How to convey to my boss that I'm not incompetent?
November 28, 2012 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Despite my otherwise agreeable work environment, I have a boss who's increasingly scolding me for following standard procedures and doing my job as normal.

He's quite hard-headed and, in my experience, very hesitant to admit his own mistakes, and knowing this, I don't tend to argue or belabor the point when reprimanded -- I typically just apologize, while asking to verify (in writing) that he wishes me to deviate from standard procedure, and proceed to make any adjustments as instructed. (Much of what I do is invoicing clients and receiving payments, so "standard procedure" is a big part of the job -- My apologies for the repetition of the phrase in the paragraphs ahead.)

If his tone was along the lines of "This is a special circumstance, and I need you to do X this time instead of Y" I'd think nothing of it. But instead, his tone more like "I rely on you to do X correctly, and I'm alarmed and upset that you've made this mistake."

My need to be "right" is not an issue -- I have a minimum of ego tied up in this job, and he is, after all, the boss. As far as I'm concerned, he gets what he wants, and I pride myself in owning any mistakes I make. My only concern is that by acquiescing so readily, he may start to view me as incompetent, or at the very least, as someone who isn't confident of his own ability to do his job.

So, the question is: Do I begin to make more of an effort to state (politely) why the action(s) I'm being scolded for shouldn't be considered an error on my part, at the risk of seeming difficult, or like someone who's avoiding responsibility for his mistakes?

Or do I continue as-is, simply apologizing and deviating from procedure as requested, and risk being seen as someone who doesn't know what he's doing?

As I say, he's always very hesitant to admit any errors on his part, so I never expect him to say "Oh, you were right, my mistake." I really only want him to know that I know what I'm doing, even if he's too proud to admit it.

I should make clear that my boss is in no way attempting to intimidate me, nor is he making my workplace in any way "hostile." It's ultimately a minor thing, and he's otherwise a very good guy to work for. I'm mostly concerned about how this will affect any future salary negotiations or job references I might need.

Also: My competence isn't a question, as my job is very rote and straight forward, and our standard procedures are such for a reason. I just have many duties largely removed from his attention, so when an unusual circumstance arises, it's frequently not communicated to me until it's too late. (And I've explained that he needs to communicate these things to me ahead of time, but it's made no difference.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, are these things documented? Can you say "I understood from the documentation that x was standard procedure so please excuse my questioning you, but I am puzzled as to why y is needed here instead of x."
posted by tel3path at 3:08 PM on November 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Not sure if this is the correct approach, but one passive-aggressive strategy would be to ask him how you could have known about the exception. Something along the lines of "oh, my bad, I was following the standard procedure as outlined in X, but I think I must have skipped the section where it talks about this exception! Can you help me figure out what it is that I skipped so that I can catch other exceptions in the future?"

By asking him to point out exactly what you missed, he realizes that you *didn't* miss anything. ... maybe. :D
posted by brenton at 3:21 PM on November 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Are all of these 'one-off' requests? Or (similar to what telepath says) could you start asking "what is it about company Z that requires this change to our standard procedure? Can we document this requirement so that we treat other clients with this weirdness the same way, or at least so that we always know to treat Z this way if there are no other clients in this boat?"

Especially if you've noticed that you get this happening more than once for one company, or the same deviation is being done for several companies, this should both signal that you know the standard procedure and you know this is a special request, and also that you are paying attention to all his special requests.
posted by jacalata at 3:23 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

i think you're already doing it right.
posted by facetious at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2012

"Do you want me to update the documentation?"
posted by empath at 3:44 PM on November 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

I agree with jacalata. Maybe there are things you can look out for on invoices/billing that would be trigger signs that something needs to be addressed or may be done differently.

I manage people, part of their job is doing some of what you do as well, and everyone who has worked in the position for awhile starts to catch on which exceptions are made, what to look out for. Kind of the 'standard procedure exceptions'. I regularly get questions 'should this be billed this way' or 'should so and so get a discount'...

Maybe you can talk to him more about that type of things 'what should I be looking out for'. It brings job maturity to something that, as you say, is very rote and shows that you are capable of critical thinking and possibly more responsibility/stepping up.

Then again, this is from my experience in a smaller company so it may not apply to you.
posted by effigy at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think that effigy nailed it. I was going to offer a general impression of an environment in which "standards and procedures" have begun to outweigh interpersonal values. It's easier that way in the short run but remember that the real challenge is to work smoothly with other people, not with forms.
posted by Mertonian at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2012

This is going way back to a previous career, in banking, but your predicament resonates.

The Canadian bank I worked for had comprehensive volumes of procedural manuals, which I had been trained to use. When I was posted to a suburban Toronto branch, however, my supervisor was upset when I would consult the manuals instead of asking her.

That's when I lost all respect for her, because she was often wrong. But I ate it and sucked up to her, to no effect. It was too late. In her world view, I was a know-it-all.

Now, 30 years later, she's dead, and I'm rich beyond the dreams of avarice. More or less.

Go along to get along with your boss, and pretty soon you'll be ahead. The people you work with aren't blind. They'll see the difference.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:05 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeesh. Stop apologizing unless you actually make a mistake. Even then, you can admit your mistake without an apology.

Also, is he actually scolding you, or is it his tone of voice that's setting you off? Because if it's the latter, it's more your issue to deal with (keep telling yourself to focus on the words, not the delivery). But if he's actually verbally reprimanding you, then you need to step up your response.
posted by disconnect at 10:04 AM on November 29, 2012

« Older Am I doing the wrong thing here?   |   Lower... lower... higher... left... OTHER left...... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.