We all have to work for a living in some shape or form, and our employment generally gives us purpose and income to pay for the things we enjoy in life. In fact, most of us spend more time with our managers and work colleagues than our family, given the nature of work contact hours.
So, what if these relationships are beyond what could be considered normal? Naturally, there are always mixed feelings (some great, some bad and others so-so) toward certain people and groups within the office, and the whole rigmarole of office politics can go either way. But what if they are of a greater magnitude than this? Worse still, what if the negativity is from your boss- the very person your job and career in your current position relies on? Things become quite complicated in this scenario.
Personal examples: The boss conflict
I was, unfortunately, in this kind of situation early last year, so this content is coming from personal experiences and my actions, in the hope that benefit may come about from people looking for advice or answers. After all, the first thing I did was look online.
The gist of the story is, I was with an employer that I was with for years and really enjoyed. However it came to the point where it was time to move on and branch out to chase career progression, as most people do. Upon finding a suitably good opportunity, I jumped at it and, long story short, was awarded the position. It was everything I required at the time and looked like a fantastic opportunity. I lasted two months there before I left and never looked back. Why? My boss.
Without going into too much detail of the issue, basically, the role was pitched at a creative person with a flair for marketing and brand management, which is why I jumped at it; my boss, however, wanted an administration assistant. Therefore, in her passive aggressive way, she butted heads with me when I extended myself and took on extra roles, claiming that she only wanted me to do the very exact tasks she had allocated, in the exact way she wanted, even when I proposed several better alternatives and methods. As I said, she wanted an administrative helper, and not someone who could think and suggest.
The best example I could give is that a local magazine required an article from her about her recent, and complicated product line, to which the deadline was quickly approaching. She allocated me the task, knowing full well that my knowledge of the area, being a new employee, was fairly limited. So I got to work researching the topic, browsing all related Internet pages and searching the company’s literature to finally complete an article to submit. At my delight, the publication loved it and reported receiving an amazing number of visits and comments on the article. Regardless of this feedback, and the fact that the publication requested more from me in the very near future, all my boss could see was that it took me more hours than she believed was necessary to complete the task.
I waved this away, being personally happy with the result, especially because of all the good feedback I continued to receive about it and other tasks and assistance I was providing my colleagues. I even assisted my boss with her tasks and found ways to make them quicker and easier for her.
To avoid harping on about my personal situation, the point is, I discovered that this boss was, in fact, threatened by me. Whilst this isn’t the only reason people can find themselves in awkward conflict with their manager, the symptom was, we didn’t work together.
Stage One: Admit there is a problem
At this stage is the point where you need to admit it to yourself: something is wrong or off. As obvious as this sounds, it is often overlooked by the employee, even to the extent of trying to justify their manager’s point of view. This is NOT to say that you need to jump to conclusions, but be realistic about the situation. My experience was, my gut feeling was correct in knowing something was up, but I was in denial as I was a new employee and I felt that the issues were just ‘settling in’ pains, or that I was too enthusiastic and needed to find my legs first.
Then I realised: there is no such thing as ‘too enthusiastic’ to a worthwhile company; this lead to me concluding that there was an issue.
There are a few ways to approach this stage:
Stage Two: Sources of the issue
Discovering the problem, as above, is half the battle. Now that you know there is an issue, regardless of the situation or scenario, work out where it is coming from and why it is occurring. The absolute key to this stage is honesty- this cannot be reinforced enough. Just as before, remove the barriers of denial and pride, and clearly work out where the problem is radiating from. It could be you and something you said or did, it could be your boss, or it could be a mixture of both.
In my case, my manager was threatened, and, upon further thought, I found that it seemed to come down to the simple fact that her personality was one of those ones that didn’t quite click with mine. Although we didn’t bicker, she tended to use passive aggression be overly critical and focus on particular things, rather than see the bigger picture. As mentioned above, I was a new employee of a company that had several different products, all of a complex medical nature, which were foreign to me, making it quite frustrating when she became overly critical of my lack of immediate progress.
Note that, whilst sometimes it may be ok to ask people within the workplace for advice and questions to gain a better understanding of the background of your boss, etc., tread VERY carefully, especially if you are new. Unfortunately, no one can be truly trusted, including the H.R. department, and you may not realise where each person’s loyalties lie. You could end up alerting the wrong people too quickly, which could spiral out of control. The best advantage you have at this point is that only you know what is going on at this point- don’t risk that advantage by blurting it out, or WORSE, venting to fellow employees, as your boss and fellow team members may pick up the underlying issue and fan the flames, which could really work in your disadvantage.
So, again, whilst it may be ok to find out helpful information from within the work place, keep it fairly neutral, especially if you are new: don’t go burning your bridges and causing rifts, before you have a chance to plan. After all, you may find a way to resolve your issue with your boss, and you don’t want to prematurely blow your case out of the water.
Stage Three: Dealing with the symptoms and Action
So, to be honest, you have done the most trickiest stages by this point. Once you have admitted there is a problem and worked out its source, it is time to act.
This can go one of three ways. The first is, ‘ride the storm’, the second is ‘flight’ and the third is ‘fix and maintain’. Unfortunately, there is only one person that can determine the best course of action, given your situation- that is YOU. Whilst asking people around you may help you with their opinions and advice, only you can determine what is the best course of action. Just don’t rush your decision too quickly.
a) Riding the storm
Riding the storm is where you choose not to change yourself or anything as you view the conflict as simply ‘growing pains’ that will sort themselves out. Whilst this may be valid in certain situations, such as the having the hope of gaining respect or acceptance as you start to make a name for yourself, be wary of this option. Your boss has more power than you, and ultimately decides what your future is. If you feel the boss has serious issues with you or something you do, it may not actually automatically fix by simply continuing on.
Flight is, obviously, where you decide that the situation wont resolve, or the scenario is so frustratingly in disarray that it is best for all parties for you to pack up, give your notice and leave. Whilst this can be a fitting choice as no one wants to be miserable for most of the time in their weeks spent at work, the danger with this choice is jumping too fast. It is human instinct to simply decide it is too hard and retreat before they weighed up all the options. Ensure you consider as many aspects as possible before making this decision, including finding other positions after you leave.
c) Fix and Maintain
This is the most common option, as it allows you to use your previous information collected to find ways to make the situation better. In other words, working with your boss to find common grounds, and building the bridges between your issues and theirs. Sometimes, the most effective way is to be completely honest, and ask them for their feedback; often you know where the sore point is, so simply ask. If their response is, in your belief, valid, then there may be hope to make amends.
Whilst you don’t want to completely change everything to cater for your boss, come to a compromise. You may be surprised how well they respond, even to you trying to fix the relationship. Plus, the advantage of this option is, if things don’t go well after you try to take positive action, the flight option feels more justified, as you did attempt to correct the issue before you jumped ship.
This is what I did in my situation. I had a meeting with my boss a few times, to try and work out what the problems were with me. She told me I was too assisting of others, which was distracting me from my work. Whilst, I disagreed that this was a negative, as working with colleagues was something I believed to be important in relationship building within an office, and I managed my time quite well, she wanted a strict box around what my role was, versus theirs. So, I accepted this and tried to focus more on my role.
Another issue was, she was paranoid about image. She believed that all employees would judge her on my actions, to the point of telling me that she wanted me to leave my computer screen completely visible to all other employees that walked by, just so I could be seen to be doing work and no other activities. Again, I completely disagreed, as it is common work and confidentiality workplace practice to lock your computer when you leave your desk, however again, she insisted, and in order to keep the peace to work with her style, I agreed.
Unfortunately, it did not end there and, whilst I did my best to please her by meeting her prerequisites and requests, it became obvious that, in her mind, she had concluded I was too creative for such an administrative role, where she called the shots and didn’t want her team to think outside the box. I knew it and she knew it. Her passive aggression toward me got to the point where I was having trouble sleeping, thinking about what to do- which is NEVER, and I mean NEVER acceptable.
So, upon unsuccessfully trying to work through everything with her for the next month, and experiencing detrimental, negative physical symptoms, I finally informed the H.R. department of the issues, and handed in my resignation, effective immediately. The H.R. department did ask me for examples of her treating me the way she did, which I had an entire library of and did provide willing (which I suggest all people do, as it means you have a leg to stand on, should the boss decide to act before you do), however I did not wait for them to return to me with her response: I believed that, evidence exposing her behaviour would only make the situation worse, so I left before she had time to respond. It is ALWAYS best to leave on your terms, and not theirs.
Now, please remember that my situation may differ greatly from others, but the reason I added my experience was to give a realistic example of how the general information I provided, fits into a situation that actually occurred.
Goodluck to everyone who is reading this, and I hope that this article has shed some light on a very complicated and stressful experience that some of us are unlucky enough to go through.