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Bad Bosses (9/13/06)

Dear Zelda,

My job is terrific but my boss is terrible. I work for the top real estate company in my region. My boss is a woman who has been very successful in the real estate business and whose name attracts a lot of good clients, both buyers and sellers. However, she treats me with disdain and disrespect even though I sold more properties than anyone else in our office last year. A few weeks ago she told me, in front of everyone in the office, that I should "see a shrink." Then she laughed and said, "Just kidding, ha, ha."

I love selling real estate and having access to great clients has been helpful. If I leave her company, she will try to destroy my career in the community. If I stay, she will continue to make my life miserable. I can't decide which is worse. Advice?

Sale Pending

Dear Sale Pending,

While my friends Dogbert and Dilbert love to make fun of bad bosses, it's no laughing matter when you actually have to work for one. That's why we started our own company! It sounds to me like you're working for Meryl Strep's cold-hearted fashion fascist from "The Devil Wears Prada." Your boss, the femme fatal, obviously doesn't play well with others, though she seems to have worked hard enough to be running the top company in your area.

Clearly your boss sees your success as a threat, and she is trying to make sure you know she's still the head honcho despite your obvious skills and impressive track record. Before you go running out the door though, go back and read over your letter to me. The very first thing you say is "My job is terrific!" What you need to do is stop and take stock of the situation, and most importantly take stock of your prospects for happiness in the future. Is there simply bad chemistry between you and your boss, or does she pick on others in the office as well? If she's tough all around and no one in the office can stand her, at least you are in the same boat with all your coworkers and know that you'll still have as good a future in the company as anyone else. If, however, you think she has a personal grudge against you, you may need to think about more drastic measures. Not only does a personal grudge make your daily life unpleasant and demeaning, it also significantly hinders your ability to advance within the company.

Even if you decide it's purely personal, it may be worth trying to salvage the relationship. Once you've had some time to cool off, schedule a meeting with her to talk about these issues. Tell her that you respect her success and her skill as a businessperson, and that you love your job, but that you feel disrespected by her and it makes for a difficult work environment. Be considerate but honest in your discussion, and try to solicit her input. Ask her if there is something you have done that bothers her, or if there is something she wishes you would do differently. Most of all, let her know that you are passionate about your job and committed to your work, and that you simply want to find a way to work with her in a manner that is productive and mutually respectful. If you go in with the attitude of trying to salvage the working relationship you will be much more likely to succeed than if you go in feeling angry, hurt, or accusatory. Hopefully by bringing your concerns to her attention, and by being honest and open about your shared issues, you will be better able to move forward. That said, you should also not schedule this meeting unless you are prepared to look for another job should it not go so well.

It is important that you respect your boss, but equally important that you not become her doormat. She may be in the position of authority, but you're holding some pretty good cards too. It will cost her a lot to hire and train someone else, and not many managers are eager to fire their number one salesperson.  If all else fails, quietly and confidentially use your network in the community to look for better opportunities outside her company. You need to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. If  these steps don't work, it may be time to simply throw in the cards and ask for a new deal!


Dear Zelda,

My boss loves to brag about how many hours he works. It's his badge of honor. He works it into every conversation with me. When I ask him if he had a nice weekend, he answers, "Well, I spent it here in the office." Even when I ask about the weather, he answers with some remark about wishing he didn't have to work so much so that he could get out and enjoy it. His negative and obsessive attitude toward his work makes a depressing work environment for me. I can't wait for the end of the work day. It also makes me feel guilty. What can I do?

Clock Watcher

Dear Clock Watcher,

I'm sorry to hear you’re working for such a broken record! Every boss likes to think they work hard, but most of them don't inflict that same tired old speech on you every time you ask them to pass the sugar. It's a real drag to have a coworker who is constantly down and complaining about their work, and it's even worse when that coworker is your boss! That means you have to actually pretend to listen to him, and it makes you feel guilty if you haven't been there slaving away all weekend with him! The bad news is, you're probably not going to be able to change your boss's attitudes about work, and you probably can't stick a cork in his mouth without getting fired. But the good news is I'll bet we can come up with some ways for you to enjoy the process a bit more.

First of all, find some coworkers you like and trust, and commiserate with them. If your boss's moaning and guilt-tripping is as obvious as you say, you must not be the only person in the office to notice. These situations always seem more bearable when you have a partner in suffering, and if you start talking about it with other people you may begin to find the topic easier to deal with and maybe even a little funny. Once you've found partners in crime, try playing a game with yourselves: since your boss manages to fit these overworked-and-underslept complaints into just about every interaction you have, strike up the most obscure conversations you can imagine with him.  Set up friendly wagers amongst yourselves whether or not he'll be able to steer them back to complaints about work. American Civil War? Reminds him of the long battle he fought with his Powerpoint presentation at 3am last night. Dream interpretation? He's too tired at night to remember his dreams. Moby Dick? Boy, he can relate to getting tied to your work and letting it drag you down. Make his antics into a game for yourself.  You take control of the situation in some small way. Don't be rude or unprofessional about it, but occasionally a little goofing around to alleviate tension can be a wonderful thing.

My maternal side, however, worries about your boss as a workaholic. Being a workaholic has been linked to a variety of health problems including exhaustion, stress and high blood pressure. It can also take an emotional and mental toll on family members and, as you have seen, on coworkers. Your boss sounds as if he has become a pretty negative guy with some potential personality disorders (but then I'm no psychiatrist). However, there is a psychiatrist who has written a great book, Crazy Busy - Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. He explains how we can get in touch with our needs and take control of how we really want to spend our time. Slip your boss a copy in his office when he's not around (whenever that is), and see if it helps at all.

Best of luck with the bemoaning boss; we're all rootin' for ya!


Dear Zelda,

My owner let her son's Corgi, named "Toro" (as in BULL!), come visit OUR house last weekend. He constantly tries to be the boss in MY house! Once he bullied the bulldog in me one too many times, and I let him have it. We got into a loud tussle which caused my owner to run in from the other room because she was afraid we were going to hurt each other. We just ended up sneezing a lot 'cause our noses got smushed trying to make sounds like Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.  I don't like confrontations, so what can I do with this incorrigible Corgi who tries to boss me around in my own house?

Bossed and Burned

Dear Bossed and Burned,

There's only one boss in your house and you're it! Toro should know better, but because he doesn't, you need to show him you're in charge. You got into a tussle once and no one was hurt.  Sometimes in the dog world we have to establish who is the top dog. The next time Toro is scheduled to visit, meet Toro and his owner a short distance from your home. Take time to sniff each other and get reacquainted in this neutral territory. Then walk home together. You enter your home first, and once inside remain calm but let him know that you're not going to tolerate any new ‘Toro-poo-poo.’ You may need to make some growling noises to keep him in line every now and again, but that should just be a signal for him that you are in charge. Only if Toro gets overly aggressive and it looks like you guys are going to tussle again should your owners interfere, removing Toro from the situation. It's all part of the pack pecking order, and it's just how we do things in the canine world. I know, it sounds old-fashioned, but hey, it's worked for us this far. I would also suggest that you keep all toys and food out of the picture while Toro is on your turf. Run around, sleep, and then play some more, but don't spend your time worrying about who's fighting over which toy or which bowl of food has more in it. Trust me, I've spent years of my life in such petty squabbles. Hopefully by changing tactics the next time around and paying closer attention to the pecking order, at the end of his visit you will have turned that incorrigible Corgi into a polite and peppy play pal.