Each of our workplace experts has weighed in on the following question from a reader to give you four points of view. For other editions of our 360° Answers series, please click here.
Here’s the question, with our experts’ responses below:
I've been at my current job for two years and really enjoyed working here until the last six months. In a nutshell, I was given an account management position when the old acct manager quit, and was left doing a two-person job by myself until I finally announced I was not prepared for this and wanted to step down. It was decided I would still be doing most of the account manager duties, but that my supervisor would be the "face" of the company when dealing with clients. It's still a lot more work than I was used to, but I find it manageable and even enjoyable most of the time.
At the time I stepped down, my boss was very sympathetic and supportive. Now, however, she seems to be going out of her way to make me feel like an idiot. Whenever I ask a question in a meeting or make some sort of comment, her reply is always impatient and often sarcastic. This is something I have much difficulty dealing with; I can take it once in a while, but not multiple times every single day, and I'm at the point where I just can't keep my mouth shut. Whenever she makes some rude or sarcastic remark, I find myself firing right back at her, even in front of others (including my direct supervisor). I'm just not sure what I did to inspire her attitude toward me, or what I can do to make it better. I'm not sure what she expects of me. Any insight would be much appreciated.
Turning down or stepping down from a promotion isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, and it sounds like you acted in your own best interest as well as the best interest of the organization. However, without more detail, it's hard to know exactly what transpired when you announced your resignation. If you weren't as diplomatic or positive about the situation as you could have been, it could have sullied your reputation with this particular manager, who may now think you're not as dedicated and/or competent as before. She may also resent your decision because it means more work and/or agita for her. And finally, every time you and the boss get into an argument in public, it escalates the problem and it sounds like you are now near the point of all-out war.
I understand how upsetting this must be for you, and feel that it's time to nip it in the bud. Invite her to lunch or coffee. Sit down with her, swallow your pride, and acknowledge that your relationship has suffered since you stepped down from your prior role. Ask her what you can do to ensure that the two of you can work more effectively together. Even if you feel that the unpleasantness is mostly her fault, taking ownership and responsibility for getting things back on the right track will endear you to her. After all, it’s hard to be too critical of someone who earnestly wants to improve things. Hopefully, the conversation will also be a wake up call in the event that she is truly clueless about how her remarks are being perceived. Even though it's hard to address conflict directly, a response like this is the mature one, and both of you will be happier and more productive in the long run.
First, as difficult as it may be, you’ve got to set aside your hurt and anger and resentment because your emotions are going to be a roadblock to getting this issue resolved.
Second, take ownership of your part in this. Could it be that your boss has resentments of her own, such as feeling you threw an opportunity back in her face and you’re ungrateful for what she’s done for you?
Third, sit down and have an honest conversation with her. Stick to the facts and explain that you appreciate her support when you chose to step down, but now you’re getting the message that she may not believe you are intelligent or capable of doing the job. Say something like, “I’m starting to feel like you don’t trust me. I was wondering if there’s a problem that we can address so that our working relationship remains smooth.”
Make sure you give her time to respond and listen carefully. Don’t get defensive when she offers her opinion or that will shut down the discussion.
Finally, don’t put this conversation on the back burner. That will only give your emotions more time to take over and build a bigger case against your boss.
When someone leaves the company but the position is not filled by either a) adding a new staff member or b) decreasing productivity, it creates stress for everyone who surrounds that role. That stress first fell on you, and when you spoke up about it, that stress was distributed between you and your supervisor. Whereas you are now finding it manageable, she is likely feeling that added stress and not dealing with it well.
That being said, nobody needs to put up with continuous rudeness and sarcastic comments. Proactively, you can opt to have a private chat with her when you both are in a calm state of mind. Start by asking for her feedback about your performance lately. Make it clear you are open to hearing constructive criticism. This can open up the lines of communication and will start the conversation off on a positive, non-threatening note for her.
Reactively, you can stand up for yourself when these passive-aggressive comments are made by politely forcing a direct question. Don’t push for resolution or apology, but speak up and then let it go. Start pushing back a little bit in this way, and you will likely find the comment will start to decline.
Like Alexandra, Anita, and Eva, I agree that you need to talk to your manager and find out what’s going on. Whenever you’re puzzled or disturbed by comments or actions from your manager, the worst thing you can do is keep your head down and hope that it gets better on your own. That only ensures that you’ll miss the chance to find out what’s happening in your manager’s head and that you’ll be unable to respond productively to her concerns, which can leave you in a very vulnerable position.
So talk to her. Sit down and say something like, “I’m getting the sense lately that you’re frustrated with my work. You’ve made several comments that sounded irritated or impatient with me, and I’m concerned about what’s going on. If there are things you’d like me to be doing differently, I’d really appreciate knowing.” I’d avoid assuming that she’s angry that you backed out of your new role; she might be, but it might be something altogether different, so let her tell you herself what’s going on.
Meanwhile, no matter what her response to this conversation, you also need to stop being rude or sarcastic back to her. Not only do you risk further harming the relationship (and future references), and you also risk harming your image with other people who see it and think you’re handling the situation unprofessionally. If it’s at the point where you really can’t control your responses, you’re better off looking for another position rather than risking your own professionalism and reputation.