Work can be tough when everything depends on how the boss communicates. Is it simply a matter of adapting, or constantly bending over backward for someone who’s never going to be satisfied? See what Esther* and Fern* did.
When Esther* came to me, she was worried. As an older employee, she felt that starting a job search at her age would be a never-ending task, since she expected to face a great deal of age discrimination.
On the other hand, she told me that she already was, in her opinion. Since her new manager came on board last year – a much younger manager – it seemed that he wasn’t really interested in hearing any of her ideas when he asked the team for their input.
The new manager made a point over the past year to emphasize that he wanted “everybody’s” ideas, Esther told me; however, although she contributed nearly every time by emailing him a suggestion or two – well before the stated dealine – he very rarely brought her ideas up for discussion during the bi-monthly staff meetings. In fact, there had been occasions when similar ideas to hers were discussed . . . and other staff members were credited.
I examined Ester’s process of submitting her ideas more closely – particularly when the similar ideas made it to the meeting, asking her, “How did other staff members submit their ideas to the manager?”
Esther discovered that most of the (younger) members actually sent him text messages, rather than emails, much to her surprise. She also reviewed her emails on the topics and found a couple of responses from the manager, asking her to send him a consolidated version prior to the meeting.
“I thought that I had,” Esther recounted, “But I’m pretty sure that was the month that he presented (and credited) someone else’s similar idea.”
I told Esther that I believed she could Fix It! by learning how to communicate with her Gen X boss in his preferred medium: texting. Something that would help her become more comfortable and skilled in this area would be to open a Twitter account and learn how to tweet.
Not only does Twitter teach users how to succinctly make a statement, but the 140 character limit forces writers to make every word count. Clearly, this type of writing is important to Esther’s boss, who just wants the bare minimum when collecting ideas for staff meetings.
Esther applied this new tactic, and within a few meetings, not only did she get her ideas on the agenda, but was complimented on her improved writing skills. She is very pleased to know that she can continue being appreciated for her talents in her current job, rather than begin interviewing.
Fern* had seen firsthand how difficult the economy was for people. For the past couple of years, her cousins had been out of work – searching, to no avail – and living with her.
She had a very difficult boss, but didn’t feel she had any choice about putting up with him. It was obvious to her that the job market was difficult, and she felt lucky just to have a job. Besides, other people were counting on her – it wasn’t just about her.
Recently, though, the fog had begun to lift. Each of her cousins had found positions that were permanent, and had begun to save some money. In several more months, they were planning on moving out, to get their own apartment!
Just knowing that things were going to settle down was making her home life much less stressful, which had the side effect of allowing Fern to really notice exactly how stressful her workplace really was, though – with a kind of laser-like focus.
Fern began to see that the CEO’s odd behavior wasn’t solely directed at her, for one thing, but that others had similar frustrations, not knowing what to expect from him, one day to the next.
She could see that this was the crux of the difficulty, actually: he was so unpredictable and moody day to day, that his mood swings often greatly affected her mood afterward.
The CEO’s demeanor frequently would oscillate to great extremes, often playing out during meetings, as well as affect policy decisions.
For example, there were numerous planning meetings, where the CEO sat nearly sullen and silent, leading others to speak up more, ultimately heading the project and making the decision on what would happen, because as everyone looked to the CEO, he either nodded or clearly didn’t care, from his shrug.
Later, (often much later) when a great deal of the project was in the works, the CEO would step in, sneer, and either dismantle it altogether, or find so much fault that it ended up getting such a makeover that it didn’t even resemble the original design!
Other times, the CEO was so engaged from the start, nobody could get a word in edgewise during the planning stage, but it was just as well. Clearly, he only wanted “yes men,” so people either nodded vigorously, or sat silent, waiting for their assignments and watching the clock.
Those who had been through his “mania” before knew that he’d lose interest in whatever he was currently feverish about soon enough, anyway, so there really was no point in volunteering for something that would be altered or shelved, so why bother?
As Fern considered this repetitive pattern, she told me, it gave her a bit of relief.
“I suppose it could have made me even MORE depressed, but I think it was what I needed: a chance to step back and look at the situation rationally. My fear of my circumstances had just gripped me before, but now, I could see that it really was him, and not me . . . and that I needed to Forget It!”
Without others depending so much upon her, and an indication that the job market was a bit better, Fern decided to start looking for a job for herself.
Although it did take several months, Fern feels that she wouldn’t have been a good candidate before her change in attitude and outlook, anyway.
“I am so relieved to be in a new atmosphere,” she says. “It’s incredibly different, to be headed to work and think about the tasks I’ll be facing, rather than wonder – with trepidation – what sort of emotional storm lies ahead today!”
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown