Managing the Boss

Dear Dr. Hurd,

I work for a charity. I answer to the executive director who makes me responsible for various fundraisers that I am expected to plan, advertise and set up. However, she then undermines me by either doing things that I should be doing (without telling me she’s doing them), or discouraging me from putting extra work into making sure the events are successful. I almost feel that she wants me to fail, which is interesting, because failure, though it would certainly make me look bad, would ultimately reflect on her.

I’ve heard the words “passive/aggressive,” and I believe that this is her approach towards me. I love my job, but her attitude is frustrating and insulting.


Dr. Hurd replies:

She’s your boss. It’s probably not wise to ask for a talk about her behavior. I wouldn’t say, “We need to have a talk about your undermining me.” Instead, I’d handle these situations case-by-case. For example, when she asks you to do a task then turns around and does it herself, say something like, “Did you want me to work on something else, or do you want us to work together on this?” Be polite and respectful, because you want to keep your job.

You feel that she’s deliberately trying to undermine you, but it’s more likely that she’s enthused — even anxious — about getting things done right. When she dives in to complete or tweak something you’re doing, it’s quite possibly in the interest of getting things done right – or at least how she interprets “right.” But you work for her, so that’s her prerogative.

You’re interpreting her desire for perfection as an attack on you. But think about it. She’s a perfectionist, which, strictly speaking, means trying to do the impossible. She sees you cannot do the impossible, so she attempts to do it herself. This much less an insult than it is a reflection of her anxiety-ridden, unrealistic expectations. You can be annoyed, or you can flip it around and admire her quest for excellence. Either way, it’s probably not personal, though it might seem that way.

“Passive/aggressive” refers to people who don’t like confrontation, so they express their unhappiness indirectly. Your boss is just a micromanager. That’s why I suggest handling matters case by case, keeping the communication strong and friendly. Right now you go to work every day feeling attacked. That’s a shame, because I doubt that’s her motive.

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