A reader writes:
My team is currently under a ton of stress — and will be for the duration of the special project we’re working on through the fall — and it’s turned my boss into a crazy person.
Let’s put aside that she’s lost the ability to organize, schedule, or remember anything she’s been told more than 10 minutes later, in either verbal or written format. Let’s also put aside that she has actual meltdowns, where she yells or flips out because a piece of technology doesn’t work or she’s late or someone didn’t answer her call. Oh, and that she complains about her direct reports to other direct reports all of the time.
One could navigate those things, especially because once the project ends in 10 months, the team will be disbanded and the stress level will drop dramatically.
But here is one problem that I and some of my teammates can’t figure out how to deal with: She’s taking everything personally, projecting all of her insecurities on her employees, and wants to talk about her “feelings” all of the time. We get dragged into these exhausting conversations that can be either getting berated for an hour or feeling like we’re serving as her therapist for an hour.
Disagree on something? It means you’re calling her an idiot and speaking to her “like the hired help” and don’t respect her. (She said all of those things.) Try to apologize profusely that she got that impression and insist you don’t actually feel that way? She keeps insisting that she feels that way and you aren’t doing enough to acknowledge her feelings.
I want to tell her I could care less about her feelings and that we have a job to do. But that’s not going to help. I’ve tried walking on eggshells. Apologizing. Refusing to apologize. Nothing is helping.
There also appears to be a bit of gender politics at play. She is a woman. She behaves this way toward the women (myself included) way more than she does to the men who work for her. She’ll then complain to the women about the men being mean.
During the most recent explosion (which was an hour-long conversation), she kept insisting that I don’t respect her and that I only respect the boss a step above her (he directly deals with our team and manages our work on an individual level as well). I have insisted it isn’t true. Heck, I barely even speak to that boss! I don’t take my questions or work to him. But she’s projecting her own insecurities on me.
Should I just suck and up and deal with the fact that she’s going to be bonkers for the next few months? I would be inclined to go to the other boss, who I’ve got a great relationship with, but now I’m afraid she’ll just think that proves I don’t respect her. Is there some way to deal with this personality type that you (or a reader) can recommend?
Yeah, your boss sucks and is highly unlikely to change.
You could try saying something like, “Jane, I want to focus on the work we’re here to do and not how any of us are feeling about it.” You could try adding, “You ask the women on this team to have a disproportionate number of conversations about feelings, and I want to return to focusing on work.” If you’re firm about it and decline to engage, it’s possible that she might respect that. But it’s also possible that it will further enrage her and make your work life even worse. And really, even if it did get her to back off a bit on the FEELINGS FEELINGS FEELINGS, you’d still be stuck with a boss who has regular meltdowns and is fundamentally unable to manage.
It’s possible that she could change if someone above her leans on her hard enough, but it’s likely that there would be a lot of hostile behavior toward you and your coworkers during that process (although a really good manager above her would make it clear that was unacceptable and watch her like a hawk to make sure it didn’t happen, and would be willing to remove her from managing people if it did). So if you trust her boss to (a) have good judgment, (b) see that this is unacceptable and needs to be addressed, and (c) act on it in a way that doesn’t implicate you, and if you have pretty good standing with him, then yeah, you could tell him what’s going on. Before you do that though, be sure you’re willing to handle any possible fall-out from it. Again, a good manager will protect you from that — but less-than-good ones won’t, so you want to know who you’re dealing with.
Will that work? Maybe. My guess is that it might improve some of it (maybe the yelling, for example), but the fundamental problems would remain — because fundamentally she’s really not suited for the work she’s doing, at least not without pretty intensive coaching, during which time you’d get to bear the brunt of her learning curve.
So given that, the question for you is really: Are you up for dealing with this or most of this for 10 months, or would you rather get out sooner? And if you do put up with it for 10 months, how are you going to feel about working with her after that, even if she does put this side of herself away at that point (something I wouldn’t count on now that the dynamics have shifted like this)?