my boss is a jerk — how do I deal with her?

A reader writes:

I’m writing about an ongoing issue I have with my immediate boss – let’s call her Ann. Ann is a national leader in our industry, is the only person at our institution with the authority to approve my team’s work, and is pretty much my exclusive point of contact for all my training. Given that I have only been in this field for less than a year, she and I have had to work on every one of my assignments together. But I’m not the only one she manages. There are a handful of other staffers who also need her step-by-step approval for all their work. So, suffice to say, Ann is very, very busy.

That being said, Ann is very detailed in making corrections to our work. To be fair, I am aware of my gaps in knowledge. I try to use her corrections on my work as an opportunity to improve for next time. I have learned that, in most cases, it isn’t helpful to explain why I made the mistake but to listen to the correction, say “thank you,” and take note for future cases.

However, it’s becoming difficult to use her criticism to do better on future projects. She interrupts or talks over me and my fellow staff constantly even when we are answering her questions. I use the templates she provides without making many changes but, when sent for her approval, it is “unreadable.” She has asked me to email people on her behalf with requests but then, when they balk, she jumps in to say I’m still in training and won’t make requests like that again. I get corrected on minor issues, like the manner in which I’ve saved our documents, in front of people outside of our team who don’t even have access to our files. Sometimes, instead of providing the small clarification I ask for, she goes back to square one of my job training and starts explaining my fundamental tasks again.

In some cases, her wording is hurtful. Recently, I went to her office to ask a question about a project we’ve both been involved in and, about fifteen seconds into describing the situation, she interrupted with “I didn’t realize this would be a question I’d have to listen to fully. Start over.”

At a team meeting a couple of weeks ago, one of my coworkers called her out (politely) on the way she talks to us. He was providing an update on his work to our team and she interrupted to explain it to us all instead. In response, my colleague said, “You just repeated what I said, just as I said it. I want you to know that this can appear condescending and you should be aware of that when speaking to teams who aren’t us.”

At this point, I don’t see Ann’s tactics changing. There is no one in our organization who does the work she does, and there are very few people willing to call her out. Do you know of any helpful tips that might help me deal with this kind of management style better? Are there ways to still stay motivated with work even though I know it’ll likely get undercut before approved?

First, let’s be clear: Ann is horrible.

This isn’t a style of management so much as it’s a style of being, and fundamentally, Ann is a jerk.

It’s one thing to micromanage — that would be a problem on its own, but at least not a terribly uncommon one. But Ann isn’t just micromanaging. She’s belittling you, she’s undermining you, and she sounds like someone who enjoys abusing power. Authority is supposed to be a tool to get things done, not a permission slip to be cruel.

I’m relieved that your question wasn’t “How can I make Ann change?” That’s what people in your shoes often (and understandably) ask, but it’s often impossible to make this type of boss change, unless you have the ear of someone above her who’s willing to intervene. So, if Ann’s not likely to change, what can you do to cope while you’re stuck working for her? The most important thing is to get really clear in your own head that Ann’s behavior is about Ann, not about you. This is the kind of boss who can really mess with your self-image and make you doubt yourself, and that’s something that people sometimes carry with them to future jobs. You don’t want Ann’s voice in your head when she’s not in the room anymore, and you should actively work to make sure it doesn’t stay there.

In fact, if you can see Ann as a ridiculous caricature of a bad boss, even a cartoon-villain type of bad boss, embrace that. Seen from a certain angle, there’s humor to be found in someone who’s as flagrantly awful as she is — and if you can find it, you will be better off. In part, it will help you disconnect her behavior from the idea that it might be anything you’re causing. But it’s also partly because this type of manager tends to suck all the joy out of your work, and you’ll be happier if you can add some levity back in.

Think, too, about talking to that co-worker who called out your boss during that meeting. I bet he was thinking about saying something like that for a long time before he did it; he might have interesting things to say about why he finally did, and what kind of reaction he’s received from her since. Sometimes bullies like Ann back off when people stand up to them. Other times, they double down. It could be useful to find out how she’s interacted with him since then. And, if nothing else, it might make the situation more bearable if you build some camaraderie with someone who sees things the same way you do.

You asked about how to stay motivated when you know that Ann will undercut your work. This is tricky, because on one hand you need to disconnect emotionally from her reaction to it. But you don’t want to take that so far that you no longer care about doing a good job, because that can affect your reputation and make it harder to move on to a new job with a better boss in the future. One way to navigate that is to decide that your bar for success won’t be “I’ve turned in work that Ann likes,” but rather “I’ve turned in work that I think is high quality, and that I feel good about.” Let her criticize away — I mean, really, she called work based on her own templates “unreadable,” so don’t consider her the real judge.

But that will only get you so far. Working for this kind of boss just isn’t something you can do long term, at least not without developing an incredibly thick skin, or getting seriously demoralized, or starting to question your own abilities. You should also be thinking about an exit plan. It doesn’t have to be this month or this quarter, but I wouldn’t plan to stay long. Partly that’s for obvious reasons of self-preservation, but it’s also because working for someone hateful and unsupportive can limit your career in real ways: You’re less likely to get the useful feedback, good projects, raises, promotions, and training and mentoring opportunities that you’d get with a good manager. That’s a serious opportunity cost.

And of course, knowing that you don’t plan to stay there forever can make the “right now” a lot more bearable, too. In fact, that’s really the ultimate survival strategy when you’re working for a bad boss.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. A Nickname for AAM*

    I can’t speak for your industry so you’ll have to determine exactly how influential and helpful to you Ann is on your own, but I’ve picked up on a decent rule of thumb for work: be sure to hitch your wagon to people who are relatively nice, relatively professional, and relatively competent. Like attracts like.

    Obviously, sometimes you have to work for someone who is a bully, or who is unprofessional, or who is bad at their job, but you don’t have to attach yourself and your career to them. Their flaws may come back to bite you later.

    1. Genny*

      Yep. People might ooh and ahh over Ann’s ability to do this or that in the industry, and it can be tempting to conflate that to ways it might open doors in the future. But it’s just as likely that people realize she has X talents, but is a horrible person to work for/with. The smaller the industry, the more whispered conversations there will be about what it’s really like to work for/with her. You don’t want to become guilty by associations (or worse, pick up her bad habits).

    2. Yup*

      I worked for someone similar to Ann in one of my first jobs. She was good at the subject-matter part of her job, and influential in my field, but a jerk of a manager. At the time, I was afraid to stand up to her or move on because I felt like she had a lot of sway in my field, and I didn’t want to risk making her mad. When I finally did leave, I quickly discovered that most people outside of our organization took everything she did with a pretty large grain of salt, for the same reasons that made her a lousy boss. I also learned that she had absolutely no bearing on my career trajectory or success. Seven years later, she’s a distant memory/story I use (and personally reference) for what not to do as a manager. Very rarely does one single person control another person’s career prospects, for better or worse, no matter how important they may be.

  2. Myrin*

    I’m dying to know how Ann reacted to your coworker’s calling him out (Alison speaks about her long-term behaviour towards him but I’d love to know her immediate reactin in the moment).

    Also, OP, just so you know: I’m very thick-skinned and have worked successfully with people others would run away from screaming, and I can’t imagine working with, much less for, someone like Ann. She sounds like a complete nightmare.

    1. Cordoba*

      I am also interested to hear how she responded.

      In my experience folks who act like this are one of three things:
      1) A bully who enjoys pushing people around, but is looking for easy targets and will generally back off if challenged in a straightforward way.
      2) Somebody who is not malicious but values direct communication and criticism to a fault and genuinely doesn’t get how that comes off to other people. These folks seem to like when people respond in kind, as if somebody is finally speaking their language.
      3) Insecure and/or status obsessed ambitious people who feel the need to constantly put everybody in their place in the pecking order. They’re harder to deal with, especially if they are actually in a position of authority. Best challenged 1 on 1 rather than in front of a group where they need to worry about saving face.

      In either case my preferred response is to push back hard, without crossing the line into “unprofessional”. You have to pick your battles and timing, but I’ve never seen anything else work short of finding a new job or a new boss.

      It sounds like there are people in this organization who are willing to do this, if they keep it up it will become easier for others to join in.

      1. Anony*

        #2 doesn’t seem to apply in this situation. Ann would not be giving wrong instructions if she valued direct communication and criticism. That is the part that stood out to me. There is really no excuse for telling someone to contact a person to make a request and then blame them for following your instructions.

        1. Mayati*

          Good point! And while pushing back against bullies in hopes they’ll back off is a nice theory, it’s not necessarily a risk LW is in a position to take. Ann seems very likely to be the doubling-down-when-challenged type of bully.

        2. Teapot librarian*

          I actually have an employee who gives inconsistent instructions while also valuing directness to a fault. So it definitely isn’t impossible for #2 to apply in this situation. But I agree: there is no excuse for blaming a person for following your instructions.

        3. Samata*

          In regards to that specific part of the letter I was thinking “CYA! CYA!”…. it makes her look like she would never instruct a junior to do something and puts the blame elsewhere. She still looks good to outsiders while belittling her team.

          1. Star Nursery*

            I thought the same thing. Either that or she is so swamped she forgot that she told the OP to email that request. (Not an excuse though even if she is too swamped to keep track of who she told to do what, she still sounds like a jerk of a boss).

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Nah, she totally told the junior to do this and then when she thought the client might be put off, she passed the blame.

      2. o.b.*

        Excellent typology. I worked for an impossible #3 and would say they are also best challenged…
        -by someone who has equal to or more power than them
        -subtly, so they think something is their own idea/conclusion
        -by having to replace you because you have found a better job and gotten the heck out of there

    2. AKchic*

      Ugh. Having worked with someone (who was higher up than me, but had just started with the company, and in a director position that had been open for 18 months) who swore up and down that I did my job for 3 years incorrectly – it was a P.A.I.N.

      Everything I did was wrong. Even though the person she answered to trained me, and all of the classes I went to (on the company dime) told me I was doing it correctly, and the federal and state laws I was following said I was doing it correctly. Nope. I was doing everything wrong. We were lucky we hadn’t been sued and shut down. She got my direct supervisor on her side (who was already side-eying me because I was overworked and not happy, and a few other issues, namely, she found out that I had turned her position down, which is why she got hired).
      We spent a year with this person. She reviewed my every move. She pulled every procedure I wrote for the department and claimed to rewrite it (the exact same way I had it written up, which had been in collaboration with her boss, the HR director and the CEO). It got to the point that my boss finally realized that everything I had been doing was fine, the new person was just very insecure about me and was trying to undermine me.
      Unfortunately, the damage had been done. I spent a year being second-guessed by everyone that had already questioned why a non-degreed person was handling that aspect of the business, who was now being questioned by a “real person in charge”. It took me another 2 years after she left to be completely confident in my own abilities within that aspect of my job again, and that was half of my job! I will never forgive that horrible person (who still sends me friend requests trying to promote her MLM), or my terrible supervisor (who had other personnel issues she allowed to fester). I would have stayed with the company had it not been for my terrible supervisor. And money. I really needed more money.

        1. AKchic*

          The company was never big on firing unless it was a major offense. I’m talking we got a Medicaid audit because of the same person twice and they still rehired him a *third* time while I was there (even after I stated in writing why I thought it was a bad idea). Guess why that person was fired 3 months later (after the company was reprimanded by a contractor)? Yup – bad recordkeeping.

          However, the individual in question was costing the company money. We were a nonprofit, so money was tight. We were implementing an EMR and between her and another C-suite were dragging their feet on the program. Then she wasn’t coming in much and was “working from home” to supposedly potty train her daughter. After 5 months of that, we hit our second Medicaid audit where she wasn’t around and was unreachable the entire time (and I had to step in multiple times) and others had to go into her office and find files that she’d pulled from me to “review” that weren’t locked as they should have been, her office was a disaster, and nobody could really make sense of what was going on.
          CEO started making her come in daily and had the receptionist note her comings and goings. IT logged all of her emails and had her supervisor monitor her and do weekly evals. She did not like her review or the PIP she was put on and decided to start her own “business”. I only knew about her MLM because she was at an event that my friend was at (my friend is a photographer and makes beautiful masks and hair pieces – I was buying a mask for a charity ball).

  3. Sabine the Very Mean*

    I honestly think I’d just get to a point where I’d keep repeating, “please don’t use that tone”, “please stop speaking to me that way”, “is there a reason you’re speaking to me that way?”, “did you mean that to sound as unkind as it did?” until she fired me. I don’t agree with the premise that because she is a manager, that you must live with her treating people so badly.

    1. AnonForThis*

      This is what happened to me. I corrected my supervisor’s version of the story and then was fired because I “shouldn’t speak to someone in a position of authority that way”. I’m…sorry? You can fact check what I just told you and discover I was correct.

      1. Chaordic One*

        Same here. While I wasn’t fired right away, I was always told, “My, but aren’t you entitled?”

      1. Cherith Ponsonby*

        Not trying to speak for Sabine here, but I interpreted her post as saying that she wouldn’t be able to help herself from reacting that way – which I can sympathise with because I once worked for a very condescending micromanager and I couldn’t help myself from reacting that way, and I did indeed get fired. I regretted it bitterly in the short term but in the long term it was definitely worth it.

      2. Anon for this*

        Which is fair, and yet staying in a job like this for too long may make OP far less employable in the long run. An entry-level employee who spends the formative years of their career learning to dodge their bosses’ moving goalposts isn’t necessarily learning how to do the fundamental tasks of their job independently and confidently.

    2. M*

      I worked for an Ann for almost three years in my first job out of college. I wasn’t in a position to leave because in my industry, jobs are few and far between in this part of the country. I was desperate to get out of there and interviewed for a few jobs while I worked for her, and I remember just SOBBING when I received the rejection-not because I didn’t get the job, but because it meant at least a few more months of dealing with her. The best thing I did for my sanity was documenting our conversations in really excruciating detail. She had a bad habit of telling me to do something one way and reprimanding me for doing it that way later on. Since I knew I wasn’t imagining her directions, I could really easily flip to my note and remind her without looking like I was calling her out (or even just prove I wasn’t losing my mind). It was a pain but it allowed me to stay there until I found the job I’m in currently. It also helped to remind myself that there was nothing I could change about her-this was how she’d been for years and it was how she treated everyone. The bright side of working for her and dealing with all her terrible behavior was that I am much more resilient and flexible than I think I would have been.

      1. Star Nursery*

        When I was 20, I had a terrible boss like that too. She told staff at the staff meetings to handle situations doing A not B, then would reprimand us in front of the clients for doing exactly what she said to do. She was unpredictable and unsupportive in front of the clientele. It was super demoralizing to have a boss that “forgot” what she had instructed us at the last staff meetings. She was awful as a boss and in her case just not in the right role. I hated work and I remember cried until she stepped down and took another role in the non-profit’s office. The next person promoted was fair, kind, patient with the clients, had a sense of humor and didn’t flip flop back and forth on policies nor undermine staff in front of clients. She was direct and forthright and really great as a manager.

        The bad boss wasn’t an evil person, she was passionate about the cause and once she was not in the management role, she was a lot better to work with.

      2. n*

        Yup, had a boss like that for about a year– would tell me to do something, and then later deny she ever told me to do that, or would claim that I must have “misunderstood” what she was telling me to do. I learned that communicating with her through email was best. That way, when she tried to a pull a “I never said that,” I could pull up the old email thread and respond to it, so she could see the previous email where she did, in fact, tell me to do what I had just done. It was exhausting, but effective.

        1. rldk*

          I keep trying to get my similar manager to communicate *anything* in email, but she hates using it and always leaves out details when she does – so a good 50% of any project is never communicated in writing even when I try really, really hard to get her to.

        2. Starwatcher*

          The word everyone’s looking for here is “gaslighting.” It’s one of the primary indicators of the JustNo in the relationship, be it romantic, family, or business!

  4. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Perhaps read The Devil Wears Prada?

    I jest. Sort of.

    Seriously, though, do plan an exit strategy. That does make a world of difference when you’re in an unbearable situation. Because even though it might feel permanent, if you can shift your mindset to thinking this is temporary Ann’s behavior will be easier to brush off.

    1. Jenny*

      Yes. And honestly this is the kind of thing that leaves scars if you stay too long. An abusive boss is no different from any other kind of emotionally abusive relationship. I worked with a bully boss for 5 years and it took a long time for me to get through the trust issues and fear at my next jobs.

      1. Artemesia*

        And working on an exit strategy can give you some inner peace and confidence that lets you ride this out better. I had a professional colleague like this; luckily I didn’t work for her, but I worked with her and being undermined or having her grab work I had authority over was wearing. They are not fixable; this is deep rooted personal dysfunction.

      2. Polaris*

        I only worked for my abusive boss for one year, and by the time I finally quit I was on medication and my depression was still the worst it had ever been in my life.

    2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      I love this… Watching Meryl Streep look Andi up and down and say “That’s all.” I would not be able to handle that.

      I think I agree with the comment about viewing your boss as a cartoon villain definitely has merit. If you can avoid taking anything she says personally (easier said than done, I know), you’ll be happier and more sane while you look for something better.

      1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        Sidenote – I watched that movie while in a dysfunctional job that I only took to pay the bills. My friends did not understand why I got so angry that I left the room during parts of the show that they were laughing at. Meryl Streep killed that role and I never want to see the movie again because of it.

        1. I Love JavaScript*

          I was an Executive Assistant in another life and it totally ruined The Devil Wears Prada for me. I loved it when it first came out, but after working at that job for awhile, I couldn’t watch it without wanting to throw things. I was in Finance, which isn’t (usually) as bad as what was portrayed in the movie, but there were definitely far too many things that hit close to home. I’ve since switched careers to something far more sane, but I still can’t watch it without getting flashbacks.

        2. hey*

          This reminds me of when the Office blew up here. “Oh check it out. It’s hilarious.”
          It isn’t.
          But I love Superstore. I can watch that all the time. Hilarious. Look at those crazy coworkers! Ha ha! OMG! Can you imagine if you were working and someone said, “xyz?” LOL. SO FUNNY!

          1. Autumnheart*

            I loved Office Space, but then could not watch “Fun With Dick and Jane” about a couple who gets laid off in the dot-bomb collapse and has to enter a life of crime to afford their bills. I didn’t quite get to that point, but the trauma was still too fresh to find the humor.

          2. Amber T*

            The Office was hysterical until I worked in an office that had the incompetency of Michael Scott and the abuse of Dwight (without the laughs). It’s been years, so I can watch 75% of it again and laugh, but there are still parts that I either skip or completely tune out.

            1. a name*

              Yes! I worked with a Charles Milliner type (quick to judge, doesn’t listen or observe, disrespectful to others) and that plot line just makes me RAGE.

          3. Kate 2*

            Oh my gosh, I hate “Superstore”! I worked retail and the customers tended to be insulting, abusive and demeaning, we worked like dogs for starvation wages! We weren’t cute or perky or funny. It’s weird how seeing the awful reality behind something can make the Hollywood magic version unwatchable.

            1. Thany*

              Really? Interesting. I worked in retail and I LOVE Superstore. I think it shows the ridiculousness of working retail, which I appreciate. Funny how people have different perceptions of thing.

          4. Cherith Ponsonby*

            There’s an Australian show called “Utopia” set in the fictional Nation Building Authority – it’s a brilliant show and I love it, but I can’t watch more than one episode at a time without getting all twitchy. And I haven’t worked in Canberra since 2004.

            I still can’t watch either version of The Office.

          5. Oxford Coma*

            I worked office jobs and also don’t find The Office funny. Further, I worked at Sam’s Club and thus do not find Superstore funny.

            I am glad I’m not a Nascar driver, because Talladega Nights is a damned riot.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        An old manager (not in fashion or any kind of glamourous field!) would often do a blatant look-up-and-down to women who were under her management. I’m told that after I left, one woman (an out lesbian) responded with something to the effect of “Like what you see?” I nearly aspirated my coffee after hearing that from a former coworker.

      3. Anon in AZ*

        I have two bosses, sort of. The direction I get from Actual Boss is often incomplete, too focused on details and sometimes contradictory. On the other hand, the advice I get from my unofficial Cool Boss (who is pay-grade peers with Actual Boss, but under AB the way the team is structured) is logical, concrete and never contradictory.
        I made a minor mistake and was really stressed about telling Actual Boss, which compounded things. Cool Boss’s message was, “Fix it, learn from it and move forward.” My actual boss was hung up on me justifying why I did what I did. Basically an ass-chewing. At that moment, I mentally divorced myself from Actual Boss, and ever since I feel more confident about my work. And that seems to keep AB happy.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      This was some really good advice in Friday’s open thread–composing a near-term break-glass-and-escape plan makes it easier to endure, because if it gets to be too much you have options. Avoid the “But I’m trapped” narrative that people can tell themselves about the most non-trapped scenarios.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*


        Cultivating a life outside the office helps, too. So often it can feel like ToxicJob is ALL THERE IS. And if you can open your perspective a little, it makes it a bit easier to tolerate the crappy stuff.

        1. Julia the Survivor*

          Yes, when I was working for Ms. Horrible I had social outings 2 or 3 times a week and it helped a lot!

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    You don’t want to take (disengaging) so far that you no longer care about doing a good job, because that can affect your reputation and make it harder to move on to a new job with a better boss in the future.

    This is my great second-hand advice–don’t wait until you are at BEC stage with your job before looking to move on. Because asking references, employers, contacts not to judge you on the contemptuous attitude you radiate at that point really doesn’t work.

    The stuff in Alison’s last couple of paragraphs expands on that in useful directions–there’s an opportunity cost to working for someone who will never give you more responsibility and chances to grow.

    1. OP*

      Yes, this is the difficult balance I have been trying to struck for months! If I distance myself from the work, I fear that the quality of my work will falter. And if I am too involved with the work, I may let the criticism affect me personally. I really appreciated Alison’s recognition of that situation and her suggestion that I take pride in the work I have done.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Doing it for you, so you can be pleased with yourself or doing it for resume material or so your pet can eat this week or whatever you can think of will help some what.

        One tool I found effective sometimes was saying to myself. “I am going to let you sharpen me. My next boss is going to think I am the greatest thing to come along. And you will sharpen me to so that I become pretty great.”

        1. Cherith Ponsonby*

          I’m totally stealing that sharpening metaphor (I hope you don’t mind but I figure you don’t!) It proved true for me – after I got fired for clashing with my condescending micromanager boss, I ended up in a position where my next boss thought I was the greatest thing since spreadsheets were invented. Sadly operating costs haven’t worked out in my favour this time around :(

          1. Cherith Ponsonby*

            Accidentally edited out the important point: it was the specific skills I learnt in the micromanager job that got me through the door at the next job.

  6. ragazza*

    I used to have a terrible boss who would send me incredibly mean emails when something displeased him. Even after I told him that I really preferred to receive “feedback” via the phone (he worked in a different office), he would inevitably fall back into his passive-aggressive ways. I dealt with it by deciding not to take any account of his opinion of my work (because he was so clearly insecure that it was useless) and to just stick it out until I finished a degree the company was paying for. Not caring helped me get through and in the meantime I laid the groundwork to move to a different department, which is much better. Bottom line–you may be able to figure out tactics to be able to work with her, but it’s not going to support you doing your best work.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I remind myself what I make in an hour and that I’m literally being paid to deal somewhat pleasantly with this horrible person. That is what I get money for. Oh look, another hour gotten through – cha-ching. However, this isn’t sustainable long term, you need to be planning your exit strategy.

      1. All Hail Queen Sally*

        To get through a bad job I had years ago, I calculated out how much I made per minute. That way I was constantly figuring out how much I was making during every little incident or adventure. It kept me sane.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I’d rather have an email. Just because I know that I didn’t imagine the tone, or change the words in my head. Just a big collection of “it’s not me, it’s you” to help me get through the days. Don’t think I’d reread them. Just watch them add up in a folder.

    3. Tuesday Next*

      Unfortunately you don’t always get to tell your boss how to deliver feedback. That doesn’t make it okay to be nasty though.

  7. LittleLove*

    I had a micromanaging boss who changed his standards every few minutes and made it very clear he thought I was an incompetent idiot. I quit and my health improved 100%. Sometimes, it just isn’t worth it to work for a monster.

    1. Only here for the teapots*

      I worked for a monster. It was 110% better to rage quit (when she ambushed me with all kinds of crazy accusations in a threatening way) & deal with the economic consequences. I thought after that I would have to work street corners forever, but I got the job I have now after only a month out of work. And bonus points for putting the monster out of business when her other employees quit & somehow her biggest, most famous, client found out she’d been cheated for years.

  8. 2 Cents*

    My boss at OldJob wasn’t as mean or condescending as Ann sounds here, but she was a complete micromanager. I remember when I’d decided to look for a new job, the extra nail in the coffin was when she was trying to explain something that I’d learned in Month 1 on the job, even though it was Year 5 for me. (And it wasn’t an explanation I needed. I’d asked something related, but way more advanced, and either she didn’t listen to me or didn’t know how to calibrate her answer, just started talking to me like I’d just started working there.) No matter what I did: incorporate her changes, make notes to do similar the next time, you name it, nothing I did was ever “good enough.” I had to leave because it was affecting my ability to realize that a) I had skills, b) I wasn’t a hopeless case incapable of the job tasks, and c) that I was worth being treated, after 5 years, like I had some mastery of my job duties.

    1. only acting normal*

      Oh dear gods – if my micromanager responds to my next question about advanced hydrodynamics with “This is a teapot, this bit’s the spout, this bit’s the handle…” again, I fear I will beat him to death with my keyboard.

      1. ragazza*

        A former VP of marketing at my job once took it upon himself to explain the 4 Ps of marketing to a coworker who had worked in the field for 25 years and had an MBA.

    2. I Love JavaScript*

      When I was an Executive Assistant, I had a peer who liked to both pretend she was in charge of me and everyone else and then micromanage us. I was once working a conference with her and she proceeded to tell me how to properly send a FedEx–something I learned week 1 as a Receptionist years ago. It took all my self control not to tell her to shove it. She drove everyone crazy until she left, at which point everyone gave a big sigh in relief.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I did once say to a colleague who was doing that sort of thing (scolding me that I shouldn’t have thrown away the old pagination scheme, with its now-incorrect page numbers), sort of heatedly, “I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job.”

        She was really offended, and I sort of had to backtrack a little, but it was an important moment for me, to realize how important it was to me that I stop that sort of thing.

      2. AKchic*

        I had a micromanaging coworker at my last job. I was senior to her, but for some reason she liked to monitor me and try to play boss. After I put my notice in, I didn’t have to play nice anymore. I stopped censoring myself completely. It was beautiful. I’d been tactful and she hadn’t taken the hint that she wasn’t my boss, so since I had no reason to be nice anymore, I didn’t see any point in playing nice. Especially since she decided to berate me for not telling her I found a job and put my notice in without telling her first (the job was offered to me without me looking, and I kept it quiet in case it fell through before officially signing papers, and I wanted to give our CEO the news first as she was my friend).

        My last few weeks were glorious. No fraks given.

        1. Maude Lebowski*

          Sounds bad, but then sounds TOTALLY DELUSIONAL re “she decided to berate me for not telling her I found a job and put my notice in without telling her first” – why, as a junior to you, did she think you needed clearance from her first?!

    3. oranges & lemons*

      I used to have a boss in a non-office job who enjoyed demeaning me in front of customers by constantly giving me contradictory instructions and telling them I was new (I wasn’t) when I failed to read his mind correctly that day. That was just the tip of the iceberg of dysfunction at that place, but it was very annoying.

  9. Rowan*

    “There are a handful of other staffers who also need her step-by-step approval for all their work. So, suffice to say, Ann is very, very busy.”

    On a side note, it sounds to me like Ann is, consciously or not, making sure she keeps her position as the only person who can approve everyone’s work at this organization. She doesn’t want to develop others who could help because they would be a threat to her. So if she’s very, very busy, it’s a situation of her own making.

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I agree. I worked with an Ann like that — luckily she wasn’t in my chain of command so she had little power over me except on projects for her department. She caused chaos on every project — you would think she was self-sabotaging — but then would pretend to swoop in and fix it at the last nanosecond so her boss and peers thought she was indispensable. Then her boss retired and a new boss came in. She was more restricted in her ability to cause chaos in the first place and suddenly she was very dispensable.

    2. The Ginger Ginger*

      I was thinking the same thing. Managing that many people to the level (micro-level?) is way unsustainable. I’m not sure how she’s finding time to do anything else. Take this as another sign that Ann is a bad manager. A good manager would be grooming self-motivated and self-regulated employees and delegating tasks to high-achievers. Ann is clearly not doing that. And, I don’t know you’re industry, but if you’re closing in on the year mark, in most fields I would expect a good manager to have trained/prepped and positioned you to be a lot more self-sufficient at this point. So she may already be damaging your future career opportunities as Allison suggested.

      To give you some imagery for your cartoon villain thought exercise – She’s that kid at a pinata party that physically sits on the pile of candy when the pinata breaks open instead of sharing the candy with the other kids. She’s hoarding her power like a dragon on an isolated cliff. Ultimately, you’ll need to find someone who will be a better mentor/trainer somewhere else.

        1. Pebbles*

          May I suggest taking it one step further than a thought exercise? Actually find an image of a dragon hoarding its treasure (or whatever image best fits your boss), print it out, and hang it up in your cube. Just say you like the picture or something if anyone asks.

          I have a loon for a CEO (doesn’t understand what words mean, thinks adjectives apply to him when he’s the exact opposite, etc.). I printed out a picture of a loon and stuck it in my cube so that anytime he does/says something else that I want to roll my eyes at, I see the loon and go “oh yeah, right”. It helps me move on with my day. And the fact that the loon is my state bird means no one thinks twice about it. :)

          1. BeenThere*

            Dragon on a pile of candy is my new mantra!

            I have a wannabe manager who is a lead for the project I on, I hope like hell he doesn’t get promoted to manager.

          2. Oranges*

            This is a good idea. Have some sort of ritual you do to remind yourself that their reality is skewed. This is how I kept my sanity with a very annoying co-worker; I would say “Who DOES that? Co-worker does that!” whenever they did something that made me rage.

  10. Shaima*

    This. Is. My. Boss. Not literally of course, but this could have been written about her with a few minor adjustments. My team doesn’t have anyone in training anymore, and we have expertise in things that she doesn’t, which is a huge reason we’re employed. It’s terrible, and on top of all of that, the only thing she really knows how to talk about is how amazing she is at very mediocre things (like high school “accomplishments” and SAT scores, she’s 45) and how all the work my team does wouldn’t happen without her, when actually, my teammate and I have to regularly fix her work in the areas she doesn’t know. She treats us like children too, with unsolicited life advice any time we say anything personal. And also overshares.

    I don’t really have any encouragement or advice for you, besides thanks for showing me that I’m not alone, and know that you aren’t alone either! I’m job hunting and added some freelance work, which has helped me retain my confidence in my skills so that I let her get to me.

      1. Shaima*

        Yeah none of the things she’s super proud of are all that impressive. She has a lot of real strengths, but somehow she has to prove the things that don’t matter… She announced it three times in one week so our team compared scores after she went home. She actually has the lowest of everyone on our team, which we haven’t shared with her but keep tucked inside for petty feelings of superiority. It’s become our joke that we remind each other of when we’re having rough days… Not proud of it, but hey. We’re all in it together.

    1. WellRed*

      Ask her when she took the SATs. She may shut up so she doesn’t have to announce “1989” out loud.

        1. MakesThings*

          No? 1600 was highest score at the time. Someone with a score of 1200 could definitely get into a mid-level college, but certainly wasn’t some kind of extra high achiever or genius.
          My point was that this woman seems mediocre, but wants everyone to think of herself as super competent and special.

    2. Thany*

      Also, is she aware of the SAT scores entirely changing their scoring system? That score would mean nothing now.

  11. Snark*

    “I have learned that, in most cases, it isn’t helpful to explain why I made the mistake but to listen to the correction, say “thank you,” and take note for future cases.”

    Just in general, no matter how nice or not your boss might be, I think the above is a work practice to cultivate. Explaining you made the mistake feels necessary to defend your ego, but your boss almost certainly doesn’t give a shit about the backstory- as I mentioned in the comment thread for the previous question, for most coworkers and bosses, in your professional capacity, you’re a black box. They feed you inputs and you give back outputs, and what happens inside the box is irrelevant. They just want the output to conform to their needs. There’s a certain freedom in realizing that.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah, I wondered TBH if this letter writer made a miss-step early on that started her off on the wrong foot with Ann. The rest of the letter made it seem like Ann is terrible to everyone, though. I will say that sometimes, although it’s not fair, once you sour a relationship and your boss starts thinking of you as someone with poor judgement, you can’t really get yourself back even though you learned your lesson. (Ann is still in the wrong here, because OP is entry-level and you have to expect that with people who are new to the workplace – but the fact that you don’t “argue back” any*more* might not be enough to salvage a bad start).

      1. Anon for this*

        As did I…when you report to someone who is like that, if you’re not very deferential from the get-go you’re pretty much in a scorched earth situation. Not that the overt performance of deference will improve the quality of their direction or feedback, but they’ll not treat you like you’re uppity, which is helpful.

        1. Triplestep*

          Yep. This is true of narcissists. Not egocentric people, but those with diagnosable disordered personalities. I don’t know if that describes Ann, but it describes a former boss of mine. They think pretty much everyone adores them, but if they get the sense you don’t … there’s no coming back from that.

          1. Mayati*

            You are not alone. There’s no way to keep working for someone like this without putting on a show of fawning over them every day, and if you can do that, great — there’s no shame in it as a survival mechanism as long as you’re not throwing other people under the bus to stay in your boss’s good graces — but it’s no way to feel like a valued employee or to preserve your sense of self.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              On thing I have done to help balance my mind/soul is pass praise to coworkers also. This way it feels more like I just look for opportunities to extend compliments. It bothers me less that I have to molly-coddle the boss.

          2. Anon for this*

            I wouldn’t say that it’s just people with personality disorders…some of the people I’ve seen fall prey to this kind of behaviour are either very new to managing or have primarily worked with children, who don’t have the same sort of latitude with authority figures. TBH, the managers I’ve encountered who’ve had the most rigid ideas about what’s appropriate when responding to feedback are former schoolteachers.

      2. TootsNYC*

        “once you sour a relationship and your boss starts thinking of you as someone with poor judgement, you can’t really get yourself back even though you learned your lesson”

        This is so true!

      3. Luna*

        Yes, whether the LW is new(er) to the workforce or just new to working with this type of boss, this is a classic rookie mistake. I do understand the temptation though, as these types of bosses often don’t explain things well (if at all), and often make unreasonable requests. But they still don’t care about the “why.”

    2. Ainomiaka*

      Eh-this is true for people who aren’t your direct supervisor but shouldn’t be true for your supervisor. How you work IS their job. So, while defensiveness isn’t ever helpful, calling yourself a black box isn’t healthy either. In this particular case I’m not sure it matters , there are so many issues.

      1. Yorick*

        In many cases, your supervisor doesn’t care how you decided to do this thing that was wrong. Unless they ask you to explain, it’s usually better not to.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          And maybe I’m too used to regulated industries with full root cause analysis required all the time and the process not just result is regulated. But supervisors are expected to figure out if an error is the result of bad/not enough training, bad/not enough resources or supplies, something that needs discipline, or something else. Their job is to make sure you are doing yours correctly. They can’t do that if you are a black box.

          1. Snark*

            This is presupposing the manager in question is a good manager who is willing to invest time and energy in making sure you’re doing your job correctly, not an control freak who insists on every work product being produced to her opaque and exacting standards and signs off on every step, and as a result is constantly oversubscribed, impatient, and put upon.

            1. Ainomiaka*

              Oh for sure. That’s why my first comment said I’m not sure it matters in the LWs case. There’s a lot going wrong beyond overexplaining what they were thinking or not.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          I agree with this sentiment unless there’s truly a defense you could reasonably share like “ I used the template you provided. What am I missing here?” Or “ your email yesterday said to do Y”.
          I don’t believe in making excuses, but I also believe in sticking up for yourself in so much as that’s possible.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Yeah, I think there are some cases where you genuinely don’t understand the correction and “I thought we always do B in response to A; what am I missing about why it’s C in this case?” is reasonable. But a lot of the time you just need to note “When there’s a chicken we do C instead of B” and move on without explaining your thought process. (I recently corrected someone re my name; I really didn’t care what the reasoning was behind using the wrong name, but now that they send emails referring to me I want the correct name.)

      2. Snark*

        There’s exceptions aplenty, but the chief value in adopting that mindset is getting yourself to really pick and choose when additional context is truly necessary, and when you’re overjustifying yourself.

    3. Snark*

      This also pinged on me:

      “Recently, I went to her office to ask a question about a project we’ve both been involved in and, about fifteen seconds into describing the situation, she interrupted with “I didn’t realize this would be a question I’d have to listen to fully. Start over.””

      She was a dick about it, but I get impatient with long narratives before a question too. One thing I’ve learned working with military folks is the BLUF principle: Bottom Line Up Front. What do you need from them, when do you need it? “Boss, about the llama pen expansion project. I’ll need your sign-off on moving Llarry and Llinda to the next pen over while the work is being done by COB.” Then if she needs context, she can ask for it.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah I had a question mark there. Knowing Ann is busy, unpleasant and impatient, can you adapt your interactions with her better to get yourself in and out of there with what you need, OP?

        1. OP*

          This is a good point and I’ll definitely try to be a bit more direct in verbal interactions. In the situation I described, I had to provide Ann a larger update on the project before asking my question (i.e. “here are the developments: x,y,z” and then I hoped to proceed to my question). But I’m thinking now that, in these cases where description is necessary, I document it all via email. She’ll still want to discuss it in person but at least I can lay out the updated situation in detail. So thank you!

          1. London Grammar*

            “I had to provide Ann a larger update on the project before asking my question (i.e. “here are the developments: x,y,z” and then I hoped to proceed to my question). But I’m thinking now that, in these cases where description is necessary, I document it all via email. She’ll still want to discuss it in person but at least I can lay out the updated situation in detail.”

            OP, what I tend to do in this situation is e-mail my question to my manager and put any background information into a MS Word document as an e-mail attachment. I then write, “if you need further information, please see the attached Word doc”. Long e-mails can be a bit off-putting.

            I think that, perhaps, part of the reason you may be having problems being succinct in your verbal communication with your manager may be because of the problems you are having with her. I think that because of what’s happened in the past, you’re anticipating problems every time you have to speak with her and so this may be causing you to have difficulties with your verbal communication with her.

          2. Julia the Survivor*

            If she reads her emails. My boss doesn’t.
            I’ve actually handed him things and he still doesn’t read them. I ended up reading an important email to him recently.

      2. K.*

        Yeah, I had a boss who was ex-military and BLUF was crucial in dealing with her. People thought she was mean but she wasn’t – she was just brusque and precise, and didn’t use more words than was necessary. Once I learned how to talk to her, it was a very smooth working relationship.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          Just so nobody thinks it’s all ex Military who are like this :)

          I’ve never been in the military, but can totally related to your old boss. If you’ve heard about or taken the DiSC assessment, this is classic “D” interaction.

          I spend a lot of time calibrating my interactions with other people who aren’t “Ds” to try and not come off as something that rhymes with witch and to give others leeway to communicate in their preferred style. I’m not always successful and my impatience does surface more than I’d like, but it has to be a two way street.

          I think you should try to rate your discussions with Anne. If you are asking a question, then start with the question. Don’t explain what led up to the question, if Anne needs to know she will ask. If you are going to need action by her, state that first. All of us need to calibrate our communication to the receiver. For instance I know that with some people, I need to step back and provide a lot of context and others I can give the bullet point version. Even though I’m a “D” I know that there isn’t anything inherently right or wrong with people’s communication styles. Not everyone understands that though so it’s something keep in mind.

          This next bit isn’t a criticism of you or your communication style. It’s to help you understand what is likely going through Anne’s head during your interactions.

          If Anne is a “D” you are actually not impressing her or helping your image with her by going into long explanations. From your words she is already not actively listening to you. When “D”s are faced with long communication they get frustrated. You may be thinking that Anne needs all of the information you are giving her, but in Anne’s mind she’s wondering why you are explaining something so basic or something that could have easily been anticipated. She’s likely about 4 steps ahead of your explanation. After a certain point during a long explanation she’s either totally tuned you out or is screaming in her own head “Just get to the point!”.

          You can still explain things to her if you need to, but even that should be somewhat abbreviated. For instance, in emails try bullet points. This will help you to keep your communication brief, but still allow you to get what you think are relevant and important points across. Bonus, Anne will probably read the bullet points and will receive your information. Anything else and she’s likely to not bother.

          All of that being said, it sounds like Anne has a few things going on. You may not have any room to tackle any of the other things, but you do have some control over your communication.

          1. Samata*

            I am also a “D” and would you mind if I use some of your wording in trying to explain my communication style. This is the perfect way to describe how I have to navigate some people but I can never ever do it this eloquently.

            1. Eye of Sauron*

              Hi fellow D :)

              Feel free to use anything I’ve written. I just kind of chuckled to myself that this was so long-winded of me, so very un-D-like

              1. Decima Dewey*

                I had a supervisor that I liked who was a D. When I was suggesting something, I didn’t go into a long explanation. I said “Maurice, do you want me to do X?” If he said yes, I did X. If he said no, I didn’t do X. The others in the department would go to Maurice and take forever to get to the point, so they thought Maurice favored me. FWIW Maurice claimed (tongue in cheek) to hate us all equally.

          2. sb*

            Yeah, as another “D” style (who also has hearing troubles at times, which exacerbates some of the communications quirks of the style), some of this could be style issues. Not all of it — the throwing you under the bus when she asked you to contact others, the template thing, those are straight-up obnoxious.

            As a manager, it’s her job to mitigate communications style differences, but she’s not doing it. If you can, it’ll help. (It might also help you to feel less implicitly critiqued if you know some of it is just differences in style, too.)

            I might say the thing about listening myself, though I’d try to be politer about it, if I realized a little bit into a lengthy explanation that I hadn’t parsed the start correctly *and* that it was actually important this time rather than a rambling intro. (I have some reports who have a more long-winded, ramble-around style. I work hard on being patient and friendly and letting them talk themselves through to the point, but I do kind of zone out on it sometimes.) For that matter, I’ve done the thing of sounding like I’m taking over and re-explaining, although that’s actually because of not being sure I heard them correctly and I’m really asking “did I hear you correctly that BLAH”, which I’ve tried to be a little more clear about.

            But definitely, in this sort of case, I would start with the question and then do the details. (We call it BLOT (bottom line on top) rather than BLUF, but six of one, half dozen of the other.) “Ann, I need your approval to rush-order llama polish.” instead of “Ann, we ran out of llama polish halfway through the herd yesterday, and there’s only one supplier order a month, so if we want to have them all polished before herd inspection on Friday, we’ll have to rush order. So can you sign off on that?” If she trusts you/you have a good working relationship, she might just sign. Since it sounds like you don’t, you’ll let her walk through the “wait, why do we need more polish” and “wait, why do we need to rush order it?” in her own order, and you can answer her.

      3. LQ*

        Yeah this jumped out at me too. I could entirely see my director doing this. Sometimes I’ll start a conversation with something that’s not going to require 100% attention because he has a hard time shifting from one thing to the next and I’ll throw out an easy one that doesn’t require all his attention to smooth that transition. I also will say what kind of item I’m going into, one where he’s going to have to pontificate for 15 minutes, or a quick decision, or a just so he’s aware thing. That has helped a lot. He’s pretty notorious for not fully paying attention and I’ve recommended this to others who see results if they are right about the categories of things.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          If I don’t watch myself, I kind of think-through-things out loud. With some bosses that’s okay, with others it’s really important to come in with the one sentence answer I’m sticking with.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I have a colleague who basically follows the principle of “A picture is worth a thousand words” in reverse. Holy cow. Trying to have an effective discussion with her is excruciating. Even being within earshot while she overexplains the origin of the universe before getting to the f-ing point is excruciating.

            I’ve learned to present the bottom line first and it just makes things so much easier. As said above, you can always provide context, but you don’t need to lead with the issue’s life history before the big reveal.

            1. Samata*

              YES! Ask, then explain if necessary. And by god if you get a yes stop explaining before you turn it into a no.

      4. EditorInChief*

        That stuck out to me too. I manage a large team, and I understand Ann’s impatience with people who start off with a preamble rather than get to the point. It by no means excuses her behavior, and I can’t imagine saying what she said, but I get it. OP should make sure she is concise and to the point in her dealings with her boss as that is how she seems to value communication. And depending on the industry, explaining why you did something instead of something else can come off as argumentative rather than explanatory. Plus your boss doesn’t want to hear it, so again, be concise in your communication with her.

      5. TootsNYC*

        another good thing about adopting this streamlined approach to interacting with her:

        it cuts down on the time you have to talk to her (or listen to her), and it lessens the risk that she’ll respond to some framing words from you. You get what you need, and nothing more. (Mostly.)

      6. JB (not in Houston)*

        That’s definitely true, but it’s also industry/job-dependent. My boss can’t really give me correct guidance on what he wants me to do on a case without some background info that, while I keep it relatively brief, would definitely take more than 15-20 seconds to provide. But even in cases like mine, it’s helpful to frame in a way that your boss knows you will be giving background info she needs to hear before you get to your question. Even something like “do you have 2 minutes for me to ask your input on something that’s come up on the XYZ case?” And presuming the answer is yes, something like “the question/problem is about ABC, and here’s why it’s an issue,” and then give the brief background. In other words, set up the expectation that this isn’t a simple 10 second question and that you’re telling information that’s actually needed for her to answer the question, and then KEEP IT BRIEF and tell her only what she actually needs.

    4. Nanani*

      Eh, it really depends.

      There is a lot of room for “You say this is a mistake but it’s exactly the same as the template/style guide/correct version you approved last week” – maybe there’s clarification to be brought to light, or maybe the boss is just being an asshole.

      Depending on the work, there’s also a subjective component. The ability to distinguish between “wrong” and “not the way I would do it” is important, ESPECIALLY when giving feedback. If you don’t know the difference, you are training people to read your mind rather than to calibrate teapots or what have you.

      1. Snark*

        But if you’re dealing with someone who thinks “wrong” and “not the way I would do it” are synonyms, explaining why you did it your way is going to have no traction. I’m not saying that it’s a healthy or productive dynamic, but I am saying that “but well I did it this way because reasons” is just going to piss them off, because they don’t care.

        1. Natalie*

          [cw: abuse]

          In a similar vein, though, I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to communicate better with this boss because ultimately its a pointless endeavor at best and crazymaking at worse. An abusive partner doesn’t hit his spouse because she “made him angry”, he does it because he has issues with control. But she’ll drive herself absolutely crazy trying to avoid making him angry in the future.

          When you’re dealing with an irrational person, it’s tempting to think you can reduce their irrational behavior by changing yourself, but you can’t, since the cause is internal to them. Better to focus your energy on finding another job.

      2. hbc*

        You probably have to phrase it in the form of a question. “So using the templates you sent last week wasn’t the right choice in this situation?” With your tone showing you’re genuinely interested in the reason that s/he must have.

        I’ve had pretty good luck shutting down my particular fickle micromanager with this tactic. If I can basically turn it around to “Were you wrong then or are you wrong now?” in a deniable way, it pretty effectively stops the blame game. Or he at least has to explain why those templates don’t apply to this situation, so I have more knowledge than when I started.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I would definitely do this. I would take it one step further. I would say, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to need additional instruction. I don’t want to waste any more of your or well, my time. Since I used the template you gave me, I don’t know where I went off course. Could you please walk me through it one time to show me specifically what you want? I think some effort on the front end will really help us later. Thanks!”

          1. Snark*

            I’d strip it even further. “I’m sorry to hear that. I did use the template you recommended last week, and made minimal change, so where, exactly, did I go wrong?”

        2. Nanani*

          Yes, exactly!
          Either they realise they’re being ridiculous, or they give you knowledge you didn’t have before, and either way you remain professional.

    5. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I love Snark’s “black box” theory. I want the black box. Inputs and outputs sound wonderfully simple and logical. Throw in personalities, office politics, perception, corporate culture norms, unspoken expectations, inconsistent messaging, etc., and it all becomes… a hot mess.

      1. Snark*

        Just to be real clear, as a theory, it’s a model the black box can adopt to depersonalize criticism and abrasiveness, not something an effective manager should expect or want out of employees in real life.

      2. Ainomiaka*

        Eh. As a theory I’ve only seen it lead to clueless bosses that make reports miserable or audit findings/dismissal because the supervisor doesn’t make sure their employees are doing what they are supposed to because the output looked good. I don’t recommend that model at all.

  12. Jam Today*

    The one good thing that has come with age and life experience is that my threshold for tolerating mean people has dropped nearly to zero. Events have arisen lately that have given me reason to look back at previous jobs — on in particular — and I’m staggered at the amount of abuse I took. I’ve built a sufficient financial buffer such that I could walk if I really needed to, so I’m fortunate in that regard.

    My recommendation is to start your job search now, while you still have a fairly decent attitude; job searching when you’ve been crushed by a bad situation is going to be close to impossible, because you will radiate misery to anyone interviewing you.

  13. Luna*

    Okay so Ann sounds so much like my current boss that I am nearly convinced one of my coworkers wrote this and I will now not be able to do any work for the rest of the day while I try to discern which one it is!

    All jokes aside, working for a person like this is terrible. It does help to have co-workers who are allies, who you can talk with and try to come up with coping strategies together.

    Until you are able to leave for a new job, my best advice is to focus on the work and the skills and knowledge you are gaining from your projects. Even though working for my boss sucks, the projects we do are interesting and I am learning a lot from them, and I try to focus on that and think about ways my experiences here will hopefully, some day, land me a new job.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I wonder how often this happens—one of you wrote and one of you is thinking, ‘OMG that’s Jane!’ And it actually is Jane, not just someone in a similar situation.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I feel like it’s way way less common than people think! There are just a lot of Ann-type-people out there.

  14. Mayati*

    I worked for an Ann last year. Here are my take-aways:
    1) You cannot be emotionally healthy while you’re being abused. Yes, this is abuse. There’s a wonderful article on Sick Systems on issendai dot com, which I know other readers have cited in previous comment sections. Read it.
    2) Keep track of stuff, not just to document this sort of WTF-ery in case you need to prove something legally or administratively (like entitlement to unemployment benefits), but to prove to *yourself* that what you’re experiencing is real, it is a pattern, and it is not your fault.
    3) Give up on whatever hopes you have for moving forward in your career with this job, and use the energy you’d otherwise put into going the extra mile to care for yourself, your personal relationships, and your job search. Like Alison said, you’re not going to get a good reference out of this person, let alone good opportunities for growth. Stop giving your “all” to a job that barely gives you anything back. If you’re the sort of person to bring work home with you, literally or mentally, stop that (unless you get overtime pay for it).
    4) Self-care gets its own bullet point. This can include therapy if you’re going to be staying here longer than, say, a month (or if you’ve been there longer than a month already). Actually, it SHOULD include therapy, because you are in a situation that is designed to destroy you over time in small ways and in big ways that you’re trained to think are small. Emotional abuse is no joke. I hope you have decent healthcare through this company!
    5) Don’t befriend your awesome coworker too obviously. The two of you might become The Troublemakers in Ann’s eyes. But DO befriend this person, or at least use them for reality checks if you don’t really feel friendship chemistry.
    6) Again, none of this is within your control. It’s not your fault and it’s not about you, and even when you inevitably make mistakes in your work, the resulting explosion will not be about the mistake you made — it’ll be about Ann needing to explode. Zen your way through it. But remember that zen is not a long-term plan, just a stop-gap measure until you get out.
    7) Make allowances for how damn hard job-searching is when you’re being torn down every day, and plan extra time for it. Also set aside money for being fired unexpectedly or having to quit. I don’t know if your tyrant boss is the fire-people-out-of-nowhere type or the make-them-quit type, but I bet this workplace has high turnover, and you shouldn’t expect to be an exception.

    Good luck. Don’t suppress how much this sucks. Write it down in a journal or something. Hold on to the sense of reality you presently have, and don’t try to be so “strong” that you can take the abuse. This is objectively well beyond the pale of how humans should treat each other, even without the power dynamics involved, and you deserve better.

    1. Clever Alias*

      “Don’t befriend your awesome coworker too obviously. The two of you might become The Troublemakers in Ann’s eyes. But DO befriend this person, or at least use them for reality checks if you don’t really feel friendship chemistry.”

      My awesome coworker and I now stagger our departures and meet a block away from the office if we’re going to lunch or drinks. It is painful how accurate that statement can be in a toxic workplace.

    2. Ophelia*

      Yes – number 2 is really helpful – even for little stuff – it adds effort on you, but if you can document “we all agreed to name files with X convention” or “We will all use Ann’s templates for teapot measurements” and share those bullets with your team, then it’ll help keep you from feeling crazy, and gives Ann’s criticism less weight with anyone else in the room.

    3. Anonygrouse*

      Seconding all of this. Don’t dismiss this abuse just because it’s somehow “not as bad as” some other situation you can imagine — do what you can to acknowledge that your reaction is 100% valid (by documenting, by getting support from coworkers, by talking to a professional) and to take care of yourself. I left a similarly toxic workplace and am still talking to my therapist about that job 11 months later.

      Another suggestion re: befriending coworkers — keep in mind that this applies even if you or the other person does manage to get out. I continue to keep in touch with coworkers still at OldToxicJob; they get support from someone who “gets it” and I get a reality check that yes, it really was that bad, and it’s OK that I’m still processing the whole thing.

    4. Chaordic One*

      “7) Make allowances for how damn hard job-searching is when you’re being torn down every day, and plan extra time for it. Also set aside money for being fired unexpectedly or having to quit. I don’t know if your tyrant boss is the fire-people-out-of-nowhere type or the make-them-quit type, but I bet this workplace has high turnover, and you shouldn’t expect to be an exception.”

      You’re so right!

    1. Reba*

      I know I say this about every NYmag column… but the photo editor is a genius. It seems like they have fun getting to use the vintage stock library! This one is particularly eloquent.

    1. Babayaga*

      Agreed. This is giving me all the feels. I just escaped a jerk department head- a manipulative horror show who used to come to my desk and literally dictate to me what to type in response to an email. Didn’t trust me one bit. But she protected (and recently promoted) a totally emotionally destructive impostor.

      OP- get outta Dodge.

  15. Catabodua*

    There is lots of good advice here, but one thing I wonder – for the template example. She creates something, you use it, then she claims it’s unreadable. Does she do this in email? If so, can you reply something along the lines of “What part of your template no longer works for what we are trying to accomplish? Can you let me know how you want me to modify your template to make it more readable or do you want to do that?”

    It would probably just piss her off more, but I’m curious how she’d react to getting reminded she created it in the first place.

    As for the times you get asked to get info and then get push back and blamed, again is she telling you to do so in email? If so, forward her email so it’s clear where the request is coming from.

      1. Catabodua*

        I think out of sheer spite I’d probably forward it again along the lines of “I wanted to follow up with you on this. What changes do you want to make to the template you created so we don’t have these issues again the next time this task comes up” sort of thing.

        But honestly, I feel for you. I was in a situation with a horribly abusive boss and honestly you go into survival mode. You don’t want to hear any more complaints/problems/etc so you just take it. It’s an awful place to be in.

      2. Anon for this*

        Well, of course she wouldn’t respond to you – for a manager like that, trying to take ownership of a situation is insubordination or defensiveness. It’s not a two-way street where you’re expected to follow up, you’re just supposed to do exactly what she asks.

    1. Stinky Socks*

      This. I don’t know how productive it would be, but circling back on written/emailed instructions would at least be very satisfying. “I’m sorry, Ann, I mistook your instructions below for me to reach out to Fergus to mean that you wanted me to reach out to Fergus. Can you please clarify this for me so I can avoid this mistake in the future?

      1. CM*

        I need to do this sometimes (a lot more in a previous job) and I learned to do it politely. Like this: “My notes from our meeting on Wednesday say that you asked me to email Fergus on Topic X, so I sent the email to Fergus later that day.” And then something like, “Did I misunderstand?” or “Can you help me understand what I should have done differently?” or “Now it seems like you’re saying that emailing Fergus wasn’t the right thing to do. Can you help me understand what changed?”

        Oddly, I had a boss who would do a lot of this but yet wasn’t a jerk. She was very nice but would completely contradict herself from day to day. Literally one day it would be, “We’ve always done it this way,” and the next day, “We would NEVER do this.” At first I worried that I was just really bad at my job and completely misinterpreting or forgetting what she was saying, but over time I realized and confirmed with co-workers that it was her, not me.

        As for the other jerk behavior — undermining, making snide comments, etc. — I think you either shrug and accept it without taking it personally, or find a new job.

    2. Someone else*

      The template bit of the letter sort of twinged…no doubt Ann is a jerk for plenty of reasons listed, and there’s probably no easy way to get useful actionable feedback from her on most fronts, but I did recently have an issue with a now-fired colleague who got reallllllllllllllly stuck on templates. She’d make a dozen mistakes a day and every time get defensive with “but I used the template”. Except there were very clear aspects of the template that were “edit this always” or “edit this as needed” etc. So a large part of the problem was She Used The Template With Very Little Modification. In a vacuum “I barely changed it, how can it be unreadable” sounds like the template-giver must be unreasonable, but there are a lot of realities where the purpose of the template is “jumping off point” and if it’s not edited much, that is the problem.

      Of course I have no way of knowing if that might be applicable to LW’s situation, and it doesn’t change the fact that I’d be looking to leave that job, but because of my recent experience with a person whose use of a template would in fact produce incoherent output, it made want to unpack the whole template business because there is a slight chance the LW might learn something useful. (But I doubt Ann would ever be a provider of said Useful Feedback)

      1. Catabodua*

        That is a very good point. At oldjob we had a template to use for journal entries that was an excel file. The template had a 1 in either the debit or credit column for you to use as a guide on whether that account would have a debit or a credit in normal circumstances.

        We had someone who just couldn’t get that concept and routinely submitted them leaving in the extra 1’s. There were lots of things wrong with her work, but that was a particularly head banging one.

        1. Catabodua*

          To be even clearer – not every line needed to be on each journal entry. So you used the ones you needed and deleted the extras. She would leave them all there with the 1s in them and submit it for processing. Essentially making a balance change by a $1 each time she submitted it.

          We took away her submission privileges once we figured it out.

  16. Tin Cormorant*

    My husband dealt with a boss like this recently. Just a terrible human being in general.

    As an example, she asks him why he takes “so long” to finish assignments and he says it’s because he likes to double check his work for errors before sending it out. She says he doesn’t need to do that and she’d rather get it faster. She then proceeds to lecture him later about the errors in his work after he starts following this instruction.

    One time it reached a breaking point when she chewed him out for 20 minutes for errors that were already in the document when she sent it to him for his part, and when he pointed this out, she told him he should have caught it anyway. When he was expressly told not to spend extra time looking for errors.

    Wish I had advice here on how to deal with it, but I really don’t. He found a new job pretty quickly after that and enjoyed handing in his resignation.

    1. Catabodua*

      Every time I see a story like this it makes me feel better that I wasn’t alone in dealing with that sort of nonsense with my horrible boss. For mine, she’d pull the documents off the shared server, make major changes and then not place them back in the shared spot. So when she asked you to update something you’d get berated for not using the most up to date one …. that was only on her hard drive and not available for you to even use.

    1. This Daydreamer*

      Oh dear gods. I just realized I pretty much was the previous letter writer working for this horrible boss at one point. I’m glad that’s over with now.

    2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

      Same here. It’s already a nightmare scenario, but that would be even more of one!

  17. Emily Frank*

    I so agree with Alison here! I worked for an Ann for four years– FOUR YEARS! When I finally realized that I wasn’t the crazy one, I had a really hard time finding another job because I was so demoralized from those terrible 4 years. Eventually I struck out on my own, but it took me months to remember that I’m actually very good at what I do, and that I have valuable things to offer to clients. So, fellow sufferer, get what you need from this bad boss and then get out. As the saying goes, since I can’t be a good example, I hope I can at least be a horrible warning.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Isn’t life so easy and amazing on the other side? It’s like you had no idea how normal you could feel or how much extra time you have when you aren’t constantly trying to recharge from this crap. It’s a new world!

    2. Jam Today*

      About two years ago I got laid off from a job that I loved, at a company that I hated (loved the nature of my work and my clients, had a very dim view of company leadership). I had severe TMJ for about a month, my second instance of it in a span of about a year. I was thinking “oh man, I’m going to have to get a custom bite guard, to the tune of $800”, then I got laid off, and within 48 hours it was gone and has not come back. All the stress that caused me to grind my teeth in my sleep, and clench my jaw like I was turning coal into diamonds while I was awake dissipated in less than two days. It was amazing. I felt like a new person.

  18. HS Teacher*

    After spending 12 years working for two horrible bosses (in two different places), I decided I will never do it again. The toll it took on my health, my relationship, and my self-confidence was too great for me. There isn’t a salary or a benefits package that, to me, is worth working for a horrible boss.

    What that means is I will leave a job if I have an awful boss. It also means, I won’t take a job if the boss has a reputation for being a jerk. It took me a long time to get to the point where I realize I can’t work with everyone, and that’s okay.

    I realize that not everyone can leave their jobs, at least not with ease. However, if more people stood up for themselves in the workplace, I think it would benefit all of us. The bosses who treat people like crap continue to do so because they’ve gotten away with it for far too long.

  19. MuseumChick*

    I’m dealing with this on a much smaller scale. Just wanted to share one story that helped a little with my situation.

    My boss asked to compile a list of things that needed to be done for one large project we were on a somewhat tight deadline for. I did, emailed to him and didn’t hear anything for weeks. Until he come over to my work area to talk about something else and then out of nowhere said, in a very harsh tone “You need to get me that list.” He said a couple other things that basically suggested I was incompetent. I just said ok to finish the conversation.

    I then went into my email, forwarded the email I had originally send with a message say “Here is the list you asked for.” He never apologized but the next day he come to me and said “Hey, because of X and Y I am overwhelmed with emails right now. For this project lets have standing phone calls to touch base.”

  20. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    This jerk boss may be unredeemable, in the sense that there is nothing OP can do to change the jerk personality. Calling it “management style” is too kind. It’s personality, and no one will change the boss’s personality. OP doesn’t say why this job is worth putting up with jerk boss, except the reference to the “national industry leader” may imply that OP is gaining valuable, marketable experience working with such an esteemed person. If OP has a good reason or reasons to stay at the job, then OP should do a realistic assessment of the pros and cons, to see which side wins. If the cons win, OP should start planning a short-term exit strategy. If the benefits of the job outweigh this jerk boss, OP should still start planning a *long-term* exit strategy, unless changing managers is a viable option.

    My pro-exit position is based on how much OP appears to interact with the jerk boss (a lot) and the undermining/belittling behavior that AAM points out–a complete lack of respect for the OP. That level of disrespect from the boss means that OP has to embrace self-respect and exit the toxic environment in an appropriate time frame for the circumstances.

    OP, let me ask you: What does this boss value? What does this boss reward? The boss sounds critical of everything. Does the boss praise anyone in your organization and why? I’m asking because the answers may provide you with clues in dealing more successfully with this boss in the short term. Good luck, OP!

  21. Cait*

    When Ann asks OP to send emails on her behalf and then responds by belittling OP, I wonder if there is an opportunity in the first email to specifically state that Ann requested OP send the email? Put it out front that you are being asked to send the email, then when they balk, it’s not directed at OP?

    1. Tuesday Next*

      I was thinking the same. “Anne said I should email you about the teapot spout moulds. Please could you assist.”

      Even better if you can get an email from Anne confirming that this is the correct action to take beforehand.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I didn’t work for an Ann and I took that approach anyway. It’s a good all-purpose way to introduce myself and my role wrt my manager. If Manager asks “please email [my contact] so-and-so about X”, my email is “Dear So-and-so, Manager asked me to touch base with you about X for reasons.” Sometimes I’d cc Manager so it would be recorded by both of us that I carried out the instruction.

    3. London Grammar*

      Yes, I agree. Whenever my manager has asked me to send emails on their behalf, I always make that clear in the e-mail and copy my manager in. Also, if the recipient isn’t happy about receiving the e-mail, it ensures that their annoyance is not directed at me.

  22. The Other Dawn*

    I worked for an Ann for one horrible, soul-sucking year. She treated everyone like a five-year old, and was always condescending. She even behaved that way to people above her, although on a much smaller scale. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why she treated me better than others in the department (I felt SO bad for them…). She was still a PITA, a micro manager, and condescending, but not nearly as bad as with others. I eventually figured out that if she perceived someone to be smart and capable, she treated them better. And it helped to speak up to her in the moment, which is what I would do; the others never did that.

    I don’t know if that’s what is going on with OP’s boss, but I agree with others that it’s worth finding out how the coworker was treated after he spoke up. Perhaps the boss respects people who her call her on her behavior?

  23. Yorkshire Rose*

    I once worked for a similar boss. I would keep telling yourself (and believing in yourself) that you are smart and you do good work. Your choices here are to try to ride out her tenure, being careful not to do anything that could be considered insubordinate (you’d have to determine if you think she’s there for the long haul or not) or leave. Since she is the one in charge of your reviews and raises, you’ll need to do what’s best for you and your career.

  24. Sarah*

    This issue is literally what put me in therapy – I had a boss like this and I was his only direct report. My first two months in therapy, my therapist was actively worried about me because it was affecting me so much. But OP, let me save you some time and tell you what she told me: in life, we all have situations that need to change, and situations we feel responsible for. But the key is that there’s actually a triangle of things we need to be effective: power, control, and responsibility. If you don’t have the power to change something, or control over what goes out, the end product is not your responsibility. They have to work together. Your boss wants to keep the power and control but give you the responsibility – which makes you anxious and stressed and makes her terrible management even worse. But if you can let go of feeling responsible for things where you don’t also have power and control, life gets SO MUCH BETTER. Even if she yells at you, even if she demeans you (and my ex-boss would do it all – down to questioning my competence at a job he specifically recruited me for), once you embrace that idea it stops hurting (as much).

    Best of luck, OP. I’m rooting for you.

    1. Polaris*

      I also ended up in therapy and on meds because of my bad boss! I stuck it out way longer than I should have because the company was willing to work with my grad school schedule.

  25. Stranger than fiction*

    I’d be interested in knowing what the turnover in Anns department has been like and whether or not Op and speaker upper dude would have any chance of bringing the issues up to someone over Anns head?
    Sounds like one of those situations where Ann is seen as too valuable and the uppers are probably away and don’t care, so maybe that wouldn’t work.

    1. What’s*

      My best guest is that Anna has too much power primarily because her role has the most impact on the bottom line. Understandable for profit, but if Anna is abusing her authority as a manager, morale will suffer and valuable people will leave. I’ve experienced managers like Anna who systematically get rid of anyone that she considers a potential threat to her position under the guise of poor performance. High staff turnover and ultimately, the business declines. Shame

  26. Lea*

    UGH the talking over thing reminds me of when I was working under my worst boss to date during college.

    I was part of a team of 3 student workers that assisted in planning events for a program funded by the university. Since it was part time and we were all students, there would be times where one or two people were out because they had class or something. My boss made it clear that if one student had an ongoing conversation with a vendor (say the caterer) and they called while the student (let’s call her Erika) wasn’t in, we were to take care of it. Makes sense, since we’re all fully capable of coordinating with the catering company.

    Anyway, one day I was the only student in the office with my boss and while she wasn’t in the same room, she could hear what was being said. The phone rang and I answered, it was the caterer looking to speak with Erika because she had initiated contact with them. I started to say “sorry Erika’s not here right now, (but I can assist you with whatever you need)” but while I was saying the part in parentheses, my boss yelled from the other room “tell them you can help them even though Erika’s not here, this doesn’t need to be passed onto her” and since she was yelling over me she couldn’t hear what I said. The caterer wanted to confirm the date, so all my boss heard after her yelling was “yes that’s correct. See you then, bye” and assumed I had blown it off to give to Erika later instead of helping them, which was obviously not the case.

    Immediately after she came in to reprimand me for not following procedure, I politely told her what I said and she just rolled her eyes in the way that she thought I was lying but didn’t have the energy to address it. She’s the one professional contact I hope to never cross paths with again.

  27. Scoop*

    Oh no. I had a boss like this (maybe not AS bad, but definitely similar) and it’s both awful and immensely relieving to see this behavior and the consequences written out so clearly. I knew I had a less than ideal relationship with my boss, and I knew it was mostly communication issues, but man. I tried so hard for so long to take on the burden of that mess. It’s somehow nice to see that I was just falling prey to her traps. Sigh. At least I’m out now. And can continue to process through the effects on my confidence and morale at a safe distance. Best wishes to you, OP!

  28. Greengirl*

    Yeah this boss is a jerk. I have worked for jerk bosses and here is my advice:

    1) I second Alison’s advice about seeking out the coworker who stood up to her. My awful boss was a bully who discovered he couldn’t bully a coworker so left her alone. The rest of us were fair game (he frequently made his second in command cry because he liked to wind her up). If she leaves the coworker who stood up to her alone, stand up to her.

    2) Enlist your coworkers if you can. One thing that really helped is that we all knew our awful boss was awful. We shared strategies for dealing with him such as documenting things in e-mail, making sure to send sales/fundraising reports at the end of the day on Friday right before you left, and also, just generally supporting each other. Now this can turn into venting fests which aren’t as helpful but sharing strategies for what works when managing Ann could be helpful to you. Like keep it problem focused rather than “ann is terrible” focused.

    3) Engage in self-care. As much as possible, when you are not at work do not be at work. Try to give yourself outlets outside of work to remind yourself that you are competent and more than just your job. Talk to a therapist if you need to. This may all sound like an overreaction but the two years I worked for awful boss were years of serious mental health problems for me. Someone belittling you on the regular is an incredibly difficult situation to be in.

    4) Get out. That is the biggest thing. Build your resume and get out. I know it can be really hard to summon the energy to job search when you are in a bad situation like this but you are not going to be able to improve Ann and staying in a toxic environment like this is bad for you. It teaches you bad norms. I am also guessing that you are not doing your best work while working for this person.

    Good luck! Bad bosses happen but there are many okay bosses and even great bosses out there.

  29. Anon for this*

    However, it’s becoming difficult to use her criticism to do better on future projects. She interrupts or talks over me and my fellow staff constantly even when we are answering her questions. I use the templates she provides without making many changes but, when sent for her approval, it is “unreadable.” She has asked me to email people on her behalf with requests but then, when they balk, she jumps in to say I’m still in training and won’t make requests like that again. I get corrected on minor issues, like the manner in which I’ve saved our documents, in front of people outside of our team who don’t even have access to our files. Sometimes, instead of providing the small clarification I ask for, she goes back to square one of my job training and starts explaining my fundamental tasks again.

    As hard as this may be to hear, she doesn’t want you to improve. She’s intentionally setting up a situation where you look like an imbecile and, if she’s asked, she’ll claim that you’re resistant to feedback or completely untrainable. She’ll push you to your limits and if higher-ups get involved, she’ll use the opportunity to lament about how her staff constantly wrong her, despite all the hands-on help and second chances she gives them.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, OP, your failure is her success.

      She fails to grasp that when you fail she also fails. From what you are saying this is a person who needs to feel success regularly in order to feel good about themselves. What she is doing to you is actually how she feels about herself. She probably believes herself to be a constant failure but if she identifies your failures that means she now has success. She has successfully identified a failure of yours.

      She is probably a friendless person. I had a boss like this and she kept saying, “I just want someone to be my friend.” Hmm, try being nice? Just a thought.

    2. God punishes*

      This –
      As hard as this may be to hear, she doesn’t want you to improve. She’s intentionally setting up a situation where you look like an imbecile and, if she’s asked, she’ll claim that you’re resistant to feedback or completely untrainable. She’ll push you to your limits and if higher-ups get involved, she’ll use the opportunity to lament about how her staff constantly wrong her, despite all the hands-on help and second chances she gives them.

      Enter “Unfirable toxic Boss”

  30. Nea*

    Yet another voice saying “Get motivated to get gone. NOW.” I was tag-teamed by a pair of micromanagers at a job to the point that when I got a new job I actually freaked out when they were confident that my work didn’t need two levels of detailed oversight for release. I had worked in that particular industry for five years before the tag team, including for two previous managers on that very project who LOVED my work! The tag-team had messed with my head that badly.

    Get out like you’re Jordan Peele running for an Olympic track record before Anne rots away your self confidence. You may think it’s just about the work, but it isn’t.

  31. Serin*

    This sort of behavior is how learned helplessness is created.

    I worked for someone like this many years ago, and probably the biggest regret of my entire working life is that I didn’t turn that job down — or, if I absolutely couldn’t pass up the opportunity, find myself a therapist to help me remain confident of my own competence in the face of her undermining. It set my career back in a horrible way.

    While you’re there, I really do recommend finding a counselor who can be a reality check, offer you scripts and roleplay them with you, and just be a source of support.

  32. mf*

    I worked for an Ann for 1.5 years, and even that was TOO long. I always made a point of putting the responsibility of her training/instructions back on her: “Here’s the completed TPS report. Per your instructions, I have used the template you provided.” This made it a lot harder for her to criticize my work, and if she did, I would express confusion: “Sorry, but I’m a bit confused here. I used the template you provided, so I’m not sure why you think it’s unreadable.”

    In my case, my Ann was terribly insecure and obsessed with how others perceived her. She was very, very, very concerned with receiving criticism from others or appearing incompetent. So she had gotten good at turning the tables so that her subordinates were the ones who were blamed for any less than perfect work produced by the department.

  33. SS Express*

    I worked for someone a lot like this once. In retrospect, there are definitely things I could have done to make the situation easier – if I’d known then what I know now I could play the game and things would probably go really well. But if I had my time again, the ONLY thing I’d do differently is leave much earlier.

  34. voyager1*

    This is the kind of boss that people would walk out of a workplace without anything lined up before hand. That was my first thought when reading this letter. Did we ever get update on that LW where they guy walked out of a job a few weeks ago?

  35. Not So NewReader*

    I don’t know how much you can learn about this person’s personal life, OP. But you may find that she does not have a lot of friends or any friends and what family she has is always busy “working”. No, they are not really working all the time, they are just telling her that.
    Very seldom are people successful in have two distinct approaches to life. You can figure that she probably treats people in her personal life in a similar manner as she treats you guys. It might be dialed back a little bit, but not that much.

    I am still waiting for companies to figure out that it’s toxic bosses like this that are driving up their health care costs. As I read through the comments here there were a few people who went to therapy or knew of someone in therapy because of a toxic boss. The one who actually needs the therapy does not get therapy, just half the people around them end up in therapy. We also had a few people talk about getting sick or having something clear up after quitting their job with toxic boss. When will companies learn just how vast the damage is that these toxic folks do? Companies pay through the nose for this- lost productivity, wasted materials, damaged equipment, health care bills and so on. The hidden costs here are staggering

    Alison, food for thought- it would be great to have articles/info on the hidden costs of a toxic boss/cohort. I bet more than one person would print that out and leave it on someone’s desk.

    1. All Hail Queen Sally*

      I would like to see an article on WHY upper management can’t or won’t see that there is a problem manager in their company. I once worked in an office of 30 people that had a turnover of 50 people in less than five years. Am I the only person who saw that as a red flag?

      1. NaoNao*

        My best guess is the following:

        They see it and don’t care. It doesn’t affect their jobs directly, or the person in question is producing a key deliverable or tons of $$ for the company OR they don’t see/experience the awful directly.

        They are protecting “territory” and don’t want to lose headcount that won’t get backfilled if they fire Toxic Manager.

        If they fire toxic people, they may have to fill in for them, and they don’t want to.

        Toxic Person is a family member, knows where the bodies are buried, or otherwise is “unfireable”.

        They feel they can’t remove this person because of the hassle, or because they belong to a perceived “could be a problem” protected class (ie, female, minority, disabled, etc).

        They are too caught up in toxic or “fire fighting” day to day issues to deal with it.

        The overall trajectory of the company is fine, and continues to run based on a juggernaut of some kind. I worked for a not quite toxic company that was coasting on their main service/product, that they had dominated the market in for many years and had a very strong, cash rich position in. No amount of harsh exit interviews could get rid of toxic people because the company was still raking in cash.

  36. CommiseratingAnon*

    My partner reads this blog frequently and pointed this post out because of how similar some of the behavior here is to a boss I worked for. The story about being asked to contact clients on her behalf and then having her belittle you directly to them and blame it on you when they didn’t respond the way she wanted resonates in particular. I could go on and on with my horror stories–my Ann was running a failing business into the ground with her unprofessional behavior and would frequently lose clients because of it, then turn around and blame the loss on me for not being able to sell a poor product or not doing work I wasn’t tasked with doing/that wasn’t explained clearly despite constant attempts at clarification and teamwork on my end. The worst part was that because of the line of work the job was in, we were on a sliding price scale with clients based on variable individual contract needs, and I wasn’t allowed to quote a client a price without clearing it with her first… which, of course, inevitably resulted in days of anxious procrastination and attempts at milking client pricing on her part, and significant client losses that all fell back on me because I couldn’t provide a sufficiently quick quote turnaround time.

    Like Alison and others have said, cutting your losses may be best if it’s feasible–ragequitting tomorrow would do you no more harm than the economic loss in the long run, because you absolutely cannot trust getting a reference out of her that won’t do you active harm in the job market. If I had a nickel for how many times I heard that former boss talk derogatorily or belittlingly about me to clients, other coworkers, personal friends, etc… and that was while she knew I was within earshot of her. It is not worth the toll to your mental, emotional, and physical health and sanity to put up with this sort of behavior, honestly, and if you haven’t been at the job that long, comparatively speaking, or if you’re not on a fast track to rise in this particular company or industry directly as a result of this job–get out, get out, get out and don’t look back.

  37. Kitty*

    Ugh, we have an “Ann” at our work. But somewhat fortunately, she works externally as a consultant so we only interact by email, and she is only in charge of one of our projects. Also thankfully this project is about to end. I think if she ever gets hired again for a future project, our team will have to band together to politely confront the in-house management. I’ve already started documenting her behavioural issues in case this becomes necessary.

  38. Jojobean*

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice but just came here to say…this is essentially how my mother interacted with me my entire life.

    My solution? Moving out of the country. It seems to be working for me so far but unfortunately that’s not actually a feasible solution for most people.

    Might be time to start looking for a new job?

  39. Jenny*

    Oof. I don’t have any advice, but I feel for you so much. I had a boss (actually a couple) like this, and it was *horrible.*

  40. clow*

    OP i dont know if its an option for you, but I would start looking for a new job if you can. Your boss is unreasonable and is not going to get better. In the meantime, one thing I do when my boss asks me to contact someone for him is actually let the person know that my boss is requesting I contact this person ie, “Hello Madame Pomfrey, Albus requested that I contact you concerning the health of the mandrakes…” While my boss isn’t a jerk, this at least lets the other person know that I am not demanding their time for no good reason. Of course, your boss could chastise you for this after the fact, but since you are getting chastised either way, it could help.

  41. LPUK*

    Much earlier in my career I worked for a boss like this one. I’m not even going to detail the many many ways she put me down, publiclyand privately. I used to know from the minute she walked in what sort of day I was going to have, and I used to sit in my office at lunchtime and just cry. It ruined my social life as well as all I could talk about was this woman. I lasted 2 years (when thankfully there was a reorganisation and I moved on) which did thankfully give me a chance to repair my reputation in the company after she had trashed it, but I reckon that conservatively it put back my career by three years. I was relatively inexperienced at the time, so I stuck it out for too long. My big learning was that never again would I let someone damage my self- belief in that way – I would rather walk out and preserve my confidence as I would need it to find another role. So i’m seconding people here who say that your efforts should be directed to maintaining your self- belief and finding a new role, and that the first is definitely the most important, so if you have to leave, find a way to do so!

  42. Julia the Survivor*

    I worked at a small business where the owner was the most horrible person I ever met. Briefly, she enjoyed being unpleasant and trying to start fights, had no boundaries and expected her employees to be her friends, and tried to interfere in my personal life.
    I got along for the short term by putting up a wall that didn’t allow her to hurt me, ignoring her attempts to start fights, and setting firm boundaries with my personal life. She was somewhat resentful but didn’t fire me.
    I also struggled with motivation. I had become tired of the instability of short-term jobs and wanted something better, and I couldn’t quit until I found it.
    I decided to work on my own professionalism, work quality and people skills so I’d be prepared for something better when I found it. This made me feel much better!
    When I had been there for five years and the two other staff people had left, it was unbearable. She was disappointed that I was the one left. She liked my colleague better, but this colleague had moved away. She was trying to make me quit by taking away benefits and yelling at me whenever I approached her.
    I ended up sending her an email that said “it’s clear you don’t want me here and I’d be happy to move on, but I need to find another job first. Maybe you could use your contacts to help me find another job, and then you could hire another like my colleague”.
    She apparently couldn’t handle that level of honesty, because she laid me off two days later and gave me a glowing letter of reference.
    After five months of unemployment – and she tried to contest the benefits! – I found a great job that’s better than I ever expected. :)

    1. Julia the Survivor*

      Also, I just remembered another thing I did to cope. Every Friday night at home I vented into a Word document with all the things I wanted to say about her. This kept me from dumping it on my friends. After about 2 years I didn’t need it anymore. I think I had accepted it and learned strategies.

  43. Mishi*

    I find this to be rather common where I live in Hawaii. We are raised in a culture where speaking up from bottom up (in any context, reasonable or unreasonable) is very much frowned upon, but when it’s done top down it is tolerated and even promoted in many cases. I don’t know why this is, I assume that when you’re in the position of authority with an awful attitude it makes people jump which is the easiest way to make upper management and outsiders believe progress is being made. Upper management likes progress, even if it means tolerating a horrible person that makes them look good. This really is the quickest way to the top for managers. People eventually get burnt out but are still reluctant to quit. It’s such a small place, finding a good job here is extremely difficult. What do you do…?

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