Question: I joined the ‘learning and development’ (L&D) department at a firm in Gurgaon, reporting to a woman boss who operated from Mumbai. In the beginning, she came across as an affable person. But later she appeared confused and directionless. Whenever I connected with her, she snapped at me. I am not used to such a work environment. Whenever I tried letting her know that I was not comfortable with her attitude, she was either evasive or easily worked up. She fails to give clear instructions and yells at me. I feel humiliated. I have taken up the issue with the HR department without much success. It has become difficult for me to work with her. How can I handle the situation?
S Ramesh Shankar replies:
In life, we cannot choose our parents and our boss. They choose us. Having said that, I can empathise with you and your position today. The good thing is that you have clearly defined your problem. The next good thing is that you work in the L&D function, which facilitates learning and development of all employees in the organisation. They create an environment where learning is fun, and development becomes a natural outcome.
As an L&D professional, you would have a good understanding of the psychology of human beings. In this virtual world, working with remote managers and teams is a reality. One thing you must remember in such a complex situation is that it is easier to change your behaviour than that of others. While your boss’s attitude may appear difficult and even irritating at times, it is futile for you to attempt to change it. On the other hand, if you try to reposition yourself, it may help in understanding the situation better and accordingly strategising your responses to her.
I would recommend the following steps for you to consider:
A. Understand the root cause of her behaviour by asking her exploratory questions
B. Adapt your style of response to make her comfortable and secure
C. Try to work out ways and means of communication which are mutually acceptable and easy to implement. This could be like a fixed weekly review of targets and accomplishments. A monthly report of what’s going well and what could be done better, listing areas where you need her support
D. Most importantly, recognise your boss’s strengths and appreciate her for her contributions to your success You will be surprised at her transformation when you reposition your responses based on her strengths rather than her areas of improvement. All of us have strengths and they are generally less recognised and appreciated. In our work environment, we tend to focus more on our weaknesses and that of others. It is time for you to put the clock upside down and experience a positive difference. It is like looking at a glass half full rather than half empty.
Another strategy worth considering is to focus on innovating and trying out new things on your own. In this initiative, you need to work on your shortcomings more than worrying about her. In fact, she may be surprised at your ingenuity and courage to try out new things. One of the best ways I have learnt to enjoy my job, even in a difficult or boring work environment, is to try out one new thing every day or a week as time permits.
I am sure you will reflect and turn around this situation to your personal competitive advantage. It is sometimes good to have a difficult boss as it may help you to bring out the best in you. Wish you all the best.
(S Ramesh Shankar is chief joy officer at Hrishti. He has led HR teams in Siemens, ABB, Britannia, Eicher and SAIL)
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