Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Vicious Boss

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the vicious boss.

Nicole: I think a lot depends on the closeness of your relationship with this young woman. It seems unlikely she would be like “oh I wanted this job but my friend Anna who used to work for you said you were a vindictive bitch,” at any rate.

I would certainly not lie about the badness of the job, the degree of detail I brought would indeed depend on how well I knew/trusted the young woman in question.

Danny: yeah, I can absolutely believe that Carlotta has the ability to, if not ruin careers, at least damage them or make things harder for individuals if she thinks of them as her ‘enemy’

Nicole: Yep

Danny: I get why the LW wants to tread carefully

Nicole: She’s clearly still reeling from a terrible experience, too

Danny: but I also agree that it’s unlikely this young woman would go around telling people why she didn’t take the job (if she were even offered one)

yeah I mean my God, that’s traumatic! Hair falling out? Stopping menstruation? That is LEVELS beyond a regular bad boss

Nicole: Right!!

I would tell her to answer questions honestly, and at the beginning of your meal, make it clear that this discussion is in mutual confidence.

You’re doing her a massive favor, after all.

The one thing is, be prepared for her to take the job anyway.

She’s really excited about having gotten an interview, and the data points you’re providing may not add up to turning down what may seem like a “perfect” fit in a bad economy.

Danny: and for your own peace of mind, maybe schedule a therapy session before/after, since it still brings up a lot of fear and panic for you to even think about Carlotta?

Nicole: Oh, 100%

Danny: yeah definitely prepare yourself for that

Nicole: You are not doing as well as you would like or expect by this point

Danny: which could be really hard, if you speak honestly about what happened to you and she just kind of has her Inexperienced-Optimism Blinders on

Nicole: Right!!!

It could feel hugely alienating

Danny: it’s the professional equivalent of “I’m sure I can change him!/he’s different now”

and so to that end I also think it’s important to speak diplomatically rather than get really vulnerable with this young person

Nicole: RIGHT

As you would if you were being asked for a reference!

Danny: so saying things like “I was often expected to be on call during holidays and on nights and weekends; this wasn’t communicated consistently and I found it challenging to try to anticipate when I might hear from Carlotta” rather than “She called me screaming every Saturday night and I started crying in my car”

Nicole: You can talk about the general work environment, etc, without mentioning that you stopped menstruating.


Danny: yes, you don’t have to share painful, intimate details of your life in order to give her the information she needs to make an informed decision

i really do hope she listens to you

Nicole: Same, so much.

Danny: I hope that if I heard something like this from someone that I would not take a job!

Nicole: Part of me was like “you’re close to her mom, maybe you can be candid with HER” but also this is an adult woman so don’t.

Me too.

Danny: yeah I don’t think having the mom intervene is going to help anyone

and hopefully more people will become aware of Carlotta’s terribleness and would not take her seriously if she did try to discourage clients from working with you/otherwise sabotage you

I know that often sometimes people who are VICIOUS to their employees are strategically wonderful to colleagues/clients, though

so I don’t doubt that Carlotta could keep this up for years

Nicole: People like that usually poison their own well pretty quickly in terms of employee retention and morale, but as you say, it doesn’t necessarily impact their ability to make money and be successful.

Danny: I hope she retires soon and you never have to worry about her again

unrelated but have you seen the Vanessa Hudgens Christmas twin movie yet

Nicole: Agreed.


Danny: or are you still on a horror kick

it’s the Prince and the Pauper!

Nicole: Always, but if I have a REASON

Danny: but with Vanessa Hudgens doing a British accent!!!

Nicole: lolllll

Danny: can we coordinate a viewing?

not at the exact same time if schedules don’t permit

but I really want to watch it with you

Nicole: absolutely, baby waking up but let’s do this