Q: After almost 30 years, I still love working in retail. The only problem is that my bosses are usually young people in their first management position. Most of them appreciate my long experience and recognize my customer service abilities. A few, however, have become obsessed with their newfound authority and turned into little dictators. What's the best way to handle that type of supervisor?
A: Dealing with brand-new managers requires patience, understanding and a good sense of humor. Your retail expertise is now well-established, but you undoubtedly made some blunders and bad calls at the start of your career. Reflecting on those early errors may help you empathize with baby bosses who are just beginning to develop leadership skills.
The ones who have a natural talent for management will automatically value and admire your experience. But those who are insecure and easily threatened may compensate by deliberately demonstrating the power of their position. For new managers, overuse of authority is a common rookie mistake.
Instead of becoming resentful or defensive, remember that these young supervisors are going through an uncomfortable learning curve. They will therefore appreciate employees who are courteous, cooperative and helpful. Even when you don't particularly respect the occupant, you can still show respect for the position.
Management requires a multitude of skills, and no one person possesses them all. Some people, however, should not be allowed anywhere near a management position. So if you encounter any truly toxic bosses, the problem is not their age but their personality.
Outbursts bother parent, not son
Q: My son, "Mike," is not being treated well at work. Even though he puts in long hours, the owner of the business is rude to him and calls him demeaning names. This has been going on for more than 10 years.
My daughter works for the same firm. She doesn't deal directly with the owner, but she and everyone else in the office can hear his loud conversations with Mike. Is there any way to stop the owner from being so nasty?
A: Despite having a natural instinct to protect your child, you need to consider the facts. Given that Mike has chosen to tolerate this treatment for 10 years, he has undoubtedly learned by now not to take these tantrums personally. If the owner was really that dissatisfied with his performance, he would have fired him years ago.
Since your daughter has also elected to work there, this volatile guy obviously has some redeeming qualities as an employer. Mike could try asking him to be more respectful, but that probably wouldn't change anything and might actually make their relationship worse. Business owners typically don't react well to having their behavior corrected.
All things considered, I believe this may be more of a problem for you than for your son. So instead of continuing to fret about the owner's outbursts, perhaps you should feel pleased that Mike has been able to successfully handle a challenging boss for a very long time.
Manager's impulse response off-putting
Q: My manager always answers her phone, even when we're discussing an important issue. This makes me feel as though I'm not as important as the person who is calling. I think she should let these calls go to voice mail and return them later. Should I suggest that?
A: Your boss probably doesn't intend to be rude or insulting. Some people have an almost irresistible impulse to respond immediately to any stimulus in their perceptual field. This knee-jerk reaction may be triggered by ringing phones, incoming emails or someone standing in the doorway.
Unlike some annoying habits, this one can be controlled with a little effort. For example, your manager probably ignores such distractions when talking with her own boss. The question for you, however, is whether critiquing her behavior would be to your benefit.
If your boss is receptive to feedback, she may appreciate hearing your point of view. But if she tends to react defensively, raising this issue could be risky. In that case, just keep reminding yourself that these interruptions reflect her lack of self-control, not your lack of significance.