It's Not Me, It's You
January 16, 2013 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm asking this question because I can't really verbalize it as well as I'd like to since I'm trying to look at it from all perspectives. I've been under the management or oversight for a couple of total assholes this past year and a half. The first was the director of the graduate program I am on leave from, and the second is my current boss, a cafe owner.

The first had fairly exaggerated expectations in regards to work and study (he himself is more of a scholar than a leader. I'm academically inclined but do not see the point of most of the effort.) I was up for a graduate fellowship (recipient chosen by him) and didn't get it despite my best academic and work efforts. I was just not his favorite. I also had quite a bit of performance anxiety and am fairly certain I sabotaged a few projects due to the unusual amount of pressure I was under.

Last summer, I took a job at a fancy little beer cafe specifically because I knew the owner was a nit picky jerk, just like the director of my graduate program. I wanted to learn how to work with people like him since I seem to come across so many (my partner is also like that; it took me a long time to stop being so defensive when he criticizes me). It has mostly been a nightmare; he's a chronic micro-manager who is so obviously bi-polar. He's made me cry many, many times. All of my coworkers are aware that he is a jerk, but many of them are close to him and seem to do well within the business. But dear lord, is he fucking cray-cray. He's trying to create the best coffeehouse in town, and is trying REALLY HARD to replicate uber hipster coffeebars (some of which I have worked previous, which is why he hired me). He's not really that cool enough and I don't respect most of his efforts since it seems to drive customers away. He won't let me make coffee because I steamed up some soy the wrong way on one of his bad days and he told me I was not allowed to make coffee anymore. I won't go into too much detail, but it's the little things that add up really fast and I constantly feel like he thinks I'm dumb or incompetent. He nickpicks me about reading a paper in the back room for a second between chores (really, I was dumping it into the recycling but wanted to glance over an article), but won't speak to his other employees about drinking beer while working (Oh dear, I would never do that, I'm not 21 anymore.)

Details aside, I'm just wondering why some flourish under people like my director and boss, and why some like me flounder and run for happier grounds. I'm quite aware that I have some self-esteem issues, but I'm not convinced this is entirely why I do horribly around micro-managing nit-pickers. I thought taking this job would shed some light on the whole "you don't respect me I'm outta here" attitude I've had about jobs my whole life, and am trying to create a stronger work-ethic while learning coping skills when around hard-to-please managers. I avoid these people like the plague when at work, at it totally backfires because they can feel that I want nothing to do with them. Hence the extra negative attention. I feel like a failure in that I can't make this person realize I'm good at what I do, and I come home exhausted.

Or- this is another perspective- am I not trying hard enough? I get discouraged really easily, and fail to see that "Please like what I do" aspects that go into working for very detail oriented people. I'm at a point in my life where I feel like I've failed at or quit way too many things. Should I tell the litte voice inside that's saying "what's the point" to stuff it and try harder?

I KNOW that this is just a shitty barista dead end job; very well aware and am not looking to be a professional barista. It's the way I go about work and relationships that I am wanting to improve so that I could maybe have a shot at a better outcome in my later pursuits.

I want to quit, but don't want to run away when things get dicey.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For your mental health, I would quit this job. I certainly would. Why are you torturing yourself? I probably wouldn't be very happy with a nitpicky boss and I don't feel like it's holding me back in life.
posted by queens86 at 6:42 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it might be helpful if every time you find yourself describing your boss's expectations as nitpicky, that you understand that your boss is telling you that these are the requirements of the job. This doesn't mean you should work for someone you find overbearing but it helps take the negativity out of how you are framing these situations and might help you see a better way of coping as well as making it feel less like a personal attack.
posted by jamaro at 6:50 PM on January 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

Said it before and will say it again: life is too short to spend much of it working for arseholes.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 PM on January 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's the way I go about work and relationships that I am wanting to improve

I would try, if I were you, improving my work and relationships by choosing less horrible ones to begin with. You mention low self-esteem; it's possible that there's some level at which you're choosing these people because they confirm your negative thoughts about yourself.

There is no glory in getting these people to like you. 1) it won't happen, and 2) them liking you won't make them treat you any better. My former boss thought I was one of the most talented employees he'd ever had, and nonetheless was so viciously awful to me on a daily basis that I eventually had a total breakdown and quit with almost no notice.

Worth noting, if you decide you'd rather go through all the sturm und drang anyway: people who thrive (legitimately) under psychopathic assholes NEVER EVER have these thoughts:
"Please like what I do"

I feel like a failure in that I can't make this person realize I'm good at what I do
posted by like_a_friend at 6:54 PM on January 16, 2013 [16 favorites]

Details aside, I'm just wondering why some flourish under people like my director and boss, and why some like me flounder and run for happier grounds. I'm quite aware that I have some self-esteem issues, but I'm not convinced this is entirely why I do horribly around micro-managing nit-pickers.

I think that some people flourish under micro-managers because they need the direction. They require someone to tell them every last detail and they like it that way. I don't know you so I can't attest to what you prefer but it doesn't seem like you're doing well under these people and perhaps it is because they aren't the leaders for you. Different leaders work for different people. It's simply the way things are.

I would quit this job because I don't think enduring extended periods of criticism is a skill you need to build. It sounds like you are very aware of your limitations and you are trying to work on them which is good but doing it around someone who is increasingly exasperating these limitations won't help you. I understand that you don't to give up but if your ultimate end goal is to work on being persistent and not giving up so easily, you can do other things to accomplish that. For instance, find another job or be consistent in other areas of your life.
posted by cyml at 7:00 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

this is another perspective- am I not trying hard enough?

I think you're trying to hard.

You sound like a people pleaser. I'm not saying these guys aren't assholes, but you seem awfully emotionally invested in what they think of you.

Basically: If you know that your work was good enough for the fellowship, that's all you can control and you should be proud of yourself for that. The end.

If you know that you were just glancing at a newspaper while throwing it out and not slacking off, then if dude wants to flip out at you that's his problem not yours. The worst thing he can do is fire you and that doesn't really sound so awful.

The people who do well with crappy managers are people who are able to get validation from their own work, not from their boss. Work hard, take pride in a job well done, and if your manager doesn't like it who gives a rat's ass?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 7:03 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Some people take any demonstration of trying to improve and get better and will use it to crush that person like a bug. Which is not to say you shouldn't try to improve and get better, just don't do it with people who clearly don't care or want you to succeed - go and find other people who appreciate it.
posted by heyjude at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2013

I think there are a couple of issues here-- the first is that you clearly tend to let your personal feelings about the character of the people you're working for cloud your judgment, and that distracts you from doing a good job. In both cases you describe, your lack of respect for the person in charge and their work really comes through. And if it comes through to me, reading on the other side of the internet, it probably really comes through in person.

Relatedly, as to why some people thrive in these environments, it's because they don't take any of it personally. They can concentrate on steaming up the soy juuuuuust right without allowing their fear of failure or resentment of their boss leak out. They don't get driven to tears, and they focus on the details of the work, and if they're proud of their work, they get satisfaction out of that.

But realistically, there's no reason you should force yourself to work for crazy people. I'm not saying that all my bosses and supervisors were superstars, but none of them yelled at me randomly or were anyone I would describe as "cray cray."

There's a difference between being unable to stick with something and follow through because you have no attention span (that's bad) and someone who leaves what is clearly an abusive relationship (that's good). At issue is that you should choose managers with whom you are a "good fit."
posted by deanc at 7:10 PM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Sorry to be blunt, but two entire paragraphs in your question are devoted to describing how much you dislike your graduate supervisor and current boss: "more of a scholar than a leader," "a nit picky jerk," "so obviously bi-polar," "fucking cray-cray" (!!!). You intuit that some people may have an easier time working with supervisors like this, and, not knowing the crucial details of your situation, I think I have to agree.

Some supervisors value you on the basis of your accomplishments. Accomplishments may include following detailed instructions quickly, accurately, and without equivocating. Some supervisors will think less of you if you are unable to accomplish something they think you should be able to. Some supervisors follow the rule that if you're not helping, you're just getting in the way — regardless of whether you think you're trying your best.

Whether you should be willing to repress your urge to second-guess and equivocate, and just buckle down and do what's wanted of you ought to depend on what you can get out in exchange. I've had one supervisor who was a tedious micromanager and all-around benevolent despot. He took relatively little interest in my professional growth and seemed generally clueless about what I liked or did best at. I had another supervisor who was demanding and absolutely ruthless, but she also cared fiercely about her subordinates and went to great lengths to develop their technical skills.

I'd say your demeanor is a really bad match for this kind of management style. Since you seemingly don't stand to gain anything from your barista job, it makes the most sense to me to leave. On the other hand, you most likely stand to gain a great deal from your relationship with your academic supervisor. Can you realistically ever live up to his expectations? If yes, do your best to do so. If no, then look elsewhere.
posted by Nomyte at 7:10 PM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Last summer, I took a job at a fancy little beer cafe specifically because I knew the owner was a nit picky jerk, just like the director of my graduate program.

Well, there you have it. Kind of a masochistic strategy, perhaps, but you got what you signed up for: confirmation that this kind of manager drives you cray-cray.

Maybe next time, pick the job where the boss is a cool guy and a good manager?
posted by ottereroticist at 7:14 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

specifically because I knew the owner was a nit picky jerk

Yeah, don't do this
posted by mattoxic at 7:34 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I would just like to feel a little less crazy while I figure out how I work in different situations.

I think that seeking out a situation like this, and then staying even after your manager has made you *cry* "many, many times" is in itself "cray-cray".

Quit. That will make you feel less crazy. Because it will *be* less crazy than what you are doing now.

There is absolutely no reason to spend your one and only precious life on this earth courting drama like this.
posted by parrot_person at 7:46 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I once had the most insane demanding partner. I got along well with him though. Many were fired or quit in tears. Why did I get along with him? Because his demands were that we do our job right. So I worked hard and avoided missed deadlines, making mistakes or general screw-ups. His screaming was also predictable. I learned what set him off. If I could, I would avoid him on those days or I would yes him to death and go back to work. I realized that he wasn't yelling at me as a person, he was yelling at me because of one of his frustrations. I never took it personally after that. I think it came down to me having confidence in my own abilities and not being afraid of being fired. I was good at what I did. I could get another job.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:49 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Management style is one of the most important interview questions I ask, and get asked. We don't all manage the same way. And People aren't all interchangeable. To be happy in a job, you need to fit with not only what the work is, but also the management style of the person supervising you. Some managers are detail people, some have favorites, some are global and maddeningly hands-off, some are super strategic, some are lazy, some are groomers, some are team-oriented, some are buddies, some are needy. It's not likely you'll ever do well under someone whose style does not match yours.

I'd say you need to work with managers who are fair and who look at outcomes, not personalities.

As for you, you need to work on listening, asking questions about your performance as you go so that these things don't come as surprises, focusing on the criteria you're being evaluated on, and really, just cultivating a basic respect for others. I know you didn't like either of these bosses personally, but you actually seem to have some contempt for them. Whether that's just a reaction to the way you felt working for them, or something you felt about them from the get-go, it's really hard to ever work well with someone for whom you have contempt. People can tell, and the way it can look to them is that you are trying to make them feel inferior. You mention that you got turned down for a fellowship you felt you deserved, yet you "do not see the point of most of the effort." People can tell this sort of thing, and it can make a difference.

It's all stuff to grow on, but my main message would be that you should avoid working with people who have a style of management that is bad for you. You should seek people whose management will support you in growing to your strengths, rather than overcoming your perceived weaknesses. A supportive, fair manager who will steward your development and take an interest in you would be a thousand times better than this medieval penitence thing you have going on here. You need to decide what makes you happy, and what environments make you happy, and make you really want to work hard and succeed. Most people do not manage to be a big success at work they hate with people they dislike. Good luck.
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Last summer, I took a job at a fancy little beer cafe specifically because I knew the owner was a nit picky jerk, just like the director of my graduate program.

Really? You actually sought out a pain-in-the-ass boss? I've gotta say -- in this economy, where it can be hard to find a job under any boss -- that's impressive. You really did that?
posted by LonnieK at 7:55 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against the stream here. I'm in my 50s and had a lot of jobs with different managers, and now I have my own consultancy with lots of clients. I've tried hard but I can't think of one manager or one client who I would classify as a "nit-picky jerk." I did have one client who was a jerk, but they were a complete failure at nit-picking.

In contrast, you say that you run across lots of nitpicky jerks. You also have nit-picky jerk advisors or bosses that other people are able to work with, but you can't work with them. So I wonder if the problem could be your perspective or opinions of people rather than a strangely high concentration of nit-picky jerks in your community.

Like Miko, I'd suggest working on cultivating the same intense care for the details and standards of the job as the "nit-picky" people have. If you can't care about the details or respect the manager's standards, move on to a more mellow place, but you might also try to identify ways that you might be bringing the problem with you.
posted by ceiba at 8:01 PM on January 16, 2013 [21 favorites]

I have a problem respecting my superiors when I don't feel like they are good at their jobs.

...and this attitude makes you not good at your job. It's not helping you, and when your bosses pick up on your attitude, they probably don't feel much inclined to help you, either. So when opportunities come up, they may indeed not look your way. Ceiba is right - look at how you play a part in this as the common denominator.
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Forgive me, but I get the feeling you are sabotaging yourself.

You say you are academically inclined but don't see the point in the effort involved, yet you're surprised that you didn't receive a graduate fellowship, which probably had some research/heavy academic focus. Your professor probably picked up on this and that probably played a role on why you were not chosen.

So then you decide to work for a known jerk and are surprised when the guy is a jerk. What do you want us to say, that he is a big meanie and you don't deserve that and should quit? I think you should quit, because you should spend some time in therapy figuring out why you put yourself in situations where you're not particularly enthusiastic about the work but then become disenchanted when the opportunity does not go along swimmingly.

Also, in my experience, when people complaint that everyone is a certain way, well...the common denominator is you.
posted by thank you silence at 8:21 PM on January 16, 2013 [12 favorites]

Miko- Yes! That's it. I have a problem respecting my superiors when I don't feel like they are good at their jobs.

<shrug> That's really not a decision you get to make. The point is not whether, in the abstract, your superior is good at his job, it's whether he can give you what you need (a salary, a reference, experience, a fellowship). There are times when you do have to make judgments about this (eg, to leave a company before it collapses under the weight of incompetent management), but most of the time, even though you don't think your superior does a good job, obviously his superiors think he's doing a good job, which is why he has that position. It sounds like this is the attitude adjustment that you need to work on, here. As Miko points out, you are getting evaluated on the quality of your work. If it's not good, you get screwed. So regardless of what you think of your superiors, you have to do a good job. Granted, you should find a working environment where you thrive, but you can't spend your life coming up with excuses for why you didn't do good work and blame someone else for your poor work ethic.

And your work ethic is, it seems to me, what you're asking about-- you really want to know how you can develop a better one, because it sounds like, deep down, you're worried about being a "quitter." Maybe you should think about your jobs and goals more like a game-- there are certain rules, and you get points for doing it "right." It doesn't really matter who designed the game, whether you like the game designer, or why the game was designed. Rather, the point is to figure out what it takes to score lots of points at the game and do those things in order to get what you want.
posted by deanc at 8:30 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

So, one thing about having low self-esteem and wanting to prove yourself is that sometimes the approval of critical people like your partner or your boss can seem more worthwhile because it's harder to get. But the thing is, that's not actually the case. It took me a long time to learn that, but when I did, I was able to worry less about pleasing people like that and focus more on just doing a good job.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 8:41 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

and am trying to create a stronger work-ethic while learning coping skills when around hard-to-please managers. I avoid these people like the plague when at work,

Wait, what? You take a job with a known nitpicker in order to improve your skillz in working for nitpickers and then your best to avoid them at the job you took?

Your strategy is flawed. There's no requirement to go work for nitpickers, but you've got some shit to figure out regarding what you *say* you want and how you actually behave. Figuring this out while on someone else's clock and penny is not the best use of anyone's resources.
posted by rtha at 8:46 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I... do not see the point of most of the effort.... I also had quite a bit of performance anxiety and am fairly certain I sabotaged a few projects due to the unusual amount of pressure I was under.

You didn't get a graduate fellowship with that attitude? I am shocked.

Maybe you'd do better at the coffee shop if you did have a damn beer at work, and let up with the attitude that your boss is an incompetent crazy idiot who clearly doesn't know what he's doing as well as you do. I mean, it's perfectly possible to drink a beer at work without having any impact on your job as a server. It's completely impossible to be sitting out back reading the paper and be any kind of use to anyone. So yea, I think he's right to tell you to cut that shit out and still not jump on the other employees - you're mad because he saw you at exactly the wrong moment and (likely because he already thinks you're an arrogant ass with an attitude problem) didn't give you the benefit of the doubt.

One good way to work well with demanding managers would be to pick jobs and managers that you're actually going to give a shit about, and then do a really good job. Because that's what they want - they want you to care as much as they do, and to be good at it. Nobody will be happy with a half-ass effort from some know-it-all employee who can't even make coffee right.
posted by jacalata at 1:14 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's not them, it's you.

I'm going to pull out two quotes from your post

"shitty barista dead end job"

"academically inclined but do not see the point of most of the effort"

I have no idea if your two managers were assholes. I have no idea if they were nit-picky. I am fairly sure that they will have spotted the fact that you don't care about what they care about - whether that's academia or coffee shops.

If you want to "to improve so that [you] could maybe have a shot at a better outcome" then there are two ways to do it - either find a job that you really care about and do that, or do the job you've got to the best of your abilities and as if you cared about it.

It's also likely that if you put your best effort into whatever you do you will enjoy it more. These sense of pride in a job done well, however shitty the job, is a reward in and of itself.
posted by Gilgongo at 2:30 AM on January 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

Oh Child, you so need to drop the entitled attitude.

The reason your advisor and your boss act like lunatics (to your studied eye) is because you're coming off as someone who knows more than they do, doesn't give a shit about any of it and somehow DESERVES something more than a "shitty barista dead end job".

You want nit-picky? I work for a company that produces software for banks. Our sales-people are CPAs! Everyone here is some kind of an accountant. Nits? How many? What's the average? What's the mean? What's the mode? What's the distribution?

My boss believes that every mistake that's made is something you didn't understand, so whenever you screw something up (like selecting the wrong item from a drop-down menu) it's a 'Teachable Moment'. And she's snarky. So I have to put up with condescension when I should be lectured on how not to let the cursor slip and/or, double check what I'm doing.

So how do I handle it? Well, knowing that I'm a big-picture person in a world of grain-of-sand people, I have developed checklists for everything that I do. Step-by-step instructions, and I read them every, single time, because if I don't, I'll screw something up.

I've built in checks into my spreadsheets. If something doesn't jibe, it highlights in yellow. In other words, I care about what they care about because my livelihood depends on it.

I suspect that you don't care, because nothing of value is at stake for you. That's some kind of privilage.

If you don't give a shit about your academic life, why not quit and let someone who does have your spot?

If you don't think your "shitty barista dead end job" is worth doing well, then quit and let someone who's desperate for work have it?

When you find something you care about, enough to do it well, to invest some actual emotion into it, then you'll find that people aren't picking nits so much.

And to paraphrase Daria. "You don't have low self-esteem, you have low esteem for others."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on January 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

Here are some things I have observed:

1. It is possible to have a need for work, family and partner relationships which will fail. It is possible to seek out, over and over again, men (these are all men, right?) who will criticize you, nitpick you and will not be interested in the things you do well. Many of these men may actually like you a lot. There may be a pattern where they like you a lot at first but things descend into walking on eggshells, failure, and their "disappointment" in you.

2. This might be both you and them - they have a need to keep finding a seeming prodigy who will then "disappoint" them over and over again because they need to feel like the world keeps wronging them. If this person is always a woman, there's gender issues in the mix. You may unconsciously keep seeking out these people precisely because you expect to fail, and to fail in a certain way. And because you expect a relationship where approval and love are dangling just out of reach, if you could just try a little harder.

3. You can also, if you aren't careful, create this relationship with someone who isn't naturally inclined to it - pushing someone to be picky, judgmental, etc. This won't be as deep-seated or as destructive an experience as when you seek out someone who is already inclined that way, but it can happen. If you have a bad enough need for someone who will be disappointed and withhold love and approval, you can create them.

4. This often has to do with replicating key traumatic moments in your youth. Do your relationships with your bosses and partner reflect anything about your relationship with a significant figure in your youth? A parent? A close friend? An important teacher? Or was your whole peer group one big "significant figure" where you felt you could possibly someday be accepted if you just tried harder? Was there religion in the mix? Did you absorb a theory, early on, that you were sinful and bad and always needed to try harder?

How do I know these things? Because they are my experience! I too found myself in jobs and school situations where I was in over my head and/or did not share the goals of the program; I too started some big projects that were poorly chosen because I felt that I needed to "overcome" my problems in this situation. I too failed and failed and failed, and blamed myself for fucking years. I gave up opportunities for jobs and programs where I would have been a good fit and been happy because I felt that unless I was wrestling with my demons I was not really doing the authentic work I needed to do. I am telling you, it derailed my life. I would literally have a very different life - fancier job, in particular - if I had not been consumed by all this in my twenties. (I mean, I'm pretty happy where I am, but I do regret never getting to find out what those other things I gave up would have been like.)

What you need is actually some success. You're young and I assume have some social and financial freedom in terms of the work you can do. Why not find a job where you can succeed for a while? Or at least a job where you aren't working with a towering Oedipal Father Teacher figure looking over your shoulder? It doesn't need to be a fancy job; you don't need to figure out your career now. It just needs to be a job you can do well and feel decent about.

And do some serious self-examination about why you are drawn to these people. I was able to make a lot of changes in my life around these issues without therapy over time but I wish I'd started therapy sooner. But anyway, if you don't want the therapy, start journaling and reflecting. Begin with thinking about why you have such a need for these types of jobs and relationships.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on January 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

Lots of people have already said smart things, but I'll add that you should probably stay out of low-level jobs in food service and retail. Unless, of course, there is something about a particular job that you like, say the location is extremely convenient, or the employee discount means something to you. In these kinds of jobs, it's going to be very common that the owner or site manager is a little down on his/her workers and apt to take out frustration on them. You really have to be able to treat superiors evenly and shake it off at the end of the day. If you don't have enough incentive to do it, you won't.

The fact that your co-workers gladly deal with this owner suggests that they've had experience with worse. You will too, if you keep working in that field.
posted by BibiRose at 7:51 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also I'd just like to say that, while you seem to think your boss's and advisor's requirements are somehow unrealistically high, it actually seems that your expectations of those situations are unrealistically low. Turning a little bar cafe into the next hot hipster thing is a lot of work and requires extraordinary effort and attention to detail.

And academia is academia, dude. It's hard, grinding, intensive, mentally exhausting work. It is supposed to be- that is why it's academia. Standards are high because it's how we as a culture arrive at knowledge! It can be satisfying and fun but it's not some kind of idle lark.

I think you may have some overly romanticized image of "bohemian" life that you're working with here...
posted by like_a_friend at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's just a fact of working that over the course of your working life you'll have a number of supervisors who you will find it very difficult to work for. So this is an important question to ask, and there are lots of people who just lurch unhappily from job to job without ever taking the time out to think about questions like these.

I have a few thoughts that I hope might make sense. First, I have had nit-picky micromanagers in the majority of jobs and internships that I've held. When these nit-picky micromanagers are also actually assholes, the best solution has always been to look for a new opportunity. Have a good working relationship with a nit-picky micromanager is a challenge, but a challenge that can be overcome. Having a good working relationship with an asshole is also a challenge that can be overcome. But working for a nit-picky micromanager who is also an asshole is something that, in my experience, can be tolerated or survived maybe, but so unlikely to result in a good working relationship that if you can avoid that situation, do so.

The kind of flip side to this is that you will find yourself a much happier employee if you do everything you can to avoid labeling your supervisor as a nit-picky micromanaging asshole. If you find yourself applying this label to your bosses frequently, it's good to consider whether there's something about your own personality or approach that you could change.

Which brings me to this: make a sincere, honest to goodness effort to focus on the things you actually like about both your job and your supervisor. Realize that there will be things you dislike about both, usually, but instead put those things aside the best you possibly can and just choose to embrace the good. Rather than seeing jobs as "dead-end," think about what you like about them--maybe some jobs that don't have great career prospects can be more casual, less high-stress, give you the chance to do lots of face to face interaction with regular people, give you more flexible hours (or whatever). Maybe a dead end job is an opportunity for you to practice and develop some skills in a low-stakes environment.

The reason this is so important is because as soon as you've decided in your head that what you're doing is pointless, your supervisor will pick up on this. If your supervisor believes that you don't care about your job, you will find yourself in a downward spiral of frustration that will never end happily. So, you've got to never, ever, ever, ever let a supervisor believe that you think your job is pointless. Rather than simply trying to mask this (which you should also do), it's much more effective to focus on the positive things about work so that you don't actually think what you're doing is pointless.

What I've found about work is that success in the workplace is highly correlated to two things: being good at your job and being well-liked. They have a sort of synergistic effect/positive feedback loop thing going on, too: if people like you, they are more likely to believe (rightly or wrongly) that you are good at your job, and the positive feedback and support and opportunity you get will help you become better at your job. And, if people think you are good at your job, they are more likely to actually like you. If it shines through that you think your job is pointless or beneath you, it will be harder for people to like you, and they will be less likely to think you're good at your job.

The trick to dealing with asshole managers is to learn to stay on their good side, avoid doing the things that you know set them off, and not take it personally when they do act like an asshole. You may find if you try to see your asshole manager in the best possible light that they are not the complete asshole you might think they are. Or, at worst, you can just stay out of their way as best as possible. Being good at what you do really helps with this.

A trick to dealing with nit-picky micromanagers is to figure out, over time, the things that make them feel anxious and insecure. I've had bosses who get really uptight if they don't know where I am when I'm not at my desk. I think this is kind of dumb, but I learned that if I just sent them an e-mail telling them where I was going to be, or put something on my calendar that I knew they would check, they weren't uptight about this anymore and I wouldn't get grief from them about it. It was a lot easier for me to modify slightly my behavior and let them know more about my whereabouts than it was for me to fight against the grain and stick up for my feeling that my boss didn't need to know where I was every second of the day.

Two books that really helped shape my views in the workplace are Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I had one thought I wanted to leave you with--this thread is so interesting, because some of the responses--even though they make legitimate points--seem to show contempt for you. Have they been the most helpful? I mention this because I read your OP as showing contempt for your bosses and jobs. If your bosses perceive that you have contempt for them, it's unlikely they'll listen too much to what you have to say, even if there's a lot of value in it--just like perhaps it might be harder for you to hear the responses in this thread that are dripping with contempt for you.

Anyway, this is a solveable problem--and I hope you move on to work with happier bosses in jobs you like more.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:39 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll add that you should probably stay out of low-level jobs in food service and retail.

Seconding this-- especially with owner-managers, these industries tend to be run by the sort of people who enjoy ruling over little fiefdoms, and even if they started out ok, since they never get pushback for their behavior, they never learn to develop appropriate boundaries or social skills when dealing with employees. Academia is like this, too-- which may account for the pattern you experienced. Stuff that goes on in food service/retail and within academia would never fly in a normal business environment, because the people in charge simply have less autonomy and get more social pushback about their behavior.
posted by deanc at 12:02 PM on January 17, 2013

I agree with those above that think that your lousy attitude toward work is probably visible to the people you work with. In your AskMe history you regularly put down anyone who is not making you happy (your last boss was "a mental case" too). You complain that the dude is not cool and the place will never be hip, but if that matters to you, it doesn't sound like you're making any effort to make it cooler or hipper. And if you don't care enough to do that, then don't waste your own energy complaining about the fact. It seems like you get rather defensive when people are judging you, so maybe hold off on the judgement yourself. I'm not saying that to scold you; I'm saying it because being judgey and complainy takes a lot of effort and puts you and everyone around you in a bad mood. Try to instead cultivate some constructive criticism that results in problems being attacked, rather than just inflated. So if he doesn't let you make coffee because you can't steam soy, ask him to show you how to steam soy so you can go back to funner things like making coffee. This is the little hack that will make boss types think you care and allow you to not just pour beer and maybe get a raise. It requires pretending, but that's a skill well worth learning.

I have worked for many a horrible boss and had many a lousy professor and it took me years and years to realize that I had a lot of agency to change the dynamic of those crappy situations. It requires taking responsibility for one's own role in the situation and either learning not to give a shit, or making an effort to change things in little ways.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:06 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had a really long post written on how as a fellow barista, I'd be pissed if you didn't see how messing up a crucial step in drink prep is a big deal. However, I can actually summarize it in three lines.

1. You're mad that other people get the benefits of social capital (fellowship nominations, a little slack at work) that you consciously choose to reject earning.

2. Despite choosing to not earn social capital, you want the approval associated with having it.

3. You think you are better than the people whose approval you want.

IDK what to tell you, OP, because we're no longer talking about coffee. However, I will say that instead of sitting and being pissy over reprimands, it might be useful to think about alternative solutions that involve you taking your jobs seriously. For example, about the soy? Suggest to your boss that you guys try the Barista line from Pacific. It generates a nice microfoam, and is much smoother/easier to work with than other brands I've tried steaming.
posted by spunweb at 6:48 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had the same issue about some jobs, usually jobs that are less demanding intellectually or jobs where advancement relies on navigating the politics and social climate of the workplace. Through a string of five-six of these type places, I've gotten better at figuring out how to work and be successful in them-- but by no means if I had to return would I ever be a star employee anytime soon. I've improved a lot though, and can definitely hold my own. These are some things that I found helped:

>when talking to others, always relate what you're doing back to them, and positively. People like to hear how certain actions benefit them. It's a lot more persuasive, and can emphasize how your work and your existence actually helps them and the team. Which is good. Examples:
-"I'll update this seating chart, so then you can have an accurate new picture." instead of "Wait, I need to do the floor update."
-"Do you want to switch chairs? I'm just afraid you might have specific settings saved on your adjustable chair, and mine won't be comfortable." instead of "You took my damn chair. WTF. Give it back." (somewhat extreme example though)

>Being empathetic in conversation was something that took a while, because I grew up in an environment where people could yell at each other and abuse each other on a daily basis, and it was fine. So this is what I learned about talking in the "real world": find something to agree on, but never lie. If you can't agree on anything, change the subject, make excuses, walk away. And you never have to say something. Definitely definitely try to find commonalities. It's why someone pleasant to be around, is often described as "agreeable".

>Talk to your boss first and foremost. This is the most important relationship in the workplace; it doesn't matter if your coworkers love/hate you--as long as you and your boss are on solid good terms, you are golden. Sometimes the entire workplace can love you, but if your boss doesn't it will be difficult anyways. And conversely, everyone else can hate and revile you, but a good relationship with your boss makes you formidable politically. I found this to be true wherever I went. Also, the "boss's pet" was always sucked up to, and usually had a ton of "friends". They have a lot of political capital and influence. So talk to your boss, make your efforts known, and try hard to be agreeable, funny, whathaveyou. This is probably why your coworkers get to drink on the job, and why you can't even read something offhand, after doing a lot of work. Not because you are wrong and your coworkers right and/or faultless, but because they've sucked up to your boss in a way you haven't, and have earned his social trust. With your boss, always make an effort to be your most empathetic, likeable, funny (genuinely funny), awesome, responsible self.

>You don't have to be perfect all the time. People slack off all the time. But when the higher-ups are in the room: perfect behavior. Make sure that whenever your work is visible by your superiors, that it is 100%. Other times, you can be more lenient on yourself.

>Make people laugh. People value and respect someone with a good sense of humor. They like to laugh.

>This is something that makes me sad, but that I see a lot and I don't know if it can be avoided. The office/whathaveyou tends to bully some people; there's a pecking order, and someone has to be at the bottom of the heap. Sometimes it's even been me. It's starting to seem that this pecking order has to be acknowledged. If you can't beat on that person, at least don't be seen getting on their side, in plain sight of the more powerful faction against them. Sad but true....

>Keep an open mind. No offense, but if every job experience for you has been awful, it is most likely something you are doing. Look for ways that you can make life easier, even if it means changing some core tenets or behaviors you have. You can be highly, highly intelligent, but because of lack of experience or not being taught some basic work ideas, can still get into trouble. You'll be fine if you keep trying, and allow yourself to be wrong every now and then.

>Find a better workplace, one that you care about, or that is willing to help you and not just abuse you. It's hard to navigate these things when you just don't care about your job. Plus, it's easier to learn how to get along, when you're actually getting along and people are being nice to you. You can still learn such skills in a non-hostile work environment.

Other resources that have helped:
>"How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber. Teaches empathy and expressing it conversationally. It's aimed at parents, but these are basic skills that are applicable a lot of places, with any age type person.

Hope these have been helpful. Empathy and politics are just as essential in the workplace, as doing your actual job. Feel free to PM me, I'd love to hear your updates etc. Good luck!
posted by tenlives at 7:11 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

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