The “Aggravating” Supervisor Problem | What’s an Employee to Do?

There’s a lot of talk about “attitude” in the workplace:

  • “That employee is giving me a lot of ‘attitude.’”
  • “If s/he had a better attitude, the work would get done on time.”
  • “Good performance is about attitude.”

Our attitude speaks to our disposition and/or our frame of mind. That’s the platform we start from when we come to work. Built into our attitudes is our sense of fair play, honesty, respect, and authenticity.  When we don’t get that from our supervisors, it’s aggravating.

The “supervisor effect” on attitude 

We expect our supervisors to do right by us and our coworkers, to be principled, and to consider the good of the team over self. When they don’t, it affects our attitude. 

When supervisors aggravate us, we:

  • Become uncooperative, pushing back on direction and/or slacking off
  • Resist requests to change the way we perform work
  • Stop communicating, withholding ideas
  • Won’t engage in new initiatives, our development, and/or stretch goals

We become “negative” because we see no upside to aligning with the boss.

Assertiveness is our friend 

The more we shrink from the aggravating heavy-handedness and insensitivities of our supervisors, the more we reinforce their behavior.

Remember: We own our careers, so we need to ensure that we can perform fully and satisfactorily in them.

When supervisors don’t listen to our ideas, provide for adequate communication, enable us to do our work, or reward us fairly, we need to take action.

Okay, I know you don’t want to get in your boss’s face and risk losing your job. But there are things you can do and say respectfully.

Here are six ways an aggravating supervisor may behave and how you can counter him/her assertively (in italics) when s/he:

  • Plays the command and control card—“I expect you to follow my instructions as given without question. Understood?”
    • “What would you like me to do if the process breaks down? Shall I just continue? Or would you like me to contact you? I’ll follow your instructions.”
  • Thinks s/he’s the smartest—“I know the best way to solve this problem, so there’s no need for a meeting on it.”
    • “We have two people in the department who dealt with a similar situation before you took over. Does your idea include their input? I mention this because I know how important the result is to you.”
  • Doesn’t listen or acknowledge—“Yes, I heard you. I’m so busy. I’ll get back to you later if I have time.”
    • “I can’t proceed with this project without your input. I’d like to schedule a specific time to meet later today. When are you available?
  • Finds a way to make you wrong—“You could have gotten that project completed a day before deadline if you had only used the newly installed software.
    • “I was gratified to meet the demanding deadline. Using the newly installed software would have cost us a day because users were unfamiliar with it.”
  • Provides no rewards—“Well, team, the largest project we’ve ever been assigned was successfully completed. There will be no compensation or recognition for your extra hours. That’s just they way things are these days.”
    • “Even though the company can’t compensate us for extra work, there are other ways we can celebrate our achievement. I have a few ideas or would you like to start?”
  • Runs over you—“I don’t have time to wait until you get up to speed on these new regulations. I’ll assign it to someone else or do it myself.”
    • “With all due respect, this is my job responsibility. I am fully committed to doing what is needed to learn this material. What specifically must I do and how would you like me to proceed?”

Turn the tables

Most supervisors don’t want to aggravate us, but just do. And, yes, we also aggravate them. Instead of complaining, we need to help to turn an aggravating supervisor into an engaging one? Ready to try?

Photo from jean-louis zimmermann via Flickr