Managing difficult relationships at work.

by Emily Hodge, 21st November 2020

Hi Emily,

I have just started a new job at a crazy start up. Loads of really successful people and great minds so I am really excited to join them. I am 25 and have done really well in my career so far. It is my job to go in and use my skills and experience to ‘fix a thing’. However there is a very senior member of the team that is always blocking everything I do. He doesn’t like it when I share my opinion in meetings and is always shouting me down. I was really excited by the product however I worry his angry outbursts are going to have an effect on my self esteem. He has already made me cry twice! This seems to be the status quo for the company and nobody wants to put him in his place… What should I do? Leave or find a way to manage his moods even though I know he won’t change.

Emily's response:

You say it's always been your experience to 'fix a thing' so I want to start with this. 

However you decide to fix the situation for yourself, it’s very unlikely you’re going to be able to change your boss’s moods, so I’d like you to know this isn’t your job to fix. Despite it impacting you and, by the sounds of it, others, significantly, there are other ways to impact change. 

One way is to consider getting the right support within the organisation. Confiding with close colleagues is a good way; people you trust and who you know will have experience of the boss too. You may find his behaviour has been reported before which is both useful and not - not, because it’s unfortunate that it’s continuing. 

Another more formal way would be to approach HR or head of people, if the start up has one, but it depends on how you feel you want to proceed with anything more serious. You shouldn’t be put off doing so, but you may find it depends on they respond to your raising the issue that determines how much you feel it might change. 

You can also find more passive ways to impact change - ensuring you have other people within the meetings who support your ideas, don’t shout you down and encourage ideas like yours. You may also consider using the experience to ensure you bring out others’ ideas, support them, even mentor even newer members of staff which can be incredibly empowering for you and them. 

Ultimately though, the boss is blocking and not treating you well right now so you can, and get to, decide if this role, and company, is the right one - is it actually a dream job if your boss is making you cry? 

I remember once a senior manager writing a leaving card to me from a public sector job where they’d said ‘we’ll miss you, but not your crying’. Having thought I was somehow deficient for being openly emotional, I soon realised this was neither deficient or wrong - it was just how I was, and I didn’t deserve to cry every week, so I left. Perhaps others would do differently. 

So do you ‘fight’ him, and the company if they’re not supportive? Or do you concede there’s a level of his behaviour you’re not willing to accept and it’s time to go? It’s a shame this is happening - I wish we could say we’d change him but we can only to a point, and usually inadvertently through other channels, like the team around him. If you did decide to leave, it might feel like failure but you won’t be the first to leave difficult managers behind.

But you have options - for thriving both within and potentially outside of the organisation, which IS what will help you fix this.

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