my boss makes me hassle my coworkers for no reason

A reader writes:

I started working at my current job about eight months ago. My team is small — just my manager (a director) and myself (a manager) — and we have many projects that require us to work with other teams within our company. Most of the time, we are asking people from other teams to take time out of their daily workload to assist us. Asking people to jump in on projects is not always easy, especially when it feels like everyone is bogged down with a tremendous workload. I consistently try to be a bit lighter in my approach when asking for assistance — my manager, however, sees no problem essentially bullying her way into a quicker response.

Upon starting at this company, I noticed many people spoke warily of my manager, who we’ll call Jane. I could definitely understand their issues — she can be quite abrasive and overpowering. She is very negative and constantly micromanages just about every project she’s on. Regardless of these qualities, I’ve still been able to gel with her. Sure, she can pry too far into my personal life or snap at me for little to no reason, but I’m able to compartmentalize, and I’m happy with my position. Outside of the difficult parts of her personality, I don’t necessarily mind working with her.

We are in the midst of a large project at the moment and need quite a bit of IT assistance. The only person who can help out with this is currently on a business trip across the country. He will be back within a day or so, and advised Jane of this several times in the past week. Today, Jane asked me to call this man multiple times and ask him vague questions about the project that she had already emailed him. Unfortunately, as this is my direct boss and do not have much leeway to decline, I made the call and apologized profusely to this man. He was understanding with me, but proceeded to tell me to tell my boss to “go f*** herself” and let her know “the world doesn’t revolve around her work.”

While I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, Jane has asked me to do things like this before, like abruptly calling people to demand something that could wait until they’re able to reply via email. I have shared with her that people get frustrated by this, but I’ve watered it significantly. I haven’t shared how angry others have been, mostly because I fear she will throw a bit of a fit, go to them about it, and then my relationship with them will be damaged.

Any time I have expressed discomfort with the way she asks me to approach others, she takes it as me “being shy.” I have told her multiple times that I am not shy, but what I haven’t said is that I don’t enjoy harassing my coworkers.

How do I approach this subject without making it seem like a personal attack? I want to discuss this in a healthy way, but every time I’ve attempted to have a discussion with her, she doesn’t seem to take anything in — she is just immediately on the defensive.

Jane sounds like she’s the type of person who sends an email and then pops at your desk a minute later, saying, “Did you see my email?” And there is a reason those people are considered universally aggravating.

My hunch is that Jane is so used to her way of operating — micromanaging, following up too soon and too often, and not considering that people have priorities that might be different than her own — that she’s truly oblivious to how she’s coming across. Or, to the extent that she’s aware she’s irritating people, she probably thinks they’re in the wrong. I know I’ve had times when I’m so caught up in whatever I’m doing that it’s easy to forget that my project isn’t as urgent to other people and that they might rightly need to prioritize other things before turning to my thing. We’ve all probably had those moments! Jane’s problem is that it’s her default way of operating.

I get why you’ve downplayed how angry this is making people, especially since Jane seems like the type to shoot the messenger. But if you truly want to address this, you’ve got to be more upfront with her about what’s going on. Watering it down means she’s not experiencing the true consequences of what she’s doing — you’re absorbing those yourself so she doesn’t have to.

I hear you that you’re worried it could damage your relationships with people if you tell Jane how angry they are and then she goes and confronts them. One way to address that is to ask their permission first. The next time someone expresses anger to you about Jane’s demands, you could say, “Do you mind if I share with Jane how frustrated you are? I think it could be useful for her to hear that.”

But even if you don’t do that, in most cases it should be okay for you to pass along the gist of people’s reactions to Jane. Of course, if someone is obviously saying something for your ears only, that’s different — but if your sense is that they do intend for their push-back to reach her, let it reach her. It’s possible that hearing how frustrated people are will nudge her into pulling back on some of these requests. But if you’re not being fully upfront with her about that, there’s no real impetus for her to change anything.

Try sharing people’s unvarnished reactions with her three or four times before you address the issue more broadly with her. It’s going to be harder for her to write you off as “just shy” when she’s already heard a few of these unfiltered reactions. Even then, though, I’m not convinced that addressing the issue with her in a general way is to going to get you the results you want, given what you’ve said about her defensiveness — and you might have more success pushing back on individual instances as they come up.

But if you do want to try the big-picture conversation, you could try saying this: “I’ve been getting the strong sense that people are really frustrated when we call them about questions we’ve already emailed them, or when we push them to respond immediately without accounting for other priorities they have on their plates, and I worry it’s damaging our relationships. For example, I know Bob and Lucy are really good about responding to emails, but they’re also swamped with other things, so it won’t always be immediate. I’d like to experiment with giving people more time to get back to us — I think we’ll still get what we need in plenty of time, and I think people will stop being so aggravated.” (Note the “we” language — that’s intentional. You’re framing it as being on her side, which might help.)

The other option is to skip that conversation entirely and just push back on individual instances. The next time Jane tells you to call someone when you think it’s going to annoy that person, you could say, “You know, he just got the email yesterday — I think it’s going to be aggravating if I follow up this quickly. How about I make a note to call him on Friday if hasn’t responded by then?” Or: “He’s been really irritated when I’ve followed up this quickly in the past. He’s generally really good about responding once he’s back in town, which will be in two days. I can make a note to check back if we haven’t heard anything by the end of the week.”

If none of that works … well, it’s probably not something that rises to the level of going over her head; that’s an option to reserve for bigger issues (or to let her annoyed recipients raise themselves), although you can certainly mention it if Jane’s boss ever solicits feedback from you.

But there is one other thing you can do, which is to be really direct with people when you contact them on Jane’s behalf. You shouldn’t openly throw your boss under the bus, but it’s okay to say something like, “I’m so sorry to bother you with this and I know you’re swamped, but Jane asked me to check with you about X” … and then if someone gets angry, “I completely understand why you’re frustrated, and I’ll let Jane know that as well.” If you’re being clear that you’re not the one initiating these calls, and if you’re understanding about it when people react badly, they’re pretty likely to put the blame where it belongs.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    Jane sounds like Hard Work – I can’t blame that IT guy for swearing ‘at’ her.
    I like Alison’s wording to deal with it. Good luck!

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Was anybody else reminded of the (classic) Key and Peele sketch “fighting Meegan’s battles”? It will come up with a search and is so worth a watch (but it is definitely NSFW). The premise is that Meegan walks around picking fights with big guys, and her boyfriend gets beat up.

      OP, don’t be Meegan’s boyfriend.

  2. Sara*

    I’ve hit my article limit so I can’t see Alison’s advice, but personally I think you should tell her how upset people are. They clearly don’t care about relating that to you, and you’re the one that’s getting the brunt of the attacks.

            1. Kat in VA*

              In Chrome, go to File up top, select New Incognito Window, and Bob’s your uncle.

              In Safari, go to File up top, select New Private Window, and…you get the idea.

              You’ll know you did it right because in both applications, the browser window background will change from light to dark.

              1. Mongrel*

                You can also right click on the link and there’ll be an option to “Open in Incognito\Private mode”. The wording will change dependent on browser but should be easy enough to find

    1. Just Elle*

      I agree, I mean dude told you to tell Jane to go F herself. So obviously you have his permission to share his frustration level.

    2. FTW*

      It also may be worth giving Jane feedback that it doesn’t seem to be a higher priority for the teams OP is going to. Then ask if she can check to make sure that the prioritization if correct.

      If Jane’s boss tells her that her project is second (or last) in line, then it helps OP to communicate the pushback with more force.

      1. Echmiadzin*

        I suspect the company the company knows that it is leanly staffed — and has hired Jane to do exactly what she’s been doing: fight for resources and cut through red tape.

        Whuch largely makes this a “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” moment. She’s delegating a of the argumentative skills required to please *her* boss to you. You have to decide whether that’s a good you’re willing to take on.

        It may be that is jeopardizing your relationships too much, and it’s not a role you want. Start looking,including internally (on the grounds toy want a more “collaborative” job or some such).

        Then again, if the compensation is excellent and you like the other aspects of your job, you may decide you’re OK being her enforcer, so good stay put and accept whatever relationship consequences may come. (In that case, I’d stop apologizing for her.)

        1. Echmiadzin*

          This is what I get for typing a post on a smartphone:
          * good you’re willing to take on” “role you’re willing to take on.
          * “good stay put” “then stay put”.
          Sorry if these autocorrects came off as condescending.

  3. Sara without an H*

    Jane has probably been doing this for a long time, and she’ll keep on doing it until it gets expensive for her. Of the solutions Alison offers, I’d probably go for the last one: be polite, but make it clear when contacting people who is actually responsible for the inappropriate follow-ups, and then be politely direct with Jane about people’s responses.

    And I’m naughty, but in OP’s place, I’d have been tempted to quote that IT manager directly.

    I agree that OP should not be the one to contact Jane’s superiors about this habit. Others have probably already done that, or will soon. Whether it will make a difference will depend entirely on how valuable Jane is the the company.

    1. Adlib*

      Agree. We have a Jane in my company, and although the issue is widely known, nobody has done a thing about it. I wouldn’t say she’s valuable, but her manager is in a high position and loves her so that’s how it’s going to stay.

    2. Mois*

      Yeah, I would go to Jane and tell her flat out, “(IT guy) said to tell you to go fk yourself.” At the very least it might impress upon her how much crp you’re taking for her.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yup. I ain’t getting paid enough to get sworn at by proxy – boss is getting told! Let them fight it out.

    3. Echmiadzin*

      I’m sorry, but why are we forgetting about the IT guy in all of this?

      He’s well aware of Jane’s habit of chasing people; surely he can follow up with Jane directly, rather than giving a profanity-laced tirade to another colleague. (Some people can be very brave behind a keyboard or telephone.)

      Even if, for whatever reason, they IT guy can talk about the situation with *his* manager (“do you want me to prioritize X, Y, Z, or “Jane’s work”?). And that manager certainly has standing to push back if Jane’s priorities are misplaced.

      Again, I suspect the company knows it’s leanly staffed, and deliberately hired someone with a pushy reputation to advocate for more resources. Ideally top management would care more about aligning the company’s ends and means, but large companies are like aircraft carriers: they don’t turn on a dime, so here’s the result.

      OP should decide whether — in light of how well she likes the role overall — this situation works for her in the medium-to-long term. If it doesn’t, she should look to leave, perhaps to another role within the company.

      If she does, I disagree with the prevailing wisdom to keep apologizing — she should embrace the role with gusto. (Or at least without apologies.) The apologies will come across as insincere (“why do you stay if you need to keep apologizing”), and she won’t be pleasing her boss. And ultimately, if she stays, her boss is the first person she needs to keep happy. The company may or may not be less effective because of Jane’s browbeating.

  4. Cordoba*

    I recommend deflecting with something like “Jane, I’m not calling the IT tech about this since he’s been clear that he’s unavailable and has already given me a timeline. Here’s his number, please give him a call if you think you can work something different out with him directly.”

    LW can’t stop her boss from hassling people for no reason, but she can reasonably opt out of being the instrument of that hassling.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A boss who instructs you to make a phone call that gets a “I won’t do that, you do it” is a boss who fires you on the spot for that. It’s a phone call, a higher ranking professional is telling you to make.

      This is super bad advice with dealing with an explosive person.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Heck, I’d even say it’s bad advice when you’re dealing with a more reasonable person, too. Just flat out saying “No, I won’t do that” to your boss is, quite literally by definition, insubordination. You can present alternatives, and lean on those alternatives pretty heavily even, but just saying “no” would almost certainly severely damage your relationship with your boss, up to and including getting fired over it.

      2. londonedit*

        Yeah, I’ve worked for people like Jane, and trying to get out of doing something they’ve specifically asked you to do really isn’t going to work. It’s just going to make them angry with you. I had a boss who believed she was so busy and important that people should be emailing her a million times a day. If she had a slow email morning, she’d start asking round – ‘Has anyone else not received any emails this morning? Are emails not getting through?’ People would offer vague ‘No, mine’s all fine, probably just a slow day’ mumblings but that wouldn’t be enough, and she’d start asking me to ring the IT department. Obviously I knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with her email, so I’d try a couple of gentle ‘Maybe we could wait a few minutes, just see whether anything arrives?’ suggestions which would be immediately shot down – she’d just get annoyed with me, and insist that I rang IT straight away. Didn’t I know how BUSY she was? Didn’t I understand what IMPORTANT emails she was probably missing?? So of course I’d end up ringing the IT department, who would tell me there was nothing wrong with her email. Then I’d have to tell the boss there was nothing wrong with her email, and she’d get annoyed with me for not ‘getting IT to fix the problem’. You can’t win with these people. And if someone like that is your boss, then what else can you do but follow their instructions?

        1. EmKay*

          To answer your last sentence, you keep your head down as much as possible while urgently job searching. I had a boss like that once… what a nightmare.

    2. Beth*

      This is fine if you have enough leeway in your job to refuse a direct order from your boss. But a lot of people (especially most people with micromanaging, defensive bosses prone to pushing boundaries in order to get their way!) don’t have that leeway. I suspect this approach would backfire on OP pretty hard.

      1. Antilles*

        I actually do have the leeway to refuse a direct order and much more reasonable boss than Jane…but I still wouldn’t consider trying to tell her to “do that task yourself” – the latter is way more aggressive. I could easily get away with saying I don’t think I should call the IT tech because of reasons…but telling my boss to do it herself would be way over the top.

    3. Parenthetically*

      “she can reasonably opt out of being the instrument of that hassling.”

      I disagree! Jane is “abrasive and overpowering,” “negative,” “difficult,” pries into OP’s personal life, snaps at her arbitrarily, bullies her coworkers into responding to her demands, and most importantly, OP says she “does not have much leeway to decline.”

    4. Observer*

      That’s not deflecting, that’s outright insubordination. Now, she’d be morally right – but it won’t help her if she gets fired or disciplined. And you can be sure that even if she doesn’t get directly disciplined, her boss will make her life miserable as long as she’s in that position.

    5. Echmiadzin*

      “Jane, I’m not calling the IT tech about this…”

      I think this is very poor advice. She chasing people, which isn’t illegal or immoral.

      1. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

        How about “Jane, I’m not getting cussed at by (IT Tech) about this again. You will need to call him.”
        Jane is setting her employee up for abuse.
        It is perfectly reasonable to decline to be abused – that isn’t “insubordination”, that’s “self preservation”.

        1. Echmiadzin*

          I disagree. The IT guy — not Jane — is responsible for his cussing. (I’ll also assume for the moment that cussing is “abuse”; I’m not sure that’s self-evident, but let’s set that aside.) As I noted above, I don’t see why we’re absolving the IT guy for *his* behavior here. Blaming it on Jane is awfully gendered. The IT guy either needs to communicate with Jane directly, or to have his manager sort out allocation of his time with Jane.

          To the broader point, Jane is setting up her employee for *push-back* from the people she’s chasing. Push-back is not inherently abuse.

          No organization should expect that all stakeholders will embrace new initiatives/policies with open arms. Disagreement, and especially disagreement over resource allocation, is part of life. And Push back is part of normal organizational behavior. Certainly, you can never, ever, promise employees that “you will never encounter push back as part of this job.”

          1. I Took A Mint*

            I don’t think it’s gendered to blame Jane for hounding people for unimportant things so forcefully that they blow up at her. Yes ideally the IT guy wouldn’t swear or be rude, but clearly this is beyond a normal amount of pushback: OP says her boss has gained a reputation throughout the organization for her behavior. So this isn’t just “boss is choosing to prioritize differently” this is “boss’s priorities are selfishly misaligned and she’s generating animosity that OP has to deal with.”

            That said, I don’t think OP can just refuse to do it, because even a normal boss would not like insubordination. But I think OP can say something like, “Last time I reminded IT guy he was really frustrated, so honestly I’m not comfortable following up unless we absolutely have to…I’ll call if you really think I should, but could I ask you to speak to him directly if he gets abusive?”

          2. Delphine*

            It’s not gendered. She’s not getting blamed because she’s a woman, she’s getting blamed because her deeply frustrating behavior led someone to curse at her. Was it professional of him? No. Should he do it again? Definitely not. Is it fair for him to be that frustrated? Yes, judging by what the LW says.

  5. Spencer Hastings*

    The next time someone expresses anger to you about Jane’s demands, you could say, “Do you mind if I share with Jane how frustrated you are? I think it could be useful for her to hear that.”

    If I were on the receiving end, I might be more inclined to say yes if it were framed more like “do you mind if I share with Jane how frustrating this is (for you/for your team)?” It seems less personal somehow, at least to me. What I would want Jane to know is not “Spencer, herself, was frustrated by this” (whatever emotions I have are my problem), but rather “this caused a real problem/inconvenience for Spencer”.

    1. nonymous*

      I’d probably ask “Do I have your permission to repeat that?” in a wry tone with a chuckle. If they say yes, then OP shouldn’t assume that their relationship with 3rd party will be ruined when it gets back to them.

      Honestly they might well be expecting OP to tell Jane at least that they were frustrated to the point of swearing, because it’s really not professional to expect OP to listen to language like that but protect the person swearing unless they’re buddies at some other level. And if I were OP’s boss, I really would not be happy if someone was swearing at my staff, for any reason.

      The other thing I might say when speaking with IT is “I’m going to tell Jane that all these phone calls are distracting you from working on X. Will you still be able to make Original Date for X?” I’m guessing that the IT guy will want to push things out, and that’s totally okay. I would also try to couple that with a more defined timeline at the outset; my own experience is that people have widely varying expectations about what keeping others in the loop means (e.g. contact once a day, once a week, monthly, it’ll be done when I get done), so if OP can get Jane on record to commit to that up front, she can push back on Jane’s requests. “We promised IT that we will touch base weekly by phone; I can add your New Concern to the list for this Thursday’s call. Do you want to conference in?”

    2. Burned Out Supervisor*

      If someone was telling me that “Jane can go eff herself” I wouldn’t be happy with either person – especially if I’d already couched the conversation in “I’m sorry to bother you, my boss is making me do this.” I’d let Jane know that that person was quite aggravated with me whether they wanted me to or not. It’s really sucky to be on the receiving end of that kind of vitriol for something I can’t control and I wouldn’t really care if the person who spoke to me that way knew that I shared it with my boss.
      There’s lots of other ways you can express your frustration with a situation that doesn’t involve that kind of language.

      1. Echmiadzin*

        The IT guy chose to be abusive towards OP. He doesn’t have any expectation that his comments will be kept confidential or sugarcoated.

  6. pegster*

    Do any of the people you’re forced to contact have managers at the same level as Jane? If so, is there any way to direct them and their frustrations to those managers who would have more standing to confront Jane directly? I’m kind of surprised that hasn’t happened already. If I were the one being hounded, I might vent at the moment to the OP, but you can be sure I would let my manager know that such interruptions were distracting and an impediment to my getting my work done.

    1. Parenthetically*

      This is a good thought! Particularly because the people OP is proxy-hassling seem to be largely understanding of the fact that it’s coming from Jane.

    2. MK*

      I must say that I am not feeling all that guilty about the inconvenience of these people, if they are venting their frustration on the OP and humouring Jane to her face. The one time I had to deal with this kind of pressure, I asked the assistant to put me through to the “Jane” and delivered the message myself that it was not acceptable to harass me about non-urgent stuff. And when it happened again, I went to “Jane’s” manager, which solved it for a time. When it looked as if the behaviour was coming back, I went to my supervisor and the issue was resolved at a higher level.

      1. Echmiadzin*

        +1. This is exactly what the IT guy needs to do. And if top management really wants him to prioritize Jane, he’ll know that’s what he needs to do.

  7. Dust Bunny*

    Is this two problems? Is one that Jane is a jerk, and two that you legitimately don’t have enough people on your team (or enough official support from, say, IT) to do what you need to do? It sounds like it could be that Jane is a work vampire who can make a job expand to suck in everyone within reach, but it could also be that, regardless of how bad Jane is, you need more staff on your own projects.

    1. Observer*

      Well, it’s certainly partially Jane – the stuff she’s doing is pretty bad. Which leads me to say that even if there is a real element of under-staffing, even if staffing ramped up, she’d be difficult to deal with.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        No, a lot of it is definitely her, but her need to drag in outside help might be legitimate even if she’s doing a terrible job of handling it, and that is something that needs to be addressed no matter how obnoxious she is.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Maybe. It could be company-structural. In a previous job I was in engineering, and we had product teams dealing with different things we made.

          The operations group had project managers and trainers. The project managers could pull trainer time, but if their project needed any engineering changes, they had to pull time from engineering groups whose priorities were set by their boss and balanced between the competing needs of multiple project managers, and the product roadmap/needs itself.

          It wasn’t that they were understaffed, and they would never have gotten to hire an engineer because that wasn’t the structure. It was just a systemic issue with the actual structure.

      2. Venus*

        I do wonder if the low staffing might be similar to something I have noticed around here : the projects with the worst bosses are always understaffed because all their staff are always leaving for something less painful. In this case where the OP is always talking to different people it sounds like the situation is different, but sometimes bad managers have problems not because they don’t use their employees’ time productively rather because they have almost no employees.

    2. Alli525*

      Off-topic, but “work vampire” reminds me of the currently-airing remake of “What We Do in the Shadows,” which is basically a The Office-style “documentary” about a group of obnoxious vampires living in a mansion on Staten Island. (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi are behind the show.) They introduced a new character, a so-called “energy vampire” that is just a human with the supernatural power to “feed” off of the anger and frustration they cause coworkers. It’s kinda brilliant.

  8. I'm that person*

    You say:
    “Upon starting at this company, I noticed many people spoke warily of my manager, who we’ll call Jane. I could definitely understand their issues — she can be quite abrasive and overpowering. She is very negative and constantly micromanages just about every project she’s on. Regardless of these qualities, I’ve still been able to gel with her. Sure, she can pry too far into my personal life or snap at me for little to no reason, but I’m able to compartmentalize, and I’m happy with my position. Outside of the difficult parts of her personality, I don’t necessarily mind working with her.”

    You are not gelling with her you are surviving with a toxic, horrible, abusive boss. If this was a relationship everyone around you would be telling you to get out now.

    Get out now.

    Everything about her is bad. You didn’t say one positive thing about her, only that you are able to tolerate her by compartmentalizing. If you don’t leave soon, you will still be there in 5 years and unable to leave because you will have no self-esteem and believe that you deserve to be treated like garbage and that no one else will ever hire you.

    Start job searching today. Just like an abusive boyfriend/girlfriend you will never be able to change an abusive boss.

    1. DCompliance*

      This. I know it is hard to hear and of course I don’t know what your options are, but if she is already snapping at you for no reason, don’t try convince yourself this behavior is okay.

      1. Busy*

        Right now OP could be OK, but I think burn-out may come eventually. This sounds like a pretty burn-out type environment. I mean they have to work other teams on the reg! I wouldn’t want to be yelled at every day either by my boss or coworkers, and I think anyone would crack eventually.

    2. Heidi*

      Strong agree. The OP has not mentioned that Jane is highly productive or brings in a lot of money/prestige/other good things. Nor does she say that Jane is much favored by the higher ups and her job is unassailable. People like Jane earn the collective antagonism of colleagues. I bet your coworkers are praying for her to be fired, which makes working for her a liability for you as well.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        On the flip side, I’ve been very successful in jobs being known as the Person Who Can Handle The Difficult Person. So definitely do the stuff like, “I’m so sorry, but Jane asked me to call to follow up with you,” so it’s 100% clear that it wasn’t your idea.

        NB: “Successful” in having a reputation as someone who can get stuff done and is a reasonable human, not successful in being happy in my job long-term.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      I agree, unless there’s a way OP can use this job as a stepping stone within the company to another department. (Although, to do that, she will have to manage relationships, perhaps by using Alison’s advice, such that everyone recognizes that OP is the messenger and not the true source of their annoyance.)

    4. drpuma*

      Hard agree. Lots of this letter gave me deja vu to my terrible old boss. Couching requests as “Boss asked me to ask you about X… so could I please get an update on X?” and fostering those relationships myself as best I could were not helpful when my then-boss eventually turned on me. Run away.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        When you’re getting work done exclusively on your personal capital, it makes you a threat to whoever the Jane is in that company, because she realizes people are only doing stuff because they like you. Jane realizes she has no power, which she should have because She’s The Boss, and goes nuclear at you and your network for undermining her authority.

    5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Wicked agree here. OP, you are trying to find ways to tell Jane that she is pissing people off, without upsetting her. You are absorbing the brunt of her mistreatment and you are absorbing the negative reactions of people she works with. Unless your W-2 reads Whipping Boy, you need to reevaluate your situation.
      OP: I had a good day at work today.
      Karma: Me too!
      OP: Yeah, I wasn’t able to reach someone by phone after my boss made me email his twice, so I didn’t have to hear him ream out my boss and Jane didn’t scream at me and criticize my ability to do my job based on this “failure.”
      Karma: Oh, yeah, that’s, that’s cool.
      OP: What about you?
      Karma: oh nothing, never mind.
      OP: no you can tell me, how was your day good?
      Karma: Well, my boss implemented my comment and changed an official procedure. And um, we got black and gold cookies because of the Penguin game tonight.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Yup, when a good day is “surprising and temporary absence of regular abuse”, that is not a good metric to have.

    6. elemenohpi*

      Hard agree. I had a job where I had two Jane-type bosses. While I was there, I totally rationalized my staying there as, “it’s not so bad. i’m tough. i can handle this.” But after I left, I realized that my self-esteem was a lot more damaged than I’d thought, and I’d completely lost touch with regular professional norms. It took me at least six months to adjust and get used to a more reasonable workplace.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    All my difficult bosses know they’re difficult, therefore just saying “So I called Steve like you told me to…he didn’t respond to your question, he was actually really pissed and used some words I’m not comfortable repeating to you.” would be fine. Then she can do what she wants with the information.

    It’s unfair for anyone to put you in the middle when they know you’re just her assistant, so you don’t need to water anything down and protect them in the end. They’re going to ignore both of you regardless in the end. That’s the curse of being an assistant to someone who everyone hates. You’ll always be seen as her henchman to be honest, you either embrace it or it’ll eat you alive worrying.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      OP isn’t really in the middle, she’s a manager, not an assistant. Her boss (the director) is delegating the work to her. I know she’s only been there a short time, but as a manager it would seem she should have a bit more authority to take this to someone who can do something about it. Either their team needs more support from IT, or someone needs to do something about her toxic manager.

      1. Le Sigh*

        She shouldn’t be in the middle, but the boss is so micromanagy, I think it’s putting her in the middle.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        A manager has no authority to tell a director anything, that’s not how hierarchy works.

        The most she can do is delegate this to an actual assistant but it’s a two person team.

        She’s a “manager” in name only, which is very common in the workplace. That doesn’t give you the right to tell a director “We need to figure out another way to handle this, I don’t want to make phone calls you’re telling me to.”

        1. Echmiadzin*

          She’s a “manager” in name only, which is very common in the workplace

          That’s crazy. Every manager other than the CEO has a boss — and even the CEO reports to a board. That doesn’t means LW is less than a manager. And if I may say so, your reducing her role to that of an “assistant” merely because her boss has asked her take on a project is highly gendered.

          1. I Took A Mint*

            You’re throwing “gendered” accusations all over this thread–just because someone is a woman doesn’t mean treatment against them is gendered. OP’s boss is a woman and Becky has a history of standing up for feminist issues. I think you’re really off base here and it detracts from your main point.

        2. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

          How about this: “We need to figure out another way to handle this. I am not comfortable making phone calls that get me sworn at.”

  10. QuinleyThorne*

    Every time one of these letters comes up about people who email and then follow-up in person within 5 minutes, I think of Harvey Birdman.

    “Did ya get that thing I sentcha?”

  11. Workfromhome*

    Since people seem largely sympathetic when you call them apologize and basically indicate you’re being forced to do this why not enlist their help to stop the problem. As stated if your boss tells you to call you have to call and refusing to do so even with legitimate reason might not fly.

    Next time Jane asks you to call IT try “Hi IT guy I’m sorry but Jane is making me call you again. I know this doesn’t work well for you. would you please send an email to Jane asking to please not be called and that you won’t take my calls until you return? ”

    Each time Jane pushes the boundaries instead of passing on how frustrated people are (because the complaint seems to come from the OP even if its passed on) have them complain directly to Jane. At the very least it might help when you call next time and they can say “Look I know you are being forced to do this but I emailed Jane and told her this can’t continue and I’m hanging up now”.
    If they know that Jane does this through you and they don’t like it the least they can do is try to stop it directly with Jane.

    1. Ethyl*

      I was thinking about this approach too! I think it needs to be done very, very carefully and diplomatically if attempted, though, because this could easily backfire. Someone better than me at scripts could probably come up with something even more gentle — I think you really want to avoid “OP told me to tell you everyone hates you” or whatever.

      1. Ethyl*

        Maybe even just something like “have you tried talking to Jane directly about this? I don’t really have standing to push back much on her directives, unfortunately.”

      2. Myrin*

        I don’t think it has to come to the “OP told me to tell you everyone hates you” part, though – after all, it would be quite reasonable for these coworkers to contact Jane directly even if OP didn’t ask it of them (I know that I would, were I in the coworkers’ shoes), so I really don’t think they’d need to say anything more clever or elaborate than “Jane, you’ve had OP call me for the fifth time in three days today – what the heck?!” (more professionally, of course).

        1. Ethyl*

          Well no I mean obviously I’m not suggesting that. But given what we know about Jane, if there’s a hint that “OP said I should contact you,” I can see Jane flying off the handle and hearing things that aren’t there. I also can imagine one of these poor folks getting so mad they wind up blurting out something like “we all talked about it and…” which would also get Jane’s dander up. Jane sounds like such a piece of work that handling this in any way besides “your boss is a jerk and isn’t going to change” is going to require a lot of finesse!

      3. Jamie G*

        Instead of proactively asking people to tell Jane they don’t want calls, I’d probably wait until they complain about it and say something like, “I understand it’s inconvenient/annoying, but unfortunately Jane is insisting. You might have better luck e-mailing her directly about this.”

  12. Liz*

    she sounds like my one boss! who for whatever reason seems to think that everyone should jump and fix HER issue or get HER information when she asks. Even if its a lower priority that something else. She’s done that with me too. If i have an issue, and need to say contact IT to resolution, i will do so, and tell you i’ve done it. She will then take it further and say “so it will be fixed today?” um I don’t know. i did my part, now have to wait. She will continue to repeat “so it will be fixed today?” and i’ve had to sometimes resort to just saying yes. Knowing full well it may not be, yet when I do tell her later on, nope, not today, and WHY, she’s ok with it.

    She also is impatient and try and have you bug someone you JUST sent an eamil to, asking for something. Um, how about we give them time to read it, and act on it?

    she’s not at all well liked either, for these and many other reasons.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I didn’t see your comment until I posted mine. I write that boss’ world view is determined by Me, Mine, Now. So yeah, exactly like a toddler.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Oh, lord, my ex-boss is that type. Just last week she tried to demand that I – who no longer reports to her, mind you – should prioritize printing a bunch of tedious filing crap that isn’t needed for literally anything at all anytime soon aside from “to satisfy the octopus that lives in her head”.

      Other things on my plate at the time were: the annual diversity report, which goes to the CEO, the board, and gets used for a bunch of our external grants and funding; the annual benefits statements, which are generated per employee and people are used to expecting them this time of year; and the monthly overtime reports, which take me a full day to do and go to all of our senior leadership – C-suit, EVPs, SVPs, Directors, etc.

      I was just genuinely flabbergasted that she could think that some printing and filing should be a high enough priority to be up in the above list. Really?????

      She used to do the “so it’ll be done today?” thing, too, which drives me up a wall. At this point, when she tries that, I give her the most flat, stone-faced, unemotional stare I can and just start saying “yep” to everything she asks. I am literally just trying to get her to go away, and I’m sure she knows that, but she’s not my manager anymore and my patience for that crap is nonexistent at this point.

      1. Rebecca1*

        Is octopus in someone’s head a reference to something? Google is just giving me links to aquariums and recipes.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It’s a reference to a Zero Punctuation video from like…8 years ago maybe? He was reviewing Wet, and was annoyed at some arbitrary in-game filler tasks, and his impression of the game developer was “Let’s make the player do XYZ every so often, for no other reason than to appease the octopus that lives in my head!” It became a quotable phrase that my partner and I use at each other from time to time. If you want to watch the video, you can just search for Zero Punctuation’s review of Wet – don’t watch it at work, though.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Yeah, this habit/way of doing things is indicative of bigger issues. Self-centered, narrow view, short-sighted. Or as I see it: Me, my, now.

      1. Jadelyn*

        …oh now that phrasing is beautiful. Really boils it down to the essence, doesn’t it?

  13. AnonEMoose*

    If I were on the other teams, Jane would drive me up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the other side. People following up inappropriately is near the top of my pet peeves list. I have other stuff to do, I will get to it, but I will get to it based on my own workload and priorities.

    Bothering me just wastes my time, annoys me profoundly, and drops the likelihood that I will consider doing your department any kind of favor in the future into negative numbers – WELL into negative numbers. Be clear on the timeline you need, and I’ll let you know if that’s going to be an issue so we can work something out. Beyond that, LEAVE ME ALONE and I will get it done.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Seriously. If you bug me, you drop to the BOTTOM of my priority list. I’ll get you what you needed, by deadline, but I will not lift a finger to get it to you any earlier or do anything more than the absolute bare minimum required. And in the future, you’re on my List, and you get absolutely no extra consideration for anything.

      1. froodle*

        Where is the like button?! I’m on a team that’s gone from four to two people in the last 4 months and the person that isn’t me has a health condition that necessitates a lot of time out of the office for treatment, Drs appointments etc. If I’m doing four people’s work and a relentless buffoon interrupts in order to buffoon relentlessly at me, I’m not stopping to explain or justify my priorities to them; I’m ignoring them and dropping their query to absolute last in the queue. And also cursing them to spend the rest of eternity stepping barefoot on Lego.

      2. Echmiadzin*

        I will not lift a finger to get it to you any earlier or do anything more than the absolute bare minimum required.

        To which I ask: do you want to be morally right, or be promoted? I don’t mean that as snark; if you’re not looking for advancement, that’s s fair attitude to take. If you are, it’s career suicide.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I think it really depends on the specific culture where you work. For me, if I tried to accommodate every person having a fit about wanting (note, I said “wanting,” not “needing) something done now NOW NOW, I’d never get to everything I need to.

          Plus, I have a real objection to rewarding bad behavior. If I do what everyone who tries to get an exception or accelerate something wants, they then realize that this works and encourages them to continue. Which would be…not good…in my specific position.

          So, if my boss asks me to prioritize something, I absolutely will. Everyone else? NOPE. It gets done in the order it came in, period, end of story. Because otherwise…complete chaos.

        2. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

          It’s called “work to rule”.

          When people are nasty, you give them what they require, within your own group’s SLA, no more quickly, and no extras.

          You do more, and more quickly, for the people who are nice and treat you like a person.

          In both cases you do your work politely and professionally. But nice goes farther than nasty.

          1. Echmiadzin*

            “Work to rule” is typically a principle that comes from highly unionized workplaces. In non-union workplaces, or among people aspiring to executive rules, not so much. It sounds to me like LW is more in the latter situation.

          2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            I’ve also heard the term “malicious compliance,” ex: following the rules so exactly as to not make sense and cause trouble. Like, for example, someone who was scolded for not wearing proper PPE when handling cleaning chemicals refuses to use a highlighter without full PPE because “ink is a chemical too,” thus massively delaying and irritating the customer who needed their invoice highlighted as part of a transaction.

        3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          Morally right. A job is a job, but my integrity is irreplaceable.

          1. Echmiadzin*

            This is a fair point. I shouldn’t have couched it as “morally right” versus “career suicide,” because Jane isn’t asking LW to do anything immoral or unethical. (She’s being asked to chase people for work product, not break laws/commit genocide/whatever.) Perhaps the better way to put it is “does LW want to be thought of as highly likable, or does she want to be promoted”?

            1. Another Sarah*

              Or perhaps the better way to put it is “Does OP want to be seen as a member of the team who works with and accommodates others but or does she want to be seen as the toady to a dysfunctional boss?”
              Because her boss will prefer the latter, but it’s only a path to success if her boss 1) sticks around and isn’t managed out of the organisation and 2) has the power to promote her to the next level of the organisation, which if she is only one step up, she may not.
              the other route is actually far more likely to be successful because it doesn’t involve actively annoying her boss, and preserves a certain amount of goodwill from everyone else as well.

              with regards to Jadelyn’s example above, it’s not career suicide to work to rule (which originated from the union term but just describes a type of behaviour – I will do this job for you to the SLA and to the standard spec. I will not go the extra mile for you and I will not spend additional effort to get you the unicorn you imagined. You need a horse, you’re getting a horse.)
              It’s about the attitude you do it with. You’re snarky with someone, that’s career suicide, but only dysfunctional workplaces punish you for meeting the target and not exceeding it.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                This – if LW develops a reputation as Jane’s minion, people will avoid her just like they are avoiding Jane. Jane might promote her, but no one else will, so she’ll be stuck working for Jane for the rest of her career there.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Hmm, I guess it depends on the culture. Everywhere I’ve worked, dropping everything for someone who has just barged in with an URGENT!!1! request may get you, best case scenario, a pat on the back, being told how indispensable you are, then being denied promotions and lateral transfers to better projects, precisely because you are so darn indispensable and your current team cannot afford to lose you in your current role.

          Worst case scenario, your performance will suffer because, if your work day consists of dropping everything to take care of Jane that just popped in, then dropping whatever you were doing for her ten minutes later, because there’s another Jane standing at your desk with something urgent, and so on, you’ll get nothing done.

          Neither of these scenarios results in any type of advancement. I’d be curious to see the workplaces where this isn’t the case. Like, how? how is trying to be all things for all people (and predictably failing) lead to a promotion? to me it’d say that the person has no boundaries and does not know how to organize their work.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            THIS ^^^. Part of what I get paid for is being able to maintain boundaries around my work. And there are enough people who could (and sometimes do) try to persuade me to drop everything and do their thing, there’s just no way I could accommodate that and get anything done. It’s just not possible.

            So…I routinely say “no” to those requests (politely, but firmly), and if someone is still determined that their thing is the Most Important Thing Ever, they can go to my boss. If they can convince Boss that it’s really that urgent, he’ll tell me, and then I’ll do it. But convincing Boss is no trivial task. Most of the time, he just reiterates that it will get done according to normal expectations, and that’s that.

          2. Jadelyn*

            This is such a great point. Early on in my career I had a habit of saying yes to everything, wanting to make everyone happy, and sure enough it got me stuck where I was because they just couldn’t operate without me. And eventually, it *also* started being a drain on my performance – we’d get to end of year and I wouldn’t have met my goals because I was being pulled off long-term work to do fire-fighting work every day.

            I had to learn to build boundaries and manage expectations, and get comfortable saying “no” or “I can do that, but it won’t be for a few weeks since I have a couple other high-priority projects right now. If you can wait, I’ll put it on my list, but if you need it sooner I might not be the best person to help you with it.”

        5. Jadelyn*

          Well, considering this is how I work and always have worked, and I’ve gotten two major raises and a promotion in the past 3 years…it certainly doesn’t seem to be career suicide, in my experience.

          You’re making a very blanket statement and presenting your opinion as fact, and absolutely without nuance or respect to what I was actually saying, which wasn’t that I *always* do the bare minimum – it’s that I’m selective about who I give my extra energy and effort to, and who gets just the basic service.

          There are two SVPs at my organization that I produce reports and analyses for on a regular basis. One of them is a bloody nightmare to work for – demanding, high-maintenance, will start bugging me a full week ahead of the due date she gave me, likes to CC everyone and their mother on emails where she’s trying to imply that I’m not doing my job because I didn’t read her mind about the secret real deadline and was working based on the deadline she actually gave me. The other is a delight to work with – approachable, respectful to everyone regardless of hierarchical position, always more than willing to roll up her sleeves and jump in when the workload gets high (I’ve actually seen her working on the teller line when things get too busy in a branch she’s visiting!), very understanding of people having a full plate and needing to push things back a bit sometimes.

          SVP #1 gets exactly what she requested, when she requested it by. If she has an urgent request, I will prioritize it appropriately, but if she asks for it at 4:45 pm I’m not doing OT to make sure she has something before I leave for the day. I’ll do 15 minutes of work on it, then go home, and finish it the next morning.

          But with SVP #2’s requests, I’ll probe a little bit on the context and what she wants to use the data for and make suggestions or add things to the analysis that I think she’ll find useful, and if she comes to me with an urgent request at 4:45, I will bust my ass to make sure I can send her at least a rough draft before I leave for the day, and I’ll stay late if I need to in order to do that.

          It’s all down to relationships, and the fact that we all have limits to our time and energy. When you have a good relationship with someone, you’ll do favors for them, including spending some of that limited energy if need be. When you don’t have a relationship with someone, or it’s a bad relationship, why would you expend some of your limited extra energy on that person?

  14. Beth*

    OP, I’m struck by your line “Outside of the difficult parts of her personality, I don’t necessarily mind working with her.” How much of working with her is actually completely separate from the difficult parts of her personality?

    Her personality is about more than just whether she yells at you personally. It’s also why she’s making you make these phone calls (using you as her personal shield against everyone else’s entirely valid frustration and anger with her pushiness). It’s also why your team has such bad relationships with other portions of the company; even if you get along fine with everyone on a personal level, but I’m betting you continue to encounter a lot of wariness whenever you’re reaching out in a professional capacity, because everyone’s primed to expect requests from your department to come with a side of overstepping and micromanagement. It’s also why she ignores the feedback you give her, no matter how valid and well-supported it is. I’m sure there are more side effects too; that’s just what I can see in this letter.

    Are you really OK with dealing with all those things long-term? I mean, maybe the rest of the job balances them out…but it’s a lot. Especially if the supposedly good parts of the job (the parts not related to her difficult personality) are just things you “don’t necessarily mind” doing, and not something you’re massively psyched about. It would be okay–more than okay, completely reasonable and understandable–if you didn’t want to put up with all of her nonsense anymore.

    1. Shana*

      I was waiting for someone to say something like this. Honestly, OP, your workplace sounds like a nightmare. If I had a boss who yells AT ALL, or a coworker told me to tell someone to “go f*ck herself,” I’d be outta’ there. No time for the haters. You’re clearly a considerate person who deserves a less stressful workplace with fewer jerks.

  15. Rhymes with Mitochondria*

    I’d bet money she already knows people hate this. That’s why she no longer does the follow up herself and makes you do it. I doubt that talking to her and letting her know how frustrating this is will go well.
    Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.

  16. Just Elle*

    Ugh, I feel this letter so much. My job is basically to nag people into prioritizing my projects over the day jobs their managers are asking them to do. Its so frustrating to me that my ‘success’ might actually mean that I’ve encouraged people to focus on my thing, even if my thing isn’t actually whats most important for the big picture needs of the company.

    Its hard because there’s no Jane being demanding. But if I don’t maintain a Jane-esque technique, my projects will never be priority and I will never be ‘successful’ at implementation. Obviously the solution here is to get leadership aligned on priorities and to ensure the managers value my project along with the rest of these peoples’ day jobs, but…. good luck getting that to happen anytime soon.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      In one of my leadership development programs, I have a section on influencing without authority- specifically aimed at project managers. You might do a google search with those words and see if there are any techniques you aren’t already using. It is a tough spot to be in, needing to “manage” people, timelines, and work when the people aren’t actually on your team. It is becoming more and more frequent that this is the setup, and if it isn’t done correctly *coughJanecough* it can cause a lot of problems.

      1. Just Elle*

        Thanks, that’s exactly my role, project manager! Which I’m finding is the incredibly inefficient setup of having the person who ‘owns’ schedule and budget having no actual power to fix it. This is made worse by how heavily matrixed our organization is, so that the people I’m working with might report up 3-5 levels before we have a manager in common, and priorities between organizations are not aligned. I actually have been reading about influencing without authority and found it useful!
        But the thing I struggle with is making sure I’m using my influence for “good.” If I influence someone into doing what I want, but its not aligned with the true priorities of the business, have I actually done a good job? Everyone at our company is so overworked that if they’re doing what I ask, something else is not going to get done. I just really struggle with this setup in general and wish it weren’t so common these days.

        1. Echmiadzin*

          I wouldn’t accept a project manager position without some degree of budgetary and/or staffing authority.

          1. LaDeeDa*

            As companies flatten out more and more- it is really common.
            Just Elle- I once had a boss who told me I was too strict with deadlines for other people… UH..

            Anyway- it usually boils down to the PM’s leader and the leaders of the other areas not communicating or being on the same page- not understanding and committing to the same goal. My first suggestion would be to approach your leader – and I would approach it by asking for their guidance on how to get the other areas to understand the need for collaboration, and then I would hit them with some numbers- # of delays, time spent on X, # of delays… and together figure out how to speak to the other leaders and how to get to their commitment and buy in for directing resources towards that project. Ultimately this is a leadership problem they have left for you to solve.

            1. Just Elle*

              Sorry, just circling back to this thread now, but I appreciate the advice/guidance!

              “Ultimately this is a leadership problem they have left for you to solve.” is so spot on. I feel like I’m regularly begging leadership to make a decision.

  17. Megabeth*

    Oh dear. I’ve had this boss, OP. It was very difficult to keep from being seen as the sidekick to the super villain, no matter how apologetic I was to my boss’s victims. I had to leave that job because of this boss’s effect on my health; I was a bundle of raw nerves with constant migraines and stomach aches who lived on Rolaids and coffee. You say that you ‘gel’ with your boss and that you can compartmentalize her behavior such that it doesn’t bother you but … are you certain about that? Pay attention to that voice inside; is it telling you something isn’t right? That you are being mistreated? That you should get out? Maybe I’m viewing this through a warped lense, but this situation is waving all kinds of red flags.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I’m sure, because additionally to being viewed as the side kick, some people are going to see you as the puppet master. Jane wants this; Jane needs that. Well, if it’s not due till next week, I’m figuring you are trying to clean off your plate because this is your only thing. Back off and quit borrowing authority to get your own way.

  18. irene adler*

    From OP letter: “The only person who can help out with this is currently on a business trip across the country. He will be back within a day or so, and advised Jane of this several times in the past week. Today, Jane asked me to call this man multiple times and ask him vague questions about the project that she had already emailed him.”

    This is a familiar tactic. Have had experience with managers who do this-and a few customers, too. I’m told this tactic is supposed to keep the employee on task and moving towards completing the request in the most timely manner possible.

    (feel free to eyeroll; we all know the exact opposite is true here)
    It does no good to issue a timeline or status on task progress. These are just ignored.

    These people don’t change. We solved the customer issue by setting firm ship dates and then ignoring their twice daily emails asking when to expect receipt of product.
    Managers are a lot harder to avoid. Upper management needs to shut her down. Need to take away the ability to communicate easily and directly with the other employees. Require the manager to only go to other managers to procure employee time for her tasks.

    1. Echmiadzin*

      “Upper management needs to shut her down. Need to take away the ability to communicate easily and directly with the other employees. Require the manager to only go to other managers to procure employee time for her tasks.”

      Exactly. And if upper management endorses this tactic (again, I think that may be the case), then they need to make clear to the other managers that Jane’s group does, indeed, get priority. This whole situation is arising because IT Guy is complaining to the wrong person. He should be looping his manager into this.

  19. Observer*

    OP, feel free to pass on to your boss how frustrated people are. Reasonable people will understand and may even be pleased. Unreasonable people are not going to look well on you whether you do this or not, because they are blaming you for badgering them.

    Do, however, make it clear that you are doing this on direct orders from your boss, and if you can do so tactfully, encourage them to let her know how they feel. And while it’s probably not something you can kick up the chain, they can do so.

  20. Alfonzo Mango*

    I just want to point out to OP and others reading that this letter is very different from OP 1 in today’s five question column.

    Jane is Over the Top and I wouldn’t follow through with what she wanted. She’s being unreasonable.
    I hope this OP has an HR to lean on- the best plan (besides fixing Jane, which may be impossible) is to leave.

  21. Adlib*

    “Upon starting at this company, I noticed many people spoke warily of my manager.”

    Until the revelation of other details, I was certain OP worked on a team very close to mine. I have literally warned people about the Jane in our company. Like others on this thread, Jane is toxic. I liked Alison’s advice, but yeah, doesn’t sound like much is going to change here. Just protect yourself, OP, and don’t forget to check in with yourself often to make sure you really are okay with staying at this job.

  22. Quinalla*

    I worked for a boss like this when I was interning back in college. Everything he was working on was obviously the most important thing in the world and he also had an issue with anyone he considered “beneath” him in the company that made it even worse. He would send me, the 19-year-old intern, to go bug the guys in the shop about when a prototype would be done when they already had told him. Granted, they had long ago started putting his work at the back of their priorities as their only way to get back at him, but he had no clue. I went with Alison’s last piece of advice and would apologize and say that “Boss asked me to ask about the prototype.” and they would usually respond that he was an a**hole, but they would try and get it done a little sooner if they could since I had asked and I wasn’t rude.

    So yeah, no need to protect your boss. Be professional about it, but if she is requesting you do something you think is unreasonable, make sure people know the request is from her and you are just the messenger. I’m sure she’s just as notorious as my old boss was. Also, like you, I actually got along fine with my old boss even though I thought he was rude unnecessarily. Basically, while I did what he asked, I also stood up to him when he was being unreasonable with me – sometimes he would assign me something and wouldn’t give me all the information I needed (key info, and really, I was an intern so I needed extra help!) and I would just keep asking questions no matter how much he pushed back until I had the information I needed. He told me at the end of the summer that he respected how I “stood up to him” which I honestly would never of guessed, I thought I annoyed him, but he actually wanted that push back/conflict. I wonder if others had pushed back on his rudeness/nonsense if he would have knocked it off with them too.

    Either way, some people are just weird and mysterious to me, but I can usually figure out how to work with/around them.

    1. Echmiadzin*

      “I went with Alison’s last piece of advice and would apologize and say that “Boss asked me to ask about the prototype.” and they would usually respond that he was an a**hole, but they would try and get it done a little sooner if they could since I had asked and I wasn’t rude.”

      So in other words, Boss and you played “good cop, bad cop.” And the end result was that the shop guys accelerated their work. It sounds to me like you accomplished exactly what you boss — and likely the company — wanted.

      The more I think about this, the more I realize it’s not about Jane. It’s about the people she chases not being willing to communicate with *her*, or to loop their own managers into the situation.

  23. Environmental Compliance*

    OP, I used to work for a boss like this. It’s actually why I left. I could not handle the constant source of stress & negativity.

    Unfortunately, since it was a county health department, the ‘shooting the messenger’ never went away. She’d rile up a contractor or homeowner, and then send me out to deal with them in person. The number of times I would get screamed at because of something *she* did, which was completely out of line (for both what she instigated and the response from the individual), was ridiculously high. I started out trying to nudge her towards “hey, I think because of XYZ we’ll need to give them another day to respond, so how about we wait a day, and then I’ll ask for an update on ABC.” but that did not work, as she would start a one-sided argument with me about how Contractor (or homeowner!!) was worthless and we need to keep them accountable!!1! and then she would contact them much, much more aggressively than ever warranted. After most of the contractors figured out (and they did pretty quickly) that it wasn’t me making this requests, I was simply the messenger, and I was trying as hard as I could in the situation to make both sides happy, they were 95% of the time happy to work with me, but would say very similar “well f– her then” type of comments to me. I’d get it from homeowners as well. Heck, from other counties’ staff, even. At one point I sat her down and said hey, this is what’s being said – I am pretty sure it’s because of XYZ process and how we’re handling it – I suggest we do ABC instead so that it smooths the entire process over. Nope. It just made everything worse.

    Right before I left, I was very blunt to her after yet another rant about some random contractor that had done nothing wrong and flat out told her that it’s her attitude & demeanor towards these contractors, literally no one else has that problem with them – and I was getting very overwhelmed & distressed by the amount of stress caused by everyone refusing to work with her, or getting put into situations where I was the one getting screamed at because of her rudeness towards those we are supposed to be serving. She at least stopped ranting, but did hide in her office with the door closed for the rest of the day, and then I got a phone call from HR & a county commissioner asking what I did and what was going on. But nothing changed, and I left. I needed to keep my sanity and to get out of the stressful situation.

    Sometimes people like Jane just don’t want to change, whether it’s because they don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing or because they just don’t care. I thought for a few months I could just put up with Old Boss’s antics, I really did, and I tried for probably far too long. But it’s a very toxic situation to be in.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          And I wouldn’t blame him. He told her he was out of town and would get back to her in a couple of days… Jane sounds like a PITA.

  24. Eukomos*

    I could have written big chunks of this letter! Thankfully I can usually persuade my boss to stick with incessantly emailing people, and only call people who are known to not check their email. She still demands some pretty rude behavior at times, though, and tells me I’m not assertive enough and am being too nice (with the implication that this will hold me back as a woman in a business environment) when I’m reluctant to be rude to people. I never thought of myself as a fainting flower, just a person who takes politeness seriously and believes you usually catch more flies with honey, but maybe she’s right and I’ll never be an executive. You definitely don’t have resort to the 80s hard sell to reach director in our field, though.

    Anyway, my solution is to deliver any message I think of as rude as “Jane asked me to ask you x” instead of just presenting the question straight out. People occasionally respond with “yeah, I’m familiar with her style,” in sympathetic tones, so it does seem to help.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      but maybe she’s right and I’ll never be an executive.

      Nope I met plenty of executives (men and women) who are compassionate and kind – she is out of line. She is successful despite her personality.

      1. Eukomos*

        Yeah, I believe it. She first became a director in the mid 80s when there weren’t a lot of women in that kind of position and is clearly still carrying a lot of beliefs and memories from that time period. It’s possible that back then women did have to behave like that, and I know pop culture at the time lionized aggressive, bullying execs (you can see it in Trump too). It’s really out of place these days, though, and at this point no one’s going to convince her to change her ways. She also writes everything in a formal, buzzword-packed manner that seems to be another holdover, and I have to rewrite it in the casual, to-the-point style that’s used today.

      2. Echmiadzin*

        Have you ever seen the movie 12 ANGRY MEN (the original, not the remake). I saw it in an organizational behavior class. The takeaway was that there is no one persona that applies to all situations. Henry Fonda’s character is, at various points, kind, soothing, cajoling, pleading, and angry.

        That is the role of an executive, in the nutshell. Yes, I would hope politeness would be the default. There are times when you need to step out of this mindset, however, which may involve coming across as rude. “Politeness” is desirable, but not a be-all-and-end-all.

  25. Adalind*

    Sounds exactly like my boss (there are currently 3 of us). She is the queen of micromanaging and annoying people about things she needs done NOW. I try to reason with her and say things like “Fergus has other work to do and is in meetings, he’ll get back to us when he can” or “I’m going to wait a day before I email again.” It doesn’t always help. It took HER boss mentioning it to get her to chill out a little. She is still the worst at expecting things done on her time frame, but has eased up slightly. Luckily she likes me and tortured my coworker more with having him annoy people, but since he left I’ve mostly been treated like gold… haha. I will say even if you feel like you are being annoying most likely those people know it’s your boss and not you and will be sympathetic.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      What do you think about creating a spread sheet with each person’s name and the time and means of communication. Color code it. See you emailed John three times today. You called him twice.
      What more can we do?
      Is this feasible?

  26. Damn it, Hardison!*

    I worked with a Jane, and lived to tell the tale. She vacillated between being buddy-buddy with everyone to rude emails and yelling, so you never really knew what you would get or where you stood with her. She was laid off as part of a large reduction in force a few years ago. After she left people came out of the woodwork to tell me how difficult she was to work with (like I didn’t know!) and how they were looking forward to just working with me. Just yesterday (4 years later) someone brought up how hard it was to get anything done with her and how much more we’re able to do – with less drama – now. Initially I was worried that I was painted with the same brush as her, just by virtue of being her employee, but it’s clear that no one held that against me after she left.

    Best of luck to you, and know that your colleagues are thinking of you as the reasonable and pleasant person on your team that they like to work with!

    1. Echmiadzin*

      She vacillated between being buddy-buddy with everyone to rude emails and yelling, so you never really knew what you would get or where you stood with her.

      That’s not the same problem that OP is describing. My impress is that Jane is consistently perceived as lobbying for resources, not that “you don’t know where you stand with her.”

  27. ComeOn!*

    Is there an option of saying to the Director something like ” I’d like you to trust that I will bring this in our deadline.” Or is it the case that since she is a squeaky (understated) wheel that she does get things done first.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I bet the reply will be be, “I know, I just can’t relax until I know everything is done. So that’s just the way I am.”

      1. Important Moi*

        Ahh yes…the old “I know my behavior is bad, but let me tell why it’s OK for me to do it.”

  28. JSPA*

    The key word is, “counterproductive.” And a brief summary of why.

    “I’ve noticed it’s really counterproductive to contact Laura multiple times when she’s out of office, because she responds to her older emails and messages first.”

    “Timofee is very responsive if you’re respectful of their timeline, but it’s really counterproductive to push.”

    “I think it would be more productive to do X. I have gotten feedback that our reminders have led several teams to avoid contacting us, which is, overall, counterproductive for our timeline.”

  29. Emily K*

    I work in a relatively flat organization where all of us are dependent on people outside our management chain/department, whose goals are often largely unrelated to our own, to contribute to our own most important work. So this advice comes from navigating that type of work/workplace…

    We develop and negotiate a lot of personal/internal business policies for this kind of work. Typically for an ad hoc or new type of collaboration there won’t be much structure in place. But as tasks become routine and/or the way one person or team is interacting with another is causing problems, the team experiencing problems will begin to create a standard set of rules for how the collaboration will take place. Because we have a functional workplace, we all agree at a basic level that we need to help each other, so the process of creating these business rules is something of a negotiation: the team who is having problems will propose a new policy that they think will alleviate the problem, and the other team will respond back if anything in the new policy is impossible or will prevent them from meeting their own goals. Eventually we arrive at something that may not be everyone’s personal druthers, but gets the work done without causing anyone unnecessary aggravation.

    An example might be, “When you bring me these projects, they’re often only half-planned, and I get CC’d on a lot of back-and-forth emails with piecemeal decisions being made in an email here and changed in an email there, often right up until the day before you wanted me to finish the work. Unfortunately, even though you looped me in early, I can’t really start until all the decisions are finalized, and by time I sift through all these emails to try to pick out all the decisions and ensure they were the final-final ones, I have very little time left to actually complete the work. To make things easier and more streamlined going forward, I’ve put together a standard form listing all the items I need from you in order to begin a project. For all future projects, to request my assistance just fill out this form with your final answer for each item on the list. I’ll need to have your completed form no later than 2 business days before you need my part done in order to guarantee that I can deliver my part on time.”

    There’s obviously some variation in how you would handle problems with someone more or less senior and other interpersonal nuances, but what I love most about our culture is being able to use these negotiated business rules to take a lot of the personal feelings out of problems like this. If your boss needs help from someone, you could encourage that person to establish business rules/expectations around how they will respond to requests for help. Then if your boss wants you to hassle so-and-so again, instead of saying, “I would feel rude doing that because they didn’t seem to like it last time and I’m worried it will sour my relationship with them,” you can say, “I emailed so-and-so yesterday, and they’ve told me their new policy is to require two business days turnaround on these kind of requests except in cases of XYZ emergency which don’t apply here, so we should have a response tomorrow and I’ll follow up then if we don’t.” Now it’s not about your feelings and relationships – it’s about following someone else’s explicitly defined rules and processes.

  30. JJ Bittenbinder*

    I’ve worked for a Jane before…or in this case, a Jim.

    It cost us a fair amount of business, because he would pull that shit with outside partners as well as internal employees. I don’t have good long-term advice, because I left after 13 months. That aspect of his personality wasn’t why, per se, but it was certainly one of many straws heaped upon a very burdened camel’s back.

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

    Alison is way too nice by giving Jane the benefit of the doubt — I bet she’s not unaware and telling her the truth about what people say or feel won’t be a shock to her. If her behavior pays off — she gets her way — so being a…nuisance…works and she’s going to keep doing it. She’s using the OP as a human shield too, so she doesn’t get told to F-off directly. The only possible way to bring her down to earth would be if the other departments started to prioritize her dead last out of spite for her behavior. Then the OP might be able to say, “Hey Jane, I noticed that the more we antagonize them, the less willing they are to prioritize our requests as urgent. If we want this to get done on time, we should give them some breathing room.” Honestly, if Jane throws a fit and goes to confront them herself, that may be the catalyst for change — now other Directors can document her behavior and act accordingly.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Agreed. She called OP shy when she said she didn’t think she should contact someone again. That’s not being shy. That’s being a professional. Jane thinks being a bull in a china shop is the only way to get things done. If she is not telling people to do the work she needs, they won’t do it. Anyone who doesn’t do this is just “shy” or “too weak” to work in an office.
      TL;DR: She knows what she’s doing but she thinks it’s the way to get things done.

  32. it's me*

    OP, Jane is treating you like her attack dog as well as someone who will take the abuse meant for her, and I’d wager she knows perfectly well what she’s doing.

  33. RubyJackson*

    I once had a boss who said the more people hated him, the better he was doing his job. Some people are just jerks.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*


      I worked with someone who said the EXACT same thing.

      Better to be feared than loved. He was a total many levels above jerkdom.

  34. Oxford Comma*

    OP: I would urge you to reread your message because a few things are sticking out at me. My sense is that you’ve been in a honeymoon phase with Jane and that this is ending and is about to take a downturn. I want to be wrong about this, but you’re using language that would indicate that your coworkers’ wariness of Jane is really justified.

    The descent into toxicity can happen gradually until you are so burned out and so emotionally exhausted that it’s really hard to climb out. It can also start to seem normal.

  35. Sharrbe*

    Jane probably knows exactly what she’s doing, so the advice of responding diplomatically, with cold hard facts, isn’t likely to work. She wants to be a hard-ass but doesn’t want the repercussions that go along with it, which is why she asks the LW to make these “requests” for her.

  36. Alli525*

    Boy. If I had ANY sort of rapport with Jane’s boss, I would be going over her head in a MINUTE. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of whether she’s the Final Boss, and I sure hope she isn’t… because this kind of behavior creates almost irreparable damage to a company, and could start affecting bottom line if left to fester.

    OP could approach it carefully, like “I’m looking for suggestions on how to better convey the message to Jane that her colleagues are busy with other projects, because her constant follow-ups are creating real tension and making it difficult for me to do my job.”

  37. MommyMD*

    Unfortunately the Janes of the world will not stop unless they feel pressure from above and in fear of their job.

    1. ER*

      Hi PhyllisB, I hope you’ve managed to work it out by now, but if you haven’t, and for anyone else who is interested:
      Windows computer, Chrome – right click on the chrome icon in the task bar down the bottom and select ‘New incognito window’
      Windows computer, Edge – right click on the edge icon in the task bar down the bottom and select ‘New InPrivate window’
      Mac computer, Safari – click on ‘File’ up the top and select ‘New Private Window’
      Mac computer, Firefox – click on ‘File’ up the top and select ‘New Private Window’

      If you don’t use any of those combinations, a Google search for ‘How do I use Incognito mode in (BrowserName) (Mac/Windows)’ should get you there.

  38. Random thought*

    I had a boss like this at my last job. Three things that worked for me: 1. Establish an SLA with stakeholders you work with frequently. If John always commits to providing comments/responding to emails/whatever in 3 Business Days, you can remind Boss that you know he will respondin X time. 2. If a standard isn’t workable, try asking people when you initially sent your request how much time they need to respond. then, you can follow up with Boss, and say “btw, Jane says she will respond on Thursday, if O dont hear from her by COB, I’ll follow up Friday AM.” that way boss knows the likely timeline and knows that you have it under control. 3. If Boss asks you to follow up, say something like, “Oh, is there some time sensitivity with X that I’m not aware of? I can definitely follow up with Bob but want to make sure I’m advising him of the need appropriately.”

  39. Bowserkitty*

    This sounds JUST like an old boss of mine. I sympathize. She was very self-centered when it came to our department’s work and never considered other departments might have work of their own to do.

    In the end she was strategically let go during a round of budget cuts. (I went about a year before her.) I don’t think she has been missed.

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