Dear J.T. & Dale: My boss has been singling me out for abuse. He is young, bright, and experienced, but he flies into rages, yelling at me in front of co-workers and taking offense when none is intended. I believe he suffers feelings of inadequacy and fears that I’m smarter, better-looking, and better-educated. I love my work and want to stay. Should I try the nuclear option, telling him that I know he feels threatened by me? – Claire
J.T.: I don’t think confronting your manager is the solution. Simply put, you are a business-of-one, and your boss is the customer. Being confrontational could result in your losing your customer.
DALE: There are plenty of power-mad jerks in management, and dealing with them is an important skill. However, what has me concerned is that you are “singled out” for this maltreatment. Your response to his abuse – concluding that your fabulousness is threatening – makes me worry that you are unconsciously provoking him.
J.T.: I once worked with a man who also felt that his boss was threatened by him. I was asked to observe their interaction in a team meeting. As the manager conducted the meeting, the other employees were nodding and smiling and making suggestions, but my client sat stoic, with arms folded and a scowl on his face.
When the manager asked him for input, he simply said, “Whatever you want,” at which point the manager became visibly agitated. After the meeting, the employee said to me: “See! I agree with him, and he just gets mad!” To which I said, “I’d be mad at you, too.” I explained that he was radiating disinterest and disrespect, despite his words. I wonder, Claire, if you could unknowingly be doing something similar?
DALE: Instead of confronting your boss, try asking. Ask him what you could do differently to gain his trust and encouragement. Then, follow his suggestions, and after a week or two go back to him, ask how you’re doing. This puts the two of you on the same side and thus turns an enemy into an ally. Whether that works or not, you need to continually add new allies. Your job isn’t just your work; you need to learn and grow, and if your boss isn’t helping you, a find mentor and keep evolving anyway.
J.T.: Yes, you’ll need allies, because your boss is unlikely to change, and if you two can’t improve the situation, he may solve his problem by replacing you. You need to make sure you have plenty of other “customers” ready to take on your services.
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