Q: My supervisor, Tim, has lived a sheltered life. He married his childhood sweetheart and joined the Air Force.
When he left the Air Force, he got a job running our small company and now thinks he knows everything. What's scary is that he controls my future because I work for him.
Tim gave me a performance appraisal yesterday. He told me that while I produce great bottom-line results, I need to work in a more structured manner by documenting everything in Excel spreadsheets. He also said if I want clients to take me seriously I need to dress in suits rather than in my more casual sweaters and slacks.
When I said the spreadsheets he thought were great seemed to be right for him but I didn't need them for my projects, he told me my lack of organization and casual dress probably were why I was on my third marriage.
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I was speechless.
I know the simple answer is to quit but I've worked for this company for three years and I like everything except Tim. He's a short, prejudiced man who doesn't like tall, independent women -- particularly those who show him up. This makes us oil and water without my even opening my mouth. What can I do?
A: Tim doesn't control your future. You do. While Tim impacts your immediate job satisfaction, you have options. You can go undercover or step out into the open.
Many employees who consider their supervisors jerks choose undercover status and silent defiance.
Without knowing more, I don't know whether or not this might work for you or even whether Tim has a point about your needing to operate more systematically. Those who work in a structured way often want to impose their working template on those who quickly accomplish good results in a free-styling manner. If your lack of documentation poses problems to your co-workers or others, Tim may have raised a relevant issue.
Depending on the industry in which you work, Tim may have a valid criticism of your attire and its impact on client perception. If so and you choose to go along to get along, give Tim the spreadsheets he seeks and invest in a blazer.
I do know Tim inexcusably stepped over the line when he commented on your personal life. Because nothing in his supervisory role gives him this right, you may decide to take Tim on. If you choose, you can go to the individual or group who supervises Tim, whether an owner or a board of directors and report what Tim said. If they have common sense, they'll give Tim a call and say "cut it out."
If no one supervises Tim, give a call to the Washington State Human Rights Commission. RCW 49.60 prohibits discrimination on the basis of marital status and defines marital status as the legal status of being married, single, separated, divorced or widowed.
You don't need to take the formal complaint route unless you choose. Tim just did what many in the workplace do when they vault onto their superior high horse. Because you have had more than one marriage and he remains married to his childhood sweetheart, Tim assumes this makes him a better person.
We all need to recognize that we have no clue about anyone's past other than our own. Perhaps you made bad marital choices or possibly you had more challenges than Tim and are now a stronger, better person than Tim ever will be because of the lessons you've learned.
Regardless, multiple marriages have no bearing on your job any more than does Tim's height. How about if you stop the unfair put-downs if Tim does?
-- Lynne Curry is a management trainer, consultant and president of Alaska's The Growth Company Inc. in Anchorage. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.