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Thread: Working for/and with an abrasive female leader who may harbor sexist attitudes

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    Working for/and with an abrasive female leader who may harbor sexist attitudes

    Does anyone have experience working with a very aggressive, blunt, direct, and overbearing person? My work situation is a little complex because I report to lots of different people in different ways. One woman I work for, who is a very senior leader/director in my division, has a very abrasive personality. She can come off as rude, and everything about her delivery is harsh. It's tough to not react to her style and just focus on what she wants and what she's saying. But sometimes I have to correct her or redirect her, when it's not actually the best choice of action to just do what she commands, because sometimes she doesn't know the whole situation. But she's hard to say "no" to because she's so overpowering and can make you feel small. Also, I think she's a little sexist in that, I don't think she likes working with other women. I can see where she's coming from if she thinks most women are more touchy-feely and she clearly isn't that. I observed her passing over opportunities for other women, in favor of male candidates, and I can't help but think it's her gender bias.

    I guess I'm kind of ranting about her now. Thoughts?

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    I've worked with people like this. I did my best to limit our interaction to email (so that I could save emails as needed and at least one time, I did just in case) and I happen to like blunt but not rude - so the rude piece when it happened was the reason for the email interaction. Of course it's challenging to say no. So you rehearse, you self-talk - one thing I tell myself is 'I'm going to a tea party" (I've been to two formal tea parties in my life, that's it). Whatever it takes to trigger poise, groundedness, etc. I say as little as possible. I wouldn't presume sexism -she probably does better with other people who are blunt. There are men and women who are touchy-feely.

    I would not correct or redirect. I would do the sandwich approach. Ignore her tone and say "thank you for those instructions. I appreciate your guidance. (and then do not say "however" or "but") -just say "my understanding is that _____." what are your thoughts on that approach?"

    Or say "thank you. I will do so." Then when you deliver her project etc do a factual disclaimer "this ____ addresses [xyz] but not [abc]" - or convey in a very factual/direct way what you did and what your understanding was of the situation -as SHE described it, not as you thought it was. And of course you might be wrong, right?

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    Platinum Member j.man's Avatar
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    "Not the best choice" as in wrong? Or simply not, in your view, the most efficient? If her way still gets the job done, I'd smile and nod and be the most productive you can be with the directives issued. Sometimes it's the case that a plan is built to include a decision that may be inefficient, but changing or restructuring may impact other aspects which have been factored in. If something's legit gonna get fouled up inevitably as a result, then I'd take Batya's approach to heart, though as infrequently as absolutely possible. In those situations, it would then be your responsibility to inform her of details on the ground. Read: inform, not redirect or correct. If she wants to stick with a bad decision, so long as it's not breaking policy, all you can and should really do is document and perform. And I say as infrequently as possible because part of your role is going to be employing the familiarity of your role to best fill any discrepancies in her understanding of it.

    Personally, I like blunt bosses. And, like Batya, it'd be great if you could get it without needless curtness, but that is quite rare. I've only ever enjoyed that combination in the military. Still, my skin's pretty thick, and I'd much rather take the blunt with the bad than not have it at all. You're going home with a paycheck all the same.

    And while I'm mentioning Batya's name several times, I do agree both men and women can be sensitive. I also think that if we're speaking generally, women are still moreso (and understandably so given the history) struggling finding their assertive voice within their professions, and I wouldn't necessarily doubt your boss may have some particularly innate disrespect toward that archetype among her XX peers. But I doubt she's the type to give a guy a pass for the same. If anything, even if a sexist attitude in its own right, he'd likely be seen as more pitiful. I likewise wouldn't assume sexism, particularly when she's in a very different and elevated position to gauge needs and ability.

    Big rule of thumb for me is that if you're not paid to care, then don't. Obviously without neglecting your career.

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    Thanks, Batya that's good advice to be cognizant of my language and mindset going into the discussions with her.

    j.man - I feel like I should speak up if I have concerns about something or if I think she may not be aware of some more information. I guess I struggle with how to present information to her so as not to come off as contradictory or insubordinate, or to seem like I don't respect her decision - but to still make sure she hears me, since she has a tendency to talk over people and steamroll. I mean, maybe I should assume she knows what she's talking about. I guess I'm used to working for people who ask for input and she doesn't really do that so I don't know when to offer it. Maybe I should never offer it.

    Maybe I can figure out how to ask her about this, ask her if there is ever a situation when she would want my feedback or ideas or if she ever wants me to speak up if I have a concern about something she tells me to do. Maybe she'll say that if she wants my ideas she'll ask for them and that's that. I think that would be a hard pill to swallow but then I guess I'd know for sure.

    When she started her role, I'd been here for a while and a lot has changed around here but I was under the impression when she started that part of my role would be to keep her updated about some important things, and to monitor progress on certain projects. So I feel like simple obedience without contributing my take on things, that's not really what she asked for in the beginning.

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    Originally Posted by j.man
    Big rule of thumb for me is that if you're not paid to care, then don't.
    Well that's true. My accountability for what goes down is pretty low. But I wouldn't want to just let her walk off a cliff if I could help it.

    That's the hard part, because certain things, if I were in her position, would be issues for me to NOT do something. Like if a rearrangement would really upset people. But the way she sees things, feelings aren't as important so she doesn't see those as issues to deal with. So I see people being upset as a future problem and she sees people being upset but doesn't care.

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    Forum Supporter Jibralta's Avatar
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    I notice that you didn't say anywhere that she was incompetent.

    So, in the case of this boss, it seems like she is more interested in getting things done than she is in talking about them. She is goal-oriented, not very people-oriented.

    I think the best tactic in this situation would be to keep your head down and just do the work.

    I worked for someone like this at my own job. A lot of people had problems with him because he was impatient. He was a very fast decision maker and if something was going over budget he didn't care what you thought or felt. You had to change immediately, end of story. I thought of him as a rhinoceros.

    Fact is, he made great decisions. His department ran like a well-oiled machine. He could probably afford to lighten up on his gruffness a bit. But at heart, he was actually an extremely nice person and I really liked him just the way he was.

    One thing that helped me a lot was knowing that resistance was futile. I learned from the mistakes of others who tried to resist. If he told me to do something or change something, I did it. No argument. He was the boss.

    It helped us both.

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    Platinum Member reinventmyself's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Rihannon
    Well that's true. My accountability for what goes down is pretty low. But I wouldn't want to just let her walk off a cliff if I could help it.

    That's the hard part, because certain things, if I were in her position, would be issues for me to NOT do something. Like if a rearrangement would really upset people. But the way she sees things, feelings aren't as important so she doesn't see those as issues to deal with. So I see people being upset as a future problem and she sees people being upset but doesn't care.
    I hear you asking `What can I do to change or alter her behavior?'
    Answer: Nothing.

    The only thing you have control over is how you choose to react to her.
    She is going to be who she is. There is no clever response or delivery that going to change that.

    I have a difficult boss and after several years of trying to navigate him, I just give up. Life if easier if I don't say anything.
    Do they sometimes fall off the cliff, as you put it? Yep! But you didn't push her and you stay clear while she works to her pull herself back up.

    People like this are not team players. Though your intentions are good, nothing you can do will change this dynamic.

    You just need to figure out a way to get through your day without compromising yourself and let her doing her bad thing.

    I have learned to bite my lip and smile.
    It took me years to get here.

    My boss always wants my input or feedback, only to tell me I am wrong and counter me. If I say black, he says white.
    If I agree with white he changes back to black. So I just don't answer - or the other day I asked him why he asked me to begin with.

    He interrupts me and used to correct me in front of people.

    I just keep my head down, respond with one word answers and go about my business in my own way. I spend my entire work day trying to avoid him.

    Big rule of thumb for me is that if you're not paid to care, then don't.
    <- this is too good to not repeat again.
    I think I'll put it on a tshirt.

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    I love the input here. Please don't ask her whether she wants your feedback or input - she's going to say "of course I do -open door policy!" and she'll wonder why you'd ask such an obvious question in a professional environment. She may truly believe she is very approachable. I think you should avoid giving her feedback other than in the way it's been represented you should do so in this thread and very sparingly if at all.

    I used to think I wanted touchy feely and my issue now with that would be that touchy feely also often involves sharing personal or at least non-work information. And now that I have a child and childcare challenges at times, etc I like it better to keep all professional/business like so that my boss doesn't know all the details of my childcare arrangements or my husband's travel schedule -so that when situations do arise (infrequently thank goodness!) they're treated as individual situations - and purely business -and not emotionally or in the broader context of "oh right you told me your husband has to go to ___ or oh right your son just quit his activity so now you have to find other arrangements."

    My former mentor of ten years used to say "no one is sick on a Monday more than once" ( he assumed it was someone trying to extend her weekend or her vacation) - and he was grouchy/cranky/blunt. And I could take it and I reaped the benefits. Still am 20 years later. Just get on the thick skin, keep your nose down and do what Jman and Reinvent and Jibralta, etc said.

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    Platinum Member Wiseman2's Avatar
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    If you have to, express your opinion without countering hers. Otherwise there are just some draconian bosses out there and that has nothing to with her or anyone else's gender. There are some great books on how to deal with difficult personalities at work, workplace dynamics and dealing with all sorts of personalities.

    Originally Posted by Rihannon
    Does anyone have experience working with a very aggressive, blunt, direct, and overbearing person,

    I think she's a little sexist in that, I don't think she likes working with other women. I can see where she's coming from if she thinks most women are more touchy-feely and she clearly isn't that. I observed her passing over opportunities for other women, in favor of male candidates, and I can't help but think it's her gender bias.

  11. #10
    Gold Member Gary Snyder's Avatar
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    Sometimes you have try to find a job with a better boss. What we out up with for money, huh?!

    Or start your own business - because you are not going to win the lotto.

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