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.
And then there is the rara avis that is your boss -- someone who will "swoop and poop and leave you out of the loop in the soup covered with goop playing the uke."
No matter what kind of bird you're working for, there does come a time when you have to shoot them down, cook them up and serve them up for Sunday dinner. In other words, you just have to say, "pluck you."
Instead of being wishy-washy in your complaints, author Mollie West Duffy recommends you be direct. "Write down what you think the pain points are, and think through the language you want to use to discuss them. Use statements of fact, like 'When you do this, it affects me this way.'"
For example, "when I see your face show up on a Zoom screen, I want to put my head through the wall," or "when you open your stupid mouth, it makes me lose my cookies."
Facts like these may not help your boss be a better manager, but they will make you feel a lot better about working with them -- not that you're likely to be working with them much longer.
A final point: Remember that your manager may be dealing with critical personal issues of their own, like deciding whether to buy the latest Tesla or stick with the Porsche. In their work lives, they also may be struggling with the way best way to manage in these difficult, virtual days.
One seriously stressful problem you can be sure is making your boss's life a living hell: They have to work with you.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.