Bad to Worse
October 10, 2013 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I asked for advice regarding a meeting I had coming up. Well, the meeting has come and gone and it wasn't good. I don't know what to do or think.

I asked this question (most background is there).

I had the meeting this week and it was awful. It felt like an ambush. I don't even know what to think anymore, whether I am paranoid and belligerent or whether I'm being harassed.

The meeting with the two managers ("my" manager and "other" manager) telling me about our new business model and about how they really needed everyone to cooperate with each other. My manager has told us all of this multiple times before and I feel like I do everything I can do go along with this. I will admit that I went into this meeting feeling a little defensive because I don't think the other manager likes me and in my opinion, she targets people that she manages and treats them unfairly if she doesn't like them (example: one of the top performers in all objective senses got a substandard performance review). I was worried I was walking into a meeting where I might be subtly attacked. My strategy going in was just to keep notes (so I could be clear about everything they were saying so I could refer to it later should I get a different message, which is not uncommon) and respond to questions as I was asked. I did that. My manager talked about the new business model, needing our cooperation and all the other things he's told us many times and which I've had long talks about with him before (i.e. I fully agree with the new plan, want to cooperate and do well and will try my hardest to do so) and so when he started telling me again how he thinks people are not on board with everything (he always speaks in generalizations), I would ask if there were specific examples of things I have done that would indicate I was not on board. I asked this kind of question two or three times and the other manager interrupted and said "okay, just stop that. Stop that right now". I tried to object to say I want to understand if I'm not doing something right because I've discussed all of this with my manager before and I believe I have been cooperating. But she would not let me finish and said basically - no, you've been defensive this whole time, you have a chip on your shoulder and a bad attitude. You're giving us one word answers and acting defensive and rude. She then said that other people had said the same thing about me as well which is bullshit because I get along well with my other coworkers and people almost universally dislike the other manager.

- I was giving yes or no answers because I felt really uncomfortable with the meeting in the first place and I didn't think open and honest discussion was possible with the other manager (I have had open and honest discussions with my own manager before and I feel they've gone really well).

- I was also writing down everything they were telling me. Partly because I felt uncomfortable and liked having something to do with my hands and also because I (outwardly) wanted to have a clear record of what they expected from me so I could both try to abide by it but also (inwardly) so I could have a record for myself in case the goalposts were moved later. I think they probably didn't like this.

- I answered the remainder of the questions with just a yes or no because I honestly felt there was nothing I could do at that point that would be right. I felt like I would be attacked by other manager if I tried to object, defend myself or talk about any of my problems with anything. I was really upset.

One of the my client meetings that she attended (details in previous askme) was brought up by my boss as a way to "clear the air". She clearly had already been told by him what happened as she filled in all the details. Then she justified everything she had done (fyi - she acted inappropriately for sure. I asked other people what they thought and they agreed and my own manager even agreed when I originally told him) before I had a chance to add anything (not that I would have) and ended by saying she's been in meetings with other people who had no problem with anything she's done and then said that some people [i.e. me] just need some extra training to know how to effectively conduct meetings in [specific aspect of my job]. She then asked if I had any experience in this aspect of my job. This was just so fucking appalling to me as I have a decade of experience in my field, I absolutely love my job and I take a lot of pride in it and I'm good at it and my boss knows it and even said as much many times. They then concluded with how they felt there were some people who weren't on board with the new business model and that if people didn't like their jobs then this isn't the right place for them and if people won't cooperate they will need to be issued corrections and warnings. I would have liked to ask if I was doing anything that made it seem like I didn't want to be there (because I have talked about this in depth with my manager before and I think I've made it pretty clear that the new model is a good idea and the right direction and that I'm on board with it) but she had already shouted at me for asking those questions. They then asked what they could do to make me like my job (after I told them at least three times that I love what I do and I like my job and I want to do well).

I was so upset by all of this that I started crying afterward at my desk (I rarely cry and never ever at work) and had to leave a little early because I was embarrassed, but couldn't stop and didn't wanto anyone to notice (no one did). I have always thought (based on what the other manager does with her staff) that she didn't like me and given a chance, would target me and try to push me out. I've had open and honest discussions with my manager in the past about this and he has been reassuring that he thinks I'm excellent at my job and he won't let her do this. He seems to have given up on this though because she kind of railroaded him in the meeting as well. She sharply corrected him a few times and he backpedaled. It seems like he was scared of her (he is senior to her - the same level as her manager). I'm worried now that she will find some weird way to punish me or try to push me out of my job. It was announced in this meeting that she would have first say on our performance reviews and also that we all have to work 8-5 (she's wanted that since she started a year ago and my boss has always stood up to her, saying we're salaried and he trusts us to work the hours we need to. I usually work 8-4 and don't take a lunch).

I don't know what to do. I'm scared she's going to make my life unbearable and miserable. I've already been looking for a job but this could take a while (my specific job does not have frequent openings).

I also don't know if I'm being unreasonable and awful or not and this is upsetting to me. I feel helpless and victimized but I don't want to be that way if I genuinely am doing something wrong. I'd appreciate your honesty.

I genuinely really love my job, I'm good at it and i otherwise think I've earned a lot of respect at my organization. But a lot of people are in other departments so can't really do anything as she (and my manager) are in charge in my department.

Sorry for the length.
posted by young sister beacon to Work & Money (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Does your company have an HR department? Because I think it may be time to discuss this situation with HR.
posted by xingcat at 4:26 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Look for a new job. There shouldn't be an emotional component to your job.

If your boss wont stand up for you, and this lady has power over you, you can't win.

Save your energy and just get out.

You can't salvage this. Sorry.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:27 PM on October 10, 2013 [29 favorites]

Response by poster: I know this probably can't be salvaged. But

1. I've been looking for a new job doing what I do now for awhile and they're competitive and hard to come by. I'm now trying to think of lateral moves I could make, just to get out of this job. I don't want to leave my career, but...I've honestly even thought of just getting a job at Starbucks just to get out of there. I don't know if it's worth it to try to stick it out. I can't just quit without something else lined up.

2. I am reluctant to go to HR as I don't think they're my advocate. But can I go to them and ask to be transferred to another department (any department, I don't even care) without getting on a "bad" list?

I work for a Fortune 500 company if it helps.
posted by young sister beacon at 4:41 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like your managers are in over their heads and are blaming their problems on a lack of buy-in when it comes to your new business model.

Anyone who would be opposed to your asking for clarification about your duties is either grossly incompetent or not discussing in good faith. And it is not appropriate to be yelled at or interrupted. That type of aggression reeks of desparation.

Dunno what else you could have done instead. Maybe instead of taking notes, send them a summary of the key results of such a meeting if it happens again?

If you want to press the issue, send an email asking them to provide specific examples to illustrate their criticisms and get a response to this question in writing.
posted by alphanerd at 4:45 PM on October 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that it is time to get out. Your own manager has effectively thrown you under the bus and abandoned his responsibilities. In fact, if this other person has first say on your performance review, then she is effectively your boss.

In the meantime, I would suggest having a conversation with him, not to complain about the meeting but to say that you really do want to do well and need specific examples of situations where you have exhibited the "wrong" behaviour. Minimize your contact with the other person and do everything in writing if you can. Keep a log of any inappropriate behaviour on her part, just in case you have to go to HR. Also log or keep notes on any positive feedback you get from clients, not only to prove that you are competent, but also to keep your spirits up. It is hard to feel positive in an environment like yours, and you need to take care of yourself.
posted by rpfields at 4:46 PM on October 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

In response to your follow up comment, is there something else you are interested in doing in another department? If so, make contact with those managers, and then ask HR about a lateral move. You can frame it as a positive without getting into the details of your current situation.

It's definitely worth a try.
posted by rpfields at 4:51 PM on October 10, 2013

Best answer: I hate to say it but by the sounds of it the mood music isnt positive, from my personal experience of being forced out of job it sounds very much like my experience.

Unfortunately if that's the case there really is no good option other than getting out asap; though you might want to fight it (and I did) if they want you out they'll find a way by any means necessary unfortunately, competence, attitude whatever and drag our name through the mud to do it.

It sucks but the best thing I can suggest in the absence of a union, an ally in management or a miracle is to get out as soon as you possible can ;(
posted by Middlemarch at 4:58 PM on October 10, 2013

Best answer: If you do go to HR (and remember, they're not on your side) and want to really set the cat among the pigeons, you could bring up the phrase "hostile working environment." That might ease the pressure on you until you can find another job.
posted by orrnyereg at 4:59 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Don't quit without another job but look aggressively.

Don't bother with HR, they're useless in this kind of situation. Sorry to say.

Passive aggressively document everything in email. Copying both managers. Print them on paper and keep in a file at home.

Clear out your personal stuff from your desk. Slowly and a bit at a time.

Don't sweat anything. Come in at 8, take an hour lunch, leave exactly at five.

No extra, just what's expected.

The good news is that nothing is static. Love it today, hate it tomorrow, or Vice-versa, just wait.

This woman can only make your life miserable if you let her.

If you're up to it, be all positive all the time. Pollyanna!

Don't disclose anything to your manager, at all, about anything. He has proven to betray people he should protect. He is scum.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:05 PM on October 10, 2013 [21 favorites]

Best answer: OP, first, I really, really feel for you and I would walk out of something this, but that's me.I think that everything that you did (i.e. take notes, ask for specific examples) is absolutely appropriate and professional.

Here are things that I would do if I were in your shoes:

-just need some extra training to know how to effectively conduct meetings inI know that you have 10 years experience (and trust that you are competent). But the one small thing that you could do tomorrow or on Monday is write an email to both these individuals and say that as a followup to the comment that training is needed to conduct meetings, that you would be happy to attend any training that they identify, and are there any that they suggest? Do this because 1) it buys you time with the crazy person and 2) even ifyou have 10 years experience, maybe you will get one or two sentences out of it, and if it is on their dime, hey, it is great for your new job.

-I would do everything to quickly get out of there. It sounds like you have a great reputation there and people are likely to know that there is insanity in your department. I would even bet people have left/or are leaving (the "are you happy there" is indicative of their problems, not yours). So, try to capitalize on this right now. Send out a linkedin invite to every current colleague and any that recently left. When someone announces that they are leaving/or just left, reach out to those people.Their companies are likely hiring, and you can go on your reputation.

-You also have this capital with your current clients. Don't advertise that you are looking, but look at those companies. Do they offer similar jobs? Apply,apply, apply.

-Be even more proactive in looking for jobs. So rather than wait for a job to be advertised, look at related companies (see LinkedIn, and where employees go to and come from for your company, or similarly visited companies). Whatever works best for you,call or email and tell them about your skill sets and you are looking for a job in X. Send them your resume/CV. I think that this is straight forward, but if you need help as to how to look or what to say, do feel free to memail me, OP.

Good luck. IF they insist that you stay during lunch, hey, look for jobs during lunch. It is your time, just don't use their resources.

Good luck. It's a matter of time and you will get out of there.
posted by Wolfster at 5:12 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Based on what you've said, I don't think that you did anything wrong here and I don't think your concerns are unreasonable.

I also want to say that the fact that you've had "long" talks with your manager before about the new plan and everyone being on board with it kind of concerns me. It makes me think that either your manager is not giving you honest feedback and/ or that your manager is under fire for some reason.
posted by sm1tten at 5:37 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: > You're giving us one word answers and acting defensive and rude. She then said that other people had said the same thing about me as well

Yeah, you were acting defensively because you guessed, correctly, that you would be attacked at some point during the meeting. You're not in the wrong here.

You should feel out your friends in other departments, especially anyone in management. Trying to switch departments is a good idea, but you should try to get an ally first, don't go to HR to start this process.

I'd want to talk to my "good" manager about the meeting, just to hear "how he thought it went", and see what if anything he had to say. This would be mostly for my own curiosity. He sounds weak and I would be reluctant to rely on him for anything, whatever he said.

In my limited experience HR generally sides with management, but I wouldn't rule out asking them to mediate. If I did get written up, I probably would escalate to HR, if I thought I could make any kind of case for myself. If you do this, you need to argue your case in bullet point fashion. You gave us a wall of text up above and shared a lot of feelings. Don't do that with HR. Just the facts, ma'am. Ask for help from people outside work if you need it.

You won't like this, but I think you should get your head around the idea that this job is already half gone and you may end up fired unfairly. Partly to brace yourself if it happens, but more so you can be willing to take risks like trying to switch departments, talking to HR, or asserting yourself against the bullying when it happens (or just walking out of the room without a word). Whatever happens, I think you'll feel happier if you take an active role rather than huddling down and waiting for the next nasty event.

Good luck. I'm interested, if you want to post back here with the eventual results.
posted by mattu at 5:38 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, this sucks. I'm sorry.

I've never heard of HR being the ones you turn to in seeking an internal transfer, but if that's how it is at your company, then do it. At my company, you do it by either checking the internal job board or feeling out the managers of groups you'd like to work with and seeing if there are openings coming up, and applying through the internal mobility process.

Now internal transfers can be difficult in your situation, because the hiring managers' first step will be to check with the current manager, and I'd worry that this new lady is going to be the one that they take the reference from. She sounds like she will sink you off-record. So if you do find a role that sounds appealing, do whatever you can to make sure that your official manager is the one they talk to, even though he basically sucks too from what you've said.

Keep your relationship with him as strong as you can during this time. He sounds weak, and I'd worry that he'll absorb whatever BS opinion the new lady has about you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:46 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your manager threw you under the bus. What a chickenshit move on his part.

There is zero justification for Other Boss *yelling* at you to STFU during the meeting. This is unacceptable behavior, period. Did your manager even do anything to rein Other Boss in, or did he just sit there with his thumb up his ass?

You are right that HR is not your advocate. However, you would be well within your rights to request a sit-down with someone in HR to give them your side of the story, and ask that they make note of it. This is something that should go on record for both your manager Mr. Milquetoast and Ms. Snitty-Pants Other Boss.

Yuck, what a poorly-run company that this kind of thing is allowed to play out. You will be well shot of them when (not if) you choose to bail.

Chin up.
posted by nacho fries at 6:21 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing start looking elsewhere and Nthing look laterally. The other thing is, realistically, how replaceable are you? I am wholly unfamiliar with Labour law in the US, but here in Australia you can't just fire someone; there has to be a whole pattern set up of meetings, and warnings etc. Realistically, unless some crazy misconduct has occurred, it takes a minimum of about 8 weeks to fire someone here, and there are many signposts along the way. So you have at least 8 weeks.

But I didn't want to say that. I wanted to say that at the start of the year, I was forced to work with someone who was - in the entire history of my working life - the most infuriating, stressful, grossly unprofessional person ever. Ever! It was stressing the fuck out of me, like nothing I'd ever experienced. Then my Dad passed away somewhat unexpectedly and it was even more stressful. So I was in a 1-1 with my manager, and I had flagged my issues with this person several times to her, but she was busy and nothing had happened, and was like, "I can't work with her any more. At all. I can't handle it. And if something doesn't happen to resolve this, I don't know what's going to happen (read: I'm fucking walking out of here today)."

I think I freaked my manager out a little. She immediately took me off the project, took parts on herself and got a taste of dealing with this NUTJOB, and then passed on to a team member, who also confirmed that this person was a nightmare to work with and had to enlist my manager's help in dealing with them all the time.

Once I had done this, 1) I felt considerably better about my job, 2) I realised that no one blamed me, cause that person was hell, and 3) I noticed that lots and lots of my team members had done things like this in the past, and that I was actually a bit unusual in putting up with any old bullshit 4) That I put some value in my ability to put up with bullshit and 'not make trouble', but actually I have way more value than that I'm a good performer on the team with unique skills!

So, for me, drawing a line in the sand, and making my problem my manager's problem, worked really well.

But honestly, it sounds to me like they are lining up to move you on so prepare for it if you can.
posted by smoke at 6:41 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: set up a one to one meeting with your boss as a follow up meeting to identify a specific plan to get you back on track and talk about what you've done so far. but, the real purpose of the meeting, to get his take on the meeting with the other boss. does he agree with her? have something else to say that he didn't get to say? apologize for her cutting you off? or, does he back her fully? give you some office politics BS about it? that would give you a better idea of if you're really being push out, or if this other boss has crossed over the line this time.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:14 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's time to go. Spare yourself the long, emotional gaslighting meeting with your manager. Make your plans and get gone.
posted by Malla at 7:24 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone, for your supportive responses. I'm feeling really down right now. I've had this job for a couple of years and I was unemployed for almost a year before I found it. I totally love my job. It's just the management that's bad. The thought of having to leave my chosen career just to find something away from my managers is kind of heartbreaking to me, but it's just so hard to find an opening in my actual job (I've been looking - sometimes harder than others - for nine months or so - I knew this new manager was bad news as soon as she came on board). And then I'm worried that I'm just going to go into another situation that's just like this, which I know is probably irrational, but there seem to be a lot of bad bosses out there.

Anyway, good news is I probably have an initial interview next week at a competitor, though I don't want to get my hopes up. I'll research other jobs within my company tomorrow during my designated lunch break and see if I know anyone in the departments that are hiring that I can reach out to. Right now, I'm going to take my dogs for a long nighttime walk and try to get some sleep.

Thanks again, the responses here make me feel a little more empowered and a little less helpless.
posted by young sister beacon at 7:48 PM on October 10, 2013 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I pretty much disagree with most of the advice so far. This person is not your direct supervisor and it's very unlikely she has the power to get you fired without your actual manager's consent. You say you like your job otherwise, you state you're in a position where it may be difficult to get another job: a basically informal meeting where there is a fair bit of "shape up or ship out" talk but no actual action directly addressing your performance (i.e. in writing) is not in my opinion the time to throw in the towel. By all means keep exploring your options (because this person is definitely toxic to your working environment and how much you can ameliorate it is an unknown. But your job is not as things stand on the line, the situation has not been proven to be unsalvageable, and I think you do yourself a disservice taking defeat as granted.

Bad managers are part of life in business and no matter where you go you will have to navigate them. This person has the better of you right now because you're playing on her terms. You are defensive. You are exhibiting a bad attitude. You do have a chip on your shoulder. You can say she is creating all these situations by challenging you unfairly and interfering with your job in counterproductive ways - well, sure. Thus, she's succeeded in making you make yourself look bad with your boss in the room.

Your boss may be senior to her but she doesn't report to him and he doesn't have authority over her - which means she is something he has to deal with, just like you. Dealing with her and whatever she's complaining about potentially drags him into conflict with her boss, who is at his own level in the hierarchy. He's trying to pacify her. You're not helping him. Maybe he's in the wrong - maybe he's picking his battles. I don't know and I don't trust your view of things. All I know is the things you were doing at that meeting - writing everything down, giving defensive personalized responses to generalized statements about issues with the team (however obvious and pointed you might think these statements are), repeating questions (if you didn't get anything constructive the first time you asked for examples of things you've done that indicate you're not on board, you're sure not going to get it on subsequent repetitions).

Look at that specific example - you say you asked (2 or 3 times) if there were specific examples of things I have done that would indicate I was not on board. Basically what you're communicating is I know you're saying this is my problem, well prove it. Now you sound belligerent. This is the classic Bill Clinton/Martha Stewart scenario: she doesn't have the evidence to hang you for the actual offense, but she trips you up in the questioning and ends up with real ammunition: you've got a chip on your shoulder. See that proves you have an attitude problem. An alternative response, offered once when your response is solicited: "well I definitely support the new business model and I want it to succeed. Can you suggest anything I could be doing differently to support it better?"

She says [you] may need extra training to know how to effectively conduct meetings - just to note that this is a suggestion that your employer invest in your professional development to improve your fitness for the role - you don't sit stewing about how your DECADE of experience in the role. You say something like "yes, this has been a central role in the work I've been doing for ten years, but if there are particular areas I could develop with training that's certainly something I'd be open to."

For heaven's sake don't take the advice above to "Passive aggressively document everything in email. Copying both managers." This is just feeding her more of the justification of what she's already pinned on you. Certainly follow up any kind of problem interaction like this meeting with your real manager spinning it in your favor (reiterate your support of the structure, reiterate your desire to be part of making it work, reiterate your desire to hear about anything specific you can do to support this goal, reiterate that you like your job). Do keep copies of this kind of thing, especially if you get a positive/confirming response from your boss. Chances are it won't be worth much but there is always the possibility of an unemployment comp. dispute down the line.

Don't communicate with her with except when you have to. Try to be agreeable about everything, as long as you're not being asked to explicitly agree that you've done something wrong or poorly that you haven't. View this manager as another client: make nice, be false, you know, be in business. Stop discussing her behavior with other workers; that kind if thing can get around. Be very careful investigating other jobs in your company: you're being faced with the implicit accusation that you don't really want to be in your job: that is direct evidence of the very thing. If you start asking people in the company about other jobs there's a real possibility of it getting back to one or both of these managers (don't fool yourself that she doesn't have her own supporters and partisans in the company despite your viewing her as universally disliked).

Your last job search took a year. There is plenty to hold on to here and plenty of plays left for you to carve out a reasonable work atmosphere despite this other individual. It's too bad you are losing things like flex time or being able to work 8-4 (on salary? seriously - that's pretty cushy and not something you're likely to see elsewhere). But keep fighting for this one unless you have something better in hand. Hey - for all you know you could outlast her. Office politics suck but if you're going to work in the Fortune 500 world they're going to be a factor.
posted by nanojath at 10:28 PM on October 10, 2013 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. I had to learn, as a child, how to survive when it seems like you have become someone's scapegoat, they act like good and correct things are bad or wrong just because it's you who said or did them, and it seems like they have guided missiles locked on you that you can't get away from.

I think you can absolutely turn this around but it is going to require a LOT of patience and self control. Some of these things might also strike you as more underhanded than you are comfortable with.

First of all, you have to let her think she broke you with that meeting. Let her think that she was so intimidating in the meeting that she just completely broke you and now you will happily go along with whatever she wants. Let her think that she intimidated you into respecting her.

She can't see you as any kind of threat anymore. No more negative facial expressions. No more one word answers. Everything she says or does, act like someone you respect greatly has just communicated something important and useful to you.

See I think she just wants to neutralize you as a threat to... whatever she feels threatened by. (My stab in the dark of a guess is that she knows she is incompetent and her way of protecting herself is by aggressively railroading people who seem to think so.) If you remove ALL outward signs that you think of her as incompetent, or anything other than a smart and very capable leader, then I don't think she will feel as much need to target you anymore, if there are still other people who clearly think that she is incompetent. I think that people who use scapegoats tend to always have a scapegoat. I think she will move on to targeting anyone else who seems to doubt her competence.

Speak well of her to other people in a way that you know it will get back to her or she will overhear it.

Do not talk badly about her to anyone else, ever. Say very blandly nice things about her to other people. Assume that anything you say about her to anyone else is no more private than saying it directly to her face

Part 2 is then giving her enough rope to hang herself. Just let her get into these situations where she messes up, offends people, causes problems. Defend her in a way that is somewhat vigorous but not convincing. Let other people see that she's clearly fucking up and and let them think that you just don't see it because you are trying to give the benefit of the doubt.

Don't take her down yourself. Let her take her own self down while she thinks you are totally under her control.
posted by cairdeas at 2:21 AM on October 11, 2013 [13 favorites]

Oh, and as far as part 2 -- I'm sorry that your boss didn't have your back. I think he'll be quite a bit more likely to have his own back. If she messes up in ways that directly cause problems for him and make him look bad, I think he will be way more moved to do something about her.
posted by cairdeas at 2:28 AM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: I think that a combination of nanojath, cairdeas and everyone else is what you need to get you through this.

Everyone else is right, you need to be actively looking for alternative employment. The bottom line is that you may need it. Another reason is that you can't count on a good reference unless you can control who specifically gives the reference (and even if you get an agreement about this it can still be taken out of your hands). If you are looking for another job while still employed, they won't question why you aren't providing a reference from your current job - you don't want them to know you're looking. It's normal.

nanojath provides some good tips for responding in ways that don't incriminate you or play into your enemies' hands. For the record, I do trust your account of things overall. You don't read, to me, like someone who feels unfairly attacked when they're just getting reasonable or even negative feedback. Anyone under attack gets defensive. But nanojath is giving you a script for responding with a level of elegance that this manager won't be able to get a grip on.

And cairdeas has a lifetime's experience of successfully holding her own against this kind of attack. In some ways I have similar experience, but I've never seen it encapsulated so well before. The thing that gets in my way is the feeling that being an adult professional should be different from being a child who has no choice but to go around the system to survive. It should be different, and much of the time it is, but there's value in being able to revert to child mode when you're up against immature people who attack you.

If I were you I would follow every detail of cairdeas' advice to the letter, take in nanojath's suggestions for improving your shtick, and still keep looking for something else as if your life depended on it.
posted by tel3path at 3:44 AM on October 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Hey, your situation sounds really hard and I'm sorry you've had a tough time, also congratulations on already getting your interview for next week!

I just wanted to say , for your interview, make sure you don't take any of this baggage with you. When a candidate comes in who seems downtrodden it can be a real turn-off, so try to put all the stuff that's making you feel down to one side for the duration of the interview, and focus on how much you love doing your job, and how great you will be at it if you get to do it at the new company!

Good luck, we'll all be rooting for you!
posted by greenish at 3:46 AM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry about all this. I think it can be fixed like others have suggested. But I would also start gathering evidence of your positive performance on the job for use as backup should they fire you and contest your unemployment insurance claim. Because once they fire you, you'll never be able to access that corporate email again. Also backup all your client contacts for future use.
posted by hamsterdam at 10:21 AM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: The thing that gets in my way is the feeling that being an adult professional should be different from being a child who has no choice but to go around the system to survive.

To riff on this theme, and to counteract suggestions that you play along with Other Boss:

You *are* an adult with full agency, not a child trapped in a dysfunctional family situation. You have options that don't involve contorting yourself or pretending you don't know what you know to be true (that Other Boss is incompetent and malicious) just to survive. You aren't a child in a family here; you are an adult in a workplace.

You absolutely do not need to engage in lying and elaborate social-engineering machinations to move through this situation to a better place in your career. I would suggest following Ruthless Bunny's advice upthread -- show up, do your job professionally (but don't go above and beyond), and focus on your next move upward and outward.

Opting into a passive-aggressive role in a sick system isn't your only or best choice. Don't go there.
posted by nacho fries at 10:51 AM on October 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I just wanted to clarify that I definitely don't think playing along with the sick system is the only choice the OP has, or even the best choice OP has. It's more that I wanted to let the OP know that it's another choice and possibility that's there and can work.
posted by cairdeas at 11:17 AM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: Just wanted to comment with a couple of practical things to keep your job while you're looking for something better:

I definitely agree with nanojath's assessment of the situation - fair or not, that's how your behavior is going to be spun. And I liked Cairdeas's take as well.

It sounds to be like whether or not this other manager has or should have direct hiring/firing power over you, they have the potential to be enough of a pain in the ass to your manager to get you fired, if that's what they decide they want. Your manager does sound weak.

So here's what I've done when dealing with insane, unreasonable bosses who disliked me:

1. Mirror their body language - they'll like you more without knowing why

2. Talk to the other manager and say something along the lines of "I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate your patience and you taking the time to help me do my job better and help us all grow as a team and a department. With the new office structure coming into play, it's been really helpful to get some guidance. I've been thinking a lot about how to improve the way I run meetings, based on your suggestions, and I came up with A, B and C. Is there anything more formal that I can do, and do you have anything to add? I really want to make sure we're on the same page."

3. In your head, try to turn these horrible, absurd situations into funny stories to tell your partner when you get home at night or your friends when you're out for a drink (or both.) Someone gave me that advice once, and while I was unable to apply it to my exact situation at that moment (I was way too enmeshed to be able to detach enough, though I could see the value), it worked really well for the NEXT job where I also had a really terrible boss. I'd see things come through in the day, roll my eyes (while complying) and then save it up for my husband when I got home. "Guess what, honey? Boss has now requested a specific capitalization format for any Jira requests we submit - he says it's distracting to him if we just use the normal rules of English grammar." So instead of getting frustrated at wasting my time on an insane, stupid request, I was able to get rid of some of that toxic emotion.

Also, yes, my first two suggestions are hella manipulative. That's why I'm suggesting you use them FOR NOW to try to prevent Other Manager from getting you fired while you look hard for something else (or try to outlast Other Manager, although I tend to get pretty frustrated and leave long before the company fires Other Manager). Because long term, ugh, who wants to work in an office with politics like that? Network, talk to recruiters, go to industry events if that's the kind of industry you're in, get people to write you recommendations on LinkedIn - just keep at it. Know that hiring budgets often open up after the holidays, so you may need to wait until January. That's fine - you can network and polish your resume in the meantime.

Finally - for your interview next week - make sure you've got a compelling reason to leave when they ask you why you're looking which isn't "this other manager is making my life miserable." I would say something along the lines of "I love the work, but there's nowhere for me to go/no professional development/not a good work-life balance (might not want to try this one since it's untrue and someone who works at Competitor might well be familiar with how it's done at Current Employer - also it's risky if you're talking to a hiring manager who wants you to be able to work late every once in a while.)

One last thing - if you can have a trusted office confidante that you can use as a sounding board who you are POSITIVE won't repeat anything/be a liability, you can use them to vent to also. Be very careful choosing this person and be very careful you're not talking to someone who is going to further whip you up into a froth of negativity - that stuff can be catching, and if all the two of you do is compare notes all day about how terrible Other Manager is, you're going to remain really frustrated and enmeshed.

Good luck!
posted by data hound at 12:18 PM on October 11, 2013

Best answer: I hate to say this, but if she has first say on your review, she is basically now your manager, and you need to treat her as such.

These situations are always very tough. You could be a totally awesome and wonderful employee being railroaded by a terrible manager. That certainly happens a lot. On the other hand, I've been on the management side of these types of conversations with employees who needed improvement and they can be really difficult. One-word answers are awful; you're not even engaging the question in any meaningful way. I mean, really really awful. You were trying to protect yourself, I totally understand, but one word answers are the kind of thing a sullen teenager gives to her parents. Nanojath is also right on the money when he says that asking 3X for examples of you doing wrong was a bad move. Always always ask instead, how can I better support the mission? Is there any area I can improve? Everyone wants to ask for examples so they can justify the situation around that example. It almost doesn't matter if there was an example and the situation was justifiable or not. There (may) be something you are doing that makes one of your bosses think that you are not bought in to the current plan, and if you think that's crap, it's not about examples of you doing the wrong thing but about feedback for how you can show you are totally bought in.

On the situation of her saying that other people say the same negative things about you, and your knowing this is bullshit. If you are 100% sure that is bullshit, it might totally be bullshit. But I have had many difficult feedback conversations with folks where they were SURE that everyone loved them and in fact folks were stressed out and upset by interacting with them. Not everyone, not all the time, but also not no one. Personally I hate the appeal to popular consensus tactic no matter what, but it's really hard to get stubborn folks to engage in critical feedback and sometimes it makes them pay more attention.

You need to make this woman your ally. You love your job, and I suspect that in fact she is ultimately totally defangable with a little effort from you. Sit down with her 1-1 and earnestly and openly ask for her feedback. You might have 10 years of experience but still be doing something boneheaded. Or maybe she's delusional but either way you MUST show her that you respect her and take her feedback seriously because she is YOUR BOSS. Ask her for help, make your success tied to her, something she can take a small bit of credit for, and she will become your biggest advocate.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:46 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all good answers and I appreciate that everyone has taken the time to reply and also for your honesty. I think it's probably right that I could have acted better. The position I was in was that ever since she's started there has been odd behavior and reports by her employees of how she treats them. I've always been worried that she's been trying to move in to gain as much control as she can over our team and that once she did, she would do the same things to me as she did to them. I've told my boss this and have always asked him to please always let me know if there is something I could be doing better. Going into this meeting was nerve-wracking for me because I didn't know what the real purpose of it was and I was worried I would be attacked. Right off the bat I was told that she'll have first say on our reviews. There are other background issues about our workplace as well that aren't specific to her that I won't go into but did kind of drive my other questions. A good summation would probably be what alphanerd said:

It sounds like your managers are in over their heads and are blaming their problems on a lack of buy-in when it comes to your new business model.

Add to this unrealistic work loads and expectations across the business line and anyone who tries to voice concerns being told they're complaining and not cooperating, etc. Anyway, it did make me defensive. I honestly did not know how to handle that situation better - I was trying to be neutral by saying yes or no because I felt she was painting a picture of me being unreasonable and incompetent, which I thought was unfair but the one time I tried to defend myself and explain she literally wouldn't let me speak. What on earth are you supposed to do then?

Anyway, I went into my manager's office today and apologized for being defensive in the meeting. I told him exactly what nanojath said - I fully support the new business model, I want it to succeed and if I could be doing anything better to support it to please let me know. He was very appreciative and said he felt terrible after our meeting. He says I am a great employee and very good at my job - he keeps telling me that even the other manager has said that to him. He knows I support the model - I've told him that from day one. He says he wants me to be happy. I said I just want to come in and do my job, which I love, and that I'm usually pretty busy maybe I seem unhappy when I'm actually just busy? I don't even know. I said I will for sure do my very best to support other manager in every way possible and he said he doesn't know why but that we're like oil and water and he wishes he could make us get along. I think he really does care and that he always has good intentions. I've always really liked him as a person but I think he's been a weak manager at times. I think he's been given a task for our business line but not given the resources he needs so he has to try to make it work somehow and I think that causes him a lot of stress. So I sympathize with him and definitely don't want to make his life harder. I thought it was a nice talk (we always have really good talks) but it doesn't really change my mind that this is probably not a good environment for me. I think it's crazy-making in that I feel really insecure and don't know what's my fault and what's not and what I'm doing wrong and what I'm doing right. I thought I did, but now I really don't. And I don't think a job needs to be like that.

Thanks again.
posted by young sister beacon at 8:34 PM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

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