Collaboration

What should I do: Is this miscommunication, bullying, or both?

This week, a TechRepublic member writes about a situation she is experiencing with a boss she doesn't respect at all.

This week, a TechRepublic member writes about a situation she is experiencing with a boss she doesn't respect at all.

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A TechRepublic member e-mailed this scenario to me in response to my request for descriptions of problematic workplace scenarios. This is her situation:

"My manager makes me very tense and uncomfortable, so I would appreciate some advice from my peer group.

I am a programmer and an analyst in the IT department. Our IT department is split into three sections (Helpdesk & Hardware, Application Support, and Development). I work in the Development section with one other employee. My manager was hired one year ago. He is about 60 years old and worked for this company six years prior as a Director of Process and Procedure. He left the company for a while to work in another capacity but has returned. He is best friends with the one other employee on my Development team.

I have had an extremely hard time trying to find ANYTHING to respect about my manager. While his desk was next to mine, he repeatedly violated my personal space, almost like he couldn't hear or see me unless he was about five inches from my face.

During my annual review, he told me that I need to 'lower my expectations of everyone in order to be happy.' It's my mission to help a company to excel by educating, empowering, and encouraging people. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position of authority, and those that are in those positions of authority are not good at communicating, training, or disciplining. I am most certainly not going to 'lower my expectations.' Since my December review, I've taken to wearing headphones a large portion of the day. I still work often and well with the other sections of the IT department.

Last week the air conditioning unit went out in our building. Below is an excerpt taken directly from the log that I am keeping of other situations.

8/5/2008

Context - Las Vegas, NV. The air conditioning on the 2nd and 3rd floors was out since before 7am when I arrived.

Around 11:10 [a manager of another department] gave his employees the option to relocate to the other facility or work the remainder of the day at home.

At 11:15 [my manager] did not issue the same offer. I discretely used the Office Communicator (IM) and asked this, 'Unless you have any strong opposition I would like to finish my day from my home office. I can be available via email and IM.'

He responded with, 'No strong opposition. Are you OK?'

I responded with, 'Yes, but this is a bit ridiculous - neither [other employee] nor I need to be here to do our jobs. I don't see the need to be uncomfortable any longer.'

My manager responded with, 'We need to discuss this. Let's take a walk.'

Now at this point I am uncertain what needs to be discussed — I figure he just wants to reinforce that working from home is a luxury that not all employees have.

I walked out into the hallway and he followed. He began by stating, 'Flexible scheduling/telecommuting is not a policy that the company currently embraces. I will have to talk to my boss tomorrow about it.'

I'm confused why my working at home the rest of the day needs to be approved tomorrow. That seems a bit late to me.

He continued along the lines of working from home in the case of an emergency or unique situation would be okay but not as a permanent thing. (It was nearly 113 degrees in the office at this time. Legally, the company was close to having to close the 2nd and 3rd floors.)

I retorted, stating that, 'Due to the heat, I would prefer to work from home the remainder of the day.'

My manager claimed that I did not state in the IM that my request to finish my day was based on the heat.

I stated that the heat was implied. He said that it wasn't and that what I had asked was to work from home from now on.

At this point I have lost patience, and I will not stand for someone implying that I am lying — especially when it is in electronic format that can be retrieved and proved.

I asked what he was talking about. I am aware of the current policy and was not asking Gary to institute a flexible time schedule — I simply asked If I could complete my day at my home office.

I'm not sure what was said next because he advanced across the hall directly at me. (I was shocked because there was no reason for either of us to move. Gary is an ex-Marine Corp Officer and may be accustomed to such methods of intimidation — I'm not sure.) My immediate response was to put up both hands, palms facing out, and I told him to 'back up.' He did not retreat, and I repeated the direction with my hands remaining up.

After reviewing my IM statements, I have no idea where he got that I wanted him to initiate flex time today or that this was an emergency.

The dialogue above was extracted directly from the IM log.

So this is the latest in a series of 'miscommunications' and violations of personal space that have led me to have absolutely no respect for my manager.

I know that I have to figure out a way to work successfully with him. At this time, I am defensive, uncomfortable, and generally avoid him."

Wow, this is quite a story. If a situation can escalate from a simple request to work the rest of the day at home to a perceived physical threat, then there is definitely something wrong.

I don't like to jump to conclusions from one person's side of the story. As anyone who has read this blog knows, perceptions play a huge role in any kind of interaction between people, especially for those who only know each other through the office.

Therefore, first, I'd like to address your statement:

"It's my mission to help a company to excel by educating, empowering, and encouraging people. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position of authority."

Is this a mission you've assigned to yourself? I don't think it could be a job role you were officially assigned if you were not also given the authority to make it happen. If it's your own goal, how do you go about making it happen? Do you think your efforts at "educating" your co-workers or your boss may have created some bad feelings? Was the comment in your review about lowering expectations of everyone, maybe a constructive, gentle way of suggesting that you can't control the actions of others, only yourself?

I believe your boss may have jumped to some conclusions about your initial IM. I'm just wondering if there was some pre-existing reason for his doing so.

A agree that the personal space issue is a little alarming. (I'm referring to the beginning situation when you sat next to each other.) While "close-talkers" are not always trying to be intimidating, it may be that this man was. I understand it would have been awkward to talk to him about this issue in a less heated moment, but did you try?

As for his actions during the confrontation when you held up your hands and told him to back up, he was wrong. Even if he hadn't intended the first advance to be intimidating, it soon became clear that you perceived it that way, and he was wrong for not stopping. That action could very well constitute a hostile work environment. I'm curious as to what ultimately happened in that situation.

I'll throw this out to our wise readers now to see what advice they can offer.

Got a career scenario of your own? E-mail it to us here. We'll post it anonymously, and see what kind of feedback your peers have to offer.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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