Troubles at Work with a Boss
Ellen: Hi, Dr. Joy.
Dr. Joy: Hi, Ellen.
Ellen: I'm really upset, I'm sorry.
Dr. Joy: What's the matter?
Ellen: Well, I'm having problems with my boss, and my question is if I should working at my job right now, because of her, and find a new job?
Dr. Joy: Okay, how old are you?
Dr. Joy: How long you been at the job?
Ellen: A little-about a year.
Dr. Joy: What's the problem with your boss?
Ellen: Well, I think she's very passive-aggressive, like she'll ask me questions-like, I'm a fitness instructor-
Dr. Joy: Right.
Ellen: So we make up our own hours, and she'll ask me, like, "So, how's everything with all your clients?" and I'll say, "Oh, you know, fine, I mean, there's one person-I think she's kind of bored with her workout, but whatever, you know, we're working on it." And then later, she'll bring it up again, and then be like, "You know, you have really low self-esteem, and you proved it to me by saying that you think your client is bored, and that's your low self-esteem talking. You know, that's not true, she's not bored, that's really your low self-esteem." She's always, all the time-
Dr. Joy: But Ellen, maybe in some bizarre way she's trying to help you.
Ellen: I think so, but it's like-I hear that.
Dr. Joy: Take a deep breath for a minute.
Dr. Joy: My basic rule of life and thumb-or thumb-life, I guess, or life-thumb-is that you never leave a job until you have another job, because otherwise what you find yourself doing is panicking when you think about things like groceries and rent, and sort of trying to keep out of the cold and snow and selling matchsticks. Right now, you're in a position if you want to, if you went someplace else, do you work for a health club?
Dr. Joy: Okay, so you'd find another health club. As you know, that's kind of a gypsy kind of trade, that people go to different things, and the other thing is it's a small world. So if this woman badmouths you, for example, you're going to have a harder time than if she doesn't. If you take a deep breath for a minute, and we can learn from this situation a bit, you're at least going to have more options about whether you're want to stay or whether you want to go, as opposed to feeling like you have no choice. And having a choice is always a good idea.
Dr. Joy: Right.
Number one, when she says, "How are things," understand she's not your friend. I'm a great fan of being friendly with people at work, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you're friends with people at work, especially your bosses. Because it's just that work is about competence, and friendship is about disclosure, and they don't necessarily work terribly well together, if you think about it. So if she'd said, "How are you doing," you would have said, "Fine, the classes seem to be going very well," and if you had a specific question about this client that you felt was getting bored, instead of saying you think she's bored, say, "Do you know what? If you have a moment at some point, I would just love to brainstorm with you about ways to kind of jazz up the workout so that people don't get bored." Because that way, you could have not used her as kind of a confessional, because she really doesn't know what to do with that. You wouldn't have gotten a lecture from her, because it does sound to me that she likes you, and she's really trying to take you under her wing, and you just feel that underneath that wing is kind of suffocating, and all these feathers keep getting in your nose.
Ellen: Yes, that's exactly how I feel.
Dr. Joy: Exactly. So it doesn't sound to me that she's a bad person. It doesn't even sound to me that she's passive-aggressive. It sounds to me she's kind of nurturing and maternal, which doesn't work very well for you right now. So I would go to her, the next time she asks you how you're doing, say "Fine, thanks." If you've got a specific issue, instead of making it, "I have this problem," say, "You know, I would just really love some of your ideas on this." Ellen: Okay.
Dr. Joy: So that way she can help you, you can still keep your own sovereignty and your own independence, and you don't have to look for another job right now.
Dr. Joy: Okay? Because anyplace you go, you're going to find bosses-bosses, I mean, it's really interesting, and hopefully we learn how to be a good boss, so when our turn comes we don't sort of replicate either the bad things that other people did to us, or overreact and go the other direction, with somebody, for example, who seemed completely uninterested in you and seemed cold and austere, which is another way that bosses are sometimes. So rather than deciding that she's a problem, it sounds to me, if I would guess, that you may have issues with your mom, in feeling that your mom doesn't really respect boundaries very well. But you may want to work those out with your mom, and with her, just sort of try and keep, again, I guess the word is "boundaries" a bit more. Understand that she's your boss and not your friend.
Dr. Joy: Okay? But try it for a couple weeks, and again, I'm not really saying that you have to stay in a job that you hate, but my guess is that if you can learn to deal with her better, that's a skill that you then acquire. You have options about whether or not you want to stay or you want to go, and bosses are always a problem because bosses have power.
Dr. Joy: All right? So what I would do is see if you can deal better with this, keep your resume up to date, figure out what kind of situations might work better for you, and learn to deal with her better, because then it becomes a skill as opposed to a burden.
Ellen: So you're suggesting that I learn to deal with this, rather than, like, run away from it?
Dr. Joy: Well, not badly spoken, my dear. Yeah, and I think that you've got the tools to do it, especially if you understand where the discomfort is coming from. It's not that she's passive-aggressive, you feel that she's trying to mother you, and you don't want to be mothered.
Dr. Joy: So don't confess to her. It's kind of like, you say to your mom-your mom says, "How are you doing?" and you say, "Oh, guys never seem to like me, and, you know, my dates don't go very well," and she says, "Well, honey, if you'd cut your hair and lose five pounds," and you say, "Mom!" Ellen: Right.
Dr. Joy: But you invited that, you invited that in. So if you'd just said, "Fine," and if you said-if you really wanted some help from your mom, who presumably cares about you, you might say to her, "Mom, if you had to pick one thing about me that you thought would make me more attractive to men, what would it be?" which is a whole different ball game than saying, "I have this problem and I need for you to take it over and tell me how to run my life better, and yada, yada." Do you see the difference?
Dr. Joy: Cool. Practice it, see where you get. If you need to call me back, call me back.
Ellen: Okay, thank you.
Dr. Joy: All righty? You're welcome. I swear to you on this life that whatever we're given is not what we want. People who have straight hair want curly hair, people who have overly-nurturing moms want standoffish moms, people who have standoffish moms want to be nurtured more, and it's like marrying somebody who likes the room hot, and you like the window open. Opposites. Confusing.