Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Defensive Boss

Every week, Mallory and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: “My boss asks us for feedback, then lashes out.”

Nicole: You have a difficult boss. I don’t think you’re going to be able to change her, but before a) sucking it up or b) looking for a new job (I recommend sucking it up, since it sounds like everything else is good), I would suggest in your next one-on-one that she institute a general suggestions inbox.

Uncoupling feedback from a developing situation makes it seem a lot less confrontational.

Mallory: it may be that the boss is slightly less wound up in one-on-ones, if she tends to get more explosive in team meetings?

Nicole: And you can sell it as being easier for the team, when in fact it’s easier for her.

Mallory: She seems very anxious about appearing “in control.”

Nicole: Oh, very much.

She clearly interprets feedback in meetings as being a public call-out.

It’s not, but you need to work with her mindset and not yours.

Mallory: Yeah, it’s a frustrating situation because the boss seems to repeatedly invite a situation where she loses her composure and feels unnecessarily threatened.

Nicole: Yes! She wants to think of herself as someone who welcomes feedback, and actually hates it.

Mallory: But I don’t want to immediately recommend quitting because A) finding a new job can be really hard and B) you don’t know what your new boss will be like!

Nicole: I would strongly recommend against quitting. The rest of her job sounds good, and this is common enough to at least try pushing through.

Mallory: So how does the LW go about recommending that suggestions box?

Nicole: ”I’ve been thinking about how to get you the feedback you’ve been soliciting in meetings, where I think people might not want to distract from the conversation or seem critical, and was thinking that either a suggestion box or making this something to do at the end of each one on one would get your employees to open up more.”

Mallory: At least if that goes over badly, it won’t be anything new!

Nicole: Precisely.

Mallory: It’s definitely frustrating. I once had a boss who would solicit a lot of feedback and then get very emotional or immediately shoot down any suggestions, and it was really difficult to work around.

Nicole: It feels like a trap!

Mallory: My strategy was mostly to keep my head down and not offer suggestions unless I absolutely had to, but I also didn’t plan on staying there very long, so it didn’t feel especially difficult.

and worst-case scenario, at least you know her process, so you know that if you suggest something and she gets upset on Monday, by Wednesday you’ll get to start implementing?

That’s a slightly dreary picture of the future!

Nicole: It is, but probably something you can live with if other things are good.