Work meeting
September 6, 2013 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me navigate an awkward meeting at work.

I am having an issue at work I can't see clearly on and I'm looking for outside input. I'm trying to keep this kind of short, but I will answer any additional questions if something's not clear.

The problem: I have to have a meeting with my manager and another manager and I don't know how to deal with it.

At my job, I am on a team that works closely with another team. Both teams have their own managers. My manager is fine. The other team's manager is not. Thankfully, we don't have to report to her but my manager is gone a lot so wants us to kind of see her as a proxy manager. Except she's difficult to deal with. Most people on her team don't like her, some people have left (retired, new job) because of her. She does things that have not been popular (e.g. taking away flextime) and a lot of people on her team are demoralized. Despite this, my manager really wants us to cooperate with her (i.e. by going to all her meetings) and I am doing that.

My problem with her: She has come into my client meetings and done things that I think are counterproductive and make my job harder. I see how she is with her staff and I worry that she's going to start doing similar things with us. I think she's a micromanager and controlling*.

My own issues: I know I can be irritable. It's hard for me to not show my irritability and frustration over having to do things that I think are a waste of time but I know I need to work on it and I try. My manager pointed out to me when I went to one of the other manager's recent meetings**, I looked really irritated the whole time. He's probably right (I was very busy that week and had to go to a 90 minute meeting that she's having us go to that I don't think was relevant or necessary). Ever since then I have tried my best to not do that and to at least keep my face neutral when I'm frustrated. I probably need to learn how to control this and not get so irritable over things like this so any suggestions on how to do that would be helpful.

My manager has acknowledged that she is not the easiest person to work with but he really wants to clear the air so he is holding meetings with her and each of his direct reports separately (so our meeting would be me, him and her). I'd like some guidance on how to best deal with this meeting. I don't want to get into a back and forth finger pointing thing but I also don't really want a big heart to heart either because I honestly don't really trust her. I think the best approach would be to go in and answer any questions that I'm asked, stick to the facts and don't elaborate. Should I bring a notebook in and take notes? Do I try to defend myself if she says things I think are unfair (she has in the past) or focus on the the future and what we can all do to be successful?

My manager knows all of the above. We've had long talks about it in the past. He supports me and other than my irritability issue (which he says I've gotten better on), he is happy with my work. Thanks.

*It seems to be that she is trying to exert control over our team that she doesn't have and my manager is the only things that stands in her way. For example, when she first started, she tried to get us all be on on 9-5 hours. Right now we all stagger our hours so some of us come in earlier and leave earlier and that's never been a problem. My manager told her no, that things are fine the way they are and that we are exempt employees (he also thinks flex time is valuable and wants us to feel that if we need it, it is there).

**The other manager is having my team go to meetings that I feel are not a good use of our time (e.g. regular continuing professional development for things that I don't have certifications or even a base level of knowledge in). These are appropriate for her team (who have the certifications) and for our team she views it as training. CPD generally assumes a base level of knowledge, which I do not have in this case, and I therefore don't think these meetings are productive when we already have too much to do.
posted by young sister beacon to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: “I think the best approach would be to go in and answer any questions that I'm asked, stick to the facts and don't elaborate.”

I agree. It doesn’t sound like you have anything to gain by being confrontational in this meeting. Instead, listen and find out what the two managers want from you. If something comes up that you think is unreasonable, you might be better off bringing it up with your own manager afterward. In the best case, your manager can work with you and your teammates to figure out some possible improvements, and bring them to the other manager on behalf of the team. It sounds like you are both in a difficult position though, with no obvious power to improve it. Personally I’d be looking for exit options.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:35 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The other issue mentioned in your ** isn't really entirely her fault though is it? Ok, she wants you to go to those meetings but its your own manager that let's it happen. So I think in that case, you should take it up with your own manager. It sounds to me like HE'S the one wasting your time (by proxy) not her exactly.

Most of this is stuff your boss and she should be working out between themselves. Him having "air clearing" 2:1s with his entire staff it kind of bullshit.
posted by marylynn at 7:38 PM on September 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Sorry, I meant to say that then your approach should be to stay neutral and agree to work on whatever because its clear your boss isn't going to manage his relationships with colleagues very well. And then get out.
posted by marylynn at 7:40 PM on September 6, 2013

Best answer: I know I can be irritable. It's hard for me to not show my irritability and frustration over having to do things that I think are a waste of time but I know I need to work on it and I try.

I won't speak to the rest, because I have no insight there, but this, this I can help with!

Everyone, to some degree, is in charge of their own narrative. If you are the company slacker start showing up for meetings 10 minutes early. If people think you are incompetent quit telling them about your problems and start touting your accomplishments. If you miss deadlines get a calendaring app and start using it. If people view you as a hot head with anger issue start using email or a ticketing system or delegate personal interaction. If you are nearsighted wear glasses!

Seriously, everyone has a drawback they compensate for.

I had a similar problem to yours. I used to get mad when I had to do menial tasks. "Really? You want me to fill the printer with paper? Any fucking idiot can do that! They should hire a minimum wage person to put paper in printers. Paying me to do this is stupid." Then I heard someone who made twice as much as me make this same complaint. "They are paying me $60 dollars an hour to wash test tubes!" and my first thought was, I'd love to make $60 an hour washing test tubes.

Everyone has to do things that are a waste of time. That's what they are paying you for. A job is literally you trading your time for money. What do you care what they have you doing as long as you are adequately compensated and not overworked? If you aren't, then you have other things to worry about than how you're spending your days and should start looking for a new job.

Take control of your narrative. Don't make people think you're irritable, that you're frustrated, rather make them understand that when you say something is a waste of time it's a fucking waste of time. To get to this point will take time, but you can do it. Act eager for everything that comes your way. Get it done and move on. Eventually your time should be filled with quality work, since the lame shit will go to a non-performer. Then when the stupid shit comes your way you can say, "I don't think this is a good expenditure of anyone's time. Do you still want me to do it?

tl:dr: control your own narrative.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:50 PM on September 6, 2013 [18 favorites]

I'm not sure what "clear the air" is supposed to be, where it sounds like everybody knows what's up (except for other-manager, perhaps), so I'd just hang back and not contribute too much. I agree that your boss is wimping out, so you might be able to push a lot back onto him. "You know how we feel about that," and leave it there. Don't let him make you people into the bad guys, is he trying to play "facilitator" here rather than boss, so he can be piggy in the middle and avoid responsibility? Lame if so.
posted by rhizome at 8:11 PM on September 6, 2013

I've been in similar situations and have gotten a lot of mileage out of expressing, up front, how glad you are to be working with the other manager and how glad you are to get her feedback. Even if this is a complete lie, saying it takes the wind out of the sails of her criticism a bit.

If you come off as eager to collaborate, her options to criticize you diminish substantially.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:13 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

My (most unlikely unpopular) comment would be this: if you don't have time to go to meetings, don't go. I have made this very clear at my job. I have not been there two years yet. If a meeting is a waste of my time, I won't go twice. My boss has been on vacation half the summer, and the "not my boss but almost" situation is absurdly similar to my situation.

I got a bonus last week.

Take this as you will.
posted by irishcoffee at 8:13 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Agreeing that the 2:1 meetings are not a great way to handle this, and to appear agreeable during the meeting if for no other reason to keep a friendly relationship with the proxy-manager and to reassure your manager that you're trying on the attitude stuff.

In this kind of meeting don't ask any questions for which you don't know what the answer will be. So, for instance, if you decide that one outcome you'd like would to be excused from the 90-minute training in not-your-specialty, take that up with your boss first and get his agreement on it. Especially since he sounds kind of wimpy and wants to get along with non-boss, so might toss in all sorts of concessions during the meeting if they aren't pre-thought-through and pre-committed to you.

That way, when it comes up in the meeting, you know he will overrule non-boss and give you a get out of jail free card. You can phrase it as you did above, but also put in a business impact: "You know that Project X has been under-resourced since Alice left, and I've been picking up the slack. Taking up that 90 minutes on Wednesdays means both that I have to leave late to get the Project X Reports in before Thursday morning and also that I've been unable to move forward on the Other Project that you've been asking me to investigate." ie, it's not about inconvenience to you; taking up that 90 minutes affects the business.
posted by troyer at 8:34 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a temporary situation? Be professional and grin and bear it - you will be evaluated on how well you deal with situations like this whether its informal evaluation or not.

Be positive, attentive and helpful. Man, my manager went to jerk school, and as appointed an assistant who graduated with honours from the same school. Meeting are torture, but there is no gain in being snarky and irritable. Not one says "well done Mario, I appreciated your irritability in that meeting, it really got us out of a jam."

If you're positive, attentive and helpful, your attitude shift will be noted and you will do better in the long run.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 9:58 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fake enthusiasm is the way to go. You'll win points with your boss for being a "team player" plus when you need to duck out of meetings people won't be thinking "bad attitude" but rather "she'd be here if she could, she's so enthusiastic!".
posted by hazyjane at 10:45 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

From what you have written, I get the idea that your manager agrees that other manager is a problem and is sorry but you all have to suck it up. This is not how it sounds to me. I think your manager is trying to be nice to you and your team and to help you "succeed" with other manager, but that your manager's priority is making things work for other manager and the powers that be.

Note book, yes. Be cheerful or at least neutral, yes. Do not ask questions you don't know the answe to, yes.

But stop thinking something is going to change or that other manager will be found out or censured in any way. Deal with what you are dealing with.

I am very sorry. It is agonizing for me to be stuck in a situation like this, but the only recourse for those of us without political skills is to suck it up. If you are similar to me, your only hope is to wait it out or change jobs.

I was once managed by a crazy person who was so crazy a department walked out on him. The solution was to hire a coach who coached the manager for a couple hundred dollars an hour every week. For years. Manager may still be there.

Just do your job and remember they are the ones who decide what the job is.

Continue to talk with your manager when you have client concerns, but tread lightly.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:01 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

If she is a bad manager her projects will not do well. DO NOT BE THE REASON her projects do not do well. Her defense is that she had crappy people to work with. Don't give her the defense.

You have to try. Work with her, work around her, even completely take her job away from her and do it yourself if you have to. It doesn't matter if she gets all the "credit." People still know, and she'll get what's coming to her eventually, but it's a very slow process and not worth trying to accelerate.

In your situation, my strategy would be less "take her job away from her" and more "take MY boss's job away from HIM." To avoid being absorbed into her group, which it sounds like what's happening, you need to maintain your own group identity with a strong leader as point of contact to HELP her.

For example, if she wants you all to work 9-5, find out why she thinks she wants that and make sure her concern is mitigated. If it's because she wants to be able to call A at 9:01 am but A doesn't work until 10, then make sure B has the authority to act as A for that hour and let her know that, and make sure she gets some advantage out of having A around until 6 instead of 5. If she needs 3 people at a certain meeting, tell her to tell you THAT, and you figure out which people would be best, not her.

She needs to feel like your group runs "in automatic mode." Believe me, I'm sure she wants your group to be a magic black box that she doesn't need to worry about how it works. But without your normal boss's involvement, she probably thinks that that's not likely, and that she has to run the show there too. You have to start building that trust by being probably over-accommodating to her. This is because every time you say "I can't" to her, but it turns out when she gets all up in your business details and it turns out you CAN, you just DON'T WANT TO bad enough, well, now her feeling that she needs to control your group is reinforced.

By the way, going to someone else's continuing training is tedious, but never a bad thing. At the minimum, it gives you a new respect for your counterparts in that field and what they do from day to day. Plus, you might learn something. Your only excuse is if you have to shut down higher-priority work to attend. And even that reflects on your time management skills unless you're truly slammed every working hour of the day. What might work though, is asking what Boss1 and Boss2 think they're getting out of sending you to it and letting THEM decide it's not worth it.
posted by ctmf at 10:39 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

A life changing moment occurred early in my career when a bunch of senior staff were bitching about having to go to a mandatory meeting-they would bail not because they thought the meeting was useless, but because they didn't want to be told what to do. One of their peers-incredibly competent and never rattled-calmly said that this is a job, they pay us to be here, and they get to decide how we spend our time.

Or, as I tell my employees now, if we never had to do things we didn't want to do at work, they'd call it happy fun time, not work, and they wouldn't have to pay us.

I think it can be perceived by management and coworkers as arrogant to go into meetings assuming there is nothing you can contribute or learn-to automatically say no to tasks that are "not your job". I'm an experienced manager and I sometimes wash the dishes in the staff room sink or cover reception because it needs to be done. That always pays off in how people feel about me as a team player.
posted by purenitrous at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. These are all good answers and helped to give me clarity. I feel much more prepared and calm for when this meeting happens.
posted by young sister beacon at 7:40 PM on September 13, 2013

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