Author Topic: How to communicate with my manager  (Read 1490 times)

dodojojo

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How to communicate with my manager
« on: December 10, 2019, 09:10:32 AM »
I have worked with this manager for 7 years.  We're a two man team so it's all very insular and tight knit.  We have an ongoing issue where the manager accuses me of constantly pushing back on him via our communications. And I agree that sometimes it is my fault or I have not communicated clearly.  But I feel I'm in a situation where I spend a stupid amount of time/energy carefully composing any communication with him lest there's any misunderstanding.  I'm on eggshells and emotionally/mentally it's taxing.

At this point, I want to ask him if he just wants a Yes man?  Do I shut down on offering any opinion?  Any observation?  We have a had a couple of blow-ups this year and I have asked him how he wants me to communicate with him?  I read the book "Crucial Conversations" in hopes of improving my communications with my manager but the advice and solutions offered involve having direct conversations with my boss about our issues.  I am afraid he will only take my initiative to address our problems as another "pushback". 

I remember one instance where I forwarded him an email with FYI. He responded to the forwarded email and when the 3rd party replied that no response was needed, my manager blamed me because my email had not provided him enough information.  He FYIs me ALL the time.  I thought he understood what it meant.  If I needed him to take action--I would not have just FYIed him.  That's an example of our situation of one shitty little thing blowing up but it's bubbling under a huge issue for us.  Now I found myself actually overthinking when it comes to FYIing him an email.

From his responses to me, he thinks I'm passively aggressively pushing back on him.  I want to have a mature line of communication with him without feeling like he's going to be set off by a word or sentence he objects to.  I acknowledge there are things I can work on--but it feels like he wants total subordination from me.  I'm mid-late career not an intern and it's frustrating that I can't communicate with my manager without feeling like I need to be ever fearful I'll piss him off.

How do I do my job if I don't feel like I can offer an opinion or observation?  Being a super passive aggressive yes man isn't going to be sustainable

Yes, the bigger picture for me is to take a hike but difficult to walk away from 6 figure position.  All my other jobs were in non-profit and I'm not keen to take a step down in salary.

Current FI situation is about 28K but I spend 45K so walking off into the sunset isn't in the cards. 

Malcat

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2019, 09:25:24 AM »
Have you tried being really direct?
If someone thinks you're always being passive aggressive, then sometimes a measured degree of direct, borderline aggression actually gets communication in line. A lot of people pick fights because it's an easy power play to get people to back down, showing that you are a bigger dog often gets them to back down. Realistically, what are his options if you start directly challenging this nonsense? Is he really willing to engage in more direct conflict with you?

If he's willing to fire you, then you're fucked anyway and he's probably trying to drive you to quit.

At the end of the day, you need to figure out what your options are and what the trade offs are for each of them.
Do you have anything to lose if the situation gets worse from you trying a more direct approach?
If you leave now, can you salvage a reference from the situation? Do you need one?
Are there any other roles in the company you would want to do?
Are there any roles with other companies you would rather do?

SunnyDays

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2019, 09:34:15 AM »
So, what did he say when you asked him how he wants you to communicate with him?  Take your cue from that and whenever he objects, tell him you are communicating with him the way he had asked and does he have an issue with that now.  Put it back on him - don't take the blame yourself unless you've screwed up, then acknowledge it.  Has he been like this for 7 years?  Sounds to me like either he's on a power trip or he's really defensive about his capabilities.  Is there some other conflict/issue with you that's going unaddressed and this is his way of expressing that frustration?

dodojojo

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2019, 09:46:15 AM »
So, what did he say when you asked him how he wants you to communicate with him? 

Nothing.  Didn't want to talk about it.  He told me what my problem is.  That's it.  I think his response is "fix your problem."  This is why I'm so hesitant to formally ask him to discuss this issue--he's indicated so far that having a sit down one one one isn't something he wants.

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Put it back on him - don't take the blame yourself unless you've screwed up, then acknowledge it.  Has he been like this for 7 years? Sounds to me like either he's on a power trip or he's really defensive about his capabilities.  Is there some other conflict/issue with you that's going unaddressed and this is his way of expressing that frustration?

See above, feel like any effort along these lines will result in "pushback" accusations.  Yeah, silently I nicknamed him "Delicate Flower" many years ago. Otherwise, it was actually a pretty good relationship--though in the back of my mind, I sensed that had a lot to do with me keeping up a very cordial front. But it's only been this year where he's been on this trip. And it started when after years of him cutting me off, I asked him to let me finish a thought.  So yeah that one act of directness hasn't worked out well...


dodojojo

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2019, 10:02:51 AM »
Have you tried being really direct?

Yes, see my reply to SunnyDays.  One act of little tiny bit of directness and he started pointing out how badly I communicate and how often I push back.  Never a word previous--or if he did feel this way, he didn't make it clear or I didn't get the hint.  But after I asked him to let me finish talking--all this stuff started happening.  Coincidence?

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If he's willing to fire you, then you're fucked anyway and he's probably trying to drive you to quit.
After an incidence this summer, I know he met with my administrative managers.  They never talked to me but I did my best to keep my head down and just try to get along...but there's always that eggshell situation and today was another incident.  So if I can get it through my thick skull, I can't hope this is going to be sustainable.

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At the end of the day, you need to figure out what your options are and what the trade offs are for each of them.
I've been planning to walk but I haven't applied/interview for a job since 2008 and have been appallingly lax about career growth/maintenance.  I haven't kept in touch with my previous co-workers and managers.  I have two friends who started off as managers and know they will write great references for me.  Just afraid it will look odd that I'm relying on references from 15-20 years ago.

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If you leave now, can you salvage a reference from the situation? Do you need one?
Are there any other roles in the company you would want to do?
Are there any roles with other companies you would rather do?

I would never ask him for a reference as I don't trust him to not be petty.  I do not want to stay in my current company.  Plus, I'm not qualified for many of the qualifications nor do I have any interest in them.

The last question is the hard one...what do I want to be when I grow up.  I'm about 10 years away from FI and it's really embarrassing to be in this situation.  I think I would take a paycut for career happiness.  Except that in my 20 odd years of working--I have yet to experience real happiness at a job.

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If he's willing to fire you, then you're fucked anyway and he's probably trying to drive you to quit.
We're a small team, aside from him, I'm the other person who can do my job...for now.  I'm totally replaceable, it's a just a matter how high the tolerance is to settle a new person into my position.  It doesn't take any particular hard skill, I just have a lot of institutional knowledge.


Sibley

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2019, 11:10:52 AM »
Just based on the information you've provided, this isn't a you problem. It's a him problem. Which means, you either get to walk on eggshells because your boss sucks and isn't being reasonable, or find something else.

I would start job searching. Just because you've been there 7 years doesn't mean you have to stay. It means you've been there 7 years. And right now, you don't need to use him as a reference because a reasonable employer would understand that you need to keep your job search confidential.

General work/job search advice as well: askamanager.org

SunnyDays

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2019, 04:07:52 PM »
Yep, time to move along.  Seems your boss expects you to read his mind and won't tolerate anything but "my way or the highway." 

I once had a professor like this - he made it clear to the whole class at the start of the term that he would not entertain any questions about his exam grading, saying that if we tried to make a case for a better mark, he would look for a reason to lower our mark.  I would regurgitate the lectures exactly on the exams and still get poor marks, but I didn't dare ask why.  Years later, I met someone else who had taken his class in a different year and her comment was "Yeah, he didn't want to be questioned because he didn't know his stuff."  Needless to say, I didn't learn much in that class.

You can't win with people like this - best just to get out from under them.

Case

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2019, 08:07:03 AM »
I have worked with this manager for 7 years.  We're a two man team so it's all very insular and tight knit.  We have an ongoing issue where the manager accuses me of constantly pushing back on him via our communications. And I agree that sometimes it is my fault or I have not communicated clearly.  But I feel I'm in a situation where I spend a stupid amount of time/energy carefully composing any communication with him lest there's any misunderstanding.  I'm on eggshells and emotionally/mentally it's taxing.

At this point, I want to ask him if he just wants a Yes man?  Do I shut down on offering any opinion?  Any observation?  We have a had a couple of blow-ups this year and I have asked him how he wants me to communicate with him?  I read the book "Crucial Conversations" in hopes of improving my communications with my manager but the advice and solutions offered involve having direct conversations with my boss about our issues.  I am afraid he will only take my initiative to address our problems as another "pushback". 

I remember one instance where I forwarded him an email with FYI. He responded to the forwarded email and when the 3rd party replied that no response was needed, my manager blamed me because my email had not provided him enough information.  He FYIs me ALL the time.  I thought he understood what it meant.  If I needed him to take action--I would not have just FYIed him.  That's an example of our situation of one shitty little thing blowing up but it's bubbling under a huge issue for us.  Now I found myself actually overthinking when it comes to FYIing him an email.

From his responses to me, he thinks I'm passively aggressively pushing back on him.  I want to have a mature line of communication with him without feeling like he's going to be set off by a word or sentence he objects to.  I acknowledge there are things I can work on--but it feels like he wants total subordination from me.  I'm mid-late career not an intern and it's frustrating that I can't communicate with my manager without feeling like I need to be ever fearful I'll piss him off.

How do I do my job if I don't feel like I can offer an opinion or observation?  Being a super passive aggressive yes man isn't going to be sustainable

Yes, the bigger picture for me is to take a hike but difficult to walk away from 6 figure position.  All my other jobs were in non-profit and I'm not keen to take a step down in salary.

Current FI situation is about 28K but I spend 45K so walking off into the sunset isn't in the cards.

Your situation is definitely a tricky one, since this person is your direct manager and has a lot of power over you.  That's the last person you want to have any sort of conflict with.  Or wait, is he your manager? You mention 'administrative managers'?  Who do you directly report to?  And how much power does this guy have?  If you have a different real direct manager, you should absolutely be discussing this problem with them.  You should also be documenting this in your own private records.  Your real manager (if not this guy) needs to know that you want to work with this guy and improve your relationship and are actively trying, and that he is rejecting you.


socaso

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2019, 11:12:13 AM »
The part where you say he's only been on this trip for a year after once instance of you asking to finish your thought is a red flag for me. He's on some power trip revenge thing. I think you need to get out since it doesn't sound like you can be reassigned.

One problem I see with the math of FIRE is that some people start looking at the numbers more than their mental health. It's not normal or healthy that you have been tiptoeing around this person for 7 years. It's not sustainable for you to continue for 10 years. You deserve to be happy and not stressed out all the time. I had an abusive manager like this. She would always say things were my problem and I needed to fix it. Communication problems are seldom one sided. You already know he's not going to address it so dust off your resume. If it helps you get motivated then maybe find a career coach for yourself. They can help with the resume and just generally helping you see your strengths.

Cb1234567

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Re: How to communicate with my manager
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2019, 05:15:38 PM »
Have you considered that the problem manager might be threatened by you? 
I would expect that - in 7 years - youíve matured in your role, even if youíre not into career development. Itís hard to know how we come off to others, but you sound pretty self-aware. Sometimes we grow opinions and a backbone that just are not palatable in the current role, meaning weíve outgrown that particular pair of shoes. I donít see pussy-footing around as sustainable either.

Regardless, Iíd be job shopping, even a transfer within your own company maybe. Youíre not going to advance in this role under this manager. And, like a business, if youíre not growing, youíre dying - you want to be learning *something*, right? 10 years is a long time to just petrify in place, while watching a poor relationship become worse.

The upcoming holidays are a great time to contact those old references, have a quick coffee with a pal from your current job (a reference need not be this manager - in fact, good recruiters/HR people should ask if your search is confidential, so as to not threaten your current employment.

If youíre heíll-bent on staying, read that Classic by Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People. As you noticed, it takes more care and energy to say things with the objective of understanding the other person (vs spewing our own p.o.v.). Itís a useful skill. Not often practiced IMO, unless you have an exceptional boss.