Is my relationship with my boss beyond salvage?
August 20, 2007 1:16 PM   Subscribe

How to handle a relationship with my boss that has deteriorated beyond salvage?

Apologies for the length of this in advance. This is my first post to Ask-me. If mods feel it is treading on already-ploughed ground, please feel free to delete.

I need advice on dealing with my manager, my relationship with whom has deteriorated beyond what I believe is salvageable.


My boss is a micromanager, is obsessively detail oriented, edits absolutely everything I do in the office, including my email and my phone conversations. Small mistakes on my part are blown out of all proportion (such as neglecting to make a correction to a text; said correction was indicated by a question mark pencilled in the margin), mentioned on my most recent performance review, then held up as the reason why my requests for more challenging work, new projects, and opportunities for on-the-job training are turned down. Although she hasn't said as much, the implication is clear: since I am so clearly prone to making mistakes, I can't be trusted with anything, ever again.

Speaking with her boss (asking for opportunities for new assignments, not complaining or mentioning my problems with my boss) netted me the impression that I was speaking out of turn, that to "want more" than what I had already was somehow going beyond the pale.

She didn't compete for the job she has, she was brought in by her boss' boss. She sucks up big-time to her boss and boss' boss, and claims that the only thing she is concerned with is making them look good. I get the impression she is terrified that they will be unhappy with her work and she will somehow lose favour with them or something. Her boss is terrified to say anything to her, because the boss' boss brought her in. The boss' boss thinks she's wonderful because of her detail-orientatedness, and presumably does not see how she treats others in the group.

She is highly emotional, which colours her interactions with people in the office. In a good mood, she is a mellowed-out version of "OMGIloveyourshoes,letsbeBFF"! In a bad mood, she feels free to yell at and make accusations to anyone (of a lower rank than herself) within earshot.

She appears to have the attitude that she has earned the right to be treated with respect no matter what, and often treats subordinates (even those that don't report to her) like crap, snapping her fingers at them like they were a pet dog being called to heel. She has a poor reputation among other employees in the group, as she is perceived as incompetent in all but a writing/editing capacity, but no-one is willing to say anything because of the fact that she and the boss' boss are good friends.

I've really tried to keep an open mind about this, reminding myself that she is basically a nice but insecure person, and that we all have our moments where we are not at our best and treat others badly. But I have had it - once she started making humiliating remarks about me in front of clients, I went way past the stage of "sucking it up", smiling or making nice. Emotionally and psychologically, I roll up like a hedgehog whenever she's around, protecting myself from her psychological assaults and presenting nothing but bristles. I do this as a knee-jerk reaction; which I am trying to keep a lid on. At best, I deal with her civilly but coolly, and I keep my distance as much as possible.

Her rapid-fire mood swings (and resulting behaviour changes) have reduced me to a squishy mass of nervous twitches. I have started putting the feelers out, looking for other work in the same organization, but in the meantime, I somehow have to deal with this lady! Help!
posted by LN to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken to the HR Director of your company? Have you documented such incidents in which she has demonstrated unprofessional behavior? If not, please do.

In the meantime, look for another job.
posted by onhazier at 1:26 PM on August 20, 2007

I really think the right way to deal with this is to get away from it. She's not just difficult to work with, she's sabotaging your career. You've described a chain of command that's not going to do anything to her until she makes a mistake so big she can't blame someone else, and one of those possible mistakes is running off a bunch of employees.

You can try documenting, but seriously: she edits your emails. Life's too short.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:31 PM on August 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

Hey LN. I feel for you and agree with onhazier that you should look for a new job. But, in the meantime, you may want to edit your MetaFilter profile so that your real name and real location aren't there. You never know who may google you.
posted by k8t at 1:34 PM on August 20, 2007

Response by poster: Hiya K8t, thanks for the excellent advice. Will do right away...
posted by LN at 1:36 PM on August 20, 2007

She obviously isn't manager material, and her apparent lack of any management training could possibly reflect her higher-ups as well. It can be very difficult to move up in situations like these where you either become one of them, or you're the arch-enemy of them.

There are plenty of jobs out there where you'll get treated better. Leave as soon as it is convenient for you.
posted by skwillz at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2007

In a rather similar situation I found Is Your Boss Mad? useful. Best of luck.
posted by paduasoy at 1:41 PM on August 20, 2007

I had a slightly similar situation – micromanager, needless edits…and lived to tell the tale.

Basically, they were hired for a job I was qualified for but I was turned down to apply due to the length I held that position – blah blah blah. I tried so hard to look past it the lack of knowledge and the time it took for them to get up to speed that it got to the point that every time we met (sometimes we had meetings 2-3 times a day!) it ended with a yelling match.

I finally went to my boss’s manager, who was an amazing director, and the advice was “we needed to work it out”. YUK – the opposite of what I wanted to hear! Long story short I had to change the way I worked with this person and in as few as 2-3 months I finally acknowledged them as my boss and went to them for boss type issues as I now respected that person.

Moral of the story: low man on totem pole sometimes needs to modify the way they work…crap rolls down hills – despite what every management book says about being a good manager and modifying the way they work in some instances we need to suck it up.

By my willingness to make things better (I DID NOT TOTALLY BEND OVER) my manager actually changed a bit as well and championed a promotion for me!
We ended up being a good team.
posted by doorsfan at 1:46 PM on August 20, 2007

At best, I deal with her civilly but coolly, and I keep my distance as much as possible.
This is in fact the solution, while you look for another job.

I myself am a difficult person to deal with (that's why I decided to go to work for myself-- now I don't inflict myself on anyone!). So I'll tell you what works with me.

Rule number one is don't take it personally. I have a client who micromanages. I basically stopped giving this person things that are proofread, because if I hand her a perfect document, she starts marking up things that aren't wrong, and then I have to redo it anyway. She is never going to stop doing this. What you have to do is call her on her public criticism. In public say something like "that's why I had you proofread it. It's impossible to proofread one's own work." (This is true by the way.) Then in private tell her that her criticizing you in public undermines your ability to perform your job. If you want to mess with her, have a superior or someone of equal status proofread the work before you hand it to her. Then when she hands it back, say "well gee your counterpart said it was fine! I gave it to her first so I wouldn't waste your time with an incomplete document!"

If there are any projects that you can complete without her input do it. I never heard of a job where every single item really needed to be dealt with by the boss. So if it really doesn't affect heirarchies, or work flow, or legitimate status issues, just bypass her. If she says "where's the such and such project" just say, oh it's done, we're waiting for the results. But man, you better make sure that project is letter perfect!

I also think you are well within your rights to refuse to let her proof your emails and that you can tell her so in so many words. "This is personal business correspondence that aids my work; having you vet every one of them interferes with my ability to do my job." Then hold your ground.

One of the best ways to deal with difficult people (I know this because it works on me), is to SAY NOTHING. Look them in the eye, nod and make noncommittal noises until they stop talking and come up for air. Then ask what you can do RIGHT NOW to help the situation. Then don't say anything until they answer. This works unbelievably well on bluster. If there isn't really a problem, or there isn't really a solution, eventually they figure it out, as long as you say nothing. Don't justify, don't rationalize, don't explain. She doesn't care what you think anyway.
posted by nax at 1:47 PM on August 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

Deal with her by reminding yourself that you get to go home and get away with her. She has to live with herself 24/7. That might give you just enough of a superiority complex to let her criticism bounce off of you. And definitely look for another job. The situation is not salvageable.
posted by happyturtle at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2007

(Metafilter profiles don't show up on Google. They're only visible to other Mefi users.)
posted by neckro23 at 3:25 PM on August 20, 2007

Wow, you must be working for my old boss, right down to the LetsbeBFF stuff. Are you in marketing?

Unfortunately, the only way we got rid of her is because she was discovered to be "improperly using company resources" - i.e., using our vendors for personal projects, and having them billed to the company.
posted by desjardins at 4:13 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

A lot of managers are like that. And this is not what you want to hear, but sometimes that's what it takes.

I am the opposite of that by nature, but I'm finding more and more that the things I figure are "good enough" without my minor change come back to haunt me later. Or the things I figure are simple enough to not personally check on, that I took someone's word for was done correctly - yeah. Wasn't.

Detail-oriented people get results, at the expense of infuriating people that work for them. Your boss may be an extreme example, but there's only one way to fix it. Do your best to make her look good at all times. Try to learn the way she likes it, instead of resisting. I've been doing this a long time, and often I get an unexplainable gut feel about something and want it done a certain way, or worded just so. Sometimes later I remember why. Sometimes not. I'm sure it looks ridiculous to some of my people. Know what? I don't care. I try to explain myself when possible, and really try to get that all out there before the work is done the first time, but I don't always succeed at that.

People like that are either born assholes, or more likely, they've just been burned too many times to let anything go. Often you'll find that they're criticizing you right and left, but behind your back they're telling their boss (and actually believing) that they couldn't live without your excellent work.

If not, DTMFA.
posted by ctmf at 4:32 PM on August 20, 2007

Short ver: get out NOW
Long ver: if you email me -- shannon@ (domain)
posted by at 5:16 PM on August 20, 2007

If I didn't need the job, I would probably play the incompetent role which she designed and introduce lots of small, essentially unnoticeable flaws in all the pointless material that she reviews just to generate a big workload for her. It would keep her sense of being useful going, and be endlessly entertaining when she blew up at a superfluous comma. This requires you to not take the job seriously and to regard psychological dysfunction as funny.

If you think that she is holding back your career (check) that she is unreasonable and will not stop (check) and that there is nothing reasonable which you can do to appease her (also check) then you need to leave and find a manager who isn't sabotaging you with her neuroses.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:25 PM on August 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all your advice and help, everyone!

Ctmf, thanks also for the view from "the other side of the desk". I understand your advice, but the incident with the missed error correction happened when I was four months on the job; and boy, it's hard to get a bead on what a manager wants at that early stage!

Wish me luck, everybody!

I do believe there's a song or two waiting to be written about all this.
posted by LN at 7:01 PM on August 20, 2007

Do all of her direct reports feel the same way?

I'd get out of there, even if I had to go work for a different company, but there may be other options.

Nekro23, name in profiles still show up when you are not logged in.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:57 PM on August 20, 2007

It is probably past this stage, but the way I stop these things from feeling personal is to respond to the way they should have been said, not to what was said.

eg. "You idiot, why didn't you fix this, my career is ruined"

Response: Oh, I didn't see it. Sorry, I'll fix it now and apologise to the client.

Somehow, because I responded to the polite version of what was said, I don't remember it as an attack.

And collect written evidence of this bullying, to back up any future claims.
posted by kjs4 at 11:01 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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