Being belittled by line manager - how to handle it?

(38 Posts)
TrainAway Fri 12-Aug-16 06:47:06

I work in a global team my line manager is on mat leave so I have been reporting to two line managers in NYC.

One is great, been at the company a long long time and is generally a good manager, some micro managing issues and conflict avoidance but miles better than other managers in the past. The second is relatively new (6 months) and he has been awful from the start. At first really disinterested in me and the team of 4 who are all in the same level as me. Now he's hyper interested to the point of now spending 30mins on a call with me to deal with my 'tone' because I sent him an email he didn't like. It's madness. I was reduced to tears on a call because he doesn't like my email style. I have no idea how to move my relationship forward with him.

Thankfully my old manager is coming back in 2 months but I can't see her getting on with him at all. The other people that seem to like him are the other manager and big boss. 1 person in the team has left, 1 is about to give notice and the rest of us are constantly considering our options. It's not all his fault but largely his attitude and 'management style' are at play. I need to stay until next May but realistically I would leave asap if I could.

erinaceus Fri 12-Aug-16 07:29:31

I am sorry that you are dealing with this. Am I right in inferring that you are in the UK and that the relatively new, awful from the start manager is in the US? Is yours a US or a UK company?

For some practical suggestions of things you can do:

I found tackling this sort of thing head on, using I-statements, remarkably effective. So I once used "When you did X, I just felt really, really undermined and I needed that not to happen in that context for ABC reasons. If you have feedback about Y thing, instead of doing Z, please can you give do Z in future?". In your case I would say "When you say X, I feel belittled, and I find this upsetting to the point where it distracts me from doing my job effectively. Are you able to specify precisely what the problem is, and we can work on that?"

I recommended it on another thread, but this book helped me a great deal. In general I take HBR with a pinch of salt because it is so US-centric, but there are a couple of what to do lists in this book which gave me insight into how managing upwards is expected to be done in the US.

Look up the "tone argument".

Lastly, I do have a saying, I am a professional woman. I cry in the disabled toilets, and a bleak sense of humour about corporate life in general. Do you have any allies in your UK office to whom you can turn for support?

erinaceus Fri 12-Aug-16 07:31:18

Oh crap, I used Z twice. I mean, I asked her: instead of making sarky comments about the meeting agenda at the start of a meeting I am just about to run, could she email me constructive criticism about the meeting agenda in advance of the meeting instead?

erinaceus Fri 12-Aug-16 07:31:50

And sorry about the underlining, it was meant to be italics.

TheHubblesWindscreenWipers Fri 12-Aug-16 07:34:30

Are you me...? My boss is USA based and being promoted under her has wrecked my enjoyment of a job I used to like.
Following to see if any good advice

TrainAway Fri 12-Aug-16 08:40:16

Thanks erinaceus that was actually super helpful! I'm going to look into that book. I've been to internal communications training and all sorts because I care about my job and want to improve but I feel I'm being "pulled up" on random things , like "tone" which has been mentioned more times in the past 2 weeks than the previous 2 years.

Yep I'm the London office of a US company. I've been there over one year but since this new manager joined it's thrown up all sorts of cultural issues which weren't there before, mostly around email communication. Oddly enough he used to work for a UK company but in the US before and I feel he is almost "punishing" the London office for the treatment he had at his earlier job. My work ethic was questioned recently and when I pushed back on the comment I got told that it was clearly a 'cultural issue'! No it's not, it's a "I'm not working past my official hours without appropriate compensation" issue! We get no overtime payment (they get time-and-a half) so while I'm flexible for global call etc I am not making it a regular thing.

I cry in the disabled toilets too.

I don't understand how the other manager, who built the team and dept from scratch is happy to let this new person destroy a team.

We are unbelievably collaborative (especially for a global team) I've never worked in such a positive and sharing team but I was told at a recent review that I needed to be more selfish and not care about the others as they would bring me down. It was depressing.

TrainAway Fri 12-Aug-16 08:41:41

That was long. I'm going to hold on until my old manager comes back and then leave when my 2 years are up. I cannot work with him much longer. It's such a shame this is a great team and I've learnt tons and would have stayed longer

TheHubblesWindscreenWipers Fri 12-Aug-16 11:14:57

Gosh you are me! I've had the 'tone' thing too. I queried it saying I wasn't quite sure what they meant so please could they give me examples and I would be able to see what kind of scenarios they were taking about. I did this by email - boss went ballistic and instructed me to recant the email. I politely refused and pressed her again. Please could she tell me what sort of thing she meant so I could work on any weakness/ misunderstanding.

I never got an answer so I still don't really know what she means. I'm not negative. I am realistic but I try to always use the 'hey here's a potential issue! What could the impact be? How likely is that? How can we avoid it? How could it be mitigated?' Sort of approach.
My team say I'm positive and great to work for. Everyone on this side of the pond she manages has suffered a dive in morale and almost all of us are looking for other jobs. I'm a highly educated scientist who is. Good people person and gets on well with and can deal with almost anyone. I'm not a diva, or a bully or a difficult personality. I expect to be treated professionally and it's not happening. I've shown a few of her emails to dh who works in the same industry and his reply was 'she'd be fired if she worked for me.'

I think it's key to approach it professionally and always, always have a polite, respectful email trail. Documentation is key. Have a cover your ass email folder. Join a union.

HerdsOfWilderbeest Fri 12-Aug-16 11:23:30

No real advice except to say to keep every single email information based. Start "Dear" and end "many thanks". Any "I don't like your tone" comments in emails, respond with "I'm sorry to hear that. Please would you meet with me to discuss".

HerdsOfWilderbeest Fri 12-Aug-16 11:24:13

And send all emails to a private account (or copy your private account in). Where I used to work, emails "went missing" often....

TrainAway Fri 12-Aug-16 12:17:24

Heards if you said your worked in a different industry I would wonder if we worked for the same company!

It's horrible I'm desperate to leave but my industry isn't known for permanent jobs so it's hard to go back to contract work. Kinda stuck between a rock and hard place.

I'm trying to go back on email and not let him get away with slagging me off (very unprofessionally I might add!) on the phone and never talk about it again.

MotherFuckingChainsaw Fri 12-Aug-16 12:21:45

Whilst wilderbeets suggestion is good, watch that there isn't a policy forbidding this as a security breach. A colleague of mine got done for that in very similar circumstances.

It started as A clash of personalities a wanky micromanager, she saw the situation escalating into a 'he said she said' so she copied her email communications to a dedicated gmail account. They discovered this and sacked her for gross misconduct- disclosing company communications with a third party. Even tho she was the third party.

You might get round that by printing them to PDF and storing them on a company memory stick.?

QueenJuggler Fri 12-Aug-16 12:32:40

Don't send your emails to a gmail, or save them on a memory stick - that would almost certainly result in you being sacked if anyone found out you had done that!

erinaceus Fri 12-Aug-16 12:40:46

Research the tone argument. Tone in email is such a challenge that my employer has the entire organization is specifically trained it it as part of the onboarding process and re-trained in it every few years.

I am not sure I have ever faced the tone argument, thinking about it; however I do find it cathartic to maintain a physical list of the character flaws that have been pointed out to me and to add to it from time to time.

Do you have UK-based HR whom you can consult for guidance? You are not obliged to raise a grievance, and you will not be the first to face this issue.

HerdsOfWilderbeest Fri 12-Aug-16 12:59:03

Really? Would that include forwarding them? How awful.

TrainAway Fri 12-Aug-16 13:00:04

I've been filing emailing on the company server in a general review folder. We can send things to gmail but I avoid as it could be construed as gross misconduct. I'm trying to keep it above board but it's hard when I feel like personality issues are being used a work grievance.

TheHubblesWindscreenWipers Fri 12-Aug-16 16:10:54

You can set up an email backup folder or save individual emails on your local hard drive, thus getting around

RatherBeRiding Fri 12-Aug-16 17:09:07

Oh God I used to have this crap with previous manager (I left - she "retired" not long after - one complaint too many against her I suspect but that's another story!)

Re the "tone" thing - this is purely subjective. The whole "I don't like" thing is just one person's opinion, so how I used to handle it (and it used to wind my wanky manager off the clock) was to ask for OBJECTIVE examples of what I needed to improve, with concrete examples, and go into nit picking details - "So when I wrote XXX you are saying I should have written YYYY? Is that correct?" and then reiterating it all in an email so that there was a paper trail. And if I really wanted to piss her off I would ask which particular company policy/protocol/procedure I was in breach of.

Good luck!

daisychain01 Sat 13-Aug-16 04:53:49

The risk of being confrontational is that no matter how much you are in the right, and the more senior person is in the wrong, they have the weight of authority as an advantage.

So if you are building a case for bullying or wanting to build an audit trail, then yes, go with the "email everything approach".

However if you still want to keep your position or stand half a chance of an alternative role in the same organisation I would caution strongly about being overly heavy handed with stroppy emails that wind people up.

Believe me I am going through this very situation at present, so I'm living through the nightmare of it. I have thankfully come out the other side now and there is a lot more give and take on both sides, but it did need patience and seeing the other's perspective. Often people who feel threatened by someone or whose communications style is very different to their own, act in appalling ways. Not excusing it, but 9/10 times they have their reason, and it's worth getting to the bottom of that through dialogue, with emails very lite-touch.

Just an alternative perspective...

Also please please don't save stuff to a work laptop hard drive. If they seize it, as part of a disciplinary, it's no different to gmailing, they will have evidence on the C drive.

daisychain01 Sat 13-Aug-16 05:00:10

Re email tone.

We have a training course inhouse which is specifically design to guide staff about how to write so there is no ambiguity, and so people don't get the wrong end of the stick. Always best to remain factual and also friendly start and finish so it isn't too abrupt (hi or dear xyz and many thanks, I hope this helps, etc, rather than launching straight in, softens the tone) and lots of please and thank you's.

I find email is a minefield

TrainAway Sat 13-Aug-16 05:09:53

Daisy- I very polite in my emails and that's one of "problems" as it makes me sound passive aggressive. I'm very polite in person too but face to face it's easier to tell I'm friendly rather than PA or rude apparently. I struggle to be any other than super polite so kind of feel like they want me to change personalities a bit.

My feedback is odd sometimes but valid I suppose, I need to finish my emails on positives and not start with positives, stuff like that. I would massively welcome email tone training but will never happen as its probably not a financial priority.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement, it's amazing how much of the office stuff is a minefield

daisychain01 Sat 13-Aug-16 05:26:33

To my bitter experience I have found emails generally are a minefield. It is so so easy to read between the lines, without the physical cues and body language. You sound like you are trying your best, which is all you can do.

Re the viability of training, companies like mine do it because of the risk associated with electronic forms of communication so they train staff because of that risk to reputation etc, emails can be forwarded outside, out of context etc. The use of emoticons or even using punctuation like :-) is banned completely.

You could do a simple web search for Good email practices and read a few articles to get tips and warnings of what to avoid.

Carry on "being the better person", do what I did and focus on delivery, don't get distracted by the "noise" out there, and let the other person hoist themselves on their own petard! These things have a habit of blowing over until the next shitstorm grin

TrainAway Sat 13-Aug-16 05:36:29

Reputational risk is a funny one. Recently we had a global compliance training about email but it wasn't tone but more like, don't forward anything EVER, NEVER click reply-all , etc. funnily enough the emocon thing is acceptable, my other manager loves it. She thinks it makes her seem friendly over email but everyone not in the us office feels it's passive aggressive. Such a minefield really when you start analysing it all.

After the recs here I read about tone theory and I do think it's being levelled against me in a gendered way, oddly enough by a male manager. All previous female managers never brought up my tone in emails as an issue. Not saying he's sexist per say but certainly has shown bias in other ways. Ironically practically the whole team is women as well.

I remember a time where there was less 'noise' as I was too junior to be bothered with.

MilesHuntsWig Sat 13-Aug-16 05:40:48

Working for an unhinged US boss here too... Utterly miserable.

TrainAway Sat 13-Aug-16 05:42:54

Sorry to hear you are in same boat hunts it such a downside to working for global companies.

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