wresting control of his domain from him (i.e., I know my place).

Like your boss, mine doesn't know what to do with a first draft, so I highlight anything that's temporary, put it in brackets, add the actual words "filler text: final copy forthcoming" or something like that. It's ridiculous but he seeing it reminds him that I am not a moron. He is such a procrastinator that we usually come up hard against deadlines and we end up using my initial copy anyway, at which point he takes credit for it.

Everyone in the company knows what he's like because he's like this with everyone. Our remote people make suggestions and he ignores them, our board is old crotchety grumps, his fellow VPs are, well, competent in their niche, of course, but .... He disses our members, our staff, the backwardness of the small city we live in. So I know he disses me to other people. He's just an ass. Knowing this means I know it's not about me.

But I have a job to do. And luckily my dept plays a support role in the company, so I get to work off-team and other VPs see that I am competent and responsive and get things done in a timely manner. People are requesting me by name. There will probably be some blowback to this because he needs to be in control of all things at all times, and he hates it when I am not right there in my pumpkin shell where I belong when he needs me. It's slow going but I think I've made some progress, and I like my job. I like the people, I like the work, I could use more money but the money's ok. The only thing wrong with it is this one person. So I see him and my evolving role in the company as a project. And although my boss doesn't believe me when I say it, I'm pretty good at managing projects :)
posted by headnsouth at 7:02 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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