Dear New Shrink,
I have been in my current role for about two years. During this time I have worked for three different managers. My new boss is good at his job but he is quite passive-aggressive in his management style. He frequently ignores situations and problems that are occurring in hopes that things will go away rather than bringing them to the surface and dealing with them. He often takes control of projects but then blames others on the team (myself included) when things do not go right. On other occasions when issues happen he will make a negative comment such as “wow, you really did your best work on this one, huh.” His behaviors have made the workplace a difficult place and one where I no longer feel as though I can thrive. I need your advice on techniques to handle this difficult personality in a way that will not sabotage my career or performance review.
Dear Frustrated Employee,
Dealing with a passive-aggressive boss can be difficult. The most important part is that, despite the temptation to respond with equally negative comments or reactions, you remain professional at all times. As much as it is possible, try not to take their comments or actions personally. It may be helpful to recognize that the behaviors may be a result of that person and their style of handling stress and difficult situations.
Have others on your team mentioned similar issues or problems? It may be helpful to take an inventory of how your boss treats others in the office. Watch his interactions with others during staff meetings, casual events, in the hall and when working on specific tasks. Observe how others interact with him and if there are specific strategies or comments that tend to receive the best reaction. You may be able to ask others about their personal interactions and if they have any advice for the best way to communicate with your new boss.
If it appears that you are the only staff member experiencing this behavior, it is worth taking time to reflect on your behavior and interactions in the office. Adjusting to three different supervisors within a short period of time is no easy task. Take time to reflect on the ways you like to communicate with others and the supervision style that has worked best for your work flow. Upon reviewing your interactions and communication styles you may find areas that are specific triggers for your supervisor or areas where you can both improve to build a more effective working relationship. Whenever possible make sure that there is written documentation of your projects, assignments and interactions.
A conversation about expectations and work style may be in order. In some cases passive-aggressive comments come about because there is a gap between what the supervisor has been able to explain to his team and what he truly expects. Asking detailed questions about his work style and his expectations for you and your work may provide an opportunity to better understand what he is looking for. Some managers are great at explaining what they are looking for and others need a little coaching. Be mindful that you come from a place of wanting to do your best work as opposed to telling him what is not working. While it may feel strange to “manage up,” you may find that taking control of your working relationship provides you with better results and a more comfortable work environment.
While you may not have much control over who your working supervisor is, you do have control over seeking other mentors within the company. Consider professionals in more senior roles within the organization and see if there might be an opportunity to secure a mentor in another department or division. Seeking out a trusted mentor may be a great way to view firsthand the skills necessary to advance to the next part of your career despite the tensions with your current boss. Keep in mind that a mentor is there to provide guidance and advice as you build your career but should not serve as a person to vent to about your frustrations with your current boss. The energy you put out to others may impact how others view you.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M. is a Santa Monica based professional career counselor who holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia Universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!