In which the poster may be gaslighting themselves.
January 9, 2017 5:13 AM   Subscribe

I took a new job recently, and am a veteran of several toxic work environments. The new one has a few aspects I'm not sure about. Please help me turn off the gaslights and determine a course of action.

Senior professional in the software field here. I took a new job a few months ago.

I have been subject to hazing and verbal abuse in a couple of jobs (guess my gender). So I am likely to start seeing patterns of abuse where there may be none, or where a simple conversation might nip some harmful aspects in the bud.

New job: not a lot to do so far, which worries me a bit. The other day, the dev manager (who is not my manager) was asking about whether I'd been assigned to a project yet, and I told him that I was on a point release for the moment but no long term assignments yet. I am concerned that they've overhired.

I feel that I'm liked and respected by the project team I'm on. I've been vocal in meetings, which my boss has explicitly said that he appreciates. I'm careful not to steal his thunder, but he doesn't really sync up with me before the meetings, so it's hard to know exactly how he would prefer meetings to go. (I also believe that I bring my own experience and strengths to meetings and, being a cautious introvert, I'd rather not self-censor too much.)

Recently, the dev lead invited me to a meeting, and not my boss. I had nothing to do with that except for a) taking an active interest in the subject matter during the previous meeting and b) explicitly asking, during the previous meeting where my boss was present, if I could be invited to the next meeting. My boss discovered that he hadn't been invited and asked me to forward him the invite, which I did promptly. I didn't do anything in the realm of fixing this with words, since it didn't seem that it was my problem to fix. I wasn't aware he hadn't been invited until he let me know himself.

My boss ... hmmm. He is more or less a peer of mine in terms of experience, although I've been in another subfield of software dev for quite some time. He took on the role of manager very recently.

He is publicly respectful to me with regard to people on our project team, and has been extremely solicitous in many ways, particularly when I started. But I can't help seeing some stars that appear to be grouped in a familiar constellation:
  • He explicitly let me know that when my application first came in, he pursued another applicant instead of me because he'd worked with that person before and they were "so good". That person wasn't available, apparently. (Early on, he also made me aware that they waived the normal high-level management interview for me because they didn't think it was necessary... the department heads, several of whom I interviewed with, simply made the case for me. Reconcile THAT.)
  • He habitually "lets" a (female) peer of mine interrupt conversations between him and me. He was 20 minutes late to a meeting with me the other day, and both he and she took great pains to explain to me that she "stole" our meeting time, with profuse apologies, of course. I have NOT complained of this at all, nor have I made any signs of frustration over it. I don't interrupt their meetings or cut into her time with him.
  • The other day, he asked me to play a role in a teambuilding game he is planning. My role will have the title of "dingaling". (Other people, including him of course, will play the roles of the smart, sharp participants.) The way this was presented to me was in a context where I wouldn't immediately have seen any potential poison pills, so I agreed to do it. After some reflection .... um, no dude. I have no problem backing out of this politely now or later, even if it costs me the job.
Welp, now that I've written all of that, it sounds pretty bad. The job pays well, OTHER people within our immediate group and outside of it seem to respect and like me, and the work itself is good so far (what there's been of it). So I'd like to be able to salvage things here if possible.

Current boss has a peer who is a lead on a team and may or may not have a few reports himself. I click well with peer and there's been none of the weirdness I've described above. Peer has taken an interest in making sure I have work to do and letting me know what's going on in terms of upcoming work. Peer is also old buddies with current boss, and they still hang out, although that relationship appears frenemy-ish to me.

This may all be too much to sort through, and I may not be the person to do it. I'm not up for playing a dingaling in any context, or for bonsaiing myself into the shape of a junior anything.

If you need to ask me tough questions to be able to answer this, go ahead, but you may want to MeMail them. It doesn't profit me to hide anything here from people who are trying to help.

Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
[Just noting for general informational purposes that members cannot actually use Mefi mail to contact anonymous posters.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sounds like you have an insecure boss. If you don't have time for that, split. If you do (or have to keep the job for other reasons), keep your head down, make lots of contacts with other people and teams, and transition off your team ASAP (or take over his job if he implodes).
posted by benbenson at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


There’s always a feeling out period with a new job. From what you’ve mentioned, this is what is happening. It appears respect is being demonstrated both ways, at least with the interactions in meetings. You mentioned being a senior professional; your amount and level of expertise is valuable and should be treated as such.

To your boss, you’ve stated he’s new to the position. Your bullet points certainly speak of his lack of professionalism and management skills.

Have you met with your boss and discussed an initial performance evaluation? What are your specific duties and responsibilities? Expectations of each other’s role? Goals? etc. You shouldn’t have to be chasing the next meeting and playing a ding-a-ling.
posted by mountainblue at 6:26 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Early days yet.

It sounds like you've gotten a good reception as a source of good ideas and/or ability to explain.

You ought to be able to play a ding-a-ling in a way that conveys that you, personally, are not.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:35 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


There's nothing here that's sending huge alarm bells for me, to be honest. Background - I am a female dev lead and manager of quite a good sized team.

You're worried about them overhiring because they don't have a schedule for you yet. Don't be. You'd be surprised how disorganized things can get very very quickly. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, but that's not enough info to go on.

The (first) meeting things - thats fine. It happens. You handled it as expected.

Being the "second fiddle" for the role isnt a big deal. Happens all the time. Kinda crappy for your boss to tell you that's what happened, but meh. You got the job, thats all the matters really.

The "letting" of something take 20 mins of a meeting is a way to let the late meeting owner save face and let them know the time didn't go to waste. I can see myself doing the same thing, even apologizing as part of it. It's not a real apology. "Hey - I stole 20 mins of your meeting - sorry about that!! Here, have them back, all yours!"

As for conversations - if they're in a "public" space in my experience they get interrupted all time. Usually, it's up to the interrupter to gauge the seriousness of a conversation before interrupting - shushed tones in the corner are different than a normal convo in the middle of the hallway. That said, software dev type people (and their managers) aren't always very good at these social cues, so...

The dingaling thing kinda annoyed me though, I'd be pushing back on that as well. But for the counter argument.... if that role is part of the exercise, then someone has to play that role. It should be just as likely to be you as anyone else.

Overall - the way you've presented this seems like the learning curve of a new job, trying to learn the culture, and understand personalties. If they're leading you to realize it's not what you expected, want or signed up for, then yeah, maybe it's not a good fit and you've be happier elsewhere.

That said... as someone who's been the "new manager" fairly recently and is still learning so very much... alot of this could be attributed to inexperience and just not knowing how to handle situations "correctly". It's not an excuse, but the practice of putting good devs in managerial positions with zero experience does not always go well... it could be this is one of those situations.
posted by cgg at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2017 [15 favorites]


I'll nth that this just seems like a manager with poor people-skills.

If he had made a point to tell you that you weren't his first pick for the role, and hadn't also told you that you were such a rock star that they bent the rules for you, that might have been one thing. But this seems like maybe he was trying to pay you a compliment, something like: "You know, I was skeptical about you becuase I doubted anyone coudl be as good at this as My Friend, but you're really kicking ass, good job!" but he failed at getting it across.

Him being late to your meetings because he's meeting with Lady seems like poor management on both of their parts. Can you move your meetings with him so that they are before hers? When I'm trying to book time with management type people, I also do my best to pick a time when they have at least 30 mins free beforehand (so I don't have to deal with them inevitably running late).

The Dingaling thing seems weird, but maybe if you knew more about what the exercise involved it might not be so bad? Someone has to play the role. It's tough, because I know that I kind of look askance at coworkers who seem anti-fun, but on the other hand it's not fair to be asked to demean yourself in the name of other people's "fun." So, I'd ask to know more about what it entails, and definitely push back on anything that you're uncomfortable with, but see if it's something that you could have fun with regardless of your role.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:00 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't see too many red flags here, only a couple of small yellow ones. Your boss sounds a little awkward, both socially and in his new position, and while letting you know you were second choice for the job does not reflect well on him, I wouldn't take it personally. Sounds like he also went out of his way to say that other department heads made the case for you, which might have been a response to his realization that he should not have made the comment about the other candidate.

Re playing the "dingaling," this sounds like a really silly exercise, but if they've decided that this is what they're doing, somebody has to play that part. In my workplace, it would be a compliment to be chosen for something like that, since the only people who should be "safe" choices for that role are the ones everyone knows don't fit the part in real life. If I were you, I'd play it all for exaggerated laughs, using it as an opportunity to highlight the many ways in which that was Not Me.

As for this: My boss ... hmmm. He is more or less a peer of mine in terms of experience, although I've been in another subfield of software dev for quite some time. He took on the role of manager very recently.

Remember that the role of your manager is to be aware of the overall strategic direction and direct traffic, not necessarily to be "better than" other team members in terms of substance or details of individual projects. If you keep those different roles in mind, it might help you to empathize with your boss's position a bit more, and will also make it less likely that you will come across as challenging them unnecessarily.

The bottom line is that it's early days yet, and worth taking bit of time to figure out where and how you are going to fit in. If, after a couple of months, you decide that this is really not a boss or a company that you can respect, then move on before it festers.
posted by rpfields at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't see anything bad with any of it. But maybe you are used to very cut throat environments where you have to always be looking for threats everywhere.
Just this seems like normal work to me.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:50 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'm a woman in IT and none of the things you've mentioned would bother me, even taken all together. I'll describe why:

1. He explicitly let me know that when my application first came in, he pursued another applicant instead of me because he'd worked with that person before and they were "so good". That person wasn't available, apparently. (Early on, he also made me aware that they waived the normal high-level management interview for me because they didn't think it was necessary... the department heads, several of whom I interviewed with, simply made the case for me. Reconcile THAT.)

--No reconciliation necessary because I interpret this as the way a socially awkward person would pay a compliment. Essentially, boss was saying hey, I originally wanted to go with the person I knew, but it's good that didn't work out because we got you instead and that's awesome. And everyone you interviewed with saw how awesome you are and we didn't even have to do a round of interviews we normally would have.

2. He habitually "lets" a (female) peer of mine interrupt conversations between him and me. He was 20 minutes late to a meeting with me the other day, and both he and she took great pains to explain to me that she "stole" our meeting time, with profuse apologies, of course. I have NOT complained of this at all, nor have I made any signs of frustration over it. I don't interrupt their meetings or cut into her time with him.

--I feel like there's a lot you've left out because with what you've described, there's not really enough to go on. Do the interruptions happen when you're in closed door meetings with your boss? Do the interruptions last a long time or are they more along the lines of, "hey common boss, be advised that system XYZ crashed but we're working on bringing it back up. Talk to you later"? The being late to a meeting happens a lot in IT in my experience because emergencies arise. It seems appropriate to apologize when that happens, even profusely when it takes up a lot of time. They could have been more considerate of your time by emailing or texting that they were tied up, but depending on the circumstances, I can see someone not being as polite as they should have been. Unless there's something you didn't include (e.g., boss was 20 minutes late to your meeting because he was getting coffee with your peer), I don't see anything unusual in the IT world, regardless of the gender of the participants.

3. The other day, he asked me to play a role in a teambuilding game he is planning. My role will have the title of "dingaling". (Other people, including him of course, will play the roles of the smart, sharp participants.) The way this was presented to me was in a context where I wouldn't immediately have seen any potential poison pills, so I agreed to do it. After some reflection .... um, no dude. I have no problem backing out of this politely now or later, even if it costs me the job.

--I can see how this might make you feel uncomfortable, but I really don't think there's any implicit insult here. As a team lead, if I were doing an exercise like this, I'd pick the person I thought was the smartest to play the role of dingaling because he or she would pose the best questions that would get the other team members to really think about their answers and their approach to issues. I would definitely not pick the team dingaling to take that role because they already have it in real life and what would be the point?


Having said all that, I'm someone with a pretty thick hide so I don't always notice the things that make other people uncomfortable. To me it seems like you're detecting slights where no slights are intended. But it's you in this workplace, not me. If this isn't a comfortable workplace for you and you can afford to, get out, but I'm not sure another workplace won't also have issues.

I hope you take this comment in the spirit of fellowship in which I intend it.
posted by Maisie at 10:37 AM on January 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


None of this sounds like red flags to me, with possibly the exception of there not being enough work. You sound like you're in a role where you are being given explicit respect and deference to your experience. The rest of this is stuff that might be slightly annoying but is just a sign of disorganization or inexperience on the manager's part. And yes, often the most experienced person is asked to play the "dingaling" role in role-playing exercises because it is clearest that they are not that.

It kind of sounds to me like you don't really respect your new manager, and you are chafing at the idea of reporting to him? My serious advice is to decide if you want this job or not, and if you do, give your boss a second chance at respect. Otherwise the way this might go is that he will sense that you don't respect him and it's likely that, being an immature manager, he will not react well to that feeling, and possibly start to act in a way that confirms your fears. You'll have created a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember that these relationships are a two way street, and you may have to give a little bit to get what you want.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:13 PM on January 9, 2017


Update from the anonymous OP:
Thanks so much to all who responded... your comments were insightful and tactful but direct. Exactly what I was looking for. I'm very much relieved.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:46 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


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