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January 3, 2015 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I have a yearly performance review coming up. I need help addressing worsening communication issues.

I have been in my current job for about four years. My boss is the president of the company - there is no one above her. There have always been some issues in communicating with her, but the past year has gotten worse, and as I have had my hours increased for 2015 (which might otherwise have been a good thing), I will be spending even more time with her, and I am dreading it.

-She is not a native speaker of English, but has lived in the states for decades. Her verbal and textual communication regularly cause problems. I will receive emails from her with critical nouns or verbs missing, necessitating that I respond to her asking what it is that she needs done, or to what. This makes her angry. My questions exasperate her. She will email me with something she needs me to research and expects very low to no response times, and that just isn't possible when I don't understand what it is she is asking me to do.

-Our company is not my boss' only business interest, and sometimes matters at other business sites pull her in different directions. Subsequently she tends to exist in a panic or near-panic mode, tearing around the office at a high walking speed and talking to people in a rapid-fire way. When talking, she can interrupt and restate her sentences so many times that I cannot tell what it is that she is asking me to do. So I ask her to clarify, or I repeat the different sentence fragments in an attempt to understand, and this again exasperates her. She will raise her voice and repeat commands to me when I am asking questions about how she wants something done as though they explain what I am asking, when they don't.

By way of example:

Boss (in a bluster): So the first thing I want you to do is, you know- no, just go into folder X, you know- Read file Y in folder X and let me know, you know- make some changes if you see any.

Me: So, you just want me to look at file Y and check for problems? What changes am I making?

Boss (sounding irritated): Just make the changes. In the file.

Me: I'm having trouble understanding. Do want me to edit the file? Or just read it?

Boss: No, don't change the file. Look at the file and let me know what changes need to be made.

Me: What problems in the file am I looking for?

Boss: Any kind of grammar issues, stuff like that.

Me: And then you want the changes saved in a document in folder X?

Boss (raising her voice): No. Email them to me. Note the changes and email them to me.

Me: OK. I will do that.

The kicker is then that the boss will likely turn around and have me edit the file directly after all.

Something like this happens at least once a day, every day, but more likely between 3 and 5 times.

By my boss' reckoning, this interaction took WAY too long. But I genuinely didn't understand what was expected of me. If I had made changes directly to the file, that would have been wrong. If I had left the changes that needed to be made in a document along with the file, that would have been wrong too. I don't know what I ought to have done differently?

-My boss' understanding/memory of where files are and where the file that she wants me to work with are not the best. By way of example:

Boss: Anon, open folder B and open the file there.

Me: There are no files in folder B.

Boss (in a hurry): Open folder A. Open the Word file there. What does it say?

Me: There are six Word files in folder A. Which one--

Boss (irritated): Open the newest one.

Me: Ok, I'm opening it now.

Boss: What's the first line? Does it say something about consulting?

Me: The file hasn't opened yet. [My computer is the oldest and slowest in the office, so this is common.]

Boss (5 seconds later): Did you double-click on it?? What does the first line of the document say!?

Me: Ok, it's open now. The title says X, it starts with- [reads until interrupted again]

Boss: Ok, that file must still be on my desktop. Nevermind- [Assigns new project]

Incidents like this have happened via email before as well. When I say afterward, "in the spirit of continuous improvement, what should I have done to make that situation go better?" She will say "nothing," or "just do better next time." (whatever that means) or "don't let it happen again."

-I am required to email all staff every working day with a summary of all the things I completed that day as well as things that did not get completed and what I need from my boss to proceed. These emails largely go ignored. In meetings I will sometimes be asked "Anon, you were suppose to let us know when you'd finished X; where is that?" And when I say "I put it in my daily email last Tuesday, did anyone see it? Was I not supposed to do that?" there is an awkward silence before the subject is changed. Not sending these emails will elicit a email asking why it wasn't done, even if the internet at the office was down for my entire shift the previous day, or if the day in question was a holiday or part of the weekend (when I never work).

-There is a 50% chance that a hand-written note from my boss will be an illegible scrawl that no one in the office will be able to read. When my boss storms in and asked if I'd taken care of the thing she'd left the note on for me, I have to tell her no, because I didn't understand the note, and neither did anyone else.

-My boss and I work in tandem on many things. I will write a status report explaining what I accomplished, including names and locations of files, as well as a series of things I could not work on because I need her input/signature/copies of documents only she would have access to. If I write 3 questions, I will only get one response. If I write back asking her to please also respond to the other questions, the email will go unanswered (for days or weeks) until she asks me for a verbal status report. When I say, "I'm waiting to hear about about items X, Y, and Z from the June 30th email," none of that will sound familiar to her and I will have to resend the questions. It doesn't matter how succinctly or carefully I write the emails; she won't read them completely. She also will pepper me with questions that were actually answered in the first email, if she'd read it through. Writing out this information in red font or in all caps the first time it is delivered (my boss always wants to know the budget on a prospective client project, even if the budget is clearly spelled out) changes nothing.

-My boss does not communicate her deadlines to me. She might ask that I do something that day, but I will decide to finish a different project first. She will then arrive in the office a hour after I started the day (with many hours left in my shift) and ask if the project is "done yet". When I say no, I was finishing work on something else, only then will she explain that the thing she asked me to do is high profile and NEEDS to be done IMMEDIATELY. I always apologize and say I did not know, that was not clear from her email. If I ask what the priority of certain projects is over others, I may or may not get a response.

-My boss may leave instructions for me because she won't be in right away or at all. She'll tell me to ask a certain coworker if I have any questions, but said coworker frequently doesn't know anything, including why the boss named them the go-to person for the project. This caused a terrible problem when she asked me to forward a copy of a document to a colleague, but there were 5 documents attached to the email she forwarded to me. The designated coworker told me which one they thought I ought to forward, but just to be sure, I emailed the boss and asked her if it was the correct one. She calls me a minute later, breathless and frantic, and makes me tell her 6 times that I didn't send the document I had asked about. I told her over and over again that I would have only done so with explicit direction to do so, but that didn't stop her from sending me a terse email later that I needed to reread our company's employee handbook if I didn't know how to handle company contracts. I repeated that I was never going to send anything to anyone without explicit direction. I found her response threatening and unfair.

-After 3 or 4 years, it seems that my ideas or perspective on something, even backed by primary evidence, are not good enough for her. I was asked to make a recommendation regarding a marketing project my boss wanted to undertake, and I researched and made a proposal to her of a few different strategies, with one strongly ranked above all others. My proposal was rejected. A month later, I came back from being out of town to learn that my boss had contacted a marketing expert for feedback on the same marketing project, and that the expert's recommendation had been the same as mine. Nothing has changed. If I am asked do something and I show respected research for why I did it the way I did it, but my boss or someone she trusts more sees it differently, I will be rejected.

-My boss never clarifies what my real responsibility is for a project. Multiple times over the past month, I have been asked to provide links to information on a subject. I did so. Then my boss wanted those links formatted in a certain way. I did so. Finally, she declared that since I knew the information I'd been giving her "so well", I ought to write the second of the client report she had me find the links to information on. Before lunch. Had I known that I was going to be expected to research and write parts of a report for her, I would have spent time doing that instead of just doing what I was told and then moving on. She also likes to take on a portion of a proposal and then, at the last minute, farm out the responsibilities of her portion to others so she ends up not having actually done anything. So what took my boss a week of handing out pieces to me (or others) could have been done sooner and better if she had just been honest at the beginning.

-You may notice that many of these issues are email-related problems. Phone calls, unfortunately, are not the solution. My boss makes it clear that she wants certain information sent to her in email form, even if she ends up never reading the email because she will arrive at the office and demand that I verbally give her the contents therein.

-We have talked about these situations in the past. I have always framed the discussion as "when you don't read my emails on a subject, you make it so I cannot work and support you as effectively as I am able to, and that is why I am here after all, to support you and the rest of the office. I want to do the tasks you give me correct the first time. How do I do that without asking questions? How do I write emails so that you will want to look at them?" My boss, however, is never part of the problem under any circumstance. If she requests links to content and she can't open them, it must be because I sent her bad links, not that she may have not cut and pasted the entire link into her browser. If weird formatting changes occur between my old PC and her Mac, it's my fault.

I don't know what more that I can do than what I have done. My father says I do not show the proper deference to my boss and that none of this matters because she is my boss and can do whatever she wants.

Is there anything I can do to make interacting with her less fraught? What can I do or say to make the communication process easier?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why are you staying in this job? It sounds wretched.

The only suggestion I can think of, other than run away screaming, is learn her native language and speak to her in it.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 6:37 AM on January 3, 2015 [13 favorites]

I see a lot of questions here where open and honest communication is the key to success. This is definitely not one of those situations. Fact is, you can't make someone else be agreeable, sane, and competent. Not possible. Don't even try. Your only course of action here for your own sanity is to find another place to work.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:43 AM on January 3, 2015 [25 favorites]

Many years ago when I attended a "Management Development I" course where they showed a video of a typical crazy business day and the reactions that are expected of a good manager. My take away was that the craziness is a given, and that the manager's role was to "manage" it. In other words, "the buck stops here". I found it helpful to realize that no matter how unreasonable the question, the decision (in the moment) was mine, and so I should choose a safe, practical and defensible response that still kept my options open.

Sadly, it sounds like your situation is inverted. You are doing the latter while your manager is injecting the craziness (at least that's how it appears from your examples).
posted by forthright at 7:03 AM on January 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Performance reviews aren't really a give and take. I wish I had learned this decades ago, I would have been a much less frustrated Bunny.

This job sounds horrible, so make your priority to find a new, better job. Seriously, this situation is untenable.

As for the review, what is your expected input on it?

My father says I do not show the proper deference to my boss and that none of this matters because she is my boss and can do whatever she wants.

The first part of this sentence is some bullshit. Stop going to your Dad for work advice. He's a dude, dudes have it much easier in the world of business and his experience is NOTHING like what your experience will be. The second part is 100% correct, she's the owner and boss, it will NEVER get better. Never. Why should she change for you?

So sit through the performance review quietly. If she mentions an issue, you can ask her for concrete steps to take, but she won't actually have any. When I just smiled, nodded and signed, it reduced the anxiety around the whole thing tremendously. Besides, you're getting a much better job somewhere else.

The fact is there is nothing you can do to make your boss a better communicator. Even if you learned her language, she's still be a mess.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:13 AM on January 3, 2015 [14 favorites]

I think you are already making a huge effort. My advice is to try to make your interactions more concise, work on using as few words as possible when asking your questions and communicating. Feed her information in short phrases with bullet points. Revise your daily emails into outline form, instead of paragraphs. I think you might just be using too many words to get your point across, and she doesn't have the time or patience to hear you out. Look for other specific opportunities to cut down the amount of information you feed her into more easily digestible bites. I've actually been on the other end, with my boss moving maddeningly (to me) slow and becoming irritated by the speed of my interactions.

To answer your specific question, I don't think you have anything to lose by addressing this in your annual review. You have the right tone, presenting it as your issue instead of hers, even though it isn't. Present it as "this is what I percieve as something I need to work on, and this is how I plan to address it. What input do you have?"
posted by raisingsand at 7:29 AM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seems like you are doing everything you can. This is not your problem. This is your boss's problem.

I've been in a similar situation. The only thing that helped was to, frankly, start caring less. You're doing a good job. You can't change your boss. So do your best to stay calm and not let it get to you. When your boss gets angry or blames you, don't try to apologize or explain. Just take whatever instructions you have and do the best you can with them. Since you've tried in the past to identify and fix these problems, and your boss has not been receptive, don't even do that anymore.

Your dad is right in a way. She's your boss and she can do whatever she wants. If that means running her workplace in a crappy and inefficient way, then your choices are to accept that and do the best you can, or to find a new job. The only thing I'd work on if I were you is your reactions to your boss. Remember, you can't control her, but you can control how you react to her.

In the performance review, I would not bring up any of this. I'd just bring up all the positive things you did: "I communicated my status on a daily basis to make sure everyone is up to date on my projects; I took on extra responsibilities in X, Y, and Z; I made strategic proposals, including ___, which was the same as the proposal recommended by experts."

You are not responsible for this situation, so don't take responsibility.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:34 AM on January 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

She's not going to change; there is nothing you can do. Either you must adjust your expectations and accept that dealing with her poor communication skills is part of your job, or you need to find another job.

I recommend the latter. I see one of two things happening should you stay: you are driven bat-shit insane on a daily basis, or she gets frustrated with you and finds a reason to fire you, leaving with with no reference.

I used to work for someone very similar. Good luck.
posted by Specklet at 7:37 AM on January 3, 2015

This will not change and I second the advice to start caring less and start looking for a new job, especially as it seems your skills are not really appreciated.
posted by bq at 8:04 AM on January 3, 2015

As others have said, stop expecting her to change. I might experiment with writing shorter emails (only one question per email) and not asking clarifying questions but instead just doing the most likely thing. If you had gone ahead and made changes directly in File Y, would that have actually resulted in a reprimand? That interaction almost sounds like she wanted you to go ahead and make the changes from the beginning but got flustered by your not understanding that. (I realize I may be reading the situation wrong.) And I would definitely stop asking how to improve, either because you can't improve (because you're doing the best you possibly can) or because you're focusing too much on this communication issue and not enough on just doing your job.

The situation sounds frustrating and awful, and I agree with others that finding a new job should be high on your priority list. But a boss who's super-busy is not going to want to spend time finding new ways of communicating (even if she's bad at it) or answering a bunch of questions, and I think, for your own peace of mind, you should stop expecting her to.
posted by jaguar at 8:06 AM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've had a boss that has some of these traits, but nothing along the lines you describe. The first thing you need to get out of your head is don't ask what you could be doing better. In general I'm the same way you are, and really want to know what I could be doing better. I'm also frequently tempted to pick scabs. Neither is productive with this kind of boss, if you ask them what is wrong with you, they will tell you - and probably make it up off the top of their head.

So, don't ask what you could be doing better. Second, most bosses don't really like doing performance reviews. Go in warm and professional, let them say whatever they want to say, tell them you really appreciate their feedback, particularly X and Y (if they said anything you could specifically repeat) and you are going to do your very best to incorporate it into your work in the next year and boy are you excited about the year to home.

Thank her and go home and go on monster.com and find yourself a new job.
posted by arnicae at 8:08 AM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

When you are interviewing for your new job in the very near future, and they ask you about your current boss, leave out everything you wrote above and instead describe how your professional skills have improved as a result of working with her... without lying and without even a hint of negativity.

Like how she's motivated you to become a better communicator, which is of course something you appreciate and have learned to apply in everything you do. Be prepared with an example or two on how you moved yourself from a good performer to a better performer under her supervision.

Start practicing now, because it won't be easy.

Best wishes to you!
posted by Short Attention Sp at 8:19 AM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Heads up, someone who is unprofessional in managing her business and her employees is HIGHLY likely to be unprofessional when called upon to give a reference on you to your next employer. So I hope there's someone else you'll be able to use. Ugh, get out of there. There's something about what you said about your dad's remark about deference that makes me wonder whether his family of origin is from the same country your boss is? And in that case, that you might be giving her a totally un-earned benefit of the doubt. Working for someone like this is not good for your career in general.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:28 AM on January 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Try putting all the important parts of the e-mail in the subject line. Only one item per e-mail. If you think that might help.

It sounds like you guys don't actually like each other -- that's a problem. I think you need more information in general in order to work effectively, and she's feeling so burdened by e-mail and phone calls that she doesn't want to take on any more formal communication tasks.

She sounds like she needs someone working with her who is able to intuitively know what she'll want (not sure this will really help, but it's one way to think about it). "Intuition" is really just thinking through things quickly using prior information -- do you have the background information on these various projects to anticipate what she'd want? If not, how can you get that? Maybe have dinner or lunch with her every week where she just tells you a bunch of contextual information (might help with the liking each other thing, too).

If you try the regular lunch/dinner/tea meeting thing, keep it loose, don't insist on taking notes -- just ask questions and try to get a feel for things. If she keeps getting interrupted by phone calls through two of them, insist on phones off for 15-20-or-30 minutes.

If you're both super frustrated, and you're at the point of quitting, maybe get her to agree to try something like the above for 2-3 months; if it doesn't work, you both move on; if it works, and you become a super assistant, you'll get a big raise -- because a) you're having to really use your ingenuity to help her, which is rare to do; b) you'll become essentially a clone of her, which means you're taking a lot of burdens from her, and you'll have to carry a lot more stuff around in your head; and c) this will take additional time for you).
posted by amtho at 8:31 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Everything you've written sounds extremely stressful and frustrating and I do not doubt for a second that the situation is as you've described it. The only surefire remedy to this frustration is for you to find another job.

That said, a couple of things you need to look at going forward, because the likelihood that these issues are going to get fixed in this job is somewhere between slim and nil:

- Stop looking for validation for your ideas from your boss. Your boss doesn't really care about your ideas. She's made that clear by rejecting your proposal and paying someone she considers qualified to make suggestions to her to make the same suggestions you made. She clearly views you as a "support" person not an "idea" person. If you want to be an idea person, don't take a job as a support person. Or, if you do, find a person within your next company who you respect and wish to emulate, and see if you can work it so they will mentor you out of a support job into an idea job.

- Consider that your thinking on the role of a support person is a little too black and white. Part of being a support person - and I speak from experience, 7 years of it, with attorneys who ranged from expert communicators to grunting lumps of disdain - is to constantly read between the lines, intuit your boss' needs, and make your boss look good all the time. You're not doing that. You're making your boss look BAD all the time because you are constantly asking questions instead of making decisions, you are pointing up to her that her language and managerial skills leave a lot to be desired, and - to her - you seem to need lots and lots of hand-holding. Does that sound harsh? It doesn't feel good to hear that but, trust me, this woman wants you to make her life easier without asking for anything in return more than a paycheck. That's the deal with this job. I, too, would want to smash things constantly in this job because this dynamic is the absolute fucking pits and it never gets better once it's established. So, again, you should quit.

Lastly, you sound pretty young and idealistic. You also sound detail oriented, conscientious, curious, organized, knowledgeable, eager and open. These are excellent qualities and ones that you can and will bring to another position with a company and boss that will welcome them and use them to both theirs and your best advantage. Have your review, tell them you feel you had a good year but that, as always, there's room for improvement and you're really excited about the year to come. Keep it short and to the point and don't slag your boss. Then focus on finding another job.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2015 [16 favorites]

The only suggestion I can think of, other than run away screaming, is learn her native language and speak to her in it

That was my instant reaction as well, with the caveat that all the speaking would be in swears.
posted by flabdablet at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

*sigh* I really do feel for you. I think that many of us have had to deal with an irrational boss at one time or another.

Reading your text, I'm noticing a few things that you could probably handle a bit better - and I know that it is easy for me to say this without having to do it - but even if you did so, it's unlikely that the situation will improve.

If you're curious - and I mean this to be constructive - I would perhaps attempt to handle some of the tasks in a more 'active' manner. For instance, in the first example (re read a file and suggest changes) - if I was asked to do this task, I'd probably read the file, make a local copy, make (and highlight) changes to the local copy, and email the file to her - renamed as something like 'TheFile - DTL.010515.doc' with a summary of what changes I'd made.

If I got an illegible handwritten note, I'd email her immediately and ask for clarification. Don't wait for her to come to you.

If she asks you to do task X and you're in the middle of task Y, tell her "I'm just finishing up Y, and I should have task X completed by the end of the day".

In short, if there is a problem, bosses don't want to hear "there's a problem here". They want to hear "there's a problem, and this is how we can fix it".

All that said, it's not at all clear that a more active response on your part will necessarily make things better. I mean, the basic issue is that your boss sucks.

I had one idea, though: is there some chance that you could bring in an assistant or "train someone to be your backup"? It's a shot in the dark, but if your boss was working with you and another person, she might be more cognizent of her crap communication skills, and perhaps work to improve them? Of course, having a 'backup' person also means it's (theoretically) easier for you to get fired, because there's someone ready and waiting to take your place. Although what I foresee happening is that if you quit or are fired, there will probably be a number of people who are placed in your position who last 2-3 months each. In a year or so your boss may get a clue.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:27 AM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

The answers you've been getting are fantastic. Having had the same boss, but in a different context, I'd just like to repeat two key takeaways, from chickenmagazine and fingersandtoes respectively:
You are not responsible for this situation, so don't take responsibility.
Working for someone like this is not good for your career in general.

The two statements go together. In today's world, we're taught that taking responsibility is a Good Thing, and in the vast majority of circumstances, it is. However. When you are working for a boss who does everything except take responsibility, and being responsible is the very essence of the point of the existence of their position, you really don't want to take more responsibility than absolutely necessary, where "necessary" is not what you see as helping the company, but as what your boss specifically and clearly tells you to do.

If your eyes are bugging out and you're going "WTF how on earth can I possibly apply that to my situation?!?! Practically nothing is specific or clear unless I take responsibility to clarify and research and talk with everyone!!" then you have understood why fingersandtoes says that someone like this is not good for your career. And you have also understood why everyone is telling you to find work elsewhere.

In my situation, it took me a few months to understand the "stop taking responsibility" recommendations I was getting from a wise colleague. Once I did, my work life became much easier. My boss did not. S/he became increasingly erratic, not understanding why I wsa unwilling to be the responsibility-taking pansy.

S/he did not fire me. S/he couldn't, because his/her communications were so erratic and incomprehensible to everyone involved (see also: your situation) that there was no way on earth that a believable paper trail could even be fabricated out of thin air. Instead, s/he eventually settled on "budget" as a reason for letting me go. I was ecstatic. So were the truly professional people I worked with, who were happy to see me finally freed from the shackles of using my trilingual and analytical skills to interpret things like "please give me your comments on this before noon tomorrow!" where "this" was an 80-page description of our team's responsibilities and processes that s/he hadn't even told us s/he was writing.

In other words. You're being trapped, you are not being given responsibilities. The "responsibilities" you have would look like "stepping on the boss' feet" if you described them to a sane manager who has never met a person like this. This is not your fault, I am only saying this as someone who's been there, done that, and recognized the sad reality.

Find another job. Do not stay any longer at this place. You cannot win at this game; even if you manage to improve communication with your boss (which I doubt will happen; my own boss had 20-odd years' experience and NO ONE, literally NO ONE understood or wanted to work with him/her), you are not going to learn anything that has much added value. Managing conflict and communications issues are important, yes... but so are other aspects of your career, which are dying of suffocation and lack of sunlight.
posted by fraula at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I don't have any advice to offer sadly, but I want to say that it sounds like you're doing really well with the communication on your part - re-stating her requests, asking for clarification, etc. Any good boss would be glad to have an employee that takes an extra minute to find out exactly what they are asking for instead of assuming and wasting their time reviewing the wrong folder or whatever it is she wants you to do.

So even though it feels frustrating to you and you might feel like she is going to give you a horrible review, have faith knowing that you are probably one of the top performers there, or at least one of the top people as far as being able to communicate with her, because I just can't imagine everyone else out there being as patient as you describe your conversations. So even though during the review she might not say anything positive (again, because SHE's a crappy boss, not because you are a crappy employee), just know that you are probably doing quite well. And take that confidence with you to your job interviews as you look for a new job.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 10:08 AM on January 3, 2015

I tend to agree with others above. I think you should:
- Cover your ass by verifying with her over email when she's dropped handwritten garbage on your desk
- Communicate by bullet point, not paragraph
- End every email with what your status is and listing next steps - without asking your boss what those steps should be. Use subject lines similarly if you aren't already ("Need info for Line 14 on TPS Report to finish" or "TPS Report complete and ready for sign off" not just "TPS Report update")
- Don't bother asking her "what you can do better next time" after a mistake. It makes you sound like an amateur/brown noser and you're asking her for more of her time and thought when she clearly doesn't have it for you. When she says "nothing" or "do better" she actually means "figure it out yourself"
- That said: quit this job. It sounds like you're looking for growth and appreciation for being a people-pleaser, and you will never get it with this boss. Good luck!
posted by thirdletter at 10:38 AM on January 3, 2015

Ehhhh, I don't know that it sounds like you're in trouble here. I mean, sure, it's infuriating and inefficient. But has she told you you're doing a bad job or threatened to get someone else?

Some people just thrive on the chaos and being Ms. Big Honcho, barking orders. Maybe you play straight person to that better than anyone else.

If you hate it, well, uh, it's probably not going to change, unless you can take over more and more for her so she doesn't get involved in details like editing files. That is, you president, her owner in the background. Unlikely if she loves the game.
posted by ctmf at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do your counterparts in her other businesses have any tips for you? Go have a drink with them. Form a mutual support group for Ms. Chaos PTSD.
posted by ctmf at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2015

I mean this in the nicest way ever, I promise, but all the time you spent typing this up would be better spent looking for a new job. You deserve way better, and this job will never be better. You gotta jet! Whenever I realized my off-work hours were filled up thinking about my job (including one Ask that got terrible results and many more I never actually posted), it meant it was time to GTFO. If this were a boyfriend I'd pull the DTMFA card.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:48 PM on January 3, 2015

Part of being a support person - and I speak from experience, 7 years of it, with attorneys who ranged from expert communicators to grunting lumps of disdain - is to constantly read between the lines, intuit your boss' needs, and make your boss look good all the time.

Pretty much this. Also, having had a boss like this, doing this via email is a blessing because you have it on record when it turns out she meant THIS but said THAT.

My boss spoke English as her first and only language but was unfocussed and impatient and never ever willing to admit she was wrong. For instance, she'd write the wrong client's name in the subject line, give a bunch of tasks, which I'd do, and then get mad because I hadn't guessed from the context (none, btw) that she's meant a completely different client. I mention that because this stuff can happen without a language barrier. (In fact, a little before I finally quit, I started demanding that she never use pronouns.)

Fortunately, she was very nice in other ways plus I knew I was competent plus I knew I could find another job in a week if I got fired, plus, and most key to letting it roll off my back (not that I wasn't irritated) there were other coworkers with whom I could laugh about it. So so helpful.

There are a lot of industries where this is the norm.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:59 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

As Ruthless Bunny said, don't go to your father for career advice. Try Alison Green's brilliant "Ask a Manager" site.
posted by Grunyon at 2:23 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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