how can I navigate office politics when I hate hierarchy and authority?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I recently left a long-term job that I was pretty happy in, but had very limited earning potential and no real opportunity for growth. I was offered an amazing opportunity in an industry I’d been trying to break into for a while and just finished my first week there. I really enjoyed my first week, and I really, really want to succeed in this job.

The problem: my previous job was in the grocery industry and was very solidly blue-collar with not a whole lot of “office politics.” And I’m really afraid that I’m not cut out to work in a white collar, more political environment.

I’ve identified what the issue is: ultimately, I really, really struggle with how just inherently and infuriatingly unfair and unequal most office hierarchical setups seem. It really bothers me that higher-ups, larger donors, and board members behave pretty much however they want with impunity — that their rank or donation status entitles them to never be challenged, told they’re wrong, or pushed back against by those below them.

I can’t swallow that just because I might be lower level, I’m not allowed to tell a board member that they’re mistaken about something, or correct a misconception they might have about something I worked on closely and know well. In fact, I’ve been reprimanded in such instances before. An example: once, I corrected a board member who misunderstood something I’d done on an event I was directing. I was chastised for that. When I asked why I wasn’t allowed to assert my knowledge of the project I’d been leading for over six months, I was told firmly that Board Member was “going to be right no matter what,” and all I was allowed to do was apologize — when I hadn’t done anything wrong or made any errors! — and fix it. But why should I have to “fix” something I hadn’t messed up? Just to soothe his ego and keep him happy? Why wasn’t I allowed to speak up for myself and assert how I had not, in fact, erred?

This type of thing just gets so incredibly underneath my skin! I get very caught up on the IT’S NOT FAIR of it and dig in my heels. I feel like acquiescing and deferring to those in power in these ways makes me complicit in reinforcing some really icky power dynamics that play out in really unsettling ways in our world. It seems like professional politics and norms essentially reward a lot of bad behavior, and I struggle navigating that. I always feel like there’s just no justice or recourse for those lower on the pole — the person above you gets to make all the rules, regardless of fairness or the facts, and pushing back against that gets you fired or managed out. But I have such a strong urge to push back regardless, if the “rules” are unfair, demoralizing, or based on wrong information. I truly don’t believe that someone’s position or money entitles them to never be challenged or told they’re wrong, and I hate that this is the norm in many (most?) offices — that “standing” is even a thing that matters.

How do I overcome this? I know I can’t change this – this is the nature of hierarchy, and I need to learn to deal with it and stop getting so frustrated. But I just don’t know how. My issues with authority and hierarchy honestly go back to childhood, and I’m afraid that if I don’t get a grasp on this I’ll never be able to work anywhere with higher earning potential or more prestige. I’ve been able to fake it long enough at the office jobs I had before my last one, but eventually my resentment having to entertain this got the better of me and I ended up leaving. And I still have that little voice in my head that says that if I stop pushing back against authority and hierarchy, I’m essentially “giving up” and “letting them win.” I’m letting the world continue to send really bad, damaging messages that equate someone’s worth to their rank, status and money, and I’m letting those in power think that their sense of entitlement is okay. And that they can always count on winning in the end, and the status quo will persist.

How do I learn to navigate politics and unfairness when it just seems to be so not who I am? Am I doomed to never survive in an office? How do I get over this without feeling like they’ve “won” by getting me to shut up and accept this? Any tips or pointers would be so very appreciated.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 681 comments… read them below }

  1. No Mercy Percy*

    Letter writer, I am you. Thanks for writing this, the comments should be helpful to me too!

    1. LadyL*

      Same! I really struggle with places with a big emphasis on authority and hierarchy. Which is why I’ve tried to go for jobs that are much more community-oriented (vs. hierarchical) but that comes with it’s own struggles.

      1. Emily K*

        One of the greatest surprises of my adult life was realizing how much I love a well-functioning hierarchy and bureaucracy. They get a bad rap because of dysfunctional ones, but after going from a 4-person small operation to a large international one with hundreds of employees, I had a newfound appreciation for the fact that I was only responsible for one narrow lane of expertise and there were other people who could and should handle everything outside that lane; for the fact that there was an established, well-defined, documented process for pretty much everything; and for the fact that there existed a middle level of responsibility where you have a lot of autonomy but the buck stops with someone above you – for which there is no equivalent in smaller/less formal operations.

        I was such an anti-authoritarian rebel in my youth that it genuinely surprised me how readily I embraced bureaucracy. Who knew.

        I would say that LW’s problem isn’t exactly with hierarchy – it’s the fact that the people above him in the hierarchy are unreasonable. Which definitely happens – but doesn’t have to be accepted as a given when you have hierarchy.

        1. Electric sheep*

          Yes, I work in a pretty large org and it allows us to have a lot of specialized areas that wouldn’t be available elsewhere. I wonder if the LW might find it easier to move into a larger org, where you don’t interact with a board or the top level much at all but you can still be in a job with a lot of power and a good salary.

          It also helps me that I think the people above me in the hierarchy do good work and help make my job easier! But I guess that’s harder to identify from the outside.

        2. T2*

          I feel the same as you. A rebel when young, but now 30 years later, I find myself setting rules for the rebels who I have hired to make sure they don’t burn the place down. I hired them because of what I felt their capabilities could be. But we all need structure. We really really do.

          Also, my experience is that if you draw battle lines then the Troops will prepare for war. In other words, people are inclined to be unreasonable to unreasonable people. There is no winning that game. At that stage of the LW career, he will lose every time if he decides to cross swords with a hire up. As a manager, I would tell him to knock it off, but at the end of the day, just based on the capacity for a director to make my life miserable, there is no way I would go to bat for him over a director.

          Remember, in chess, pawns die first.

    2. Mid*

      Same. So much same. My entire family is like this honestly. We still talk about The Comma Incident of Thanksgiving 2009

    3. JDR*

      I have no advice because I need it, too. You speak for the masses and even though we don’t know your name you are know a personal hero for me.
      I guess I sort of know what we’re supposed to do, but that doesn’t make it easier or even “right.’
      Now, forgive me while I dive into the comments in search of wisdom.

    4. T2*

      Always remember the golden rule. “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

      The fact is that hierarchy exists because as a newbie you are not capable of making decisions about what is important and what is not. That is not a judgement call of your character, it is simply a statement of the amount of expertise you currently have.

      Even in a situation where you think you are right, you don’t get to push your own agenda without looking like a hot head.

      I am in a field where I am specifically employed because of my expertise. My company is paid a lot of money to have me in the room because I usually and the smartest person in the given subject matter. However, I have learned from a number of tough bosses, that at the end of the day intelligence and creative solutions don’t always win.

      Humans are a social construct. There is a reason there are rules and there’s is a reason we are expected to follow them. You have to find out what they are.

      So my sincere advice as someone who spent a lot of time as a going hot head is this. Shut up, and learn. Learn to go home and not be so invested in some zero sum game that is often all in your head. Learn from those around you, and yes, even idiots who are managers can teach you at lease how NOT to do something.

      And then, when you have learned all you need, go hang your shingle and make your own business where you are in charge.

      1. Emily K*

        The fact is that hierarchy exists because as a newbie you are not capable of making decisions about what is important and what is not.

        I am in a field where I am specifically employed because of my expertise. My company is paid a lot of money to have me in the room because I usually and the smartest person in the given subject matter. However, I have learned from a number of tough bosses, that at the end of the day intelligence and creative solutions don’t always win.

        I think your example here actually hits on a broader purpose for hierarchy – it’s not just that the people low on the totem pole don’t have the right expertise or experience. Sometimes it’s that there is no clear right decision, there are a handful of options that all involve trade-offs, and somebody is going to have to make a decision about which imperfect option to proceed with.

        If you have ever worked in a place that tried to make decisions by consensus, either formally or informally – where nobody/nothing officially says that we need consensus yet if folks don’t agree by the end of the meeting we keep having more meetings and talking this thing to death until everyone is in agreement – it can be a nightmare. Somebody has to be empowered to make decisions, and that power has to include the power to overrule others who disagree with the decision, or projects will stall and overrun their timelines or never get done at all because everyone couldn’t be made happy. There is a special kind of exquisite torture that comes from being a relatively disinterested party who doesn’t care whether it’s going to be A or B but is just sick of sitting through the same discussion of A vs B for the ninth time.

        Hierarchy can definitely be abused, but when functioning correctly it prevents organizational indecisiveness.

        1. Effective Immediately*

          1000% this. I currently work at an organization that attempts to run by full democracy, and let me tell you it’s a full-on dumpster fire. Collaborative doesn’t need to mean ‘no one makes decisions’ and hierarchy doesn’t need to mean trampling the proletariat.

          I’m constantly asking, “Who owns this task?” and “Who is responsible for this?” I used to think I hated rigid hierarchies, but I’d take the red tape and bureaucracy back in a heartbeat if it meant someone was accountable to something somewhere.

    5. DiscoCat*

      “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
      ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
      This quote always springs to mind with such bosses. I felt this letter deeply and will read each and every comment. The entitlement to being right, to being deferred to is in itself wrong, damaging and demoralising. At my work place (academia, research and clinical application) the bosses also get away with bullying, hectoring, misusing their power (and funds…), creating chaos. They communicate badly and have bad (time-, project-, task-, event-) management and very toxic leadership skills if any, don’t accept qualified advice, information or processes, play power games and set people up against each other, leaving the lower downs to clean up after them. They bring in the funding, they have a reputation etc., that there are countless abused, burnt-out, stressed and sick secretaries, admins, lab techs, junior scientists in their wake doesn’t bother anyone. This in turn sends out the message to their protegees that it’s ok to be an asshole as long as you show your achievements and success. This is wrong, it’s not normal, but it has been normalised. Employers rarely understand that these bosses are liabilites, they cause costs and reduce efficiency when their staff turn over is high, when there is constant unrest due to conflict, sickness, stress, burn out, sick-leave etc. In an ideal setting, your direct bosses would advocate for you or at least for your point instead of admonishing you. I am sick og this too and am seriously thinking of going into a blue collar trade (skills??), or joining the circus (skills??) – I’m sure it’s more sane and orderly there than with these supposedly super- intelligent, super-educated people…

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        You can choose to not work for assholes, though. This has serious costs, which is why people often work for assholes. You may not get your first choice of lab. You might even need a new subfield. But if you’re a good scientist, I would argue that it’s your social responsibility to do this.

        One, the reason those assholes look good is because they have good people. Many of these people are not just doing their best, they’re doing more than their best, and are on the express train to burnout city. These people are enablers. Don’t be one of them. Find someone who’s not an asshole, make THEM look good, and be part of the change you wish to see.

        Two, as you allude to, assholes do shitty science. They care about dominance games, not about the work. They waste the time of everyone in their orbit. If you have good science in you, don’t let an asshole waste it.

        1. DiscoCat*

          Theoretically you’re right, and I do feel like an enabler and keep out of the way of those people’s direct underlings because there are some seriously disturbing codependent, toxic dynamics at play. But I got into this field in 2008- when any job was a good job, you took it gratefully and you stayed. That mentality has been so embedded in me that I took jobs even though my gut feeling was squirming with unease. Since I’m employed from project funds I rotate every 3-4 years between departments or institutions- except for 1 place all other 3 were/ are terrible, toxic and dysfunctional, and you hear similar form other places. My current project is ending soooooon and I’ve sworn myself that I’ll take time off to restore myself, recalibrate, reassess and maybe join the circus after all ;-)

      2. Penny*

        I’m in academia and it’s really discouraging. I’ve gotten better over the last few years at staying out of the way when there’s a sh*tstorm brewing, and working hard in areas where I think the work will result in something meaningful (in addition to teaching, which I really like).

        But my boss’s boss is so terrible that I honestly start to worry that their bad management style will rub off on me and other people in the organization. I’d love to work for a great boss instead of spending a bunch of my time avoiding the pitfalls of a terrible boss.

      3. TardyTardis*

        I stole this from someone on the internet:

        Plato: “If you could flatter the tyrant, you wouldn’t have to wash cabbages.”
        Diogenes: “If you could wash cabbages, you wouldn’t have to flatter the tyrant.”

    6. peibelmont*

      Boy, do I ever understand how this feels. I work in a very hierarchical field and for years I went through the cycle of getting a new job, loving it, to inevitably stepping on shoes, to resentment at being [“unfairly”] chastised and finally leaving the job. Soul-sucking was a term I used frequently. My performance reviews were peppered with “not a team play”, “does not respect authority”, “difficult to manage” etc. Understanding that I was the problem, I worked with therapists and mentors and would have short term success. But ultimately I would revert back to my default “equality for all” blueprint. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve accepted this as part of who I am.

      Things that did help: 1/ volunteering and participating in my industry’s national societies. These are groups of peers that respect me as a true equal, so I always had one venue of my professional life that my voice was equally valued. 2/I tried to stay under the radar as much as possible and only appeared to highlight my achievements during the annual review. This for the most part kept me out of daily office politics and limited my opportunities to self-create an incident. 3/I looked for jobs with a high degree of autonomy. Again this kept me out of potential political power struggles. 4/I set myself up as an independent contractor. This way I was working on my terms and as a short-term person the office politics just don’t matter and I could just brush them off.

      The ultimate solution came when I had a boss who gradually mentored me into starting my own business. It is a lot harder than having a job, but I great each day with satisfaction and accomplishment. My soul-sucking days are behind me.

  2. plynn*

    No advice for this specific situation, but I really recommend the book Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano. In my mind, this book is subtitled: Why Everyone You Work With Deserves a Punch in the Head, But You’re Not Allowed to Give It.

      1. Carlie*

        Also recommend that book! It is a cathartic read.

        One thing that might help is to distance yourself from it as much as possible – it’s natural to get caught up in the work, but at the end of the day it’s someone else’s company. That higher-up person is more responsible for the success of the company than you are, and the people with the most stake in the company hired the higher-ups. So if those people are running the company into the ground via incompetence, it’s themselves they’re hurting the most. You don’t have to care more about the company than they do. And you definitely don’t need to jeopardize your job by trying to save them from their own bad decisions.

        But if you’re just a week in, give it time. Some of the procedures that seem unfair at first might have good reasons for them, and the culture at the place as a whole might be a lot more fair than what the first week looked like. There’s a lot of variation in how hierarchies work.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          All of this.

          I don’t know that it will help OP, I was never able to get either my mother or sister (they were basically the same person) to wrap their heads around it…

          I just accept that I know that I am wayyyy smarter than TPTB, but if they want to believe that they hung the moon all the way to the bankruptcy court I choose to be amused by their massively misplaced smugness and hubris. All the while hiding hard currency in a safe place a la Scrooge Mc Duck.

          Seriously they are more sad than maddening AFAIC. But people who feel that they need.to.make.a.point so that everyone understands that they are worthwhile too (e.g. mom and sister) can’t seem to do this well IME.

          OP if you can do this though…in my case it keeps all that outrage far, far away from me.

        2. Emily K*

          This is great advice. I always make sure that my concerns are heard and will speak candidly even if it ruffles a few feathers in the moment – but it never gives me any trouble in the long run because the other side of that coin is that as soon as I see something isn’t going my way, I just mentally throw my hands up and then get on board. If they want me to make a sh*t sandwich, I will make a shit sandw*ch, and I will do my best to make it the best that a sh*t sandwich can be, but I’m also not going to lose any sleep over the fact that it’s still going to be a sh*t sandwich when I’m done.

          In the end my only real personal stake in this is my salary, and I’m paid my salary to do what my boss tells me to do (within legal bounds). I think that’s why I don’t really have a problem deferring to people above me in the hierarchy – that’s literally what I’m paid to do. As long as I feel like I’ve been fairly compensated, I don’t mind being paid to agree with an idiot who I’d never agree with if I was unpaid! *shrug*

          That said, there’s a big difference between going along when an exec or board member has a stupid idea and won’t listen to your insights, and going along when you’re being blamed or faulted for something you didn’t do. The former is just a fact of most jobs – the latter is dysfunctional and dangerous to your professional reputation.

          When that happens, the skill you need to develop is how to tactfully correct the record in a non-confrontational way that isn’t going to get you in trouble. That really is a next-level interpersonal skill that you won’t develop overnight. I recommend observing your coworkers and identifying a couple of people who are good at disagreeing – people who are able to say ‘no’ to assignments and get the boss to be OK with that, people who disagree with a VP and are able to change their mind, people who voice contrary opinions but have still been able to advance. Study how those people say no and learn from them.

          I also recommend the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High which is devoted to learning how to communicate disagreement in a constructive way that isn’t going to get you in trouble in a healthy, functional environment.

          1. Effective Immediately*

            Co-signed! I used to be the kind of person that was too invested in work and it was terrible for my health (physical and mental). At my current job, I tend to summon the mental image of the dumpster on fire floating down a river; whoever was filming just blithely watching it float by. I treat these sort of situations with a kind of detached bemusement now. You don’t want to listen to me for the expertise you hired me for? Enjoy the fines, then, I guess. I’m clocking out at 5.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I’m a teacher who works with a lot of blue-collar families – am buying that book today! I have some form of ” Why Everyone You Work With Deserves a Punch in the Head, But You’re Not Allowed to Give It” conversation with one or my of my students almost every day. Thank you for the recommendation!

    2. Quinalla*

      This is a getbullish article about this topic that references the same book, may be helpful as well, she came from blue collar roots and learned how to thrive in a white collar environment: https://www.getbullish.com/2010/10/bullish-social-class-in-the-office/

      I’d also suggest keeping in mind that in hierarchies while there are for sure jerks, there are also very thoughtful leaders that see a much different picture than folks more in the trenches. Try to give some benefit of the doubt to people in those positions that their perspective is very different from yours and that is why some decisions are made.

      With board members or clients or whoever, there are ways to diplomatically “confront” people, but there are times when if you know your confrontation is going to change nothing and only reflect negatively on you, that you have to pick your battles. I don’t like it either, but you have to slowly build up social capital and then spend it where you can make the most difference. And I will tell you, every white collar job I’ve worked in has politics, but every one was different and some were much better than others. Give this new job a chance and maybe you try a smaller company or an organization with a flatter hierarchy. My current place is much flatter and while there are still certain things you just “don’t do”, there is a lot of room to challenge ideas, systems, etc. and is very encouraged by everyone in those areas. Maybe there is more room than you think for challenging, just need to channel to that realm.

    3. Jadelyn*

      …I want to get my partner to read that book now. He works a skilled trade and is from a blue-collar background, and we have to have the conversation pretty frequently about why I can’t just tell someone who’s annoying me at work to “stop f*cking around and get their sh*t together” because that’s what he always advises, but that’s not how it works in an office.

      1. Not Telling*

        It *should* work that way, though. And I’ve spent my entire adult life in white collar jobs. I would love to be able to tell people to just get their shit together when they are getting in the way of my job.

        1. Sharker*

          I’ve worked a white collar job where people speak to each other like that. It’s pretty much never the thing you’re imagining, where you finally get to vent your accumulated grudges against a deserving person, and pretty much always just the worst person in the room making everyone else more miserable.

          1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

            Sharker…are you saying that when these confrontations happen, commonly it’s *not* the 100% white hat calling out the 100% black hat?

            Serious question…I’m not certain how to interpret your response.

            Thank you!

            1. T2*

              Let me explain it for you.

              What Sharker is saying is that you don’t know what you are wishing for. An office where everyone speaks their mind without filter or respect for the opinions of others is a war zone. You think it wouldn’t be because you think your opinion of the situation is more correct than others. That is natural. But in an office where it is the survival of the fittest, you have to understand that it is entirely possible that you are not the fittest and that other people might think you are a pretentious jerk.

              A rule of thumb: if you start a war, be absolutely sure you will win. Because of there is any doubt, if there is any other way to interpret a set of facts, these will be used against you. And of you start it, there is no guarantee who gets hurt. That person, could in fact, be you.

              1. Jeffrey Deutsch*

                OK thanks T2. That really helps. I’m glad I posted instead of just speculating and stewing.

                Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

            2. Coffee*

              To add to this – white collar work involves a lot of team work. So you really want to be on the same page. If things get to the point where you are calling someone out, it’s a sign that your team has broken down. It becomes hard to get things done because everyone is trying to protect themselves instead of getting things done. It’s unpleasant.

          2. Antilles*

            +1
            Agreed. In my experience with similar offices, the person who is most comfortable telling people off about their issues is always also the biggest problem with the group.

      2. MK*

        So your partner can and does say this to their boss and important clients without repercussions? Seriously?

        1. Jadelyn*

          Well, as I mentioned, he works in a skilled trade – blue-collar work that he did a 4-year formal apprenticeship for. He doesn’t work directly with clients, and I doubt he’d say that directly to the company owner if the guy ever stopped by the shop, but the shop foreman (his direct supervisor)? Oh, yeah. I used to stop by for “lunch” when he was on second shift for awhile (so, dinner for me) and saw how the guys interacted, including the bosses.

      3. PhyllisB*

        Jadelyn, sounds like your partner and my husband are two peas in a pod. As I said earlier, he got in trouble with TPTB because he had an issue that wasn’t being addressed, so he just decided to take matters in his own hands and go to the top with it. I don’t work in academia, but I know that’s a big no no. I can see him telling someone what your partner recommends. Well, now he wouldn’t because he’s been at this for over 10 years, but he’ll come home and express it to me.

  3. kay*

    i see a lot of assumptions in here about how the job will be, before you’ve even started yet. it’s like you’re ready to come in angry and guns blazing about authority issues without giving this new place a chance! i think that attitude could possibly really hurt you as a newbie.

    i think you need to let go of the idea that “this is who i am” no matter what – people need to act in a certain way in order to exist in the world. that is true everywhere, in and out of work, for a billion different reasons. everyone, including you, molds your actions in accordance with different situations every single day. i’m sure you don’t have trouble molding your behaviors in other scenarios – maybe framing it like that when you get frustrated with a perceived “me against authority” situation would be helpful.

    1. PugLife*

      +1

      Maybe try on a separate personal – your “work self” vs your “home self” & see if you can make your work self be very affable. And remember that your work doesn’t really care who you are – they want a job done, and they think you’re able to accomplish the tasks necessary to do so.

      1. LovecraftinDC*

        Absolutely. Work Self vs Home Self can be difficult, particularly for those of us with depression and anxiety, but for me, fully embracing it has actually put me in a much better place mentally.

        Yes, at home, I would mock and scoff at the coworker who insists on calling my wife and I’s nerdy video game/horror movie themed family room a ‘man cave’. But at work, it’s just a laugh and maybe a polite correction. At home, I complain and moan about the COO who constantly claims to be able to do everybody under him’s jobs. At work, that’s just Greg, and it’s how he is.

        It’s a difficult tactic to master, but it’s made me much better at being able to roll my eyes internally and preventing me from bringing all that stress and anger home.

        1. CMart*

          You can do this in reverse as well! At work I am nit-picky and very strict about policies and guidance and am not afraid to be brusque with people if they’re giving me the runaround or trying to argue in favor of flaunting a policy. Accounting requires that.

          But that is not at ALL now I operate in “real life” and is not really part of my personality. I let my toddler jump on the couch and stay up too late, I’m usually the one advocating for “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission” and with most personal tasks and projects “eh, close enough” is good enough for me.

          Just because I’m a laid-back person who doesn’t mind when other people flaunt the rules doesn’t mean I can’t care about or perform the much more strict needs of my job.

          1. narwhal of a tale*

            How did you develop your work/home personas? I really need to do this, but am struggling with the delineation (most likely because I work non-stop).

            1. CMart*

              Dunno if you’ll see this, but maybe you will :)

              Home persona is, of course, just my natural personality and inclinations.

              And for work persona, I don’t know. I’ve always worked somewhere you need to be “on” in some way (teenager doing fast food and retail, all of my 20’s bartending) and depersonalizing what happens at work in order to survive the day and get the work done. I’m usually fairly conflict avoidant, but as a bartender I learned very quickly that it did me no good to care what belligerent drunk people thought of me and got very good at being assertive instead of “nice” (I was friendly of course! But ruthless when people got out of hand).

              So it was just kind of natural when I became an accountant to devote the same kind of energy to this work. The work requires X skills and Y attitudes. It’s not really a reflection of me as a person, you know? My natural personality still shines through, but my usual inclinations (to roll my eyes at rules when they’re overly restrictive, to get impatient when people want things to be perfect instead of “perfectly good enough”) aren’t relevant here.

        2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          There’s Workme and there is Homeme. Workme nods and smiles and realizes that some things can’t be changed even in the face of common sense and expediency and just goes with the flow. Homeme says “Oh Hell, no.” a lot and makes changes.

      2. iglwif*

        +1

        It is almost never a good idea to be 100% your Home Self at work, and your job almost never deserves your whole self in the same way that the people and activities you love do. Good bosses and colleagues care enough about each other to want everyone around them to be reasonably happy! But at the end of the day, they want the work to get done, get done well, get done on time, get done within budget. That’s what they want, whether you’re 100% happy about it or not. Your Work Self can be more diplomatic, less individualist, more respectful of authority, etc., than your Home Self, without compromising who you really are.

        And I say this as someone who enjoys, and has enjoyed at past jobs, very close and friendly relationships with many of my co-workers, and who’s happy to show more of my Home Self at work than a lot of people would. (The older I get, for instance, the less I care what people think of my hair, my shoes, or my [lack of] makeup.)

        Also… you might find that you like a smoothly functioning hierarchy more than you expect. When tasks and projects have clear owners and lines of accountability are clear and transparent, that can be a beautiful thing!

    2. ThatGirl*

      I agree that assumptions are at work. Go in with an open mind and see how /this/ organization works before you assume it will be just like your last one. But also be prepared to just listen and observe for awhile.

      I think there are ways to push back or correct misinformation that can go over better than others — of course, not every organization will even welcome that, but if you can be diplomatic and strategic, rather than coming off as abrasive, it goes a long way. (OP I am not saying you were/are abrasive, just that tone and style matter a lot when something could be construed as a challenge.)

      White collar jobs do tend to have hierarchy, and it’s important to know how to navigate that and when you can and can’t push back, but not every place is going to work the same way.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Yep. My husband is an instructor at a community college now, but his work background is auto industry/labor union. He got in trouble the first month about not respecting the “chain of command.” The only reason he didn’t get in serious trouble is because he’s so good at what he does. If he wasn’t retiring at the end of this year, I would definitely have him read this book.

      2. LovecraftinDC*

        Yes, obviously don’t know anything about OP and don’t want to make assumptions, but after a bit of time working with someone you generally learn how to interact with them. It’s not a ‘you’re wrong’ situation, it’s a ‘hey I just wanted to clarify/make sure we’re on the same page’ or ‘just wanted to make sure, because my understanding was x’. Things put into a question are generally less aggressive, and if you can get the person to think about the issue rather than just telling them they’re wrong, they tend to be much more receptive to it.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yep, I ask a lot of “just to clarify” questions at work, and some of it is genuine uncertainty, but some of it is “you’re wrong and I wanted you to know that subtly”

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yeah, “Can you clarify for me…” is a very nice subtle “…wtf are you talking about?” replacement.

      3. Ada*

        One technique I’ve found works well from my experience arguing politics with strangers online (I know, I know…) is to find a way to make it sound like you’re agreeing with them while you set the record straight. Something like “You’re absolutely right that under most circumstances, the correct course of action is X. In this case we did Y because Z, but certainly we normally do X.” It’s hard to get angry with someone assuring you you’re right.

    3. Mediamaven*

      Agreed. It’s also important to remember that these people moved up in the hierarchy, because presumably, they knew what they were doing and offered value and helped to build the organization. Doesn’t mean you don’t have value as well, but your job right now is to listen and learn. One of the worst things you can do is start green in a job and act like you know better than your superiors. Because, you probably don’t.

      1. Caroline*

        I got very strong vibes along these lines from this letter. Of course there are a handful of people who may have inherited authority, but that’s usually not the case with most people who made it to the board level.

        A good company culture (which can be rare) is going to value feedback of all varieties if it’s presented professionally. But if your default stance is acting like you know more than the board members who have the highest-level strategic view of a company and have spent their entire lives in an industry, no, no one is going to take that well.

        1. Psyche*

          Yep. In most functional companies you can push back when your boss is wrong but it needs to be done diplomatically. A hostile knee jerk reaction will be taken poorly even if you are right. But a response like: “I’m sorry. Normally I would do X but this time I did Y because of Z. How would you like me to handle a situation like that in the future?” still gets the message across but isn’t confrontational.

          1. Yorick*

            Yes, diplomacy is key. If they’re completely wrong about something (like the example in the letter), you can say something like “Oh, actually it was ABC, not XYZ. Maybe I didn’t explain well.” That usually comes across fine if it’s not in a hostile tone.

            1. Consultant Catie*

              Totally agree. It usually costs you very little to help others save a little face, and there’s a lot to be gained from it.

              1. LovecraftinDC*

                That’s exactly what it is. And before I moved up into management, I thought this was entirely about ego. After being in management, I understand the need to save face a little bit more. It isn’t purely about ego, it’s about your level of knowledge/expertise being respected by people above you and at the same level. I don’t care if someone who works for me says ‘no, you’re wrong’ in our team meetings or individually, but in a meeting with MY bosses, I’m going to look like a moron if they don’t preface it with ‘I want to clarify’ or something similar.

                And it helps everybody, too. The level of respect and appreciation that my higher-ups and peers have for me directly affects the promotions/raises/additional team members for my entire group. If they think I don’t know what I’m talking about, they’re going to ignore me when I say ‘Jennifer is doing stellar and we need to raise her pay or we’re going to lose her’ or ‘my team is working 45 to 50 hours a week regularly, we need to look at hiring someone else.’

                Yes, to an extent it’s about egos, but it’s also largely about my ability to help my team and to get the work done.

              2. Jadelyn*

                I just had to have this conversation with my partner (as mentioned above, he’s from a blue-collar environment). There was a screw-up in one of the systems I manage, and the issue wasn’t in the system or its setup – it was user error. Some records had been put in incorrectly and as a result we underpaid some people.

                The manager responsible for that functional area sent an email to myself, the other sysadmin, and the two people who do the input, saying “it appears this calculation logic wasn’t in the system, Jadelyn can you look into it and let us know how this happened?”

                My counterpart called me approximately 0.2 seconds after getting that email and she was pissed. She felt like we were being blamed for something we hadn’t done. So I talked her down and told her I’d reply to everyone and explain it, because I have a knack for the diplomatic “actually this is a you problem” reply.

                When I told my partner about this, I said something to the effect of “so I had to compose a delicate “actually the system has the logic but it’s under a different code, which these records should have been assigned when they were entered and weren’t” email to everyone, without naming names.”

                He replied, genuinely baffled, “But why couldn’t you just say “Annie put these in wrong”?” And I had to explain that calling someone out directly like that, especially via email with 4 people on CC, is an extremely aggressive move. It’s guaranteed to put that person on the defensive and make the issue even messier. But if I phrase it delicately in a way that allows Annie and her manager to save face, it smooths the situation over faster, and preserves the good working relationship, which is super important.

                Would it have been satisfying as hell to say “The system is fine, actually. What happened here was Annie gave these records the wrong code when she entered them.”? Yes. But momentary satisfaction is less useful than good working relationships long-term. And you have to be able to make that calculation when stuff comes up, if you want to succeed in an office environment.

                1. silverpie*

                  I like. Another benefit: everyone gets a gentle reminder that codes matter (in this system), so be careful you get them right.

                2. Lilysparrow*

                  See, to me that seems like it’s just fundamental “don’t be a dick.”

                  To publicly say, “It’s not my fault because Annie put them in wrong” just sounds…I dunno, immature?

                  It’s the way kids point fingers at each other. If Annie is having an ongoing problem using the right codes, it’s for her manager to deal with in private.

                3. glitterdome*

                  Late to the party, but another added benefit to letting people save face is that those people tend to return the favor if/when it is necessary. And let’s face it, we will all mess up and be wrong once in a while, knowing your coworkers aren’t going to embarrass you in front of everyone goes a long way.

                4. Anon attorney*

                  Out of nesting, but agree with Glitterdome. No point in humiliating someone for making a procedural error in a litigation because one day it will be me who filed something late and needs a favor. Not to the detriment of the client, of course, but being an asshole about this kind of thing is extremely self defeating.

                5. CM*

                  But this is more than just ego management. The problem isn’t “Annie messed up,” the underlying problem is “This record needs to go under this type of code.” Nobody learns anything from “Annie messed up.” There’s no useful record of how to fix it next time when it’s not Annie, but somebody else, who messes up. And it’s likely to redirect people’s attention to Annie’s competence, rather than whether there is a problem with training or how the system works.

                6. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

                  Goodness, Jadelyn! You should run the world.

                  I once dated an advertising executive who was a good bit older than me, and I remember two pieces of advice he gave me when I started a new job. He said, “Don’t start a fight unless you’re sure you’re going to win.” He also told me, “Sometimes our superiors at work are less secure than we would wish them to be.”

          2. Jadelyn*

            My favorite go-to for a diplomatic “wtf are you talking about?” is “My understanding was that…”

            So for example, I sent the llama shedding reports to the Grooming Manager, not the Barn Manager, which is the way the process is supposed to work.
            Boss: Those reports should’ve gone to the Barn Manager! Why did you send them to the Grooming Manager? You need to apologize to the Barn Manager for cutting them out of the loop.
            Me: That’s odd…my understanding of the process has always been that I send those reports directly to the Grooming Manager, who reviews them and then shares them with the Barn Manager in their weekly meeting. I’ve never been asked to send the reports directly to the Barn Manager before. Has that changed?

            It’s polite, deferential, but still asserts that I was doing what I was supposed to do according to our processes and this wasn’t me making a mistake. “Has that changed?” leaves the door open for the response to be “yes, from now on do X instead” but the overall message is still clear: I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, the way I’m supposed to do it. I didn’t make a mistake.

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              Yes, and the reason it works so well is exactly that you’re signaling that you realize there might be a consideration out there you don’t know about. In hierarchical structure where you might have limited information, that’s useful.
              If your boss is wrong you’ve saved them some face. But if, for instance, the Barn Manager was just given oversight over Grooming due to a generally hairy situation in Grooming, and the email went out while you were on vacation, you’ve saved yourself some face.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Absolutely. Either way, someone’s face got saved! Win-win.

                (Also, “generally hairy situation”, I see what you did there. :) )

            2. Mel*

              Yes, I used this one a lot at my old job. I’d been there forever and understood our insane client discount system really well. It always tripped up newer coworkers (because it was insane), but I never told people they were wrong. I just said, “Oh, I thought that rate was only for x, did that change?”

              And, one day it had changed. Having my coworker answer, “Oh yes, they’re going to send out a memo about that” was much nicer than saying, “Hey, you messed up” and finding out I was actually wrong.

            3. DiscoCat*

              Yes, I used to do this, a subtle yet clear yet face-saving nudge and opening of constructive communication avenues etc.. But in my setting, asking such indirect questions just leads to them scoffing and talking over me and simply arguing back as to why I think the report should go to the Barn manager and not the Grooming manager, or to derisively tell me that now they want it this way, full stop. I have come to learn that they think I overcomplicate things and am too bent on procedure (I don’t get this feedback directly, which would’ve been fine- it comes out through their secretaries)- I slim down and trim off any excess from things we need to do to get things done, but it’s still too much for them, even though I didn’t put these things in place and they exist for a good reason,

          3. KitKat*

            Definitely agree with this. Not all cultures are created equal, but if you are in a good one with good leaders they will welcome feedback (if provided diplomatically of course!). Sometimes, even if I feel like I am in the right, I just apologize out the gate because it automatically disarms people and often leads to a more productive conversation. As the company becomes for comfortable with you and you grow in your role, you will be able to give feedback more easily. Just like anything else though, it takes time to build that trust.

          4. Desperately seeking cute kitty*

            Yeah, just yesterday I was in one of those situations where I thought I was correcting someone I manage but it turned out that he was right and I was wrong. He pointed it out in a non-hostile way, I acknowledged that he was right and we moved on. The way I see it, his lack of hostility about it is the kind of grace that he would want me to give him when he makes a mistake. Everyone in a company makes mistakes, managers are no exception.

            1. She used to call me Elwood.*

              Yeah, this is really valuable. I think that there’s a difference between “my manager didn’t listen to my perspective and I was told to apologize for raising it” (which is how I’m interpreting OP’s situation) and “my manager heard my perspective and chose to go a different route.” My experience with hierarchy in the workplace has mostly been the latter, where I’ve been encouraged to diplomatically voice concerns and ideas, with the understanding that higher-ups might not act on those concerns and ideas. (Despite what I’d like to believe, I am often wrong!) Similarly, I try to be open to asking any reports for their perspectives, because I learn from them all the time.

              If OP is discouraged from speaking up because it’s considered disrespectful, that’s something to monitor, and perhaps a sign that this isn’t a good work environment.

      2. Impy*

        Or because they were born rich, white and middle class with access to certain opportunities and advantages. Not everyone at the top deserves to be there and this world would be a better place if that were acknowledged more often.

        1. Long Time Lurker*

          You are absolutely right. But I think for the OP, assuming that no one at the top got there through hard work can be just as damaging as assuming everyone at the top got there through hard work.

          1. Natalia*

            Exactly! The OP is making a lot of assumptions and it doesn’t seem to be doing anything but causing him/her a lot of stress…

            1. Kitty*

              Yup. If the goal is to succeed at the job, it’s more productive to set aside those assumptions at the very least when you’re a new hire.

        2. LovecraftinDC*

          Oh, absolutely. But there’s usually a reason that they advanced higher than other rich, white, middle class people with access to opportunities and advantages. There’s no doubt that many of the middle-class-background white men at my company (including, possibly, myself) aren’t doing as good of a job as a with less privilege might.

          1. Impy*

            An excellent point, tbf. However you must recognise that when you spent your teen summers working in factories and clawed your way into an office role, it is extremely hard to handle people insisting Tarquin, cousin of the CEO, is your manager through his own merit.

          2. Impy*

            And to clarify – I don’t have a problem with authority. I have a problem with shitty, unearned authority. If you are good and treat your employees fairly – have at it! If you’re coasting on your privilege that is the specific thing I have a problem with.

            1. Not A Morning Person*

              Just another thing to remind yourself is that work is not always fair. Should it be? Sure! But is it always? No. And fighting reality can be unhealthy. Pick your battles and don’t make yourself upset and crazy over the things you cannot control. Remember those frustrations when you get to a place where you can control and make things more fair.

        3. Natalia*

          That goes without saying, but that doesn’t mean that everyone at the top got their just because they’re white and middle class…some of those people do deserve to be there.

          Constantly worrying about and comparing yourself to others isn’t healthy. The OP needs to keep their head down and quit worrying about how these people got to the top. It’s counter productive…there are always going to be people who have more, get promoted more, etc…

          1. Parenthetically*

            “Constantly worrying about and comparing yourself to others isn’t healthy. The OP needs to keep their head down and quit worrying about how these people got to the top.”

            Absolutely agreed. Power dynamics, privilege, nepotism are all A Thing, for sure. But coming in with the old Justice Phasers set to Kill, interacting as though every person at management level and above is actually a feckless incompetent who gained his position purely on the merits of whiteness and its appurtenances is a sure path to a pink slip.

            1. Impy*

              I absolutely agree – I also agree with the person who said it might help OP if they engage in activism outside of work. After all, hierarchal structures, based on societal inequality, are a real thing in our current society. But they don’t *have* to be.

            2. MOAS*

              Agree. I’m not a white male but I had a report who legitimately thought that I was promoted to my position due to being “friendly” with my (male white) boss. Putting aside how gross and hurtful that was — the report had the same attitude of “I’m smarter and more talented than my bosses but I can’t get ahead”.

              1. Impy*

                Are you saying structural biases don’t exist? Because I would say the gross comment about you being ‘friendly’ was an example of those structural biases at work.

            3. Natalia*

              Exactly no one likes a person with negative attitude and the whole”they’re out to get me, “they’re all entitled snobs who didn’t work hard to get where they are,” is not a healthy attitude at all. Yes, some people do have it easier, that’s just life

        4. Baru Cormorant*

          True but it’s not helpful for OP to assume that every power indifference and hierarchy is based on the socially unjust systems that plague our world. Sometimes your boss is your boss because of the luck afforded to them in life, and sometimes it’s because they’ve worked hard to be an expert in their field. It’s not healthy or helpful to analyze your coworkers’ professional competence in terms of their demographics to figure out if they “earned it” or not. OP sounds like they have a big chip on their shoulder about this and needs to do some thinking about it.

      3. Kitty*

        Yeah. It makes a huge difference if you can respect your superiors, or at least given them the benefit of the doubt. I have no problem taking direction from people who I respect, even if I disagree with the specific issue.

      4. Alli525*

        That’s really only true in corporate environments. You can buy your way onto nonprofit boards, and in fact that is how MOST people on nonprofit boards get there.

        1. A Dissenting Opinion*

          Wait, what? Please provide your evidence for this.

          It is true that most nonprofits ask all board members to donate to their mission in some capacity. However, all the ones I have been associated with do not designate the amount of that gift. Some board members might give millions; others $50.

          My credentials: a nonprofit board member who works for a different nonprofit (aka NOT making the big bucks)

        2. GovSysadmin*

          That may be the case for some really huge or well known nonprofits, but I concur with A Dissenting Opinion. I’m on the board of a nonprofit theatre company, and while the board members are expected to donate, it’s a relatively modest sum. I got involved because I loved the work the company did, and wanted to help them in whatever way I could. The vast majority of nonprofits are small organizations that you’d probably never know about if you’re not involved with whatever cause or activities they do.

          (That said, if there are any millionaires here who enjoy giving money to small theatre companies that do great work, I would love to talk! ;) )

      5. Chinookwind*

        You also need to remember that those higher up the chain have a different perspective on what is going on. They are working at higher, more theoretical level and not on the nitty gritty. They have knowledge that you are not privy to (nor do you want to be) and need to take everything into consideration, not jut what effects your part of their world.

        A good, if condescending analogy, is that TPTB are like parents with the younger the kid is, the lower down the chain of command they are. The 2 year old thinks it is unfair to got to bed earlier than the 8 year old sibling, but the parent is aware of sleep patterns and needs as well as what both are capable of. But, to the 2 year old, it just sounds like the parents are mean and favoring the 8 year old for no reason. And the 8 year old probably resents the 14 year old’s higher allowance without taking into account that the 14 year old does more household chores and is responsible for covering their own pocket expenses whereas the 8 year old doesn’t go anywhere without a parent and can ask them for money any time.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      Yes to your first paragraph. OP, you’ve been in your new job a week – don’t borrow trouble. You’re stressing about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet. Just relax, try to keep an open mind, and be strategic about how you broach certain topics if you do encounter something that you think needs to change. Pick your battles – not everything is worth speaking up on.

      1. Natalia*

        Very true! The OP is going in making a lot of assumptions, which seems to be creating unnecessary stress.

    5. archangelsgirl*

      My partner has to do work persona and home persona to an extreme point in order to survive at work, I mean, even to the point of their having a completely different physical self at work vs at home.

      At home, they wear a beard, at work, they are clean-shaven.
      At home, they wear superhero tee’s and shorts, at work, it’s only buttoned, collared shirts and dress slacks. They are in a profession where they could wear superhero shirts to work, and they used to. But it was so impossible to separate work expectation from home expectations, that they literally had to make these physical changes to remind themself where they are, and how they have to act.

      In their case, my partner’s issue was that they were treating their colleagues too much like friends, which got them into trouble in the sense that they felt like they could speak their mind to their “friends”, and then, uh oh, you’re speaking to superiors and colleagues, so no. This is slightly different than your issue, but I really think separating into work person and home person is a valid strategy. It may seem, at first, like “selling out.” But it isn’t really. It means that your office gets your work, but they don’t get “you” – your soul, your family, your outside interests, your world views. We look at it as protecting the real “you” and just sending the skills that company is paying for to work.

      We only did this drastic physical makeover last year, and it is helping my partner so, so much. I feel like I’ve gotten them back, after three or four really rough years. I feel for you.

      Caveat – This is my suggestion if you want to fit your square pegged self into the round hole of office life. It really sounds to me like you would be a better fit in a different hole, as it were. But that being said, you might want to give office work all you have to give before giving up on it, so that is my suggested.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think this is a great perspective. Your unique you-ness isn’t diminished by office nonsense if you don’t bring it to the office. Drawing a clean line between office life and home life with different clothing, language use, etc can be very helpful for someone who tends to take things personally.

      2. Alianora*

        Wait, how do they pull off having a beard at home but not at work? Is it a seasonal job like teaching?

      3. Phoebe*

        I like this concept, but I’m really curious. How do they manage to have beard at home, but not at work? Is it a fake beard? Or do they work an unusual schedule like 4 days on, 3 days off?

    6. Mid*

      Ooh that’s a good point.

      That’s something I struggled with. I was raised in a very rural, blue collar small town, and ended up going to university at a private school in a major metro area, and the school has a reputation for being snooty/wealthy. I felt myself having to be almost an ambassador for the working class at times, and it definitely made me defensive.

      So, LW, I’m seconding this advice. Try to keep an open mind and not assume the worst. Don’t assume office politics or hierarchy at play until it’s undeniable. You don’t have to hide your true self, but also don’t use that persona as armor to prevent people from getting close to you. Speaking as someone who did exactly that for several years.

      1. Natalia*

        Great advice! Behaviors like being defensive, using your upbringing and persona as armor turns people off. Yes, be yourself, but be open to other people and don’t assume the worst.

    7. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I see a LOT of “this is who I am, no matter what” pride among people who are blue collar or lower-class. Also a tendency to fall back on “my parents/teachers/church always taught” when confronted with a challenge in life.

      My parents grew up working class, and I’ve seen very much how it’s negatively affected our ability to move through the white collar world (their attitude did us very poor service while we were in school, for example.)

      1. Daffy Duck*

        I have seen this also, there is a lot of pride and “bragging rights” to acting abrasively towards those in authority or “speaking truth” in a confrontational way in some blue-collar cultures. It usually sets up us vs. them situations and doesn’t encourage collaboration from those outside the culture, limiting advancement.

        1. Natalia*

          Why would anyone want to brag about being working class or wealthy? I don’t care! I don’t give a rat’s pa

            1. Impy*

              Particularly against the working class. Solidarity in an oppressed group is a coping mechanism, not a thing designed to annoy you.

            2. Natalia*

              And it’s pathetic and immature. I don’t give a rat’s patootie if you were raised wealthy or working class…it should be irrelevant

        2. Impy*

          This is an incredibly insulting thing to say. If we’re going to talk about bragging, how about directors that brag about spending more on a weekend away than some of their employees earn in a month. Is that gauche too? Or is it only bad when working class people make faux pas? I look forward to your continued tone policing of minority communities.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          A friend of mine calls it ‘The Roseanne Complex.’ Roseanne and Jackie Connor were not only okay with their blue collar reality, they gloried in it.

          1. Pescadero*

            That kind of implies that glorying in being a blue collar worker is somehow a bad thing…

            Blue collar work is no higher, or lower, than white collar work.

        4. Bryeny*

          Confronting authority figures and speaking truth to power happens in white collar cultures too. It’s not a class thing, it’s human nature.

      2. Natalia*

        I’ve seen that too. And to be honest it’s tiring. I get that people come from different backgrounds and were raised certain ways, but I don’t need to hear about it every time something goes wrong….

    8. Artemesia*

      People who succeed in the workplace hierarchies understand that managing up is a subtle process and doesn’t involve ‘confrontation’ and living with a chip on your shoulder. It is a set of skills that begins with observation; once you understand the dynamics of a place you are in a position to maneuver. Being belligerent and having to be ‘right’ all the time is tedious in the best of times but in a complex organization it just marks you out as inept. Identifying allies is important. Becoming a go to person who can be relied on for good information and skillfulness becomes a resource for influence. When you develop a reputation for being good at what you do, for following through and being reliable then you begin to develop allies. These people who count on you can help you deal with difficult people in authority whom you can’t approach. You also develop skills for raising issues in a collaborative way rather than ‘correcting other people.’ And you learn which things to just ignore.

      1. Impy*

        It’s not about being right all the time. It’s about being allowed to be right when you’re actually right. If I mess up I want to be told, so I can fix and improve. Surely good bosses want the same? The example he gave really riled me. Board member shouldn’t get to have someone kowtow to him – he’s being a whiny brat. And if everyone at the top deserves to be there and OP should learn from them, maybe the Board Member should set a good example by not behaving like a two year old.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I don’t think you’ll find anyone in this thread who thinks how the board member (or OP’s boss in that scenario) acted was justifiable or acceptable.

        2. Natalia*

          Being belligerent is immature and pointless. The OP could’ve approached someone later on and spoken about this in a diplomatic manner. Yes, the board member could’ve been acting wrong, but two wrongs don’t make a right. And just because the board member acted like a whiny two year old, does NOT mean the OP should too.

          1. Impy*

            Personally, Natalia, I don’t think politely correcting someone when they get something wrong is ‘acting like a 2 year old’. I think it’s ‘being a good employee’ and ‘not letting a board member make huge mistakes that will cost the company’.

            1. Natalia*

              There is nothing wrong with politely correcting someone when they are wrong. You can certainly do that without making a scene. Making a scene and rudely correcting someone is very childish. There is a right and a wrong way….

          2. Mike C.*

            It’s not “belligerent” to correct someone who is talking about a project you spend months leading. Sure, there are better and worse ways to do it, but belligerence isn’t accurate.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Ok but do you see how many “shoulds” are involved there? In an ideal world, yes, the Board Member should set a good example and not need to be deferred to. But the point is that this is not an ideal world, and the fact of the matter is sometimes there are people who you do have to defer to, even when they’re wrong, because they have power over you.

          And, as a number of people have pointed out, you can push back on higher-ups as long as you do it the right way – there’s subtlety and tact you need to deploy in order to do so successfully, and having a solid amount of political capital built up first helps too.

          1. Impy*

            I absolutely agree that this is just how things are. I’m mostly disagreeing with the idea that thinking it’s *bad* that this is how things are is a fundamental flaw that needs to be corrected via therapy.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Eh, I agree it’s not a fundamental flaw per se. But I also could see where therapy or coaching of some kind could be helpful in allowing OP to reconcile “it should be like this” with “…but in reality it works like that”.

              1. Impy*

                I see that and I also see it as a useful tool in terms of what OP wants out of life. I just disagree that it’s a ‘root cause’ or a result of ‘trauma’.

                1. Natalia*

                  Who knows what it’s the result of…but it might be helpful to talk to a therapist just to vent and get all their thoughts out on the table.

        4. Chatterby*

          I got the impression that the board member had a minor misunderstanding about something on the project (the subject regarding some task or role the LW did, not anything that would cost the company money or reputation if not fixed) and the LW replied both forcefully (the word “assert” was used twice, as in “my right to assert”) and rudely, to the point where the LW’s boss was extremely embarrassed and ripped the LW a new one, then banned the LW from doing anything other than apologize and told LW to never correct or even talk to the board member again.

    9. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Kay, I came here to say this, but you did it so much better. There are a lot of assumptions being made here, and they are no more valid or helpful than assuming a so-called blue collar worker is a noble, blameless victim of the whims of Management.

      OP, Us vs. Them thinking is rarely helpful or warranted. You’ll definitely know when it is. Good luck in your new role, please keep us posted.

    10. Mazzy*

      Yes. This workplace with the board members that want apologies instead of truth isn’t necessarily the norm. I’ve never experienced hierarchy to this extreme.

      But to the point OP, if you want to be above/outside of hierarchies, you need to develop serious skills so people actually see you as outside of the hierarchy or as untouchable. For example, people in my circle can code and uncover under the hood business problems, and so tend to be seen as equals with people at higher levels, since they are in many ways equal and they/we are needed. But you can’t just walk in a company and get treated like that and expect to be treated a certain way without history

      1. TechWorker*

        No but I have had discussions with high level folk where it’s ended up being the case that they want a plan to fix something or move it in the right direction rather than reasons/explanation for why it went ‘wrong’ – which can definitely come across in the moment like they’re shutting down explanation/ignoring the fact the people lower down have more context.

      2. Jadelyn*

        This is a great point – I’ve got a couple people I know who are nearly-untouchable despite their relatively low place in the hierarchy, because they’re specialized and highly skilled and have sterling reputations. I’m working my way into that position myself, but it definitely takes time. You need to have excellent skills, preferably in a specialized and critically-necessary area, and have a strong reputation and credibility.

        And even then, when you’re positioned well to push back on people high above you, you still need to be tactful and strategic about how you do it.

      3. anon61*

        Another thing the OP might want to consider is going into business for herself, if possible.

        Sounds like the OP either wants to be the boss, or, at a minimum, to not have to answer to anyone. Well, taking a chance at being self employed might work.

        Also, in my experience, blue collar work often involves hierarchies, and nepotism, and power plays as much as white collar work.

        1. Not A Morning Person*

          And even self-employed people have bosses. They’re commonly called “customers” or “clients”. It’s hard to get into a place where you don’t have to be tactful or concerned at all about how you communicate. And I do prefer tactful honesty that helps me maintain some masquerade of confidence and competence, even or especially when I may have made a dunce of myself. (Note the “may have”, not actually have.) :)

        2. Idran*

          TBF, being anti-hierarchy isn’t the same as wanting to be on top of the hierarchy. Oftentimes, it means being against the entire concept of hierarchical organization in general; not just that you don’t want others above you, but that you don’t want to be above others either. A flat organization with no standing power structures; potentially short-term emergent power structures as needed, but only as needed, and dispersed as soon as they’re no longer necessary to prevent accruing of power.

          If you know what you’re doing and you’re extremely experienced, you don’t need to be in a high position within an established and official hierarchy to be respected and to have your words have authority. You will have that by virtue of the fact that you know what you’re doing and you’re extremely experienced; you’ll be respected by virtue of organizational knowledge and past success. (Think of the folks in this thread talking about gathering expertise so as to be seen as “outside” the hierarchy, or if you’re familiar with military, the decades-served MCPO who might technically be beneath a green officer, but in practice ought always to be listened to above said officer.)

    11. post it*

      Agree. I would also try to question the belief that you must push back at full force against every instance of hierarchy or authority, or else you are complicit in perpetuating the worst abuses of hierarchy. That feels like a leap to me.

      I would try to focus more on the outcome than the principle of the matter. That will give you a better sense of when it makes sense to push back or not. Then consider the stakes–something like calling out sexual harassment is high stakes, the precise wording of a particular document might be low stakes. Try to let the low stakes stuff go.

      Also, I’m sure you make compromises in other areas of your life; you might drive a car or eat meat despite the environmental impacts, you might buy from a mass retailer despite their labor practices, etc. You pick what you can live with. If you really can’t work in a hierarchical workplace without feeling that you’re enabling those in power to abuse their positions, you have to decide whether you can live easier with that enabling, or easier in accepting that your choice of jobs will be limited.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Or finding a job where you can work from home 100%. I’m now doing this, and my attitude about work has greatly improved because I don’t have to see or be around the office politics all day. If, for example, my manager does something petty that will irritate my spirit, I can curse out loud or go take a brisk walk somewhere for however long I need to to get centered again because no one else will hear/see it. And not having to be “on” all the time the way you have to be in an office setting has given me the energy I need to get over things I consider to be stupid behavior or slights quicker.

        OP may need to consider this if she truly can’t figure out how to navigate beyond her anti-authority mindset.

      2. Natalia*

        Good point!
        One thing that resonated with me is that the OP said that his previous job was more blue collar and there were no office politics…I think he may have just gotten lucky. I have worked in blue collar jobs where the office politics were so over the top it was like being back in high school. It depends on the company…not weather the job is blue or white collar!

      3. Jaydee*

        In situations like that, I tend to fall back on a couple of truths:
        – You’ll catch more flies with honey
        – Life is a marathon, not a sprint
        – Stay focused on your priorities
        – Choose your battles wisely

        No one responds well to aggressive confrontation. It can feel really good to call someone out, but it doesn’t usually persuade them to change. You don’t have to be a doormat, but being kind and diplomatic will ultimately get you more leeway with them and more respect from them, which will give more opportunities down the road to push a little harder.

        Also, sometimes it can backfire in other ways. If your goal is to have a successful event or provide good customer service or make quality products or just do your job and bring home a paycheck to pay the bills, how does proving that you’re right further that goal? If it does – if it truly does – maybe it’s a battle worth fighting. But otherwise, maybe let that one go and save up for the battle in the future that really impacts that goal.

    12. A*

      This. It can be challenging and mildly infuriating, but ultimately the office is not the place to be “your authentic, true self”. My professional persona is very, very different than my actual personality & perspective outside of work. It’s out of necessity, and to keep my sanity!

      Having started my career in a blue collar industry before jumping over the fence, OP you are definitely not alone in this boat. I also see this hurdle come up a lot with younger employees in their first job. It’s a difficult learning curve, and one that is rarely (if ever) discussed in schools.

    13. RUKiddingMe*

      +100

      Also mote often than I personally prefer it’s better to get “on the inside” (however that may be defined per a given situation) in order to effect change. Going in loaded for bear from day one is only gonna get you fired.

    14. MCMonkeyBean*

      That’s what I was thinking too. A lot of negative expectations that may not be true at all of your new workplace! Some places may work that way, but lots of others don’t! I’ve personally never been in an environment like the one described. At good companies, people at all levels should be able to admit when they are wrong and upper management knows they can still learn things from others.

      Also, at most companies I would think lower-level employees wouldn’t really even have much if any face-to-face interaction with those highest in the ranks. I have really only ever interacted with my direct manager and their direct manager. Then they deal with people higher than that.

  4. G*

    A little humility might help, in the sense that sometimes people are higher up on hierarchies because they are good at what they do/worked hard to get there. Obviously this isn’t true in many cases, but I sometimes have to remind myself as a junior employee that sometimes somebody can just know better than me in making a decision.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      Yes…in terms of work structures themselves…but often NOT in terms of donors/board members.

      1. snowglobe*

        Even this is an assumption that is not always true. I work for a large corporation, and always assumed that our board members, who all come from other industries, probably don’t really know that much about what we do. Until I sat down with one of our board members for a discussion, and found out that when he joined the board he really educated himself on our industry, and had a really strong understanding of what I did in my job, plus his broader experience meant that he had some really interesting thoughts on overall strategy and how we compete, and other ‘big picture’ ideas.

        TLDR; even board members and volunteers may be way more knowledgeable that you expect, if you give them a chance.

        1. pope suburban*

          Also, if board members/donors are not more knowledgeable in terms of, say, operations or technical skills, they often have access to resources and people that others don’t. Do I find this faintly repellent? Sure! But do I want someone who is very good at talking other wealthy/connected people to be able to do that, to the benefit of my agency and our public? Also sure! The question I ask myself is why I am doing what I am doing, and the answer is that the mission has value. It’s worth it to me to hold my nose for a few minutes every year if I am dealing with a genuinely unpleasant board member who also helps us serve the community. In the end, it’s not about me, it’s about the end result for the community. That’s not always a pleasant bit of math to do, but it helps me a lot and the answer- help others- is always easy to get.

      2. Tom & Johnny*

        I have 10 years experience working with Board of Directors at public and privately held companies. Non-profit boards can be a minefield. But if you’re dealing with the Board of a publicly-traded company, you’re not dealing with ignorant prestige-appointed people. They may have prestige but it is earned by their experience (read the bios). Even the BOD of a privately held company, where the directors are principal members of the key investors, are people with a vast range of insight and business knowledge.

        These people, whether it’s a private or public company, have MBAs, investment experience, may have been the CEOs, CFOs, or COOs of their own companies (or currently are), and are far from stupid, weight-throwing, fat cats laughing into their cravats.

        Some of them may have personalities from time to time, but their personalities are humored BECAUSE of what they know, and what they bring to the table. The Chairman of the Board who always gets upgraded to first class ran a biotech company as CEO for many years – and your entity is a fresh, young biotech company so that is exactly the depth of experience you need in Board leadership. Honestly, give him a first class flight. Who cares!?

      3. Pommette!*

        True, although there is still a bit of variability when it comes to boards.

        Some nonprofits have specific experience and competence requirements for board membership – for instance, that x% of members be members of the populations served by the organization, that y% have professional experience doing frontline work connected to the organization’s mission, or that z% have other relevant expertise. Although it’s never (and shouldn’t be) their role to be directly involved in the organization’s day-to-day activities, some boards do have more direct lines of communication with the organization’s staff; that relationship can be anything from very collaborative to very paternalistic, depending on the organization.

        It’s a consideration that the OP can keep in mind as she plans her longer-term career trajectory. What does she think of potential employers’ boards? Of the way their criteria for board membership, and of the ways they recruit and support board members? Of their approach to hierarchy? Do they try to subvert or to replicate existing power structures? Some places will match her values better than others.

        Donors are another issue.

      4. jk*

        Some board members are great and have fantastic resumes and true work experience in your field. Many are not so great and can be very forceful and cruel when it comes to feedback. They are also in a position of power and don’t quite understand the day-to-day workings of an organization and the challenges faced – they are looking down from afar and some have not actually worked very much in their life having come from family-run businesses (and have lots of money). They also haven’t worked in specific roles that they often criticize.

        It’s easy to mange upwards though. Don’t get defensive and if they make a good point, let them know you’ll look into it. If it isn’t so good just explain why you took the steps you took and the benefit it provides to the bottom line. If you have numbers to show to them they’ll be happy. If not just smile and nod, smile and nod, ok, yes… then talk to your boss afterwards.

        And, should they be trying to tell you how to do your job just smile and nod.. smile and nod. When you leave the room have a good laugh about it as you know they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about! As a marketer this happens a lot with me (technology changes so quickly), not just with board members but executives, and staff in other departments. I’m comfortable pushing back on staff members and educating them as peers so we mutually respect each other.

        When it comes to board members it’s best not to fight. They have a lot of power and can cause your bosses a major headache, and you your job. No matter how nonsensical their criticism is – it will not matter how good you are at your job.

        If you want to fight, do it with logic, numbers and visuals and present it to your boss, or your bosses boss. That’s where you take the fight and get support. Then they can help back you up in board meetings or further explain something to the board as they’ll have more knowledge of how to navigate the various personalities.

        Don’t get me wrong, it grinds my gears when I get told how to do my job by people I barely know. I choose to lead a stress and conflict-free life though.

    2. Rebecca*

      Yes, honestly, at a well-run company, you do have to defer to higher-ups but they’re going to generally know what they are talking about really well, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Sure, they might forget little things or make small errors that you’ll be expected to ignore or correct silently, but that’s the privilege of being a big wheel, I guess. Sounds nice to me!

      If you have to defer to people who know nothing, the company is poorly run and going to collapse anyway eventually, so you might as well get out. But these are things you can’t know the first week, so why not assume the best and treat folks respectfully, let small mistakes go gracefully for *everyone* no matter their ranking, and see how you feel.

    3. Mazzy*

      Good comment. Humility can feel painful but it can also prevent situations where you say or do something wrong that was out of your league to begin with, and can help develop restraint of pen and tongue, and prevent saying too much in certain situations

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I think it’s also helpful when we can just accept that some people, deserving or not are always going to have privilege/perks and not let the unfairness if it take too much space in our head.

        Each of us is only an individual and no matter “who we are” we are mostly hoi palloi and individually not make a lot of difference or convince entitled assholes (if in fact that’s what they are) that they don’t deserve that privilege.

        Oh and a lot of therm actually do…they have
        earned it.

    4. designbot*

      I’d reframe from “good at what they do” to “good at something.” Part of handling them well, managing up, is figuring out what that something might be and tapping into it. Maybe it’s not the technical area that you’re in, maybe it’s people skills, or financial skills, or something that’s not even on your radar. Assume they’re good at *something* and value them for whatever that thing might be. Then reframe this from “boardmember is butting in” to “This guy with all the people skills messed up a technical detail.” When you frame it that way, it’s no surprise, and it’s also probably no big deal, because does anyone count on him for technical details? Probably not.

    5. Is It Performance Art*

      I second that. Sometimes it’s also true that someone higher up in the hierarchy simply has more information than you do and can’t share that information with you.
      It takes a while, but if you’re observant, you can start to recognize which higher ups are higher up because of things like skills, experience, training etc and which are just there because someone liked the cut of their jib.

    1. PMinMD*

      This was my gut reaction. If this is something you’ve dealt with since you were young then talking to someone about what triggered it in the first place and then make peace with it may help immensely.

    2. Moocowcat*

      Yup! Authority and hierarchy are broad topics that fundamentally affect how a person approaches life. Attending therapy or communication workshop classes may be needed to understand paradigms set in childhood.

    3. medium of ballpoint*

      Oof. There’s a lot that’s problematic in equating issues arising from social class with mental health and as a POC I’d definitely consider walking away from a job where a suggestion like this was made.

      1. Joielle*

        Nobody said anything about mental health…? You certainly don’t need to be mentally ill to benefit from talking to a therapist. They’re trained to pick out counterproductive patterns of thought, which is exactly what the OP needs.

        1. Impy*

          The suggestion that a working class person needs therapy to learn to be more subservient at work is the insulting bit. Disliking hierarchical workplaces is not a pathology or in itself a problem that needs to be fixed.

          1. Joielle*

            I mean, yeah – the OP is welcome to dislike hierarchical workplaces, and they’re not wrong to have that opinion. But if they want to work in a hierarchical workplace, they might need an outside perspective to figure out how to make that work for them. Otherwise, they should look for a job outside the world of nonprofits (which I’m assuming is where they are, since they’re talking about donors and board members).

            1. ArtsNerd*

              Right. There isn’t a pathology here — it’s oppression, first and foremost — but OP is explicitly asking for help in navigating these workplaces.

              And a good therapist can help them figure out:
              a) whether working in these environments is worth the costs and if so,
              b) how to reframe their thoughts and behaviors to do so.

              A big part of it is adapting to different cultural norms that may be morally neutral (e.g. decisions that differ from your preference are not inherently ‘wrong’ in and of themselves). Or finding ways to push back effectively and diplomatically when appropriate – no subservience necessary.

          2. Parenthetically*

            “Hey, here’s this repeating pattern that has been with you from childhood to the present, it frustrates you and thwarts your wishes and preferences and goals, therapy might be able to help with that” /= “You need therapy to be more subservient at work.”

            You’re taking the least charitable reading of other commenters’ comments, and we are asked not to do that.

            1. Impy*

              It’s not uncharitable. Multiple people on these threads are suggesting that disliking hierarchal workplaces, a common and normal thing, is a pathological issue stemming back to childhood that requires therapy. That is what is uncharitable, Parenthetically.

              1. Parenthetically*

                No one is suggesting a pathology, for crying out loud. Therapy isn’t just for pathological mental illness as you seem to believe. Therapy is useful for ANYONE, especially people like OP who are dealing with a recurrent, frustrating problem.

                1. Impy*

                  And FYI, I think therapy is useful for a lot of different issues. I just disagree that having awareness of societal oppression is a result of ‘trauma’.

                2. Oryx*

                  Multiple people have said that because the OP said that: “My issues with authority and hierarchy honestly go back to childhood.”

                  It is the OP who introduced it as an issue stemming back to childhood. The commentators are responding to that.

              2. Mia*

                People are mentioning that it stems from the LW’s childhood because that’s exactly what the LW herself said. No one just made that assumption on their one.

                1. Impy*

                  No, they said it stemmed *back to* childhood. That doesn’t mean it’s a childhood trauma, it means they have a consistent belief system. The idea that espousing some pretty normal, left of centre views = trauma is honestly quite baffling to me.

                2. Mia*

                  Saying “therapy might help if this dates back to childhood” is not implying trauma. But speaking from experience, growing up with less resources *can be* traumatic. Maybe it isn’t for everyone,but for some folks it is. And small children don’t typically have hugely fleshed out anti-authority belief systems, so I really don’t think that’s what the LW meant.

                3. Mia*

                  Also, this is hardly about left of center views. I’m on the radical end of the left spectrum myself and even I recognize that sometimes you need to reframe your thinking in terms of authority if you want to work in certain settings.

          3. Jaybeetee*

            Nothing’s a problem until it’s a problem. It sounds like the LW has left jobs and suffered emotional distress over this, and is unhappy now. She doesn’t need therapy to “fix herself” or learn to be more submissive, but to give her tools to deal with the stress these feelings cause her and find more constructive ways of achieving her goals.

            1. Impy*

              If that’s the implication it’s fine – sometimes therapy can help OP figure out they need to be in a different field etc. I was specifically objecting to the idea that dislike of hierarchy was an ‘issue stemming back to childhood’. Some people just like different workplaces.

              1. Parenthetically*

                OP says right in the letter that her dislike of hierarchy has been an issue since her childhood.

                1. boo bot*

                  Right, but I think the question is, are we treating that as equivalent to something like, “my difficulty staying organized goes all the way back to childhood”? Because, that’s clearly a work problem, and clearly a “me” problem, which needs to be internally resolved, probably with some combination of therapy, medication, and multicolored packs of markers and post-it notes (ahem. Or whatever.)

                  Or, are we reading it as equivalent to, “my frustration with people assuming I’m bad at math because I’m female goes all the way back to childhood”? Because in that case, therapy is probably helpful, sure – but the baseline problem isn’t that the person is too touchy about their math skills; the baseline problem is systemic sexism.

                  (If it’s not clear, I see the OP’s dilemma as being in the second category.)

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                The OP said her issues with authority go back to her childhood. That’s why people are commenting on it.

          4. Natalia*

            That’s fine to dislike hierarchical workplaces, but if you’re gonna work in one..you have to learn how to deal with it….or maybe find a company that’s a better fit.

      2. Phoenix*

        Suggesting therapy doesn’t have to equate to suggesting that someone has a mental health issue – therapy can be helpful in developing coping strategies or reframing issues that have little or nothing to do with mental health problems. Depending on the issue, a therapist can be instrumental in bringing clarity of thought to how you view the situation.

        1. medium of ballpoint*

          I’m well aware; I work in mental health. And rather than getting into a debate, I’ll just walk away. Sometimes the comments section hits a level of White Middle Class Twilight Zone that makes me really uncomfortable.

          1. MistOrMister*

            I’m a POC as well and my first thought was also to suggest therapy. Not as in, dear lord the OP has a mental illness, but as, hmmm OP’s reaction here seems to be rather over the top. Add to that them saying their problems with authority go back to childhood, and it seems like talking to someone might help them either see where this aversion comes from and be able to put that to rest, or to help them come up with mechanisms where they can not allow the anger at the higher ups to take sway. I have not read any of the comments in this thread as suggesting OP has a mental illness in any way. I also don’t see where anyone did equate social class with mental health. Nor where the “white middle class twilight zone” thing happens in the comments.

            1. Lol*

              I know that I hate when I go into comment sections and everyone refuses to reflect my own niche worldview back at me. I’m going to stomp off in a huff and definitely not get the therapy that I am too evolved to need but provide to other people.

            2. Alli525*

              Agreed. I know I have some latent daddy issues that I realized tend to pop up when I have a male boss that I’m particularly close to. Doesn’t mean I’m mentally ill, just means that I could use a trained, objective professional to get to the root of why I tried to one-up my boss in front of a client, so that I understand the feelings that caused my reaction and learn to control those impulses.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              The letter is about coming from a marginalized background, and medium is discussing their specific perspective as someone who experiences marginalization because of their race/ethnicity to contextualize their point.

            2. Creed Bratton*

              I’d say it’s very relevant to any POC. You can disagree with someone’s comment while recognizing a different set of life experiences.

          2. ArtsNerd*

            I definitely understand walking away vs. getting into a debate, and I’m not pushing back on that or suggesting you do otherwise.

            I do want to say that an elaboration of your specific concerns would be valued by me in case you think they would be ignored or discarded by the entire commentariat. This is getting clunky af at this point, but since Internet™ I am also articulating explicitly that I know I am not entitled to that. /end directly addressing parent comment.

            More generally: I am white and middle class. And also, my social circle is largely folks of very marginalized backgrounds — many of whom have found therapy* helpful in navigating oppression and its systems. Until we can dismantle capitalism and white supremacy and all those forces, the OP needs to take practical steps to ensure their wellbeing within them as well as they can.

            The OP says I still have that little voice in my head that says that if I stop pushing back against authority and hierarchy, I’m essentially “giving up” and “letting them win.” I disagree strongly that tolerating hierarchy in this specific situation is “giving up'” or becoming complacent or otherwise a failure on OP’s part. Something I and others have found very helpful are CBT-style exercises (if not proper CBT) to examine these types of thoughts when they actively work against one’s wellbeing.

            *when they can access it, which is a can of worms in itself, of course.

            1. carrots and celery*

              I am white and middle class. And also, my social circle is largely folks of very marginalized backgrounds — many of whom have found therapy* helpful in navigating oppression and its systems.

              This is what I tell my white, middle class friends to get them off my backs when they’re trying to be performatively woke. It’s not necessarily true, but white middle class people tend to think everyone from a marginalized background is “saved from navigating oppression” through therapy and saying this gets them to shut up and stop trying to help me with problems they don’t know anything about.

              1. ArtsNerd*

                To clarify, I don’t think therapy will “save” anyone from navigating oppression (or anything really), and my experience does not include me suggesting therapy to people who haven’t asked me about it. I based my anecdote on what I see my communities post to facebook, openly and freely and in no way a response to me or other means of placating. Usually it’s asking for advice on how to access it and recommendations for people who are competent in their specific needs.

                And yes my language above is cringingly ‘woke’ and I hate how I phrased it. It’s very off-putting, and I’m totally down to get eyerolled for it.

                I thought it was important to be explicit in those things to try to stave off misunderstandings, and I don’t know how to communicate those nuances more elegantly in a comments section. But it probably wasn’t the way to go, so shrug.

          3. Creed Bratton*

            While I initially thought of therapy as an option when I read the letter, your comment did help me notice my white privilege. So thank you.
            The OP gives clear mention of the childhood “it’s not fair” feeling (which a lot of us can relate to!). But we have to remember those who weren’t even allowed to play in the game.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              “But we have to remember those who weren’t even allowed to play in the game.”

              Some of us managed to get into the game eventually and some of us took our tinker toys and built our own game populating it with others who never get chosen to be on a team.

              #ScrewTheSystem

          4. 1.0*

            thanks for saying something anyway – i’m actively not commenting elsewhere because the commentariat tends to be a very specific demographic and with a very specific set of concerns, and i know i’ll get frustrated even trying.

            1. Kitty*

              Fine but I’m still not buying the premise that the therapy suggestion has anything to do with demographics. And I’m saying that as a sparkly POC.

      3. CAA*

        Yes, you’re right that OP’s employer shouldn’t make this suggestion; but we are not her employer, and she specifically asked us what might help. Suggesting that a neutral 3rd party could help her talk about something she’s struggling with does not mean anybody thinks she’s mentally ill.

      4. Yorick*

        This mentality isn’t necessarily about being from a blue collar background. If it stems from childhood, there may have been some event or relationship that is the root of it.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          This. I held very similar beliefs as the OP, and my issues with authority dated back to childhood as well: my mother was hyper controlling and never allowed me to have a voice at all, so as a teen and into my early adult years, I took every opportunity I could to buck norms and do/say whatever the hell I wanted, whenever and wherever the hell I wanted because I was going to be heard.

          Once I realized (through therapy) that a lot of my abrasiveness was a result of how I was raised to be the obedient little soldier, I was able to develop healthy outlets to move beyond that way of interacting with the world around me.

      5. Mia*

        There’s nothing problematic with suggesting that someone with a thought pattern that’s harming their career prospects speak to a professional about it, and I don’t really see any implication of mental illness in that advice. It’s not like you’re required to have a condition in the DSM to benefit from therapy.

    4. U.S.B.*

      As someone who relates deeply to this letter and has also benefited greatly from therapy, I second the recommendation! I also have found it very helpful to use my time outside of work to participate in and build the kind of communities that I want to see in the world. That can look like organizing, cultivating a supportive group of friends, or many other things! Love to you, Letter Writer.

    5. Joielle*

      Yeah, I was coming down here to say the same thing. The OP needs a change in perspective on what sounds like a pretty broad scale, and a therapist would be great for helping the OP talk through their views and point out where it all might have come from and how a different perspective might also be valid.

    6. WakeRed*

      Therapy or some kind of career counseling, if your job has insurance that covers this, will also help you explore what kind of job might fit better for you, LW. I’ve definitely learned what kind of workplaces or tasks are better for me by setting aside time to talk with a third-party. Might as well make use of those white collar job bennies.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I am concerned about OP’s level of anger. Therapy might be a good choice, but since this is an old, hence, a rooted issue, my suggestion is to do more than one thing because probably more than one thing is driving this level of upset.

      I do recommend that you keep reading AAM, OP. We all have knowledge gaps. And what we don’t know can leave a blank spot in our understanding that, in turn causes the angries to flair right up. Knowledge is power, keep reading here.

      It not just about the unfairness, it also about the loss of power. No one, ever, wants their power/autonomy taken from them. So it would be wise to think of ways of taking back your power/autonomy. It’s easy to focus on the unfairness. If a person keeps repeatedly feeling their power being taken away from them, it does not take long and that person feels totally drained. This goes into the whole topic of practical uses for anger. We can pace ourselves out and use our anger in practical ways that help ourselves and help other people.

      Staying in a situation and learning how to remedy wrongs can be an amazing experience. Learning to pick which battles we will take on and which battles we will avoid, also helps with calming down. This is because we have to acknowledge that “I can’t fix it all, it’s too big.” And that brings the next step, “Others feel the same way.”

      I strongly recommend exercise, OP. Anger generates a bunch of physical energy. That physical energy needs to be dissipated somehow. Don’t make this a big thing, something as simple as a 15 minute walk every night after dinner, over time this new habit could change many things for you. The key is to get out there most nights and walk and keep doing it.

      Last, change your expectations, OP. I went from saying, “This world needs to be fair to everyone including me”, to saying “It’s not about the fairness we GET. It’s about the fairness we GIVE.” All we can control totally is our own actions. Reset your expectation. Practice gratitude to help you do this reset. Every day find three things you are grateful for, they can’t be something you have already chosen on previous days.

      Reality is there are rotten people out there and probably will always be rotten people out there. There are so many rotten people out there that Alison has been writing this blog for YEARS and she has not run out of new material yet. Maybe you can come up with an idea like what Alison had, she saw unfairnesses and she decided to do something on a larger scale to open up communication lines and help people.

      Anger is not wrong, we are supposed to feel anger. It’s what we do with that anger that is the kicker.

  5. Long Time Reader*

    I would suggest therapy. Workplace hierarchies are never going to go away. The only thing YOU can do is change how you respond to them. A good therapist can help get you there.

    1. Oatmeal’s Gone*

      Agreed. The OP seems to have a lot of anger towards people in a new organization that they’ve never even worked with.

  6. HierarchySchmiarchy*

    Learn how to play the game and then beat them at it. When you get higher up, make changes for the better. It doesn’t mean you just play doormat, it means you figure out how to get the desired result within the confines of their system. If that means figuring out how to get the board member to think that your idea was their idea so they accept it (even though that is stupid) then do it. Don’t focus on how stupid the system is, but focus on the challenge of working through it.

    1. Mid*

      As much as I disagree with a lot of this book, Hillbilly Elegy might be a good read for this situation. It’s about a guy who was raised in poor, working class Appalachia and went to an Ivy League law school, and talks a lot about the politics around that.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I appreciated this book, too. JD Vance is sympathetic to the so-called blue collar worker, as he was born in poverty himself. He also points out how so many of those folks insist on clutching the very chains that bind them to their situation, because they refuse to see ‘the big picture’ or other perspectives, or to behave differently.

      2. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I had a similar take. He did talk about class distinctions a lot and how hard it is to navigate changing classes. I wasn’t crazy about some of the more “BOOTSTRAPS!!!!11!!!11!!” like sections. But I think it’s worth a read.

        1. Mid*

          Yup, that was exactly my issue with it. For someone who relied heavily on gov’t aid and the charity of others (along with plenty of hard work!!) he really likes to talk down on gov’t aid and charity.

    2. Kramerica Industries*

      The best piece of advice I got was to play their game for at least 6 months – don’t disrupt, don’t complain. Build up their trust in you and shine. Then, you’ll have a lot more legs to stand on when it comes time to making suggestions that may go against the typical way of doing things.

      1. Johnny Tarr*

        I don’t think I would even call it “playing their game.” There’s a lot to be said for spending several months just observing and learning when you’re brand new to the work environment. Before you do that, you really have little to offer besides doing the job you’re paid to do.

    3. Artemesia*

      It isn’t more ‘authentic’ or ‘honest’ to be belligerent. Being tactful and effective is not ‘losing.’ I made my reputation and success by being pretty blunt in interactions with authority — they relied on me to tell it like it is, but you don’t get to that point without understanding the dynamics and first building your reputation for effectiveness. Belligerence comes across as childish; there is a wide range of levels of forthrightness that can work in various settings and with various personalities; you just need to be in control of how you present yourself and understand what will work in a particular setting.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. Being belligerent/shooting from the hip is as much a game as any other method because part of the reason people think it works is that it will shock the other person into seeing that the shooter is right. Which is a ploy.

        Thinking for a moment before you speak or act and being tactful is an acknowledgment that some situations are more complex than whatever is immediately at hand.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        Exactly- there are lots of times in a white collar job where you can correct someone or challenge a directive, but you have to learn how to say ‘no’ in a ‘yes’ kind of way. As in, the content of your words might be disagreeing with someone, but your tone and expression signals that you’re happy to help and that you’re speaking collaboratively. It’s the difference between a blunt “That won’t work” vs. “That might cause issues with x and y, but maybe z would help!” Or just maintaining a tone that’s pleasant and collegial while you state your opinion. It’s not subservient to be polite at work, it’s part of your duties.

    4. Mazzy*

      Yes. You might feel like a doormat at times, but its in your head. I can’t tell you how many times I said or proposed something, and got told I was wrong or that it wasn’t a problem, and then I let it be, and revisited it a week later, and everyone was receptive to the same thing. I learned that sometimes you need to be humble and plant seeds and not ram your ideas through the process

      1. HierarchySchmiarchy*

        Yes, I will second the doormat stuff is in your head. It reminds me of the “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent” quote. It can be hard when sometimes business can feel so personal and when everyone is bringing at least some of their baggage to work with them.

  7. BridgeNerdess*

    This is something I struggle with as well. I grew up on a farm and I relate to your frustrations completely. One thing I try to keep in my head is “Respond, don’t react”, meaning that I need to be calm before I respond in situation like you mentioned. Maybe there is a more gentle way to address issues or assert yourself. This is really hard to do, especially under stress. I also try to keep in mind what the end goal is. While righteous indignation feels good, it is rarely productive. But I will admit it is uncomfortable. As a friend and I discussed, you have to learn how to be comfortable with “moral ambiguity” to advance in a political environment. I’m not there yet, and I honestly don’t know if I want to continue where I’m at for this very reason.

    By chance, did you grow up in a blue-collar house? I recently read “Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams” and it really resonated with me. It helped me identify areas I need to pay attention to and it helped to know I wasn’t alone in this struggle.

    1. Yavie*

      Very few things in life are morally unambiguous. Learning to accept that almost every decision has a lot of different consequences – some good, some bad, some neither – isn’t necessarily about advancing in a political environment. It’s just about broadening your perspective. Once you get in a habit of looking at decisions from multiple perspectives and considering all the consequences, not just the ones whose effects you see immediately, it becomes a lot easier to accept.

      A well-studied example of this is the impact of donated food on communities in impoverished regions. Providing food to an area struck by famine seems pretty unambiguously good! In the short term it means people aren’t starving to death, and that’s good. But then no one needs to buy food from the local farmers who depend on selling their produce to earn a livelihood, because why buy food when an NGO is handing it out for free? So now the local farmers have no source of income and can’t continue to farm, and when the NGO packs up and goes home, the local people are even worse off than they were before. So was it really good to donate food in the first place? And if not, what should have been done?

    2. Jessica Fletcher*

      This is a good response. I identify somewhat with OP, in that I’m new to the corporate world, and it can be frustrating to see higher up people or VIPs being critical without understanding the full issue or getting their way even when it’s crap. I get it! But you make headway by adapting to the new environment, not by digging your heels in.

      Here’s what I’ve done. Sometimes, you have to let it go and let someone talk out of their ass. Yeah, I’d rather it wasn’t like that, but that’s how it is, so whatever. I don’t have to waste my time and feelings on it.

      Other times, you can make them aware they’re wrong by acting like you care about their wrong complaint. For example, when the board member said whatever, you might have responded that you were sorry to hear that and would look into it. Then later, maybe you could follow up and let them know you looked into it, and actually, the situation was XYZ. Or follow up with your boss, or whoever, to reassure them that didn’t happen. The board member probably doesn’t care, though. Sometimes rich people just want to complain or seem important, but they’re not invested in the outcome.

      Overall, it’s about taking a step back. Realizing it’s not all in your control, and being ok with that.

  8. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Well, some people really aren’t cut out for an office job. If you’re one of them, consider an alternative. I’m thinking specifically of the skilled trades. The US as a whole is heading towards a problem of not enough plumbers, electricians, HVAC, carpenters, masons, etc. Sometimes the best option really is to take a different path.

    1. JM in England*

      Can’t remember the source but I did read somewhere that roughly half of the USA’s tradespeople are due to retire in the next couple of years…

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Trades aren’t for everyone but they are wildly undervalued as a career path.

      I have a friend who couldn’t handle all the BS that came with white collar life and is thriving as an electrician so far.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      The need for these folks is going to be huge. In rural areas there are already plenty of opportunities. Once you put your name out there you can end up working 7 days a week.

      To this list, I would add, computer repair, household repair, outdoor equipment repair etc. Some folks for any number of reasons, need a person to come do odd jobs around the house- change hard to reach light bulbs, new filters in the furnace in the basement, clean behind the fridge. My late aunt was able to hire a person who came and did this stuff for her. She called him on a routine basis, because he did these things she was able to stay in her home into her 90s.

      So far, I see it costs start at $200 and go up for me to get anyone to come to the house to do anything. I end up waiting to I have a few of the same type of tasks before I call someone.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      I don’t know if the OP is fundamentally not cut out for the office, but I think it might help if they took some time to think about how and why they made this transition in the first place.

      They say “I was offered an amazing opportunity in an industry I’d been trying to break into for a while” – okay, but were they aware of the day-to-day reality of how that industry functions? Did they leap at the opportunity without thinking it through? Did they figure that their passion for the industry would outweigh their dislike of heirarchy? Because if you have a particular career on a pedestal for a while it’s really easy to overlook practical things like, in this case, management structure. If they did decide to make the move knowing that they would have to deal with this, maybe it would help to refocus on the things that drew them to it in the first place; and if they weren’t aware of it, maybe it’s time to think if this is the right industry for them.

    5. Coffeelover*

      Seconding this. I’m also not cut out for office life because I suck at politics. I don’t have an issue with authority (well maybe a little), but I seriously lack the kind of schmoozing skills that seem necessary for my field. While one option is to get over it (and a lot of people here have given great advice on how to do that) another option is to find work that naturally suits you better. I think society drives us into office jobs and it’s just not the environment everyone is cut out for. I wish I took other options more seriously growing up, but I’m looking into them now. Trades are a good example but there are a world of jobs out there that require no or minimal office environment time. I think it’s worth mentally exploring all your options to find what will make you happiest.
      In the meantime, I deal with it by reminding myself it’s just a job and not getting too invested. Yes, nepotism and whatnot is unfair, but it’s not my battle to fight. Management is making bad decisions, but it’s not my company and not my problem (if it becomes that, then I can quit and find a better job).

    6. MissDisplaced*

      If you can get a remote WFH job it helps tremendously. Being removed from the office environment itself feels to me like a hugh weight removed from my shoulders.
      But remote jobs are hard to come by. Even in my line of work, which could be done from anywhere.

  9. Just hear me out*

    If you can trace these issues to childhood, therapy. It’ll help you work through the root problem, and, if not, your therapist should at least be able to suggest strategies for handling it.

    This is also an unconventional solution, but if you can’t afford or don’t want to to therapy: meditation and tarot cards. I’m serious. Meditation & mindfulness might help you be less irritated in the moment, distance yourself from the situation, and “let it pass.” And tarot card reading has been amazing for me (I can’t afford a therapist at the moment). Each card has a set of associations, and you apply them to your life. I think of them as randomly assigned journaling prompts from the universe. Every morning I think of a question like “What should I focus on at work today?”, draw a card and write a few pages in my journal about how I relate to that. They help to externalize the work of self-inspection in the same way certain types of therapy can, and I’ve made some personal breakthroughs on my own childhood trauma this way.

    I know it’s an odd solution! But it doesn’t have to be all woo woo superstition, and it might be worth trying.

    1. Clisby*

      I’ve used tarot cards that way, too. I know a lot of people think they’re just hokey fake fortune-telling (and I’m sure there’s plenty of that) but using them the way you describe can truly lead to insights. The meaning of each card is open to a lot of interpretations; it’s not like you read the tarot to find out your worst enemy is going to die in 10 days.

    2. Smash The Hierarchy*

      I love the Tarot card thing! I sometimes do something similar although I 100% don’t believe there is anything behind them and I am atheist- it is just a useful way to think through problems/ think about what I really want. Like sometimes I am making a decision between two possible choices and I toss a coin- not to decide, but to see which one “wins” and note my immediate feeling to the result.

      1. Bostonian*

        I do the same thing (re:coin flipping)! “Oh, I’m super disappointed at the result, I must have wanted the other choice all along.”

      2. Clisby*

        I’m an atheist, and I definitely don’t think there’s anything mystical behind tarot cards. You could do something similar by every day reading one saying from the Tao Te Ching and then meditating on that. Tarot cards are cooler, though.

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      That’s how I use tarot cards: as a way to tap into my own intuition about a question or just my current circumstances in general. Daily = single card pull; weekly = small, 3 – 6 card spread; monthly = full celtic cross spread.

    4. Oryx*

      Yes to Tarot!

      I also recommend Affirmator cards. They offer packs for general life, love, relationships, and family (I think that’s all of them). It was actually my therapist who introduced me: I pull a card at the end of every session. I liked them so much I bought myself the life and work set to use more frequently.

    5. EH*

      The Tarot Lady has talked about tarot cards as a psychological tool on her podcast (Tarot Bytes) a few times, and I think she has some articles about it on her website, too. Her website is TheTarotLady dot com. She’s a great resource.

    6. Impy*

      Can y’all please stop suggesting that disliking hierarchy is an ‘issue’? Hierarchal structures may be inevitable but disliking them is not a pathology. It’s a normal reaction to not being born at the top of said hierarchy.

      1. Parenthetically*

        OP uses the word “issue” in the letter. Commenters are simply reflecting her own verbiage back in how they phrase suggestions.

        1. Impy*

          That doesn’t mean it’s a ‘root cause’ or ‘trauma’ though. It’s a perfectly normal reaction to a hierarchal society that privileges some groups over others.

          1. Mia*

            In her letter, LW both calls it an issue and asks how she can get past it, so people are giving her solutions for how to do that. Like, all signs point or LW being genuinely interested in reframing her perspective, so shouting down tips on how to do so because you don’t personally like them just seems super counterproductive.

            1. Impy*

              I think therapy is an excellent idea. I think the idea that disliking hierarchal structures is a result of trauma offensive and problematic.

    7. Scarlet*

      OMG that’s a great idea with the Tarot cards. Thank you for suggesting it – I’m going to try this out!

    8. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t know that this is a thing therapy can always solve. I feel much like the OP, but can’t think of a reason this would go back to childhood, mine was totally normal and boring.
      All I can say is that I was always a very free thinking, creative and extremely independent child, though not a misbehaved or troublemaking one. Free thinking and extreme independence are often not the best fit in Corporate America, unfortunately.

  10. JokeyJules*

    in terms of higher-ups getting special privileges, workplace politics, and people being treated differently based on their level in the hierarchy of the workplace – I have seen and experienced this in some way, shape, or form at every single job I have ever had (including food service, office setting, medical, hospitality, and non-profit public service). It’s everywhere, and I bet that OP has experienced it before too.

    It happens. It’s annoying. Be polite and friendly and focus on getting your work done, and you’ll be fine. Just be sure you are getting what you need and what you need to do to get what you need, not checking on what everyone else is being given. You’ll have peers who are seeing the same stuff, but don’t get too caught up in commiserating.

    I feel like this sounds like a really sad and cynical outlook on things, but if you focus on the unfairness and other garbage, it could swallow up your whole life.

    1. Mediamaven*

      It’s not about getting unfair special privileges, it’s about earning perks and benefits over time. It’s pretty much how the working world operates.

      1. Devil Fish*

        Donors don’t earn their perks and benefits, they fund the organization and therefore paid their way to the top of the hierarchy—boards can be similar as far as knowledge vs connections.

        If a donor or board member “can’t be wrong,” they are exploiting their privilege (and are probably a pathetic, insecure garbage person). No sense in overthinking it, just do damage control when necessary.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, sometimes a donor or board member would be perfectly fine with being corrected, but the organization chooses to treat them with kid gloves because they think it’s wiser (especially when the donor is funding large pieces of the organization). It doesn’t mean the donor or board member is doing anything wrong.

          But I think the two commenters above you were talking about senior coworkers, not donors/board.

        2. JokeyJules*

          even so, would focusing on it or being mad help? no. i think part of OP’s issue is their assumptions are stopping them from being open to it not being so terrible.

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, I think this requires a whole perspective shift on whether deference to bosses is deserved or not. Of course, we’ve all worked with someone who’s terrible at their job but made it up the hierarchy through some combination of brown-nosing, charm, and exaggeration. But in my experience, that’s the exception, not the rule. If you start by assuming every boss is incompetent, then of course it’ll seem unfair, but by and large I don’t think that’s an accurate assumption.

        1. Chinookwind*

          My grandfather gave me some advice he learned in the military- you have to respect the position even if you hate the person. The position deserves deference because whomever is in that person has rights and responsibilities that go to whomever holds that position. You may hate the person who is prime minister, but he is still the leader of the country. He can do things that means he doesn’t deserve the position, but then you use the tools you have to remove him from the position

          And, if you really want to make a point about the two, a painfully correct and deferential response is very difficult to punish someone for because, on paper, you are showing the correct amount of respect.

      3. Impy*

        That’s adorable. I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence that our entire board is white, able bodied and straight. I guess the people of colour and gay folk were just lazy or something.

        1. Chinookwind*

          Or maybe they are the only ones privileged enough to have the time and resources available to work on a board.

      4. designbot*

        It’s also about supporting their roles, which are very different than yours. They don’t just get the good parking space because they earned it, they get it because they’re popping in and out to meetings all the time and it’s a better use of their time if they don’t have to search for a parking space. Or because they bring big donors into the office and need for that to be a comfortable and non-frustrating ride for them. They get flex work privileges not because they’ve earned them but because the business needs for them to be out and about at meetings and dinners all the time, and flexible hours are a natural consequence of that. There are expectations at the top that are different than the expectations on their reports, and part of the ‘perks’ are there to support their work in a very direct way.

    2. Natalia*

      Well said! This kind of thing happens everywhere! And it has nothing to do with what kind job it is…

      1. JokeyJules*

        thanks! i know it can seem apathetic, but i feel like OP’s outlook is a bit apathetic, and keeping them from even possibly enjoying where they work. when i stop thinking about so-and-so being able to shirk responsibilities and this person expensing things i’m not allowed to, i can actually focus on my work and start to enjoy my surroundings.

    3. Clever Name*

      I agree with this take. I was shocked that the LW said they never experienced politics while working in the grocery industry. I guarantee there is just as much politics in that industry as any other, but maybe it doesn’t seem “political” because it’s more overt/out in the open, or the LW is just so used to it that it’s seen as “the way things are” and doesn’t notice it.

      I also agree on trying not to get caught up in fairness. I tell my 12 year old all the time life isn’t fair. Because it isn’t. Some people are born to advantage and other’s aren’t. It’s a stacked system that I think we should be fighting to change (rather than just shrugging and saying “that’s just the way it is”), but simply complaining about the unfairness of hierarchy the workplace does nothing other than make you feel awful.

      1. Blunt Bunny*

        Yes I found retail is the most common industry where you have to hold your tongue or smile in the face of rudeness from customers.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Grocery stores are worse than working in an office. Just my opinion. I am not a desk person but I now do desk work because I refuse to put my body through more crap.
        One chain here, rumor has it that it is unsafe for women to work the night shift. That is how rough the place is.
        The grocery industry is male dominated, some of the women in this arena that I know felt they had to harden their hearts and minds to survive.

        If we are even-handed about things there are workplaces in any arena that are horrible. If you end up in a truly toxic place you can decide to move on.

      3. Clisby*

        The odd thing, to me, is that it sounds like the office politics problem the LW experienced WAS in the grocery industry. The letter says the LW is only one week into the white-collar job, and previously worked in the grocery industry. It’s clear the reprimand she’s talking about couldn’t possibly have happened in the current job (unless the letter has the timeline all wrong.)

    4. Pommette!*

      It happens everywhere, but it doesn’t happen in the same ways or to the same extent.

      Some organizations are better at protecting workers at the “bottom” of the hierarchy, and about making sure that higher ups don’t have undue privileges. And some are better about making sure that people at the bottom have meaningful avenues to get to the top, and to earn the privileges that come with that.

      Some organizations are structured in ways that maximize disparities and minimize opportunities for upward movement. It’s worth learning to recognize and avoid, or leave, those places.

      OP doesn’t have the social capital to start changing her organization’s approach to hierarchy (yet!), but it’s something that she can plan to work on, in time. She can also plan to seek out organizations whose approach to hierarchy are more in line with hers. No place will be perfect, but some places will be better than others.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I’ve worked at many jobs in different industries and all have some degree of politics, especially at the higher levels of management.
        But having said that, I have to say my current place is rife with it at all levels and it’s terrible.
        It’s more than I think I’ve ever experienced. All the managers spend an inordinate amount of time and energy justifying their work to other departments instead of customers.

  11. Marie*

    Something that stuck out to me with this letter is your description of your last job as being very “blue-collar”. I am from a rural Appalachian town, where everyone was blue-collar, and I worked several blue-collar service industry jobs in the South before moving to DC and getting my first office job. The culture shock was very real, and I made plenty of faux-pas and gaffes trying to navigate working in an office.

    Reading guides specifically aimed towards navigating the switch from blue-collar to white-collar helped a lot.

    1. PugLife*

      +1
      I know there is at least one and maybe several AAM columns about navigating this transition as well.

    2. Natalia*

      Yes it is culture shock. In regards to office politics, I’ve seen plenty of immature, over the top office politics at blue collar jobs too…it happens everywhere

  12. Middle Manager*

    I’m in government (state). We are deeply rigid hierarchy based, chain of command, etc. We also have the fun addition of two classes of employees (civil service/lifers and our politically appointed bosses who change relatively frequently).

    Last week, I got publically thrown under the bus by my director for doing something “that way” instead of “this way” a year ago. Except a year ago I had a different director who wanted it “that way”. I was infuriated internally but couldn’t say anything at the time because we were in front of members of the public. I dealt with it by being very sad and upset (not great) and venting to my boss (better?), who thankfully let me know he’d back me up if needed. I would say that’s a particular poor example of how to handle it though.

    I think when I’m better at responding (and it’s in private), a lot of it comes down to how you phrase it and tone. There is a big difference between telling a high up, “your wrong, I didn’t make a mistake” and “Of course I’m willing to change how we handle this going forward if needed, but can I offer you some context on why I handled it that way this time?”

    1. MsM*

      Agreed on tone and phrasing. It’s not that you’re not allowed to tell board members and other higher-ups that they’re wrong. It’s just that they’re less receptive to a blunt “you’re wrong” than “why don’t we look at it this way?”

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        Or even “You’re wrong” vs “That’s incorrect” depending on the mistake. Both get the point across. Only one tends to make people want to grit their teeth.

        1. PSB*

          Or if you even need to make a contradicting statement. I like to just give the correct information in a casual, conversational way that sounds like I’m just providing information. I find people are more accepting of it if you let them realize they were mistaken on their own. Some won’t get it, either intentionally or not, but at least I’ve done my part in providing accurate info.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            I’d also add something like, “Oh, my experience with that is XYZ….” which is another way of not saying “You’re wrong!”

          2. Quill*

            Yes, especially when it’s people whose knowledge of the details won’t affect your work – your grandboss probably doesn’t need to know the regulations regarding chocolate teapot sterility, just that everything in that department is going smoothly.

          3. Impy*

            But what do you do when it’s just completely inaccurate? I told my boss one number, they inflated it by 5 x and when another employee called me in a panic I had to correct it immediately or else there would have been a pointless IT investigation. I can’t let the company spend money pointlessly in order to preserve their ego.

            1. Quill*

              That’s when you pull out the “No. I will forward the appropriate information to all parties so we can all be on the same page,” and at least in my experience as a youngish woman, that comes out stronger when you haven’t been pushing as visibly against other things – people are less likely to stereotype you when you redirect for small issues and take charge on large ones.

              1. Impy*

                The only issues I’ve ‘pushed’ on have been similar. The problem is that I tend to blank in those situations. So in this situation, I had an extremely senior person call me up and asked if he’d missed a huge amount of prospective sales. I didn’t correct it in a “my boss is a terrible person” more just “no? Erm. I said x, I’m 99% sure…” because in that moment I clearly remembered saying X, and emailing them x (which was correct, I checked), and my boss had just inflated it to the point of ridiculousness. The stupid part of this whole conversation is that I used to have tremendous respect for qualified authority. 10 years in the workplace has worn that into a nub. Especially because it now occurs that my boss might have been trying to manipulate that person which is a level of politics and drama I have no patience for.

              2. Impy*

                And for clarification if he had missed the amount of leads he was talking about it would have been *my* fault. Because I set up the software. And trust me, I really wasn’t cma. If I messed up like that, I would want to know, and I would have resigned. I was leaving a couple days later – I half suspect I was being undermined at that point. And if I didn’t have the rapport I did with senior staff, that led to him contacting me, that could have resulted in me being fired.

            2. Lilysparrow*

              Then you just provide the correct info and take the person out of it.

              “I’m not sure where you got that figure. The correct number is X.”

              Or “that figure was misreported…”

              Or “There seems to be a typo in the number of widgets for last month…”

    2. Oldster*

      No someone who was forced to ‘retire’ when he didn’t kowtow to a politician who was wrong and didn’t understand the situation and didn’t like the honest answer they were given.

    3. Kiki*

      Yes! There are a lot of situations where you can’t say exactly what you want to when you want to someone because of their standing or position, but there’s a special art to expressing a similar sentiment without it being a faux pas. I also would argue that you can get around this to some degree by being hyper-respectful to everyone. Approaching everything like you want to work together to find a solution instead of asserting who is right or wrong. Obviously this isn’t foolproof because there will be times you’ll have to be more blunt with some people than others, but I think this tremendously reduces day-to-day concerns about hierarchy.

    4. Katherine*

      This! First of all, you need to be there longer than a week before you start agitating. Get REAL GOOD at your job. Open your eyes and ears. Listen more than you talk. It’s worth it. I PROMISE. Deep breathing. For real.

      Secondlike, you should analyze your communication, maybe with a professional (career coach?) or a trusted friend who is good at working in an office environment. Words matter. It is IMPERATIVE that you learn to phrase things in a way that doesn’t trigger other people’s hackles/feel confrontational or rude (even when you might be justified).

      Thirdabouts: Check in (with DEEP honesty) on your attitude and self-talk. Your framing of the conflict is going to be the difference between you feeling like a miserable sellout, and you feeling like a smart person who can skillfully navigate the waters of white collar nonsense.

      Getting the boss to think it was her/his/their idea is a VERY valuable job skill.

      Love, someone who got in a lot of trouble running her mouth at the beginning of her career, decided that being a boss wasn’t worth the heart attack she’d get from keeping her mouth shut, was a boss for a while anyway, then proceeded to acquire tons of experience and respect and now has a job wherein she is 90% autonomous, doesn’t have to fear speaking up with things are truly stupid, and regularly gets her butt kissed for being awesome. :)

      1. Middle Manager*

        Second! I totally missed that the LW had only been there a week. You need to build some capital before you start correcting higher ups, no matter how politely you phrase it.

    5. ce77*

      Fellow government employee. Yes, so much is on phrasing and tone. And Middle Manager – you did wait to say anything when you weren’t in front of members of the public. I’ve seen people pipe up then in public to defend themselves, and it always goes poorly.

      I work with legislators a lot (which I’m thinking is similar to donors in many ways) – in that we are asking them for money and providing them with info and they frequently get the facts wrong. In those scenarios about getting the facts wrong (especially in public), you have to think through if it is worth it to correct them. Is their incorrect info going to impact the decision they make? Or are they just speaking off the cuff about something which doesn’t play into the big picture. Sometimes if they are wrong, instead piping up with something like “to clarify…” and then say whatever the right thing is, even if is is 100% in contradiction to what they said, helps them to save face. This is more about when info is just wrong, and isn’t about blame.

      It is tricky and takes time. In one of the columns on AAM recently there was a section about advice for new workers – and someone shared to not worry about being an individual for the first 6 months. I think that is good advice.
      Also, one of my dads old sayings, the boss may be wrong but the boss is the boss.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Yes to all this. We honestly restrict who gets to talk to legislators, because it’s such a high risk high responsibility situation. And it’s a learned skill; no one is born or even got an undergraduate degree in how to educate, advocate, and subtly correct a power broker without committing yourself to things above your discretion level. All while doing it in public, of course, so there are witnesses to everything you say. We train people.
        Which is exactly why a boss might not want one of their employees correcting a board member, no matter how wrong. The boss is supposed to know the power dynamics and judge the risks there, that just aren’t part of their employee’s job to be aware of.

      2. Middle Manager*

        Yeah, I don’t think it was a bad decision to refrain from defending myself in person, I doubt that would have gone well. I think what I mainly wish I did differently was not letting take me down an emotional rabbit hole of anger/sadness/putting myself down. It sucks that she did that, but I wish I was better at not taking it personally. I know my immediate boss has my back, so I probably could have just calmly reported it to him and it would have been ok.

  13. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Not all white-collar workplaces are like this!!!!

    You’re letting one experience shape your entire attitude, and it’s reinforcing a not-very-nuanced personal philosophy.

    In many places, the director will want to thank you for clearing up a misunderstanding. And your boss will encourage you to go to the director when you see what happened.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      Totally agree. I’ve worked in a number of WC environments and haven’t had a situation where it was just, this person’s opinion is the only one that matters, suck it up even if it’s not wrong. But I have worked almost always with clients who are demanding and difficult and entitled.
      How to thread this needle? You have to be able to find ways to be diplomatic about the way you say no, or explain an issue. Sometimes this means taking a deep breath before you respond, and tempering your (my) hotheaded initial response. Take ownership for parts that make sense and gently push back, with a clear explanation, on things it makes sense to do that for. This takes practice and often mentorship. Drafting the email and having someone else review it first to make sure you’re coming across the way you want, or rehearsing the conversation with a trusted partner.
      But in any case, I don’t think that all hierarchical environments are like this. Certainly we see with AAM columns that there are highly dysfunctional or toxic workplaces, but they tend to be the exception overall. I think your last place might have been one of those.

      1. Clisby*

        Seconded. Now, there are always going to be cases where someone above you in the hierarchy makes a decision you don’t agree with. That’s their job. If they’re good at the job, they’ll seek input and thoughtfully consider it, but when it comes right down to it, they’re responsible for the decision so they get to make it.

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Yes, so much this. Also in terms of threading the needle, if you’re able to articulate what in the company’s mission/event’s purpose the thing you’re talking about applies to, that’s a way to get people on your side pretty easily. A board member might not take, “No, that’s actually wrong, we need to do it this way,” well but take, “Oh, I’d actually tried that because I know we’re trying to bring more visibility to x, and this makes it stand out enough that we might be able to attract more candidates/donors/clients who share our focus,” really well. Maybe you’ll still have to change it, but it gives you a better chance AND shows that you’re somebody who is thinking critically about the mission.

        A skill that will help you a TON in the white collar working world is being able to figure out a person’s motivation and connect with them on it to get things done. Sometimes it’s that they want to get ahead and you have to play into that, sometimes they’re true-blue company die-hards and you can use that, but asking questions and learning about the people around you will help you build the capital you need to influence things (people love when they feel interesting and like that same person who thinks they are interesting wants to do things the Right Way).

        Is it game playing? A little, yeah. Does it help you make sure things get done? Absolutely.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Sometimes it’s that they want to get ahead and you have to play into that, sometimes they’re true-blue company die-hards and you can use that

          And sometimes they’re none of those things – they just want to be right. I let those kinds of people have minor wins that don’t matter while pushing my own agenda on the big picture tasks in the background. They’re less likely to give me pushback then because they think they got what they wanted all along.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And these folks are everywhere, blue collar, white collar, does not matter.
            Any job will require a person to explain and bring people along with them in their thinking. It’s easier to think of this as normal. And to think about how we automatically do this in our personal lives.

            When I did blue collar work, I had days where a 5 minute thing did not require a 15 minute explanation. I called those days Bonus Days. I still call them that.

      3. snowglobe*

        I agree; I’ve never worked anywhere where someone would be chastised for correcting a senior person’s mistake. However, it does depend on how the message is delivered. If the correction is made along with a rolling of the eyes and a tone of voice that conveys “what an idiot”, that’s not going to fly anywhere. It’s possible that the LW’s contempt for hierarchy may be quite visible to others and might be part of the problem.

      4. Fortitude Jones*

        + 1 to everything you said, especially the part about having to learn diplomacy. This skill will not only serve you in a WC environment, but also in interpersonal relationships of all kinds.

    2. Bee*

      +1!

      And especially for now, when you’re brand new, remember that most of the people above you are there because they know more about this job than you. If you’re open to learning from them, they’re more likely to be open from pushback from you, because it’s a give-and-take.

    3. nnn*

      I was just thinking this – my white collar workplaces haven’t been like this, and my blue-collar workplaces have been.

      So I think it’s less a question of an office job and more a question of how do you find a job that allows you to communicate upstream in the interest of getting things right rather than stroking the egos of those up stream.

      Maybe some other commenters will have ideas about how to screen for this in the job search/interview stage? (I haven’t a clue myself – it was just a fluke of luck that my office jobs have had this characteristic)

      1. hbc*

        Along those lines, I don’t think there’s anything uniquely white collar about this. In most of the blue collar environments I’ve been in, you were *more* likely to get in trouble for not staying in your place than in white collar, and there’ve definitely been some “This guy can do what he wants because his FIL is the boss’s best friend.”

    4. NothingIsLittle*

      Yeah, I was just thinking that it sounded really strange for OP to have been chastized for correcting the board member. If they made a scene during a meeting, I’d understand them being told not to do it again, but being told never to correct them at all? I worked three government jobs as a temp and in all of them I could correct even my great grand boss (highest level I worked directly with) if they had objectively incorrect data. In my current job as an Admin Assistant, I’ve directly spoken to our provost and she wouldn’t mind being privately corrected about any data I’d been collecting or synthesizing. I haven’t worked in enough places to know if that’s the norm or luck, but ridged hierarchy to the point that you can’t even correct misconceptions isn’t universal.

      1. Nikara*

        Exactly- when I first started my last job, I was chastised for publicly correcting someone several levels over me in a big meeting where I had just met her. I wasn’t wrong, but I went around the correction the wrong way- I was too combative, and it didn’t need to be addressed in the moment, it could wait for later, in a more private discussion. I was grateful to have a boss who mentored me on this, and have gotten better at reading a room and learning when and how to address issues as they arise. It takes practice, and it’s super to have someone who is willing to help guide you through the dynamics and the best ways to approach different people.

        It was okay to correct and challenge people, even many levels up from me. But I needed to know the right way, time, and circumstance. That takes practice.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          I agree that it takes time to understand the nuances of situations in a new office to understand when to speak up and when not to. At my last job, my grand boss would be in meetings with clients and misremember clients names, claim that we had done things that we hadn’t, mix up one client’s project with another and we were often left we a mess after a client call if grand boss was there because we suddenly had to deliver on these promises grand boss had made without the facts. I learned when and how to get grand boss the information and what information had to be corrected because it cost money and what didn’t (Did you say the wrong product name? I’ll just mention the real name in my next comment. Did you suddenly refer to us creating a whole three new teapot designs when we were only going to change the spout on one teapot? I’m going to have to jump in and ask the client if they’d like us to change the scope of the project).

          If I had gone in guns blazing, no one would have cared that I was right – they would have cared that I had embarrassed grand boss in front of clients.

      2. Samwise*

        It may depend on how the OP did it. Was it in public / in front of other board members? Did it embarrass the board member or cause them to lose face? Was it said respectfully? (If you said, “with all due respect” before you made the correction, it was not respectful, guaranteed). Was it blunt or diplomatic? Did you look or sound angry or irritated or did you look and sound friendly and helpful? Did you have to interrupt in order to make your point?

        Was it an important and necessary correction? Or was it a relatively minor or nitpicky point?

        Was there a more diplomatic way to make your point?

        You can also think of it this way: everyone is deserving of respect and everyone deserves to be treated politely. Are you treating everyone respectfully, or are you so caught up in being right and in being heard (in other words, in thinking that you are being disrespected) that you are treating others disrespectfully?

        (General “you” here, not whacking at NothingIsLittle!)

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          Oh, I totally agree! I didn’t get into it, but that’s what I meant to reference by “making a scene;” I should have been clearer. You’re right that even the most reasonable of people would not respond well to their mistakes being publicly and callously outed.

    5. Moray*

      This is very true. I (briefly) had a job where the hierarchy was strict enough to be about 20 years out of date.

      Superiors were called sir/ma’am, if you need to communicate something with a higher-up–even something extremely simple, even if they were right there–you go through your own supervisor. We were told to keep our unavoidable interactions (like encountering each other in the kitchen) extremely brief, polite and deferential.

      I 100% couldn’t handle it. (My sincerest apologies, sir).

      That doesn’t mean I have any kind of trouble navigating the structure of a normal office.

    6. Insert Clever Handle Here*

      +1
      As Alison likes to point out, non-profits are a breed unto themselves. I work a white-collar job at a Fortune 500 company that has hierarchy, but also actively and earnestly asks for feedback from all levels of employees and takes ethical, non-discriminatory behavior seriously. Every year, there are things that change because of that feedback.

      It’s only been a week, so see how you feel a bit further down the road. Ask your manager how she would have suggested you deal with the situation with the board member. For everything else, pretend you’re in one of those nature documentaries and observe what “normal” is for the wildlife in this particular jungle. Good luck!

      1. Clisby*

        It sounds like this situation with the board member must have happened with a previous job. Unless I’m completely misreading the OP.

    7. Artemesia*

      This seems to be more about how the OP frames his experience in the world than this particular organization. If in a week you go in framing it as ‘don’t want to kiss up to inferior higher ups’ you will see conflict that doesn’t need to be there. And as others have said. You keep your head down and produce aces the first 6 months and observe how the place works, who has authority, who has informal power and influence, what are the real rules versus the stated rules, what is valued. After 6 months of great work and not tangling with people and needing to prove you are right, you are in a position to challenge or influence on occasion. but almost certainly during that 6 months it would be useful to have therapy to help reframe the world view as less contentious and damp down the need to bristle and confront and be proven right.

    8. Green great dragon*

      Yes! In one of my less shining moments I challenged my grandboss in front of my 3xgreat grandboss, and was wrong (I misunderstood the question), and all I got was a cc into the email from boss confirming the correct answer to enormousboss. Because they do want me to speak up in case I’m right next time.

      If you interrupt to make corrections which are the verbal equivalent of pointing out a typo, or sound like you’re talking down to them, or are pushing your point of view which misses the big picture, then you probably will get told to step back. But in our company at least, yes, we correct the board politely and quickly, before they make their decision.

    9. Mazzy*

      Yes! Two jobs ago at a company of 500 people, I had calls with the VP of Operations and General Counsel, and we spoke as equals in those meetings. And I was early 30s with less experience at the time. The catch? If you want to be in those meetings you need to ba-ring it. You are not going to ever get a second meeting if you don’t come across as overly competent yourself! I’d prep days for a half hour slot with one of them

    10. spock*

      Agreed, not being able to ever correct someone high up is not just how all offices are. There’s a time an place, I’m not going to yell that the CEO is wrong while he’s presenting to thousands of employees, but I’ve been in plenty of smaller meetings with a high concentration of higher-up where folks will definitely correct, say, a VP or executive chairman if it’s warranted.

    11. Blossom*

      Yeah, absolutely! I don’t think you need to get therapy about this! The things you’re describing are indeed dysfunctional, even if in your experience they are not uncommon. I’ve been fortunate to build my career in several organisations which are not like this at all – where being honest and constructive is absolutely welcomed and encouraged, rather than being a source of conflict or awkwardness. The best-run workplaces are those where people at all levels assume good intent on the part of others, whether they are below, equal to or above them in the hierarchy. Of course everyone’s role is different – it’s your manager’s role to make certain decisions that you don’t get to make, and to be privy to information that you won’t necessarily be privy to. But that shouldn’t stop you being able to correct any misconceptions you’re aware of! Any decent manager would be very glad of the information!

      1. Blossom*

        Basically – you don’t sound like you have a problem with authority or hierarchy per se. You sound like you have a problem with injustice and with authority being wielded inappropriately. In my book, that’s a good basis for life, and I wish you luck carving your path in an environment that is worthy of you. It can absolutely be done.

    12. Person of Interest*

      So agree with the main thread here, that not all places and people are defined by their hierarchies. I have worked with board members who are like the OP’s where you can never correct them; I’ve also worked with board members who relied on my expertise to help them make good decisions and were true thought partners to me.

      Keep an open mind and look for people with whom you can develop a good working relationship or a good rapport, regardless of everyone’s place in the hierarchy. An “I can get along with anyone” attitude will serve you well long term.

    13. okayokay*

      Agree 100%

      I’ve worked in multiple food service and office environments (mostly non-profit and government) and I also dislike condescending/holier-than-thou types, but people like you’re describing have been few and far between.

      It really depends on the culture of the organization. When I interview somewhere, I try to figure out: Is it a collaborative environment? Do people seem to work well together/comfortable around each other? Does the manager value feedback and ideas? Not all workplaces are rigid and suffocating.

      There are many workplaces where hierarchy exists only as a necessary chain of command/division of job duties without feeling condescending or demeaning. It can even be nice to go to your higher-ups for ideas or advice. I promise!

      Obviously, there’s still a level of politeness expected in general, but that’s usually more consistent and not role-dependent (I can’t be rude to a board member but I also can’t be rude to an intern).

      There are lots of managers (and board members and donors) who really approach management/their role as supporting you in your work by providing guidance and input as needed. There are people who realize that their power = responsibility.

      Obviously, performance issues sometimes need to be addressed no matter the organizational culture, but stuff like that can happen based on necessity and practicality – not anyone being “superior” or better than anyone else.

      That said – there are jerks out there, and some of them are in positions of power. They suck, and you can take comfort in the fact that you will not be alone in realizing that they suck!

      I once received advice that you should think about people like that as a hilarious cartoon or something – seeing them as a caricature (“the curmudgeonly board member” for instance) can take the sting out of their attitude. Outside of that, just ignore them as much as possible when you do come across them, and make sure they’re not you’re manager/impacting your daily work environment, and you’ll be fine.

    14. Blue Horizon*

      Yes, I scanned through to see if someone would make this point. The behavior the OP is describing is dysfunctional and leads to poor performance. Board members who are not OK with being corrected (even when they are wrong) are ineffective board members, and may even be setting themselves up for legal liability down the road. That’s not to say that it’s not incredibly common – it is – but it is not ubiquitous by any means, and it’s even possible to find workplaces who will see ‘willingness to speak truth to power’ as an advantage.

      If you do find yourself in this situation, as you probably will from time to time, I find it helpful to separate the things that are within your control from the things that just need to be managed or endured. What’s the best possible outcome that’s actually achievable within the tools and constraints at hand? That might mean finding people within the organization that are effective and able to work constructively, and building relationships with them. Or it might mean building your reputation and relationships within the organization so that, when you really do need to push back on something, it becomes difficult to ignore you. If I am working with this kind of organization it’s usually temporary or as a service provider (since I wouldn’t stay a long time at a place that operated like this) and my goal is usually to leave things better than I found them. Try to be one of the good guys and not part of the problem. That might, for example, mean passing up opportunities to personally advance by taking advantage of the dysfunction in ways that don’t serve the interests of the business (there will usually be many of these).

  14. just do it*

    There is no advice for this. You need to find pleasure in things outside of work – friends, hobbies, vacations – and while at work do what makes the boss(es) happy and what you get paid to do (i.e., not do anything about this kind of stuff). It sucks, but it’s the way office politics work.

  15. Amber Rose*

    I dunno, I work in an organization that values people who speak truth to power. And I have been in others. Is it possibly the field you’re in that doesn’t suit you? Some of the more formal workplaces definitely get entrenched in this kind of BS but I don’t think they ALL do. Maybe look for smaller or younger companies to work for.

    And if you can’t do that, then change the goal posts. Become the power that wants to hear the truth. Keep your mouth shut, move through the ranks and soothe your ego by thinking that you’ll shut up now so you don’t have to in the future.

    Besides, you said you worked grocery and I’m guessing you’ve been in customer service type roles before. I guarantee you’ve had to smile at some jerk who was going off about something completely ridiculous before. It’s not so different.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Agreed! I’m rather outspoken, with lot of opinions and suggestions, so this is something I bump up against. Some workplaces are terrible, some are great. Smaller is better.

      Three things that have helped me most:

      1) I have to ask myself constantly: Do I want to be right, or helpful? That helps me see when to back down because it’s just pride or dig in because it matters. It’s critical that my pushback is constructive and informed, and not defensive. Defensiveness can be unlearned, on your own or faster with coaching. That’s been the big one for me.

      2) Find smaller orgs. I’ve done the worst at big public organizations, where there’s a lot of “we just do it that way” and “this came from the top” which I resent. Small companies can be very dysfunctional, but good ones have given me a chance to be heard and make a difference.

      3) Move out of the hierarchy. About ten years into my career I became an independent consultant. If there’s a way to be something like a subject matter expert or outside consultant, people treat you very differently. Now I am actually paid (very well) to give hard-to-hear input to executives! They literally hire me to tell them what they don’t know. It’s hard when you’re starting out, you don’t just jump to this, but these paths are possible if you can hang in there in the meantime.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        To your third point, I’m not an independent consultant, but I was hired by my current company to be an SME for proposal writing, and you’re right – the way I’m treated here is much different than most other places I’ve been. Almost everyone, including executive level folks, defer to me with regards to messaging and how something is written and presented, and they seek me out precisely to tell them what does and doesn’t work. It took me nine years to get to this point, but I had to take some knocks along the way. Learning the art of diplomacy and being strategic about the battles I chose to fight is what’s allowed me to now work from home full-time and set my own work schedule with very little oversight. I agree with you – OP, hang in there.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Awesome! Feels so good to find your place, doesn’t it?! So happy for you that it’s working out :)

    2. Artemesia*

      It seems clear that if this is an issue for the OP since childhood that he is not a reliable reporter on the current job environment and the need to abase himself to succeed. This feels like a way of framing the world since childhood that is unnecessarily contentious.

      1. Amber Rose*

        True, but it’s also true that some workplaces really are how OP describes. For now, I’m just trying to take them at face value.

        Eventually OP is gonna realize what they need to do for themselves. Telling people they need therapy is frequently true, but just as frequently unhelpful. Some realizations people need to come to themselves.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          True, but it’s also true that some workplaces really are how OP describes.

          Yup, OP worked in those workplaces in the past. I appreciate that there are people in the comments section that are validating the OP’s feelings because it did get a little weird there midway through some of the comments above. Sometimes it really isn’t all YOU; sometimes other people can be assfaces.

    3. Dan*

      Same. Other people have picked up the mantra “it’s life, learn to deal” but the OP describes an environment that’s a bit extreme. I looked at the first few paragraphs and said, “it’s not you it’s them.”

      The real question is how well calibrated OP’s BS meter is. There are certain levels of BS one needs to learn to take, but I can’t tell from the letter where OP is really at.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree with you, Dan.

        OP, my parents were pretty strict, rigid people. Making a mistake was earth shattering.
        Going out on my own I had to recalibrate my idea of normal in order to survive. It’s from our parents and other adults around us that we get a sense of what authority is, looks like and does. That sense might be right or it might be wrong. Or it might work often enough that we are lulled into thinking it is correct.

        It sounds like you have had it reinforced time and time again that you must put your guard up when dealing with authority. You might gain ground by asking yourself on a case by case basis if putting your guard up is actually necessary with this person. I went from one bad boss to another. Since I worked two and three jobs at the same time, I got to see different kinds of bosses. It took me quite a while to decide what was BS and that I should not put up with it. This is because my world-view was skewed to start with and I had a lot of sorting to do.

      2. Baru Cormorant*

        Agree, I think both are a bit on the extreme end here. That hierarchy situation was really weird and not common in my experience, and OP’s attitude where respecting your boss makes you complicit in worldwide social injustice seems out of whack too.

  16. Another worker bee*

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that not all authority figures are like that, and that “white collar”/office job roles vary widely in how much you are expected to bow down to authority. I could see this happening more with the wealthy board members, but *good* management teams want to hire smart people who will not be afraid to present an opposing viewpoint, etc. YMMV by industry/role, obviously.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Asshats can be poor also.

      My advice is to watch out for places that have a lot of drama such as, “There’s a board member in the building.”
      Yeah, so what? IF I am doing my job and doing my job well, there is no need to be concerned about a board member. Unless, of course, that board member is a jerk. OR the place creates drama where there is no need, I have seen that one also. The board member has no clue that people are in meltdown.

      I am a board member. It is not possible for me to have worked in every field that all of our people have experience in. I would have to be 200 years old to have time to have gained all that first hand experience. I am totally dependent on people to tell me what is necessary and why. Confusingly, the boards I am on are working boards. Which means the people CAN say to me, “Please help with this urgent or unusual thing.” And that is totally acceptable.

  17. Voc Ed Teacher*

    So I experienced something similar as a female athletic trainer working with male old school high school football coaches/basketball coaches; board members; and some administration. I learned quickly to establish boundaries of what I was and wasn’t willing to compromise on. I also learned a technique called grey rocking–polite and cordial but basically not letting them get to me. Its worked wonders in a lot of situations. There are lots of resources out there that tackle how to effectively grey rock (and not get fired!).

  18. Ardis Paramount*

    It might benefit you to sort out which issues are hills worth dying on, and which are simply about you “being right.”
    For instance, challenging a board member’s entrenched beliefs on a political issue may feel like you telling truth to power, but your organization may intentionally have a board that embodies the political spectrum.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Great point.

      Challenging a board member about a child safeguarding policy (“I omitted the child’s surname on the press release because that’s considered best practice for keeping children safe – I didn’t know he was your godson”) is different from suggesting they shouldn’t have chosen Volvo for fleet cars (“ugh they’re so BOXY”).

      Keeping your tinder dry for the battles that matter is a crucial way to maintain respect in all businesses, never mind what colour collar.

  19. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    Get a job at an organization with a strong union. Things are a lot more equitable.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of white collar industries that have strong union presence.

      1. boo bot*

        I was actually going to suggest that they get involved in an effort to change that! Some white-collar industries are beginning to unionize, and I think the OP’s passion would be really valuable.

        You could get in touch with whatever the most closely relevant labor union is – a number of the digital media sites that recently unionized worked with the Writers’ Guild, for example – and see if organizing is already underway, or if they can help you get started.

    2. mobuy*

      It seems that, often, unions may balance out the management/labor power differential; however, you replace it with the union’s politics, which is often based on seniority and ability to play politics. I’m not sure which is worse from OP’s standpoint.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Agreed. Nothing positive to say about the union I was in. The workplace was Not Good and the union made it 50 times worse. There were days I preferred to deal with management than deal with union, it was that bad.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        And only based on seniority, until you’re close enough to retirement then they suddenly turn a blind eye to them pushing you out of the company by cleverly pushing the chips around the board.

        Yeah, I’m still bitter. My dad got over it but my axe grinds away!

  20. mildly disgruntled*

    First, your feelings are 100% valid. It sucks when people are allowed to behave differently because of their position, and not held to the same standard as everyone else.
    Second, keep your eyes on the prize. If you can do your job well, climb the ladder, and get into a leadership position at another company, or create your own company, you can develop a corporate culture where everyone is treated equally and the same rules/expectations apply to everyone.
    Third, would therapy help you work out some of the frustration you feel in these situations?

  21. Marmaduke*

    I think you will be happier if you think of the higher ups as “situations” rather than people, uncomfortable as that sounds. That gives you an opportunity to focus on making circumstances work without worrying about what behaviors your actions might reinforce. In situations like this, where you don’t have the option to mold people’s frustrating behaviors, it can help to stop looking at the behavior as potentially changeable at all.

    1. Moray*

      Interesting idea!

      I wish that printer worked reliably, but it doesn’t, so getting annoyed doesn’t impact anything but me.

      I wish that person worked reliably, but he doesn’t, so getting annoyed doesn’t impact anything but me.

    2. Tom & Johnny*

      That is a fantastic way of reframing it.

      There’s a lot in life we have no control over. Part of making ones way as an adult in the world is stepping back from what we have no control over (such as the big personalities of big donors, or the obsequious personalities of bosses who defer to them) and engaging ourselves in whatever techniques work to help us step back. So that we have energy available to direct elsewhere.

      Whether it’s that old chestnut “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” (which sounds so incredibly hokey because it’s been overused but is actually a good matrix to filter these things). Or reframing it like your example – dissociate from the people as people, which implies that they could, should, or need to change, and dispassionately view them as situations and events that are taking place, wherein my focus is on myself.

      Whatever we need to do to disengage where necessary, while still staying present in our lives to those things which are worth fighting for – relationships, family, a raise, one’s hobbies, even one’s politics outside the workplace.

      Disengaging with regards to office politics doesn’t make a person a doormat in the fight against injustices in other areas of ones life. It makes a person an adult with good judgement.

      I had to learn NOT to be that person who works themselves into a frenzy over decisions that are out of my hands, and never were on my desk in the first place. Working myself up was a disservice to myself, and to the areas I care about where I can effect change. It robbed me of my effectiveness elsewhere. It cheated me and cheated others who needed that energy, because I was choosing to waste it tilting with windmills. That didn’t make me righteous, it just made me foolish.

      There can be a fine line between standing up for what is righteous, and being self-righteous. Everyone has to learn that line for themselves. It can feel good in the short term, but it robs us of being effective where it can matter most.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I used to add, “Heavy on the wisdom part” to that prayer. Because yeah, it felt like there was not enough wisdom in the world to deal with some of the stuff.

    3. IV*

      This is genius! There’s been a lot of armchair psychoanalyzing of the OP here and not so much with the useful concrete suggestions. OP, this is a concrete and useful suggestion!

  22. Need Some Coffee*

    I work in a very large company, that has a lot of traditional hierarchy culture in it. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I tell people much more senior than me that they are wrong all the time. Now, granted… I have a proven track record, am well regarded by most of these leaders based on the quality of my work. And I work really hard to frame things in ways that doesn’t actually call out that they are wrong. And that’s something I do with peers and people in levels below me. No one likes to be told they are wrong. Give people an out by adding to the picture of information.. “I understand you want to do X. Y is a factor in the system that makes X not possible. We can do Z instead, which will ultimately have the same outcome as X.” Sure it frustrates me when I need to get an executive sponsor to help promote my idea. But ultimately, what I care most about is getting my idea implemented. People of all levels can be snobby about the stupidest things. I just encourage you to think about what is the work you are trying to do. Who can help you accomplish that work. What do they need to know in order to help you.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, I think this is the key – you can absolutely push back against someone senior most of the time, IF you have enough standing and goodwill. You have to pick your battles and know how to say difficult things in ways that are easier to hear. Maybe that in itself is what OP has a problem with, but if you want to be successful in an office, you have to adapt. It’s not selling out, it’s being effective.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      Another large company person here, with some strong personalities and politics in the organization. I spent a couple years in strategy that would frequently involve the need to adjust the expectations of powerful people.

      Listen first, understand the target person’s position. You can’t change someone’s mind if they think you don’t understand them. There might be larger issues behind their position that you need to understand. Decide if it’s necessary to deal with the issue. Not every hill is worth dying on. How will this impact the company?

      Avoid calling them out on the spot. Stay quiet or tell them “I wasn’t expecting that, let me look into it” or “hmm I remember seeing a report that said something slightly different, let me get back to you” if it comes up as a surprise in a meeting.

      Identify the right people to get on your side. Your boss and their boss definitely need to be backing you. Get support and data from acknowledged internal experts for your position.

      Then carefully and respectfully tailor your message to the intended audience. Find as much common ground as possible and what parts of their position you agree with. Have a clean, easy to understand summary and all backup documentation ready. Get the right presenter, which may be your boss or someone with more power.

      Realize that you won’t “win”, you’re just trying to adjust their expectations slightly to what you see as the truth.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My wise friend said, “People will not listen to us until they feel that they have been thoroughly heard.”
        While the immediate application seems to be at the workplace, it carries over into all of life.

        Saying this such as “let me look into it” can build up a lot of credibility in the long run, OP. People can switch to looking for you to discuss things with simply because you are willing to consider all sides.

        I have had success with finding the points I agree with and building from there. Actually this is a good technique for conflict, figure out which parts you agree with the person.

    3. Lilysparrow*

      Yes, I think sometimes people attribute the normal relational aspect of work with favoritism or manipulation. Of course those things are real and do happen..

      But there are also a LOT of idiots and blowhards in the world, as well as people who are perfectly fine at their jobs but have no understanding or perspective on anything outside their own tasks. And there are people who lie and make stupid excuses to try to get out of trouble when they screw up.

      If you’re telling a very senior person that you’re right and they’re wrong, how do they know YOU are right? Does that person know your track record? Do you even have a solid track record?

      If you don’t have a relationship with the person you’re speaking to, or a reputation that precedes you, you have to go out of your way to earn that trust.

  23. Bg*

    My first job out of grad school was a really small school district and this was a big problem for me. I had a really nice conversation with a school board member about how frustrated they were with that attitude and it’s effect on their child’s education. That was helpful to my worldview. But overall I was young idealistic and shot myself in the foot a lot.
    The growth for me was all of that is not my problem. I can go in and do my best and choose to enjoy my work. And I can choose to not carry all the frustrations of my younger Judgementalness. Not all workplaces are as extreme as my first experience and my work and non- work experiences are more positive when I don’t step outside my responsibilities.

  24. Alex*

    Meditate. It might sound silly but if you can learn to focus your energy and either channel it elsewhere or let it go you will feel much better.

  25. Ask a Manager* Post author

    In addition to what everyone else is mentioning, you’ve got to decide what’s more important to you: getting the outcomes you want from working (decent quality of life at work, job stability, income stability, interesting assignments, etc.) or always driving home a point about how you think things should be different than people above you do. If the latter is more important to you, so be it! But know that if you prioritize that in most situations, it will probably come at the cost of the former. So you’ve got to decide what you really want more.

    (That’s not to say there’s no room for dissent or pushing back! There absolutely is, and we talk a lot here about how to do that. But if it’s your default, that’s when you’ll run into the choice above.)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, this!
      My wise friend used to say, “Taking a stand always comes with a price. Even though you don’t know what the exact price is that you will pay, you have to be aware of the price and be willing to pay it BEFORE you take a stand.”

      One day at work X happened. I didn’t just say no, I said HELL NO. And that was when I was informed that if I did not step down from my stance I could end up dead. I did not know this was my price, but I sure found out. I firmed up my stance instead of backing down.
      While you can see I am still very much alive, they did everything they could think of to make my workday sheer misery. I won the battle and lost the war.
      Yes, it was worth it. The company always did X to its people. After that, the company stopped doing X to its people.

      If you ever end up arguing this hard, OP, it’s time to leave. Just leave.

    2. Eliza*

      The OP’s situation reminded me of a George Bernard Shaw quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

      Sometimes it’s possible to make your point without burning political capital if you take the right approach for the people and circumstances that you’re dealing with, but I do think there are likely to be times in the OP’s life where they’ll have to choose between personal prosperity and the possibility of being able to make a meaningful difference in the world. There are no right choices there, so you just have to pick the wrong choice that you’re most comfortable with.

  26. LinesInTheSand*

    Navigating this well is very much based on the culture of the company you’re in. I’m a well known and successful boat rocker at my company, and valued by leadership as someone who speaks truth to power in public, where people can see it done, but I also know that my current behavior wouldn’t be valued somewhere else. So I’ll give you some suggestions and you can decide whether they’ll work.

    First and foremost, for any situation, think about what winning looks like. Truly winning. When I was younger I had a lot of fantasies of dominance, of capitulation from senior management, of public statements from CTOs along the lines of “LinesInTheSand was absolutely right and we will change course.” I was young and dumb. This will never happen. Older, wiser me thinks that winning looks like bringing up a concern in such a way that the person on the other end of it will listen. So that means being polite, no matter how frustrated you are, and assuming relative competence and good intent on the part of the person you’re speaking to. They’re doing something for a reason, and you have to figure out what it is. I generally ask a lot of pointed questions, such as:
    * “I was under the impression that the number was actually 7000 instead of 400. Can you tell me where I should be looking for this information in the future? Clearly, there are some conflicting sources.”
    * “Have we been given guidance on whether to consider non-monetary costs in our estimates? Such as, e.g. carbon footprint?” I used this one when I was punching way above my weight in a meeting with SVPs developing a budget. This is me saying “I care lots about climate change but I don’t have the standing to bring it up, so I’ll create an opportunity for the meeting leader to decide whether to discuss it.”

    I have the same issues with authority you do, and what helped me was really internalizing the fact that there were things outside of my control. Look up sphere of influence and sphere of responsibility for a good illustration of this. You can’t fix everything, and sometimes winning is keeping your mouth shut.

    And finally, you can really look at all of this as a game to win. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to believe in the system, but you do have to know the rules so you can strategically break them to great effect. I started listening to manager-tools.com podcasts as a form of “opposition research”, if you will, and it gave me a lot of insight into how managers thinks, and how my behavior would be perceived.

    I hope this helps. You have all my best wishes. You can do this.

  27. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    OP, where there are people their will be hierarchy. And there will always be assholes. You met an asshole. And you met a person who accepted that assholes are gonna asshole. OK. That was one situation, one time. Go in with an open mind and the attitude that you have something to offer and that the people you are working with want you to share that and you find many who do. And some assholes. But that’s not “the system” that’s people.

  28. remizidae*

    It’s only been a week! Give yourself time. You don’t even really know how this workplace works yet, and you’re already making sweeping statements about the nature of all white collar jobs.

    It’s not in fact true that higher-ups can behave with impunity. They CAN get away with more and tend to be treated with more tact. But “get away with more” means stuff like a more flexible schedule or demanding work be done in a certain way. It doesn’t mean they can get away with murder.

    If you’ve already been reprimanded in your first week, you need to be much, much more tactful. That doesn’t mean you can never assert your view but 1) wait till you’re not brand new, 2) take a deep breath, 3) ask for advice from peers/mentors about how to address it tactfully. Remember you just don’t have the information needed to know whether “the “rules” are unfair, demoralizing, or based on wrong information.”

    Be polite for a year, and if you still hate it after that, you can quit. But don’t let your prejudice against white collar jobs prevent you from what might be a good opportunity.

    1. remizidae*

      Edit: I think I read this wrong and OP has not actually been reprimanded in *this* job, but in a previous job. The point about tact still stands.

      1. Clisby*

        I thought that at first, too. I was like, “You thought it was good to go up against a board member *in your first week”? Mmmm … maybe not. I don’t think that’s what the LW meant – I do think this happened in a previous job.

    2. Anon, obviously*

      The head of my division “stepped down” just last week for behaving with impunity (tweeting their opinions about another political party from the organization’s official twitter account — they’d been warned previously, too). We are a state funded organization, employees are state employees.

      Don’t assume that people higher up can do whatever they want.

  29. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Part of this could be office culture, too. Do keep that in mind.

    With that said, I’ve always focused on making whatever small changes I could. Knowing that they’ll eventually add up. You’ve only been at your job a week but once you’ve been there for a while, take a look around. Who can you help out? Instead of pushing towards the top, reach towards the bottom. If you can help others, and yourself, move up then you’ll help change the hierarchical dynamics.

  30. kay*

    also, maybe you could channel your (rightful) class frustration into volunteering with a socialist political group or campaign – might make you feel better overall!

    1. GS*

      Agree – I was going to suggest she/he look into being a labor organizer (with all the class fury), but don’t think he/she has the political skills for it.

    2. blaise zamboni*

      This is my suggestion, too. I channel a lot of my frustration into political activism outside of work, especially around labor rights activism. Your local DSA might be a good place for that. When the frustration bleeds into my office life, I remind myself that (though I find this deeply unjust) I can rail against the machine in a more effective way if I have more power and stability in my own life, and my weirdly hierarchical office job is a means to that end.

      But I feel you, OP! I feel you so hard.

  31. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve bypassed this by working in small companies, where the only “higher up” is the person who signs my paycheck. I’m fine with authority when you own the place because it is your company and you’re taking all the risks, etc.

    You can work in a blue collar industry as well, as an office worker as well. There’s no weird politics around our offices because we’re all on the same level. Since the owners are owner/operators, they tend to side with the shop and product vision more than anything.

    I would also just stop going into places assuming there’s a lot of politics and that everyone is relatively on the same level. Let them show you or tell you that they care about those kinds of authority things are something they focus on. A lot of places aren’t like that at all from what I’ve heard. A lot of places are all about the flat structure!

    1. Natalia*

      Well said! And you can find office politics at just about every work place. I’ve seen it in “blue collar” places I’ve worked..its not just a “white collar” office thing.

      And the OP is making a lot of assumptions as well…never a good idea

  32. Chrome*

    I work a white-collar job, and the office politics situation is MUCH different than what you’re describing. While the people on top definitely get final say on the decision-making process, they welcome and encourage feedback from employees that the decision would affect. Sure, they’re not going to take it seriously if the inexperienced receptionist weighs in on upper-management decisions like pricing ratios, but I’ve never felt dismissed on something that I had experience with–much less been chastised for having an opinion, or for giving facts when there’s a misconception!

    (For reference, I’m a warranty analyst in the heavy machinery industry.)

    OP, is it possible your new field is more conservative/stringent about hierarchy than normal? Is this type of strict authority a mark of your industry, or just of your particular company?

    If it’s just the company, you might be better off just faking it for a year or so until you get experience, then move on to a more suitable company within the industry.

    If’ it’s an industry problem…well, you’re going to have to decide how long you can fake it for. Can you fake it long enough to get yourself high up enough that you’re more respected in the political structure, at which point you can work to change things internally? Work within the system, in other words. If you can’t make it for that long, this may not be an industry that will be good for your mental health. There are other white-collar jobs that won’t have this absolute top-down structure, or at the very least won’t be so crassly blatant about it.

    1. Clisby*

      The OP’s been on the job for only a week. Unless this is the Hellmouth, I don’t think you can really tell much after a week.

      1. Chrome*

        I guess I’m a little confused on the timeline. OP says she’s been at this job for a week, says her previous job was blue-collar with no political maneuverings, but also says that she was chastised by a board member concerning her six-month project? Was the chastising for an entirely separate job? I hadn’t read closely enough and thought it was for this job, but I see that I was wrong there.
        If that’s the case, nothing bad has happened at this job at all and OP is definitely jumping the gun.

        1. Clisby*

          Yeah, the description of what happened is confusing. If this chastisement happened at the previous job, I thought that was the blue-collar one? If so, why assume a white-collar job is going to be more political?
          Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait and see? Going into a new job with a shoulder-chip manufactured at your previous place of work isn’t going to be particularly productive.

  33. WKRP*

    I get the sense that your reaction is a result of feeling a lack of control over your work and a lack of appreciation of your experience. I think the saying, you can only control what you do, is pertinent here. Rather than focusing on the limitations that people or situations impose on you, focus on what you’re able to do to make your experience better as well as others. If you can come to a situation with an open mind that despite heirarchy, you have an opportunity to inform or educate, rather than viewing it as a win or lose situation, I think you might feel less black and white over the issue.

    Now granted, that won’t change the nature of heirarchy and power. There will be those who refuse to accept input or information that differs from their own. But, rather than stewing over the unfairness of it all, I think it would benefit you to identify how you can work within that system to get ideal results. Even if the results are not successful, giving yourself the ability to try, is better than arguing with a brick wall and I think you’ll feel better for your efforts.

  34. Another JD*

    It might help to try and figure out if a correction is worth making because it affects the outcome of a project in a meaningful way, or if you’re doing it because you want to show that you’re right. For example, if a Board Member discussing a project says you saved the company $2k on a $100k project but you really saved $2,200, let it go. The $200 isn’t material in relation to the total cost, which is why it would look contrarian to insist on the correct figure. However, if you’re doing an accounting and the numbers need to add up but don’t, that’s the correct time to point out the extra $200.

    1. Green great dragon*

      And if they say 3,000 or 1,000 or that Jerome did it when it was you, let that go too unless it actually matters to the discussion. Send a correction later to those who should know. You should be able to correct the board but you don’t always have to.

  35. AnonyMousse*

    It was a huge adjustment for me as well when I got out of law school. I didn’t expect the nonprofit I currently work at and will be departing from soon to be as hierarchical as it is. What really helped my own mental sanity and peace of mind is deciding between what’s worth my “getting into it,” namely what’s something that will have a tremendous adverse impact on me and my profession reputation going forward vs my innate sense of justice and need to be correct. But overall, I think becoming less conscious of societal’s need for young people especially young women to be over the hills accommodating is ley to getting your sanity back. You can and should be firm about your key boundaries, without coming across as entitled and disrespectful.

  36. Master Bean Counter*

    My advice? Get out of the non-profit world. Anytime you are dealing with donors you’re going to have to stay quiet and smile…a lot.
    Also learning how to take what people are saying, pocket it, know that they are wrong and move on is a very useful skill for lots of areas. Ask yourself, does it really matter if the person in front of me is wrong. chances are 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t. The 10th time, that’s the battle you pick. It’s always better to ask why they think what they think and listen before you respond. As in. “That’s a really good thought. But let me explain why I did X.”

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      One of the donors and board members at my last job went through a phase of publicly sexually harassing my college-age male staff; another called out homophobic jokes in front of a large group.

      We put up and shut up, because they were board members and big donors. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

    2. WheezyWeasel*

      When I start twitching to answer wrong information being said about my own projects, I like to recall comedian Craig Ferguson’s joke about “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me *now*?’

      Compare that to the Rotary Club’s 4 Way Test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

      It’s really tempting to get stuck on ‘The Truth’ part and ‘does it need to be said’ and ignore the rest. More often than not, nothing bad ever happens by putting it in your pocket, as Master Bean Counter said. Either the managers working under that person solve the misinterpretation after the meeting, or the board member will forget about it and your team will proceed as planned anyway. Worse case, there are some bigger picture discussions needed for why the senior management had an incorrect picture of the issue and try to mitigate that for the future.

  37. The bad guy*

    I come from a blue collar background as well, farming. The thing I’ve worked on the most since going corporate is learning to tell people they’re wrong without them thinking that’s what I’m saying. “Hm, that’s really interesting, I always assumed it was x y and z because that’s what the data we have points to.” A lot is learning to hear that their experience is more important than your data and rolling your eyes. When you put it this way though, you’ve not actually offended anyone while still garnering the information that they’re not going to listen to you regardless of what you say.

  38. Cafe au Lait*

    Growing up my Mom use to say “It’s not what you say it’s how you say it.”

    I find this to be the hardest when it comes to office politics. Making sure my tone of voice is just right for the situation. I think you can correct higher-ups, but it needs to sound questioning and that they’re doing YOU a favor. Even when you are 100% right.

    My aunt, who is a VP of a medical supply company, told me her catch phrase is “So what you’re really saying is _____.” I can see that having applications in my own work life even though I’m on the bottom half of the ladder hierarchy wise. I used it recently with my boss and my grandboss. My grandboss has a habit of not thoroughly reading emails, and jumping to conclusions about services. A client had an issue with how things were set up, and when I looped Grandboss in (like she wanted in the past), Grandboss automatically concluded that client wanted something that was never asked for. After a few escalating email rounds, I finally jumped in and pointed out the conversation we were having (i.e.: what you’re really saying) was not the question Client asked. It redirected the conversation into something more aligned with what I, and Client, needed.

    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      I love when you find a phrase that helps you get to the heart of an issue that sounds mild but replaces a mental keyboard smash. My coworker uses, “Can you help me understand…” as a way of saying, “I think you’re horrifically wrong about this, please let me know the flawed logic that brought you here,” because there is always the chance that SHE is horrifically wrong about something. I’ve adopted that and it REALLY helps find whatever small thing went wrong/was communicated poorly on either side.

  39. CatCat*

    This is a “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy” sort of situation, OP.

    You’re really caught up in your own headspace here and that your sense of personal righteousness is more important than the organization’s goals. You complain about not being able to correct a board member “just to soothe his ego and keep him happy” and yet it seems like you’re asking for organizations just to soothe your ego.

    But what are the actual desirable outcomes for the employer? Preserving important relationships is one and yes, that sometimes means that a lower level staff member should not be correcting a board member, or at least only doing it in a certain way. That the member made a minor error is small potatoes. The relationship between the organization and the member is the big potatoes. Fundamentally, for the organization, this is not about you. That is something you have to understand. And it’s kind of an ego-busting thing to understand.

    One thing you can work on is how you word things. This is something I have actively worked on and am still working on as I can be fairly blunt. My supervisor will edit my messages to clients for example to kind of soften them, not because I am wrong, but because the verbiage needs to be written in a more politically sensitive way. For example, “No, you can’t do that,” is something I’ve gotten away from . “Yes, but only if X, Y, and Z happen” (and X, Y, and Z are not going to happen realistically) or “Yes, but here are risks of doing so” (and the risks are great).

    1. Samwise*

      And frankly, OP may not even be *right*. Or may be right, but only within the scope of their own position. The person in authority likely has a different perspective and has different knowledge and experience — which the OP may not have and which the OP may not be privy to, quite appropriately. It’s really counter-productive to assume that the boss is wrong and behaving with impunity and even more counter-productive to respond with so much heat.

      Take the chip off your shoulder, OP — it’s so heavy it’s holding you down.

  40. InfoGeek*

    When faced with a situation like you had with the board member, I consider if correcting them is really going to fix anything? Is it worth the trouble?

    If it is, then I tend to voice my correction as a clarification (Actually, we rarely do A. Our normal process is C.).

    Sometimes I might apologize for the misunderstanding (I’m sorry, I must have been unclear. Here’s how it really works.) .

    In general, I’m pretty assertive, but with big wigs well above my pay grade, I try to soften things. I also try to remember that at their level they need the 30,000 foot view (or even higher up). I tend to think at the boots-on-the-ground level, but different people in business need different views with different levels of detail.

  41. Sleepytime Tea*

    I am you, and chafe at the unfairness of these types of things. And in my years of working in professional offices, I have only one piece of practical advice: you have to let it go.

    That’s super crappy advice in the long run. It’s not easy to let it go. It’s not part of your nature to watch the unfairness and not have it get under your skin or speak up or defend yourself when in other situations it would be completely appropriate. There are 2 things I’ve done to achieve a level of happiness dealing with this type of thing.
    1) Screen jobs as best as I possibly can to try and identify if it’s a good fit where there is less of this type of drama.
    2) When it does happen, vent my frustration outside the workplace and then let it go.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. Look at any news page online, OP, and the amount of unfairness going on in the stories is absolutely crushing.

      My father was very much concerned about fairness. He’d get himself pretty worked up. He had minor heart attacks at 50, did not understand the symptoms. At 60 he had a bigger heart attack and a triple bypass. By age 72 he was gone.

      My wise friend used to say do not allow yourself to become seriously injured or dead. This is because your message goes along with you, it dies, too. He believed that on a different day, we will have an opportunity to present our side and gain serious traction. But we have to wait for that different day.

  42. Dust Bunny*

    I have done both and I have to admit that I’m not sure why the LW sees this as so different. The blue-collar jobs I’ve had have been very much “suck it up and do as the boss says”; I feel like I have a whole lot more negotiating power with my current supervisor than I ever did in previous positions where it was pretty clear that I could take this underpaid job and shove it if I didn’t like the way the business owner did things.

    This might be as much about your individual workplace as it is about white- vs. blue-collar, so one of the adjustments you might need to make is getting over the view that This Is How White-Collar Jobs Are. Mine isn’t. One job is not a representative sample size, to borrow from sciences. I may not personally have any authority in my position but we can and have ousted Executive Directors who did not act in our organization’s best interests. And you’ve only been there a week: You don’t actually know yet how any of this works and a lot of your frustration might simply be the fact that it’s new.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      For the record: I work for a nonprofit academic library. We have a hierarchy for basically logistical reasons and because a lot of the things we do require certain professional credentials, but in terms of everyday interaction authority is pretty soft.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I also think it’s odd considering all the most blue-collar people I know will tell me they were raised to defer to their parents. My mother was in trouble constantly for pushing back when she was a kid because she’s a clone of her dad, who was apparently the most hardheaded man on Earth. So if it’s something you’d have to phrase carefully to your mother, phrase it carefully to your boss.

      I wouldn’t tell our current Executive Director that X idea was stupid, but I might ask her how I should handle Y complicating situation when it arose, as a means of indirectly pointing out something that totally would not work. She’s a reasonable person so this would probably handle it. If she were her predecessor, he wouldn’t have a clue, which was why the institution fired him.

  43. Person from the Resume*

    Honestly? Therapy.

    My issues with authority and hierarchy honestly go back to childhood, and I’m afraid that if I don’t get a grasp on this I’ll never be able to work anywhere with higher earning potential or more prestige. … And I still have that little voice in my head that says that if I stop pushing back against authority and hierarchy, I’m essentially “giving up” and “letting them win.” I’m letting the world continue to send really bad, damaging messages that equate someone’s worth to their rank, status and money, and I’m letting those in power think that their sense of entitlement is okay. And that they can always count on winning in the end, and the status quo will persist.

    I think you’re getting to the root, but fixing this deep seated issue will take work.

    That said you are unfairly generalizing authority, people in power, people with money. Many of them take advantage, but not all. You have deep seated resentment against the whole group. Can you look at them as individuals and don’t assume they’re all conspiring to push the little guy around unfairly?

    Also simple put, life is not fair. Some people (the privileged people) play the life at the easiest difficulty level and the rest of us play on varying levels of difficulty. I don’t know if you can get less angry about this fact, but if you could then your resentment wouldn’t build up to sabotage your own career.

    1. Yorick*

      Try not to look at it as though you and the higher-ups are in competition and there’s something you can do that would “”beat them” or let them win.” Instead, try to feel like you and your bosses are on the same team working toward a shared goal for the company.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      My parents were very much this way.

      Just as we have day and night, we also have dawn and dusk. Dawn and dusk are those in between areas that are neither day nor night.
      Much of life is similar to dawn or dusk, it falls into that in between area where there are extraordinary exceptions, or unforeseens or even unknowns.

      I had to shift my loyalty from “fairness” to “facts”. By chasing facts, I found a more concrete basis for what fair/just action would be.

      Right now there is a situation where a motorist hit and killed another motorist. This is a dire example because emotions start running and running almost immediately. (Sorry to be vague here. It’s getting identifying.) But no one actually knows what happened, why this accident happened. It will be weeks before we find out, if EVER.

      Because I insist on facts, I am free to grieve for both people the victim and the other person. And here is the heart of things, many times beneath anger is tears. Sometimes the answer is to take a private moment and just have a good hard cry. Anger can be a crutch to avoid crying. I mentioned my father upthread and his strong sense of fairness. He was one who would have benefited from learning about the power of releasing tears. He probably would have lived longer and had a better quality of life if he learned to use his tears.

  44. PSB*

    It may also be that the particular environment you work in is worse about this than others. I feel much like you do about these things but have worked in office environments for a long time. I’ve worked in some environments, like my current job, where the egos of people higher up the food chain are all that matter. I’ve worked in other environments where the people in charge were more concerned with accuracy and the job being done as well as it possibly can. Even in the more ego-driven environments, a lot can depend on how you convey the information, and every job will have some level at which the people cannot be questioned.

    Try not to assume that all white collar jobs are as bad about this as your new environment because that may not be the case. Maybe this just isn’t the right place for you, although it’s way too soon to decide that. If, over time, it turns out that it’s not, you know something to look out for in choosing your next workplace.

  45. Immunomaven*

    I work in academia (science) and so my experience may not completely line up with yours- but I have been in a lot of situations where more established scientists and my bosses misunderstand something or basically order me to do something I don’t think is a good idea. I am also a person who digs in their heels when something is wrong or not working and I don’t like to be told differently… I’m working on that.

    But anyway- the question you have is unfortunately really situation dependent. In the one that you list, I personally don’t think you did anything wrong, though you might want to work on your delivery of your correction. Sometimes it is useful to think of it this way- if there is a misunderstanding, sometimes it is still partially on you. When I am presenting my research, sometimes people misunderstand and ask repeated questions about things I think should make perfect sense. But am I communicating the information effectively? Can I pause and figure out how to say it differently to explain the information? I can do all of this without saying “no! you’re completely wrong!” but rather, “hmm, I see why you might think that, but this is the way we see it…” If that doesn’t work, “I’m not sure, let me talk to (important supervisor) and clarify.”

    Other cases could vary quite widely. Sometimes it is just important to placate and sometimes you have to push back. For me, my rule is that if I think something is unethical or going to cause a huge issue, I will push back. If it’s unethical (an extreme example- if the boss wants me to fabricate data) I will ultimately refuse to do it. If it’s just going to cause a problem, I will push back but ultimately go with what the boss says- and document that I did object. If I were you, I would spend some time figuring out your boundaries- what are issues you don’t want to budge on, and what are things that you can be more flexible with?

    Also… maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think every workplace is like this. There are workplaces that want to hear from everyone and trust their employees to be experts, and there are also workplaces that do have a hierarchy but respect people who push back. At my last job, new people were often shocked at how my boss and I would debate (always respectful, but we would definitely argue about who was right). It wasn’t always ideal, but she never got upset when we had differing opinions.

    Watch other people in your workplace, especially people you respect. How do they interact with the higher-ups? Consider that sometimes the hierarchy does exist for a reason. Sometimes it’s terrible but also sometimes people who have been there longer really do have more experience and know how to navigate this stuff. Good luck!

  46. Ladybug4*

    I come from a blue collar upbringing and in college and early on in my career I also struggled with this. I needed to learn how to reframe the conversation. It’s not that you CAN’T say something, especially when the information being shared/assumed is 100% incorrect, it’s that you need to know HOW to say something. I think of it as my personal Time, Place, Manner Doctrine.

    Is this the right time to address the issue? (is the information essential to the current conversation? can the issue be addressed later? would addressing the issue embarrass the person in front of their peers/higher-ups?)
    Is it my place to address the issue? (even if I have the correct information, would it be better received coming from my manager?)
    Am I addressing the issue in a respectful manner? (will it sound like I’m talking down to this person if I address them bluntly?)

    The tricky part is understanding the power dynamics of your particular organization. If an influential board member needs to be corrected, saying “No, you’re wrong” in the middle of a meeting with multiple higher-ups will be seen as combative. The same message you’re trying to get across might go over better if you send a follow-up email after the encounter to the offending board member saying that in the meeting they seem to have misunderstood the project and you want to clarify. This, of course, is not going to be timely enough if decisions are being made in the meeting off of bad information, but it is effective in lower-stakes situations.

    1. Squid*

      This comment is such solid gold that I want to print it out and hang it on my wall. It can be really frustrating to have to deal with things this way instead of just being able to come right out with your point, but you can often get a lot more done if you pause to think about how you can make that point in a way that the person will be receptive to (rather than threatened by).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Wrong decisions in a meeting. Oh my. I remember one department wide meeting where something came up. We were all getting scolded for something. The big cheese said, “The sky is blue.” In other words, he said something that was just so very obviously true that this just had to be a rhetorical statement.

      So I said, “Are we sure the sky is blue?”

      Half the people in the meeting tried to slide under their chairs. The reminder found something very interesting on the floor to look at.

      Finally, I hear one small voice saying, “Uh. No, we really aren’t sure the sky is blue. Let me tell you what happened to me yesterday.” The little voice went on to explain. After hearing this latest example the big cheese reversed his opinion and said, “No, this is above your job title, no wonder you are having problems. You people are not authorized for this. From now on when this comes up, you need to do (steps 1,2 and 3).” The problem was permanently solved in that moment.

      Decide to master the art of a well-framed question, OP. In my case, I was established as hard working employee. I asked a really stupid question but I used the inclusive “we”, more or less reminding everyone we are still a group. And I was willing to take that momentary hit where everyone died of embarrassment for me and my stupidity. And I knew my group, if one person opened a door, others would start talking also. I used my question to draw out specific details that changed the whole problem.

      The longer I go the more I see how important it is to stay logical when things run amok. It’s a skill worth developing and it will serve you in ALL aspects of your life.

  47. Ryan*

    Good managers typically prefer that a subordinate should correct a misunderstanding they hold. Of course, that doesn’t mean a senior executive wants to be corrected in front of a dozen other people, so maybe your approach was the issue, I don’t know.

    But if you’re tactful and present your disagreement in an appropriate setting (usually one on one, ideally face to face) and the mere act of asking a question or providing an alternative view is enough to get reprimanded, you should probably start looking for a better fit elsewhere as it doesn’t sound like you’re going to be happy if you have to hold those thoughts in.

  48. Colette*

    I think that in a healthy workplace, you can absolutely disagree or correct misinformation – but how you do that matters.

    The first thing to understand is that if you think that someone higher in the hierarchy is making a mistake, and you tell them that and they disagree? They win – not because they are “better” than you but because it is their job to make these decisions. Sometimes it’s because they have more information than you do; sometimes it’s because they have different priorities than you do; sometimes it’s because they are incompetent – it doesn’t matter why, they win. That doesn’t mean they don’t value your input or respect your opinion, they win because it is their job.

    And when you correct them or give them information they don’t have, you need to do so respectfully and with an open mind. (Questions are often a good way to do that – i.e. “I’m concerned that this will make it harder to get handle teapot returns. Has the return department been involved in creating the new process?”) I find that people who have problems with authority often start expecting that management is out to get them – and it becomes self-fulfilling. Expect that they will make the best decision they are able to make.

  49. Jennifer*

    I understand how you feel. All I can say is not every office job is like that. There are managers that will welcome your feedback, as long as it’s delivered in a respectful way. Are you sure when you correct someone you are doing it in a polite and professional manner? I understand your frustration but think about the way your words come across to others.

  50. SometimesALurker*

    I have felt similarly to you, although it sounds like not as strongly. One thing that it can help to remember is that typically, the people who have the power to change the hierarchical structure and expectation of deference aren’t the people in your position — they’re the people above you. That’s aggravating in its own right, but it means you’re not giving up or letting it happen if you play by their rules now. If and when you advance within this structure, that’s when it will be your job not to get complacent about this system. For now, your job is to do good work and not to let them get to you (to the extent that’s possible), which sometimes means letting unfair things roll off of you *because* they’re unfair — those are the things you’ll get the least return on your investment of energy in changing. I’m thinking of situations that are garden-variety unfair and not, say, illegal discrimination, of course.

    Another thing it has helped me to remember is that people who are both really bought into hierarchy and who are near the top of it sometimes make critical comments of things they know nothing about — again, aggravating in its own right, but that means it’s not personal. It’s easy to feel defensive, and to let that defensiveness creep into your reaction, and that can be where you get into trouble. You know the value of your work, and it’s hard to be criticized and dismissed at the same time by someone “above” you. But they’d do it to anyone, not just you. Sometimes I listen to the song “I Feel Like This Isn’t About Me” from the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend like it’s a mantra. The context within the show is more that they’re treating her like she’s the person she replaced at work, so not actually the same, but it can help when I get an email or something that makes me feel defensive.
    The song — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1LlzH1ETW8

  51. AnotherSarah*

    I think that there are other solutions besides therapy (which might help you manage anger and reactions, but suggests that the problem is *yours* when it’s not!) and just understanding that that’s how it is (because…you obviously DO understand, which is what’s infuriating, if I understand correctly).

    One thing that might help with managing the sense of impotence is to get involved in something that may be effective changing the work culture more broadly–union work, advocating for increased funding outside of large individual donors, mentoring for underrepresented people in your industry…anything that will give you a (rightful) sense that you’re working for change.

    I also think you might be able to approach issues with donors/board members with your boss, in the spirit of “clearly it’s ridiculous when people without expertise are making decisions, how can we fix this,” rather than “this is so unfair.” (Maybe. Only maybe.)

  52. Malarkey01*

    I think there are two conflicting things at play here. 1 People get to do what they want based on money and 2 People above me in the organization get to make decisions I don’t agree with and can’t challenge.

    Number 2 is the way that every business/office/job (blue or white) works. People higher in the organization do have institutional authority and that needs to be respected. There are ways to voice your opinions and suggestions but as AAM almost always says your bosses get to decide how they run the organization. That’s not inherently unfair, sometimes they run a business badly, but at their level they have success/education/experience that has led to their being entrusted with the decisions and you do need to follow that and be respectful in that framework.

    Number 1 is an issue in nonprofits because frankly without donor support you don’t have a job. Some nonprofits manage their donors more than others and a lot of that has to do with how much they rely on particular donors, but not offending donors is the key to every non profit job because without them and their generosity you’d all be out of work. If that’s hard to take, and I do understand that’s why I severed ties with one nonprofit, than the nonprofit world might not be a good fit.

    Overall, understanding that following direction from your bosses is not a character flaw or being a doormat but something that everyone with a boss must do might help. Finding a mentor to help you phrase ideas and opinions in a way that are heard might help, and learning not to internalize the fairness of being managed might help too.

  53. Tuckerman*

    A lot of the time it’s not that you can’t correct someone higher up, it’s that you need to know how and when, and you generally want to let people save face and give them the benefit of the doubt (actually, this is good for peers/subordinates as well). So if you emailed your boss a question that seems pretty straightforward to you, but she doesn’t answer your question, you might say something like, “Thanks for your quick response. I’m sorry, I should have been more clear, I’m looking for the number of llamas we anticipate purchasing this month, not what we purchased last year. Do you know who might have that information?”

    Your boss can probably read between the lines (that she didn’t read your email closely enough and answered incorrectly.) You don’t need to point out explicitly that she’s wrong.

  54. Sequoit*

    I work in academia, so I struggle with some of the same issues. I’m sorry to go full geek here, but when I was in college, we learned about systems of power and how people resist and change systems. Long story short, my ultimate take away (and what I try to do in my current position) is: the system is imperfect, unfair, and bullshit. You cannot overthrow the system and make radical, sudden, large-scale change.

    What you CAN DO as an individual is:
    – Prioritize horizontal relationships as much as possible (e.g. your colleagues at the same level and below)
    – Practice radical kindness toward your colleagues, no matter how small the act
    – Fight in small ways for what’s right — change one small thing at a time (and that will add up to something bigger)
    – Band together with like-minded colleagues (you’re more powerful together)
    – Don’t act right away when something happens. Wait for the right moment for when you can do something to right a wrong.

    Hang in there!!

  55. Nanani*

    I understand. It’s infuriating and terrible, but it’s also too big for one person to change, from inside or otherwise.
    My answer:
    Exit the system. Become a self-employed professional of some sort. You still have to deal with people, but there’s no office politics when it’s just you (and the cat).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s still politics when you work for yourself! You need to judge how much you can push back with a client, word things in a way that won’t feel aggressive, etc. There’s definitely less of it though.

  56. Amtelope*

    It sounds like you are in a nonprofit? I have a few nonprofit-specific suggestions:

    1) If you are a low-level staffer and you notice that a board member or major donor has made a mistake, your best move is almost certainly to tell staff above your level and let them sort it out. That’s not “doing nothing,” it’s taking the action that actually has a chance of correcting the problem. If higher-level staff do correct the error, watch how they do it, so that you can pick up the skill of using indirect and deferential language to very, very carefully correct touchy people in positions of power.

    2) Often, the reason that higher-ranking staff aren’t pushing back is because they know that it’s not worth it. If you correct the irritating major donor about the number of people attending your event, and the irritating major donor gets offended and reacts by pulling their gift money, it may harm your organization’s ability to perform its mission. Think of “sucking up to rich entitled people for the greater good” as a very specific skill that you need to learn for strategic reasons if you want to work in the nonprofit world.

    3) Board members usually aren’t going to appreciate the work of low-level staffers. I mean, good ones will, but bad ones won’t, and you can’t make them. It is a good day when the board appreciates that high-level staff exist for a reason and may actually know better about day-to-day operations than the board does. Your six months of work on the event may only be noticed by the board if you do something that they don’t like. This is often just the reality of staff vs. board (and donor) relationships.

    If you are working for good higher-level staff, and they appreciate your efforts and listen to you when you have important information to share, try to appreciate that. Go through them if you need to correct board members or donors, focus on doing your work well, and try to let the organizational politics roll off you as much as you can.

    1. Oof*

      “Think of “sucking up to rich entitled people for the greater good” as a very specific skill that you need to learn for strategic reasons if you want to work in the nonprofit world.” – I would edit that to “sucking up to people” – in our organization, we need the goodwill, promotion, and funds of everyone!

      I would also advise be careful when you are assuming the board member is flat-out wrong, depending on their tenure there. They could be using it as an analogy reference, or simply mixing it up with something else. That why the first point above is perfect – another colleague may know the backstory, and can manage expectations.

  57. Smiley*

    Higher-ups generally have not only more authority, but more responsibility. Theoretically, they also have more knowledge, experience, and/or skills. So far as the specific illustration, in which you have more knowledge, consider your delivery. Statements such as, “From my perspective, we couldn’t do x, y, and z, because…” go over better than “We couldn’t have done x, y, and z.” Own your perspective and give it appropriate weight as just that: YOUR perspective.

  58. Perpal*

    There’s a lot to navigate here and much to unpack that may be particular to LW, LW’s organization, etc.
    A few basic tenants I would suggest
    1) any system where someone “lower down” truly cannot raise/correct a major problem they notice is a sick system and probably worth moving on from; this would be true white collar, blue collar, etc
    2) A lot depends on the approach. There’s ways of pointing out an error that are a lot less abrasive; this can go both ways (ie, feedback/criticism of managers to employees, etc etc). There is the classic “Can you educate me a little more on Y? I thought had been taught X” (this depends on the roles, etc; this is good for someone who is supposed to be helping educate you, may be a bit much to request a board member to educate you as that’s not on their usual list of functions). Or “I’ll look into that, I thought I had dealt with it!” (then if you did, you could politely follow up with whoever is in charge of the issue “just wanted to let you know it was done on ####!” etc etc.
    3) don’t sweat small stuff. Obviously if it’s someone misquoting say, hobby league stats they follow in their personal time, but you happen to know it’s wrong, let it slide, unless you have that kind of bantering relationship with them
    4) make sure you are right before you speak out. Don’t be one of those new hires who assumes they know better than everyone else and makes sure everyone knows it!

    And yes, therapy if this is a lifelong ingrained issue rather than a new one you just noticed at this institution.

  59. NW Mossy*

    I look at it like this: office politics are the trade-off you accept to gain the advantages of having a large group of people working together towards a common purpose. Having those other people around means you don’t have to try to do it all and be it all by yourself, and there’s a ton of benefits in that. The downside is that this then means more relationships to manage, some of which may be fraught because of personalities, power dynamics, and other factors.

    To your specific question about authority and hierarchy, the most effective antidote I’ve found is to work for people you feel like you can trust. Look for hiring managers who listen well, speak honestly, and behave in a way that’s transparent and real. They will definitely still be wrong sometimes, but such managers are a lot less likely to put the blame on you when that happens.

    Along with that, it can also be helpful to look at the political landscape at a new job from an anthropological approach – you’re studying it in an effort to understand it, and doing so with as neutral a perspective as possible. It’s a significant challenge intellectually to watch someone else’s behavior and not jump to assumptions about their motives, but it’s well worth it. Others start to pick up on the fact that you’re not judging them as people, which feeds the development of the good rapport that allows you to correct them on the facts or push back on an idea without them taking offense.

    TLDR version: Relationships matter a lot to our well-being at work. Invest in having good ones by making choices that make good relationships more likely – seeking the trustworthy, and behaving in a trustworthy way yourself.

  60. thehighercommonsense*

    Wait, wait, wait, hold up. Some of what you describe is not appropriate board behavior or reactions, and boards, donors, and management *do* have accountability structures!

    It sounds like there are two issues getting mixed up here: is it appropriate to push back, period, and is it appropriate *for you* to push back. Additionally, how much of this is normal, and how much of this is bad management.

    For example, the instance you describe? If the board member made a factual error, it was probably appropriate for you to make that correction in the moment, and while the organization might reasonably say “hey, we need you to use a different approach when addressing something with the board,” “[Member] is always going to be right no matter what” is *not* an appropriate response.

    So. Board members typically have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization and are typically constrained by bylaws and ethics. Management is constrained by hierarchy and company policy, codes of conduct (e.g. lawyers or CPAs can lose their license to practice), and law. Donors, although large donors often do get more input on organizational direction, etc, are constrained by the organization itself and its priorities. If these structures are not in place or being ignored, that is 1) not good governance 2) possibly unethical 3) at worst, possibly illegal.

    In a hierarchical organization you will always deal with a chain of command and delegation. This is not a bad thing! For example, the board has fiduciary responsibility, and a duty to exercise oversight over the ED/CEO and organizational spending, but it would not be a useful or productive use of time for them to exercise oversight over every purchase. That’s what managers are for! But for urgent/unethical/illegal things, you should have an option to go around the hierarchy, and for stuff “in the moment,” where you are the relevant expert, there is no reason for you not to have standing to make *relevant* corrections–it would be stupid to relay that through the chain of command.

    Questions to ask yourself:
    1) Does this thing need to be addressed?
    2) Am I the right person to address it?
    3) Even if the information ultimately comes from me, does it need to go *through* me?
    4) Do I have the political capital to address this effectively? (see also 2), I just think that sometimes just because something *can* be addressed by you doesn’t mean it *should*)
    5) What about this picture might I be missing?
    6) Do I know that the chain of command will handle this appropriately? (use with caution, but say, if your boss is committing fraud, it is appropriate to sidestep your boss!)
    7) What will the results of inaction be? Will these be harmful to me or the organization? (e.g. what happens if I pass this through the hierarchy and there is no result?)

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      OP – if you’ve made it this far down, this is a great series of questions to ask yourself in situations like the one you described.

  61. Manana*

    Truly most offices suck, not just because of what you’re describing but also because of the trickle down effect of this demoralizing culture (I mean, look at the questions that get answered here. People can’t even use a shared kitchen without Shakespearean power struggles). Ultimately you have to decide if money is important enough to you to pursue it. If it is, great, then game it. Don’t get sucked up in unrewarding side quests, treat everyone as an NPC, and get the coins. You’ll never be able to convince a board room of dickheads that they’ve ever been wrong in their lives. Save your passion for people and projects that actually matter. Who cares if some dumb fart doesn’t think a spreadsheet was done correctly? Most work has no lasting significance or impact, it’s just people moving emails around. You don’t have to take any of it seriously; work on your poker face, get your money, and make the hours outside of the office worth the effort.

  62. Name!*

    Maybe worth trying…

    Expand your vocabulary! Ex-military… if you learn to word it right and use the right tone, you can tell high ranking officers they’re idiots and they take it as a compliment. It’s a small thing, but satisfying.

    And instead of straight up correcting someone, make it sound like you’re agreeing. “Oh yes, that was a great event! I particularly enjoyed contributing by doing X. Jane did a lot with Y, and I thought she did a great job.”

    Other, more direct personality types than mine (I have to work at not being too passive) might find this more difficult, but I do enjoy correcting people without them realizing I’m doing it.

  63. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Uf. It’s a difficult place to find yourself in, and a lot of the ways to manage this feeling for yourself are going to be qualitative, rather than quantitative; that’s going to be a hard thing to talk about in absolute terms.

    A few things I would look at, as someone who is doing the white-collar thing in a hierarchical, red-tapey workplace with not donors but high net worth clients who often get their way:

    – Learn to pick your battles. Being right isn’t always the most important thing, and when it comes to dealing with people who are making an enormous fuss, there is its own kind of power in refusing to give them the fuss they want in return.
    – Build up respect, and you will earn the ability to tell higher-ups that they’re wrong. I have absolutely told my grandboss that what he wanted to do was total banana crackers on at least one occasion — and backing it up, I had my reputation as a quiet, thoughtful person, so that when I burst out “Oh my god, you can’t do that!!” it not only got his attention but signaled to him and everyone else in the room that this was a genuinely Big Deal, rather than a personality conflict.
    – Think of the ability to make waves as an interpersonal bank account. You build up a credit balance in the account by being pleasant and easy to work with, demonstrating skill in your work and knowledge in your area(s) of expertise, and generally providing value to the organization. You spend that credit by pushing back on the higher-ups, by advocating for changes you want to see, by generally making waves in the organization. If you go into debt in this account, you start to look like a pest, a know-it-all, or an asshole.

    The incident you mentioned where you corrected a donor — was it at this job, or a prior scenario? Because if you went in and contradicted someone very important to the organization, when you yourself have been there for less than a week, then it was not at all about what you know, and entirely that you have not yet demonstrated your knowledge to anyone there. You may know you know it, but they don’t know what you know.

    You’re absolutely right that there are a lot of problems with hierarchical structure, but not everything can be blamed on that, and there is a point to needing to have proven yourself before you go pushing for change. When you’re very new to a workplace, you haven’t yet shown people that you know your stuff, that you understand the organization’s structure, priorities, or the concerns that inform how decisions are made. This is all important stuff!

    1. Antilles*

      Learn to pick your battles
      Related, learn *where* to fight your battles. Contradicting a Board Member in a small group or one-on-one discussion is a lot different than doing it publicly in a meeting or presentation or big group.

    2. IV*

      I think of EVERYTHING at work as a bank account. Ability to make waves, ability to push boundaries, ability to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, ability to flex my schedule, ability to rake risks and make mistakes… it’s all based on my balance, which I keep high by doing great work, being diplomatic and drama-free, and communicating well. My most valued skill is an ability to tell people they are wrong, or suck, or are messing up and have them coming away thinking I’m awesome and an ally.

  64. Seifer*

    Oh god, when you find out what the secret is, let me know. Just the other week I told off the president of the company because he copied someone without a clearance on a classified thing. I weighed my social anxiety against my anxiety about classified spills and regular anxiety won out and I was screeching, “what are you DOING???”

    1. boo bot*

      That feels like something you’re supposed to get told off about, even if you’re the company president. Like, would he rather hear it from you, or from Congress?

    2. Green great dragon*

      I have had that one too, in a meeting! I spoke up and told everyone uncleared there they must wipe the knowledge from their memory and never mention it to anyone, and the president sat there quiet as a mouse (and has never done it again).

      Somewhat nerveracking but afterwards I got a ‘thank the flying spaghetti monster you said something, we we did not know what to do’ from every team member in the room including my boss, and in due course something very similar from the security investigations team. You are on the side of righteousness, Seifer.

  65. Caroline*

    I LOVE this thoughtful post! It’s clear that you’re trying to find a way forward in a way that feels authentic to your values AND allows you to be successful in this role.

    It’s also clear from your post and others’ comments that bad behavior is rampant and the struggle against non-sensical, bureaucratic rules is real.

    It also sounds like there are some patterns, assumptions, and fears coming into play for you, which can cloud your view of the situation and keep you from seeing the real opportunities to navigate within them in a way that feels good to you AND allow you to present your point of view to the higher-ups in a way that they can actually hear it.

    It’s exhausting to be that space of feeling like you’re up against an irrational, unchangeable force with clear winners and losers. The first step is adopting a mindset that there are always win-win opportunities to be found.

    There are sooo many ways to navigate this–from working from within to make the changes you want to see, to looking for another organization that’s more aligned with your values and approach, and many options in between.

    And…you can absolutely do this without sacrificing who you are at your best. In fact, it starts from that place of deep understanding of yourself, leading from that place, and getting out of your own way.

    I agree with the commenter who suggested a coach. The right coach will help you see all the options, support you in picking the one that’s best for you, and help you achieve it.

    Can’t wait to hear how you decide to lead through this!

  66. De Minimis*

    I’ve always hated office politics and have made a similar transition from blue collar to white collar. What I’ve found works for me is to just be an easygoing person. If I disagree with something and feel like I need to speak out about it, I do so but I try to say it in a way that doesn’t seem contradictory. I try not to get too invested in whether people think I’m right. Getting along and having good working relationships is more important for me.

  67. a clockwork lemon*

    If you come into the office every day looking for a fight to pick because you dislike hierarchies as a concept, then you’re not going to be successful in most healthy corporate environments. Even in blue-collar environments, supervisors and managers and owners and clients all make decisions that employees have to live and work with, regardless of how “fair” they are. If anything, corporate world is less rigid than blue collar world, in that you’re given much more discretion on how to manage your time and workflow, and you’re often positioned to work collaboratively with your managers when handling specific projects.

    It’s unclear to me if you’re being reprimanded about things with your new company, or if you were corrected in a previous position. If you were told to apologize to a board member after “correcting” them within a week, you need to seriously re-evaluate what’s going on. Who cares if a board member misunderstood a project you did in a previous job? You’re too new to be pushing back on anything other than people calling you by the correct name.

    If this didn’t happen at New Job, depending on your new company situation, you honestly might never come into contact with the “higher ups” at all. I work for an extremely large company, and aside from the executive my team and I support, I’ve only ever had minimal interaction with senior management. I’d certainly never in a million years have any reason to see or speak to a member of our board.

    Don’t borrow trouble, and give yourself plenty of time to understand the context of your office (and, more specifically, how your office hierarchy actually works–it’s often more complicated than just looking at the org chart). If you’re looking for things to get worked up about, you’ll find them. If you accept the fact that oftentimes “fairness” requires different treatment for different employees based on their specific situations, you’ll probably feel a lot better about the dynamics of your office.

  68. Leavecoming*

    This seems like a boundary issue to me, where you’re worrying about things that are completely outside of your circle of control. I think if you try to reframe your thinking into things you can actually influence you will be a lot happier at your job.

    Good luck at the new workplace! I hope it goes well for you.

  69. Washi*

    OP, I’m curious how you might fill in the blanks here.

    If I have to pretend to be nice _____ will (or won’t) happen.
    If I have to pretend someone is right when they are actually wrong ______ will happen.
    If people at the top get more slack than those at the bottom _____ will be the result.

    And then depending on what you fill in the blanks with, is that a realistic outcome or an unlikely worst case scenario? Does it tell you anything about your deeper fears or insecurities? Is your anger in these instances protecting you from feeling another more uncomfortable feeling?

    It sounds like things at work feel very personal to you, and when you find that you’re taking a lot personally, it’s often a ping to look at the feelings those situations are stirring up. Put another way, when you’re feeling happy and secure and in the right place, it generally is much easier to shrug off the annoying quirks of a workplace, like a board member who doesn’t like to be corrected, rather than seething over it or generalizing it unnecessarily (as others say, briefly and dispassionately correcting someone is quite normal in white collar workplaces.)

  70. Laughing Alone with Salad*

    Your feelings are not just valid but important. But figuring out what to do with those feelings is another matter. You recognize an issue, and now you need to learn more about it, figure out what you have the power to do now vs in the future and how you might move forward from where you are now, and figure out how to manage your own feelings and situation so you can feel both effective and not totally absorbed.

    It sounds like you might be at a nonprofit, and it’s problematic that our nonprofit structure of board members who are usually also donors creates a situation where nonprofit workers, whose on-the-ground knowledge is so vital, in the hands of others. Sometimes those with power are there not for their money, and other times they are there mostly for their money, and lots of people are in between.

    Your ideas about hierarchies being a problem that can lead to nonprofits essentially shooting themselves in the foot are correct, but not universal. There are places that purposely cultivate better situations in which folks from across the organization are respected, and the higher-ups actively seek out their input. I’m sorry that’s not your experience so far.

    I recommend a couple of things:
    – Look for and take advantage of any channels of funneling up information and feedback that might exist in your organization; they might not be great, but respectfully expressing concerns with a manager or higher-up you respect, answering internal surveys, etc., can be a start. At the very least you’ll be able to work on how you express these ideas, and you’ll have the small piece of mind that you’re doing what you can.
    – Look into the concept of “managing up.” How do you influence and navigate the people who have power? This can sound manipulative, but a good manager wants people under her who will give her accurate information, good suggestions, and good perspectives that she might not come up with on her own. Think of it not as manipulating, but as helping your manager(s) do the work they’re hired to do as best they can by being able to utilize your knowledge, which is essentially what you’re hired to do; it’s viewing the hierarchy as still having a teamwork frame. Managing up means speaking truth to power (hooray for speaking truth to power!) but in a way that power will actually HEAR you. That can take some coddling for some board members which is annoying, but if you think of them as team members too, it can help. Think of your anger and frustration as a signal that you could develop a skill–HOW can you talk to folks and express your opinions in a way that gets at truth for everyone in a way that is bringing people in, not adversarial? There are times to be adversarial, but they are rarer.
    – Yes, separate yourself from work to an extent. Do all you can but at some point be willing to say, hey, it’s someone else’s call, they can make mistakes if they want to, I’ve tried my best.
    – Constantly improve your understanding of the issues of power dynamics, etc., and how it affects mission-based work so that as opportunities arise for you to make an influence (which might not be until you have another position or job, or could be in certain ways now or in the near future) you can do so eloquently and based in research.
    – Follow the blog Nonprofit AF, which frequently deals with issues of power dynamics in the nonprofit sector and how to make them more just
    – If you feel the dynamics of this job really won’t let you act in a way you feel is ethically right for you, think about how this job can be an effective rung on the ladder that will get you to a place where you can. How can your current work help you build skills, connections, etc., to get you to a point where you can comfortably move to a different organization, get to a higher role where you have more power and can change the dynamics for everyone, or strike out on your own in some way? This can help reduce the feelings of futility.

    Best of luck. We need people thinking about this, but NOT letting it get to them in a way that’s bad for your personal/inner mental life.

  71. Czhorat*

    The biggest thing is to reframe your thinking: politics is part of any serious job. There’s no getting around it.

    So far as telling a board member that they are wrong is concerned, think of how you’d talk to your grandparent, your parent, your spouse, or your kid if you wanted to correct them. The approach is different from one to the other based on your relationship and their personality.

    Office policies doesn’t mean that you need to be a bootlicker and always defer. It does mean that you need to understand the hierarchy, understand how to frame things in a way which isn’t overly assertive when the situation and relationship doesn’t warrant it.

    Getting a reputation for being overly aggressive is not a good thing in most cases, but being appropriately assertive can be. Good bosses don’t want sycophants, but they also don’t want sparring partners.

  72. Very anon for this*

    You can be right or you can do your work and make an impact. There will be times when these are mutually exclusive.

    I work for a non-government, but government adjacent organisation, in data.

    Nothing I find will suit the current government we have. But if I go on a tear, will I get fired? Yes. Will anything change? No.

    Speaking truth to power is tricky and impact is important. If you challenge the board member, will they change their mind? No. If you continue working and getting results can you soft peddle change in defiance of them? I believe you can.

    There will also be situations which cross your personal line, but thinking consciously about where that line lies for you, I find, helps me deal with all the minor bs.

  73. happy cat*

    This is a great question. And one I struggle with
    First the suggestion about therapy is offensive. I’m sure they mean well but personally I find a little offensive.
    I don’t have a background with the same kind of privilege that my coworkers have basically.
    The values and work ethics I was used to, don’t seem to apply
    For example how hard I work and how smart I am and my experience definitely don’t equal someone who has a great education and a high-paying job
    I have to pretend we are equal and never say I’m treated differently and I definitely have to expect my opinion to not matter as much
    People with privilege do not want to believe their privilege got them anywhere. They definitely believe it was their hard work and smarts
    Therefore if you aren’t as senior as them it’s because you don’t have the same intelligence as them. This can never be questioned or brought up or talked about. And yeah it’s non fair. The rules are definitely different.
    But it’s honestly like any kind of privilege in that no one wants to acknowledge it and everyone wants to believe that whatever greatnesses that they’ve accomplished is because they are that great. Therefore if your perceived value is lower than them you definitely can’t question anything they do or say
    This is a status quo and they are used to it.
    However, this does vary from office to office. In some offices it’s extremely toxic and in other offices this is just background noise.
    How do you get past it? Honestly I think you have to determine if it’s a toxic level of it or not. And to recognize that you can’t necessarily play by the same rules as them because for one they wrote the rules and secondly they know these rules inside and out.
    What I’ve done that’s helped me is to acknowledge the different levels of privilege and that they in fact are not better than me. I have also acknowledged that the rules are unfair and they are not something to be spoken of with coworkers. Ever.

    I’m sure this comment might upset A lot of people and I apologize for my different view, but I am tired of us pretending that we’re all equal when clearly some of us are less equal.

    1. Joielle*

      I think you’re assuming that anyone suggesting therapy is saying that OP is mentally ill, which is not the case at all. Therapists are helpful for a lot more than mental illness. They’re trained to help people get at the root of what’s bothering them and recognize unhelpful patterns of thinking. That’s exactly what OP needs. Regardless of whether OP is right in their opinion of bosses and donors, it’s not helpful to them in their current position and it sounds like they could use an outside perspective.

    2. Laughing Alone with Salad*

      It is absolutely valid to recognize that the power dynamics of different types of privilege are inextricable from the power dynamocs of a workplace. And you are absolutely right to point out that people in a place of privilege don’t like to recognize that -even if they worked hard, that doesn’t mean their hard work is the only thing that got them to a place of power, and -that many of those under them in the power stucture have worked just as hard or harder than they did.

      Good organizations will recognize the value of employees at all levels and try to grapple with these things as they set up systems of communication, pay, and other structures.

    3. NW Mossy*

      The upset I feel about your comment is sadness that you’ve faced the sort of treatment that devalues your worth and that it’s led you to a place where you don’t feel like you can even acknowledge that this treatment exists to those who enact it.

      Comments like yours give me the always-needed reminder that my position in life is overwhelmingly due to the privilege of having been born white, in America, to a stable household of two highly educated parents. What I personally bring to the equation is statistically insignificant in comparison.

  74. Hope Springs*

    A big issue is that what you perceive may not be the reality of the situation. When we have deep-seated perceptions (boiled down to the big guy is always out to get the little guy), that really colors your interpretation of a situation. If you can’t train yourself to step back and consider a variety of reasons for peoples behavior, then therapy would be very helpful.

  75. Volunteersareexperts*

    Based on many years working with boards and their members I also think the difference between these kinds of jobs with significant volunteer involvement and more typical corporate jobs are very different and lend themselves to more of what you are experiencing in many cases. They can require a significant amount of strategy and finesse as others have mentioned but that doesn’t mean you are cut out for any white collar job ever.

  76. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Two things: you’re the one letting them live in your head. There is no reason to care so much about what they do. Apologize and let. it. GO. Focus on your own good work and build it up into a strong background.

    Second, it’s not going to be like this forever. In fact, it might not even be like this in six months. People in upper administration come and go. Some are assholes who get “transitioned” out; some just up and leave, etc. It is SO MUCH BETTER for your sanity, your reputation and your standing to let stuff play out while you concentrate on your own work.

    Trust me. I’ve coped with some unbelievable directors. Every time I let it blow by instead of TAKING A STAND, it ended in my favor. The asshole either left or was fired, I had years of great work to show, and I was seen as the level-headed one who could be trusted to just get the damn work done without drama — and therefore got promoted.

  77. Jay Bee*

    I also work in a non profit where sometimes this is the way I find myself treated/treating Board members. I’ve tried to develop a few tips or tricks to deal with it.

    1. Remind myself it’s not personal. This is NOT about me. When I started I had to remember that when talking to donors, they don’t care about you. You are a replaceable person at an organization. Whenever I was tempted to respond with “Me too! I just read that same book and I thought that the killer was XX from the beginning, blah blah” that it’s better to ask another question about them. THEY DON”T CARE ABOUT YOU. I turned the previous comment into “I also just read that! Did you have any guesses about who the killer was?”

    2. Once I accepted that this is NOT about me, it made dealing with their rank so much easier. I was there to be a steward of the mission, and to help my organization do the best it possibly can to acheive its goal. That means I went into meetings knowing what I wanted to get out of them, and tried to steer any senior people/board members toward that result, while hopefully making them think it was their own idea.

    3. Learn to apologize with a smile, while knowing you did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s just part of the game. You apologize, you say you’ll be sure it’s different the next time, and then you just…move on. It’s not about you. I had someone tell me the other day that I caused significant confusion by displaying signs for an event with the wrong start time. Okay well, our signs don’t have a start time on them but what did I do? Thank them for the feedback, apologize for the confusion, and say that we’d ensure that everything was crystal clear in the future! And then I rolled my eyes and moved on to the next thing. None of this is about me. That mistake isn’t even real. But it’s part of my job to have the donor feel heard and respected. So that’s what I did- no matter what the reason.

    Removing myself from the hierarchy and just viewing it from the outside was hugely helpful here. You want to be invested in your job and do it well, but try as best you can, in my opinion, to remove yourself from the muddle, and be true to who you are as an employee and a person. You can get a drink with a colleague, complain about the event Chair, and then just…move on. Take care of yourself! You’re the most important person here, and you can get slogged down into the quagmire quickly if you let this take you over.

    You’ve got this!

    1. Anonya*

      This is such useful advice. I’m copying and pasting it into a document for myself — and I’m far from a newbie at this. :)

  78. LGC*

    I think one of the things I’ve had to learn is that it’s often not personal. Which sounds dismissive of you and your terrible board member (and really, I do want to throw him in the trash can)! But here’s what I mean: a lot of the time, if a higher up is behaving badly, that’s because of their own unhappiness. It’s not always a reflection on you, although it can often feel that way.

    Reframing things from people’s unhappiness being because of what I did (and my job being to make my bosses happy) to accepting that even if I’m right I can’t guarantee that people will be happy has helped. And I’m human too – so I sometimes don’t react in an ideal way myself. But I also try to own up to it and try to be better – and when I can’t be better, to figure out what’s holding me back.

    TL;DR – you can’t please everyone, but you can be pleasant.

    Directly related to your letter – I have two thoughts:

    First, as people (Alison included) have noted, you kind of have to choose the hills you want to die on. I tend to be a “fixer” (I identified HARD with the short letter this morning about the coworker with too many new ideas, and even with the terrible boss from yesterday that gave interrogations over every mistake), but…honestly, work is like a video game where you have a limited amount of stamina (or capital). You can gain more over time, but you still have to be careful to not burn through it all.

    Second – it’s not that where didn’t have office politics (because everywhere does, in my opinion), it’s that it had different ones! I think that it sounds like you would be more comfortable in a less hierarchical organization than the one you’re currently working for. That’s not to say you should quit your current job and find a flat company post-haste, but if/when you move on, that’s something to consider.

  79. Project Manager*

    1. Your description does not match all white collar jobs. At my job, I’ve actually seen people chastised for NOT correcting a manager on a technical issue in front of an audience of higher-ups. Also, we have multiple avenues for submitting reclamas when we disagree with decisions, particularly from a safety perspective, and we are encouraged to use them.

    2. If you need to correct something, do it politely. Know your audience – I personally will not care how blunt your correction is as long as you don’t actually call me a dumbass, but other people are more sensitive. Shift your perspective – the goal is to get your correction accepted, and if being deferential (or kissing ass, if you prefer) makes that happen, you’ve succeeded.

    3. Make sure you NEED to correct the thing. If the error doesn’t matter, let it go. (As a card-carrying member of the Grammar Police, I recognize this is easier said than done.)

    4. When it comes to pushing back on technical decisions, the people higher up have a wider perspective on system interactions, available resources, general risk approach, etc. With 15+ years at this job, I can assure you that when an engineer (including me) pushes back on a management decision, 95% of the time, the engineer does not have a sufficiently wide perspective to understand the decision in context. Recognizing that other 5% is the killer, which is why you should still let your manager know when and why you disagree, but once you’ve done that, then you need to let it go. (Unless there is a safety issue.)

  80. Lady Glitter Sparkles*

    I am reminded of a great movie quote, “I didn’t sell out, I bought in”.
    I’m sure all of the great advice has already been given, but if you haven’t seen SLC Punk I recommend it.

  81. Asenath*

    You find hierarchies everywhere, but they aren’t all the same, and they aren’t all extremely rigid or political; perhaps I should say “office-political”. So you’re not completely out of luck if you find one particular job too political for your tastes – you might find another one that works better for you. But it’s also very important to learn how to navigate the office political waters. That means learning to see the connections and the relationships (which aren’t always the ones on paper) and how they work. Maybe you aren’t supposed to correct a senior person; maybe you can – but there’s a polite way to do it, and if you don’t figure out how, you’re going to be seen as unable to work well with others, or something. Very often an organization – particularly a large one – is going to make decisions you think or even know are crazy, but you aren’t paid to make those decisions, just to carry them out. Sometimes, its useful to depersonalize it – tell yourself, well I’m being paid to set up a new program using Approach A even though I believe Approach B will work and Approach A will be a disaster. I’ve done part of my duty by providing feedback as required, the company decided to go with A, and the rest of my duty is to implement it as best I can. Note – it is NOT a reflection on me personally if my ideas are not followed. It doesn’t mean I have bad ideas – they might be good ones that are not accepted for some reason; too expensive, tried before but failed, etc. And it’s liberating in a way not to have to be seen to be right and to turn the focus on what you can control – you did the best you could. If someone accuses you of not carrying out the appropriate PR for an event, say, and you politely respond that you did X, Y and Z, and is there anything they’d like you to do in addition – and you’re told to apologize? It’s infuriating, yes, but sometimes an apology and moving on is the best reaction. You know you did a good job on the PR.

  82. Quill*

    LW, most of the ways around this that I’ve ever utilized are kind of pushing around the issue.

    “Oh, yes, you meant the white chocolate teapots project, that’s a valuble insight, we’ve been accounting for it by reducing spout length by one inch,” is a lot harder to reprimand than. “No, this is the milk chocolate teapots project, the spout length is 4 inches, not 5.”

    It’s sure a heck of a lot better for your career than “Who let you in my teapot R&D lab without safety goggles?” which is the real question I struggled not to ask people more than 1 rank above me when I worked in R&D.

  83. Aquawoman*

    I’m going to suggest reading Gretchen Rubin’s stuff about the 4 tendencies as one way to help understand yourself and others better. I have a couple questions about the example–first, was the misstatement/mistake by the board member something that affected getting your job done, or did they just say something that reflected a less-than-complete understanding of stuff? Because the former may be important to correct but the latter is not. Maybe it would help to remember that the higher up in the org you go, the more general/broad the person’s view is. Maybe you are very detail-oriented in your job and that is a plus for you, but a board member cannot and should not be concerned about details, but about the big picture.

    Additionally, tone is important and I sense from your letter that you may struggle with that (and I can relate!). Because you pose this in a very black-white, right-wrong, oppositional way. Maybe you’re dealing with a toxic workplace, which is a different animal, but I suspect that maybe you’re dealing with your own rigidity and difficulty accepting varying viewpoints. E.g., you seem to decide that some rules are “wrong,” but it’s possible/likely that you don’t know the full reasons why those rules were put in place. It’s true that you may know things that higher-ups don’t, and they know things that you don’t. If you keep this in your awareness and think about this as information-sharing rather than correcting, it may go better.

  84. MoopySwarpet*

    I’m not sure if the examples you gave have actually happened or if they are hypothetical, but only one week into a job, you won’t have the trust from those higher than you or the proven reliability to do much more than mention something that looks way off. There may be specific reasons for doing something the “wrong” way. More specifically, your way may or may not be better than the way it’s always been done, but you don’t really have the standing to shake things up in the first week. A year from now when you’re working on this same event again, you might be able to do it your way and stand up to the board member. Or you might have learned how their way is actually better.

    My advice would be to lay low and learn as much as you can and bite your tongue the first few months. As your work becomes more known and you understand the “why” of some of the procedures, THEN you can start to make suggestions, based on your own experience, for changing them.

    I also agree with all of the others saying that white collar work isn’t ALL politics. You do have to establish yourself as someone who knows what they’re doing/talking about before shaking things up, though.

    1. MoopySwarpet*

      Also . . . you’ve now got your foot in the industry. If you can stick it out for a year or so, you can try to move on to a better balanced company in the same industry.

  85. S-Mart*

    Wow. Lots to unpack here.

    First, not every white collar job is like this. It’s probably tough with the work history you’ve had, but don’t go in assuming the people in relative power are of course there due to money/power/connection. In my experience many have earned their positions through being good at what they do. These people also generally welcome feedback from all ranks. Certainly there are exceptions, and this site is full of stories about them, but in my experience the majority of people in these positions have the skills to back it up.

    Having said that, what to do if you find you are in another situation where the powers that be legitimately don’t deserve their places. If they’re terrible enough, none of this will work, but if they’re partially redeemable it might.

    Ask your boss or an apparently-respected colleague what feedback mechanisms work best. Some people respond well to email but badly in person – or vice-versa. Some places have formal feedback or corrective action mechanisms that they prefer to see you use.

    In general, try to criticize/correct 1:1. Exceptions for immediate safety concerns. People can tend to be more defensive when they have an audience. What the audience is can matter, too. Being corrected in front of reports, bosses, or clients/public are all different challenges.

    Try to understand the other person’s view/goal. Sometimes it’s possible to frame your feedback in a way that supports (or at least doesn’t oppose) their goals.

    Do good work at whatever you do have control over, and if possible establish your record for such before seriously challenging something. Many people respond better to people they perceive as being especially good at what they do.

    It doesn’t help now, but if you find yourself having to move on again, ask in the interview process about how information flows up and down the hierarchy. Ask this of a range of people, not just the hiring manager.

  86. BlueCollarScientist*

    I’m a little concerned at the number of comments along the lines of “presumably the higher ups are there because they’re so good at what they do.” Well, if they’re truly expert, then hearing they’ve made the occasional mistake shouldn’t be forbidden — they did not learn whatever they know by never asking, never being wrong. I think we exist in a fantasy that says meritocracy exists, and that is simply untrue. Many people get a promotion because they are so pleasant and they never push back. Many get a promotion because of a quid pro quo. Many get a promotion because they scream at the powers that be who cower and capitulate. And yes, many get promoted due to hard work and expertise. But to assume rank = capability is simply incorrect, and I think that is exactly what the LW is balking at. We all know the Naked Emperor story — don’t be a toady who doesn’t question the sartorial reality of your bosses.

    But given that it *is* the reality that we often are not being led or managed by the person best at the job, how to cope — that’s the question. I like the answer above — respond, don’t react. This means sorting through exactly what is and isn’t important about the debate, what can slide and what is going to impact *the company* — not you. This means training yourself not to speak if the words are about to erupt angry. And I speak from a lot of experience; I’m a pretty fiery person who sallies forth whenever one of my team is threatened, and I’ve had to learn all sorts of self-calming stuff. Because at the end of the day, if people see me flaming out they will revert to the assumption that I’m unhinged and whatever I’m going on about isn’t the problem. You serve no one — yourself, your work, your company, your team — by flying off the handle.

    And you can always frame your “apology” to someone you challenged as “I apologize for pushing so hard” — you’re not saying you were wrong in your statement, but that your presentation was out of line with accepted norms.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I think there’s a real distinction to draw in the OP’s example of the board member, because the dynamics are notably different when you’re talking about board members or donors vs. leaders employed by the organization.

      The process of becoming a board member or influential donor doesn’t work like getting hired for a job, so what it takes to hold that role isn’t necessarily merit-driven. Being an influential donor might be down to the bare fact of having a lot of money and being prepared to give it. I’m not sure of a good way to get past that issue in the non-profit world, and many organizations face a very difficult choice when confronted with a board member or donor who brings something of essential value to furthering the mission (money, influence, etc.) and does so in a way that exploits the power differential that comes from being the provider of the valuable thing(s).

      Leader-employees don’t necessarily bring this dynamic, and the organization has more recourse if someone’s doing a terrible job as one. Alison’s already given us all chapter and verse on the many ways in which one can manage terribly (and good advice on how not to!), but leader-employees typically can’t bring the specific brand of toxicity that comes from exploiting resource-provider status.

  87. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    Was the issue you had with the board member at this job or a previous job?

    I am very sorry that you are in this situation. I had the same problem when moving from the Tech industry to academia. In academia, faculty are always right no matter what and staff are 2nd class citizens. It took me a while to adjust. All I can say is good luck with it and get used to it. It won’t be easy but if I can do it so can you!

  88. voyager1*

    LW,
    Start your own business. What you describe is probably 99% of all corporate jobs.

    If you can’t start your own business, learn not internalize anything at work. This is much easier said then done.

  89. CommanderBanana*

    Oof.

    Just speaking from a pragmatic, realistic point of view – if you feel that issues that stem from your childhood are tripping you up today, I really highly recommend unpacking this with a therapist. Secondly, it’s very possible that you are a better fit in organizations that are flatter and less hierarchical (with the caveat that a “flat” org doesn’t mean it’s not hierarchical in different ways).

    You may also want to steer clear of organizations that have donors, board members, etc. – for example, associations may not be a good fit for you, because many of them do indeed really cater to big donors, up to and including letter donors and board members get away with unethical or illegal behavior.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I feel much like the OP and have over 35 years in the workforce. I guarantee you, it has nothing to do with my very stable childhood, but what I have directly experienced firsthand by working at all sizes and structures of companies. I really didn’t like that so many commenters jumped to the troubled childhood trope and suggested therapy to “fix” it.

  90. Nicole*

    LW I have a co-worker like you, and I am glad you are asking now, because this issue is both bad for mental health and happiness, and also potentially bad for your career.

    I don’t know if my advice will be helpful, but I’ll try. I will be honest- this is bare-bones, honest feedback. I had some very bad experiences early in my career that pushed me to recognize how little companies care about people, and give up on the idea of “fair”. So this isn’t ideal-state advice, it is real-world advice.

    First, recognize that corporate work is by definition unfair. I never expect my business to care about me – I approach everything with the assumption that I am just a meaningless cog that they don’t care about. That being said, I also separate out “my co-worker Lisa” from “the company”. So my co-worker and even my boss are nice people. I care about them. I think they care about me. I don’t expect them to make things “fair” when it comes to business. And so I treat negotiations and decisions that way – I go in knowing I’m going to have to fight for everything, even if I know I have earned it.

    What this does is free me from expectations and disappointment – and it also means that I make sure every career decision I make is in my best interest. Not saying I through co-workers under the bus- they’re in the same boat, so I try to support them, but I mean when it comes to dealing with stuff like salary or my expectations of “the company”. I don’t owe my company any loyalty – I stay because I like my work and I like my team, but if the time comes when it is better for me to leave, I will, and I won’t feel guilty.

    I also think it is still possible to speak up and have a voice – you just have to know when (or to whom) it is appropriate. If there is something that needs to be told to a board member, I don’t tell them. I tell my boss, and she informs upper management. The other thing I do is always treat everyone I work with with respect. This means that in some ways, I don’t actually use different language for higher-ups and regular co-workers. For example, I try to never to just straight out say “you’re wrong” in meetings/or groups. That doesn’t mean I ignore mistakes. But I know that pointing out someone’s mistake really publicly is embarrassing. So I try to find a gentle way to correct them or insert the correct information, without pointing out that they were wrong. (I absolutely talk to people about mistakes directly one-on-one, because that is how people learn.)

    The last piece is this….the system is broken. Not just your company- but all of capitalism (at least in my view). We’ve totally lost sight of compassion, and the system treats people like garbage. Mouthing-off to authority at your company will not change this. It probably will not even change your company. It could get you fired. So if you want to change things, try to focus on the things that will have impact. It will make you feel like you aren’t just letting “them” win, but it won’t put your job in jeopardy.

    1. Miles*

      This is really really excellent advice that I hope LW reads and thinks about. The system is broken, being mad at that brokenness won’t change it. The best we can do is advocate for ourselves, inject as much kindness and empathy towards our coworkers stuck in the same situation as the system allows, and not hold onto useless anger and resentment.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      This is all very true and if you want to survive in America you’ll have to learn to deal with it.

      However, we also have to understand that capitalism IS JUST A MADE UP AND ARTIFICIAL SYSTEM we happen live in. Technically, if we, the people were sick of it, we could reject it, refuse to play by those rules, and it would soon crumble.

      It’s happened many times throughout history.
      But that change never comes easy.

      And it does kinda suck that no one wants to rebel against it anymore because we’re all conditioned to be scared. Because it really is an unsustainable corrupt system. Let’s not pretend it isn’t.

  91. Allthebadfeels*

    I struggle with very similar issues. There’s a lot of anger and resentment when someone accuses you of being wrong or having made an area and you feel you were actually correct. Something that helps me is doing the following:

    Validate the what they are saying – I appreciate your feedback…thanks for clarifying…It helps to understand the bird’s-eye view that the board is seeing…I understand how you interpreted X that way…I empathize with your frustration…

    People don’t like being told they are wrong, have misinterpreted things, or being told no directly. You’re basically saying “Yes, and…” so that it sounds like you’re agreeing even as you attempt to give them an alternative view. It works best if you don’t sound angry, defensive, or like you’re trying to prove them wrong. As much as I want things done ‘correctly’, if the end client/boss/board doesn’t care and doesn’t want to listen to the subject matter expert, than all I can do is my best and let it go.

    I’ve spent a long time sitting on anger and frustration and it takes a lot of energy. It’s worth it to explore ways to let those negative feels go, or at lease how to minimize them or compartmentalize them.

  92. agnes*

    I think there is a clue in your letter–this idea that you feel like somebody has “won” when this happens. If you can reframe your thinking, it might help. This is not about you, or about your work. It is about THEM. People have their own petty needs to be right or to assert their authority sometimes. I sometimes tell myself–“this person is allowed to be wrong” or”this person is just stroking his own ego” and as long as their thinking doesn’t actually make me have to DO something that messes up my work, I find it easier to shrug it off.

    I draw the line when it comes to me having to alter work product to satisfy some higher up, if the alteration would actually damage the work product. That’s when I tell my boss–I realize you might have to do this, but I don’t want my name on it.

  93. Thoughts*

    1. Choose your battles. Sometimes someone being wrong doesn’t really matter and isn’t worth getting into. Play nice with the donors even when they say something stupid because at the end of the day they probably aren’t actually setting policy.

    2. Find a diplomatic way to push back that doesn’t sound rude but also doesn’t make you feel like you aren’t standing up for yourself. Try out different ways to phrase things until you find one you are comfortable with.

    3. Try not to have an “us vs them” mindset when it comes to management. In a well run company you should have the same goals and be on the same team.

    4. Not all companies are run by idiots. If you feel like yours is, keep looking. If you work for someone you respect, it will be a lot easier to feel like you are on the same team and you won’t default to confrontation when you disagree.

  94. Tinker*

    So, like, mood.

    I also am pretty solidly established as not being terribly impressed by hierarchy, and the strategy I’ve found to be largely successful in dealing with that is pretty much openly owning it and leaning into it.

    By this I don’t mean having blowout arguments with managers about the unfairness of the system, but rather something more like treating it as a given that I am the other person’s peer on a human level and that I properly have an equal seat at the table with them albeit one with a different set of responsibilities — the way we relate then stems from there. Like: “I hear what you’re saying here and it makes sense that you would view the problem this way. I don’t quite see it that way; from my perspective there are these other things that I don’t think you know about, and because of that I think our solution also needs to include these other elements.”

    I’m reflecting and acknowledging them because they are my peer. I’m telling them my perspective in a fair and measured way because I am their peer. When they decide on something, I will endeavor to implement what they have asked for because a) division of labor benefits both of us; that decision is their job and other decisions are mine b) often, in my professional judgment, the best way to adjust an idea that isn’t quite right is to do it, collect results, and make the case for change using those results.

    Obviously, that sort of approach only works in certain contexts — but my experience has been that there are a lot of people out there who appreciate a sort of “straight shooter” persona especially if you do so in a way that isn’t abrasive.

    Some of the stuff described in the original letter sounds like a bit more of a “surrounded by assholes” kind of problem, and not necessarily a universal truth.

  95. TCO*

    OP, it sounds like you’ve also worked in an office with a higher emphasis on hierarchy than some offices. I’ve worked in places like that and I also found it really difficult. I didn’t feel like my ideas mattered, even when I had deepest level of experience or insight about the topic at hand. I had little say over my own work. It drove me nuts the way we tiptoed around board members and treated them with this special exalted status that quite frankly they hadn’t asked for. They were normal, generally nice people who didn’t expect to be revered.

    I’ve also worked in places with much less hierarchy. I mostly work in smallish nonprofits, and there were places where a 25-person team included five layers of management and places where the same size team had two layers. It’s so different (and to me, so much better). I love the culture at my current job. It’s a relatively flat structure, and the structure we do have functions more as a division of responsibility than of power. Everyone is treated as if they have a lot of expertise to contribute (and they do!) and given space to influence our work. Our CEO makes a point of saying things like, “I’m not sure what to do about this one and I respect your opinion about it. What do you recommend?” and then actually taking people’s recommendations seriously. Yes, it’s still not always a democracy and there still are people whose decision-making authority trumps others’ but it usually doesn’t need to come down to that.

    And our board members are just treated like normal people–we consider ourselves fortunate to have their guidance but we don’t worship them. We have two-way dialogue with them, sometimes (often, in fact) in casual settings like over a beer. Some of those much-worshipped board members from a past job are now just colleagues and project partners from peer organizations, and it’s amazing how differently I am “allowed” to relate to them now.

    I wonder if it’s possible for you to screen for that in future jobs. A deeply political and tiptoe-y office culture often seems to be one with high levels of micromanagement, in my experience. Micromanagement really reinforces that hierarchy and makes me chafe against it. You could ask questions like, “What’s your decision-making structure? Who weighs in on what kinds of decisions, and when would I be expected to make decisions independently versus gathering input from the leadership team?” I’m sure there is more advice about screening for this in the archives here.

    I will also say that working in really political, hierarchical office environments, as difficult as it was, also helped me advance my career into my current leadership role. I learned so much about adapting to tough settings, when to die on the hill and when to walk away, and how to manage up and influence people above you. I am so relieved that I don’t have to spend my mental energy on those internal politics any more, but I’m also grateful for what they taught me. And now I’ve been able to grow into a role where I can help make our workplace climate inclusive, respectful, and productive for all of our staff regardless of their position on the org chart.

  96. Ms.Communication*

    OP, I started my career at a very flat organization and now work in a much larger and highly hierarchical one. In my role, I work with both Execs and “lower level” individual contributors – so I fully understand the tension you describe.

    My advice:
    – When you’re new at an organization, spend 60-90 days just listening and doing what is asked, before trying to make changes or “argue”. After this period you will better understand company culture and business goals and will have more credibility.
    – Find someone you trust and admire to mentor you and help you navigate company politics.
    – Pay attention to your word choices, timing and demeanor and mirror what you see others use successfully.
    – Sometimes execs and board members push their opinions as facts (I had to spend 2 hours editing a presentation because someone didn’t like the color blue) but sometimes they are privvy to information about company strategy, future initiatives, dependencies, etc that you aren’t. (Ex. An employee is upset that their proposal to optimize the teacup design was dismissed, but they don’t know that the company is in talks to shift to coffee cup design instead.)

  97. Rex*

    Hi there — you’re me at the beginning of my career — to the point that I was semi-affectionately nicknamed “bulldog” in one of my internships for my inability to let things go. A few pieces of advice:

    * With a little experience and humility, you’ll discover that sometimes senior people *do* know better than you. When you’re new, spend a little time getting the lay of the land, learning the context, asking questions, before you start pushing back. Try to pull back on your reflex and take that moment to reflect before you say anything.

    * Pushing back isn’t always the wrong thing to do! (In a healthy workplace.) But 1) think about how you phrase it (“have you thought about XX?” “can you tell me why we’re not doing YY?”) 2) be as sure as possible that you’re right — if you push back and you’re wrong, that can impact your reputation. But someone who is smart and thoughtful and can push back on bad ideas when they see them will be seen as an asset in a healthy workplace.

    * When you think about the kinds of jobs/ workplaces where you apply and work, don’t be afraid to ask culture questions and find the right fit!

  98. pleaset*

    “It really bothers me that higher-ups, larger donors, and board members behave pretty much however they want with impunity — that their rank or donation status entitles them to never be challenged, told they’re wrong, or pushed back against by those below them.”

    Certainly in many places there is too much deference to big shots as described. But if the OP is in a situation where these people do whatever they want with impunity and are never told they are wrong, it’s a deeply dysfunctional place and she should get out. The reality in high-performing organizations is that yes the big shots can be tremendously powerful, but they are checks on each other. And senior staff have a duty to challenge them sometimes.

    The OP should leave. If it’s a nonprofit organization and she’s told the board member is “going to be right no matter what” she should leave.

    For me I don’t think it’s worth fighting with big shots over small stuff. But substantive issues – yes, it’s my responsibility to sometimes challenge anyone.

  99. Kait*

    I sense you might “hate” office politics simply because you’re unaccustomed to the ways of working in “white collar” (or more corporate environments). Simply, “blue collar” workplaces are driven by, literally, the work–you put good work in = good output. “White collar” workplaces (at the top/corporate levels), highly relationship driven–there’s less tangible “product” or production to judge, so much of how you’re judged as an employee is really how other people feel about you.

    I think it’d be a good exercise to figure out what these higher ups you’ve eschewed are really looking for–maybe some of it is superficial, but it sounds like you actually want to learn how to swim with these big fish while staying true to your own personal brand. Just allow your idea of “personal brand” to be fluid and grow.

    Good luck!

  100. litprof*

    I completely understand your frustration, so I want to validate your feelings while also offering some suggestions for re-framing the situation that you might find helpful.
    1) There is nothing wrong with wanting to share feedback or contribute your own thoughts/ideas at work, even to those who are above you in the hierarchy. But I’m noticing a strongly adversarial perspective in what you wrote. Is it always necessary to see the situation as “me vs. them”? Try to think of your colleagues (even your bosses) as collaborators – you are all working to make your business/place of employment fulfill its mission as best as it can. If you can think of your work as a collaborative endeavor (rather than “I must tell them why I am right and they are wrong”) then you might feel less irritated by having to work within a hierarchy.
    2) Try to cultivate a sense of humility, not just about your work but about the possibility that you (and really, everyone) always has something to learn and could sometimes be wrong. Sometimes people make mistakes or misunderstand you and what you’ve done because they have a different perspective from you. In those cases, you can share your perspective in order to increase the available information and broaden the perspectives of others. If you can see it that way, you might be able to reduce any adversarial tone in your voice or mannerisms that are combative. Similarly, stop and reflect on whether there is anything you can learn from the situation – is it possible you were wrong, or did the best you could with limited input/information? The discrepancy between what you think/what your higher-ups think could be a moment of growth and professional development for you.
    3) The critical/adversarial tone in your letter makes me wonder whether you approach these situation with immediate anger, or whether you’re able to calmly reflect and then contribute your thoughts. If you jump straight to irritation and anger, then I agree with the other commenters that that is something to explore in therapy. It could be that you are feeling defensive, which prevents you from forming strong relationships with your colleagues. When we have positive and trusting relationships with colleagues, that lays the groundwork for giving honest feedback later.
    4)Not all organizations or fields are equally strict in their hierarchies. In some fields, it’s perfectly acceptable to offer corrections or clarifications to a boss, board member, etc. I once publicly disagreed with my university’s provost (and I am a lowly assistant professor), and it worked because I had previously laid the groundwork for a polite working relationship, I offered my opinion in the spirit of growth and consideration of alternative possibilities (rather than shooting him down) and because my institution welcomes that kind of input. At other organizations, my comments might have gone over poorly, but I knew the culture of my organization would permit me to say my two cents. Consider finding employers who value feedback, even from people low on the totem pol.
    5) Ultimately, you have to decide if the way you react to slights and errors from those above you is helping or hindering you in your career goals. Try to take the big picture perspective. What do you hope to accomplish in your current role or in your career, and what kinds of relationships do you need to cultivate to make that happen. You can disagree with people and still have productive working relationships, depending on how you approach the disagreement.

    Good luck!

  101. Gilmore67*

    I think the first thing you need to understand is that, offices, office politics, hierarchies and all that, is not about you.

    You seem to think that people in charge are your enemies and you are the truth fighter and need to fight anything you see “wrong” which apparently seems to be everything. You are going to save the day of all the injustices in the work world.

    Yes, sure, there are a lot of bad managers, bad decisions and rotten companies to work for. No argument there.

    But you seem to want to fight for your own reasons, for your own self-esteem reasons. You are going to tell that rotten manager that their decision about whatever is so wrong because…. it doesn’t make sense to you. And golly jeepers you are going to say what you are going to say because YOU CAN !!! Not going work.

    You want to argue for the sake of arguing. Now, I am not saying to not push back as needed. But you don’t seem to have a grasp on when to shut up and when to discuss (notice the word discuss) an issue. Bring forth a logical and factual and calm discussion on whatever it is you feel is an issue.

    But again I suspect office politics is not the issue. You just need to fight everything. You are going to give yourself a big headache and it won’t work either. If you pick on everything, your credibility goes down. “All this person does is complain and open their mouth. I am done listening”.

    Stop thinking in terms of the office politics and how rotten they are but rather how to conduct yourself, offer solutions, compromise and so on. And know that yes, lots of stuff sucks in companies and that is just the way things are.

    There are a lot of good companies and managers out there. Find the one that you click with.

    Ironically enough there is a guy I work with that basically said the same thing you did. We are in housekeeping for a company. His job is to pick-up trash (Hospital). I get a call, I call him. He tells me he hates being told what to do. I say tough luck (in so many words) it needs to get done. I don’t tell him to GET IT DONE NOW. He has been with the company for 35 years he knows the routine. There is no need for him to be a jerk to me for him to have to do… his job.

    Later we talk and I said everyone gets told what to do and so on. After the weekend, he came back to me and said.. “ I thought about you this weekend. I know I have a problem with all that because my Dad was really hard on me when I was a kid. So yes I have problems with people telling me what to do.”

    This was over a year ago. Now? He still hates being told what to do and I still tell him to suck it up. We are good.

  102. Meh*

    I feel the same way as the LW. It’s very hard to just “suck it up” and never fight for what’s right. Or to ignore unethical behavior in the workplace because the higher ups tell you it’s not your job to worry about it (but they don’t do anything about it either). When you do choose to rock the boat, make sure it’s for principles you feel extremely strongly about. Also make sure you have a leg to stand on. I’ve rocked the boat most of my career because I can’t stand it when people do and act wrong, but have been thrown overboard many times as a result, leading me to have to swim to another job and start all over again. It’s exhausting and it takes courage to stand up for yourself and for the principle of Right, so while you may feel good about yourself, it does usually come at a price unfortunately.

    1. BigRedGum*

      My sister has the same mentality. She is very clear in her morals and what she believes in, but she’s miserable at her job. I can’t stand the idea of being thrown overboard, but I will admit that the one time it did happen, my forced career change was So Much Better. Choosing your battles certainly does come at a price, but it’s something to consider when deciding what’s best for you. Meh has good advice, if you don’t mind the occasional walking the plank. I just want a stable paycheck, and a job where I can read ask a manager at work. That’s what I have now :)

  103. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I’m sympathetic, because I too have authority issues. However, I do very well with authority when I know the exact structure – a good org chart helps me a lot. I’m happy to take stupid orders from the person I know is my boss, but I’m damned if I’ll do something I know is stupid on the direction of someone horizontal to me with less experience in that task.

    Boards are complicated because although they direct the organisation at a macro level they typically know very little about the actual running of a business at the micro level. They know how they want their quarterly report laid out, but they have no idea whether you use Access or Excel or Post-Its to collect the data. If they start bellyaching about the formatting of columns in the big report, one has to shrug and just do it.

    It may be that LW is best finding an organisation with a clear and meritocratic hierarchy based on skills, training, experience, etc. Companies that pretend to be level can have mysterious and infuriating chains of command.

    But other comments about not taking it personally, picking one’s battles, and maximising (or faking) humility and cooperation are the way to go.

  104. Ilima*

    This was me before I went from employee to contractor. I clashed with my old boss repeatedly and had to keep my ego in check when I was working with her. I had more experience in certain areas and hated having to go along with her ideas when I knew they were wrong. After I left the company she hired me as a freelancer and our relationship completely changed. Something about seeing her as a client rather than a boss shifted my attitude. Appeasing and accommodating her no longer felt like selling out, but like a smart business decision. It also felt more like a relationship between equals, since we were both business owners and each of us was free to walk away at any time.

    If the OP continues to struggle with office politics, freelancing or self-employment could be liberating.

  105. armetta*

    I work in a very hierarchical company — one where tenure is explicitly valued above competence and achievement. I’ve enddd up working there for much longer than I would like for personal reasons.

    Early in my time, I would get incredibly frustrated by my leadership and organization thwarting my ability to deliver excellent work. Then I realized that they aren’t paying me to deliver excellent work. They are paying me to do what they say. I obviously still try my best and (selectively) advocate for myself and my positions, but at the end of the day they are paying me to do what they want me to do and I’m not going to drive myself to distraction trying to correct them if what they are asking for is suboptimal.

    I’m going to have to move on soon, as I have a growing team under me (so far all internal people assigned to me), and I would not be comfortable hiring someone from outside the company into such an organization (lots of people want to work there). But reframing the purpose of my job enabled me to stay for a good five years before I got to this point.

  106. AVP*

    ]I think it’s interesting to discuss whether you’re perpetuating these unhealthy power dynamics by participating in them, and if that’s a bad thing per se. I’ve thought a lot about this and I think…there’s really no way around that, unless you want to live fully off the grid. If you keep your job at a grocery store, you’re still buying into the system but in a way that allows you to tell yourself you’re not – which makes it just about your own ego, which means you’re perpetuating the same system everyone else is playing, no?

    For me, my own way to sort of object to this and live with myself while still needing to have a job and be a consumer is to make sure that I’m being extremely fair and as good of a boss/client as I can be to people down the line from me, vendors, people I have to interact with in life. I can’t really manage the egos of the people above me, but I can manage the experiences of the people below me to some extent, and that actually makes a small difference to others.

  107. Jubilance*

    Ok I might be in the minority here, but I think you have a terrible work environment and maybe this isn’t the place for you.

    I’ve only worked in large corporations, but I’ve never worked somewhere where I wasn’t allowed to push back or challenge a leader. Of course it has to be in context and done respectfully, but just a blanket “senior leaders are always right” mentality? Nope, and I couldn’t function in a place like that. I tend to treat everyone, from the janitor to the CEO, the same. It does take time & practice to understand how and when to challenge something, and maybe a mentor or just more time in your workplace can help you understand when the right time for that is.

  108. Consultant Catie*

    I think you’ve hit on one of the classic push-and-pulls of life in general — how things should operate in an ideal world, vs. how they really do operate.

    I had to learn how to navigate this struggle myself, and what helped me the most was asking myself this question: How can you make sure you can get what you need/do what you need to do, knowing that everyone is acting the way they will act and will not change? Yes, it may be unfair, and yes, they may be wrong, but you need to do whatever it is you need to do in order to accomplish your work goals. Once you decide what your goals are (getting promoted? getting a raise? finishing a project?), it makes it easier to navigate the feelings of “but this isn’t how it SHOULD be.”

    I know a lot of people who get stuck on the “should,” but if you can move yourself past that and acknowledge what just “is,” you’ll give yourself a lot less heartburn.

    Good luck!

  109. B*

    I’m surprised that this is framed as white collar = hierarchical, unequal, unfair, and highly political, blue collar = non-hierarchical, equal, fair, and non-political. The last time we had a discussion about white collar vs blue collar, one of the most frequent comments was that blue collar was very “us vs them” while white collar tended to not have such strong hierarchies and was more collaborative.

    1. GS*

      I think this letter writer is taking her blue-collar “us-vs-them” mentality and acting that way in her white-collar job. I think that’s exactly why she/he is having problems.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, there are a lot of hierarchies in blue collar work but it’s a different setup.

      Instead of “My Money and Education” being the ammunition for the bias, it’s “Well I’m not cleaning the toilets, you are. I’m doing more important things, despite us still being labor intensive.”

      But some offices are very rigid in their reporting structures. You never would speak to the CEO or a board member if you’re an intern or an office assistant kind of weirdness.

      I guess my current job had this weird structure in place years ago with a former CEO. They did everything they could to keep everyone in a line and you didn’t get to talk to someone above someone else unless you were “Granted permission” of some kind. It’s weird….my boss has been dismantling this steadily. When our owners come in, they’re paraded around and everyone is encouraged to speak to them candidly, ask questions and just be cool with them. But before they were whisked away into like secret chambers and kept away from the “peasants” I guess. Yikes city, blew my mind hearing about it. So when my boss was all “If Owner asks you questions, go ahead and tell him anything he wants to know!” my response was literally to laugh and say “Even if you told me not to, if he asks me anything, I’m going to be withholding any information from the dude who owns this place.” [Boss laughed with me because he’s just on auto-pilot with that speech and he hired me to be transparent AF, which is my MO]

    3. MoopySwarpet*

      I think that’s true, but in blue collar, there’s (typically) pretty well defined rules and plenty of black and white ways of doing things. The “us vs them” culture also means there is (generally) less mingling with people more than a couple levels above your rank.

      Working in the “blue collar” areas of a grocery store, you are not likely to ever even speak to a regional manager, let alone meet the CEO of the chain. Even more so if a union is involved.

      I do think when you get into the “white collar” areas, there is a lot more gray area and overlap due to collaboration and can be unpredictable depending on overall culture.

  110. Orchiddragon*

    I agree that you might not have the personality or temperament for this type of job environment. That does not mean you have a flaw, just a greater sensitivity and more outspoken than other people are. I cannot stand injustice from anyone no matter what their background is or what authority level they have. I believe that those who are high up in a hierarchy should have truly earned it and be held to a higher moral standard. They can have perks like a higher wage but not be at the expense of someone else.

    You need to be civil and polite. That does not mean you have to give respect. Sorry if others do not agree but respect is earned and is not a given right. As you probably well know, people are sensitive to anything involving time or money. Maybe others thought the board member was more entitled to [respect/be right no matter what/etc.] because the board member spent a ton of money on an education, years building their career, or playing the political game.

    I too have struggled with working in this environment and have changed jobs to avoid companies with board members and family-owned businesses. Learn to not take this authority and hierarchy game personally. It does serve a purpose no matter how flawed it is. Spend your energy on changing the things you can.

  111. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I also do want to echo that therapy may be great for flushing out your root cause on this as well, since it dates back to childhood.

    On a personal note, I was raised by parents who were not authoritative, my dad absolutely loathes being told what to do. His reaction to growing up with a mom who shaved his head and then being drafted, where again you have to keep it high and tight, was to come home and grow his hair and beard out. I learned early on that the best way to get him to do anything was to ask, never tell. My mom still hasn’t gotten that memo! “Why does he do what you say but won’t listen to me?” “It’s because I asked and carefully guided him to “making his own decision” which so happens was heavily influenced by my ability to lure people to choose the option I want them to” ;)

    This technique goes towards something you may be able to learn as well. I’m the person one step below leadership and leadership is often defaulting to me. It’s because I don’t tell them “You’re wrong! It’s actually this!” when they make a mistake or are going to make a bad decision. I say “Let’s look at it this other way, my experience in this situation is that it works best This Other Way.”

    It’s all about reworking your own mindset to adapt to those others. Then you get them eating out of the palm of your hand in the end and you’re suddenly up that ladder rubbing elbows with them and they don’t even really notice the shift.

    It’s all about approach. It’s also about trust. You have to trust them to a certain extent. If they show you that they can’t be trusted or they don’t want your input at all, it’s not the right spot for you or perhaps you’re being too aggressive or rubbing back against them all wrong. You can either adjust your approach and see if that fixes it or adjust your expectations at some point. You can’t judge everyone at first sight either.

    It’s unfair for them to judge you on your lower status, it’s also unfair to assume with their higher status that they’re going to disrespect you and treat you badly. You have to allow yourself to get real data on someone before making that decision. Just like you have to prove that you know what you’re doing. It all goes both ways.

    1. Gilmore67*

      Yes, great comments.

      One can’t just fight about everything all the time especially if it is to higher ups . Issues go both ways. If someone is initially aggressive in stance, thoughts and discussion that will be what people “hear” and see. Not the subject matter.

      One person we work with is smug, over-opinionated and always has to put her 2 cents in. It has led us to not care for the most part what she says. She is a ” I know more and you all are idiots” stance.

      Another gal, I will ask her opinion on something and boom.. ” I don’t think this will work because this reason… or yes, but maybe word it this way”. Totally love talking her. Great ideas and input.

  112. PrivetDrive*

    I’ve been there! Assuming you want to stay in this role, I would suggest:

    1. Find value in what you do. If you want to stay at this job, no matter how infuriating the hierarchy is, isolate what it is about this job that is valuable to you, and remind yourself of it often. If it’s a stepping-stone to get you the career you want, that’s great! If it’s a way to pay the bills, that’s also great! If it’s that you can be a positive coworker who makes the coffee for everyone in the mornings (while you look forward to your eventual exit), there’s value in that too. Figure out how to remind yourself why you show up every morning.
    2. Find what makes you happy/not stressed. When I was working a soul-crushing desk job, looking forward to the delicious-but-not-healthy coffee drink from the coffee machine was a way to get me in the door in the morning. If something was stressful during the day, or if there was something I didn’t agree with, I looked forward to a quick walk with a coworker, or to treat myself to a cookie from the bakery down the street (I don’t know why all of my stress relievers are food!) You need to figure out a way to de-stress and let go when there are things that you don’t agree with at work.
    3. Figure out what you can push back on. There are some things that are worth using your capital on to push back on, and there are some things that you’ll need to let go. Ask yourself- is this the hill I’m really willing to die on?
    4. Try to see things from a different perspective. I work in HR, so I often am involved in decisions where the motivations/reasonings aren’t clear to other team members. I can’t always spell out why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them- especially if it involves a complaint, another team member, etc. So, while I may have the best reason for handling something a certain way, I can’t always be totally transparent. Keep this in mind when decisions are happening that you don’t agree with. There’s always more to the story.
    5. Figure out what you can change. At one of my jobs, it drove me nuts that we didn’t have any of our processes written down or that we weren’t properly tracking our projects. So, I created those things for myself, and when my boss found out, she was ecstatic. Find the things that you can improve- it will make you feel like you’re making a difference.
    6. Find a workplace (either now, or someday) that doesn’t have this much of a hierarchy. There are companies out there where you’re encouraged to ask questions, make mistakes, and give feedback feedback feedback! It sounds like you may not be at one of those companies, but they do exist!

    Best of luck as you navigate this. You’re not the first person to struggle with this and you won’t be the last!

  113. Alexaplay*

    I think a lot of people approach work in this solar system mentality. Like the Sun is the CEO/Board/you name it with everyone looking out and just trying to get a little heat/energy/signal from this sometimes distant/sometimes not center of it all. And that the assumption is that people who are closer or telling you what it is they see that you can’t (or get more than you get just by proximity) are somehow better. I think the real shift here is to realize that in so many ways YOU are the Sun. Not of the company but of your work. Yes, you need to follow the rules within the structure but if you focus on your work and the quality of what you are doing and – not ignore all that other stuff but take it in as what it is and not your lifeblood – really see what you are doing as putting effort/heat/energy/what have you out there to better affect those around you and your product or work or whatever… it helps. It actually gives very little power to those above you in the chain at least within your own head space and lets you focus on what really matters – your productivity and quality of work. That’s what is going to get you recognized and in some ways get to a place where you are closer to the policy or decisions and can make whatever changes you want for your inevitable team.

  114. Stepinwhite*

    I’ve been in office politics for decades. They differ. So, not all office environments are as you describe. In some places, you can have a bit more freedom to speak up and correct misinformation or misunderstandings. Other places, the egos up above are pretty solid and folks walk around on egg shells. Humans are individuals, and that goes for CEOs and board members just the same as it does for everyone else. That being said, there is a WAY to assert yourself. Saying, “No, you’re wrong” or “that’s not true” will often ruffle feathers, especially when done in a group setting. Saying something like, “Oh, that’s a great concern. I can see how you think that, because ‘X,Y,Z. It’s actually a little different…” and then go on to explain. So, basically massage the language a bit when you’re talking with higher ups or talking with anyone in a group. No one likes to be made to feel stupid or corrected in front of others. That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth (and, believe me, I share your frustration!)

  115. Cyrus*

    Two quick tips, and beyond that, some questions/comments about things I didn’t understand, basically.

    1. Ask about issues like that in the job interviews. How hierarchical is the place? How easygoing is the manager? How much would your job have to interact with your boss’s boss or boss’s boss’s boss? How much of that interaction would be one-way reports, vs. getting your next assignment? Things like that. You can’t be certain about this stuff in advance, but it varies from one job to the next and you can usually get an idea how hierarchical a position is before you take it.

    2. Divorce yourself a bit from the job. It’s not my life and it’s not my baby, it’s just a paycheck. If I’m not in charge, then in the end, the important thing is not that management does things my way. It would be nice if they did, I might think the business would do better that way, but it’s not the important thing. The important things are that they’re happy with my performance, that I’m happy with the job, and that I have the resources I need to do the job. If I want to do something a certain way, but they want me to do it another way that takes twice as long… it may be annoying, but as long as they give me twice as much time, it’s not actually a problem. If I think a document makes more sense in one format and they think it makes more sense in another, I can make that change, as long as they’re clear about how they want it. Same for most other disagreements with management.

    As I said, I was confused about the question. It’s been a long time since I worked in a really blue-collar job, but they seemed MORE hierarchical to me than office jobs, not less. And the example about correcting a board member sounded so weird I wondered if we had the whole story, until people in comments started talking about the nonprofit sector. All I can say is, I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered anything like that, working on big and small for-profit companies. When I’ve disagreed with management, sometimes I’ve been able to get my way with a logical argument or appeal to a third party, and more often I’ve just reminded myself that it’s just a job, but I’ve never been reprimanded for correcting an unambiguous mistake.

    1. BigRedGum*

      Unless a board member was just outright telling harmful lies in front of me, I can’t imagine saying anything. There’s no point. Rarely will you win going up against them. I like what you said about ‘it’s just a job.’ That’s how I’ve felt about the majority of the jobs I’ve had, and I love it. I have no obligation to work more than 40 hours, I don’t care what other people do or if they’re wrong, because I’m still getting the same paycheck. This might make me jaded, but it sure does help me have a happy work life balance.

  116. GS*

    I read this once about blue collar background people – they tend to be more openly adversarial in the workplace. Basically the idea that if you don’t appear tough/strong, other co-workers will run all over you. So maybe work on that attitude you have – that it’s you and the board member/your bosses “battling”? That you’re afraid they’re going to “get you” somehow? You’re colleagues, collegial, collaborative, working toward a common goal. Keep saying these things in your head. It’s NOT them vs. you, it’s you ALL working for your company/organization.

    Your bosses telling you what to do and giving you structure is not pushing you around. That’s what a job is, it’s not a personal insult. And here’s the thing – for this privilege of telling you what to do, they give you lots of money! It’s so worth it! If you need to be the big man/big woman, you can do this in your family, your community, your head, wherever. You don’t always get this at work, so just work on letting it go.

  117. BigRedGum*

    I currently work for a huge university, and there are lots of ways to get involved in processes and changes if you want, but it’s so big, it makes it easy to just sit back, do my job, and get a paycheck.
    I used to work for a HUGE global bank and that was pretty wild. The higher ups did whatever they wanted, but the pay was decent, my immediate coworkers were fine, and the benefits were amazing.
    For me, at the end of the day, if I don’t outright hate the job, the paycheck is usually what wins for me.

  118. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    I work in academia, a field where hierarchy is very important. People with PhDs are basically unassailable, while staff members have to take the brunt of a lot of blame and “emergencies” at the behest of those on the paper-producing end of the research. I have been thrown under the bus, I have had someone go past me to staff members working on my projects to announce an emergency that wasn’t, and I have been cross-examined over small errors like in that letter yesterday.

    It’s very frustrating.

    The way I frame it is, I am learning to assert my own knowledge and authority in appropriate ways to people who I know may have less knowledge than I do about a given project, despite them thinking they know it all. I am learning to deal with difficult or unreasonable people. I am learning to take better notes and document EVERYTHING so that it is harder for someone to throw me under their bus. While I don’t agree with the power structure, it’s really important for me to realize that questioning the structure itself only serves to make me upset, angry, and frustrated. As Alison noted in her comment, I really value getting paid, having health insurance, and having enough vacation to see my out of state family a few times a year, so it can help to think of my job right now not as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream or the reason I wake up in the morning or whatever, but as “the job that pays me”. And anyways, often these people’s issues are not about me but about their own need to assert dominance or feel like they are the smart one, so it’s better for me to just let them feel that way and choose to laugh rather than cry when it’s directed at me.

  119. Bree*

    A focus on “choosing your battles” might help. When you have to swallow the smaller stuff, think of it as building/saving your influence for the things that really matter. Because there are times when it’s appropriate and important to speak up against authority – you just need to be strategic and thoughtful about choosing those moments, and then diplomatic in how you do so.

  120. Metikon*

    1) Not all white collar workplaces are like that. I’ve never worked somewhere where I point blank wasn’t allowed to correct someone above me, however,

    2) HOW you make that correction is extremely important. This is something you’ll need to learn as you go, by observing others. In my workplace this sounds like “that’s a good point, and we also need to remember that ____” or “actually, in this case its _____” or “I think its important for us to keep in my that ______”, Basically not saying “you’re wrong” but just stating the true thing that needs to be stated, with whatever professional nicety you can tack onto it.

    3) if you know already that this is coming from childhood experiences, that makes this the PERFECT thing to take to therapy. Literally therapy exists to free us from old patterns that aren’t useful anymore so that we can make fresh, nuanced, appropriate decisions moving forward.

    Bottom line, it sounds like that workplace where you were told the board member would always be right was a BS place to work. As much as you can, try to approach this new workplace with a clean slate. Good luck!

  121. dorothyparker*

    For me it comes down to a few things:
    1) Don’t stop questioning! My org has a very top down approach that a lot of people dislike but I’ve found certain leadership who are willing to listen when I have a concern. In a society driven by capitalism to an upsetting degree, we need people to ask questions about why/how people in power have the sway that they have.
    2) You can only control what you can control. I voice my concerns and try my best to push that forward and feel as though I’ve done what I can. I also use it as motivation to work hard, build my experience, and get myself into one of those leadership positions in the future so that I can disrupt that norm in a different way.

  122. Robin Ellacott*

    I think it’s worth saying that “board members are right no matter what, even when they are factually, demonstrably wrong” is an unusually ridiculous message and I don’t think most offices would be that extreme. I could see a reasonable employer being concerned with the tone of the correction more than that she pointed out an area in which a board member was mistaken. I’m a senior manager and would have zero issue with someone junior correcting me unless they did it rudely, or in a weird moment like interrupting a presentation to correct a minor misstatement.

    Maybe start out with an observe and understand mindset, where you try to get a feel for things and understand them well. Anyone would be annoyed if a new person who doesn’t know any context seems to be correcting or criticizing them.

    Offer any feedback/questions in a collaborative rather than challenging tone, using the word “we” when possible. Once you have built some credit you absolutely CAN advocate for changes, increased fairness and so on, but you need to understand the big picture well and have built a reputation as reasonable before people will listen much.

    And take a good amount of time to settle in before being convinced senior staff can do whatever they want – sometimes people do legitimately earn privilege or flexibility or whatever by being there a long time and being very valuable due to accrued knowledge. And maybe that path is open to you too, so it’s not actually inherently unfair.

    If once you’ve taken a good look and tried to be dispassionate, it is clearly toxic, filled with nepotism and unfairness, or whatever, that particular office stinks and I would try to get out ASAP.

  123. Dadolwch*

    I’m sympathetic and share much of your frustration, OP, but you need to figure out a more constructive way of dealing with your angst. Fairness and even objective truth are often not as valued as status when any power structure is involved. Of course, the amount of disparity varies depending on the culture of each workplace, but it sounds like yours leans heavily into the authoritarian end. Given that, you need to make some decisions about whether or not this is the right place for you.

    If you do want to stay, you need to find some ways to accept the current dynamic – such as seeking out professional counseling, self-help resources, or even just meditation. Whatever may work to help you accept that this is how your workplace functions. You can also do things to help shift the culture there; maybe see if there are any cross-department committees you can join that might help promote a more open and collegial atmosphere. Does your workplace have a Diversity and Equity committee you can get involved with? Or maybe talk to your manager or the HR department about planning more casual gatherings where staff and the board can mingle and get to know each other better. Heck, even party-planning committees have a lot of influence in work culture. My point is: don’t let anger and frustration be the focus of your disappointment – do something constructive with that motivation. It may not move the needle much, but you’ll at least have done something to help.

  124. Brian*

    When I started researching cognitive biases and logical fallacies in the workplace, because I am an armchair psych nerd, I learned about something called survivorship bias and selection bias… in a nutshell, it means that it’s easy to think you know more than your boss because you a) see the things going wrong, and b) you know what would be needed to fix those things. But what you DON’T see in that scenario is c) all the things that are going RIGHT because of the decisions your boss has made, and d) all the secondary problems your boss is pro-actively preventing that your approach might damage or upend in some way. It’s feels like a subtle distinction, but it was a huge “Aha!” moment for me that has served me so incredibly well in my career. Now I approach problems much less like a smug know it all and much more like a problem solver who is willing to consider all kinds of different perspectives and give folks the benefits of the doubt… almost everyone I have worked with, in retrospect, was just doing the best they knew how – but at the time I saw it as gross incompetence, or some sort of personal affront to my morals and values. I know better now. I see such a tiny sliver of information compared to the big picture, and even then my perspective is deeply biased. My work life is so much more pleasant as a result!

  125. Lilysparrow*

    It sounds like you had some bad experiences in the past, that may have been partly driven by your own background or communication style, but most likely also involved bad management! There are toxic organizations out there, but not all of them are like that, I assure you. (You can learn to navigate politics in toxic environments, too – but it’s a lot more work and usually not worth it.)

    The most important thing to remember about the org chart is that it isn’t personal. It’s about roles and decisions. Your role = what you need to get done, and what you are responsible for deciding. “Lower level” roles have a smaller circle of decisions to make, that affect a smaller number of people or tasks (maybe even just yourself). “Higher level” roles make bigger-picture decisions that affect more people and have a bigger impact on the business as a whole. Parallel roles affect similar numbers of people or impact, but in different topics.

    That’s it. Authority doesn’t mean that the person is special. It means that they are responsible for that category of decisions.

    Higher-level roles also carry a wider scope of knowledge to make those strategic decisions. Lower-level roles have granular knowledge to see problems and opportunities up-close, but may not be aware of all the factors involved in acting on those issues. In a large or complex enough organization, this just makes sense, because nobody could process that much info on both levels at once.

    My experiences working as a lower-level employee in an extremely hierarchical white-collar environment (secretary in law firms) taught me that you can say anything to nearly anybody, and be listened to, as long as:

    a) You have built credibility by showing yourself to be both knowledgeable and reliable.

    b) You have demonstrated understanding of the big-picture priorities and larger business strategy of your job, not just the day-to-day tasks.

    For example, part of the soft skills of my job was to retain high-value clients and encourage referrals to their high-value network, by making them feel that they were getting “white-glove” service from an exclusive, top-notch provider. Another important function was to understand my boss’s priorities, so that I could flag things that were worth interrupting or changing his schedule for, while deflecting lower priority requests or handling them myself when possible. Repeatedly “doing the right thing the right way” builds your credibility over time.

    c) You demonstrate understanding of your role and how it fits into the other roles around you – up, down, and laterally. You develop relationships that show respect for that person’s knowledge and expertise, while sharing information that they need but may not have direct access to. That means, once you’ve flagged a potential problem or solution, if you are not the decision-maker about what needs to be done, you leave that info with the decision-maker and walk away.

    In many cases, your role should interact with your direct manager, and it’s their decision about whether to elevate something to the C-suite or the board. In others, you might collaborate directly with top management, but with the understanding that the final decision isn’t your responsibility.**

    d) You use collaborative language and tone, demonstrating that you are all on the same team with a common goal.

    **Obviously, I’m talking about business decisions, not legal or safety issues. Though in some cases, flagging “that course of action is legally/ethically questionable” is all you can do.

    1. Lilysparrow*

      Specifically to the situation with “correcting” the board member who misunderstood something you’d worked on, that sounds to me like a combination of “b” and “c”.

      Understanding the business purpose/impact would mean that you get why this thing *would* be a problem, if it really happened that way.

      And collaborative language emphasizes that you want the same outcome that they do.

      So you don’t address that by “correcting” the board member and “standing up for yourself.” That’s needlessly argumentative, and wastes time & energy by creating interpersonal conflict over a misunderstanding – it makes a problem where there was no actual problem.

      Instead, you want to validate their concern, and then reassure them that the bad thing didn’t happen. A good thing happened instead.

      “Oh, did it seem like X? Oh, no, don’t worry about that. This was actually taken care of by doing Y, to make sure there was no risk of X. Of course we wouldn’t want X, so that’s why we set up Y well in advance, which also saved us 40 percent on the fees.”

  126. fortheloveofspreadsheets*

    One thing you might find helpful is to remember that that additional “power” you describe comes with tremendous amounts of responsibility. At the end of the day, it’s the board of directors, ED, CEO, or whomever who is called out and made to answer for errors. You can make this work for donors as well by remembering that the majority of their life revolves around a similar position of authority that can trickle down to places where they don’t have any authority. Do you really want to be in that person’s shoes?

  127. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I was raised in an uber-blue collar home. My father was Red Forman with a much nastier personality, an abusive man in every way you can imagine. He was raised on a farm in the deep south during the Depression, moved north after his stint in WWII, and his life revolved around a very basic belief: Rank Has Its Privilege. We kids had to obey him without hesitation, and he did whatever his boss told him to do even if he knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    In high school, I wanted to take an after school job in fast food, and needed parental approval since I was 15. My father thought I should work at his warehouse – for less money, I might add – and I said no. His response was a literal slap across my face, and he yelled at me: ‘What, do you think you’re better than me? You’ll take the job and do whatever the boss tells you. If he tells you plant bushes root side up, you do it.’ I am not embellishing this event, and I took the job in fast food by faking his signature. My mother wouldn’t sign, either. Because RANK.

    OP, make no mistake. People of all walks of life assume insult and incompetence when maybe they shouldn’t, and hierarchy exists everywhere. We need to manage our assumptions, and learn to navigate through our work life as best we can. After 35+ years in a corporate setting, I’ve learned it’s easier and more productive to simply accept people as they are. Until and unless I have a reason to suspect otherwise, I assume the best intentions and capabilities in my leadership team, peers, and subordinates.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My grandfather was not quite this but he definitely had it in him, and I’m convinced it was a major factor in my mother going to graduate school (to avoid coming home and doing as her parents told her until she got married).

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’m sorry to hear that. If your grandfather and my father were alike, your mother must have had some difficulty making arrangements for college. My father roared at me when I brought home college catalogs from my high school – I was acting better than everyone else, and no daughter of his was going to forget where she belonged or get above herself. Again, I’m not embellishing.

        1. Temperance*

          My mother tried to get me to go to community college and later, drop out entirely. I was apparently trying to be something I’m not.

  128. Dan*

    OP,

    I’m just to going to run with the “life’s not fair” aspects of the post for a sec. You’re right, it’s not. But the reality is that we can’t agree on what’s fair anyway. Some may think it very much is fair that if you have money you get what you want.

    But I’d have a hard time working somewhere where people *do not* want the truth.

  129. Louise*

    I’m a full blown communist so I Get It. The way I think about it is basically, this is the price I have to pay to have an income that’s stable enough to live and help my friends when they need it, and do my anti-capitalist work outside of the office. I work at a non profit so I justify it saying that I work within the system by day and outside the system by night.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I mentioned above: Even Socialist (and Communist) countries end up with elite classes. Avoiding Capitalism wouldn’t solve this, either.

  130. AnonyMouse*

    For specific situations like donors being wrong about some topic just remind yourself that people have the right to be ignorant. It’s not your job to educate the board members on how something works or what your job is so you may as well just let it go rather than waste your time and effort making them understand.

  131. Rick Tq*

    OP, you may be better off changing to the commercial/for-profit space to get away from the unique non-profit power dynamics regarding Donors and Board Members. Donors *give* money to the organization, and if they decide to close their checkbook next year there isn’t a lot you can do about it but the damage to the organization will be real. Since Donors pay the piper they do get to call the tune. Same thing with Board members, they are volunteers responsible for managing the organization AND keeping the Donors happy.

    Think back about your correction of the Board Member. Was her error going to have any affects, or was she just confused about your project? I’ve fought a compulsion to correct errors made in my presence for many years but I’ve finally learned to only respond to errors that can cause problems down the line for me or my company. Inconsequential errors or (especially) ones made by my competition don’t need to be corrected.

    There will ALWAYS be hierarchies at work and RHIP is a thing, and even sole practitioners have to deal with “the Customer is always Right”..

  132. Frankie*

    LW…I think a lot of what you say is accurate about “typical” office hierarchies. In some cases they can be very top-down and unfair. I’ve never worked in a job where I thought everyone in a particular department had a perfectly equitable or fair experience, and I’ve worked in some decent working environments.

    But I do also find it helpful to remind myself that I don’t have all the information that managers or directors do (and I’m usually happier that way). There’s a discretion required of most managers that needs to be balanced with transparency. This means from the outside things might seem arbitrary and unfair (and sometimes they definitely are) when there might be information you don’t have that would make better sense of everything.

    There are definitely blowhards who get to the top (or even get to the middle) and don’t want to hear anyone else’s opinions (or objective facts). But assuming that’s always the case, or that those who have a higher position in a hierarchy are always abusing it, is setting you up for unhappiness, and is also probably preventing you from seeing situations more objectively.

    The truth about office hierarchy is that those in higher positions are allowed to make final calls and allowed, at times, to have things according to their preference. In theory, they have to handle a lot more, are responsible (even liable) for a lot more, too.

    But viewing it as by default unjust and unfair is probably not completely accurate. I would ask why you want to keep living and struggling in that reality when what’s really going on is likely more nuanced and less black/white.

  133. MB*

    I’ve been at the same company for over 20 years. Started at the bottom and have worked my way up. I have challenged many people every step of the way, and I have taken many beatings and knives in the back. But I have also learned to pick my battles, balance work with my outside life, been promoted several times, demoted once (and that would be one of those challenging authority and losing stories) and then promoted 3 levels up in one leap after the demotion. I’ve increased my salary 400% in those 20+ years.

    I’m not bragging. What I’m doing is pointing out that by learning how to put my goals first, I benefitted in the long run. First I had to learn humility, loss, embarrassment, which hills to die on, when it doesn’t matter if I’m right, when to give them enough rope to hang themselves, and this is really hard, learn that maybe someone knows more than me and to recognize that I’m wrong. I’ve learned that if I tell someone, “it’s my job to do tell you/do this, and if I don’t, I’m not doing my job. You can do what you want with the information,” and then I walk away.

    Someone commented earlier that you shouldn’t care more about the company than the company does. I agree. But I also think that you should care more about yourself than the company does (and I know you already do). So you need to figure out what’s more important – pushing back against authority and being “right,” or making a decent living so that you can live outside of work however you want to – support your family, save for retirement, travel wherever you want, go to plays and concerts, eat at fancy restaurants or BBQ joints to your heart’s content, donate to charity – whatever it is. You live well and do well because that’s the “right” you choose.

    Many times I’ve had to remind myself that always being “right” doesn’t pay my bills. And here’s a very satisfying thing that has happened. I’ve been here long enough to see when what I predicted has come true. Who do you think they come to for help? Me. I put a smile on my face (complain at home), help, and get a nice raise & bonus for it that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had fought to the death the first (or second, or third) time around.

    Good luck, and please keep us updated.

  134. Beth*

    First, take a deep breath. Then let it out. repeat as needed.

    Now the hard part: most of what we call “office politics” is just how people are. Try calling it “small-group dynamics”, and assign yourself the task of observing it as an undercover agent. When you see someone behave in a way you dislike, instead of immediately associating it with a large assumed pattern of iniquity, just look at what the person did, who they are, and why they might have done it. Allow for the possibility of human error, incomplete information, and insufficient resources for making better decisions.

    This may feel inauthentic, and I’m guessing that you place a very high value on personal integrity and authenticity. It may help to think of your role at work as just that — a role. You are being paid to play a character in a very long-running show. You are not the lead character in this show; you’re part of the supporting cast. Outside of work, it’s more likely to be your show and you get to be the lead, at least part of the time. Playing the supporting cast role in the Work Show does not make your most important role, that of Yourself in your own life, a lie or a study in hypocrisy. Learn from your work role, and it can enrich your authentic self.

    Bear in mind: You are not going to be able to save the world from wide-scale abuses of power by thrashing against small local blips. You can, however, lose your job, which will damage your own life and your future hopes of making a difference.

    If nothing else, you’ll come to know the enemy better, and that’s extremely useful. You may poossible learn that they aren’t the enemy, and that’s useful also.

  135. austriak*

    First, not all organizations are like this. I have worked with higher ups who are not like this at all. Based on what you said, it sounds like you work for a non-profit. There are some really great non-profits out there. Unfortunately, there are a ton of them that are just managed so incredibly poorly.

    Second, take a step back and really assess whether you are in the right or not. Do they really not know what they are talking about or do you need to listen to them more?

    Lastly, you are not going to be happy there no matter what. Move on.

  136. Anonforthis*

    Something may not feel like it’s “who you are” today, but the reality is that for the most part you have TOTAL control over who you WANT to be and who you become. Our personalities and preferences are not unassailable traits carved into stone. You weren’t born with all of the skills and abilities you would ever need…you were expected to grow up, to mature. The attitude that “everyone should appreciate and accept me for who I am without demanding anything of me” is fine if you’re a really truly lovely person with no flaws, but the reality is that we all have behaviors/thought processes/etc that we need to work on, and skills we need to gain, to be better at working with other people. This isn’t unique to you, it’s everyone. Some people really prioritize this and they get really good at it. It’s not something that came naturally to me so I had to work hard at it, but over the years it’s gotten easier.

    If I was your manager, here’s the career coaching advice I would give you: your current self-perception of “I am a person who rebels against authority in the following ways” is going to be very self-limiting for you. I used to think when I was starting out in my career that I always had better ideas than my managers, and would get really frustrated when they didn’t do things a certain way because my way was so much easier/more practical/etc. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve come to understand that there are almost always good reasons for not doing those things that I didn’t have insight into and that my manager couldn’t necessarily share. Something that seems like a tiny renaming change might affect multiple departments, or change the way data is stored in a system, or trickle down to a consumer using the product. Unless you’re in a higher-level tier with exposure to those things, you have no way of knowing.

    You said that you feel like you’re being complicit with a bad system. You need to decide what is more important to you: the self-righteous validation of being right about everything, or gaining authority and power to take action against the systems of injustice that you see in the world. Things are very, very often not as black and white as they seem to be on the surface, and one of the things you learn as you mature is that there are often multiple ways of looking at an issue. That doesn’t mean that some things aren’t objectively right or wrong or unethical/etc. It means that sometimes the solution isn’t always immediate or actionable and that things are compliated. This isn’t cynical — it’s just understanding the reality of the world. Once you peel back layers of the onion you will see more and more. It still makes sense to get angry about things sometimes, but if you just go through life in a constant state of rage, you’ll be incredibly ineffective.

    I would hope that you can work on reframing the way you view people enough to one day advance in your career, and grow to be a person in leadership that can help others. Leadership and hierarchies aren’t inherently bad in and of themselves. Not everyone wants to be a leader, and a good leader has to shoulder a lot of difficulty and stress that other people don’t have to deal with. Good leaders work to serve the people they lead, and create benefit and opportunity for others. You can be one of those people if you want to be, and you don’t have to way until you have a particular title at a job to start down that path.

    I would also encourage you to reframe your thought process about other people — sometimes people are abusive and villainous, but most people in good office cultures are just trying to do their jobs well and provide for their families. People aren’t being malicious when they disagree with you or push back on something. They’re just trying to do their job. If you can start to believe that some people are trustworthy and learn to listen well, make others feel heard because you value them as human beings with inherent dignity and worth, then the office politics will take care of themselves. You won’t have to be inauthentic or posturing, because you will authentically care about the people you work with, and that will express itself in different, appropriate ways. If there are truly abusive things going on, find another job as fast as you can and get out of there — but the majority of what you’re describing doesn’t sound like abuse to me.

    Lastly, think about the people in your life that you most admire, and talk to them about how they navigated similar work situations. Don’t seek out people who think about things exactly the same way you do because that will only reinforce negative thought patterns. Try not to vent too much about what’s bothering you, but frame things with the future in mind. If I want to go from A to B, what would I need to change in order to accomplish that goal?

    Good luck to you.

    1. Meercat*

      There is a lot of helpful advice in this. And I must admit, I started my career thinking I had a lot of great ideas and why oh why wouldn’t anyone listen to them. Until you’re the team lead for the first time and a new team member (or someone from another team who isn’t an expert in your field but still thinks they know stuff – I used to work in event management, so you know everyone who’s ever organised a wedding thinks they can do that job) has all these grand ideas and you’re like: Uhm, yeah we thought about that about 2 years ago, and dismissed it; or: Well, I can see immediately how this wouldn’t work but now I gotta take 20 minutes for the 3rd time in a week to explain it to you.
      I always suggest new hires to take some time and listen and learn for 3-6 months, but to please write down every single one of these ideas and thoughts of ‘how can this be done so much better’. After 6 months they will have dismissed 75% of what they’ve written down, but there may be some really valuable insight in those last 25% (because you do want to hear those fresh eyes perspectives and get fresh ideas).

  137. Anonforthis*

    I spent many years working my way up in the grocery business hierarchy and what you describe in terms of politics and people who could get away with murder was definitely present there. Consider yourself fortunate that you were somewhat insulated from it. Believe me, it was there.

    What worked for me was to find a job in a different field as an individual contributor/subject matter expert. I’m close enough that I can smell the bullshit, but I’m not rolling around in it (or slinging it around). Stick around long enough and you learn who can help you, where the bodies are buried and who to avoid.

  138. Amy bo Bamy*

    And I still have that little voice in my head that says that if I stop pushing back against authority and hierarchy, I’m essentially “giving up” and “letting them win.”

    I have struggled with these same issues for a long time. My solution is to stop pushing back every single time, in order to accumulate some good standing, and then push back HARD on important things. I was working in non-profit for many years, hoping to find an escape from power dynamics ruling everything, but it’s just as bad if not worse in that sector. I’ve changed my entire career path in order to go straight into managerial-type positions, and my goal is to get into a position of power and DISRUPT some stuff when I get there. This helps me feel like I have a mission, and helps me overlook the day-to-day fuckery because I have a larger purpose.

    Before I came to this solution, I tried a lot of ways to spend less time in the workplace, up-to-and-including I became voluntarily homeless so that I could radically reduce my expenses, and therefore reduce my need to be in an oppressive workplace structure for so many hours of my life. This was not livable for me. There’s really no possibility of being “outside the system.” So, figure out where you can be most impactful on disrupting this very wrong system, and get yourself into that position. Make it better for yourself and others. Hope to see you out there!

  139. Sleepy*

    ٍWith regards to not being able to correct people who are higher-up than you–Something I have struggled with is realizing that in many cases it’s not *whether* you issue corrections to higher-ups, but *how*. I come from a white-collar household so this isn’t necessarily a class issue for me, but more a personality issue which I’m working on adjusting.

    I’ve noticed that when I corrected people higher-up than me, while I did so politely and no one took offense, neither did people seem to actually hear, respond to, or take into account my point. I noticed that others in my office were much better at gracefully pointing out mistakes in ways that made people say, “Oh, good idea.” I’ve been trying to use them as models and improve the way I give feedback so that it gets heard. I’ve had to let go of the idea of just being right, and focus more on the intended outcome and what will get me there. You could frame it as being forced to function in a horrible heirarchy, but for me I try to look at it as a chance to understand how to be persuasive and improve my communication skills.

  140. Heat's Kitchen*

    I’m very similar to you. A few thoughts …
    1. Before you get a job, ask questions around how employees work with upper management. Is there an open door policy? How transparent is the organization? Do they dictate work or is that managed at a lower level? This might help get you in the door where everyone’s opinion is valued. My last companies have very much been this way – I’m in the tech world, working in agile development, which tends to lean towards more transparency.
    2. When you first start, try to give a month or two to stay quiet. Learn a little bit about these colleagues and how the rest of the organisation handles them.
    3. Learn to say your opinion, but also realize you aren’t always going to be the one making the decision, and some times you will have to get on board. In the end, someone has to take ownership, and that’s usually above your pay grade. “Fergus, I don’t think getting rid of the coffee machines is going to be good for morale …. here’s the reasons why ….” But Fergus says budget needs to drop and this is what happens. “Well, I’d expect some attrition then.” And leave it at that.

  141. Nicki Name*

    LW, I also started off at a very blue-collar company, and there were plenty of standard office politics there too. Some departments had more power than others, some managers were better connected than others, there were higher-ups making decisions on wrong or no information, all that.

    I think at least part of the problem here isn’t so much the presence of a hierarchy, as the hierarchy is malfunctioning. Yes, control comes from the top down, but the people along the way also have a responsibility to the people under them which doesn’t sound like it’s being exercised here. Board members should not even have the opportunity to bad-mouth new, low-level people, and if they do, the people in your chain of command should be speaking up for you. The fact that this isn’t happening is a bad sign.

    At that blue-collar company where I started, the CEO and CFO when I started were a very unpleasant couple of people. I had no idea just how bad they were until they left and people who’d had to deal with them directly started sharing their war stories. My boss and their boss had done a lot to keep those of us on the ground floor insulated from what was going on so that we could do our jobs the best we could, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

  142. Alice's Tree*

    Over the years, I’ve had a lot of young people come into the workplace with the viewpoint you’re coming in with, and as one of those “higher ups” you’re talking about, it’s very frustrating. They come in with the idea that politics are the reason behind whose instructions should be followed, rather than knowledge and experience, and with the belief that they need to fight to get a point across rather than ask questions and offer information.

    Don’t get me wrong, in the board member scenario you mentioned, the person telling you the board member is always right was playing politics. (Or maybe they just figured it was easier to present it that way than to explain to you that you were coming off as argumentative and that wasn’t a wise approach.) But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a relatively new person come in and start arguing the way things are done, without ever asking WHY they are done that way. They start out with an adversarial approach, rather than a collaborative one.

    My advice to you is this: never argue; always inquire. You’re going in with the idea that you have to resist the urge to fight authority, when you should be going in with the idea of learning what you can from everyone above you in the hierarchy. Even with the Board member, it would have gone down differently if you said, “Help me understand where this went wrong. I did this and this – what would you have liked me to have done differently?” That lets you share what you know, while showing you actually care about the person’s input.

  143. Shannon*

    I worked in a very “perception is reality!” environment, which could’ve been summed up using the OP’s example. It was ridiculously frustrating to try explaining a situation, and then be called “defensive” or “unreasonable” when the accuser’s idea of what had happened was objectively incorrect. My boss never had the facts before throwing most of his tantrums.

    One time I retorted “I’m not being defensive, it just SEEMS like that because you’re being offensive!” and my colleagues erupted in laughter.

    I left shortly thereafter to work at a company which has interactions based on mutual respect and trust. I’m hoping your situation is better than you think it will be!

  144. Manager In Name Only*

    OP, I really sympathize with your feeling that heirarchies are inherently unfair. But focusing on the unfairness will not help you to succeed. Having worked for businesses that range from tiny to massive, I assure you that every work place has a heirarchy. Unless you decide to start your own business and not hire anyone to work for you.
    I think it could help to reframe this as an opportunity to learn a new skill – how to work within an established heirarchy without violating your own ethical principles. I really like the advice others have given here, to observe for a while and learn from coworkers who are skilled at this. You can also learn from those who are NOT skilled!
    Maybe you will learn that the organizational structure and expectations at this job are really not good, and if/when you start your own business you will know what not to do.
    Kudos to you for coming to AAM for help, you are on the right track.

  145. Jaybeetee*

    This letter reminds me a bit of my brother, who has always had an adjacent issue of hating being told what to do. He was a terrible student in high school because he hated the authority teachers had over him. As an adult, he’s always been willing to work hard and put in long hours, but used to get into disputes with his bosses and quit in a huff at least once. About 10 years ago he went into business for himself, and has done great with it. Again, he’s willing to put in the work and hours, and he gets to decide whether or how much to “kowtow” to clients. He’s successful enough these days that he can pick and choose his jobs, so it works out for him.

    In my case, I’m quite contented in government – I’m okay with hierarchy, but every time I worked any kind of corporate job it kind of destroyed my soul. I hated putting so much effort into “making money for the people at the top”. I hated how much revolved around sales and products and revenues and profits, even though I never worked in sales. I hated feeling like I had to care who was buying Our Brand Of Printer Paper vs. The Competing Brand. On the other hand, in the government I’m not busting my ass so a CEO can buy another boat. If I really want to be Polyanna about it, I work For The People.

    All this to say, a change in industry or employment might help. Every industry has it’s soul-killing elements – self-employment and government employment both have their own versions of BS – but the brand of BS in other industries and lines of work might align better with your values.

  146. Michael*

    I have been in fundraising in the nonprofit world for a pretty long time now, and the field often requires a certain amount of people and ego management. I know myself well enough to know that, when I am upset it is very obvious (I turn red…the curse of being a super pale human). I find a diplomatic way to remove myself from the interaction and then give myself time to think about it. Not every mistake or problem needs to be corrected in that moment and doing so immediately can come off as more confrontational than necessary. If it’s important enough to need correcting later, I (or another staff member) can do so.

    It also helps me sometimes to remember that Board members are volunteers. That doesn’t mean I let them get away with terrible behavior, but it does mean I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and remind myself that they are giving of their time/talents/resources, even though they don’t have to.

  147. Mrs. Noah Beau Boadhi*

    I have very similar problems. I’m 57, have never been in therapy for it, and it’s still a problem.

    I’ve got two pieces of advice which I came up with without the benefit of therapy: 1) Find a place where you can vent, vent, and then let it go. A bar, a church, a support group, your apartment where you have long talks with your goldfish, whatever. But remember, there’s two parts. Vent, and then, let it go. 2) to help let it go, keep repeating to yourself: “Does continuing to be upset about this get me any further toward MY goals?” If not, start seriously working on letting it go. Make “goals” here something very concrete. Getting mad at the jerks higher than me in a certain hierarchy, did not, for example, help me work my way through college any faster. I repeat — I’m 57 and I’m still using this advice. Oh yeah, and if you dismissed the advice above about mediation — if you’re Christian, find a church that teaches the prayer of quiet or contemplative prayer. Or just learn to pray the rosary. That’s very helpful too.

  148. Summertime*

    I have worked in chemical manufacturing where the work environment is a bit of a blend between blue and white collar. The operators/technicians will do the hands-on work while engineers are supporting/directing work and long-term projects. And I’ve found that the hierarchy and power dynamics issues exist between the blue and white collar groups and within them as well. Those issues are different between blue and white collar but are often heavily shaded by workplace culture.

    As an engineer, I could direct an operator to perform a task. In a healthy workplace culture, I would collaborate with the operator to discuss the job, solicit their input, etc. He/she was free to disagree with me in a respectful manner. In an unhealthy workplace, I would give an “order” as someone from higher on the hierarchy, and it would be followed.

    And this scenario also applies to when I was working with other engineers and when operators worked with other operators. Engineer Supervisor wants it this way, so it must be this way. Operator Supervisor elevates priority on a particular task, so it must be done today. Inherent power dynamics exist and a supervisor or someone “higher-up” will always have more authority to prioritize tasks, make decisions, and delegate work and that is the case because they are managers. The elements of not ever being able to question someone who is above you is, in my opinion, independent of blue collar/white collar and more a product of how much the organization values and receives feedback. That being said, it is wise to choose your battles wisely and deliver feedback and criticism with tact.

    Power dynamics are especially present when a donor’s donation is the difference between your place of work losing half its staff and having their full expected budget to work off of. OP, please take into consider that these power dynamics might impact your experience much more than the fact that your work is white collar or an office environment.

    Side note and I’m not saying OP is necessarily doing this, but please look more deeply when you encounter conflict in your workplace and realize the root cause may be multifaceted . In my situation, there was an instance that an operator didn’t agree with some tasks I had planned out for the day. He approached me and said just because I had an engineering degree doesn’t mean I know everything and asked why I would think I’d know better on how to do these tasks than him. He assumed that power dynamics and me having a degree were the primary reasons why we were having a conflict. But really, I was a couple months out of college, had no idea that historically there was a riff between operators and engineers, and needed to learn how to communicate better! I felt really misunderstood that this operator felt I thought he was beneath me in some way and totally missed that I needed to improve my communication. Luckily, I had a great team (operators and engineers) that guided me to be more collaborative and talk through jobs with operators beforehand to fill them in or gather input. I’ve since left the manufacturing environment, but I still very much value what they taught me!

  149. Nope, not today*

    I can definitely relate to this instinct, and bristle at the idea that somebody else is right due to status rather than, you know, actually *being right*. But for myself I have to draw lines around which things are worth pushing back on and which are not. As in all workplaces, mine has its quirks and things that are done the way they are done, rather than the typical or logical way. Rather than spending energy on these things I frame this in my mind as ‘they are paying me to be here to do THIS job in THIS way. I can do that, and if I see a way to improve things I can make a suggestion but ultimately this is their way’. Just deciding beforehand that this is how I will treat all the oddities helps alleviate the frustration. In your particular situation, I would try to determine which battles are actually worth fighting – if a board member misunderstands something, is it actually important they get corrected, or does it ultimately not really matter? From your example I couldn’t tell if they just misunderstood something that was trivial or if they misunderstood information that was crucial for other reasons.
    You might also have to learn to ‘play the game’ just enough to get by. Again, if something is ultimately not crucial or perpetuating bad information that could impact decision making, and not causing actual harm to people, you might need to learn to let go of the smaller things that make you bristle. Fake a smile, move on with your day, disparage the board member in your head. And when things are somewhere in the middle of crucial and unimportant, push back more gently and with maybe a bit more deference. Not because the higher ups deserve it, but it greases the wheel to get the result you do need.

    Not every place is like this. I suspect not even most. So since you are in a brand new job, I’d start off with trying to let go of your assumptions that this job will be like previous ones you’ve had – start with a clean slate. Try to reframe the way you approach hierarchy, and maybe try learning to let some of the smaller things slide. You can push back if needed, but if it will use political capital to do so you only want to use it where it counts. Good luck!

  150. JSPA*

    You don’t say how long you’ve been there.

    There are a lot of situations where what looks like an obvious FACT to you (something that’s right or wrong) is actually an INTERPRETATION. Based on your prior life experience. Which doesn’t apply, here, much.

    Remember, just because the words that describe two actions, people, issues, tasks or jobs are the same words, that does not even begin to mean that those two actions, people, issues, tasks or jobs really are the same, and can be handled in the same way.

    For the first few months or even a year, you mostly should bite your tongue.

    I don’t know what you do, or how these things are coming up, so from simpler to more complex:

    You were not rude to someone, but you’re told off for being rude? Take their word for it: that’s what “rude” is, here. Apologize. Ask someone else not “what should I have said” (which they may take as defensiveness, or code for, ‘comfort me’) but, “How would you have handled it?”

    You mopped the floor, and were told off for not having mopped? Take their word for it: that wasn’t a good enough mopping job, whether or not you “did” it already. Apologize: “I must have really rushed that, I’ll do it again ASAP, and leave it clean enough to eat off of.”

    You placed the tables where (according to your past training in food service) they belong, and the glasses and plasticware as you would, ditto. And they tell you it’s wrong, and maybe even ask you to do something that isn’t quite by the book, like putting the pitchers too close to the edge of the table, or using butter knives with the cheese. Take their word for it: they want things staged a certain way, and have Reasons you’re not privy to, and don’t need to be privy to. Ask: “are there pictures from past events, so I can see the staging we’ve used before, and replicate it faithfully?”

    You called all the names on the donor list, read the script onto the voicemail, and someone tells you off for not having made the calls / not having finished the calls? Take their word for it: the calls didn’t reach everyone they needed to, and register with them. Maybe it’s your diction, or how long a pause you take before speaking, or whether they actually expect you to call back until you reach a real person (and they didn’t make that clear). So: “I want to do an excellent job, not just an adequate job, and it hurts to find out that it wasn’t even adequate. What can I do, to make it excellent?”

    You did the statistical analysis using the data Joella gave you, and they’re blaming you because it does not include two of six key data sets? Take their word for it: What Joella gave you was not adequate, or the directions you got were not adequate, but the right response isn’t, “NOT MY FAULT,” it’s “I’m so sorry, thank you for pointing it out. I should have figured out that needed to be included. Can we please cross-check on the other requirements so this sort of thing doesn’t happen again?”

    Someone’s been very nice to you. They’ve been your best information source, to date. A higher up refers to them, in language you’d never get away with, as a screw-up, a user, a waste of salary, or something other hugely unprofessional and uncomplimentary. Now, it could be that your source is the only sane person there, and you need to jump ship. It’s also possible that your source has come on strong as a chum because they were previously low person on the totem pole, or a one-person faction in a power-struggle, and they’re intent on recruiting you. SIT BACK. You don’t know if, why and how they might be on a PIP, or have been caught using the credit card for something not quite right. You can say, “they’ve been helpful to me, at least,” but not to the level of tying your own boat to a sinking ship. Remain cordial to all, but not bosom buddies with anyone.

    Also, mark your calendar. For 9 months from now.

    After 9 months, if it still looks to you like a dumpster fire in a kindergarten, start looking hard for another job, and get out with the neutral-to-good reference that your good grace has won you. On the other hand, if all sorts of things have started to make sense, you may look back and think, “wow, I was so green,” and be thankful that you did not go off half-cocked, back when you thought you knew how things worked, and what “the right way” looked like, and what the one meaning of “X” was (whatever X may be).

  151. Rebecca*

    The first advice I want to offer is to try and not take it personally. Actually, this is good advice about work in general. It’s usually not really about you, your work, or your worth as a person. If someone is being dismissive and condescending to you, well, they have to go home at the end of the day and be them. You get to be you. Being you is better than being that person!

    Second, if someone is really wrong about something that matters, and it is going to affect the outcome of a project (or whatever) at work, try taking it to your manager and see if they can help push it up the chain. Be as dispassionate as possible. Prepare to be disappointed by the outcome – some people are really entrenched in the power dynamics you speak of, and don’t want to rock the boat. But if you can be calm and clear about your position, try and take it through “proper channels.”

    Third, I think you mentioned working in a nonprofit environment, and having been there and done that…bad behavior seems to run rampant at these places. For one thing, people tend to become “fixtures” – sticking around for 30, 40, even 50 years – and appeasing them is easier than risking the loss of their institutional memory or offending a “beloved” member of the staff. And while I typically enjoyed working with our board, there were some members who seemed to live for the chance to be disagreeable. Unfortunately, these are often very important donors, and it’s difficult for small or midmarket nonprofits to effectively stand up to them.

    1. Sara without an H*

      “Don’t take it personally” is actually very good advice for life in general, not just work.

  152. Interplanet Janet*

    I recommend (for everyone, honestly) doing a little reading around codependency. The very super high level TL;DR is that you’re responsible for you and nobody else, and trying to control anything else is a fool’s errand.

    In this case, you have control over: your attitude, your work product, the quality of your work, how much time you spend worrying about other people’s behavior, whether you decide to quit or not, whether you are honest or not, how polite you are, and things like that.

    What you do NOT have control/responsibility over: why the guy above you got his job, whether people listen to polite feedback, whether the people you work with care about the fairness of the systems in place, and things like that.

    There’s a copendency/Al-Anon saying that you want to “say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean”. It’s not a bad place to aim for, and it doesn’t hurt to recognize that the context of “don’t say it mean” in the workplace might be different, but it’s always true that your best bet is to find an appropriate time, place, and method of giving people different messages and bits of information. In other words, you probably do already know how to think about this stuff, but you’re not seeing its application in the workplace, or at least you’re not recognizing the nuances of how it needs to look in that context.

    “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Simple, VERY hard, and something many spend a lifetime trying to do.

  153. not neurotypical*

    Nonprofit director who hates hierarchies here with some advice.

    Read the book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded to understand the inherent contradiction between a nonhierarchical nonprofit ethos and what capitalism demands of nonprofits.

    In most states, if you want to raise money legally, then you generally have to become a corporation, which means having a board. If you want to offer donors the benefit of their donations being tax-deductible, then you must meet additional federal guidelines. If you want to be eligible for certain grants or for government contracts to cover the costs of providing certain services, then there will be additional requirements, all of which skew toward hierarchy.

    Next, there is the problem that many if not most nonprofits invite large donors onto their boards, which means that a person may end up with power both as a board member and someone who might elect to withhold badly needed funds. Even if they are not on the board, large donors may exercise out-sized influence due to their ability to withhold critically important funds.

    People who start nonprofits have to make the same decision facing you: Whether or not to cede to such circumstances in order to do the work they want to do. That might mean, for example, that a director of a battered women’s shelter might have to tolerate a city representative — who might be a sexist jerk — on the board in order to be eligible for a contract that funds their domestic violence hotline. These aren’t easy decisions to make.

    Ideally, your executive director and/or development director would be shouldering the burden of appeasing prickly donor/board members rather than expecting you to do so. Ideally, if you did have to deal with someone whose donations are deemed essential by the organization, and that person was someone likely to bolt if ever told they were wrong about something, your managers would explain that to you while extending empathy and sympathy to you for having to deal with such drama.

    I do worry, a little bit, just from the tone of your question, whether you might not have been abrasively blunt or defensive when insisting that this person was wrong and you were right. There are ways to correct someone’s mistake or misapprehension without causing them embarrassment, and sometimes without even letting them know that they have been corrected. That’s a good skill to have just in general and is not about office politics but kindness.

    So, when it comes to dealing with difficult donors or board members, I would suggest that you (1) realize that your director/managers probably are dealing with even more discomfort than you in dealing with those folks — if you stay on, try to cultivate a feeling of being part of a team that is collectively dealing with that problem rather than feeling singled out; and (2) ask yourself whether you really do support the work of the organization and want it to have what it needs to do that work — if not then maybe this is not the job for you, but if so then consider dealing with difficult donors just one of the unpleasant aspects of an otherwise meaningful and enjoyable job.

    On the other hand, if this is one of those more corporate nonprofits that is all about hierarchy, then maybe start looking for work at a nonprofit that has an organizational structure that is more consistent with your values. They do exist!

    1. Pommette!*

      I’m just replying to make your (very thoughtful, insightful, and informed) comment more visible in the sea of comments.

      The OP’s frustrations relate to tensions/questions that are at the heart of nonprofit work in a capitalist society, and that a lot of nonprofit workers and leaders grapple with. The Revolution Will not be Funded sounds like a great place to start. The podcast Tiny Spark features a lot of interviews with people trying to examine, or to change, the relationships between donors, boards, and nonprofits. Does anyone else have good resources for thinking through this?

    2. JSPA*

      Some of the same things come up anytime you’re dealing with a broad public though, in the name of some greater good. Low- to mid-level health care workers hear the most egregious things from both patients and doctors, for example.

      In all cases, it take some time to parse out “this must be spoken to and called out” vs “this is someone fully exercising their right to make themselves look bad in public” vs “bad enough to talk to a reporter” or “a union issue” or whatever. If someone finds themselves leading with their chin from day 1, they need to question whether it’s about how reactive they naturally are (or have been taught to be) rather than there being an actual, call-out signal pointed at them. “Quick, Robin, to the call-out mobile!” is almost certainly not the way to effect useful change at work.

  154. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Your post has inspired a lot of thoughtful responses, and I hope you’ll take time to read them all.

    What struck me about your post was the intensity of your descriptions and your love of over-generalization. Things aren’t just annoying, they’re “infuriating.” If you concede when someone overrules you, it’s not just a disappointment, it’s “letting the world continue to send really bad, damaging messages.” You start out arguing with your boss and wind up shaking your fist at the Universe.

    A bit extreme, don’t you think?

    I work in higher education, which is hierarchical by nature. Authority comes from knowing stuff and forming relationships with others. You need to take time to build relationships with your managers and co-workers, and demonstrate your competence by building a record of sustained performance. It is possible that some of the higher-ups you so despise actually got where they are by hard work and outstanding knowledge of their field.

    Your thinking and responses seem very rigid. Are you actually listening to anybody at your organization? Can you hear and accept feedback from anybody? Or does it all get channeled into your “me good/them bad” worldview? Can you recruit a mentor? It might help to find someone at a similar level in your organization who’s been there for a while and can help you figure out the culture.

    Of course, it’s possible that your workplace is indeed messed up and that you’ll end up going elsewhere. But unless you’re willing to get some self-reflection going, I don’t see a successful outcome.

  155. MotherofCats*

    This discussion reminds me of my dad. He had an 8th grade education and worked a bunch of low-level blue-collar jobs. According to him, all higher-level workers were idiots & brown-nosers until his brother got promoted to foreman. Then foremen were OK, but anybody with a college degree was an asshat. Then I got a college degree. You can see where this is going. Yes, a lot of workplaces have annoying hierarchies, but I think some of it is also “othering” people with different backgrounds.

  156. Nina Bee*

    I feel for you! I get triggered by ego and that sense of unfairness also! Ugh. You made a comment about how this stems from your childhood, which is the key point here.

    Perhaps there’s a few things to try:
    1) Look at how are you framing the hierarchy for yourself? Is it a class thing? A power thing? A boss vs worker thing? Seeing it less as me vs ‘them’ could allow you to not get into your polyvagal fight or flight mode when triggered, and see it from a higher perspective of ‘some humans hoard power from their own ego gratification and we all have an innate sense of fairness’. There’s a great fairness monkey experiment video on youtube that shows this!

    2)Where in your life/childhood does that story play out, and how did it make you feel? Was it a parent or someone in a position of authority that made you feel small and used their power over you in negative ways? Look at how this sense of injustice in the workplace/world is triggering you because of these childhood experiences, and look at how you can give yourself that sense of power back. Nobody can take that from you. This situation is reminding you of those feelings that need to be worked on. Triggering situations are often examples of things we don’t feel we have. So looking at where the feeling you don’t have power comes from, and working on healing that (through whichever way feels right for you) would help you detach more.

    3) If that sense of injustice reminds you of the bigger injustices happening in the world (because YES!), perhaps getting involved with groups that are actively fighting or helping dismantle those things would help you feel like you’re also doing something about it. Whether donating or volunteering, having a sense of ‘doing something’ might help you channel that indignation and frustration into something tangible. If you’re not already doing that!

    Hope that helps :)

  157. LSP*

    I’ve worked in white collar office jobs most of my professional life, and while I am diplomatic about how I address any issues with higher-ups, I’ve never felt that I simply cannot correct a misunderstanding or misconception held by one.

    I’m not sure about the timing here, because first you say you just started a new job a week ago, but then you jump to what I assume is another job, at another organization, where you led a project for 6 months, and that is where you were admonished for correcting a Board Member. Different work places are different, and most places I’ve worked, as long as I addressed people (even the President of the company) with respect, I never received a dressing down for gently explaining they had something wrong.

    It seems there may be some combination of the previous place you worked being overly careful about not rocking to boat in the slightest with the Board, and your need to be correct. The question I would ask you is whether this Board Member absolutely needed to be corrected in that exact moment by you. Maybe he did. Maybe his misunderstanding would have had a domino affect and done real damage. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have, but the ability to be judicious about one’s comments made to someone at an upper level is usually crucial to lubricating the cogs of upward mobility within an organization.

    Craig Ferguson has a great bit where he decides whether to say something out loud by asking these questions:
    “Does this have to be said? Does this have to be said by me? Does this have to be said by me right now?”

    Maybe next time, rather than correct the wrong Board member to his or her face, just apologize, then talk to your boss about it, and explain why them getting it wrong could have a negative impact on you personally, and the project more generally, and leave it to them to manage. If they do nothing about it, then you have valuable information about where you work and can decide if you still want to work there.

  158. almost empty nester*

    You speak of unfairness, but it’s extremely unfair to make sweeping generalizations of all workplaces traditionally seen as “white collar”. Truth is, you either own the company or you work for it. If you don’t own it, you must be prepared to follow the direction of the people who do. Consider that the people higher up in the company have worked hard and earned their positions (in most cases…I know there are always exceptions). Seems like your example indicates that you may be in the non-profit sector and I have no experience there, but I can say that attitude makes a world of difference when you’re trying to offer a different point of view anywhere!

  159. Scarlet*

    You know what? I just want to say I love this community. My initial knee-jerk thought reading this was relatively unkind, but I went down into the comment section and here I read all these wonderful comments about how to really help someone get a different perspective/help.

    Off topic, I’m sorry – I just want to say thank you all and thank you Alison for creating and cultivating the type of place that not only helps the LW’s, but helps people like me learn to listen with an open mind and stop being so quick to judge. I love this website <3

  160. Martha*

    The way I deal with it is to say “Not my circus”, internally roll my eyes, and move along. In the end, why do I care? It’s a job. It’s not my entire being. There’s a song called “Lip Service” that has the lyric, “Remember, you’ll only be my boss as long as you pay my wage.” If they get less from me because they aren’t interested in knowing what I know, well, sucks to be them, doesn’t it? If they are idiots, that’s on them, it’s not anything to do with me.

  161. CatMom*

    The story you tell about being unable to provide factual information to a board member because it contradicts their incorrect belief is pretty ridiculous, and I don’t think you’re wrong for recognizing that. There are, of course, ways to be more or less tactful about approaching that situation, but remember that YOU are not the problem here. You really aren’t. So your feeling that it’s unfair is pretty much right on.

    However, unless you want to look for a new line of work (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did, because I know I’d chafe in that kind of strict hierarchy) you’re going to have to learn to reframe this in your mind. Sounds like that board member is an idiot blowhard with a fragile ego. Sucks for them! Lucky for you that you’re smart and reasonable, so you can just roll your eyes at it (for example).

    Unfortunately, because our world is built on unfairness, oppression, and exploitation, there are going to be unreasonable — and sometimes undeserving — people in power. Finding a way to let it roll off your back and developing healthy outlets and coping mechanisms is important to dealing with that reality.

    1. JSPA*

      I have to say, I wondered if the “fact” could be something along the lines of the current accepted terminology or theory behind a fairly detailed point of gender, race, economic disparity, or other identity terminology, or some technological term that advances with similar speed. There are so many topics where someone using knowledge and terminology from 10 months ago, let alone 10 years ago, could be found wanting, to the point of being told, “you’re wrong.”

      Cutting someone who’s older than your grandpa some slack for using the term that was respectful and signaled open-mindedness fifteen years ago (and was downright groundbreaking and radical when they learned it 25 years ago) but is now a bit painful? That’s not sucking up to them, or relinquishing your ideals. It’s a mark of respect for a history that existed before your awareness of the topic, and a mark of maturity, that such things are in a constant state of change. Ditto for technical terms.

      There are ways to drop in an update or “additional fact” without making it “correction of an error.” And in any case, despite the internet, and the example it provides, people actually ARE allowed to be wrong, all day long, if they want to be. If you hear someone in the supermarket trying to remember who played in Cream, and they names that pops out of their mind are somehow Jack Benny / Ginger Rodgers / Erik Satie, you…don’t have to correct them. Saying anything at all is an intrusion, and a bit of self promotion. They MIGHT welcome it, true enough; but they’re not REQUIRED to do so. And the stakes are a lot lower in the grocery than they are in your workplace.

  162. Wintermute*

    I would leave any place I’m told my firsthand knowledge and expertise does not make me more right than a board member’s rank. That’s just not a workplace I want to be. Fortunately, I’ve never been subjected to that level of insane hierarchical power dynamic.

    So first of all, recognizing what is normal and what is banana crackers is important. Being told outright “facts don’t matter in the face of rank” is absolutely crackers.

    Second of all, a lot of other times something seems hierarchical it’s really a matter of perspective. Rules may seem unfair from where you sit on the org chart, but you’re a small part of a much larger whole. Something may be a little inconvenient for you because it makes far less work for other people, you may need to do redundant work because it feeds into multiple systems used by other departments. Also, businesses have to make business decisions, something that takes 10 minutes of an entry level employee’s time is more efficient from a business perspective than something which takes 30 seconds of a high-level executive’s time. They have more important, more valuable things to be doing with their time and they have you to do your task. yes it would take less overall time but not all time is equally valuable in terms of either labor cost, which might seem unfair, but it’s also a matter of **opportunity cost** how much other stuff of importance to the business and other people they could be doing with that time as well.

    Also, rank isn’t just given out randomly, at a good, functional business. Sure some places it is. I wouldn’t work those places. The people that run departments in a good business are people that have earned that ability by consistently demonstrating good judgement, skill at management, strategic thinking, mastery of their subject area, and other important things that make it so that they can be trusted with handling large numbers of reports and decisions of lasting consequence.

    Remember, every human being on earth is subject to the fallacy of difficulty, where things you don’t know how to do look easy to you– you probably feel your boss has this opinion of your job, especially if you’re in a technical field and your boss is not as technical as you are. But be aware that this fallacy is lying to you as well, making you assume that if you’d have been born rich and gone to the right schools you’d be a great CEO too, after all it’s just meetings and golf. Yes connections matter, and yes, without them it can be hard to reach the highest levels of the corporate ladder but at the same time a great many of your directors, VPs and the like are there because they worked their way up the hard way and proved their skill and ability.

    And with this skill and ability comes a wider perspective it can be hard to have from the bottom. Right now it sounds like your gut reaction is “they’re above me so they think they know more than I do!” when a helpful reframing is, unless proven otherwise, they are above you because they know more than you do, at least about the business and how it operates.

  163. drpuma*

    My career now is white-collar but I have a ton of retail and customer-service experience. You mention working in grocery stores, so I bet you already have a lot of the “office politics” skill sets.

    You are already used to having coworkers at different levels of agreeableness and competency. That’s good. The board member, or anyone higher than you by a certain level? They’re not your coworker, they’re your customer. You can do this. You’ve dealt with irate customers, you’ve placated customers who are complete dingbats. You know how to let customers down easy and how to convince them they really want something different from what they initially asked for. You know how to hand a customer over to your coworker while also giving a nudge or a wink that lets them know that that customer will be like. This is the skillset, and you have it. You can do this.

  164. Chatterby*

    I’m betting if we bluntly told the LW “you’re the problem and you’re wrong”, in the way she wants to do to others, she would be very upset. She would get angry, defensive, and double down that she was right.
    In essence, she would shut down and stop listening.
    She needs to remember other people react the same exact way when she does it to them.
    So it’s not that you are pushing back, or correcting people, it’s how you’re doing it.
    What I want for the LW is that every time someone does something she finds confusing or infuriating, she stops and thinks “they did that for a reason, one which makes sense to them. What is that reason?” Then honestly trying to figure it out.
    Do a why-why-why analysis if you have to:
    “I had to apologize to a board member” why?
    “My boss made me” why?
    “They were afraid the member would pull funding/ not want to work with the organization any more” why?
    “Because the member was very angry and insulted” why?
    “I corrected them in a very rude and antagonistic way in front of many people” why?
    “The person made a minor misunderstanding about a project”

    Also:
    “My boss made me apologize” why?
    “My boss did not trust me to do it otherwise, and thought I’d upset the member further if the interaction was left to me” why?
    “Because I did not do it on my own” also “I have a history of not apologizing/ upsetting people”

    1. MommyMD*

      Very insightful. There’s a lot of anger in the letter and it surely is coming out in the work setting. Being new to the job and field there are many nuances LW is not privy to. Sometimes you have to use a more thoughtful tone or eat a little crow to keep things running. The best advice I think when new is be observant and see how things run for a few months. Issues can be diplomatically dealt with. Anger and outbursts are never the answer. Especially for a new hire.

  165. Lucille2*

    OP, like you, I have a tendency to rebel when authority and rules feel too restrictive. However, I’ve also been a boss and have been on that side hearing the complaints from the squeaky wheel. Here’s my advice to you.

    For starters, not all corporate environments are so hierarchical. In fact, I’m a firm believer that people at all levels should have the autonomy to challenge leadership. Top down directives are often not what’s best for the organization or the customer – especially when they stem from big egos. However, not everyone is at liberty to jump ship when working for an unhealthy organization, so it’s important to sharpen some skills.
    1. Pick your battles. Not every battle is worth fighting, and if you’re complaining about every little thing, you’ll quickly lose credibility. Speak up when you have the ability to influence change and especially when you have a solution to offer.
    2. Offer solutions rather than simply pointing out problems. You may learn that different solutions have been attempted and the problem is more complex that you realized, or you may be providing a unique perspective your manager hadn’t thought of.
    3. Be prepared for your ideas to be shot down, even good ones. There are managers out there who shoot down good ideas from employees simply because it wasn’t their own or they don’t fully understand the problem. I always tell myself that there is a time to voice my dissent and there is a time to accept and work with the team. Resist the urge to dig in your heels or it won’t bode well for you.
    4. Watch how others handle politics. Who are the influencers and why? If your organization is full of egos and yes-men, bide your time and plan your exit. If not, watch and listen. Really listen. Language and reputation matter. How ideas are presented matters.
    5. Remember that corporate politics are vastly different from a healthy organization to a toxic one. I’m really sorry if you’re in a toxic one, but hang on to the hope that they’re not all that way. Don’t let this experience sour you on white collar jobs. There really are some good ones out there.

  166. somebody blonde*

    I also have pretty strong anti-authority tendencies, and these are the things that have helped me the most:
    1) Don’t work for people you don’t respect. I can keep myself in check when my higher-ups say things I disagree with because I respect them. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to keep it off my face.
    2) Find nice ways to disagree. This is actually helpful for everyone, but especially higher-ups. For example, if they say Y thing and you know it’s wrong, say something like “oh, I had heard that it’s X! I guess I was misinformed”. Playing dumb is a great way to let them save face.
    3) Think about whether it matters or not if they understand something before you correct them. If they’re wrong and it doesn’t matter, then you should probably let it go.
    4) If you’re working at a company where peons are never allowed to speak freely with higher-ups, I would be wary of the future. That’s how you get a culture where the CEO doesn’t really know what’s happening in their own company.

  167. Noah*

    1. You can always decide you don’t want to try to do this, and don’t do it. Then, either have the job and be ticked about it all the time, or get a job that doesn’t generally have these problems. It limits your options, but there are plenty of things you can do in a non-hierarchical culture, or at least one that is substantially less so. Or…

    2. You can try to have a better attitude about it without addressing the root of your feelings. Maybe you already have done this; it’s hard to tell from the letter. When you find yourself annoyed with situation, think about something else. Or force yourself to think about the good parts of the job. Or something else. This may not work for you, but if , up until now, your attitude has been, “this hierarchical situation is BS and I’m not going to tolerate it,” just trying a different attitude may work. Or it may not. If it doesn’t…

    3. Seek therapy. YMMV, but this is the kind of feeling that therapy can definitely help with. But therapy may not work, in which case…

    4. You may discover that you don’t have a solution to this problem, in which case you return to step 1 and decide how you want to live given how you feel about hierarchical situations.

  168. Allya*

    One thing that’s really helpful to me when things feel unfair is to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask myself “What am I working for?”

    In my case, I’m tolerating below market pay in my role in exchange for the opportunity to gain specific skills and experience. As soon as I can leverage that into a better position at a different company, I’ll leave this one behind. So whenever I feel frustrated by the status quo, I focus on my goals and the aspects of my job that I do enjoy, and the ways that what I’m doing now will help me get the things I want in the future. It’s easier to deal with things that don’t seem fair when I have a clear understanding of why I’m accepting it.

    In your case, maybe your goals are to advance the ladder or earn enough money to start your own business or make social change through your work or learn a specific skill or whatever. They can be anything, but the important part is to know what they are and figure out how what you’re doing now fits into that bigger picture. I mean, there’s a reason you’re taking these jobs that involve heirarchical structures, right?

    One final piece of advice is that if a key element of a situation (like the power structure at my job) doesn’t work for me, it’s crucial that part of my goals include the situation being temporary. When I can see how working hard at what I’m doing will help me get out of a bad situation, it’s easier for me to deal with it in the short term. Maybe that’s something to consider – what sort of a future can you see being sustainable for yourself?

    1. Pommette!*

      I love your way of framing the situation! It may be that biting her tongue for a few years is worth it for the OP – a way of getting to a place from which she can change things. It may be that it is not. Yours is such a clear, and simple, way for her to think through those trade-offs.

      What am I hoping to achieve by working here? (And can I, realistically, do so, in X amount of time?)
      What am I losing by doing so?
      Is it worth it?

      1. Allya*

        Thanks, Pommette! Yeah, in the past few years I’ve kind of realised that at least in adult life you nearly always have choices – they might be really terrible choices with consequences that make alternatives totally impractical (for example, you could choose not to work, but then you might starve or put a huge amount of strain on people you care about) but they still exist. Recently I was in a job that was pretty much soul destroying for me, and this technique of reminding myself that I had choices and this soul destroying job was the best of a bad set of them, and where it fit in to the bigger picture of my life, definitely helped.

        I think a lot of people could probably benefit from this framing, which is one of the reasons I’m so glad Ask a Manager (and Captain Awkward, my other favourite advice blog) exist, because that’s where I learned the basic framework for it.

        1. Allya*

          Actually, I just wanted to expand on the nature of choices, because when I used “you can choose not to work but it will have really awful consequences” as an example of a dire choice most of us wouldn’t make, I left out this: for a period of time, I DID choose not to work, because a disability flare up meant that starving and putting strain on people who cared about me WAS the best choice I could make out of an even worse set of options. It sucked, and having lived through it, the list of things I would tolerate to avoid it expanded dramatically (see: soul destroying job) but it’s still a real choice that’s available and sometimes necessary. And this is what I mean when I say that there are nearly always choices – you can be furious and devastated that your choices aren’t better, God knows I was, but figuring out the options you do have will help you make the best use of them.

  169. MommyMD*

    I don’t think this job is a good fit for you. Perhaps look into a field and an environment where you are not feeling frustrated and angry most of the time. Good luck. It probably won’t change much.

  170. LJackson*

    In every position there are customers, internal or external, that we interact with on a daily basis. This could be teammates, supervisors, or board members internally or the population that your organization serves externally. With that comes office politics. Every organization has a structure. You have to decide it it is something that works for you or not. Unless you are going to be a self employed consultant, you will run up against some level of frustration at a decision occasionally.

  171. Adam Leonard*

    My advice would be to look at the level of experience other companies are looking for in your industry, buckle down, get that experience and leave.

    I’ve worked for offices of many different types, and cultural fit has become more than just a corporate buzzword for me. I won’t work for corporations that allow for that kind of politicking. I’ve utilized glass door and other job review sites to get a soft read on the culture and will ask questions to the interviewer specifically about their culture. (Intend to fish for things like an open door policy.). I also tend to ask to shadow. Some companies allow for this, and it’s a great way to get a feel for the culture and vibe of the office.

    Either way, good luck! It’s a tough situation.

  172. LCL*

    There was a hierarchy in your previous blue collar world. You didn’t notice it because it was your native culture, you are familiar with it and know how to act in it without thinking about. It’s the very air you breathe, so you don’t give it any thought, and didn’t realize it existed until it’s gone.

    Looking at the references others have suggested would probably help you with the transition to the white collar world. It sounds like you have landed in the charity part of the white collar world; I have learned from reading this blog that charity work places can be really different from other kinds of workplaces.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      Yep. I had a number of years in retail and a few in supermarkets. You could maybe be more direct in the workplace, but when the regional manager or owner came around, we were still expected to be respectful and probably not to bring up certain topics.

      There were also workplace politics in those fields. I remember having to be careful around certain co-workers because they would go running to the managers to tattle or share confidences. I remember having to learn just how to approach certain employees when we needed them to work more shifts. We also had people who would nuke fish in the microwave. We had performance reviews, etc. Where you have people, you have politics. It’s just the nature of the beast.

      There’s a lot of really great advice in this thread already. I was coming here to suggest that sometimes there’s a context behind “rules” and that sometimes it’s about learning how to come at a situation from a different angle and about trying not to take things quite so personally.

      I am not sure that thinking that things are unfair are exclusive to people with blue collar backgrounds. My coworker is obsessed with fairness and he and his family are all white collar. I understand that things at the office aren’t always fair and they frustrate me to, but there’s only so much we can control and do about them. It is exhausting to have to hear about it from him all of the time. All I can suggest there is maybe some therapy, maybe from someone like a MSW who may have some practical tips for navigating that.

  173. Heffalump*

    It’s not a perfect world, but you can decide how much imperfection you can tolerate. Sounds like the people in your company are abusing their authority, but that might not happen at a different company.

  174. Retired but Read Religiously*

    There are comments and links which validate that class distinctions are real. This is the first step before OP and others can lean into evaluating strategies.

  175. designbot*

    Reframe what you think of as being your job. Being right is not your job. Being personally accurate, or holding the business accountable for accuracy, is likely not your job. Supporting the functions of the business, as outlined to you by your supervisor, is your job. This may mean that instead of “organizing and executing X event” your job is “ensuring that X program runs smoothly” which is a reframing from an actions-oriented narrative to a results-oriented narrative, as well as a broader view of a whole program vs. a single event. Many blue-collar businesses are interaction based, as in your job in a particular moment boils down to a single customer interaction. By contrast, most white collar work is relationship based, and it’s understood that sometimes we might take one for the team and reduce our rates or take some blame or apologize for something that was not in any way our fault, in order to keep the relationship on track. Let that sink in and spend some time observing the ways in which colleagues you admire manage relationships, and what little it costs them to do so.

  176. Screw office politics*

    I recently left a job in HR at a larger company and now I work for as an admin assistant for an independent businesswoman. I had the exact same experience and I was angry and resentful every single day. I went home depressed and when Sunday morning came around every week I was depressed and dreaded going back to work the next day.
    There are no office politics here and she wants to groom me to do what she does. I am infinitely happier. I’m the kind of person who can’t ignore that stuff and I just made myself miserable.

  177. Existentialista*

    I was able to change my ways and still live a life with fulfillment and integrity, but it took about 15 years. I came from a background in Academia, where my very job was basically to argue (and I had to overcome all sorts of social conditioning to be comfortable doing it even with superiors), but that approach was not welcome at all in the Corporate environment.

    The best advice I ever got was from a book called “I Hate My Boss” (don’t leave it lying around in the office!), which described where power imbalances come from at work, and reinforced that essentially “your job is to make your boss look good”. That means delivering on business objectives, getting results, implementing improvements, gaining efficiency – all the reasons that businesses exist in the first place – as well as understanding what your boss is on the hook for from their boss, and helping them achieve it. You can still point out when your superiors are mistaken or have a misunderstanding, but in the context of these larger goals. This has helped me a lot.

  178. Existentialista*

    p.s. I happened to click from this post to a directly relevant one on another blog: https://m.signalvnoise.com/managing-up/

    Her last point is that “Dissent is an obligation”, that your job requires you to tell your boss when you disagree with something, but she gives a number helpful phrases to ensure it will be well received.

  179. Silicon Valley Girl*

    OP may want to let go of the idea of “being right” for the sake of being right. What does that accomplish? A lot of frustration. The examples OP cites are a a board member misunderstanding something & OP correcting them. Was the board member’s misunderstanding doing harm to the event or the organization? Or was it harming OP’s need to ‘be right’ or OP’s perception of self or somesuch? If the former, ok, that might be a workplace issue. If the latter, it’s an OP issue. The other example was about OP ‘asserting their knowledge’ — why was it important to do so? To make OP look right / smart? Or was it truly valuable to the ongoing benefit of the company & project?

    A lot of times, when office politics bug me, I find that it’s because I’m inserting myself & my personal needs into the equation. When I step back & just think about the work, the business, & what my work goals are, I’m less invested in the who said, who did, was it right, blah blah blah. Good luck.

  180. recovering from micromanagement*

    OP- you’ve been there for ONE WEEK. Slow your roll.

    From experience, I look back at some of my helpful observations I made early on in jobs, and am mortified. Listen more, talk less.

  181. Que Syrah Syrah*

    Hey Everyone! I’m the OP.

    First off, thank you so much to everyone who has responded. I see that this letter has really resonated with a lot of people and that’s really cool to see. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this struggle!

    A few things I wanted to answer/clarify/give more context to:

    1) Those of you who surmised that all of my prior office experience before this job was non-profit based were right on the money. My first six years in the working world were undeniably formed by two workplaces I just could not find my footing in no matter what I tried. Fresh out of college at age 22 (I’m 35 now) I applied for, interviewed for, was offered, and accepted a development associate position with a small, private, wealthy special education school in a major city. My first day of work, I arrived to sign my contract, and was totally taken aback to see that “Development Associate” had been changed to “Director of Development.” Understandably, I panicked, and asked the Head of School what was going on, because I was 22 just out of college – nowhere near director level! – and I thought this was an associate role. She assured me that I didn’t have to worry, because “the only reason I was getting that title was because I was the only fundraiser on staff.” It was “a formality.” I lacked the experience at the time to realize what a glaring red flag this was, and I really needed a job because my grace period for loans was about to end, so I proceeded. This ended up being a year and a half of complete Hell for me, unfortunately. The school principal was my direct boss, and she was very much an educator, not a development professional. What she wanted and expected from me seemed to change by the hour – Monday, I needed to remember my place and not make any decisions or answer anyone higher up or communicate with any VIPs or board members without checking with her first, but then Tuesday, didn’t I realize I was the Director of Development, and I shouldn’t need to have my hand held like this? Wednesday, I’d give the go-ahead on something fundraising-related, Thursday I’d get called into the office or emailed accusing me of not communicating or asking her first. It was such emotional whiplash. I was the first person they hired in this role, so I understand I was the guinea pig in a lot of ways, but it was so beyond stressful and hard. I truly could not do anything right, and I felt so judged and so looked down upon – it was clear that they thought I wasn’t polished, mature, or professional enough for this role (and I wasn’t! I was 22! And you said this was an associate entry level position when I interviewed!) and they found my bubbly and perky personality off-putting and not a good mix for their extremely wealthy, very refined donor base. They made fun of me behind my back a lot and constantly criticized my personality and mannerisms, making out almost everything I said and did to be wrong – I said this wrong, I wrote that wrong, I overstepped in this way or that way, I didn’t handle this situation gracefully enough, I wasn’t deferential enough here – and I can honestly say that now, nearly 15 years later, I still look back and remember those interactions and in most cases still cannot see how what I did or said was such a faux pas, even with years of work and personal experience under my belt at this point. Being who I am naturally has never seemed to be a problem once I left that field. One of the most frustrating moments was, when things finally came to a head and I asked her WHY OH WHY she’d told me this was an associate role when it clearly wasn’t, or else I never would’ve applied, she responded with, “no, I think you would have, because you oversold your credentials and clearly thought you were capable of more than you are.”

    2) A few people were confused, so let me clarify: that was the role that I was reprimanded in for correcting a board member, by the way. It was a board meeting where the annual auction (totally my purview) came up in discussion, something (I can’t remember what) hadn’t gone the way the President of the board wanted, and (as was the standard by that point), I was getting the blame. I explained in a very polite and respectful way (my boss confirmed) why what he’d wanted wasn’t possible, and that’s when I was pulled aside after the meeting, because “you NEVER tell the president of the board we can’t do something!” I remember always feeling like there were all these unspoken, unofficial “rules” that everyone knew about but me, and they wanted to know why I didn’t know them, and I honestly could not answer.

    3) I left that job to take another fundraising position on a much larger team with a huge Ivy League School in the same large city. It was more or less jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. The entire place was so beyond toxic – the Executive Director of the fund was an abusive, awful woman who spent all day, every day yelling at us and reprimanding us for stuff that, once again, I couldn’t see the problem with. Regular, casual, perfectly work-appropriate discussions got picked apart and again, everything I said and did was cast as not being polished, deferential or classy enough for their image and donors. Things like walking up to a new cubby mate and saying hi (“I didn’t want you to introduce yourself to her yet! Why would you just go up and say hi to her?! What were you THINKING? Don’t you ever THINK before you talk?!”), laughing and joking over a YouTube video with a donor, or having a bit of finger food at an alumni event when I was feeling woozy from not having eaten all day (“why are you EATING? You need to be talking to alumni!”). In my 3 years there, of our 9 person team, 8 left to get away from her, and she was finally demoted 4 days before I left, having finally quit with nothing else lined up because I was that desperate to leave (I’d spent the whole time looking for another position, even though I knew by then I hated nonprofit fundraising, but it was 2008 and the financial world had just ended, so my prospects were pretty non-existent by then).

    4) After that, I landed my grocery position – and had a WONDERFUL near-decade with them. The environment was respectful, collaborative, supportive and loving. It was very egalitarian, with no one expecting or feeling entitled to special treatment or never being stood up to. I flourished there and won a lot of accolades for superior customer service and being a really valued member of the team. Sure, hierarchy existed there, but it was very loose and informal, and management welcomed feedback and didn’t want to seem like they were above anyone. I left on fabulous terms with an open invitation to return anytime I wanted. It really taught me how I should expect to be treated at work.

    Reading your comments here today has really made me wonder if I haven’t been suffering from what Alison has written about here a lot – a sort of PTSD from my former jobs. I can say with certainty that, while a big part of the reason why I hadn’t left my grocery job earlier was because I genuinely did enjoy it, another big reason is that I was TERRIFIED to. I think I’d really convinced myself that what I’d experienced in nonprofit education all those years ago was what a “normal white collar office job” looks like, and so many people had told me that I was too intense/perky/bubbly/unpolished/informal to ever hack it in one. I felt like a more results-based and less relationships-based job must be my path, and all I’d ever be cut out to do. I think I was convinced that if two different spots in a row both had the same opinion about me, it HAD to be true – surely I was the problem, not them.

    I’m beginning to see however that I think I may have been wrong (and so were they) because I’m a month into the new gig now, and I honestly could not be more in love with it. Everyone here who said that I was judging this new gig based on my past experiences was 100% on the money – I was so, so, so, SO terrified of being back in what I thought was “normal” for that world that I was honestly a ball of anxiety for the first two weeks. I spent the whole time terrified. Whenever I made a newbie mistake, or was learning something new, I waited for the call or email yelling at me or asking me why I didn’t know better and WHY didn’t I just KNOW HOW TO ACT? If my phone rang and it was my boss, my blood ran cold, until a few different times where she showed me how understanding, compassionate and reasonable she is taught me I didn’t have to have a panic attack every time she reached out to me (I work remotely). She has been such a cheerleader and loves our team so much, and constantly comments on how lucky she is to have found me, how polished and perfect for this role I am (!!!) and how she can’t wait to see how well I grow and thrive in it. She’s always there to listen and accepts me for who I am. Her bosses, who are super high up, are also so unpretentious, unassuming, and kind. It’s been my first positive experience with hierarchy so far, and I really hope it continues. The irony? It’s a sales job! I’m a sales rep for a product I adore, and my whole job is selling to accounts in the grocery industry, so I get to stay attached to the industry I’d loved. I’ve been very successful at similar work before (side gigs), which I’m trying to remember whenever I think about what my two post-college jobs always said (that I’d never be cut out for such stuff).

    I’m sorry how long this was, but I really wanted to give more context. Hearing from all of you has been wonderful. Thank you for being so kind, and it made me feel less alone. I think I can finally start believing that you really CAN just get unlucky twice, it takes some time to find the right fit, and some hierarchical workplaces are perfectly healthy and don’t view standing and authority as weapons.

    I’m looking forward to hearing from more of you!

    1. Clisby*

      Thanks so much for coming in here to explain more, and I’m glad you’re having a positive experience with the new job so far. We’ve seen more than one LW here who’s been “trained” by past jobs to expect bad behavior – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

    2. NW Mossy*

      Oh, how lovely to tune in and see this!

      Whether you knew it or not at the time, I think you took a lot of the advice here – you listened to yourself and sought out an organization and leaders worthy of your trust, and it sounds like that’s bearing fruit for you so far. I remember going through something similar in my mid-20s after a particularly toxic job, and it does take a while to stop pinching yourself over how good normal employee/employer relations can feel.

      I’ll also put this to you – as you grow and succeed in your career, the knowledge of what you’ve seen of the dark places can be a deep well of empathy and understanding for others and the weight they carry of past jobs too. It’s a big asset, especially if you aspire to be a leader yourself one day. Good luck!

    3. Rick Tq*

      Great Honk!!! A first job around Evil Bees. Bait and Switch job descriptions so they didn’t have to pay for a Director of Development, and a personality mis-match THEY approved when they offered you the job. Then you leave the beehive behind only to be abused by an Evil Queen for 3 years. No wonder you were terrified you could never function in a white-collar job. All I can say is those first two places were more iron-collar (abusive) than white…

      Congratulations on getting out, getting perspective, and moving forward to a job doing what you enjoy!

      1. Que Syrah Syrah*

        …wow, this is nuts, but I honestly had never thought about that. It never occurred to me that naming it “Development Coordinator” on the posting (for some reason I remember that almost 15 years later) was a deliberate attempt to get someone in cheap. They were, after all, a small non-profit school. I’m not sure why they’d think that was a good idea, though – wouldn’t they know that $45K isn’t going to get you an experienced development executive? What did they think would happen?

        If that was the plan all along, I can only surmise that she’d hoped I’d be able to be molded and grown into it. Which I guess can happen occasionally, but when you’re founding a fundraising department for the first time ever, I’d think you’d want someone uber experienced to come in and spearhead that?

        I very nearly lost it when she said, “nah, I think you would’ve applied anyway.” It was like she was absolutely, totally, 100% unwilling to even THINK that maybe she’d just made a bad hire. She didn’t want to bear any of the accountability or admit a mistake/misstep in misrepresenting the job. She did have that reputation amongst the teachers and parents of the school – on more than one occasion, I’d heard them grumble about how they’d stopped bringing issues to her, because you could go in her office with a legitimate concern where you deserved real support, and within 10 minutes she’d have YOU apologizing to HER, because she was so good at manipulating the facts and turning it around to cast you as the bad guy. So people just gave up. I do wonder if she ever grew past that. In retrospect, many years later, she really just wasn’t a very nice woman. Very passive aggressive and manipulative, done with a smile.

    4. MommyMD*

      It would be better context if you remember what so upset the board member that you got reprimanded and it spurred you to write in. Seems like something is missing.

    5. Moth*

      Thanks for writing in with this update! Your first couple of jobs sound absolutely terrible; I think that few people could have started out their work career in those environments and not come out of it with some trauma. The difference a good boss and good coworkers can make is tremendous and I’m so glad that you’ve been able to recognize your value, after having it beaten out of you during those first years. Sending wishes for continued success your way!

    6. CM*

      This is so interesting. I’m glad the new job is working out — it does sound like it’s not a “white collar” versus “blue collar” issue, or even an issue with authority and hierarchy, it’s just that you had two workplaces where authority and hierarchy were abused. I do think it’s a personality issue how much tolerance you have for that kind of abuse — some people are able to shrug it off, while others chafe under leadership that is disrespectful or arbitrary. And I think if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t shrug it off so easily, it’s important to find a place to work where you respect the people in charge. Sounds like that’s where you’ve landed.

  182. Coverage Associate*

    Does it help to remember that donors are doing their small part to address injustice, completely voluntarily? The influence they have in the organization may not be proportional to the moral value of their donating, but it’s hard to think of people who donate to a legitimate non profit as key players in perpetuating unjust privilege. If that was all we were about, we’d keep our money to make more money.

    1. Coverage Associate*

      Now that I see the follow up, I can add: some of this is regional. A San Francisco Bay Area non profit where I was on the board and remain a major donor brought in a series of people from Boston. There were minor culture clashes. Things like who it was acceptable to ask to help with unskilled tasks like cleaning up catering or whether a formal banquet or informal barbecue better represented our aspirations as an organization.

      Another example I know about is the Yosemite Conservancy is headquartered in San Francisco and definitely has banquets and catering and hotels for its donor events, even though it’s supposed to be about a wilderness. I haven’t met people from that organization, but the California State Park Foundation has friendly people who dress like they enjoy the wilderness, even though their office is a few blocks from the Yosemite conservancy.

      I think your personality would work well in less formal non profits, like the state parks one or a lot of the less prestigious organizations in the Bay Area.

  183. X. Trapnel.*

    I can’t offer any advice, sorry. But, like you, I’m from a blue-collar background. I tried the corporate thing, I really did, but I just couldn’t cope with the nonsense. It wore me down, so I’m back in the familiar blue-collar world. I wouldn’t touch a corporate job now if it came with a gazillion dollar a year salary and I’m much, much happier. I hope you find your happy place too.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t know about that though. And I’ve worked both. In the factory it was all rules & regs. And the boredom, ugh! And there were asshole supers, though not politics.

  184. Washed Out Data Analyst*

    I agree that corporate hierarchies are bullshit and very outdated. But they won’t change any time soon. You either have to learn to tolerate it (as most employees do) or go to work that is less hierarchical in nature – like “flat” organizations or small companies where you only report to 1 or 2 people who you vibe with.

    I currently work in a company with very incompetent managers who lack common sense. I just try to remind myself that as long as I get my paycheck and health insurance, I’m not too badly off. I’m not even blue collar. My parents are academics, which is somewhat white collar but not a job you can BS like in the white collar world.

    1. Michael*

      What’s the alternative? I’m a huge believer in open communication and collaboration, but I still can’t imagine how my firm could work without any hierarchy.

      At the end of the day, after everyone has given their input, someone has to make a decision that the whole team will commit to. Generally, I want that person to be the most experienced and qualified member of that team. Given those two facts, some degree of hierarchy seems inevitable.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I think Michael what OP rails about is not having any structure at all: you’re right someone must make the hard decisions and work is not a democracy (Do you buy that company? Do you layoff people? etc.) . But if OP is like me, I cannot stand the stupid things made up just for the sake of holding power over or controlling people when you’re in a white-collar knowledge worker job. And you just know those when you see them. We read them nearly every week on here.

  185. Paris-Berlin-Seoul Express*

    I’ m also a person who does not like authority. I’ve been this way ever since I was a little child. My teachers either loved me despite my rebellious self or detested me. But I could just never keep my mouth shut when I perceived injustices. Fast forward, I am now getting toward the end of a long and tumultuous career and I learned a couple of things.

    One, get really, really good at your profession. When you are the number one expert on making widgets in your company, you can get away with pretty much anything.

    Secondly, find what work environment works best for you. I found that against all common sense, that a very large and bureaucratic environment works best for me. Also look at the industry. You would probably want something that allows you to switch jobs fairly easy because see next paragraph.

    Thirdly, switch jobs every two to three years. I can usually manage myself for a couple of years and then I start looking because all my goodwill towards the nincompoops in my chain of command has vanished.

    I have managed to do really well with my strategy and as a plus got to live in a lot of interesting places and make a lot of money.

    While a lot of people recommend therapy, that will only go so far. It can provide you with better tools on managing your reactions but you are who you are. You have to find a way to work with what you have. There are environments, even in the corporate world, where you can get away with attitude, but again, you better be a superstar as far as work is concerned. No one is going to put up with attitude and mediocre work.

    Good luck.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      These are all good points!
      I also tend to switch jobs every 3-4 years, either due to boredom or due to situations changing where I cannot be as independent as I was.

      I personally think one of the best jobs I saw was research scientist at a big company. They all seemed pretty happy, but it was contingent on whether or not they were researching what they wanted. Of course those people tend to be brilliant with many degrees too.

  186. MissDisplaced*

    “Oh but it’s hard to live by the rules. I never could and still never do.”

    I am you too OP!
    I honestly don’t mind some order and structure, and even rules, as long as there is solid logic and reasons behind them. (Example: turning in your expense reports honestly in a timely fashion).
    But I cannot stand the stupid things made up just for the sake of holding power or controlling people. Especially in white collar knowledge work, salary exempt jobs. It’s demoralizing.

  187. Ellen N.*

    When I worked a corporate job, I decided that unless my bosses asked me to do something unethical/illegal I would do it no matter how illogical. My reasoning was that as it was their name on the door, they were assuming the risks of owing a company. Therefore the outcomes should be based on their decisions, not mine. My motto was, “Since it’s your name on the door, if you want me to only use purple ink on Thursdays that’s what I’ll do.” To be clear, I would explain why I thought there was a better way of doing things, but I would acquiesce if they said no.

    It appears that you have a narrow view in rebelling in every situation you believe that you are correct and someone else isn’t. As you are new to the job and not senior, it’s possible that others have information that would change your view if you knew it. Maybe the purple ink on Thursdays is a legal mandate that you weren’t aware of.

    When you push back every time someone is wrong in your view, you use up all your capital on trivial matters.

    There could be a greater good that comes from letting someone think they are correct when they aren’t. If a non-profit needs a major donor to carry out their mission, they might think it’s worth it to play along when he/she throws his/her weight around.

    1. Paris-Berlin-Seoul Express*

      Totally agree with you. I will tell you once when I think you’re heading down the wrong path, maybe twice if I feel strongly about it, but unless it’s illegal, it’s not a hill I’m going to die on. I’m also pretty good at finding ways to circumvent my bosses if there’s absolutely something I want. But in the end, work for me is a means to an end. Which is making the most possible amounts of money to allow me a lifestyle that I want to live. I’ll save the fighting windmills for when I’m retired and can devote some real time to fight the world’s injustices. It’s also alot easier when you’re not beholden to anyone for your next paycheck.

    2. MommyMD*

      Excellent. And a new employee does not know enough about the runnings of the company to question virtually everything. Naive.

  188. JustFundering*

    Can I ask – is there a way that the link to the GoFundMe that is already set up for your husband can be emailed to Alison? That way if anyone truly does want to donate to you and your husband specifically rather than to cancer research charities in general, they can email Alison requesting the link, but the link won’t be publicly accessible or posted on the internet, and nobody has to see any GoFundMe links in the contacts. From what I can gather this would be relatively simple and painless to execute, not really much work at all for Alison beyond copying and pasting (it might be useful to put REQUESTING GOFUNDME LINK in the subject line for clarity and to avoid inbox fatigue), and also avoids AAM turning into a GoFundMe bog. There may be some problems with this idea that I haven’t yet considered though, so let me know what everyone else thinks!

    1. MommyMD*

      This could be tremendous work for Alison. Let her decide not you. She’s already made a statement about this. This is super presumptuous.

  189. Piper tuning in*

    “The world will not treat you better just because you are a good person”.
    One thing I’ve learnt about navigating through this political minefield is to accept that it can be absurd. As someone told me early in my career, choose your battles well. It doesn’t hurt to feed a higher-up’s ego sometimes.

  190. NEWBIEMD19*

    I understand your pain, OP, I honestly do. Maybe it would help if you thought about why these people have authority over you?

    My work environment is famously hierarchical and, for the moment, I am at the very bottom. I mean “the dirt underneath the door mat” bottom! The reason I’m where I am is because I’m not as valuable to the organization I work for as the people above me in the hierarchy (not above me as a person, of course, but certainly as a surgeon). They have authority over me because they have mastered the job that I am only starting to learn. Five (long!) years from now when I reach the necessary level of proficiency in my specialty I’ll officially be their equal but for now I just accept that this is my spot for awhile.

    Do you feel that you might move up in the future and not have to deal with so much authority? Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best!

  191. CM*

    Preach, OP. Capitalism is just Feudalism by another name. The rich have brainwashed people into thinking it’s normal and okay for them to build little fifedoms where they milk us for labour and control us like chattel. Your goal shouldn’t be to get used to that — you absolutely, 100% should be furious about it. We all should be.

    In the long term, the solution is to vote for political parties who want to take power away from corporations, and join or start a union. In the short term, just remind yourself that you’re not crazy. This is evil, and you’re right to be offended by it. You’re not alone.

    1. Michael*

      In most companies people being a member of middle management doesn’t make them a member of the rich. And with the exception of a small number of the most powerful and largest NGOs, the same goes for nonprofit board members.

      Second, if you expect unions to be hierarchy- and seniority-free zones, I think you’ll be sorely disappointed (speaking as someone who has done substantial work for organized labor).

      I suspect you and I share most of our politics, but this answer feels like an attempt to shoehorn your ideology into a discussion where it’s not particularly useful.

  192. boop the first*

    I’d imagine it’s all about tact. Choosing to correct either subtly or matter-of-factually, privately or publicly, directly or by using the Socratic method, depending on your audience.

    You talk about egos, but what about your own? I understand that writing comes without tone, which we have to fill ourselves, so maybe I’m wrong for thinking this sounds angry and self righteous. Are you just angry now, or were you from the start? You don’t want to become the guy on the bus who goes on about how he’s a “blunt” person. About how he gives respect only to people who give respect back. Everybody who says those words has been an insufferable person/boss/coworker, but they just think they’re “blunt” and “honest”.

    I only mention this as an example of poor tact, how being right is not the same as being polite. You can be right, but you can also choose to be right in a way that isn’t shooting yourself in the foot (ie: humiliating your boss in front of his/her peers).

  193. Enna-B*

    My advice would be trying to take your ego out of it and not taking things so personally. I know it’s easier said than done, but you are there to do a job. Part of doing a job, to an extent, is dealing with authority and dumb people and bad decisions. So think of it as a part of your job description you don’t really like but are still getting paid to do. Like waking up early, or commuting- it sucks, but it’s just Part Of Doing Business. This requires a bit of detachment, but it’s better than feeling like you have to get up every day and fight the man.

  194. Natalia*

    First things first, I think you (the OP) are going into this new job with a lot of assumptions. Yes, I do get that you had a bad experience at a past job, but not every job is the same.

    In regards to the previous “Blue Collar” job that was very welcoming and collaborative and there were no “office politics.” First off, this job may have a been a better fit for you. Second, it could be the combination of people you work with, maybe you and your co workers all just happened to hit it off and get along really well together. It could be a lot of things, and it doesn’t always have to do with the job being “blue collar or white collar.” I get that if you’re raised working class or “blue collar” the corporate world can be a culture shock. Heck, even for white collar, middle class folk , the corporate world can be overwhelming. But then again, it’s not black and white. You may work at a blue collar job and be miserable and not get along with co workers. And work at a corporate job you love. You never know!

    I know I’m repeating what a lot of others have said here but: Pick your battles! Not everything is worth getting riled up about. And not everything is that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. Some things just aren’t worth it. I do know that’s easier said then done though. And one good piece of advice: keep your head down at work and don’t get involved in things that don’t involve you. I’m not saying you’re doing that, but do avoid doing it if you can. The people I know who are unhappy in their jobs, tend to stick their noses in stuff that is none of their business and they complain and get annoyed about stuff that isn’t a huge deal and has nothing to do with them. Just something to keep in mind.

    You don’t have to be right. People can’t stand other people who insist that they’re right all the time. It’s annoying and childish and has no place in the office. Don’t do it.

    If someone above you at work wrongly accuses of something or they do something wrong….you can certainly bring it up with them, but be mindful of timing and of your tone. Getting mad at them in a meeting or in front of big wigs IS wrong. Going to their office later on and asking to speak with them is the correct way of going about it. Keep calm, don’t raise your voice, and avoid sounding like you’re better then them. I get that you don’t like authority, but you really don’t want that to come out at work, just because someone is your boss or makes a ton more money then you, doesn’t mean they’re bad people and it doesn’t mean they’re out to get you. I know it’s easier said then done, but you need to have a good attitude. It will make you feel better about yourself and your job, it will make you more thick-skinned, and it will make everything seem more positive.

    If you think there is injustice in the workplace…why not volunteer for a nonprofit that addresses injustices in the work place? That might make you feel better. Acting a certain way at work is NOT going to help. You really don’t want people to think you’re bitter….

    Lastly, if all else fails, why not look for a company and a job where you may be a better fit? Or where you’ll fit in more with the office culture? Worth a try. That said, no office or place of employment is perfect.

    1. Meercat*

      I like the suggestion of putting the hate of injustices to something constructive. I, too, am also someone who hates when I feel something is unfair. In recent years, I’ve often framed my work in ways of being an ‘advocate’ against such injustice. I used to work quite directly on this as part of the organisations mission; but I also had this in my day to day – when I was an event manager making accommodations for people with disabilities, in my head I was rectifying the injustice that places aren’t more inclusive; when I was helping out explaining things to a younger staffer even when it wasn’t my job, in my head I was rectifying the injustice that they were left without proper training/mentorship. It was really a helpful way to align my work with my intrinsic motivations.

  195. Michael*

    I really value a culture where people feel comfortable challenging assumptions and advocating for their positions, including disagreeing with senior folks. But I also have increasingly little patience for people whose goal isn’t to improve something, but to ‘win’ or be acknowledged as having been right.

    So, in the example you gave OP, you challenged a very senior member of your organization who misunderstood some aspect of a project you were working on. If someone relatively new or junior in my firm did that, how I felt would depend on a lot of factors, like:

    1) How did the person actually communicate their disagreement? Were they respectful and matter-of-fact, or were they aggressive and rude? Was it a causal “we actually think that number will be a bit higher than your projection,” or did they act like they were scoring some sort of personal victory?

    2) How important was the correction, actually? Was it central to the success of the endeavor (the client told us they wanted a red and blue logo, we shouldn’t deliver one that’s orange and purple) or was it beside the point?

    3) Was it important that it be addressed at that moment (for example, because a meeting would be wasted if it was based on incorrect data), or was there a less disruptive alternative (for example, you or your boss sending a quick e-mail to remind everyone of the facts)?

    All these things basically come down to “is this an effective staffer who is willing to speak up to avoid a problem, or is this a staffer who has a chip on their shoulder and thinks of work as a competitive arena?” And if you’re going in expecting that your bosses will be incompetent and hierarchy is for suckers, that attitude may show itself in where you fall along that spectrum.

    Lastly, I genuinely get the frustration that this set of standards isn’t applicable evenly; it’s absolutely true I wouldn’t think as carefully about a situation where a senior person corrected a junior person at my firm. The simple reality is that some degree of benefit-of-the-doubt accrues to people as they build trust and a track record, which at a healthy and well-run firm, goes hand in hand with promotions and seniority.

    1. Meercat*

      This is a really great way to frame thoughts to that question (plus I agree with you on the accrued benefit of the doubt).
      I’m generally a bit of a chatter and have been trying to train myself to tone that down (looking at my boomer dad who is becoming increasingly long-winded and has a habit of saying a lot of useless stuff that doesn’t lead the conversation where it needs to go and going on a tangent that only he loves talking about puts a lot of urgency/fear of turning out this way behind this….). What you wrote reminds me a lot of: Does it have to be said? Does it have to be said now? Does it have to be said by me?

  196. Workfromhome*

    I think the OP needs to look inward first. It almost seems like “unfairness” causes them to rage against the unfairness. Life is inherently unfair. Unless you are the owner or CEO of the company there are a multitude of things you as an employee cannot control. The only thing you truly control is how YOU react to events. You control if a seeming slight causes you to feel rage or indifference. Sorry to say this but this tyeo reaction “I get very caught up on the IT’S NOT FAIR of it and dig in my heels” sounds very immature and childish.
    You may well be in toxic environment and there a lot of them. My past job had some very senior people who almost drove the company into the ground trying to force approaches that all the lower level experienced people warned them of. We were all told basically “you need to support this because this is the path we are going down” Turns out it blow up in their face just as everyone told them it would.
    You need to decide if you want to work in these type of environments or not (in which case you need to find the very very rare non hierarchical jobs out there.

    If it is as you say and you really want to succeed in these white collar jobs then you need to accept that there will be unfairness. You don’t need to take personal abuse or do things that are unethical but since there is hierarchy that is quite clear you either need to accept your place in it or get out. Observe how things work. Is the boss someone who simply refuses to be wrong? Then you wont change that. State your case, make sure to DOSUMENT it so you cant be used as a scapegoat and then if they say no this is the way it will be don’t rage. Accept its the way it will be move on and if it goes bad silently laugh in your mind as you say “I told you so”
    Becoming a keen observer of people is key.
    We had an interim Director that was famous for berating people and looking for any excuse to tear someone’s proposals apart. A new employee and I both had a meeting with him. I knew to give very short yes or no type answers only answering what was asked and not to state anything that I could not immediately present documentation for. My goal was to get out tf the meeting unscathed with no additional work. The new person wanted to impress the boss and gave long answers trying to impress with his ideas. I wanted to kick him under the table. He got reamed out. I waked out unscathed and the next day this same manager walked by me like he’d never even seen me before let alone been in meeting with me. Yes the company was toxic but if you want to be there learn to play the game or get out.

  197. Meercat*

    OP, I can relate to this and I very much struggle with the ‘But it’s not faaaaaair’ sentiment. For me it’s been helpful (as other commenters pointed out) to talk about the reason why hierarchies may exist or why it may not be a good idea to speak up to a board member:

    – The board member or donor gives the organisation something very vital (money, influence, open doors – usually people get invited to sit on the board who can further an organisation’s goal) – from a business sense, it may just make sense to agree with them, or assure them that their concerns are being heard. It’s not great for you as a person, but it may be what makes business sense. Ideally, if you hadn’t spoken up, you could have gone to your manager afterwards and said: ‘I didn’t want to say this directly to Mr Big for obvious reasons in that meeting, but I didn’t quite follow his criticism, because X/Y/Z. Am I missing something here? Did I react the right way? Could I have done something differently in that meeting to assure him this problem didn’t actually exist without coming off as confrontational or defensive?’ – key being also that you are actually open to having missed something. Maybe there is a big picture / strategic thing related to your project you don’t know?

    – Related to this: It just doesn’t always sit well to argue against higher ups on work that you have done (yes, even if you’re right, and it infuriates me, too) because you just come off as defensive and it’s not a good look. It doesn’t matter if you’re right, what you’re signalling is: I’m not open to criticism, and don’t respect yours. On the bright side, once I forced myself NOT to directly respond to criticism on the spot even if I felt it was unwarranted (I made it my personal rule), I did actually often realise later that there was a grain of truth or that the criticism pointed at some other problem etc. It made me more open to valuable feedback (still working on it though) and allowed me sometimes to go back and say ‘I hear you on this and will work on this in xyz way, but I did want to come back on point A you mentioned – there is this context Z to this point; could you help me figure out how I should have done it differently?

    – Lastly: Yes, frequently people are higher up for non-merit reasons and our straight up meritocracy is a myth. But in the places where I really liked to work and enjoyed myself, the higher ups were often really good and excelled at their job (and I could learn from them). It helped me to think about it this way and admit that I’m still early in my career and simply don’t know a lot of stuff, and that I may be missing info/context.

  198. AngelCat*

    I can relate to the OP too. However, for me the issue most often isn’t so much a desire to control how others behave as it is me feeling a serious lack of job satisfaction in these circumstances. A lot of advice here focuses on allowing stupid managers to make mistakes and pay for those mistakes. But in my experience, we as the worker bees end up feeling the painful effects of the bad decisions. For example, your colleague might always get the plum assignments while you always get the dud assignments. Your manager’s way of assigning work might have more to do with your colleague’s privileged relationship with your manager than with your colleague’s skills. You might be just as competent but your manager refuses to allow you to shine. This is a politically motivated bad decision on your manager’s part. Can you ignore that and just focus on your paycheque? I certainly can’t…. I expect more from a job than just money. I want to enjoy it and feel respected. Wondering how many people out there feel this way too. Also wondering how many people make this need to feel respected a lesser priority than the money.

  199. SleepyHollowGirl*

    I delegate. I aim to have one good manager between me and the slimeballs, and go through that manager for anything worrisome. And a good manager does take corrections (at least when properly delivered).

    Also, I like to think of upper management as weather–they can make a big difference in your life, but you can’t change them any more than you can tell it to stop raining.

  200. Phoenix*

    I have 2 thoughts – first of all, as much as you can, seek either internal or external validation for yourself! I find myself getting most frustrated with this kind of stuff when I haven’t received any positive feedback about my work for a while. But even slowing down to give MYSELF positive feedback can really help. Like, if I can take a breath, tell myself that I KNOW I’M RIGHT and they are ignoring me in ways that will hurt them, and I recognize it even when my bosses don’t – I can get through the stupid decision. And I feel better. Getting that validation from a partner or friend or colleague helps too.
    Also, this can sound a bit … manipulative? But I wonder if you could reframe your agreeing to the absurdity of office politics as a strategy that you are using to progress in your career. On days when I don’t want to give my bosses the satisfaction of agreeing with them, I sometimes think about the benefits that will come to me if I just carry on, and all the subtly-rebellious changes I can make in my workplace when I am seen as a team player. By internally framing smaller choices to go along with the hierarchy as necessary evils, I feel more like a noble spy, doing the good work of lifting up new democratic norms and taking on the system from the inside. My best friend says this is a bit creepy and sounds like The Art of War but it really helps me imagine that one day, with my increased power, I can make better decisions than the ones being made now!

  201. Amy*

    Coming in late on this one, but I have a few thoughts.

    1) Learn to pick your battles. Someone who knows how to push back against authority is INCREDIBLY valuable, but if you push back on everything that seems wrong to you, your impact will lose its effectiveness. Figure out what things matter most to you, and save your comments for things that matter in the bigger picture.

    2) Learn effective strategies for HOW to push back. I know it’s annoying to not be able to just say “Hey, you’re wrong” simply because the person you want to say it to has more hierarchy/authority than you in the corporate chain, but ask yourself seriously – do you want the mistake corrected, or do you just want someone to know you’re right? If it’s the latter, that’s probably good stuff to work through with a therapist. But if it’s the former, the best way to correct a mistake is to know how to talk to your audience. Most people don’t like getting told off, and they’ll get defensive and double down on the mistake. But – if you presume best intent on the other person’s part, and do your best to think of reasons WHY they might be wrong (maybe they were informed incorrectly, or maybe they actually know something you don’t, etc), it will help you form a way of pushing back that won’t piss people off. For example, “Hi! So I noticed you mentioned the topic for the conference is X. Last I understood based on my conversations with Jane and Mark, the topic for the conference is supposed to be Y, and all of the work I’ve done for the conference up to this point was with that understanding. Can you let me know if I’ve misunderstood something, so I know if I need to change gears?”

    3) If all else fails, look for jobs where hierarchy just doesn’t matter as much. Some organizations have flatter hierarchies than others. Some organizations have hierarchies where everyone is encouraged to have open dialogue with upper management. Look for smaller businesses. You might even consider, after some time in an industry, doing consultation where you can pick your clients (though keep in mind that to keep clients happy you’ll still need to do the sort of work in #1 and #2), or starting your own business where you are the boss.

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