A mantra for dealing with difficult people
February 15, 2019 7:07 AM   Subscribe

What it says on the tin. I have a manager who lets her personal issues get in the way of treating her subordinates with fairness and respect. I need a short mantra to save my sanity and get through the days.

She gets passive aggressive in emails, ignores staff, insinuates that we don't do our jobs, and needs absolutely everything in writing. Everything is a CYA situation for her. She's insecure, thinks that her title is a license to wield power over her subordinates, and creates the reality that she desperately wishes to see.

Most recently, we had a medical situation in which I was the first responder for a coworker. In the wake of this unfortunate and stressful incident, she's blindsided by the responsibility she holds as a manager and taking her stress out on me.

I'm looking for a new job. In the meantime, what are some short one liners I can think to myself that help me get through the day?

Not my circus, not my monkeys comes to mind. Things like that.
posted by onecircleaday to Human Relations (31 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mom taught me a mantra that has gotten me through times with difficult people that basically goes "we learn [quality] from the [people who lack that quality]" - e.g. "we learn patience from the impatient" or kindness from the unkind, or what have you. It sounds like this boss of yours has a whole heap of qualities that she can unwittingly teach ...
posted by DingoMutt at 7:12 AM on February 15 [49 favorites]


"It's not show friends, it's show business" gets me through, even though I don't work in the performing arts anymore. I realize this is not a flattering quote from Jerry Maguire, but I have made it my own.
posted by wellred at 7:19 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


Here are three I use a lot

This too shall pass.

I hope she is able to find peace.

She’s having a really hard time.
posted by bilabial at 7:20 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


OK, I am not a Taylor Swift fan, but I still find it helpful to sing this line in my head in response to that kind of situation: "One day I'll be livin in a big old city. And all you're ever gonna be in mean." "Big Old City," of course, here, meaning your new job.
posted by nantucket at 7:22 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


"Being her is probably even more miserable than being around her."

I think radical compassion combined with an inner eyeroll is the way through this.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:28 AM on February 15 [35 favorites]


One we use in my household is "She's just a little kitty." My husband got really frustrated once with our idiot cat Papaya (rightfully so, she is very annoying despite appearing dignified and regal) and I said to him, "She's just a little kitty!" We realized almost immediately this also applies to all humans being annoying idiots out in the world. We are all just little kitties. Trying to do our best to muddle through, in our own ways.
posted by something something at 7:31 AM on February 15 [53 favorites]


"People make bad choices if they're mad, or sad, or stressed" -- Frozen.
posted by johngoren at 7:34 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."
posted by jquinby at 7:38 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


"F*ck'em if they can't take a joke".
posted by DrGail at 7:41 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


You are reading a lot in to her behavior. Let it go. You really don't know her motivations, you know her actions. You are in opposition to her, and that increases stress. Try to be on her team in terms of her objectives for the work, and try to have compassion for her as a person. HQ set some really high goals for this project; that sure is stressful for all of us. What's our 1st step?

Read the Shamu article What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage and follow it. Positive reinforcement when she does things that help. Ignore behaviors that don't help. Look for and pay attention to her good points.

Do not tolerate actual yelling, threats, personal attacks, or abuse. Learning to manage a prickly person is excellent life training. When she's difficult, try Not my circus, not my monkeys and, also from frozen Let it go. Be conscious of your breathing, and let go of stress and muscle tension as you exhale. Visualize leaving work, being in whatever your happy place is, and not even thinking about work.
posted by theora55 at 7:45 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I like to assume that everyone is doing their best in any given situation, and if it seems like they're being a butt, it's because of other factors in their life that I'm not aware of.
posted by ITheCosmos at 8:15 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Thank you, all.

@Theora: I realize that it looks like I'm reading into her behavior, and that I oppose her. What's really happening is that I'm juggling both sides of being compassionate while not letting myself get stepped on. Because....I'm getting shit on. I've watched her do it with others and now she's doing it with me. I continue to maintain compassion, fairness, and professionalism. She has no idea how angry and stressed her behavior makes me feel. She has no idea because I do my work and I am very careful to keep a professional demeanor. I honestly feel bad for her, but dealing with her is just so exhausting and depressing.

Thank you for the responses so far. They are very helpful.
posted by onecircleaday at 8:35 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


NMC,NMM is my favorite, and you've got that!

I sometimes think/say something like "and you have to keep on being you," i.e. that person is going to keep on Doing Their Thing, 24/7, and I get to be somewhere else. Even temporarily.

I may be reading into things myself, but when you say (paraphrasing) "I'm trying my best and they get away with being terrible," that's a way of linking your choices and life with theirs. Which is understandable, I don't mean to harp on you, but it can raise stress on top of what's already happening.

My spouse does that a lot (and is working on it); the pattern reminds me of "someone is wrong on the internet" from xkcd, even when it happens in real life.
posted by cage and aquarium at 8:56 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I'm glad you're looking for another job! Hopefully you won't have to put up with this for much longer.

This very funny, very NSFW song can be quite helpful. Sometimes I amuse myself by silently making up new verses that are appropriate to my specific situation -- it helps me both blow off steam and lighten up a bit.

"That's not under my control," can actually be really helpful to remember. This person's shitty behavior is their shitty behavior, it's not about you, and it's not your responsibility to fix.

Another one I've found useful is, "[Person]'s gonna [Person]." So if your supervisor's name is Mary, you'd say, "Mary's gonna Mary." It lets you see the behavior as being like bad weather, or some other unpleasant but impersonal force that you don't really have to get emotionally invested in. Oh look, is Mary freaking out at her subordinates and blaming them for her flaws again? Mary's gonna Mary. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Best of luck in your job search!
posted by ourobouros at 9:10 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]


It's a blessing that she demands everything in writing. CYA for her is CYA for you too.
posted by bleep at 9:39 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


My mom told me once when I was about 14

"Everybody is trying the best they can with what they have"

I've never forgotten it and it continues to give me perspective. And I tell people it all the time.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:00 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


And also the work mantra that my dad gave me is "Work is a war zone". It helps me keep perspective.
posted by bleep at 10:09 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


"They pay me to do this job; they don't pay me to give a shit about this job."

I work at home a lot. Sometimes I do it because a job has to get done. Sometimes I do it because someone else fucked up but the job has to get done anyway. Sometimes I do it because I promised something to someone but I fucked off on MetaFilter most of the morning.

I just got my review today, and my direct supervisor and her direct supervisor and two program managers that I frequently work with all commented favorably on my work ethic and how I'm willing to do work at any hour. But at the same time, if I have something -- anything -- else going on, I will tell any of them straight-up "I'm not available at all this weekend."

Because they pay me to do the job; they don't pay me to give a shit about it.
posted by Etrigan at 10:32 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


"What would Mr. Rogers do?"

If you can pause and take a breath and approach any situation with that in mind, you can deal with a lot.

Somebody has lost perspective and is being abrasive and/or controlling? What would Mr. Rogers do?

You can replace "Mr. Rogers" with any other figure you'd like to emulate, of course.

Conversely, there's a quote from The Wire that comes back to me a lot, from Bunk. "There you go, giving a fuck when it's not your turn to give a fuck."
posted by jzb at 10:34 AM on February 15 [11 favorites]


I use "focus on the locus of control" a lot. It's kind of gobbledygook, but it has a nice rhyme to it, and it reminds me that there are things I can control (my actions) and things I can't control (other people's actions) and I'd do well to focus on the former.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:37 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


"It sure is hard to be [her name]" got me through years of an awful manager. I tried to think of her as a ridiculous, melodramatic pre-teen who just can't help herself, and I dealt with her accordingly (without acknowledging how ridiculous she was, of course, since that really pisses melodramatic pre-teens off).
posted by xylothek at 10:51 AM on February 15


The way out is through. I use that a lot.
posted by oflinkey at 11:19 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


This isn't exactly a mantra, but the idea that when you have a horrific interaction with this person, it sucks, and then you get to walk away and probably every other interaction you have with every other human you encounter in a day is like... fine. Whereas EVERY interaction she has BY DEFAULT has a total a$$hole in the mix. Can you imagine how much it sucks to have EVERY SINGLE INTERACTION feel wrenching and full of drama and conflict? Ugh. So exhausting. Or, put another way, if you walk out the door and meet a jerk, that's one thing. If you walk out the door and every person you meet is a jerk - you're the jerk. Revel in the fact that you're not the jerk!
posted by dotparker at 11:27 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]


You only have to deal with a miserable asshole a few times a day. She has to live with one forever. Imagine how much it has to suck to be her...
posted by Jubey at 2:23 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I know that this might not apply as much if you have to see this person all the time and do things with her, but my private rule with the ONE of my coworkers who I honestly cannot stand is:

Do not engage.

So unless I HAVE to, for some reason, I just ...don't. If he is in the lunchroom, I do not eat in there. If he is in the hallway looking for someone to make eye contact with to talk at, I am busy with something else. I just try to stay away from him because I don't trust what will come out of my mouth.

If she is taking her stress out on you, for me I would try to only respond to the "action items" in what she's saying and not engage with the rest of it. Sorry you are in this pickle!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:30 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I've been there, with that coworker. I always use this saying from Point of No Return - I never did mind about the little things....
posted by silverstatue at 2:46 PM on February 15


A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
posted by saturdaymornings at 5:12 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


She's doing the best she can. Unfortunately, her best is pretty lousy.
posted by Dolley at 5:33 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


@something something.... Your cat looks *exactly* like my cat. And she is quite annoying (we love her of course). But yeah. Annoying. She's just a little kitty, though : ) Love that. Thank you.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:03 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I'm not sleeping with her and I don't owe her money, so I don't have to put up with her.
posted by TrishaU at 9:32 PM on February 15


" This is not about me. This doesn't have anything to do with me. This issue/attitude/perspective is a her-thing, not a me-thing"
When someone is being really hard on me at work, I try to push myself to treat them with more patience and love, as if they were a special part of my family and friends. Sometimes it just helps me to keep it together in the moment, instead of wanting to blow up at them/take it personally.
Honestly, this isn't about you at all.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 11:44 PM on February 15


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