After that first rebuke from my boss (see post Blame Game) things seemed to settle down for a time. My boss likes to say she gives us a lot of autonomy, and that’s certainly how I like to work – just get in and do the job – and during this time she gave me ‘autonomy’ to hire some people.
However I should add that ‘autonomy’ in the context of my boss is Orwellian for “do things by E.S.P,” “make sense of her contradictions,” and “don’t expect any clarification from her on anything.”
This was my first time working in the Public Service and there are all kinds of rules and red tape that unnecessarily complicate the hiring process. This was made all the worse by my boss giving me some of this information one day, then another day she’d give me another piece of the puzzle, a week later she would contradict what she’d said earlier, and all the while I was trying my hardest to get a straight answer from her so I could do it without overstepping the invisible rules.
After a month of negotiating the confusion, I had quotes from three contractors. I submitted my recommendation to my boss, gave my reasons for my preferred contractor, as well as all the documentation related to the quotes. This should have been a fairly straight forward ‘hire’, as per one of my earlier hires.
My boss called me in to have a meeting about this. She had the brief I’d written (for them to quote on) up on the screen so we could look at it together. And she immediately went on the attack, accusing me of hiring someone to do my job for me. From what she was saying she clearly didn’t understand the brief, had misread it, however when I attempted to correct her she got angry at me for ‘talking over the top’ of her and ‘not listening.’ I had to sit in silence while she scolded me, waiting for a moment when she’d give me the opportunity to explain.
Once she gave me an opening to answer her accusations, I rationally and logically explained why I’d written the brief the way I had (I wanted this contractor to understand where his work fit in with everyone else’s, and had clearly labelled which elements he was quoting on versus what elements other people would be doing). For every clear rational answer I gave her, she would sling another accusation at me, interrogating me about anything and everything including things not related to this issue, saying my work was wrong (even if it was something she’d previously been happy with), I was wrong, I was rude, that ‘people’ had complained about me, and so on.
I have to say I was in absolute shock as this unfolded. In hindsight I can sit here and pull it all apart and reassure myself that her behaviour was appalling and that she is a bullying boss, however in that moment I felt like I had done something terribly wrong, that my work was substandard, that my colleagues didn’t like me… It was such a hostile onslaught that I was totally unprepared for it and didn’t know what to make of it.
The pattern of behaviour for this meeting was:
1) Boss aggressively attacks with an unfounded claim
2) I offer reasoned explanation, try to find solution to placate her
3) Boss attacks with another claim – not necessarily at all related to earlier discussion
And so we went round in circles covering all kinds of unfounded accusations completely unrelated to the topic of our meeting, her attacking, me apologetically defending, until finally she hit a sore point and I felt my eyes blinking back tears trying not to cry. The sore point?
I’d been having trouble getting the information I needed from some team members, this clique had made a blanket ‘no meetings’ ban so all I could do was email them or set up a discussion point on our intranet and hope they would respond – which they hadn’t been doing. It’s rather difficult to “communicate” to the public when you don’t have the information yourself. I had been finding this very difficult, was frustrated to say the least, and had raised the problem I was having to the Project Manager (who had done absolutely nothing to help the situation).
My boss mined this, saying that I should have a good think about why these people wouldn’t talk to me (i.e. my own fault). That ‘people’ had complained about me being rude. That maybe I was unapproachable, and needed to work harder to be nicer.
In that moment I felt awful. It hit one of those deep-set insecurities we all have: the desire to be liked. I thought it must have been me that was the problem.
In that moment, where I tried not to cry, and apologised categorically, explained the trouble I’d been having with this clique and how I would do anything they suggested to fix the problem – that I myself was out of ideas because I had tried everything I could think of and it had failed to make a difference – that was the moment when my boss softened.
Pattern emerging: It was only when I was submissive, responded emotionally, accepted ‘blame’, that my boss eased off.
Interestingly (but not surprisingly), when we got back to the topic of the meeting – which contractor to accept – every single thing that my boss had raised as an issue… When she actually looked at what I had already done and was documented in the quote (tasks broken down into packages, itemised, prioritised, scheduled, deliverable dates, etc) she accepted my recommendation without any changes necessary.
So what the fuck was the hour long ordeal really about???