HOw do I fight authoritity (politely)
February 24, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

My boss just sent out an email to members of a team that questions my competence. How do I politely ask her not to do this?

I recently did some research and provided a work group the results. My boss questioned the results but instead of coming to me, she sent out an email that said: "Nubian and I need to review this information. We'll be back to you with a clearer answer later."

I am relatively new to this role but not to the skills used in it. I find my new boss is one who is constantly making Mt. Kilamanjaro out of a mole hill. Her everyday demeanor is "foaming at the mouth."

It would have been very easy for her to call me and ask the group not to act or my research until (insert date here). We have a meeting scheduled for Thursday of this week so I could have emailed and said "I'll provide further information at our meeting." There was no urgency and no need for her to make people think I am incompetent.

I have lots of issues with this woman but this is a big one. How can I approach this professionally? (P.S. I work for a company where we DO NOT provide any feedback or annual/quarterly review of our managers. There is no formal process in place for me to talk to my boss' superior)

Thanks, everyone.
posted by nubianinthedesert to Work & Money (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you aren't the only one she does this to then most of your coworkers likely already take her emails at something less than face value. The best way to deal with this may be to ignore it.
posted by jon1270 at 8:03 AM on February 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

"Nubian and I need to review this information. We'll be back to you with a clearer answer later."

I am not reading any suggestion of incompetence into that. I'm reading that she is questioning it, but you are adding all sorts of extra interpretations onto that (perhaps based on your personal opinion of her). So unless there is a lot more to the email, I think you're over-reacting.

I find my new boss is one who is constantly making Mt. Kilamanjaro out of a mole hill. Her everyday demeanor is "foaming at the mouth."

Either you're completely wrong about her, or everyone else will read that email with a pinch of salt based on the very same conclusions you have. Choose one and react accordingly.
posted by Brockles at 8:06 AM on February 24, 2014 [39 favorites]

In the future, if you are doing a similar type project, send your boss (only) a draft. Let her pick it apart before you send it to the group. For now, with this situation, ignore it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:07 AM on February 24, 2014 [54 favorites]

Did your boss actually "question the results" in more specific terms, or did she just say "Nubian and I need to review this information. We'll be back to you with a clearer answer later."? Because that sentence, to me, doesn't read that she is questioning the results (by which I assume you mean criticising the quality of your work/research). Worst case I can read it as, is that she didn't want you to send out the results to everyone yet, and so she's saying "please don't do anything with these results yet, I want to review them myself then...(whatever, provide some context, guidance, instructions etc)".

I agree that if your boss really is that bad (which is perhaps why you are reading what seems to me as a benign statement as a criticism), others will be used to it. In fact most people probably barely glanced at her email (if at all), and just thought "OK great I can ignore that for now".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:08 AM on February 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I know everyone's company is different, but I would never send out a report without first running it past my boss. I would consider this a lesson learned, and show her your findings first going forward.

That said I have a great working relationship with my boss. If your relationship is such that you can't run things past her, you've got a bigger problem than this question.

Good luck.
posted by lyssabee at 8:11 AM on February 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

You are overreacting. The quotation provided does not indicate to me that your competence is being questioned. It is possible to disagree with you without questioning your competence.

If your supervisor is like this you need to send her drafts first before sending to the whole group.
posted by grouse at 8:15 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I don't read this as questioning your competence so much as showing her hand re: her desire to micromanage. I would not, personally, think less of someone because I got an email like that. Short of finding a job with a different sort of boss, I think the best course going forward is just to try to adapt to what she's looking for, give her first dibs on things, not worry about what other people think. Sometimes you're kind of stuck with the boss you have, and you just have to learn how to manage your manager.
posted by Sequence at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Against the grain here, I am totally reading the smackdown in this email.

And yes it totally stings when it happens.

Others are offering good advice here - everyone in the team probably knows she's like this, maybe she's trying to put the rookie in their place & let you know she's the boss, maybe you can run it by her first etc.

But yeah I'm with you, she didn't word that delicately at all. She should have called you, said "uh I'm concerned about XYZ, please send a follow-up email to the team asking them to hold on acting on it first until we discuss" to give you the chance to save face.

And swallow your pride and listen to her input. Personality aside, if she is good at her job and if you want to advance, you will need to learn from her.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your boss is the kind of person who wants to maintain as much control as possible. I have found that the best way to deal with such personalities is to check in with them, or send them a draft, before sending anything out to wider audiences. They are satisfied because they get to review everything, and I am satisfied because if I've made any mistakes, they don't go further out into the world. It's really win-win.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:17 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing that this isn't a smackdown. I don't at all think that it implies you're incompetent. I have a new colleague who is director level and often receives gentle comments like "we also need to consider..." and "in the future, let's instead try..." as she adjusts to her new role.

Send everything through your manager first for review. I'm mid-career and I don't send a thing out to the team before it gets a stamp by the person above me. You'll get credit for satisfying her need to check over everything while managing to look to the rest of the time like you had it right all along.
posted by mochapickle at 8:24 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

My current boss acts similarly, so I see how you would interpret this as her implying you are incompetent. What has worked pretty well for me is sending her drafts of every single little thing I do so she can approve before I send out a finished copy.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:25 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

The way to deal with it is to request a one on one meeting and tell her and say that you feel she is questioning your competence and thereby undermining your credibility. Do not make this a discussion on her wider management style. Do not mention the feelings of other coworkers. Do not get personal or emotional about it.

FWIW if your boss' response is as you write then it doesn't read to me as if your competence is necessarily being questioned. If it is, it is being handled fairly diplomatically. I once had a boss who consistently undermined me, but very delicately. It does happen, but especially if you are defensive of your own competencies and/or questioning hers, then you should expect an assertion of authority.

Before you tackle your boss on the issue, it would also be worthwhile looking at other motivations for your boss's response including:

- not wanting to report to go out from you directly (as lyssabee says)
- another reason why the results need to be reviewed (e.g. some sensitivity you might be unaware of)
- a reason to withhold review not related to your competence (e.g. you being poorly briefed on the research aim)
- a desire for [asserition of] control unrelated to your competencies

As an aside, it sounds like you have an axe to grind about your boss generally and it is possible you are a) especially sensitive to her and b) showing your feelings publicly.

I'm not questioning whether you are right that your boss has all these faults; but given you are the junior party I would suggest you pick your battles. Even if your boss is an ass, if your reaction to her is problematic and/or if your reaction causes problems for her boss/undermines her boss's credibility *you* might appear to be the problem viewed from above. In short, you could be both right about the smackdown, right that your boss is an ass and yet find yourself labelled as the problem.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:25 AM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

It depends on the context though. I mean if it's a case where your job is usually to send this out without oversight then yes, I see the smackdown. Or she said please send out your results for the team to use only to then respond with this email, then yeah.

Otherwise I'd say it's not as bad as all that, but only you know for sure.
posted by Carillon at 8:26 AM on February 24, 2014

Also, if you are a fan of the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators, read up on ESTJs in the workplace. I am guessing your manager is one of these, or is one at work. I am precisely the opposite type (INFP) and it's taken me some adjustment to understand my ESTJ manager a bit more and not take her comments so personally.
posted by mochapickle at 8:27 AM on February 24, 2014

Sounds like a cultural difference; she's being careful and doing what she sees as her job.

She may not be questioning your results at all, just wanting to think about how to focus the team on them, choose which to address directly, how to interpret specific findings, etc.

Or she may want to follow due diligence and understand the methods behind any results before she sends them out.

Or she may want to send a shorter version to people to save time, and of course she'd need to think about what to leave out.
posted by amtho at 8:28 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

And although situations like this are shitty, when I've faced them, they have been invaluable in helping me get over latent authority issues that I've had... that I didn't even realize I had. I'm guessing you have them too, since you worded the question as 'fighting' authority. I'm the type of person who likes to be in charge and I'm used to getting my way. When I've butted heads with people like this, it has helped me get over low self-esteem & control issues. I learned to see their point of view, and to realize that I don't have to be their point of view. Even if they think I'm an idiot, I am not an idiot. I can see why they'd think I'm an idiot based on their interpretation of events, but I don't own it as my identity. So I've learned to maintain my dignity while tipping my hat to their higher place in the work-based hierarchy. It's actually left me feeling more empowered and less reactionary, and therefore better equipped to navigate authority and hierarchy. And trust me, the egos only get worse the higher up you go.

So you can turn a negative into a positive. You 'fight' authority by realizing there's nothing to fight at all. A power struggle takes two.

Unless she is very very very shitty in which case quit, but first check yourself to see what you are bringing to the conflict. You can't change her behavior but you can change yours.

My 2 cents.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would encourage you to take a deep breath and let it go. It does sting, and if my boss did the same thing to me I would be hurt. But then I would talk to my boss to find out what the problem was. The key thing here is to understand if she has technical concerns with the work, or if it's that she prefers to review this type of report before it gets circulated.

Keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your skills. When you're new at your job, you don't know what you don't know, and there may be some invisible to you political consideration, or past project that went up in flames because they used X approach instead of Y approach, or....anything. I've been burnt by letting things go out without my review in the past (yes, even just internally), so I tend to review pretty much everything people do for me before it goes out. I consider that part of my job.
posted by chocotaco at 8:47 AM on February 24, 2014

I see the potential smackdown, but I don't think there's much to be gained by picking this battle. She'll say she did not want the group to act before she had reviewed the materials, and / or explain what was wrong with what you sent. (Are "need to review" and "clearer" euphemisms for "need to correct" and "more accurate?") Then what do you say? "I wish you had talked to me first?" Will she just explain she had to act quickly before anyone moved ahead on that information or memorized it as if it were the new policy? I'd take this as a lesson learned about the kind of things your boss wants a chance to review before distribution. That should be a decent meta conversation: help me understand what needs brought to you first because I don't want to create confusion.

Don't make this about your competence or respect from your coworkers. This email is mild enough that i doubt it did much damage there.
posted by salvia at 8:54 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not reading this as her questioning your skills, but that you end-ran her authority in releasing the information without her blessing. There are legitimate reasons to work that way - politics, communication policy, past history, things she knows that you don't, and the fact that she's ultimately responsible for your work.

If I received that email as a third party, I'd assume this was the case. Nothing to do with your competence except maybe not knowing the chain-of-command rules yet.

You could certainly tell her that you wish she'd talked to you first. Then she can tell you that she wishes you had talked to her first. She outranks you, so her wish wins.

You can be defensive and turn this into a loss, or you can hold off and pay attention to what and why she's doing things this way and turn it into a win.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:58 AM on February 24, 2014 [21 favorites]

I'm sorry you're working for what seems like a hard person to get along with. But you'll be much better off if you learn to accept that she's your boss and isn't likely at all to change because you ask her to.

You'll have to learn how to "manage up" and figure out how to work with her in such a way that you can get your work done and not lose the will to live. Maybe approach a friendly person who has worked with her for a while and ask for pointers (but don't just have bitch sessions, those don't help at all).
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:05 AM on February 24, 2014

The criticisms you are leveling at her -- that she should have emailed you individually, and that she makes a mountain out of a molehill -- might be what she would say about you in this situation. Did you email your boss the report individually first? If yes, okay, maybe there's a problem. If not, you might approach this as, "Please let me know how you'd like me to handle this in the future."

And, if you are reacting solely to the words you quoted, then, yeah, we're still in molehill category.

It sounds like there's other stuff going in in your relationship with your boss, but it's not clear to me that this was handled poorly, not only from the lines you quoted.

Do you know the Ask a Manager blog? It's great. I've gotten a lot of great insight into dealing with less-than-perfect bosses from reading it.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:08 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think this one phrase brings your competance into question.

I would address it in a very off-hand way with your manager, the next time you meet. "On the Thingamagig report, you sent a follow up email to everyone suggesting that they wait to use the results of the report until you and I had a chance to go over it. Was there something in particular in this version of the report that you were concerned about, or would you like to make a quick review meeting a preliminary to my sending the report out?"

It's hard not to take these things to heart, especially if you work for a picky-pants manager (as I do) so I like to approach these things from a process perspective.

Don't try to teach your manager new tricks, just try to work within her framework.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:10 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Once you've reviewed and your boss is happy, say something like:

"Given that you're happy with the numbers, I'd really appreciate it if you could follow up on your email to the team just to confirm this. Otherwise it makes it look like I've done them wrong, you're not happy with them and they can't be used."

Once the team see the follow-up, they'll know that your work was fine the first time around.
posted by mr_silver at 9:59 AM on February 24, 2014

Just send her an email asking if there is a good time for her to review these results with you.

And don't sweat this. It isn't about you, it is about her and her view of her job. No need to fight her or be concerned about this.
posted by bearwife at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone sent me a very relevant GIF this week, which read: "People are not against you, they are for themselves."

Let's start at the start: what were the agreements around the research project:

-- Who assigned it? Or did you volunteer to do it?
-- To what extent was your boss involved in this research agreement?
-- Is there a process in place for sharing research with teams? Did you follow that process? If not, why?
-- What are the invisible agreements in your workplace around sharing research with teams? (e.g., share freely, review with trusted peers, review with key stakeholders, etc.)
-- What impact does your research have on key projects or events in your workplace?
-- Is your boss and/or her projects directly or indirectly affected by the outcome of this research?

To understand your boss' email, you need to understand the context. It sounds as though you "broke" some rules, whether stated or unstated. If they were unstated, and you were previously unaware of them, then making amends is fairly simple.

If, however, you were aware of them and chose to ignore them, then ask yourself why.

Look at your boss' email as being about her and her fears/concerns/priorities, rather than being about you. This wasn't an attack so much as it was a defense.
posted by gsh at 10:20 AM on February 24, 2014

I think we're missing enough context to come to a definitive conclusion, but on the face of it I don't see the email as even remotely questioning your competence.

There is a difference between research results and the implications of those results - and it is entirely normal for a manager to want to review these results and get advice on *your view* of their implications before committing the company or department or whoever to a specific course of action.

I would go so far as to suggest that such an email is very positive - the manager isn't *only* interested in raw results but also in working with you to take things one step (or several steps) further rather than just taking your research and taking those steps herself or himself.

Alternatively it could be even simpler than that - if the results of the research are surprising in any way, the manager may require further explanation and is relying on your expertise to fill in whatever gaps may exist.
posted by mikel at 10:27 AM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently did some research and provided a work group the results. My boss questioned the results but instead of coming to me, she sent out an email that said: "Nubian and I need to review this information. We'll be back to you with a clearer answer later."

So you think your boss should have run her questions by you first before broadcasting to the group?

Let's turn this around. Do you think that you should have run your results by her first before broadcasting to the group?

This email basically reads like she wants more control over the communications you are sending out, either in terms of content or clarity of presentation. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing for a boss to want. In the future, run the email past her first before sending it out. It's not necessarily a matter of competence, it can just be a matter of context or emphasis or clarity. If you're new to the role you don't know these things as well as she does.
posted by leopard at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2014

Thanks all for the responses. I didn't mark a best answer since many were helpful.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:29 PM on February 24, 2014

You can mark multiple best answers.
posted by anaelith at 3:42 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

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