How to suck up shameful, resentful feelings in time for work tomorrow?
April 30, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I suffered an embarrassing setback at work on Friday and am dreading going back tomorrow. Practical advice and Jedi mind tricks for overcoming shame and resentment are equally appreciated!

I approached the owner of my company on Friday to ask about an estimated timeline for a promotion that's been all but promised sometime this year. (I was hired about 9 months ago for a front office position for which everyone agrees I'm grossly overqualified; that just happened to be what was available and financially feasible for the company at the time.) This conversation on Friday was just after a team meeting in which she had indicated that possible staffing changes were coming. Side note, in case it's relevant: I've made my career goals very clear and have been taking on tons of extra work, showing initiative, and going to training courses that are designed for the position I want, all with the full support of this company owner and my supervisors.

While the owner wasn't unkind - but rather seemed to be taking a "tough love" approach - she blindsided me by telling me that, while all my work has been appreciated, I've been falling short on one of the primary aspects of my main job, that of being super positive at the front desk. She says that "several" people have observed that I am not happy in that role, that my energy is sometimes low and/or that I appear "too focused" when I'm doing something, and that my frustration (with things like the constantly ringing phone and back-to-back interruptions) is sometimes clear on my face. In a nutshell, she said I'm not "nailing" that part of my current job which is something she'd look at before considering a promotion.

I get that; on paper, of course it sounds totally fair. However, I feel deeply embarrassed. I thought I *was* nailing it. I literally get complimented every day on how kind and helpful I am, and while yes, rude callers or inappropriate comments made to me by workers and visitors alike aren't fun to deal with, I honestly felt like I was doing a great job. Not to mention, I'm embarrassed by the hole I seem to have dug myself by taking on so much extra work and allowing it to just become part of my role, something that gets taken for granted at this point. I guess I figured if I ever screwed up at my job, it sure as hell wouldn't be at the "front desk girl" part, you know?

The other thing that's really getting to me is this: my immediate supervisor and I are taking a high-level training course together. The week before last, a visualization exercise took me to kind of a dark place related to past trauma, and I found myself feeling very emotional yet withdrawn (as is typical for me). My supervisor insisted we take a walk and he really pushed hard for me to open up to him about it. It wasn't a productive conversation, as the two of us have had some recent communication issues. However, after lots of prodding from him I did eventually open up just a little, after begging him to promise me that anything I said would be kept confidential and not shared with anyone. He immediately agreed. Well, in the conversation with the company owner, she revealed that he had immediately told her absolutely everything I told him, including specific details that she parroted back to me. I was absolutely livid. She said I shouldn't be, because (a) she claims she insists he tell her everything and (b) they both care about me and want to help. Both of those things might be true, but I still feel betrayed: I think if he knew he couldn't keep a secret because his boss (the owner) demands full disclosure, he should have told me before I revealed anything private, and even if he "slipped," he should have warned me about that after the fact so that I'd hear it first from him. I can accept that my thinking on this may be a little black-and-white; however, as it stands now, I feel so betrayed by him that I don't even know how I can deal with him tomorrow. I'm confident that the company owner told him on Friday about this whole conversation, but I haven't heard anything directly from my supervisor and doubt he will bring it up.

So, after that wall of text (sorry!) my question boils down to this: starting tomorrow morning at work, how do I (1) move past feeling shameful, stupid and self-conscious, knowing that various unidentified people apparently reported I wasn't being "happy" enough in my role at the front desk; (2) become comfortable with the idea that my only chance at possible promotion means having to cut way back on all the higher-level work that supposedly was preparing me for said promotion, and just be satisfied brewing coffee and looking pretty and smiley at the desk; and (c) possibly most difficult for me, get past the idea that my direct supervisor lied to my face, betrayed my trust, and pressured me into admitting things I really didn't even want him to know, let alone the owner of our company and anyone else the two of them might decide to tell? The solutions that come to mind (dropping every project that isn't directly in my "front desk girl" job description, limiting contact with my supervisor and company owner as much as possible) don't really seem like solutions, as they seem like they'll come across as petty and spiteful and possibly get me labeled as "problematic" and not worth working with anymore.

I guess I'm really looking for a mental reset here - my pride means a lot to me, but I need to be able to stay focused on the journey because I need this job. Quitting isn't an option as this is my first job after 10+ years of self employment, and I'm a solo mom of two special needs kids (with lots of legal/medical debt to pay off and very little help). Also, up until all this happened, I really did like my job and my team and felt that anything was possible with this company. I just have been really shaken by this setback and feel horrible on a deep, soul level. I honestly don't know how I'm going to suck it up and move on in the T-minus-21 hours until I have to report back there. Any and all advice would be most appreciated!
posted by justonegirl to Work & Money (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think I can directly answer your question, because I don't think you need a mental reset for the reasons you think you do.

Everything you've described about your job and your workplace is toxic. If they hired you knowing you were overqualified, but that this front desk thing would be a stepping stone -- I mean, I'm already suspicious, there -- they know they hired you for the wrong job. The owner's response to that also sets off alarm bells, because "not positive enough" is one of those vague criticisms that no one can ever counter, and is a favorite of manipulative shitheads. It's not even actionable if they haven't given you specific examples. Like, the very fact that they haven't given you specific examples suggests that this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your performance, and might be more about keeping you in your place.

If that were the only thing, I probably wouldn't be so aghast. But the supervisor pushing you to open up about trauma, lying to you, and then disclosing everything to the owner? Who then also felt like she had the right to cite details of your trauma that you had not shared with you, in the context of explaining why you weren't getting the promotion you'd already been promised?

This is manipulative, abusive bullshit from people who have no respect for your personal or professional boundaries. This is a bad place. You are not wrong for feeling badly about going to work tomorrow. The only thing I think you need to reset is where you locate the blame for this shitty situation.

You should get out of this workplace. Stat. It's not going to get better, and that's not your fault. None of this is your fault. These are shitty people.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:20 AM on April 30, 2017 [163 favorites]

Your coworkers/supervisors are assholes. No one can thrive in that kind of environment. This is always easier said than done but start looking for another job.
posted by teamnap at 8:26 AM on April 30, 2017 [14 favorites]

I think you should go in and ask what you can do with others to get out from all the work you volunteered to take on but obviously cannot finish. Then you need to go back to being smiley face front desk person until you secure a job that is over and above not being a receptionist, but what you really want. Your life is complicated, but your boss' behaviour is only looking for a reason to fire you with sympathy and some severance. This job will not make you happy. I tend to find any job that promises a promotion is not worth taking, because they don't have the staff to do the job properly at the time you take it. They set you up, in your desperation to change your circumstances you took the bait.
posted by parmanparman at 8:26 AM on April 30, 2017 [15 favorites]

schadenfrau's answer is correct. This is absolutely inappropriate for both your supervisor and the owner of the company. Management styles vary, but this is so far away from the norm that I have to label the company as toxic.

Get out. Put your effort into finding a new job. I realize this takes effort and will take a while. Take the effort you have been doing and put it into finding a new job. They don't deserve the effort you are putting in, nor are they compensating you for it. Do the least amount of work necessary to not get fire (for what it's worth, this level is probably actually lower than whatever you think it is).

To more specifically answer your questions, you shouldn't move past this or become comfortable with it. Doing so would be normalizing employee abuse and will absolutely not help you in the future. The way you move past this is by finding a job somewhere that respects boundaries and respects you as an employee. That isn't a particularly high bar and you'll be better in the long run.
posted by saeculorum at 8:29 AM on April 30, 2017 [23 favorites]

These people don't sound like people you can be authentic with, and this role doesn't sound like one that's a good fit, for a number of reasons. That's what last Friday taught you. Now that you know, you can start planning your exit strategy to another position that's a better fit.

Until then, it might help to make a distinction between You and You Incorporated. When you walk in the door, set You aside and bring out You Inc. You're not positive enough? No problem, because You Inc is downright saccharine. They want the building moved two inches to the left by 3 pm? Not a problem! You Inc is on the case! And then when you leave the office, set You Inc aside and become You again.

Remember, you don't need these people to like or accept you: you need these people to pay you until you find a job that's a better fit.
posted by culfinglin at 8:30 AM on April 30, 2017 [30 favorites]

Schadenfrau nails it and for what it's worth, your boss sucks. I mean, it's one thing to hire an employee with the promise they'll be moved to a different position, but to then crap all over the job they're doing with vagueness like "people say you're not good" and other non-specific criticism is just boloney.

And I'm pissed on your behalf that your idiot supervisor told your boss confidential stuff after promising not to, and then she told you. That's wildly unprofessional and just uncool as a human being. And padding it all with "we care about you" is super obnoxious.

It's time to make an exit plan. Every time you have to deal with a jerk on the phone or your boss walks past, take your energy and fuel that, "I'm getting out of here!" mantra.

I know as a single parent it can be SO SCARY to change jobs, because there's a lot riding on our steady work and salaries and benefits. But trust me: there are better jobs out there, better coworkers, better supervisors, better bosses. You found this job, you will find another. You got this.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:40 AM on April 30, 2017 [23 favorites]

You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. They, on the other hand, have plenty to be ashamed of, but I suppose they're immune like so many others these days.

As others have said, giving this place the minimum required effort to stay employed, and investing the leftover energy into finding a new job, would be your best course IMO. They're not good or trustworthy people, and people are what make a company run (or not). My best wishes in finding a place that's worthy of you.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:51 AM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's what you have been doing wrong: You are trusting these people to do right by you and to treat you with even basic decency. A fairly high percentage of people will treat you like absolute crap when you give them even the tiniest opportunity. If you want to stay there, be tougher, bitchier, more demanding. Stop giving them so much of your talent for free. You deserve to be treated with respect, and you deserve to be paid fairly. The correct term for owner and supervisor is douchebag. This is my attempt at tough love.
posted by theora55 at 8:58 AM on April 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been bitched out for this too. Then I got bitched out for being "fake" when I was smiling and cheerful all the time, too. You probably can't win with these people, but since you're stuck with the job, I think the "You, Inc." suggestion is what you have to go with. Fake perky happy smiles for 8 straight hours or as long as anyone can see you, etc.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:07 AM on April 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

This above all: to thine own self be true.

I will recommend Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office, which offers practical suggestions for self-assertion and boundary protection in the workplace. It is NOT about being bitchy or demanding.

I think the title's reference to "mistakes women make" is unfortunate, because the deck is already so stacked against us, so it's often really not about what we do "wrong". But the advice within the book is still worthwhile.

Whether or not it does you any good in #currentjob, not sure, but it will almost certainly help you in a healthier place.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2017

I'm grossly overqualified; that just happened to be what was available and financially feasible for the company at the time.

But see, what they revealed on Friday is that is exactly how they see it. They have an overqualified desk girl and that may have been a mistake and this is why you don't hire overqualified people. What they DON'T see it as, is they hired the next [whatever you're shooting for] and had to hide you in this other job for a while. They DON'T THINK THAT. Stop thinking they do.

Start looking for the job you want. Preferably not at this company with the shitty boundary-trampling and confidence-betraying supervisor.
posted by ctmf at 9:16 AM on April 30, 2017 [14 favorites]

What you're experiencing here is shitty treatment, sure, but also blatant sexism. Even if your username wasn't justonegirl I would still know beyond any shadow of a doubt that you are a woman just by reading about this situation. Would a man have to prove himself repeatedly that he is qualified for a job that he was basically hired for? Would a man be coerced into revealing personal/sensitive information about themselves? Would a man EVER hear "sorry you're not cheerful enough?" All together now, NOOOOPE.

So just to answer your question of "ahh what do I do Monday morning" a little more directly-- when I face tough situations at my male dominated workplace that are ultimately caused by an underlying current of sexist behavior and culture, I just say to myself "how would a man act right now?" Would a man apologize profusely for a small error? Would a man feel embarrassed...or would they be angry and defensive and redouble their efforts to look after themselves first? This is not a criticism of men, I just find too often that men are better at protecting themselves and using their confidence to power through shitty, emotionally taxing situations. You're a SOLO MOM with TWO KIDS. Paying off debt by yourself! You sound like a hella strong human being. So be strong. Take your cues from the men around you who gloss over problems with their head held high and who unapologetically demand the best for themselves, just as you should.
posted by leafmealone at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2017 [51 favorites]

What you do Monday morning is do your job as you start a new plan. Start job hunting, start putting together all the higher level training you have had, even take advantage of other training they may offer you to utilize in your new job.
posted by Vaike at 9:27 AM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

(D) go in smiling and do a great job you feel good about. Never reveal anything personal again. Apply for other jobs -- take some time, but not too much time, to find a better job with benefits and everything. You are articulate and thoughtful and responsible and as long as your next job is at the same level or highrer, no one will think anything of it on your resume.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:27 AM on April 30, 2017 [15 favorites]

Also, it sounds like the supervisor doesn't know the owner utterly threw him under the bus about talking behind your back yet? Don't feel like it's your problem to manage or minimize his embarrassment about that. Ice. fucking. cold. to him on Monday until he figures out how to handle that.
posted by ctmf at 9:32 AM on April 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

My Jedi mind trick is this: You feel vaguely sorry for them.

This isn't even bullshit! This is how I actually feel about them reading your question. Do you know how expensive and time-consuming it is to interview and hire someone? Very. If that person then quits, the company is back to square one. Here they have this great self-starter who is taking on extra work, getting routinely complimented, excited about new training, etc That is like gold. If they lose you, that is a big waste. This "you're not smiling enough" nonsense? If they were lighting $20 bills on fire they could not be more wasteful.

Look, you are going to get your promotion. It might be at this company, it might be somewhere else. But there is no question in my mind that you are on your way to a better job.

I am sorry this isn't working out the way you'd initially envisioned. It is going to be slightly more work for you to hunt around for another job. But honestly, if you go elsewhere, the big loss is theirs, not yours.

Promoting you would be their best move. It's win-win. You're overqualified for where you are now, so you're not going to stick around as the front desk girl. If they keep you on in a better role, that is good for them because you are a known quantity and already trained.

We often think that, in the workplace, the employer has all the power. But it is just not true. Hiring someone is super expensive and risky. Hiring you was an investment that the company made. That investment is never going to pay off if the owner keeps acting the way she did. I feel sorry for her, and you should too. Maybe they can turn it around and keep you. If I were them I would certainly hope so.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2017 [16 favorites]

Also, up until all this happened, I really did like my job and my team and felt that anything was possible with this company. I just have been really shaken by this setback and feel horrible on a deep, soul level.

I think this may be part of what's sending your (very understandable) reaction into overdrive. You've essentially just had a bait and switch pulled on you. You were hired with the understanding that you were over qualified for the position and that you'd be moved to something different soon, and now they're coming up with excuses to renege on the deal.

You've done nothing shameful or embarrassing. You took someone at their word. In addition to being a poorly managed company, it's run by toxic personalities. This isn't something immediately obvious until you're in the thick of it.

I have seen some people hired for lower level positions with the promise of quick promotions where it actually happened. Usually it's because they need to learn a specific set of skills or knowledge base in order to succeed in their intended role, and there is a very clear plan for them to progress, with regular proactive check-ins to make sure they're acquiring the necessary skills. A healthy, well functioning work place wants to quickly move you on to the job you're a better fit for. The fact that the only negative feedback you've received came after asking about the promised promotion? At best they're incompetent. In light of the other hinky stuff, they're assholes.

Since you can't just flip 'em bird, you go into work Monday and play their game while you look for a new job ( I like culfinglin's You Incorporated framing). Everytime you start to feel embarrassed, remind yourself they're lying assholes and that's on them, not you. When you feel resentful, channel You Incorporated and remind yourself you're now just using them as a paycheck until a better one comes along.

If the extras you've taken on will build you a better resume, keep your focus on that: They obviously don't have enough of a problem with your demeanor to bring it up without prompting. Pay lip service to your boss and try to up the cheer game for phones (pretend you're a secret agent posing as the sparkly FO woman while you gather intelligence, promise yourself a small treat everytime smile, whatever makes you feel better about it), but like jenfullmoon said, this might be an unwinnable situation they're creating for you.

Basically, you're in a shit job through no fault of your own. Focus on getting a better one.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:53 AM on April 30, 2017 [14 favorites]

n-thing everyone else here.

Even if you just wrote about the promotion discussion I would think you were being treated poorly. You sounded like you handled your career advancement discussion perfectly. For a boss to walk back a promotion timelines on something as nebulous as "not quite nailing the pretending to be cheerful part" strikes me as either managerial cowardice or, more likely, a pretense for future shitty behavior. (And I'm saying this as a manager who is not usually super sympathetic to the employee side on these AskMe's.)

Then all the other stuff. It's not OK. It's horrible. Like each step in that process, including pressuring you to share personal stuff, let alone betraying your confidence, is wrong, and they chained it all together.

I wish I could give good Jedi mind tricks because you deserve them, to be not stressed by their stuff. Maybe knowing you are 1000 times better than these people can help. "Communication issues" with these people may be a good sign. They are signing your paycheck until you find a job with actual professional colleagues, but that is all.
posted by mark k at 9:58 AM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the "put up with it until you find a better job; walk away without a backwards glance" crowd. In the meantime, protect yourself by not talking about anything personal at work. When pressured, mention, "I like to keep my personal life separate. When I'm here, I want to focus on work." As needed, use variants like, "I don't want to dwell on my past" and "wouldn't want to bore people with personal trivia." (If pressured hard, start with an anecdote about babies or pregnancy. Let them know you have endless amounts of personal trivia that they really don't want to hear.)

When you list this job on your resume, ignore all the the details of the job description - list the aspects of it that connect to what you want to do. Don't mention phones or calendar work if that's not part of what you want; mention how you did documentation or project coordination or whatever. Mention the training, and describe it as "specialized course in [topic] to be able to [do thing you wanted to do]," even if you never got assigned that thing to do. In the "summary" section of the resume, put something about, "after a hiatus to focus on family, I am looking for a job in [topic]."

Start thinking about your current job for the parts of it that relate to the job you want - don't think of yourself as a receptionist, if that's not what you want to; think of yourself as a "project manager in training" (or whatever). And when interviewing for new jobs, tell them, "my official title was receptionist because that was the only opening upper management had, but much of my responsibilities were [things you want to be doing]."

And if you're in an at-will state, with an at-will job - when you interview for new jobs, tell 'em you don't need to give two weeks' notice. When they ask why you're looking for new work, tell them that the department you were set to move into has been rearranged, and management isn't sure that role will be open this year.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to work with people you can trust - people who don't lie to you, don't renege on promises, people who want to see you thrive and grow, people who want to work with your best skills. You may not be able to arrange that right away, but never, ever feel guilty for wanting it.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:19 AM on April 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

Check out this book, The Artist in the Office. It was a revelation for me when I was working as an executive assistant for several years and I was so desperate to make the jump to non-assistant work. I found this book by chance in a bookstore and opened it up to this page. Just by chance. It said "Shout out all the receptionists and admin assistants: You serve other people all day long. You deserve to make YOUR goals a reality, to work for YOUR career and actualize YOUR reality." or something like that, not sure of the exact text but that is the gist. It struck me like a bag of bricks. I began making a plan to make not a lateral move out of my job but to figure out a way to leverage my job skills to a similar, but different career path. Get this book, it is such an inspiration. It's not just for artists, but for people who are feeling underappreciated, uninspired and underutilized. It will crack your brain open. Good luck and screw that manager for sharing your personal story with others. That is just not cool.
posted by timpanogos at 10:19 AM on April 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Do not trust these unprofessional game-playing people with your emotions-- or career.

I have to echo what others have suggested; close up and exist at surface level while you look for other options. Stop pouring all your energy into this because it will never, ever pay off. Now you know. That's how you feel better come Monday's alarm: now you know what you're dealing with and that they can no longer take advantage of you.

The sexism is plain as day, but it's also really bad management. I'm a manager; I don't hire overqualified people unless there is truly a very clear path to their desired position. In fact, if I hired someone as "front desk girl" and they excelled at more complicated work but seemed out of place in the "smiling face" role, that would be even MORE reason to get them to the position they qualify for. (Oh, and I would never hire a "front desk girl" whose job it was to look pretty and pretend to be thrilled to get people coffee, but I digress.)
posted by kapers at 10:34 AM on April 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

ALSO if they had problems with your performance, THEY were supposed to bring it up as it happened so it could be addressed right away. It's not appropriate to blindside you with these vague allegations as a way to shoot down your ambitions. That's how I know this is piss-poor management. You do not want to stay somewhere this mismanaged.
posted by kapers at 10:38 AM on April 30, 2017 [21 favorites]

And don't feel too bad about the extra work you've taken on-- you can put that experience on your resume to prove your role and your skills and your initiative were greater than your title suggests.
posted by kapers at 10:54 AM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've got a lot to say about this. I started off thinking this was very similar to something that happened to me on Friday. I had my annual review, and I laid out my fairly comprehensive vision for the future of my career path, and my boss responded by saying, basically, "we'll see". But then I kept reading, and no, your situation is not like mine. It's much worse.

First of all, even if you get the promotion, how are you supposed to trust these people going forward? A breach of trust that serious is not something you can just get over, nor should you. It seems to me that your manager is an expert manipulator, and the owner might be as well.

Second, you're way too good for this company. You owned your own business. Business owner to receptionist is not a common career path (unless maybe your company was an answering service). Just by hiring you to do that kind of work, they're taking advantage of you. This sort of thing can work - a lot of people are underemployed. But in order for it to work, they have to realize the discount they're getting. They clearly see you as a receptionist, and nothing more. The only way for you to prove your value to them now is to go somewhere else.

Don't just quit. You're right that that's a terrible option. But you need to start your job search now. And I would not have a problem if you used company time and resources to look for other jobs.

Finally, here's what you do on Monday: Go in and type up a formal email making your case for the promotion, then ask the owner for a formal performance review in your current position. In this review, ask for goals and benchmarks you need to meet in order to be promoted. What you'll find is that they don't have any in mind, and when they try to come up with some, it will prove to you that there really is no pathway for you to move up. It's an illusory promise to make you work harder at the position you're overqualified for.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:59 AM on April 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree with all of the commenters above. If your management had any concerns about your performance, they had a responsibility to bring that to your attention in a timely manner, rather than pulling it out of asses as an excuse to slow-track your promotion. And the "not being smiley enough," which if in any way true seems obviously because you are not in a role that suits your strengths, is all the more reason to move you to another role. I am pissed off on your behalf just thinking about it, not to mention your management's totally inappropriate behavior around your trauma. You have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. *They* should be hiding their faces in shame.

In the meantime, just to manage your emotions and get through your work:
* Talk to someone you trust about what happened (probably not anyone from your office). Don't dwell on it afterward, but Brene Brown has a good point about shame being minimized when you tell your story to someone who cares about you.
* Start planning on and working towards your next job.
* When you aren't doing either of those things, give yourself a mental break from this situation. Go for a walk, play in the park with your kids, play Bejeweled on your phone, watch some silly TV. Whatever takes your mind off of it.
* If you're experiencing anxiety, this grounding technique might be useful.

Good luck to you.
posted by bunderful at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm basically repeating what everyone else has said, but

1) You've done nothing to be ashamed of, but your supervisor and the owner of the company definitely have--they pressured you to reveal personal trauma and then used it against you; they lied to you about wanting to give you an opportunity for a promotion and are just milking this opportunity to have you do more highly skilled work at receptionist wages.
2) You're right not to quit your job before you have another one, but you do need to start looking for another job because these people have shown they do not keep their word and arent thinking of you as an investment.
3) On your resume, when you list this job you need to focus on the higher level responsibilities and training you did in order to get you closer to what you want to do.
4) Never trust either your supervisor or the company owner with anything important to you ever again. And I wouldn't tell your other team members anything about your plans to leave, either.

Good luck. They don't deserve you!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:31 AM on April 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Go back to work and act as if you are the happiest person in the universe until you find that better job, then leave as soon as possible. Run! If they get in your path as you flee, run over or through them--they don't deserve any more consideration than that...
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 11:48 AM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Please don't let these people gaslight you and trick you into believing that their horrible behavior is somehow your fault, or that you should be ashamed of yourself for any reason. Those emotions you're feeling, the ones that say "wait this doesn't feel right" are the ones to listen to. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You were hired into the wrong position, it sounds to me like you've done a pretty great job in it despite that, they are revealing themselves to be untruthful and untrustworthy.

The worst outcome here would be you leaving this situation feeling it was at all your fault. It is not. You're great, go out there and find a company that appreciates your skills, and then quit this job and don't look back. Don't give them the benefit of your shame or worry. They don't deserve it.
posted by ch1x0r at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2017 [9 favorites]

(1) move past feeling shameful, stupid and self-conscious, knowing that various unidentified people apparently reported I wasn't being "happy" enough in my role at the front desk;
That one you can absolutely do. "Various unidentified people" equates to the immediate supervisor, who is a deceitful tool and can't be trusted. It's a load of complete bullshit; hop over it with a carefree laugh.

(2) become comfortable with the idea that my only chance at possible promotion means having to cut way back on all the higher-level work that supposedly was preparing me for said promotion, and just be satisfied brewing coffee and looking pretty and smiley at the desk;
That, too, is easy. As somebody above said, the promotion is coming--just not here because these people are assholes. All you need do now is continue exactly as you have been because the POS supervisor made all that shit up. Show exactly two more teeth in your smile and otherwise do exactly as you have done up to now.

and (c) possibly most difficult for me, get past the idea that my direct supervisor lied to my face, betrayed my trust, and pressured me into admitting things I really didn't even want him to know, let alone the owner of our company and anyone else the two of them might decide to tell?
That one's impossible. Skip trying to do it.

The solutions that come to mind (dropping every project that isn't directly in my "front desk girl" job description,
No, agree, don't do that.
limiting contact with my supervisor and company owner as much as possible
No, agree, don't do that.

Look, you didn't realize until this happened that these people weren't worthy of you. That doesn't mean you stop working excellently or drop your professional mien, just that you start looking for a workplace deserving of your excellence while continuing to supply this undeserving crew with it, all while smiling with the requisite two more teeth.

You should, of course, be free to come in there with a flamethrower and lay waste to the place, but since that's illegal, instead I recommend watching a lot of Bruce Lee movies and picturing your horrible garbagewad of a supervisor being slapped out of the world. Soon you will be free. Soon you will find a better place. You will never have to see their lying faces again.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:21 PM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Such great advice here. I would like to add that I want you to read all this advice, take a deeeep breath, and remember that we think you doing great. I know it's so stressful to find yourself here, but try to work through it and get to a place where it seems kind of humorous. I mean, here you've been doing SO MUCH and these idiots just want you to smile more. You work with idiots! And you have our permission to use all that energy you've been giving to the idiots and find a better job!
posted by raisingsand at 1:02 PM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I want to second everyone who explained that this is just really the opposite of textbook "good management."

The fact that the only negative feedback you've received came after asking about the promised promotion? At best they're incompetent. In light of the other hinky stuff, they're assholes.


if they had problems with your performance, THEY were supposed to bring it up as it happened so it could be addressed right away. It's not appropriate to blindside you with these vague allegations as a way to shoot down your ambitions. That's how I know this is piss-poor management.

And this:

it's also really bad management. I'm a manager; I don't hire overqualified people unless there is truly a very clear path to their desired position. In fact, if I hired someone as "front desk girl" and they excelled at more complicated work but seemed out of place in the "smiling face" role, that would be even MORE reason to get them to the position they qualify for.

I can see why you feel like you're in a tough spot. Maybe try to envision yourself as a spy undercover in enemy territory, playing the role while not believing the chummy stuff for an instant and secretly working furiously to get what you want (e.g., spend your lunch hour writing cover letters for other jobs on your smartphone).

As for the shame, well first, I wouldn't necessarily believe a word she said. It's awfully convenient to suddenly have a performance issue to raise with you. But suppose there was some truth in it. Being a receptionist is not your ambition, and it might also not be your strength, and accepting that might bring some peace. Also, it could be true that focusing on the next role you want is distracting you from nailing this role. I'm not inclined to give this person much credence, but I've seen it happen -- someone's desire for another role can create friction or even underperformance in their current role -- and so part of defusing the sting of shame could be taking on board whatever lessons do strike you as deeply true. There's a strange relief sometimes in just accepting some feedback.

That approach (internally accepting, "they're right, I'm not good at ___") can help with shame, because it forces the question "... So what?" Shame is different from guilt in that guilt is about an action ("I feel bad about not making the coffee this morning") whereas shame is about one's worth as a human being and member of a social group. But even if the feedback were true (which I'm inclined to think it isn't), you can still be a bad receptionist and a good person, a good mother, a good friend, and someone with a lot of professional skills to offer the world. Just because they don't have the management abilities to harness those skills doesn't demean you.

One more thought on shame. Brown explores what shame is, and what I've taken from that is that it's partially the fear of being ganged up against and cast out by society. Her citing anonymous feedback is so prone to creating that experience. But it's not true that everyone feels that way. The feedback you've received was authentic. If you find allies who can validate that you are cheerful (or that your supervisors are terrible), it will probably help.

Ugh, I'm so sorry that this happened to you, but best of luck getting through tomorrow. Exercise might also help, if you can find the time with your kids. Painful situations are more tolerable to me after I've recently endured a workout that made my muscles shake and my lungs burn -- having endured that pain reminds me I can get through the pain of a super awkward situation as well.
posted by salvia at 2:48 PM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I would start looking for jobs tonight. Clean up your resume, create a bunch of job alerts and get moving. That would instantly make me feel better knowing I was moving on asap. Also, as a special F-U, I'd highlight all the trainings I'd received (in my resume of course) and think about how they wasted their money training me since I was going to be headed somewhere else very soon. The best revenge is to live well. Feel free to feel smug tomorrow with this knowledge when you head into work.
posted by Toddles at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

This sounds likee something I've both seen and experienced myself. It's especially common with younger women on the way up, although I've seen it play out with PoC and LGBTQ individuals as well. My name for it is "kneecapping." Basically, the person in question is killing at their job, so much so that it annoys, intimidates, or otherwise troubles the people around them. Instead of recognizing their excellence, however, and clearing their path for success, these people are blindsided by criticism and attacked for non-quantifiable intangibles, such as "attitude", "being 'too strident', 'too assertive', or 'too bossy;'" not being pleasant enough, not being welcoming enough, not smiling enough, or cheerful enough or willing to take on extra work or whatever.

I'm not sure if this is conscious on their part (not that it matters), but the goal seems to be to put the recipient of these types of comments on the defensive, to shame them and make them worry, so they don't ask for or demand to be rewarded for their excellence. The goal is not to help people improve their performance. It is to"put them in their place" and cause them self-doubt and anxiety - which is the sign of a hugely toxic culture right there.

I mean how likely are you to ask for your promotion now? It sounds as if you're just stressing about walking through the doorway - and why wouldn't you be? You were running along, feeling happy and strong and positive, and now, it sounds as if you're doubting yourself and feeling terrible. Kneecapped.

Unfortunately, the only way I've seen someone manage through this situation is to hunker down and tough it out until their management changes - and given that the person who did this is the founder of the company, I don't know how likely this is.

I'm so sorry. You deserved far better than this.
posted by dancing_angel at 4:30 PM on April 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

One thing I started doing in that position was documenting when someone said I was cheerful or whatever, that I was a pleasure to deal with. Just in my work diary, or email, or whatever (emailing back someone who had verbally praised me with "thank you so much for your kind words"). A tip from my current workplace was after every meeting like this email the supervisor back with "this is what I understand the issues/goals/whatever to be" and then they have to email you back if that is not the case - I would suggest not saying "I am not happy enough" but something about "please provide me with concrete examples where X position description was not met so I can improve".

And GTFO please. That position ended up damn near killing me and absolutely destroyed that career path for me.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:14 PM on April 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I just want to reiterate what others have said about this being the company at fault for misleading you, not you misleading yourself.

Look, I took a "front desk girl" position almost two years ago, desperate for the job that my boss never should have hired me for. I went from managing 250 employees to reception. Seriously. I get it, and I get how shitty it is to recreate your professional self from the ground up. IT SUCKS. And I get how demeaning and frustrating being "the front desk girl" can be. Like the people who have their own offices but still use the reception space as an impromptu meeting space and then compliment you on how well you can focus on your work despite them. Or the person who, every morning, plops her tiny purse down on your desk and digs, digs, digs, digs for her office keys, because, wow, it's so hard to keep track of keys between 5pm and 8am every day. Or the people who have to giggle about why they're leaving the suite for literally three minutes (and then giggle about themselves when they come back in), nevermind the very important report with very important numbers you're trying to focus on getting right. The assumption they'll never say to your face is that your work cannot possibly be important, because you're the front desk girl. The problem here is that your boss/company owner agree with your coworkers about that.

My plan was to give it a solid year, and if there were no concrete advancement prospects, I'd use the job as a stepping stone over the burnt bridge of my former career, and start looking for something more in my range. Like you, I went in (teeth gritted, fake smile on), was a self-starter, jumped into projects no one wanted to touch, got training, and excelled, excelled, excelled. Unlike your bosses, my boss and his bosses said, "Hey, wait a minute..." I've been promoted twice, given two above-annual pay raises, and was given my own office four months into my job (part-time reception still). About a once a month, my boss checks in with me and makes sure I'm not looking to jump ship, because I'm still underemployed. My boss has laid out a very clear plan for me and told me, "Here are the people in charge of the company who know about this and have signed off on these plans." That's what an amazing supervisor does to cultivate a gift that somehow dropped in his/her lap, like you. Instead of cultivating that gift, your boss told you that you focus too much on your work.

That's kinda huge. You got chastised for appearing overly focused on your work...because the reception girl's work cannot possibly be important. That wasn't "tough love." That was the owner's bottom line on your career with them.

They're using you to get extra work done, and they don't intend to promote you, reward you, or compensate you for it. You do not have a foot in the door at this place; that door is as open as it's ever going to get. Your Monday plan is to update your resume and start looking for an organization that will pay you and reward you for your hard work. These places exist.

P.S. Someone above mentioned pretending that you are a spy. That is exactly how I made it through those first four months as the reception girl. Specifically, I pretended I was Natasha in Iron Man 2.
posted by coast99 at 7:24 PM on April 30, 2017 [12 favorites]

Practical advice and Jedi mind tricks for overcoming shame and resentment are equally appreciated . . . possibly most difficult for me, get past the idea that my direct supervisor lied to my face, betrayed my trust, and pressured me into admitting things . . .

I'm focussing on these parts, because I can very much understand how the crazypants behavior of your supervisor and the owner could lead you to feel negative and sad. But, whoa nelly, it is the two of them that look like absolute ninnies. Sometimes employees look back at certain situations and realize "Oh, that was a learning experience. I should have been more prepared to negotiate, I missed the clear signs, etc." But having to protect yourself against outrageous boundary-pushing, lying and bullying? Nope!

They showed you that they are not playing by any kind of acceptable rules and there is no need to beat yourself up for getting hurt by toxic and inept people. If it helps, imagine that you caught them stealing from a coworker's wallet, eating pilfered lunches from the work fridge or photocopying their butts. They made it awkward. They screwed up. They acted waaaaay outside of professional norms and you have nothing to apologize for.

I agree with the good advice above. Imagine yourself as a spy, a robot or whatever identity lets you move on and take care of yourself. Conjure up absurd images of these people as bumbling silent film villains, assign them stupid nicknames or any other thing that switches up the dynamic. They should feel embarrassed. They should feel mortified that they acted like jerks and without any points for style. They showed you who they are and now you're going to get the heck out of there.

Here's a couple concrete things that might help promote overall positive thinking:
- Read an advice column filled with support for people in all kinds of tricky (or weird) work situations. Ask a Manager is loaded with excellent advise for job seekers, stories of bad bosses and whackadoodle situations. Maybe some of the advice or stories will remind you of all your good instincts (taking advantage of training opportunities!) and help you plan for your future without these jokers.
- Soak up all the good you have in your life. You've got two kids who need and love you very much. Your workplace can't touch that. Moments of intense silliness, pets, hobbies, favorite songs, friends and family, good food, guilty pleasures and inside jokes are what's real and true. Your job is important, but it's just a means to an end.
- Remember that you just gave yourself a promotion. Oh, did you miss it? You now have a sweet side gig finding yourself a new job. Every moment of it is about making your future better. You've worked for yourself before, now you'll be doing it again part-time. It will be so worth it.

Good luck! You have a bunch of internet strangers rooting for you.
posted by annaramma at 11:06 PM on April 30, 2017

Wow, everyone - reading all of these responses is overwhelming in a really good way. You all have given me so much to think about as I buck up and head in for whatever awaits me at the office this morning. I can't thank you enough for the support and the practical advice, and I feel so much - well, less terrible than I did when I posted this. It had been a long time since I'd been on Ask and I couldn't be more grateful. Thank you all.
posted by justonegirl at 3:56 AM on May 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

This is them not you.

They blindsided you because they are a terrible manager and possibly terrible human being.

Don't be embarrassed, be angry. They used personal info against you. I'm very sorry you are in this situation.
posted by jclarkin at 7:37 AM on May 1, 2017

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