Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Bad Bosses

Dear C and Dr. B;

We have a new boss at work and half the people there are ready to quit after listening to her for a week. When it comes to straightening out problems and keeping things on course, she has the diplomacy of a water buffalo in heat. She has this totally negative approach! 

Here’s my experience with her yesterday – first, she calls me into her office. Then, she opens with: “You punched in over 5 minutes late three times this week!” So, I got prepared to get reamed out for my attendance, and it really pissed me off, because in addition to being a couple minutes late once or twice, I’d also brought in 2 new accounts that boosted the department average considerably. In fact, I thought that she’d called me in to congratulate me! But no. 

So, I am inwardly seething over the unnecessary dressing down, and barely hear what she starts in on next. Then she suddenly ends the session with: “By the way, good job on the new accounts, keep it up!” Did I feel appreciated? No. I am surprised as hell and I feel like slapping her.

I know she’s screwing up, but if I say anything, I am pretty sure my suggestion will go over like a lead balloon. Thing is, I think she’s going to lose our best workers, and we all liked our jobs before. No one really wants to leave, but we just can’t stand her. What do I do with someone like this?      – Burned Betty

Dr. B says:

Americans are not known for diplomacy, etiquette, or subtlety. We think out loud, or we think internally and start a conversation in our head, then fall into verbal conversation in the middle of our thoughts without realizing that others didn’t hear our first thoughts. We also say one thing when actually meaning another – or our tone of voice might be out of sync with the message we are trying to convey.   

The way to deal with anyone is neutrality. Do not take it personally. Let them have their say, nod, or, if appropriate, summarize: “What I hear you saying is.…..”  You shouldn’t agree or disagree with it, simply acknowledge it: “Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” Then, walk away and go back to whatever you were doing.    

Everyone has a right to their opinion, no matter how misguided.   But you do not need to agree with it.   Also don’t wait for the cookie. You don’t need affirmation – you are doing a good job, let it go at that.  Waiting for affirmation and not getting it will diminish anything you have done. 

You can’t ever assume that someone is on the same page as you, or that they have all the information as you have it, or that they see or experience the world the way you do.  Two people can be saying the exact opposite things and both can be 100% absolutely right. Reality is ambiguous and imperfect. Context and relationship matter. 

Your boss may have the verbal abilities of a 5th grader but studies show that’s where most Americans are with their verbal skills. You can be the adult in the room and role model for others.  If you are consistent, it may actually change the flavor of the office over time.

C says:

So it’s the worker’s job to coddle the boss and make sure things go right when the boss is screwing up? I’m glad I don’t live in that world. Here is a freelancer’s point of view; I can say what I really feel because I can’t get fired for it. I could possibly lose a client, but who wants to work for an asshole anyway?

If your boss is making everyone in the company want to quit, she shouldn’t be coddled, she should be canned. A good boss does not alienate every employee until they loathe what they do. A good boss knows how to bring out the best in every worker.

I am a teaching artist and I have seen the damage a bad teacher can do to a child’s creativity. Those who teach by criticizing mistakes and berating boisterous enthusiasm can turn out kids who are literally afraid to move for fear of getting yelled at; or they can become students full of simmering rage.

Don’t passively role model and hope things improve. You have a new boss – somebody hired the bitch. Find out who that is, and clearly communicate the effect she is having on the business. A bad boss can ruin a company. Protect your own ass, then do everything you can to get rid of her. 

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at