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

Career Going Nowhere? Ask for What You Want

Do you keep repeating the same old lines about your career?

“I work hard but I’m going nowhere. I want to: 

  • Earn more money
  • Be promoted
  • Get interesting assignments
  • Work somewhere else.” 

Who are you actually saying this to? Yourself, close friends, coworkers, and even strangers at a party (how sad is that?). Is it helping? My guess is, “no.” 

Exactly what do you want, anyhow? 

We have an easier time saying what we don’t want than what we do. 

At work, no one is assigned to read our minds. (Where’s Johnny Carson’s Carnac when we need him?) 

We’ve likely spent little or no time thinking, planning, or positioning ourselves to be considered for real opportunities. On top of that, we haven’t told anyone specifically what we want or asked for help. 

Now what? 

We have to plan our own course: That includes making decisions and acting on them, being fully invested in outcomes, and not being afraid. 

Start with these steps which aren’t as easy as they sound: 

  • Decide on the kind of work you want to do and where
  • Find out the salary growth potential of that work
  • Understand the progression line of jobs that you’ll need to follow
  • Look at growth opportunities over the next 5 years
  • Commit to developing your knowledge, skills, and experience 

This is the front work that hardly anyone does. 

Be decisive. Commit to a specific career path for the next 5 years, even though what you want may come sooner or a little later. Follow your plan, capitalizing on opportunities and learning everything you can.  

Now, ask for what you want! 

“Asking” makes what you say you want real. That scares some people.   

It also means meeting face-to-face with the people who can help you, saying the words, and committing to a course of action. You’re now entering into a unique kind of partnership. 

Your first “asking” conversation would likely be with your boss or an influential colleague and should be big picture focused like this: 

“I want to grow in my career and be recognized for my contributions. I’m committed to doing the work that’s necessary. I specifically want to position myself for opportunities (like______) and am looking for guidance/support/mentoring (depending on whom you’re talking to) from you. Would you be willing?” (The follow up ask: “If not, can you suggest someone else?”) 

As things start to unfold, you’ll want to have targeted “asking” conversations with your boss and others like these: 

1. “I would like to create more stretch goals for myself this year so that I can continue to demonstrate my value. I would appreciate your input/support on these 4 new goals.” 

2. “During the year I took on additional duties outside my job description which was a cost-savings to the department. I would like to be considered for a raise and/or an exceptional contribution award for that work. Is that feasible?” (The follow up ask:” If not, what will it take to get a salary increase?”)

3. “I would like to be considered for an XYZ position when a vacancy opens up. What additional knowledge/skills/experiences should I work on to make me the strongest candidate. Would you be willing to give me routine feedback?” 

4. “I’ve always wanted to participate in the development of a new product launch. I see that the company will be forming a team this summer. Would you be willing to appoint/recommend me?” 

Asking is the first step: Reminding (not nagging) is the next. We need to keep our wants and expectations visible and in the right context. 

Remember, it’s your career 

We don’t always get what we ask for, but that doesn’t mean we give up. However, if things don’t progress according to our timetables, we may need a change of venue! 

It never hurts to ask. The worst that can happen is that someone says “no,” an important bit of information for your on-going decision making. 

How about taking a fresh look at the direction of your career? Then ask specifically for something you want. You might actually hear “yes”!