my new boss is treating me coldly

A reader writes:

I’ve been at a new job for three months. When I interviewed, the people I talked to seemed to like my personality. I really liked the person who was to be my direct supervisor. At one month, I asked for feedback and was told I was doing very well and was praised for my work ethic and dedication to learning a new field.

However, in the past month, my direct supervisor has started to act oddly toward me: not looking at me when she answers questions, monosyllabic responses, not initiating conversations with me. I know she’s not been feeling well, but she talks cheerfully to other longer-term employees. I’m feeling uneasy and hurt about it.

I’ve asked for a check-in meeting, but I don’t know how to bring this up. My first impulse was to ask if I was doing something to irritate her or anyone else on our very small team. That seems unprofessional. Can you suggest some words that will get at the issue without going into emotions?

Well, first, before you talk to her directly, I’d do some reflection to see if you can figure out what might be going on. Can you think of anything that happened about a month ago that might have changed things?

I want to be really clear: Even if you did something that triggered this, a good manager wouldn’t handle it this way. If she has a problem or concern with something you’ve done or are doing, she should tell you that directly. But there are plenty of managers — there are plenty of people — who aren’t direct when they need to be.

So, with that caveat in place: Sometimes when someone reacts this way (monosyllabic responses, not initiating conversations, and not looking at you when she answers you), it’s because you’ve been communicating in a way that irritates them. Any chance that you’re interrupting her when she looks busy? Interrupting her multiple times a day? Having lengthy conversations when she’s giving cues that she wants to wrap up? Doing something else annoying, like pushing ideas that she doesn’t want you working on, or putting her on the defensive about decisions she’s made? In other words, is there anything going on that might make her (rightly or wrongly) want to limit her communications with you?

It’s also true that a bad manager may act like this if they’ve started having worries about your work and are avoiding dealing with it. Any chance a project went awry around the time that this started? Are you continuing to get good feedback?

I want to be clear that I’m not implying you’re at fault for this, and I definitely don’t want to make you paranoid that the problem is you. But given the sudden change in her behavior, it’s worth trying to figure out if something like this could be at the root of it.

If you reflect on all this and come up with nothing, then I think your next step is to talk to her. I’d start by asking her how she thinks you’re doing overall. It’s possible that you’ll get some data from her answer to that — either that she has concerns she hadn’t raised yet, or an enthusiastic enough response that it will put some of your worries to rest.

But if that still leaves you feeling uncertain, you could try asking, “Is there anything that I could do to be communicating better with you? Are the systems that I’ve been using working well, or would you like me to do anything differently there?”

But after that, I’d try just giving it a bit more time. If she hasn’t been feeling well, it’s possible that she’s been more cheerful with the people she knows better simply because those are more comfortable relationships (again, not good, but a thing that can happen).

But if you wait a while and still continue to see it, then yes, at that point I think you have to ask more directly. I’d say it this way: “I might be misinterpreting, but have I done something wrong or is there something you’d like me to be doing differently? I really enjoy working with you, but I’ve gotten the sense that you’re not as eager to spend time talking with me as you are with others on our team, and if it’s because of anything I’m doing, I’d so appreciate the chance to know and work on changing it.” (Frankly, you could skip the other conversation and just start here, but the earlier approach might get you what you need.)

If this also gets you nowhere and the coldness continues, then you’re facing a decision about whether this is the right place for you to stay. I’d pay particular attention to what kind of feedback you’re getting on your work, whether you’re getting feedback at all, what kind of projects you’re getting, and whether over time she seems interested in your development. If she’s not giving you what you need in those areas, it may be that the relationship is just never going to be one that benefits your career; in that case, you’d need to weigh that against whatever other benefits you’re getting from the job. But I wouldn’t go there just yet; try the above and see where that gets you first.

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. BRR*

    I was in a similar situation not too long ago. Through a combination of a one-on-one with her and talking with a coworker it turned out to be personal reasons for her (a death in the family and some other things). She was talkative to others because she works more closely with them while I can be off on my own doing my own thing. That might be another factor besides everything Alison mentioned.

    1. the gold digger*

      I had a boss shut down on me for a couple of months. He told me later that his 22 year old daughter was pregnant and the father of the baby wanted nothing to do with the daughter or the baby.

      (She moved back home, had the baby, kept going to school – with her parents’ help, and married a really nice guy – not the bio dad – when her son was about five. I like happy endings.)

    2. my two cents*

      another thing to keep in mind is that the folks she’s chattier/warmer with may just be chattier in general, and she’s trying to head them off from asking her about it by acting as normal as possible.

  2. Amber T*

    I’m watching my former supervisor do that to the new hire who’s about to be let go :( It’s not professional at all but I can’t make it my place to say anything. OP, I’m sorry. Best of luck to you!!

  3. Katie the Fed*

    Keep in mind she probably knows the longer-term employees a lot better, and sometimes it’s hard to get to know new people, especially if you’re particularly swamped or have a lot on your mind. I have a better rapport with some employees than others – it’s nothing against them it’s just I have no idea what to talk to them about other than work stuff. So they might find me a little stilted, I suppose. I try to get to know everyone but it’s hard to have the exact same rapport with everyone.

    So I’d caution you to make sure it’s actually cold and not just business or something else. It’s easy to assume intention when there might not be any. But assuming that she’s definitely being cold to you, then you’ve got some good advice above.

    1. BRR*

      Ooh this is a really good point. It takes time to get to know people. I know I can come off as a bit shy but once the door is opened I’m a talkative person. But I can definitely come off as cold.

      1. Brandy*

        Ive been told I can seem snobbish but its just that I don’t know you or have anything in common with you. Once you get to know me, you’ll wish for the snobbiness as Ill talk your head off.

    2. Aphrael*

      I really agree – it’s hard for me to be friendly and chatty with new people, and with RBF that can come across as cold when I don’t mean it to.

      1. Melissa B*

        Same here. I’ve developed RBF over the last couple years and my co-worker recently asked me why I was so pissed off at a presenter the other day. Not pissed, just listening intently. Sounds like I scared the presenter a bit by accident.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      Also – check your own timing, OP. I have one employee who just cannot read people and tends to want to chat at the most awful times. So I end up being a little terse and distracted because I’m super swamped with other things.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        It took me a while to figure out why my coworker was so hot and cold. She focuses better in the morning and likes to power through her work — so when I bug her with something around 10 am, she’s not super chatty, but in the afternoons when she is slowing down she’s much more social…which is of course the time when I do my best work.

    4. Oranges*

      I have found this happens also when the new person tries too hard to fit in. I had a similar issue with one of my former direct reports. Because he was so pushy about fitting in AT ONCE and for months it made me cool down towards him a lot.

      I’m tried not to but it’s very hard and I’m new.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes to this. We have a new hire who’s doing something similar to what you describe. She’s overly chatty during training sessions so the team has been a bit cooler to her lately because they’re afraid if they say as little as “how are you?” she’ll go on for 15 minutes without taking a breath. I doubt this is the Ops problem because she was self aware enough to write in, but I feel a bit bad for our new person because I think she’s just trying to get to know people but doesn’t have good sense of when it’s ok and when it’s not ok to chat. Several people have mentioned it to the manager but the managers just sort of blown it off.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I was this way with someone who was extremely chatty and didn’t notice queues. I knew if I said anything that remotely gave her an opening, or if I had a tone (to her ear) that invited her to chat, I’d be sucked into the vortex. So I tended to be a bit terse with her and probably came off as cold to others. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. I just couldn’t take that level of chattiness from her every time I opened my mouth.

  4. Jack the treacle eater*

    If the OP can pinpoint something that might have caused the issue, is it not worth talking to the supervisor anyway? Just thinking it’s easy to assume that X is the cause of Y, particularly when you’re worried whether you’ve done something wrong, when in fact it’s Z that’s caused the problem, and Z has nothing to do with you…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If she can identify something like that, I’d work on changing it and then give it some time to see if the manager starts responding differently. If she doesn’t, then I’d move to the next step.

  5. IT_Guy*

    I would definitely check with one of the other long term employees if you are close with them. A quick “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” could get you lots of good feedback.

    1. Bevin del Rey*

      I’d be careful with this suggestion, though. If the OP is still relatively new, asking other employees who have been their longer could result in something that backfires where those employees could share the OP’s queries with the boss. I think being direct might make more sense.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree–especially bcs one thing I think she should check is, Is there any possibility that she’s made comments that could be read as complaints?

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Of course, Alison’s advice is solid, but that actually could help though (note: I’m passive aggressive). Say she just framed it as concern like “hey coworker Boss has been a lot quieter around me lately do you think I might be doing something wrong?” If that got back to Boss, it’s not like she said anything disparaging.

        1. CMart*

          I’m inclined to agree, and I’m not passive aggressive :) I’ve seen this play out with more or less every new employee at my job, though I do work in a much more casual environment (a restaurant, not an office).

          The general manager has a bit of a brash and no-nonsense demeanor when she’s busy (which is 98% of the time in a restaurant), and an incredibly warm and friendly attitude when she finds a minute or two to actually socialize with the staff. To that point, the people she directs those precious moments of warm friendliness at are either the other managers (her peers, more or less) or the staff members who have been around for several years who she knows best.

          More or less every new employee will eventually seek out a long-term employee to ask “Is Nancy always so abrupt or is it just toward me?” and we long-term employees will reassure them that it’s probably nothing personal, and then share a story about how it took X months for Nancy to smile at us, but emphasize how great she is at her job and how if an employee ever has a problem she nearly unequivocally has our backs.

          But–this is a restaurant. There aren’t really any “office politics” to worry about when it comes to employee-manager dynamics.

    2. Another Academic Librarian*

      I was thinking this as well, though I might be inclined to phrase it as a “reality check” – with the caveat that this would probably only work if you have a coworker who you like/respect and whose judgement you consider sound.

      1. Marcia J*

        It’s me, the original letter writer. Don’t think I’m in a position to ask a co-worker. There are four (4) of us in this department. I’m generally feeling better about the situation after hearing from the people who are experiencing illness and don’t have the energy to give to employees. The supervisor is not quite as abrupt as before, and it appears that she’s feeling slightly better, too.

        I’m over being paranoid about it, for now at least. If I need to improve something, I’ll find out and work on it. May we all be happy and free from suffering. (Let’s go Buddhist on this one!)

  6. Crystal Vu*

    This happened to me with my former boss. She used to be super warm and cordial to me, but then I began to notice that whenever I approached her, she made a “go away” expression. So I stopped approaching her for things. She’s warm and cordial to me again but I almost never seek her out any more. Partly because I was demoted and she’s now my boss’s boss, so I need to go to him instead. But even if I hadn’t been demoted, I wouldn’t seek her out very frequently anyway for the same reason.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Do you think she became like that because your demotion was pending and she didn’t know how to treat you up until it was announced to you? Upthread Amber T. said similar is going on in her workplace with a supervisor and new hire that is about to be let go. Either way, it stinks.

      1. Crystal Vu*

        Could be; I didn’t think of that. My demotion was not communicated to me well at all. Time for me to move on.

  7. NoFightLeft*

    Oh god, LW, I have a trainer like this who had the job before me and moved into a more advanced position, but is physically very close to me in the office. She’s been treating me like LW described since the first week I was hired, acts like I’m an enormous nuisance if I ask her anything, stalls or flat-out cancels training sessions we’re supposed to be having about key aspects of my job, and never has anything but criticism for anything I do, ever…and yet wants me to do the job exactly the way she did, down to the very letter, except she keeps taking tasks from me and even does things like picking up the main phone (my job) on the first ring when I have asked her not to and am literally steps away from the main switchboard and reaching out for it as she was doing it, to the point where my fingers were touching the phone. (and please don’t tell me I should always be right on the main switchboard, I’m an office assistant/receptionist and I’m supposed to be constantly on top of everything in our very big office from the upstairs and downstairs kitchens to the front lobby, yet I still pick up the phones as fast as I can or reroute it to the nearest desk phone to answer the second I hear them).

    She’s been doing this for six months…I’ve tried talking to her, having meetings with her, asking my manager what I can possibly do to improve our working relationship (he says my work is fine and he’s satisfied with it when I practically beg him for feedback, and he says he wants her to stop doing this too, but he “wants us to sort it out between ourselves”). It doesn’t matter what I do or say, how hard I bend over backwards to be courteous and professional and helpful, she treats me with utter contempt and has nothing good to say about anything I do, ever.

    LW, I don’t know how to handle your manager, and it’s entirely possible that they’re just going through a bad patch or that they’ve started getting annoyed with something you’re doing or saying. Sometimes you can work things out. Sometimes you are dealing with a person who isn’t remotely reasonable. (It can be hard to tell the difference, but if, like me, you’re starting to feel suicidally depressed at how nothing you can do ever measures up and this person will treat you like garbage for the rest of your time in the job, and nobody will ever interfere…)

      1. NoFightLeft*

        I’m getting therapy, taking medication, and I even asked for accommodation under the company’s disability policy (my doctor and region support this as an accommodation issue, and my company made a big deal about how welcoming and accommodating they are with persons with disabilities.) HR got involved and made a plan…and then they didn’t talk to her, my manager didn’t talk to her, they just told me to tell her that I was depressed and it would really help if she could [insert constructive, non-devestating, non-insurmountable requests like “please email me if you want to correct something in my work instead of scolding me in front of colleagues like a badly-behaved child”]. I did. She told me that’s just how she is, that accommodating my requests would be “too much work”, and that negative feedback made her good at her job. I told HR and my manager and they went completely radio silent and she continues to treat me as she likes.

        1. Anna*

          Uh. That’s BS and completely goes against their idea of what welcoming and accommodating is. Also, your trainer is an ass and has literally told you it’s up to you to deal with her bad behavior because “that’s just how I am.” Bull. Shit. She’s a jerk and you shouldn’t have had to explain why you needed accommodations to her to get her to treat you decently. HR and your boss screwed this up.

          1. NoFightLeft*

            Thanks for saying that. It makes me feel less crazy and unreasonable. I’m a religious AAM reader and have been combing the archives for ways to somehow make this stop, something I can do to convince her that I’m not a worthless nuisance…nah. Nothing.

            So I’m not completely off-topic, she is nice and civil to everyone else in our office, including people who were hired after me but are in more senior/prestigious positions (these other people are STEM consultants and experts who get paid a lot. There’s three admin staff in the office, including me). I’m the only person junior to her. LW, I don’t think your boss is doing what my trainer is doing, probably…

            1. neverjaunty*

              Her boss is also an ass; it’s his job to manage people, not force you to try and manage your own boss because he’s too spineless.

            2. knitcrazybooknut*

              Here’s something I had to learn from experience that might help you: If you have tried everything you possibly can to gain her favor, and you cannot succeed, there’s a freedom in not being able to succeed.

              You can stop trying.

              Remain respectful and professional, but you no longer have to be nice or pleasant beyond a certain threshold of professionalism. You can be straightforward, direct, and work-related only. You can let go of the idea that some random, complicated task done in a certain order will gain her favor and you will blissfully work happily ever after. If nothing will work, you don’t have to try anything else.

              Perform your duties. It may feel awkward or cold at first, but it’s all that’s truly required at a job. You may want to start your countdown clock and look to greener, warmer, more compassionate pastures.

              1. LQ*

                I totally agree about stop trying. Very hard to do, and even harder when you can’t figure out what is wrong. But don’t try to get her to like you or approve of you. Keep checking in with your boss to make sure what you are doing meets his standards. But do whatever you can to stop caring about hers.

              2. animaniactoo*

                I’ll also ditto the “stop trying”.

                If she wants to answer the damn phone, let her answer the damn phone. If it ever becomes a problem *for you* that she has answered the phone, “Unfortunately Jane often continues to answer the phone, even while I am reaching for it. Short of bodily assault, I don’t have a way to stop her.”

                The next time she yells at you about something not having been done correctly: “Was this something that you meant to cover in the last training session that was cancelled?”

                Keep tossing that carp back in her lap. Every time. Politely, professionally. But put it back in her lap.

                1. 2horseygirls*

                  I couldn’t agree more. And be as neutral as possible when you say the above – I tend to sound like I’m having a tone, even when I’m sincerely not, so this can be a struggle for me. But animaniactoo, I really like this.

              3. Crystal Vu*

                I don’t have anything to add to LQ’s and animaniactoo’s comments but I definitely third the “stop trying” sentiment. She doesn’t like you. It’s like gravity. You can’t stop it but you can stand up and walk your own path as best as possible.

            3. KG*

              I think this probably has lot more to do with her wanting to feel like no one else could possibly do her job and that she is irreplaceable. If you can think of it as less about you personally, and more about anyone who was hired to replace her. If someone can come in and do her job then she’s not a special as she thought, so she’s making your life extra difficult so she can feel superior.

              1. NoFightLeft*

                I think you’re not far off the mark (my somewhat ineffectual boss has said as much; she’s having a “hard time letting go”, according to him). What keeps blowing my mind is that she’s incessantly on about being so busy and having so many deadlines in her new role, and I know she DOES work hard (okay, I’ve made her sound awful, but she does have a lot on her plate work-wise which is why I have spent 6 months trying to give her the benefit of the doubt while being driven to misery), but yet she still has to come and scold, criticize, and undermine me at least 2-3 times daily…? Isn’t that just extra work for herself??

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think maybe you should get a little snippy with her, or outraged, or stern, or something.
          Criticize her back: “I was touching the phone, you need to stop doing my job.”
          Stop being nice, and let her know you’re annoyed.
          Maybe give her an order.

          SOMEthing negative as her feedback when she does this.
          And start thinking that SHE needs to be worrying about what you think of her.

          If negative feedback made her good at her job, then maybe you need to start giving her some. if she objects, tell her that: “You need to let me do my job, and since you told me that negative feedback made you good at your job, I thought I’d give you some, Because it is actually your JOB to stop criticizing me.”

          1. animaniactoo*

            I’d leave off the last segment. She is still her superior, and NFL does not want to burn this bridge or create any more of a “nutty” impression than has already happened due to the completely ridiculous and ineffective HR/management. IMO, telling her superior what her job is quite completely crosses that line.

            1. Doriana Gray*

              Agreed (and I’m usually all for dressing down assholes, lol). OP needs to keep her head down, do her job to the best of get ability, and look for a new job when she gets off. No job is worth your mental and emotional well being. Contemplating suicide because your trainer’s a jerk? Nah – it’s time to go.

          2. NoFightLeft*

            @TootsNYC, thank you, it’s a happy thought, but while my trainer doesn’t care about how what she does and says affects me, the single occasion in the last six months where I became frustrated enough to be terse and short with her (after she spent the morning gaslighting me, switching me up on tasks she’d been telling me to do for days so she could scold me for not addressing a sudden “more urgent” task and ordering me to do that), she immediately pulled me into a meeting room and talked coldly about my rudeness and how hurtful it was and if this behaviour continued she would inform our manager. I was too stunned to defend myself. Then she made a point of mentioning how a colleague I like and get along with heard me and told my trainer how rude she (the colleague) thought I was. I was sobbing uncontrollably by the end of the day, convinced everyone in the office thought I was a monster.

            (In retrospect, I realize that I said nothing disrespectful, but that I did use a very sharp tone of voice…that was still politer and more respectful than the tone she uses with me day in, day out.)

            1. Laura W*

              She very likely made that up about your other colleague saying you were rude. To go back to the previous suggestion to stop trying (with her only), when she pulled you into the conference room and said she would report you to your manager, then just shrug and say, “Okay, shall we go find him?” She will not take you up on it, trust me! And even if she does report you, it sounds like he is satisfied with your work and aware she is causing problems, so it will very likely go nowhere.

              She sounds like a bully, and most bullies will back down if you’re able to throw it back in their face. This of course is incredibly hard when depression has you you’re already doubting yourself, I definitely get that. Perhaps write in to Allison laying out the issue as you have for us, and ask for some scripted suggestions on how to respond to this woman’s bullying tactics?

            2. knitcrazybooknut*

              After reading this, I can only reiterate: You cannot win with this woman. You cannot make her happy. Likely she was pushing you to respond in a terse way so that she would have the opportunity to scold you. That is horrible, manipulative behavior, and you will not be able to please her.

              I’m really sorry this is happening, but it’s not about you, if that helps. It’s not anything you’ve done, said, worn, typed, or cross-stitched. It’s about HER.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Yes to the question about talking to somebody about feeling depressed and suicidal.

      Another piece of advocating for yourself is being able to point out when what’s being requested of you is not possible. “I understand that you want us to work this out between ourselves, but I am newer than she is and she does not respect anything that I say or do. I have approached this from every standpoint that I can think of, and I will be happy to review them with you so you can let me know if there’s anything that you think I have missed. But I literally cannot force her to respect me or my role here, and I don’t think this is possible to be solved by me without stronger support from you.”

      1. NoFightLeft*

        …oh. That’s a very good way of putting it. I hadn’t even thought of saying it that way, every time I try to frame it I feel like a whiner, but your way is assertive AND professional. Thank you.

        1. animaniactoo*

          YVW. Unfortunately, having seen your update I suspect it will not work because you followed crazytown advice (nyf!) and have been completely burned.

          Based on what your HR dept/manager told you to do, PLEASE come back here and run it by AAM or commentors, Friday free-for-all, etc. before you act on it. Because the response to “Tell her your depressed and it would be better if she…” is “Pardon me, I do not wish to use this as a crutch to convince her to treat me the way she should be treating me regardless of whether or not I have depression. While I appreciate the accommodations you have made for me, this is not an accommodation issue and I am not comfortable treating this as if my mental state is the issue rather than her behavior.”

          And I highly highly suggest that you dtmfa and find a new job asap. You have basically been told to out yourself on something that is a protected issue and have proof that your manager and HR are wimps. Go ahead and try my above if you feel like it might make the smallest difference, but at this point my evaluation is that it is too late to go that route. You need to get out of there.

          1. NoFightLeft*

            Hi Animaniactoo, I’m afraid it’s too late for that. I already did what they asked and it hasn’t changed her behaviour a jot…there’s a bit above about it.
            (TW: suicide)
            Not only did this happen, but in a follow-up where I had hit rock bottom, ended up in the emergency room after planning to harm myself, I told HR and my manager that this was a thing that was getting worse and they said “oh okay, here’s the copy of your accommodation plan, get your psychiatrist to approve it, and btw, can we tell all the senior managers that you’re suicidally depressed?” I was in such a funk I agreed. So, uh…I don’t imagine you’d be very impressed by that either. I’m still kicking myself.

            1. animaniactoo*

              Sorry, I was writing on the fly in between file saves and wasn’t clear. I understand that you already followed their advice (that’s what I mean about having followed crazytown advice and it not being your fault), I was trying to give you the perspective on why it was so badly screwed up advice.

              The missed bit was saying whatever *else* your manager/hr asks you to do to resolve this, that’s what you should please bring here for feedback on.

              Your therapist is another good place to check in with on what you should be telling senior managers, etc.

              However, please – abandon ship. You have a catch-22 here. The longer this goes on, the worse you get. The *severity* of the effect is beyond your control, and is something unique to you. But their allowing the issue to continue at all – regardless of your *particular* mental health – is ridiculous. You will not get the supportive environment you need from this workplace. And by supportive, I mean being treated as a normal human being with normal human needs and a right to be treated with respect. For most people this would be bad. For you this is a disaster. Everyone deserves to be treated better than this. You *absolutely need* to be treated better than this, and that means you can’t put up with it in the hopes that they will pull through for you despite all evidence to the contrary so far.

              fwiw, I have enough experience with mental health disorders not to *blame* you for anything that you’ve done here and I don’t *at all*. I want to be really clear about that. This is not your fault. You’re learning, and when you’re down it’s almost impossible to think straight. The kind of stuff I’m talking about is developing barriers and boundaries to enable yourself to get good and realistic advice even when you’re down and finding it hard to advocate for yourself.

              1. animaniactoo*

                And in that vein – the next time they ask you to do something or ask if they can do something, the answer is “please give me a day or so to think about that” (if it’s something that needs an answer right away). That will give you the breathing room you need to consult elsewhere. If they press you for an immediate answer, then the answer is just “no”. Because if you need to give a firm answer, give it on the side that protects you the best. Even if it means getting let go/fired. Somebody who would fire you for not letting them give out the specifics of your very private and personal struggle is not somebody that you want to work for anyway, and releasing that info (as you’ve seen) is likely to just lead to worse.

                If you reconsider in a day or 2 and are fine with releasing it, no harm no foul – they can still tell people. But they can’t retract having told people if you go the other route and say yes and then think better of it a few days later.

              2. animaniactoo*

                and still leaving off bits – the other side of the catch-22 being that the worse you get, the more they feel and react to this as a “you” issue rather than a “her” issue, when it is absolutely primarily a “her” issue.

                1. NoFightLeft*

                  Thank you, all of this is great advice. And you’re right, they are reacting to it as a “me” issue, because at first I tried to frame it as “for professional reasons and my mental health” (rather than “my trainer is awful”), “can we please…?” And they’ve since used this as an excuse to (I’m stealing your pun from above) dump the whole carp in my lap and let her off the hook, leaving me to fight tooth and nail to get any kind of action on this front while she carries on doing what she wants.

                2. animaniactoo*

                  I thought a lot about your situation last night, and I can understand if you feel like there are things left to try, given some of the stuff that has been talked about here. This is going to be a long post, so please take it in chunks.

                  If you feel like you would like to re-tool and try again, this is what I would like to suggest.

                  Try going back to HR/manager. Talk to them about the idea that you cannot make her respect you or keep/do scheduled training sessions, and that you feel that this is not a problem that is possible to be solved by you without support from them. Also talk about the fact that you feel that this is being addressed as a you problem, and you are only one portion of the issue. That while the severity of your reaction is due to your personal issues, the things she is doing would be a problem no matter what. Enumerate those things.

                  • That she is answering the phone before you can finish reaching for it, at times literally on the first ring. Short of physically forcing the phone out of her hand, you have no way to stop her from doing this.
                  • That she continually cancels training sessions and then expects you to know what she was supposed to teach you in those training sessions.
                  • That she is publicly scolding you several times a day.

                  You recognize that she is incredibly busy, but unless she takes the time to train you properly and give up answering the phone, she will remain incredibly busy because you won’t be able to actually support her the way she is supposed to be. This would be true no matter who was in your role.

                  Ask them if they can at least address the cancelled training sessions and blowing you off on that with her.


                  For handling her, you have a couple of different approaches. You might want to try a mix of these.

                  1) Stop trying so hard on some fronts. Hand the carp right back to her. Politely, professionally, but always right back at her. “You haven’t trained me on that yet, when would you like to schedule doing that?”
                  • Ask for clarification whenever possible “Do these things take precedence over X task?”
                  • Don’t fight her for control of the phone. If she’s practically grabbing it out of your hand, lighthearted laugh and “Gee, I guess you really wanted to get that one!”
                  • If she’s publicly scolding you, ask her if you can please talk privately about this. Maybe she doesn’t want to e-mail you, but a request to go talk privately about this instead of in front of the whole office might be different.
                  • Go talk to the co-worker she claims says you were rude. In a looking for feedback way: “Hey, Jane pulled me aside the other day (or awhile back) and told me that some people have said I’m rude. I don’t think that I am, but I’m looking for info and I respect your opinion. Is there something that you’re seeing that I’m not?” NOTE It is very important to be open to hearing that you actually have been rude at points and being willing to change those things. If they do have examples of situations, talk to them about it – “Thanks for letting me know. If you see places where you think I’m crossing the line, can you please talk to me about it? If I’m doing something wrong, I’d like to try to correct it.” Take what they’ve said with a grain of salt, discuss with your therapist and then choose if you think it’s behavior you’re going to try to change.

                  2) Talk to her directly again. Tell her you recognize this situation is getting worse, you’d like to try some different approaches, and would like to discuss that with her. Possibly pull HR into that meeting to act as witnesses/mediators. That has a lot of potential to make things worse, so I’d like Alison to weigh in on the advisability of that (if she’s managed to make it that far through this). In that meeting the points that you would like to get across would be these:

                  • She responds well to negative feedback. You understand that. You do not.
                  • Training sessions that are continually cancelled – even for good cause – mean that you do not know what you are supposed to know, so blaming you for not knowing how she wants it done does not help the issue. How can we resolve this and get you up to speed?
                  • Prioritizing. This has been an issue where her understanding of priority is different from yours. How can we resolve this? Would she prefer that you regularly ask her what the priority is, or would she prefer you to e-mail her what you’re still working on in the morning/evening so that she can update you on priority when she hands you new tasks? Something else?

                  3) Appeal to her ego. I suspect that this is the kind of person who if you butter her up, tell her that you recognize that she knows all this in regards to priority and how things need to be done in a very detailed way because she is so experienced at it that it is second nature to her, but you don’t have that experience yet and need her help to get there, she will preen and possibly be somewhat condescending, but she’ll start giving you the info you need. If she’s a true bully that would likely backfire, but then anything would backfire and we’re right back to abandon ship and find a place that actually supports your sanity.


                  Finally, anything you do here should be with the mindset that it’s worth a try, but might not work. It is only that it is worth trying. Best of luck to you, I and several others here are rooting for you.

                3. animaniactoo*

                  That is to say – these are things that are worth trying IF you feel like you need to have tried everything possible, and/or IF you feel that you need to do more than just hunker down while you look for another job.

    2. Jean*

      NoFightLeft – You are worth more than the way you feel right now and much, much more than the way your trainer, manager, and HR person are treating you! If you’re six months into this job can you consider yourself only six months away from being able to _leave_ it? If so I’d start networking now, in a low-key getting-to-know-other-people way. Also take really good care of yourself re nutrition, sleep, exercise, and whatever else helps make you feel better. (And be kind to yourself if you take some time to get beyond “as good as possible” self-care. Depression is a BEAR. Helluva burden. I speak from experience.)

      tl; dr: These people are crazy. You’re worth fighting for. There is something much better out there. The AAM readers are on your side while you identify, pursue, and obtain a better position.

      Sending you positive vibes and encouragement: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      1. NoFightLeft*

        Thank you so much. I kind of teared up about this. You’re right…I wanted so badly for this job to be the one where I could stick it out and make a career, having had a bunch of false starts due to mental illness, and they presented it to me in the interview stage as someplace where they like to advance people, they want to give me a raise after six months, blah blah…no mention of the raise now, nobody wants to help the damaged goods. (Did I mention I’m out as gay to this office and I’m the only one in an office of 50+? My colleagues pressed me for info about my wedding ring and it slipped out. I don’t know if that affects anything but I always get the feeling it colours everything I say about my mental illness. Well, of course she’s crazy, she’s a lesbian, they’re all crazy…)

        Anyway thank you very much for the good-vibes noodles. They help a lot.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Here’s a hug to go with them. *HUG*

          Sounds like this is very much not you that’s going wrong here. I hope you can either work this out or find something with less stupid.

        2. Caledonia*

          @ nofightleft
          Positive vibes for me as well, and if you can please update us on the friday open thread.

            1. Reb*


              Just chiming in that I’m horrified that your manager wants to tell the other managers about your health (and I’m a manager). No way would managers in my company share that kind of info. I find it totally understandable that you said yes, I’d have been so shocked I’d probably have agreed too.

              This situation certainly sounds like it’s *not your fault*, you’ve been unlucky enough to end up in a toxic situation. Hang in there! And my best wishes for finding somewhere better quickly.

        3. Oranges*

          Fellow lesbian with depression chiming in. You deserve an office where it doesn’t matter what gender you get tingles for.

          You deserve an office where if your treatment is going roughly and you need to go home because you can’t stop crying. Your boss’s only reply is concern and “do you need an Uber”.

          You deserve a place where if you have issues with another coworker your boss will have your back.

          They exist. All of the above I have right now at my work place. And if I could I’d hire you.

  8. Student*

    I can understand that you want to have a good rapport with your manager, but this just sounds like you want her to make you feel good about interacting with her all the time.

    I read it and I couldn’t help thinking in my head, “You’re practically telling your manager you need her to smile at you more. Is this actually impacting your job? Would you do that to a male manager? Is this gendered cultural expectations?”

    I loathe having direct reports who want me to spend time just making them feel good about themselves. Not everybody expects this – the people who do expect it try to take up a lot of time trying to extract comfort/reaffirmation/emotional support. The people who don’t expect their manager to make them feel good just ask for feedback periodically and take said feedback at face value; they don’t try to read deep into every monosyllable response or facial expression.

    1. Anna*

      Well, no. The OP states that things were fine and then they changed. Do you make it a habit to treat someone one way for a period of time and then change how you treat them and expect them to not wonder what happened? Because maybe you’re a jerk if you do.

      1. LQ*

        It might be that the boss was being extra warm when they started and are now sort of cooling back to a place of normal (especially if there are other things happening in her life). And if the boss is more comfortable with other people seems warmer around them.

        I could see someone saying this about me. I try really hard to make a good impression early on. But it is exhausting to be so incredibly warm and outgoing all the time, but if I’m not people get crabby because I’m cold, so I act warm and do what I can. Sometimes after being super warm I’ll drop down to what might be an icy cold, not cause I don’t like someone but because I’m exhausted. Generally I’ll level out and it gets easier as I know someone to know what to bring up that they like or that makes them happy and feel good. But “I’m desperately exhausted and just need a week of not interacting with human beings” rarely goes over well at work.

        This might make me a jerk. And generally I’m a little more easily able to smooth that transition from super warm to a much quieter kind of interaction, but when I had a family member in the hospital I absolutely had people complaining that I was too cold. “Hey! I have to go to the ICU for the rest of the day, I don’t have warm left in me,” wasn’t acceptable either (actually it was to some people who are great, but others still expected super warm all day anyway.)

        I’m inclined to not assume malice in this case.

        1. Anna*

          I dunno. I think that’s a little odd, especially if it wears you out. My thinking is that if you’re trying to acclimate a new hire to you and the office, you want to be pretty much the person you are every day. Otherwise you risk confusing the new hire. Who are you really and what is the best way to approach you?

    2. Brandy*

      And it could be all about you. Im really bad at reading people wrong, I can think they don’t like me, etc… When in reality, and I know this and have to tell this to myself, they don’t even think about me. It could be nothing.
      For example, Im on my neighborhoods website, its nationwide but for each community. And theres a gold Taurus that sometimes cruises thru the area. But everyone just knows theyre casing the joint. I stay out of it for fear of pile on, but they may mean nothing, just looking at the pretty area.
      Changing your mindset helps a lot.

        1. Brandy*

          Yep. Anything. I cruise my own neighborhood looking at how pretty the river is, looking at what people have done to their homes.
          Changing how you look at it does wonders.

      1. Brandy*

        No, im just saying her boss may not be treating her coldly at all, its just how she feels. The boss may not realize it.

  9. BeenThereDoneThat*

    Definitely second the idea that maybe your manager is just avoiding giving not-great feedback, OP. I had a very good relationship with a manager go south and, after six months of cold shoulder when I conceded that I couldn’t fix it by being good at my job anymore, I called her out for similar behaviour – she explained that she’d decided I wasn’t “committed” to the case six months prior but, because of some personal/professional issues taking up her bandwidth, she was avoiding me because she didn’t have the energy to deal with her management obligations.

    There are some BigLaw nuances in my case that made her conduct particularly terrible, and also meant that us having that conversation did not actually make my situation any better, but I 100% hadn’t ever thought that she could be reacting to performance-based issues, and so was taking all of her hostility more personally than I necessarily needed to. Had it occurred to me, I may have been able to turn things around much earlier in the process (like you might be able to do!), so I strongly second the suggestion to spend some time thinking about this possibility.

  10. tango*

    Maybe she thinks at 2, going on 3 months on the job you’re asking too many questions? You should know more answers? I hope you figure it out OP!

  11. KtG*

    I have experienced something similar before.

    What I think happened was that my supervisor and the other members of my team (the ones she was being more sociable towards) became very, very busy working on a project that I wasn’t on but that they shared together. My supervisor was just so mentally occupied that she didn’t realize that she never said hello when entering my office or that she was always quick to enter and very quick to leave (she wouldn’t stop talking and make room for follow-up questions or comments until her body was already halfway out the door). She is excellent at communication in some ways and not in others (like what I’ve described), but I chalk it up to a lack of self-awareness because she’s definitely not passive-aggressive or a bad manager in other areas.

  12. Newby*

    I’ve actually been doing this lately. I supervise (and train) one employee. I have recently been very sick and even though I’m back at work I am still in a lot of pain. It hurts to walk over to where the employee sits, so I haven’t been seeking him out lately, instead letting him come to me if he needs me. I used to take more time to explain what I work on (even if he is not directly involved in the project) so that he can learn more, but I am so behind that I do not have the time right now. I also have been answering questions sometimes with one word or as few as necessary, because I am so overwhelmed trying to catch up. I am friendly with one other cooworker because we are close friends outside of work and he is good at getting my mind off of the pain. After reading this letter I realize that I should make sure the the employee I supervise realizes that the change is temporary and not personal. I think it is a definite possibility that the changed interaction the OP noticed could be due to her not feeling well.

    1. Seal*

      Second this. I’ve been dealing with a serious and sudden onset health issue for a month or so now. While I don’t look or necessarily act ill or injured, my work and interactions with my staff and colleagues is definitely off. I’ve tried to keep people in the loop but still find myself avoiding certain people and activities because I’m either behind or too wiped out physically or emotionally at the moment they come around.

    2. Marcia J*

      Your comments helped me the most. This woman moves as if she’s in pain. I’m glad you realized that you could help the employee understand your situation.

  13. Anon for this*

    On an unrelated note, the auto-sound playing ads are back. It’s not actually a link, but “sponsored content” from newsy, and again, it plays sound when the cursor crosses it.

    On a happier note – I just discovered that if you right click (or control-click) when the cursor is on the top of the window tab in Chrome, you have an option to mute the *tab*. So you can turn off the sound just for this page.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, so apparently that’s an intentional set-up – that the sound plays when your cursor is over it. I’ve asked them to develop a version that doesn’t do that, and they’re working on it, so hopefully that will be switched over to the other version soon.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I just discovered that if you right click (or control-click) when the cursor is on the top of the window tab in Chrome, you have an option to mute the *tab*. So you can turn off the sound just for this page.

      oooh, you just made me so happy! Thank you.

  14. Marcia Wiesner*

    I’m the original questioner. Thanks for all your comments. Wow!

    I think a better word than “cold” to describe my boss’s responses would be “distant.” I’m beginning to understand that she’s feeling lots worse than I realized, from a condition that she’s working on getting diagnosed. In fact, I had a 20-minute very friendly chat with her on Friday on all sorts of topics – kids, family, etc. We may have gotten at the issue indirectly: She’s experiencing so much pain and feeling so fuzzy-headed at times that she really needs to maintain a laser focus on what she’s doing. Those of you who mentioned your own experiences with illness helped me to relate to it. No energy to spare sometimes.

    For those of you who do the Meyers-Briggs/True Colors stuff, I’m an INTJ – Green type. The niceties of work socializing sometimes come harder to me, so I was truly worried that I was coming across poorly without knowing why.

    That said, I’m going to follow through on a couple of the ideas presented:

    1) I’ll ask her how she would like me to approach her with questions: Are emails better? (She really is the expert in the office.)

    2) I’m not going to worry about whether she likes me. The others have a lot more time working in the office, and I can relax and earn the intimacy if it’s going to happen.

    3) When I get an informal sit-down with her, I’ll ask whether anything in my quality of work or approach to the job could use improvement.

    Thanks again for all your participation in this topic. Hearing other people’s stories helped.

  15. Nicole Michelle*

    My best insight into this is that I worked directly for a lady for a while that would pull this when I made a mistake. To her, mistakes were unforgivable and she would pull this icy act for a while. This may be the boss you have. I don’t know if this is the best advice, but maybe ask a coworker who you can semi-trust? Maybe just ask them, either directly or indirectly about the boss’ attitude or if they’ve noticed a behavior change or say, “Maybe I’m just paranoid, but…”

    1. Marcia J*

      It doesn’t appear that this is her mode of operating. She’s just not an icy or manipulative person. I’m betting that it’s just taking time for me to fit in, and she doesn’t have much energy to spare because of the illness.

  16. Penni*

    @NoFightLeft – I have bipolar depression so i completely understand how difficult that can be. People are not nice about it or think you are just complaining or whatever. The cold hard truth is you deserve better and frankly are the strong one that keeps picking themselves up. I have done this for years and it is completely exhausting. My boss story is a little different but it has caused a recent breakdown (I don’t handle stress well). Before she was my manager we were really good friends. I was so excited she would be my manager and she even treated me well at first. I actually felt it was wrong and told her if she was going to watch other staff, i needed to be included as well (as much as I enjoyed the great treatment!). When i was one of her favorites, she would talk about other staff (negatively) and now that she is upset with me (and another person), they are her new favorites who she jokes and laughs with. That used to be me and the other lady who she had been friends with for 22 years! The thing she got mad about is so childish which i will not allude to. Right after the incident happened both myself and the other staff member went to her separately to apologize and try and clear up the ridiculous issue. She was very cold and said to me, “I will listen to you because you seem to care”. Ok…..isn’t that your job??? Ever since, she is only professional to me and that’s it. She doesn’t always speak to me but that isn’t a big deal to me because i don’t always do that either for no given reason. I have lost alot of respect for her because of this behavior. The funny thing is that she is doing exactly the same thing that she got upset with us about. There have been so many days i would just cry in my office and everyone noticed except her. Alot of times, i would just say i’m sick and would go home for the day. I also was out for almost two weeks because i hated going in to work because of this issue. I used all of my sick leave. I had a little breakdown (I tried to overdose but it didn’t work), and my friend took me to my psychiatrist to discuss and he gave me another medication. He wanted to put me in the hospital but i told him i would be ok. The new meds has helped alot. I have always been a very compliant patient but i can tell you it has been a rough road. No one wakes up wanting to have mental illness. I often think how weak i must be, but in reality i am one strong woman or picking myself up each and every day. We want to be happy every day. I inherited this nasty disease and often want to know why i was picked. I don’t always handle things well, i can be brutally honest and people do not like to be called out for their behavior but they are happy to get upset with mine! Anyway, if i do something wrong, i always apologize and explain why i behaved that way and that is all i can do. most of the time that works. If i wanted to, i could go to HR and tell them all of this stuff but i think it will make things worse. However, why should i have to leave a job that I love and have been working here since 2007? That is straight up wrong. Thank for listening, lol.

  17. unknown*

    At my work I have received mixed signals from Manger over my participation on project. Initially manger said no problem, then changed direction as long as it has was not related to certain project. She stated on our 1:1 that I was not to work on this project, which I was using as a learning tool for my mentorship program reporting out to VP, never interfering with any assigned work as my current role. I understand we are moving to a new service model with TAM’s, and I understand your position. As I have no projects assigned to me, and I come in early to learn, I was using this time to further my soft and technical skills through this program.
    I have mention to her that “For the overall feedback as a professional I take issue when you tell me not to see a certain individual at work who has been acting as coach and mentor helping me to grow and expand my depth and breadth of knowledge, benefiting company and the current team while no projects have been assigned to me. My reaction, yes strong in opposition, was directly related to you telling me not to see this individual as the request seemed more personal rather than professional. As a manager at company, I believe you should be supporting my growth by whomever will give me the opportunity to better myself for our organization when you will not assign me project work—some of our core values that I sought through this coach: Challenge Conventions, “Do the Right Thing, and Work Together”. I know, and we have discussed that you want me to tell you about my private mentorship discussions with VP, and this has caused considerable churn with our relationship because as I told you, those conversations are private, and you told me VP can do nothing for me, only you can help me.
    She came across as intimidating both from a facial and physical expressions and comments like you should look for another job if you do not like what I am saying, and VP will do nothing for you only I can, do not instill confidence in your leadership integrity. I honestly want to succeed at company, and to grow in my roles and responsibilities, both as a current role and potentially a future leader in our organization, I want to help grow my team, and add value by “Being Excellent, Acting with Urgency, Working Together, and Doing the Right Thing”! I need your (manager) help to succeed as a current role, taking away my projects and reassigning my work does not instill confidence or provide stability for me, leaving me apprehensive and concerned about my employment at Company.”
    I have complain to HR and my Director about her behavior and communication and Thanks to my management I am on PIP. I have provided enough evidence but seems like they don’t care. Please let me know what should I do? The way they are treating me at work is like I am a Prisoner, liar and extremely bad person. But few of my collogues told me fight for right and I am but unfortunately she takes out super tiny mistakes from my work and present it like I break something and cause a huge damage and I have issues in communication and so many other issue. I don’t understand as she is a new hire in 8 month she saw all that. And I am working in this company for 4 years none of my previous managers or other coworkers have seen that?

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