Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Question: How Can I Stop My Manager’s Nastiness?

A reader I’ll call Rose wrote that her office manager, Ms. Nasty, doesn’t treat her with respect and sometimes gets downright nasty, making sarcastic personal comments about her appearance, calling her nicknames that are disrespectful and withholding info that she needs to do her job properly and then blaming her—publicly—for mistakes. Rose doesn’t want to quit her job as she needs it. She asked for advice for handling her manager’s behavior.

This kind of behavior is what’s now being labeled as “office bullying,” and it must be addressed. Unless your company has a procedure you can follow to file a harassment complaint, you need to stand up to Ms. Nasty. This doesn’t mean be nasty back. A friendly but firm attitude can get more results than complaining or getting emotional or losing your temper. If you come across as confrontational, the person will get defensive and hear everything through a filter of fighting back instead of just hearing your points.

Pick a quiet time to speak—in private. Just explain that you’ve noticed that Ms. Nasty calls you names that you find inappropriate for the office and they make you uncomfortable. Don’t use negative words about her behavior. “I’d appreciate your just calling me Rose.” Ask if you’ve done anything to make her say them. Also explain—nicely—that when she doesn’t get you info you need it makes it harder to do your job properly. Can you do something differently so that doesn’t continue to happen? All of this should be said without an attitude of blaming her in your voice.

Then say something complimentary to her—that you know she works hard or that you admire the job she does or something you can stomach saying—and you’d like to have a good relationship with her. What can you do to facilitate that? Keep a smile on your face and use a pleasant tone. Addressing it so nicely may shame her into changing her ways with you. If she continues calling you names, immediately say, “my name is Rose” right after in a non-belligerent tone.

If she continues to not provide you with the info you need, sweetly ask if she’s too busy to do it, should you ask someone else to keep you in the loop. I also recommend you keep a record of everything she does that’s unacceptable. Write the date and time and what she did. You may eventually have a case for harassment, or at least a defense if it escalates.

Sometimes you can go to someone higher and ask for advice on how to handle it if nothing else works. That way you’re not complaining and you might get an ally. If nothing seems to work, you may have to grin and bear it or polish your resume. Some people like to be mean and nasty and nothing will change them. Unless you can deal with it from within the company, the rotten behavior may continue if you stay. Love yourself enough to get yourself out of that toxic environment at that point.
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