I got these questions from Danielle’s blog Underland to Wonderland, where I came across a post in which she talked about the website Thought Questions and their 365 thought-provoking questions to ask yourself. My friends Katrin, Celeste and Jasmine have also been answering these questions, so be sure to go check out their blogs too!
Day 84: How do you deal with someone in a position of power who wants you to fail? I’m thinking this is a career-related prompt, and I honestly have some very long and complex thoughts on this. You could alternately title this post “Career advice: how to deal with a bad boss” (and trust me, I’ve got loads of it!).
Thought #1, because I’ve been there, done that:
Be sure of your relationship with this person and whether or not you’re reading them correctly. Also, ask yourself: am I, perhaps, just possibly, also being a bit of a pill? (Prickly in response to constructive criticism, etc.)
Case in point: for several months I had a boss who could be a bit of a jerk and also seemed kind of stupid at times. I felt like this person didn’t like me and was kind of running me into the ground with extra tasks just because they didn’t feel like completing them.
When I took a promotion and realized I’d be training side by side with this person for two months, I decided that while I couldn’t change their personality, I could change my attitude and try not to view them as an enemy. Once I did, I realized that, dragon-ish exterior aside, they really did know a lot about the job I would be doing and could teach me a ton if I was open to learning. I started to realize that all of the extra tasks they threw at me were simply their way of pushing me to learn and perform above my pay grade–they were just kind of crappy in their execution–and I’m now immensely grateful for that two month push, because it’s saved my butt countless nights. I also had to admit that I was going into work each night with a poor attitude in anticipation of their bad attitude, and was therefore simply feeding a negative cycle.
Today, I honestly think that a lot of their training is why I have such a good relationship with our head manager (the big big boss!); they taught me a ton of things that my other managers were not able (or willing) to teach me. I still think their personality could have used some tweaking, but in hindsight I realize that I created an “enemy” where there was none just because of a personality clash. Thank goodness I changed my tune.
Thought #2, for when #1 is not applicable:
You really have to assess the situation and be honest, not emotional, about what’s going on. It’s tempting to run to a higher boss and complain, but slow down and put it together like a court case. Ask yourself: is what this person is doing illegal? Unethical? Interfering with my ability to do my job? If so, what examples do I have, and how can I frame them with concrete language? Am I sure that s/he isn’t just annoying me?
- Good example: “I feel that my boss overloads me with projects on a very short time frame, and I’m not able to turn in my best work. When s/he does _____, it makes it very difficult to do my job to the best of my abilities. I’d like to discuss a solution that will let me maximize my quantity without compromising my quality.” Follow with a specific project example from a recent workweek.
- Bad example: “My boss gives me too much to do, and it’s not fair!”
Basically, make sure you don’t sound like you’re whining, and don’t accuse anyone else of not doing enough. This just makes you look bad. Also: be concise. My head manager wants concise explanations of problems, zero fluff, dithering, or drama. If there’s an issue, he wants a very straightforward explanation with firm facts: “My boss asked me to do ____, and I feel it’s unethical because _____.” Be prepared for feedback that you may not want to hear (going back to point #1, “are you also a pill?”).
Most of all, stay calm. Don’t raise your voice or, heaven forbid, do something like roll your eyes or swear. Professionalism should be paramount in your mind, even if you feel the other person isn’t being professional in return.
Thought #3, for when all other options have failed:
If your boss is honestly trying to make you fail, and you don’t think HR can/will help (or you’ve tried and gotten nowhere), you need to decide whether to seek new employment. It’s wonderful to say “quitters never win, and winners never quit” but I think you can set yourself up for a lot of grief by following that advice, so I would tell you to consider these bullet points:
- Will this person’s actions damage my reputation or my future career, or are they possibly illegal? (Versus merely being annoying.)
- How long have I worked here? Less or more than a year? (In other words, do I have an invested relationship with this job/company?)
- What benefits do I stand to lose? (Hours that let you go to school, a killer vacation package, etc.)
- Is this job just paying the bills, or is it a stepping stone to my dream career?
- Could I afford to be unemployed for a while (do I have six+ months’ living expenses saved in the bank)?
- What’s the worst possible thing that could happen if I leave this job?
In my job, the managers rotate every six to twelve months. By comparison, I’ve put in seven years at this job and now enjoy three-day weekends, decent health insurance, and three weeks’ paid vacation per year. That’s pretty swanky by almost any standard and I’ve worked way too hard for it to toss it out because a boss is making my life hard, especially when I know they’ll be gone within the calendar year. This job is also a good stepping stone to future management opportunities, within and outside of the company I work for, and it provides me with a pretty comfortable paycheck that I would be hard pressed to find elsewhere in my current situation. So overall, while I have had moments of feeling that my current boss tries to use me as a scapegoat, their actions aren’t enough to merit an official complaint and they certainly aren’t worth jumping ship.
By contrast, I’ll use a brief story about my husband. He had a boss who took a personal dislike to him and was actively looking to make him fail. He didn’t have a lot invested in the job, he had a good idea of his other employment options, and we knew we could afford to live on one income even if he didn’t find another job right away…so he quit. It was abrupt and a little odd but in the end it worked out for the best in ways we couldn’t have foreseen at the time.
Moral of the story: be honest, be objective, and consider your options carefully. It’s not easy to come to a conclusion when you’re in the heat of the moment and you’re angry. As I love to say, sleep on it!