Stanley Bing

Your boss is a sexist bonehead

He's nice to you in private, but berates and ignores you in front of clients. Time to get manipulative.

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By Stanley Bing

My boss is uber-passive aggressive. One day he's nice as can be, the next he completely ignores me and yells at the slightest mistake. Every day is dependent on his mood. Most days he praises and is so kind to the other employee, while completely ignoring me. If he does speak it's to tell me I've done something wrong (and if I haven't, he'll change his policy to make me wrong).

The other employee makes mistakes and it's "no biggie, it's ok" whereas if I made the same mistake there'd be hell to pay. The other person has been there only six months and works part time. I've been there four years working full time. I do a substantial amount of the work and I work hard, always trying to please him. He doesn't act this way everyday, but he does it a lot. I can't figure out what puts him in a bad way that makes him turn on me.

Here are a few examples: I'll spend hours working on something, give it to him completed, and then it will just disappear so that I have to do it again. Or he'll say, "Oh, we don't need that anymore. Change of plans." I'll give him completed work and he gives it the okay, then when the client is in he'll make a point to show me everything that's wrong with it (even though he approved it earlier) in front of the client so that I look incompetent. Clients will come in and he'll introduce them to the other employee but ignore me. When they introduce themselves to me he acts like he just didn't realize (these are clients that I did the work for, I was the one in contact with them over the phone).

What is his problem? Does he do it only to me because he knows the other employee won't put up with it? I'm at a loss as far as handling him. He acts like he hates me. He doesn't like it when clients compliment me (heaven forbid they actually talk to me, especially the men, because then my boss goes into overdrive with the ignoring etc.). I feel as if there should be a sign above my door like at the zoo "Please don't feed the animals" only it'd be "Please don't acknowledge the employee."

I'm guessing from your letter that there's one huge, unspoken factor involved: You are a woman. And he, I am sorry to say, is a stone-cold, sexist bonehead. Tell me you haven't made that connection? He is high-handed at one moment, overly-solicitous the next. He swaggers around in macho pride in front of other men and ignores you alone, because he is a dolt and believes that treating the woman in the office poorly indicates strength. It doesn't. He's a weasel and looks like it to any other man who was born after 1945, and possibly even some before.

This would also explain his tendency to be okay in private, praise your work and then show off the size of his equipment by lording his power over you in public. So I believe you are misdiagnosing the behavior. He is not passive-aggressive, although he presents that way. He is a sexist jerk who doesn't know how to manage a competent, responsible professional woman.

I wish I could tell you that there was a management technique to deal with this easily and quickly. There isn't. A man's attitude to women, particularly surrounding issues of power and dominance, is forged in the cradle and cultivated throughout his life both in the social and the workplace spheres. It screws up everybody's life, but just because it makes everybody unhappy and dysfunctional doesn't mean that men don't cling to what they know. The alternative - foraging off into land they know not - is far more frightening, in the end.

You can go two ways here: You can out-power this loser and shame him into behaving correctly. Call him on his rudeness and inconsistency at every turn. Whack him upside his head when he is bad. Push back hard when he gives you a rude shove. You know what? That's exhausting. And it doesn't sound like you're that kind of person, either. You sound reasonable and kind and forgiving. These are all liabilities in the world you inhabit.

Fortunately, you have the tool that has worked for eons to help the less aggressive people in social and professional situations: manipulation. Withhold work until the last minute, so that he doesn't have time to screw around with it. Ask him if you may attend the meeting, and then withhold your friendship and attention when he says no. Express NO emotion when he is unpleasant. Allow him no access to your feelings, because he doesn't deserve it. With a little practice, it becomes easy to manipulate bosses. Click on the link at the top of my page and purchase one of my books. I've been working on the problem for years and believe I have made some headway.

Finally, you could also try perhaps the most difficult strategy of all: gentle, persuasive reasoning. To do that, you will have to show him where he errs, reward him when he is good, chill him when he is bad, and keep reminding him of his inconsistencies and stupidities. To do that, of course, you will have to keep your temper. And good luck with that.

As a boss with a sense of humor, do you find that making people laugh in the office can make it harder to get them to do what needs to be done? The progressive approach to leadership would seem to be the opposite: Be firm but friendly, putting employees at ease with a laugh or two if one has the skill to do so appropriately. (Let's leave the priest/minister/rabbi joke teller out of this for now.) People enjoy working for someone who finds humor in the 9 to 5 (or 8 to 7), work hard for that person and stick around awhile. But some employees take anything less than a consistently hard exterior as a sign of vulnerability, and behave accordingly. Maybe we just can those people. But, you know, in a funny way.

I've always found that being light and humorous with people is a better management tool than being a hard-fisted, hammer-driving butt-kicker. I've also generally felt it works as an employee, too. You can go overboard, though. One year I went in for my department's budget review and the chairman said, "Oh, good. Here's Bing. We can have a laugh." I didn't think that was generally superb positioning in that instance.

As for being a light-hearted and funny boss, yeah, it's a good stance to take, mostly because many of us find it more fun to be that way than to be a jerk. On the other hand, don't forget that in the end being a boss means never having to give a rational reason for what you want. It means having authority over people whether you're smarter than them or not. It means getting what you want even when what you want is stupid. There are times, inevitably, when you don't get what you want, and that may require yelling and screaming like a little baby. Don't neglect that as part of your arsenal as well.

Some years back some people I knew had a business, we were friends, I never hinted at needing a job, because I was doing fine.... One day they asked me if I would join them in their business, to learn it overall and do some normal sales calling on typical accounts (no account was worth more than $1 million at the time). One day the two sons in a meeting said "someday somebody here is going to land a $5 million account" and there was a pause and I said "and" and his reply was "whoever does is going to be well taken care of."

A year later, I went to the CEO level of a very large company.... persuaded them to do something they had not considered or intended to do... I was good and it led to a deal and a new entity just for that deal... and the first year revenue was over $30 million, second year was $60 million, third $90 million - it went all the way to nearly $200 million and I got the same salary. They skipped my normal yearly bonus for two years, then gave me 10 grand and said that's it, good job. Needless to say the friendship was dead and I left. Hindsight says I should of stayed, made them fire me and sue them for wrongful termination or some such thing.

I made them over a million dollars in real estate in addition to many many millions in the bank, then they sold the deal out to a New York private equity firm and cashed out with serious money. So I was instrumental in creating somewhere in the neighborhood of a $100 million fortune for two brothers and I am sitting figuring out how to pay for my kids' college next year. I lose lots of sleep when I think about it and I tell anyone who works for anybody never do anything extraordinary unless you have it in writing.

I don't know. I think there may be something missing from your story that I'm not getting. Be that as it may, however, you make a good point that may be important for our readers to keep in mind: When you work with friends, you risk both your work and your friendships. This is because business is often about money, and if there's one thing that screws up any relationship, it's money. Next to sex, it's the most personal relationship people have during their lifetime. It's a strong family or friendship that can withstand serious disputes involving it. And this one sounds like a doozey.

I also wonder what the heck is wrong with you. If you really and truly did bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to a company, what are you sitting around for years for, waiting to be recognized? In the future, I would say 1) stay away from friends bearing jobs and 2) when you land a million-dollar deal, bring up the issue of compensation pretty much right away.

There also might a small question about your capacity to judge people with acumen. Did these sleazy dudes display their snakelike personalities only at the end of the day? Didn't you pick up a whiff of mung at some point earlier on?

Don't get me wrong. I feel for you. It's horrible feeling like you've made a bunch of money for people who got rich on your labor and gave you nothing in return. I can see why you're up at night thinking about it. Come to think of it, why not sue them, huh? If you have a case, you could come away with some of their dough. That would be nice. And even if you don't have a case, you could still make a bundle on your nuisance value. That's why God created attorneys.

After reading a number of your columns other the past few months, I have a question: do you always take your reader's positions at face-value? There are always two sides of every issue. My personal observation after working nearly 30 years in the oil and gas industry? I have had many, many more emotionally unstable, rude, clueless, narcissistic, self-centered, self-absorbed, whinny, arrogant, co-workers than bosses. Just my two cents worth.

No, I don't take people at face value always. For instance, you appear to be a person of uncommon insight, an idealist who always hopes for the best and is shocked by the prevalence of the bad things around him. Whereas you could just be an ill-tempered rich guy in the oil and gas industry who made a lot of money and has no appreciation for the employees who got him there. Who knows? I prefer to think the former, however. Because what you say is true. Employees can well and truly stink. The thing is? They don't have the power to make their insufficiencies as crippling as management does. It's also not as much fun to stick a pin in a guy making $37,500.

Could you send me the phone number of that guy who is working for a Silicon Valley firm for free? Our project is a little behind on deliverables and we are over budget. We need some free help from this patsy/loser/candidate. Oops, did I just say that out loud?

You're talking about my friend Steve. He worked for a Silicon Valley firm for nothing until it got on its feet. You might say he was a chump. Ten years later, they paid him several hundred thousand dollars by way of thanks, pretty much unbidden. He is now working at a big-five accounting firm making buckets of money. So what goes around comes around. Instant karma's gonna get you, right? To top of page

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