update from the reader whose boss refuses to text her, even though he texts the rest of their team

by Ask a Manager on December 16, 2013

Remember the reader whose manager refused to text her, even though he texted the rest of her team regularly? His texting moratorium with her suspiciously started right after an uncomfortable incident on a business trip where he grabbed her phone and frantically tried to delete a text from it. Since then, he’d gone through all sorts of lengths to avoid texting her, including when it would have been far more convenient to. Here’s her update.

Though I hadn’t planned to, I did wind up approaching my boss about his weird behavior. The week after my question was posted, my company released a promotional app with a photo editing/sharing feature and everyone was trying it out. My boss messaged his photos to everyone else in my department, including our intern, but to share with me, he’d upload the images to his computer and email them instead (there’s no way he was confusing that process with messaging me from his phone!) I was so hurt that he’d go to that much trouble to exclude me from something that was meant to be goofy, and furious that he’d edge me out of the group “activity.” As I sat in my office listening to everyone laugh, I jotted down some of my thoughts and several examples of this affecting our communication and our work.

The next time the texting thing came up in a work-related scenario, I scheduled a 10-minute meeting with my boss and brought those notes with me. I guess my goal was to get his behavior out in the open between us, and get him to look me in the eye about this, if only for a minute. He claimed to only vaguely remember any the instances I mentioned, insisted there was no problem on his end, deliberate or accidental, and said things like “I had no idea you felt that way” and “but you are getting the information eventually, so you can’t say you’re out of the loop,” but didn’t acknowledge a “problem” or agree to any “solution.” A BlackBerry might be a possibility when they roll new ones out next year (in the mean time, IT has loosened their policies and we’re allowed to sync our email accounts to personal mobile devices. At least I have the peace of mind that I can access my work email that way if I need to.) He’s sure he has my number (and he has used it correctly, so I don’t think that’s the problem anyway). He didn’t get defensive so much as he feigned ignorance.

The only thing that changed after we spoke is that when it’s absolutely necessary, he will text me, but always with another person in a group message—even if the other person isn’t even at the meeting or conference we’re attending. It’s pretty clear that he perceives a trust or liability issue, but now that I’ve shifted my perspective, I recognize that this is all his problem, not mine.

I don’t know if I would have had that important perspective adjustment if I hadn’t written to AAM. You and your readers helped me a) validate the problem, when I’d started to doubt that my feelings were justified at all, and b) forced me to look at the whole story again, with a much more objective view. I’d gotten tunnel vision about the texting and forgotten how upsetting that tabletop tussle with my boss after his errant text message to my phone had been. Of course, that was the part of my question that many AAM commenters immediately picked up on, even though I’d practically glossed over it! “Reliving” that incident in the comments was exactly what I needed to do to process those feelings.

Every time my boss ignored my messages, emailed me instead of texting, or texted someone or everyone else in the department, I felt frustrated, miffed, excluded, and disrespected…and really silly for letting it bother me. I finally realized that I was also experiencing the shock, anger, discomfort, and confusion that I felt that night all over again. When texting comes up now, it’s still frustrating, but I remind myself that I have a legitimate reason to be upset about the root of the issue, and this ongoing behavior is just my boss handling his problem badly.

I also realized that I feel like I demonstrated my loyalty and discretion by letting the incident go and not going to HR or something, and I feel like my boss owes me trust, respect, and equal treatment in this area in return. So when he deliberately refused to text me, I felt like I was paying the price for his error and his completely inappropriate behavior.

The other thing I did that day while everyone else was playing with our company’s app was delete his name from my contacts. His number is still readily available in my call history or in my email, it just doesn’t have his name associated with it in my phone. It’s amazing how much better I felt after that! As soon as I took control of that tiny detail, I felt much less victimized. Symbolically, he’s not even worth naming in my address book. If he ignores a text from me or “copies” someone else for no reason, who cares? It’s not a person; it’s just “123-456-7890.”

I’ve also started calling him in situations where I’d normally text. He hates talking on the phone almost as much as I do, but I always keep my calls succinct and strictly business—just like a text message would be. If we can’t text each other, I’ve decided we’re going endure phone calls together. I guess that’s another example of taking back some control over the situation.

Finally, I want to thank you for posting my question and giving it a thoughtful answer, and to all the AAM commenters who drew my attention back to the much larger issue—if I had gone on ignoring my feelings about my boss taking my phone from me, I never would have been able to start coping the way I have. And that’s my advice for everyone else—when someone does something that just drives you up a wall, be honest with yourself about why it bothers you, and if there’s a larger issue under the surface, focus on that. Also, I think a lack of control is at the root of a lot of interpersonal problems at work. Sometimes the tiniest shift in perspective or behavior makes a world of difference. I’ve basically tricked myself into not caring (at least caring less) about this, but in this case, I’d rather play mind games on myself than let my boss play mind games on me!

As it happens, a new job may be in my near future, so please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Bookmark and Share

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Joey December 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm

So you never found out exactly why he freaked that night? Damn. I was betting he was cheating on his wife/girlfriend with someone who had the same name as you.

Reply

Anonymous December 16, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thats really the only reason to freak out or wrestle the phone away. I assumed he sent some naughty photos to her by accident.

Reply

Ethyl December 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I cannot even describe the level of hibbely-jibbelys I get imagining that. Once long ago, a volunteer drunk-texted my supervisor a very explicit text and it…..well, that person is no longer welcome to volunteer with our organization.

LW, your boss’s staggering lack of judgement is NOT your fault, and I think you are doing a really great job in handling it. GO YOU!

Reply

Zillah December 16, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Didn’t the OP mention that he’s gay in a comment on her previous post?

Reply

Twentymilehike December 21, 2013 at 1:41 am

Maybe OP has a unisex name.. .?

Aaaaand I just realized this post is four days old. Late to the party again!

Reply

Anonymous December 17, 2013 at 6:51 am

^This. I went back and read the original post. WTH is that?! Who does that?

Reply

The IT Manager December 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Great update that didn’t end with “I got new job.” Although that may eventually occur, you really took control to resolve the problem and when that didn’t work are now deal with your boss’s weirdness as his weirdness and not as something that is your fault. That’s really hard to do, and it’s awesome that you did.

Reply

Mena December 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm

You handled this well; and keep reminding yourself that this is his problem and bad behavior and not yours. Fingers crossed that a new opportunity helps you move away from him.

Reply

belle December 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

If it was a naughty pic, how come the manager was ok with the coworker (who deleted the text) seeing the message?

Reply

a.c. December 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm

In either the original post or this one, the OP mentioned that she is the only woman on the team (I think in the comments). I would bet $$ that it has a lot to do with that.

Reply

Kerry December 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Totally agree – there was a perception of “the bro code” going on there.

Reply

TK December 16, 2013 at 4:39 pm

She also mentioned that the boss is gay, which makes the “same name” infidelity-related scenarios less plausible (though not impossible). She did say she felt the gender dynamics probably played a role, though.

Reply

some1 December 16, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I don’t mean to make the LW more paranoid, but he could have texted her by accident because it was *about* her.

I know of two instances of that happening to me (I got an email once that I think was about me) and a friend. My friend was going to text her brother something catty about their cousin, but because she had Cousin on the brain, that’s whose name she typed in.

Reply

Ruffingit December 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Yup, heard of that happening as well and is definitely something to consider!

Reply

OP December 16, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Oh, trust me, I was already worrying about that possibility even as I tried to clutch my phone away from him. I’ve been really strict about not letting myself imagine that scenario in too much detail; it would have shredded my confidence. When it comes down to it, the content of that message is far less a concern than the outcome I’ve been dealing with since.

Reply

fposte December 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm

That is an excellent way to approach it and tough to do–very impressive.

Reply

Not So NewReader December 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm

In all likelihood, it was probably something that you would not have cared about. Meaning that it had nothing to do with you personally or professionally. That is how these things usually end up. Keep doing what you are doing- refuse to wear his paranoia for him. You are right- he created this problem, not you.
He sounds like a very tall five year old child. He got caught doing something he should not have been doing. Once he finally stops that behavior he will start to relax around you. You remind him that he must be professional. I am sure he feels very conflicted on the inside.

Reply

Bea W December 17, 2013 at 7:06 am

I wonder if he’s texting things that could be construed as sexual harassment, or the fact that he never texts her solo and she’s the only woman makes me wonder if he’d ever been accused of sexual harassment. Texting others while texting her seems like CYA insurance.

Reply

Mallorie, the recruiter December 16, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I bet anything that the text was something he didn’t want you to see, and he is afraid to ever text you again for fear that message will appear in the chain even after being deleted. The fact that he acted nonchalantly about it when you confronted him makes this even more likely.

Reply

glennis December 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Ah, that makes sense. Otherwise, I could not figure out why he doesn’t text her.

Reply

Sionainnigans December 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Oh, great insight, Mallorie!

Reply

Adam V December 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

But if it’s in the chain, wouldn’t it still show up when the OP goes into the thread to text her boss (which she hadn’t stopped doing), even if her boss didn’t text back?

Reply

Ellie H. December 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I think this is generally true, but I think there can also be weird phone things that might resurrect a deleted thread. I have a BlackBerry so unless you expressly “save” a text (has to be the individual message, you can’t save an entire thread or automatically save all messages from a particular contact – so annoying) it eats them after 30 days. However, a couple times I have got those automatic texts from Southwest and it resurrects earlier messages in the thread. Super weird. I would definitely not expect it to happen, though and it sounds like the boss doesn’t either due to the fact that he has reluctantly texted her a few times since.

Reply

pws December 16, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I thought she specified that the boss will only group message with her, which I assume is his way to get around that?

Reply

Cruella Da Boss December 16, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I guess that I am just old. I don’t see why this is a problem. Being completely left out of the loop seems like more of a problem to me than not getting it on my phone.

Reply

Yup December 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I’d summarize it as “why are you suddenly and inexplicably treating me differently than every other member of the team, and thereby creating unnecessary obstacles for me trying to do my job.”

The example that struck me was the OP texting the boss about an urgent meeting change (which was standard operating procedure within the team), but the boss would then reply via email which the OP couldn’t retrieve til she was back at her desk. And he only did this with her. It’s like when one person routinely “forgets” to invite you to a key meeting.

Reply

Lacey December 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I agree, its the inconsistency, and the fact that the time delay of an email compared to a text genuinely makes her life difficult.

Your boss sounds like an idiot, frankly.

Reply

Cruella Da Boss December 17, 2013 at 8:24 am

But didn’t she say that she could download her emails on her phone?

Reply

Camellia December 17, 2013 at 8:48 am

Yes, but that is a new development.

Reply

ella December 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm

I think it’s more the lack of respect/trust/equal treatment that the lack of texting represents, not the lack of texting all on its own.

Reply

Jazzy Red December 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

ella, you are completely on the money!

I was an administrative assistant/secretary for most of my working life, and I’ve worked in many situations where I was the only woman. I was treated as less than a full team member on some of them because I was female, and few because I was a lowly admin. OTOH, I was, some teams treated me as a valuable member and an equal. Guess which type of team I preferred to work with?

Being treated worse than the rest of the team is a form of discrimination, and it takes a toll.

Reply

LabRatnomore December 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm

More than any other crazy person that has been on this site, I really want to know what is going on in that manager’s head. As silly as it seams on the surface to not get texts, it really is a big deal to treat one employee so different from the rest. It amazes me that the manager doesn’t get that, even after they had the meeting. I would not want to work for that guy.

Reply

Anonymous December 16, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Me either. I understand him being scared hes going to send her more dick picks but its not hard to change the names in his contacts. Tammy(wife) and Tammy(work). Done.

Reply

mollie December 16, 2013 at 4:45 pm

My thought on the manager not texting is a jealous wife who goes through his phone. My manager deals with this from his wife regarding one person in our company. Anytime this person name is mentioned around my manager’s wife, she goes on a jealous tear, checking my manager’s phone & email, texting me (the office admin in a 3 person office) asking how many times this person has called/emailed/spoken with the manager. It’s awful. My manager has enough of a backbone to ignore his wife and carry out the business that needs doing. (the target of the jealousy works in a different office and my manager has only met her 2 times in 20 years) but I can see some people cowing to their jealous significant other and not texting to keep the peace.

Reply

Adam V December 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

> My manager has enough of a backbone to ignore his wife and carry out the business that needs doing

Not enough of a backbone to tell his wife “unless you have a legitimate work-related reason to contact her, you need to stop asking my admin probing questions about my coworkers”, apparently.

Reply

some1 December 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm

+1

Reply

mollie December 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

Oh, he has told his wife repeatedly to leave me out of it. Other than me changing my cell #, he can’t do much about her texting. I have gotten very good at deflecting her or flat out ignoring her questions.

Reply

Ruffingit December 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Or cowing to their abusive spouse. I’ve seen that one personally where someone is very carefully about who they text and call at work or otherwise because they will be punished for it. Sad, but it happens. :(

Reply

Windchime December 16, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Yep, I’ve seen it too. I had a co-worker who couldn’t even be seen sharing a ride to a meeting in a different building with a man, because her husband would flip. God forbid she walk to coffee with the “wrong” co-worker.

Reply

Anonymous December 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Yes, and the abused party could be a man or a woman (semi-replying to the comment above about the man lacking backbone)

Reply

Ruffingit December 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

Indeed. That is why I say abusive spouse rather than abusive husband. It can absolutely be an abusive wife as well.

Reply

PPK December 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

For every time the OP is dealing with the lack text and weird machinations to work around it…think of all the headspace this is taking up for the manager. Constantly paranoid about texting. Probably obsessed with the original Text Incident. Spending his time figuring out how to not text. Playing innocent about it. Wondering if the OP is going to pull the Text Incident out as black mail someday.

I think when the OP gets down about this — she should remember and be amused (because sometimes all you have is humor) by the crazy cartwheels the manager is doing.

Reply

Ruffingit December 16, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Good point. Interesting how this has actually backfired on this guy. Presumably he’s trying to avoid whatever the original impetus was for this by not texting the OP. However, by not texting her, he’s shining a spotlight on the situation. He’d be better off to just move on from this nonsense, especially now that she’s called him on it.

Reply

Hcat December 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Imagine how much more productive the Op would be without all this BS from her boss. Why can’t some in the workplace just be normal, so much BS…

Reply

Ruffingit December 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm

And how much more productive the boss would be too!! So much work just to avoid texting her. Sad.

Reply

Clever Name December 16, 2013 at 11:40 pm

This is so bizarre. I hope things get better for you.

Reply

Leave a Comment

If you'd like your picture to appear next to your comments, just upload a picture at Gravatar.

Previous post:

Next post: