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How to Deal With a Difficult Boss in the Workplace

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The first job I ever had was working as a sales store checker at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, where I took on the day-to-day challenge of ringing up food merchandise. The job description also entailed dealing with cranky customers and knowing that the ever so omnipotent presence of my boss was close at hand.

Typical Office Candor: The Boss

Typical Office Candor: The Boss

A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.

— Russell H. Ewing 

The Omnipotent Presence

Myrtle was a person who put fear into my very soul. She was my first boss and one whom I shall never forget. Short, stocky, and slow moving, this eagle-eyed, African-American woman was the person who always carried that English-John Bull look upon her face. You know the look. Severe cheeks sucked in and the lips curled in a harsh moue, and the squinted eyes shut as if to suggest suspicion. Yes, this vision was my boss, “Miss Myrtle” as all other employees often referred to her. Without notice, you could find her standing just behind your back, staring over your shoulder and watching every move that you made. Often, I dreaded this nerve-racking intrusion, and to my chagrin, I soon found out that this was her way of correction, whether you held an audience. I can still hear that loud, condescending voice drilling into the back of my head as I fused pink with embarrassment, Later on, I learned that the key to avoiding this situation was perfection. I worked hard to conquer my skills, and with time, Myrtle’s scolding bark became a distant echo.

Effective Communication

Effective Communication

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.

— Karl A. Menniger 

The Confrontation

Every so often, Myrtle would meet with each employee in her office for efficiency grading on job performance. I didn’t look forward to this meeting at all. I dreaded being alone with the overbearing woman. She peered through her office window and scanned the checkout isles with squinted eyes and a crinkled nose. We all knew that she was looking for her next victim. It just so happened I was in her line of sight. She let out a coarse bellow, calling my name as if it were a thing of distaste upon her tongue. Soon, I entered her cramped little office space. As usual, I kept my gaze downcast so as not to show my intimidation. I sat across from her desk and listened as she shut the door. She remained standing at the office window. I found her hesitance perplexing, and so I glanced up. She did not turn around. Instead, while looking out the office window and overseeing her employees, she asked me in a soft voice something I never expected.

“Tell me ... what is your problem with me?”

As I contemplated her off-guard yet straightforward question, I watched this tyrannical, old battle-ax turn around and withdraw tear stained glasses from her haggard looking face and rub tired eyes. It appeared the ice queen was melting, and I was drowning in her presence.

“I have never known you to smile as long as you’ve worked here. You’ve never looked me in the eye. You’ve built this wall around you, and you won’t let me inside ... I have a hard time getting to know you.”

Myrtle’s soft-spoken reply played havoc with the long strain of silence which followed. I sat there dumbfounded and speechless. Was this the same woman who wailed about the commissary floor, barking commands, scolding employees, and giving harsh, critical glares? Somehow I found the courage to express my pent-up frustrations about her lack of recognition or praise toward her employees who worked hard to please her. In that moment of honesty, something special passed between both boss and employee. In return, she had thanked me for my insight. After that day, I no longer kept my eyes level to the floor within my boss’s presence, and a smile seemed touched my lips when she assigned me to special tasks designated to a trusted few. A new light shown in my eyes. Myrtle seemed to walk and speak softer than ever before. I knew in secret why the sudden change. However, there was one thing I didn’t know. Soon Myrtle would enter the hospital and have a dangerous operation.

Weeds growing through pavement crack.

Weeds growing through pavement crack.

A good deed is never lost: he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

— Basil

Near the End

Weeks later, after her operation, I had walked into her office and handed in my nametag. I remember she appeared so sad and fatigued and how her eyes welled up with tears as I told her I had to resign. She sat there shaking her head and saying that it was because of her, but I reassured her it had nothing to do with our conflict of the past. I’ll never forget her last words to me before I walked out that tiny, cluttered office.

“I hate to see you go ... you were my best worker.”

Myrtle died that evening while watching her favorite pre-recorded soap operas. She had a massive coronary heart attack and departed this world. I’m so thankful she had taught me the value of hard work. She had given me the chance to build better working relations with her. In the end, she and I found our understanding, and we respected one another.

© 2021 ziyena

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