my new boss is hard to work with

A reader writes:

We have a new department head, who is my new direct manager (previously there was no one person supervising this group). Since she’s arrived, we’ve had problems with her understanding of how our existing procedures work. If you say, in a perfectly neutral or even friendly tone, “normally when this happens, this is how we handle it,” she either says she does not have time to do it that way, she does not want to do it that way, or even “I have been in this for thirty years and I’ve never handled it that way.”

Now, I realize that some of our procedures may be different than what she’s experienced in the past, and I’m not saying our way of doing things is perfect by any stretch. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get things done related to the departments she’s initially responsible for because there is consistent and inflexible push-back to every request or suggestion.

Just this morning I emailed her to remind her that we had a particular item that needed to be done today so we can push out tomorrow. I even took pains to frame my question as “do you want to do this?” and when she said yes, I said, again, in a very neutral tone, “thanks for letting me know. If you would, please just get that to me as soon as possible, as it takes some time to filter, enter, and apply.” Her response was basically she was preparing for a meeting tomorrow, and that meeting was her priority.

I will grant you, this company has a tendency to put things off until the last possible minute. But this meeting tomorrow has been planned since before she ever came on board with us. It has literally been on the calendar since last October. It’s been talked about since our last large meeting. It has not snuck up on anyone. Neither has this other project, that normally has a very high priority. If she is ever asked about getting something in by a particular deadline, her response is an almost-automatic “I’m too busy for that” or “I have too many interruptions, and I cannot get that done.”

I’m supposed to be the assistant for her area of responsibility. I have tried to offer assistance, to bring things to her attention before they’re due, and I have consistently been ignored, or told in a very pointed way that she already “has too many interruptions.” She can be hard to read because she always smiles and laughs, no matter what the topic of discussion is, or how busy she’s trying to tell you she is.

How do I deal with this? It seems every suggestion I’ve come across before has not really worked.

I can’t guarantee this will work, but it’s probably the best way for you to proceed:  Try things her way. And not a fake, not-very-sincere effort, but a real one: Genuinely decide in your head that her way, while different from the past, might be completely fine.

The thing is, there are two possibilities here:

1. She’s making really bad decisions. If this is the case, hopefully someone above her is going to notice. If not, you probably can’t fix the fact that she’s a poor decision maker … and meanwhile, she’s your boss, so she does get to set the priorities, even if they seem crazy or totally wrong. Or…

2. She’s not making bad decisions at all — she’s bringing a different approach/focus and her boss is actually happy about that.

From where you’re standing, it can be hard to know which one it is, especially in the beginning. And either way, she gets to set the agenda for your department, until someone above her says she doesn’t. If you fight that, at a minimum you’re going to be unhappy, and probably not successful there. So your best bet is to try giving her the benefit of the doubt until it’s clear that you shouldn’t. (And at which point, what do you do? You can’t force her to do things a different way — so then you decide if you want to keep the job under these changed circumstances.)

For what it’s worth, I once hired a new department head to replace someone who had been well-liked. The new person had a very different way of doing things, and that was deliberate — that’s why we had hired her.  While the former person had focused on A, B, and C, the new person had more expertise in D, E, and F, and that’s where she focused — and that’s what we wanted. We and she made this clear to her team, but they were used to seeing a focus on A, B, and C, saw that as the right way to do things, and had a really hard time accepting the differences. It harmed their relationship with her, and for a few of them, it poisoned the way they approached their jobs. I’m not saying that’s happening with you — you don’t sound poisoned — but it’s worth keeping in mind as a cautionary tale as you acclimate to this new person.

Meanwhile, though, you can also ask about the changes straightforwardly. Don’t approach it as criticism of her, but as you genuinely asking about the differences you’re seeing, with no judgment attached. For instance, “Jane, we typically handle X this way. It sounds like you’d rather we do it differently — can we talk about what you’d prefer?”  Or: “Is there a better way for me to handle Y when it needs your sign-off before it can go out? Would you rather we just move it forward without bothering you, get it to you earlier, or something else?” And you can also say, “Hey, Matilda (or whatever her predecessor’s name was) used to like me to ___ (remind her about stuff, push hard to get things done by a certain time, or whatever). Do you want me to continue doing that, or is there a different approach you’d like me to take?”

Also, since she’s mentioned that she has too many interruptions, streamline them by trying to set up a weekly check-in with her (if you’re not already doing that), and save up as much stuff as you can for those meetings.

Overall, approach it more neutrally, and you might find you get information that either changes your perspective or gives you more insight into what her thought process is. And if you ultimately decide that she does indeed suck at her job, then you can decide what you want to do from there — but reserve judgment for a little while.

{ 70 comments… read them below }

  1. NewBoss

    And here’s where I’m on the flipside, the role of the new boss in which the person I supervise basically puts up an argument against everything I ask her to do, and I am asking her to do things differently. I haven’t been able to get through to her at all. The fact that I’m her supervisor and in charge of the work she produces means nothing.

    My experience in the workplace is to also argue (as in, make an argument, make a case, not the pejorative sense of being angry) if I disagree with my boss or think there’s a better way. But if after listening, my boss reiterates how s/he wants things done, I do it their way. Why? Because they’re my boss. End of story.

    Any advice on what I can do to get my employee to listen to me?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes. Take on the issue directly: Have a big picture conversation with her about the pattern you’re noticing — that she seems resistant very often, that you understand that you’re asking her to do things differently than she has in the past, but you’re getting a lot of resistance and you need her to be more receptive to what you’re asking for and to be open to change. Ask what’s going on and see what she says. Have as open a conversation as possible with her. If it doesn’t change after that, then have another conversation. In this one, make it clear that you need someone in the position that will do this, that you hope it will be her, but that she’s impacting her performance with this approach, etc. etc. etc. — from there it becomes a performance issue that you deal with like any other performance issue (including ultimately needing to replace her if it comes to that and warnings don’t work).

      1. NewBoss

        I know that’s what I need to do, and I have a performance review with her coming up. I’m sorry to say that my responses will probably come as a something of a surprise to her, which is my own fault, I should have been addressing this stuff in a more direct way all along (we’ve worked together just over a year now.) I have tried to address this, but it’s hard because she has a long-standing relationship with my boss, a history of 10 years or so working here, first as a volunteer, babysits my boss’ kids, etc. This is a non-profit, btw, and is actually very professional in every other respect except this relationship. Basically the woman is older, retired, and when I want her do something, only does it if my boss tells her to.

        Ugh. I get depressed just thinking about it.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Don’t wait for the performance evaluation — talk to her now, this week. A performance evaluation shouldn’t contain surprises — talk to her now.

          And talk to your boss too. You’re going to need your boss to have your back as you deal with this, and you should start preparing her now.

        2. Jamie

          “when I want her do something, only does it if my boss tells her to. ”

          IMO this is a conversation you need to have with your boss. She shouldn’t be reiterating your instructions to your report, nor should she validate each request. When the report comes to her to verify if she needs to do something you’ve assigned her she should clearly explain that you are her manager.

          If someone came to my boss to ask if they really had to do something I had assigned, I doubt very much he would take the time to vet each task. He would ask why he was being dragged into this when I had clearly communicated the assignment. Unless it was illegal or immoral, I can’t see him humoring anyone in this way.

          1. NewBoss

            It isn’t quite as direct as that. It’s more like, say I would propose a change/event/activity/whatever, but until she hears it from my boss’ lips at a joint meeting or something, it isn’t real for her. She doesn’t go behind my back and he’s not complicit, it’s much more subtle.

              1. Tax Nerd

                Wow, New Boss. The two of us need to get together and go bowling. I’m in a very similar situation. I’m a new manager, and my direct report challenges everything or pushes back, and tries to go over my head if she doesn’t like what I say. I’ve talked to my boss about it, but since the direct report is a a crier, and my boss is like a deer in headlights when a female employee is crying in his office, I’ve been told to be gentle with her, so he can avoid dealing with it. I’m going to need a mouth guard due to all the teeth gnashing.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  You two both need to assert your authority. Address the problem, warn the person if it doesn’t change, and replace them if warnings don’t work. And Tax Nerd, tell your boss to stop letting her go to him when she’s unhappy; he needs to tell her that you’re her boss, not him. You guys need to manage, not be passive!

                  Read these posts:

                  https://www.askamanager.org/2007/12/new-managers-and-authority.html

                  https://www.askamanager.org/2009/07/how-to-deal-with-employee-performance.html

                2. Kelly O

                  Can I just add a non-managerial yes to this? Because I see this happen a lot in another department. They’re literally right next to us, so we hear everything that goes on, and the whole “well I’m not doing that until So-in-So says” happens all the time. It continues because so far no one has really made it clear that this is not acceptable behavior, and it just gets a little worse every day.

                  I’m not saying be a jerk, I’m just saying if you can possibly get this behavior stopped now, it will help avoid a bigger problem down the line.

                3. Long Time Admin

                  Either be a manager, or step down. Have one (ONE!) more talk with your employee, then start the firing process (documentation, coaching, whatever). These people will not change their attitudes until (Pay Attention Now) ** they know that there are consequences **. Being written up generally gets their attention (it got mine when I was burning out).

                  Don’t take money from your employer if you’re not going to do YOUR job.

            1. Henning Makholm

              Wait a sec, you’re proposing a change/event/activity/whatever? Rather than actually deciding that’s what you’re going to have? No wonder your reports don’t think the ostensible proposal is really a decision until they hear it from your boss.

              1. NewBoss

                Again, not quite like that. Propose in the sense of introduce my plan. I think I’d characterize an exchange like this:

                Me: We’re going to start boxing chocolate teapots with boxes that close with a tab fold instead of a separate lid.

                Employee: Yeah, but some customers prefer that separate lid because blah blah blah.

                Me: Well, we’re going to do this. I’d like you to price out boxes with lids for me.

                Six weeks later I have to go to my boss and ask what I need to do to switch us over to boxes with lids because employee gives me static/excuses/reasons why we can’t, even when I say, “this is what I’ve decided.”

                1. NewBoss

                  Oops. Bungled my own example. You see my point: I need to be even more assertive, she needs to do what her boss asks her to.

                2. Anonymous

                  “Me: Well, we’re going to do this. I’d like you to price out boxes with lids for me.”

                  Maybe, I’m too blunt. But, I would leave out the “I’d like you to” part. You could substitute a “Please” if you wish, but “I’d like” doesn’t indicate that the job is a required task. It’s kind of implied — but with the worker’s history, I would be more direct.

                3. Emily

                  But what an illustrative example it was!

                  It’s not difficult for me to imagine disliking working on a project that I disagreed with fundamentally. It’s not even difficult to imagine continuing to advocate for my idea alongside my boss’s, like getting a sample chocolate teapot box with the green color scheme that he envisions and one with the purple color scheme, for argument’s sake. But I can’t imagine refusing to move forward on it indefinitely. At a certain point, he would say, “I need the price quotes by the end of the week,” and he’d expect to see the progress of whatever steps I’d taken (something like having her forward email correspondance with potential vendors to you as part of a status report, so she can’t make an excuse that vendors haven’t answered her pricing queries yet or whatever), and having taken no steps or made no progress would mean I was not doing my job. Make your decisions real for your employee by setting explicit, short-term expectations and consequences and enforcing them.

                4. Student

                  I know it’s an example, but if you have no idea how to get the job done, how do you expect the employee to know how to get the job done? Why do you wait so long to follow up? I can see why your employees would ignore you if you have to ask your own boss to explain how to do basic parts of your job and have no discipline authority when you are ignored. You aren’t actually their boss, you are a bossy co-worker.

  2. Student

    I’d suggest the OP offer to take on some of the new boss’s responsibilities. Sounds like the boss is saying, over and over, that she’s very busy and doesn’t consider the things the OP is thinking about to be top priority.

    If they aren’t top priorities, maybe the new boss is willing to delegate them to this subordinate that obviously cares about this set of issues. This frees up the new boss to focus on her top priorities while also not letting the other issues fall through the cracks. It’s worth asking about, and it’s a lot more positive than constantly reminding the new boss about deadlines.

    The phrase “I have been in this for thirty years and I’ve never handled it that way,” should have been a hint that you are being a whippersnapper and questioning her judgement when she’s been doing this kind of work (presumably, successfully) for quite some time. If you think your way of doing something is better than her way, then you explain to your boss why your way is better – what strengths it brings compared to the boss’s way. Never just tell her that your way is “the way things are done here.” Then listen to her response, and follow her decision on which method to use, even if it isn’t the method you prefer.

    1. Ellie H.

      I think the OP asking to take over those responsibilities the boss clearly doesn’t want to deal with or think about is a great idea. However I think saying “you are being a whippersnapper and questioning her judgment” is really condescending and rude. The OP has been doing HER job successfully for some time as well. As the OP clearly stated, the issue isn’t that things must be done her (the old) way, but that they aren’t being done at all because every time something collaborative must be completed, it is met with a clash of viewpoints rather than a working solution to do it one way or a different way.

  3. Joey

    Ill add to Alisons advice. I hear a tinge of “but thats the way we’ve always done it”. Implying that you’re set in your ways and not open to doing things a different way. Now she may be the same way, but you’ve got to give it a chance even if you don’t think it’s the best way.

    1. Jamie

      I hate the fall back of “this is how we’ve always done it” – but I didn’t get that the OP is doing that.

      She wrote, “Now, I realize that some of our procedures may be different than what she’s experienced in the past, and I’m not saying our way of doing things is perfect by any stretch. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get things done related to the departments she’s initially responsible for because there is consistent and inflexible push-back to every request or suggestion.”

      To me that says that she’s not married to the old ways for the sake of it, she was merely explaining current procedures and doesn’t know how to proceed against the push-back.

      Ymmv – I just got a totally different read off of this letter.

      1. ruby

        “I hate the fall back of “this is how we’ve always done it” – but I didn’t get that the OP is doing that.”

        It may be that the OP is intending it to come across that way and doesn’t mean it that way, but based on the response she’s getting, that may be how New Boss is hearing it. Which is ultimately what matters – not what you say, but what people hear you say. I think this is a much bigger issue than most people realize — what we say and what other people hear when we say it are often times significantly different, for a variety of reasons. When you get a response that doesn’t match what you said/asked, that’s a likely culprit.

  4. Jamie

    I agree that the OP should try to acclimate to the new bosses approach…but if I’m reading this correctly the frustration stems from the boss not wanting to do it the old way (fine), but not clearly communicating the new way (not fine).

    I would be very frustrated myself if I was told something needed to be done on a deadline, but not the way I had been doing it, with no clue as to how to proceed. Kind of like pulling a ladder out from under someone and leaving them hanging.

    IMO one of the most important jobs a manager has is to help their staff prioritize and communicate clearly. From this letter I get the impression the boss is overwhelmed and I get a bit of a frazzled vibe. If true, this is something she should address.

    ITA that her new methods and experience may be exactly why she was hired – but transitions go so much more smoothly if the changes are clearly communicated.

    This is usually something that works itself out as things settle with a new boss, but I feel for the OP in the interim trying to get things done when it seems like the guidance is lacking.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      This is true, and a skilled boss would explain up-front. But since few bosses are actually skilled, usually you’ve got to be prepared to manage up by raising the issue (politely) yourself.

      1. Jamie

        Absolutely – it’s just unfortunate that lack of communication is causing unnecessary frustration.

        In a new situation I always want to know how things are being done currently and what the priorities are. So I can evaluate what is working and what could be improved, and also so I can make sure any changes are crystal clear.

        I’m also a big fan of articulating the reason for the changes as I’ve found you get more buy in from most people if they understand the logic behind things…rather than it seeming arbitrary. I prefer to work for a boss who understands the value of functioning as a team. By that I mean the productivity increased by being on the same page, not the lip service a lot of managers give to the whole team concept.

        1. Anon2

          “I’m also a big fan of articulating the reason for the changes as I’ve found you get more buy in from most people if they understand the logic behind things…rather than it seeming arbitrary. I prefer to work for a boss who understands the value of functioning as a team. By that I mean the productivity increased by being on the same page, not the lip service a lot of managers give to the whole team concept.”

          I wish you were my boss.

          Also, even when we’re not the boss, we all run into situations where we need to make an executive decision. You’re more likely to make the correct decision for your employer if you know the reasons behind rules, regulations and processes.

        2. Emily

          Plus, you can’t change everything at once. It actually sounds to me like the OP would be open to changing up procedures where there’s room for improvement, but axing all existing practices and putting new ones into place, even if the new practices are clearly communicated, could delay regular business. I think you do have to understand how things are being done, and what the existing priorities are, in order to facilitate a smooth transition into something new.

      2. Josh S

        I get the impression that the New Boss isn’t just shifting priorities, but dropping the ball on important tasks that fall to her.

        “I can’t do $Task because I’m too busy” when $Task is seen as a top priority/responsibility by all (or a majority) of the underlings is a problem. A BIG problem.

        It’s tempting to simply tell the OP to say “OK, we’ll do it your way,” and then watch as things fall apart for $Task. But it’s entirely likely that the New Boss will then BLAME the OP for not getting it done anyway. Especially when the deadline is TOMORROW.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It really depends. It might be that it’s actually not a high priority compared to what she’s focused on. In the situation I described in the post, the new department head I’d hired was focused on exactly the right things. Because the old one hadn’t had expertise in those areas, she hadn’t focused there and had taught her staff to believe other things were the most important — but that was wrong. The OP might not be in a position to really know how the boss should be ordering her/their priorities, and she doesn’t really have much choice other than to ask about it and then accept what she’s told. This is really a call the boss gets to make.

          1. NewBoss

            Yup. My point about my own problem. I will be happy to explain my priorities, but I need my employee to respect those priorities because it’s my call.

            1. danr

              It may take more than one session for the explanation to sink in. I’m coming at this from the employee’s position, since I’ve been in a similar situation and changed my ways. . It will be hard, but you should see a change in the employee’s approach to the work and your orders. And AAM is correct, it can’t be saved for the annual review. It should take place right after you find out about an incident. If you’ve given yourself enough lead time, by the time of the annual review, you’ll know what you need to do, positive or negative.

            2. Josh S

              Sorry, I didn’t mean that to refer to you, NewBoss. I was talking about the OP’s new boss. Erg. Sorry for the confusion.

              While you probably need to be more direct in your management, you definitely don’t (seem to) have the issues I’m talking about.

    2. OP

      OP – this is exactly it.

      It’s not that I mind things being done differently – and lord knows we have things that NEED to be done differently – but I just need to know what her priorities are, and how she wants them done.

      And to answer other questions – I have offered to take things off her plate. I have tried paying attention to who she’s meeting with and where she’s traveling (which I usually only find out after the fact, which is a whole other frustration entirely) and ask follow-up questions. Nothing.

      This part actually bugged me more than anything. Her daughter goes to a Big Ivy League School. We hear about Big Ivy League School all the time. Her daughter is home for summer break, and she mentioned that she would have her up here “all the time to help me with all this work I need to do.”

      Later that day, I asked if she had a minute and mentioned that I would be more than glad to help her with whatever she needs, since I’m the assistant for those departments, and all she needs to do is just tell me what she needs and when. At that point, she just told me she “had” to do it all herself and she “couldn’t possibly delegate these projects.”

      So I am at kind of a loss. I’ve offered every way I know how to do whatever she needs, and to do it in the way she wants, but it’s like I’m coming up blank every time.

      1. Anonymous

        With all due respect to the daughter since I don’t know her, but I fear what work life can be like if she is on par with everything, causing anguish for you – all the while her mom is boss.

  5. Jeanne

    I think I had this boss. She wanted everything different but would never actually say what she wanted done. She would only tell us we were wrong. And always giggled about it. To me this is all a bad sign.

    1. Anonymous

      Me too! I was always explaining “This is how we usually, do X, but if you see a better way of doing it, I’ll get right on making the adjustments.” No answer. Nothing was ever right, but she could never articulate exactly what was wrong or what the right way would look like. And she was always frazzled and overwhelmed, but super friendly, so you couldn’t tell if she was happy with you or about to fire you. I think it took me a few years to get my confidence in my own capabilities and people-reading skills back after that boss.

      My advice is to be very careful not to look as though you are questioning her judgement or that you are a know-it-all (it’s really easy for this type of person to interprete sharing useful information she can adapt to her needs as telling her what to do). Alison’s advice is spot-on, assuming your boss is a reasonable person with an actual rationale behind what she’s doing.

  6. J

    This is hard. =\ I’m lucky I’ve never been in the position to really have a change in my boss while I was working somewhere…

    My mom took over being the team leader of some frequent, large meetings at her office a while back, and got some “training” from the previous leader (who was retiring)… apparently the old leader used to bake brownies or cookies every week to bribe the attendees into coming to the meeting. (…isn’t it your job to go to required meetings???) The people were shocked and disappointed when my mom didn’t bring homemade food to the meetings, and my mom had a hard time getting them to actually come to these required meetings, because they were mad she didn’t bring them food! Geez. I mean, I know everyone loves food, I do too, but… how is that sane and reasonable to skip meetings just because your homemade brownie didn’t arrive?

    1. Alex

      It’s entirely reasonable to skip meetings because I didn’t get brownies!! Jk, actually I was thinking that I couldn’t take the old boss seriously if 1) she brought treats all the time 2) didn’t enforce her position as boss because she forgot the treats. She sounds like a push-over.

    2. KellyK

      Wow. I’ve had bosses who bake for major meetings (project kick-off or wrap-up) and other celebrations, but I can’t quite wrap my head around the thought process, “I haven’t been sufficiently bribed with food, so I’m not going to do my job until the bribes resume.”

      Though it still might be worth looking into whether the meetings are useful and productive, scheduled appropriately, etc. The group sounds like a bunch of entitled slackers, but large required meetings can also be painful, especially if people are busy. And apparently there were no consequences for skipping out.

      1. Jamie

        “And apparently there were no consequences for skipping out.”

        This is what I don’t understand. If they are required, how are they allowed to treat them as optional.

        If they are required, but optional in practice then the necessity should be evaluated and either eliminate them or apply the real definition of required.

        As much as I love a good brownie, I don’t see how they factor in. I’ve stopped and brought in Panera muffins to early morning meetings – but just as a nice gesture…the second anyone felt it was an entitlement it would be the last time I did that.

        1. J

          “the second anyone felt it was an entitlement it would be the last time I did that.”

          Agreed! Oy.

          I also am completely baffled why their managers don’t give consequences. It seems completely illogical and frustrating for anyone who actually -does- do their own job in a normal way. I feel like… shouldn’t you be doing your job? Why are they getting paid to not do their job? Why do they think it’s even okay in the first place to do that? How do people have that mindset?!

        2. KellyK

          If they are required, but optional in practice then the necessity should be evaluated and either eliminate them or apply the real definition of required.

          Exactly!

      2. J

        I totally agree about the “are these meetings necessary?” types of evaluations… from what I hear, my mom can be in meetings all day for no good reason, which seems excessive, or individual ones can last like 4 hours. @_@ Horrifying.

        …but, I think they have more problems than just brownie dependency. I was talking to her last night at dinner and it makes my head explode at how LAZY the managers are. It seems like they’d prefer to let people slide by, get no work done, and force someone else to do the original person’s work… rather than take the time to document what ridiculous things the slackers are doing as grounds for replacing them. They’re also really afraid of potential lawsuits (which is ridiculous). To me, it’s INSANE that when everyone’s afraid of budget cuts, they willingly choose to waste money on completely unproductive people.

        The culture used to be a lot more… idk, positive, whatever. Now, apparently there’s people who have the attitude of ‘well, Bob leaves at 3:30 every day, and he’s not getting punished, so I’m entitled to do it too’, rather than…. oh, I don’t know, ‘I’m paid to work from 8-5:30, so maybe I should work from 8 to 5:30’.

        Basically, no consequences. >.< Ugh. One lady even refuses to use her email so that nothing's in writing! And they're all computer engineers in a NASA-run facility! I asked why nobody ever forces her to use email, and/or give her consequences for not using it! No lawsuit in the world would lose with that — averse to email isn't a protected class! *brain implosion*

        1. NicoleW

          How does that happen? We have a Director level person who refuses to acknowledge he received anything from you unless you hand deliver it! You can’t leave hard copy in his mailbox or email him a document – he will deny receiving it. GAH!

  7. Janet

    I think there are two distinctly different approaches when you start a new job. Some people like to sort of slowly walk into the deep end of the pool, see the lay of the land and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Others climb up the high dive and jump right in. I think there are positives to both and negatives to both. I’m more of a “wade slowly in” kind of person. I don’t like making changes just for the sake of changing and I like to figure out what is happening before I accidentaly throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    I don’t really even mind hearing “The way we’ve always done it is X” if the person is open to answering “What else did you try before doing X – why do you think X works better than the alternatives? Have you ever tried Y?”

    That being said, when I have to work for a deep diver – it is so different from how I operate that it takes a lot of my patience and energy to work that way. It sounds very much like this new boss is a deep diver and the assistant is a wader. Two distinct working personalities and sadly the boss very likely isn’t going to change much of their personality so it’s a matter of figuring out if you can work with him/her and doing it how the boss likes.

  8. Jamie S

    Oh my gosh, it sounds like you have my old boss. I didn’t mind a different way of doing something, but I liked to know the reason behind it. After a while, the “I’ve been doing this for 30 years” started to get really old as a reason. Especially when it was clear that her way was not working.

    Unsurprisingly, she does not work here anymore. (And left a little before October…)

  9. Camellia

    AAM’s advice is spot on – I call it ‘embracing the idiocracy’, pun intended.

    I also strongly suggest that after every conversation with your boss you return to your desk and recap the conversation in an email and send it to her. This does two things – provides you with documentation that you have been attempting to find out what she wants you to do, etc., and also puts it in writing for her. Some people do not realize that they are not communicating effectively and actually seeing it in black and white, so to speak, helps them realize that.

    So if you ask her how to do A and she replies that she has other priorities, send her an email that says, “Per our conversation today, B is a higher priority than A and you would like me to focus on B in such-and-such a manner.” Or if you are still unclear, tell her that you are sorry, even after your conversation you are still unclear; would she like you to focus on A or on B?

    It is also okay to email document something that happened in the past. If she still is not keeping you apprised of her travel plans, send her an email asking, “Would it be possible for you to let me know when you will be out of the office on travel? That will help me to plan x better…” And send her an email that says “This is just a reminder that I would be more than glad to help you with whatever you need, since I’m the assistant for these departments. Please just tell me what you need and when.”

    I live and die by email documentation and I recently learned that I should add Instant Messages to that category. My current boss of three months likes to use Instant Messaging instead of emails and when I first started working with her I didn’t think anything of it. Then I found out it is because she doesn’t consider IM to be ‘writing’, as in, ‘if you don’t put it in writing no one can hold you accountable for it’. So I immediately began to copy and paste every IM into a Word document, in addition to the email recaps.

    This proved invaluable three weeks ago when I was called into HER boss’s office for not ‘taking ownership and doing’ a particular series of tasks. I was able to calmly produce the IM documentation showing she had actually TOLD me not to do so, that it would be another team’s responsibility. My boss was NOT present for this confrontation, by the way, and nothing has been said about it since. But she did stop IMing me – can’t imagine why. :)

    Oh, and she didn’t just forget that she had told me that. This is the tip of the iceberg in this boss’s abusive, manipulative, and morally questionable behavior and I am working diligently on an exit from this group as fast as possible – as I am learning everyone else has done in the four years she has been here. And yet, she is still here.

    Don’t read that last sentence, AAM; you may stomp your foot and re-injure it. I have survived worse managers than this in the past and I will survive this one.

    “That which does not kill me will regret not finishing the job.”

    Have a nice day!

    1. Anonymous

      “That which does not kill me will regret not finishing the job.”

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! I love that! I’m putting it on my email signature right now!

    2. Student

      Any modern IM client can provide you with a transcript of the conversation. It’s just a setting. There’s no need to copy and paste to a word document.

      1. KellyK

        You might need to tweak the settings pre-emptively to actually keep a log, though. I don’t think they all store every conversation by default.

      2. Andrea

        My office has turned off that setting, and there’s no way to turn it back on with the rights we are allowed.

    3. A Bug!

      I find that when I “embrace the idiocracy” I have only to wait it out until my suggestion percolates long enough in my boss’s head for him to forget where the idea came from, assume it’s his own, and ask me to implement it.

      1. Camellia

        Sounds like you are doing a great job of managing up!

        One of the ‘idiocracies’ that I had to embrace is that I am not allowed to step over to a colleague’s desk and ask them a question. I have to literally schedule a five minute ‘meeting’ in Outlook with that colleague and invite my manager. If I don’t, and she sees me talking to, well, anyone without her being present I get called into her office and grilled for half an hour and warned not to do it again. And if she sees anyone coming to talk to me she follows them to my desk and tells them that they cannot talk to me, they have to go through her.

        1. Liz in a Library

          That is just about the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. How did she expect to get anything done?

          1. Camellia

            She attends most of these ‘meetings’, unfortunately, and since she simply can’t see how she is dragging the process to a halt, she thinks things are going quite well.

            Managers in both IT and the business side, my contacts tell me, complain about her constantly but the only thing that ultimately happens is that personnel are switched around or she is moved to another project. Although once she was completely banned from a project by the business folk! She owned it but was not allowed to participate in any way! I reminded her boss of that fact when I was called to her office those three weeks ago. And yet she still remains. We are beginning to wonder if blackmail is involved.

            And BTW, it looks like I will get moved to another group in a couple of weeks. Yea for me!

            1. Tax Nerd

              Eeek! This brings back bad memories. When I was a new supervisor, my senior manager wanted “quiet hours” from 2-4pm, when were weren’t allowed to talk with the staff beneath us. My staff person was brand new, and had lots of questions, so we ended up IM’ing each other from adjacent cubicles. It was ridiculous.

              In response to way way above, I totally want to take a sterner tack with my current direct report. If she doesn’t go to my boss to complain when I’m meeeeean or want to do something the way it’s been done in industry in my 15 years of experience, she’ll go to our mutual dotted-line boss, who is more or less at war with my boss. They’ve both told her to come to me, but she’ll still IM them “I’m just checking with Tax Nerd told me since it’s different from my 1.5 years of experience that’s all been with dotted-line boss…” or whatever. They’ve both told her it’s my call, generally, but the dotted-line boss will sometimes override me. [Thanks for undermining my authority!] However, dotted-line boss is due to retire very soon, and I’ve been promised Things Will Change because the war of the bosses will be over then, and direct report will have a come-to-Jesus meaning about respecting hierarchy, among other things. I’d much rather not wait, since it’s just cementing in her mind that she can get away with this crap.

  10. Steve G

    I don’t completely agree with the she-was-brought-in-to-bring-a-fresh-perspective as a reason to behave as this new manager does.

    At my last job, we were very advanced excel/analytics based. They hired a manager (we hadn’t had one for our dept before this) from a compliance/contracts/writing background. Great. Great if the 2 mixed. But as long as I was there, she wasn’t getting the Excel/analysis part that was 100% of our jobs.

    What should have happened is that the new mgr incorporated the compliance/legal/contracts/writing parts of the job in our department and job functions and if she didnt want us not to do analysis she needed to find someone else to crunch #s and do necessary calculations. Instead, she just didn’t put effort into understanding what we do, and would randomly give us new tasks, which we could have done, but the timing was always impeccably off. She didn’t get our calendar or flow of events to know when was or wasnt a good time to give us more work.

  11. Ponies!

    Totally agree with Alison’s advice. If the new boss’s way of doing things is creating conflicting priorities for you, let her know that (in a neutral way) and make sure she understands that by putting priority X over priority Y, priority Y may not get done on time/as well.

    That way if your business partners (or whoever) are frustrated that priority Y didn’t get done on time, your boss should back you up. IF she’s a good boss, and supportive.

    I’d also add that a little perspective can be valuable in these situations. We all care about doing a great job, but sometimes it’s important to realize that for most of us, no lives are on the line. Even if your boss really IS making bad decisions, creating extra work and inefficiencies, or what have you…sometimes you just have to let it go and realize it isn’t within your scope of responsibility. Don’t create a toxic working environment for yourself over the small stuff.

  12. anonymices

    Your manager may feel exactly the same about her new role, as you are feeling about yours. One of the most valuable skills a manager can have is the ability to walk into a completely new situation and know when you *shouldn’t* put a horse in a particular race. She may have even less guidance than you have, with lots of internal politics buzzing above.

    “She can be hard to read because she always smiles and laughs…” Don’t mistake a positive attitude for anything but just that – a positive attitude. It’s a huge mistake to stop listening to the message because the sender is smiling.

  13. Lisa

    How does one deal with a boss that hinders workflow by requiring arbitrary steps that no one else in the company deems necessary? I am not used to creating steps for job security, and find I am struggling to find a way to work with my manager. I am poisoned by his management style, and just want out now. I am also dealing with health issues that are exasperated by the stress of coming to work every day. He talks a good game, but often changes scope 180 hourly, which kills any work I have done.

    He also spends hours bashing our director as incompetent to run our department. He likes to complain about the scope of everything being too big, but he is the one making it all so big by bringing in more ideas AFTER one was picked as the focus. He changes his mind about what a project will entail with 20 new different directions, and then decides i am going to lead meetings to justify HIS new direction. I don’t agree with most of his ideas, and i find it hinders me from doing the basic of tasks since i know he will just change how he wants it done at least 4 times (sometimes back to the original). He clearly has OCD and ADD, and I not used to being this micromanaged with no clear path of how to proceed. I realize now that I was never hired for my expertise (he thinks he knows my skills), but only as his minion and mouthpiece to further his agenda that all ends up about our director being incompentent since the manager thinks he should be the director instead.

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