Manager Mine

Bob Goldman on

Tim Herrera must have had a lot of great bosses.

In "Managing Up: How to Deal With a Bad Boss During Quarantine," his latest column for The New York Times, Herrera asks if you remember "when you could clear up an ambiguously curt email from your boss with a stroll by her desk? Or when the anxiety of getting a dreaded 'We need to chat' Slack message could be alleviated with a quick pop-in?"

The answer, Tim, in both cases, is a rock-hard "no."

No conflict in the history of business has ever been resolved with a "quick pop-in." Your boss is busy making life hell for everyone else on your team. She doesn't want to be disturbed, not even by a quick glimpse of your Mona Lisa smile.

As for "ambiguously curt emails," they are not neutralized with a stroll by your boss's desk. Experience teaches us that the only way to respond to such a poisonous communication is by hiding under your own desk and praying the boss doesn't stroll over to visit you.

Effective or not, the stroll and the pop-in are two aspects of office life that have become impossible while working from home. (Unless you decide to stroll over to your boss's place and pop in on her home office. This is not recommended, but if you decide to do it, bring a lawyer and wear a mask.)


One of the problems of dealing with a manager in these strictly virtual times, according to author Mary Abbajay, is body language. We can see faces, but "we're unable to read body language and other nonverbal cues that provide useful context and information when we communicate."

Your manager's preference for cleaning their nails with a 12-inch Bowie knife while meeting with you is the kind of subtle cue you may miss during a Zoom call. On the positive side, the opportunities for playing footsie under the conference table are limited, though you could send your manager kissy-face emojis in the chat. (Again, a move that requires a serious discussion with your lawyer and your therapist.)

Determining the way your boss likes to communicate may be as important as the matter under discussion. Your manager may prefer to get their ideas across with finger-pointing and screaming. You may prefer putting your fingers in your ears and singing "la-la-la" until the communication is complete.

Once you have decided on the best way to talk to your manager, it is time to consider what you are actually going to say. This isn't easy. According to Abbajay, bad bosses come in many forms. One entry in her taxology of miserable managers is the "sea gull," a boss who will "swoop and poop," divebombing into a project and leaving a mess behind. Or your manager could be a "swoop and scoop," who divebombs in and takes the project -- and the credit.


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