Dealing with a Difficult Boss – Lynn Marie’s Story

Dealing with a difficult boss is always a sensitive topic.  We don’t always know if we should say anything, or how we should go about addressing our issues with them.  This is why I am excited to introduce another candid conversation with one of our Executive Authors, Lynn Marie Auzenne.

In this recording, we discussed Lynn Marie’s first business job.  Her boss was mysteriously difficult, and we’ll see what she did in response:

  • How she uncovered what was happening when nothing made sense;
  • How she addressed it in that job;
  • What were her lessons, and her advice for you if you ever face a similar situation.

dealing with a difficult bossAs you will hear, she was thrown into a situation that was completely baffling:

  • She had a boss that didn’t like her from Day 1;
  • She was given really big responsibilities, but also menial tasks, which didn’t make sense
  • One day, she was yelled at by her boss for something she didn’t do.

What was most inspiring about her story was the following: instead of focusing on what was wrong with the situation or her boss, Lynn Marie mainly focused on herself. We’ll talk about how she empowered herself to:

  • Understand what was happening in this difficult situation with her boss;
  • Face her boss head on when there was no other choice;
  • Make changes within herself to make the situation better, instead of blaming or trying to change her boss.

Listen to this 15 min recording and learn practical tips on how you can better deal with a difficult boss.   You can also read the audio transcription below.


Your comments: How do you deal with a difficult boss?  Do you have other tips to share or questions for Lynn Marie?  Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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Best wishes to your career success.


Audio Transcription of this recording:

Lei: I wanted to talk to you about the story you’ve been telling me about your, is it your first job out of college?

Lynn-Marie: My first job in the business world. I switched careers from the sciences and decided to try banking, because in the early 90s there was this huge refinance boom in mortgage banking, and from the sciences I had a strong math background, so I thought it would translate well.

Lei: Okay.

Lynn-Marie: And I really wanted to do something different, because I had decided not to go to medical school.

Lei: Wow, that’s a huge decision.

Lynn-Marie: Yes, I happened to make a connection with a very senior executive for a bank out of Texas, and I was in Chicago at the time, and they had a big mortgage business in Chicago. And talking to him over dinner, he said, hey, we’re having like a screening for candidates. Why don’t you come and go through the screening, and I showed up a couple days later at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning to this big production operations center and took a two hour test along with almost 100 other people. And they called five of use back for interviews, and he offered two of us the job.

I was placed in one office with one of his managers, and the other person went to their main office. And I thought this was great, and I had this new career. It’s exciting. So I met my new manager, and the first thing that struck me was my new manager, Ron, didn’t seem that excited to meet me. And I thought, well, maybe he’s a serious, busy guy. I won’t read too much into it. But he had sort of a standard way of doing things, and I tried my best to comply. So, I did my best to study on the side to ramp up faster than their six month training program, but my new manager Ron was not impressed.

Lei: What was your position, by the way?

Lynn-Marie: I was a loan officer.

Lei: Okay.

Lynn-Marie: Like lowly salesperson, so for example, you can make nothing as a loan officer, because you’re on 100% commision. Or, one of our top producers in my particular office made a million dollars a year.

Lei: As a loan officer?

Lynn-Marie: As a loan officer.

Lei: Wow.

Lynn-Marie: Yes, and he had two assistants, and I knew the potential for income was there…

Lei: What was the issue that you faced with this first business job? You mentioned you had some challenges with this manager that you didn’t foresee. I’m wondering.

Lynn-Marie: Right. I just had this weird sensation that he kept setting me up to fail. I didn’t know why. For example, here I was, this new loan officer. You would think he would start me off easy. Instead he threw me into an area of Chicago called The North Shore, which is the most affluent area of Chicago. You have to know what you’re talking about when you’re calling on people buying million dollar homes on Lake Michigan.

Lei: Right, and this is your first job and you’re still a trainee.

Lynn-Marie: Exactly, and I thought that was kind of strange.

Lei: Maybe he’s giving you a good opportunity, because you were networked in.

Lynn-Marie:Yeah, I thought maybe I’m reading him wrong. Maybe he just thinks so much of me. I also thought it was a little strange that he didn’t have anybody in his office yet that owned that territory.

Lei: Oh, so he gave you ownership of a territory. Is that normal for a trainee?

Lynn-Marie: I didn’t know.

Lei: Oh, okay.

Lynn-Marie: I was new, so my first instinct was, this doesn’t make sense. But then I thought, you know, I should trust him. I gotta defer to his experience.

Lei: Of course.

Lynn-Marie: And his judgement. And then the second thing was, after he assigns me this huge region, he starts giving me these funky tasks like, run all these files down to our main office in Schaumburg, which was 45 minutes to an hour each way. Well if I’m such a valuable salesperson, then why is he having me run mail drop errands for two hours a day?

Lei: So, is that part of training? Like, did other people get the same?

Lynn-Marie: I was the only trainee in the office. I was the only one.

Lei: Oh, so you didn’t know whether this was standard. Did you think it was weird or just like, oh well, the business world is new and therefore.

Lynn-Marie: Right. I asked a couple of people, including one of the processors, is this standard? And the answer I got was, well, we’ve never done it before.

Lei: Okay.

Lynn-Marie: So I didn’t know if I was special or if there was something new going on there, and I should have asked. I should have gone straight to him and I should have asked.

Lei: So what exactly happened?

Lynn-Marie: Well, of course for every breakthrough there’s a breakdown.

Lei: Right.

Lynn-Marie: So there was one day where somebody on his team came to me and said, hey, Ron said you need to run these files down to Schaumburg. I didn’t think anything of it. He had asked me that four or five times before. I throw all these in the back of my car, and I’m driving down to Schaumburg, and cell phones were new at the time, cuz this was the 90s, so I”m on speaker phone talking to a realtor that I’m trying to get to be a client, the whole way down. Talking to another potential builder client the whole way back.

I get back into the office and he pulls me into his office, pulls all the papers out of my arms, throws them on the ground and just starts screaming at me. He is livid. Basically he’s saying, how dare you take the morning off and just go do whatever the expletive you want, when you should be in the office, cuz we needed you to help with these applications, and you were nowhere to be found, and I tried calling you three times and you were not here. And it took him a long time to calm down before he would let me say a word, but I was so shaken up I could barely speak, because I’m 23 years old. This is my first business job. This guy is 20 years older than me. I have absolutely no status in an office of 25 people, so I walked out, just completely shaken and thinking, what could I have done differently? How could I have better managed his expectations of me? How could I have better responded to that situation? Did I do something wrong?

Lei: So I guess looking back at it now, what, 15 years later? How do you perceive what happened? What was it that you thought was going on and what actually happened?

Lynn-Marie: What I thought was going on was that it was a miscommunication and he was just a mean guy, and he didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt. But what actually happened was really understandable.

Lei: Okay.

I finally did get my act together, and I went back and I talked to him, and I expressed myself, respectfully but thoughtfully. I went in and said, I think there a number of things in our working relationship that haven’t been explicitly laid out on the table, and it’s time for us to do that. And I apologized that I haven’t done that sooner, and he responded really well to that. And then I explained to him some of the anomalies that I noticed, like sending me in to the hardest to break in part of the city, giving me menial tasks when he, on the one hand, he seems to be treating me like this valuable salesperson. On the other hand, I’m a gopher.

Lei: And then he doesn’t recognize that he sent you over there and then yells at you for doing it.

Lynn-Marie: Yeah, and I told him the reason I was out of pocket was I was on my cell phone, trying to develop business while running errands that I thought he had sent me on, because one of his lead salesperson people had handed me a sack of files to drive down to the other office. It turns out he didn’t know that that person had handed me a stack of files to drive down to the other office.

Lei: Okay, so it was a miscommunication.

Lynn-Marie: Absolutely, it was a miscommunication. If there isn’t, there’s still no reason to rip them apart. And I said, what we really need to do is lay out what your expectations are of me so I understand them, because I don’t know what they are. And so I basically said, here are my questions, and he said leave me with these questions. I said, okay. I would really like these answered in the next week so that I have more of a foundation to work from. He never answered those questions, but we did end up having dinner with his manager, my husband and I, a few weeks later.

Lei: So you were friends with the head honcho.

Lynn-Marie: Well my husband was.

Lei: Okay.

Lynn-Marie: And, so over dinner I mentioned the altercation and interaction I had with his branch manager Ron. Cliff brushed it off and he said, yeah, he’s just irritated because the last two people I hired and put in his office were complete deadbeats.

Lei: Oh.

Lynn-Marie: Yes.

Lei: Oh, okay. There’s the ah ha.

Lynn-Marie: There’s the ah ha light bulb.

Lei: There was a missed…

Lynn-Marie: So I realized that I had walked into a situation with this guy where, ugh, my manager is sending me another deadbeat, and I did not have that context. And there were so many signs that something was askew, but I was too shy and insecure and didn’t trust my own judgement and instincts to step up and say something and confront the situation.

Lei: Well, this was your first job, business job, so you didn’t know what was the norm.

Lynn-Marie: You know what I learned from it is that, it doesn’t matter if you’re 42 or 22. You have to trust your instincts. You have to stand up for yourself. And once I did, things were much better with him, because he realized, okay, I’m not just another deadbeat. I want to be accountable. I care what he thinks, which was an important point to make.

Lei: To communicate.

Lynn-Marie: To him that I’m not just taking up space and drinking coffee.

Lei: Did you ever bring it up to him that you knew that the other two kind of ruined your reputation? Did you ever like, directly have the conversation with the, hey, I understand where you’re coming from. You might think I’m similar because I’ve been brought in by a friend, but I’m here. Did you have that conversation, or?

Lynn-Marie: You know, I didn’t, but now that you mention it, I probably should have. But instead, I proved to him that I wasn’t a deadbeat by becoming the second biggest producer in the office.

Lei: Wow, awesome.

Lynn-Marie: I could tell, for the first time he would be smiling at me in the morning and saying good morning to me and asking me how my weekend was. And so I knew that we had gotten over that whole bias.

Lei: Right, cuz he assumed the opposite, and you basically said, well, I’m gonna demonstrate. I’m not gonna tell. I’m gonna show you that I’m here to stay. I’m here to prove that I’m worthy of the job. I’m here to prove I’m better than worthy.

Lynn-Marie: Plus, at that age, I don’t think I could have said, hey, I know why you were treating me like crap.

Lei: Yeah.

Lynn-Marie: Yeah, I think would have said, hey, you were unfair, and I understand why, cuz there was a pattern. But you still could have given me the benefit of the doubt.

Lei: And you didn’t even say that. That’s hard. I mean…

Lynn-Marie: Yeah, I think the millennial generation are much more honest.

Lei: [laugh] Yes.

Lynn-Marie: And probably, maybe less diplomatically might say something, although.

Lei: Yeah. Wow, what a story.

Lynn-Marie: I think the important thing would have been to be diplomatic if I had been bold enough. I think, for me, I don’t know if you know who Stan Slap is, but he does a lot of work around people getting to know their real values. And through some of the guidance that he’s provided, I’ve discovered one of my values that I was never aware of before, is courage. And in that moment I think, and in that time I spent in that job, the one thing I really lacked was courage.

Lei: Right, or the confidence to ask, is this normal? You asked other people around you, but not actually confront the guy directly, although it sounded like you did.

Lynn-Marie: Eventually, when it came to the point where my choices were, be a beaten down dog, quit or stand up for myself. I chose option three. But it had to come to that, and I probably could have prevented that if I had addressed things before they boiled over.

Lei: So, from a parting thoughts standpoint, what would you advise somebody who, new to a job, maybe it’s not even their first job, but just new to a job and seemed, experienced some uncertainty of what’s going on. What are like, the top three things you would tell them?

Lynn-Marie: I would say, be aware that there’s a lot of context and biases that predate your arrival.

Lei: Absolutely.

Lynn-Marie: And you will be exposed to those, judged by those, viewed through those biases, whether…

Lei: It’s fair or not.

Lynn-Marie: It’s fair or not, exactly.

Lei: So, deal with that is number one, right?

Lynn-Marie: Right. Number two, you have to reach out to individuals that might be making things uncomfortable for you for two reasons. Number one, you can explain to them what your perspective is. Share, open up and give them a chance to do the same, to reciprocate. Or number two, you can verify that they’re not somebody you can open up to and they’re just gonna be an ongoing problem, and figure out how to mitigate that issue with them so that you can continue to work in a sane and stable environment without it eating you up alive.

Lei: So focus on what you can do, not so much what you can change about them, per say.

Lynn-Marie: Exactly. Offer the olive branch. If it isn’t accepted, then…

Lei: Work around, or leave.

Lynn-Marie: Yeah, then you deal with that in a calm, rational way. And I think third is, take responsibility for the expectations that people have.

Lei: What do you mean?

Lynn-Marie: If you get the sense that you’re annoying or disappointing someone, or even impressing them, and you don’t know why, lay that out on the table explicitly so you can understand what’s at work, so you can empower yourself to make better decisions.

Lei: Wow, right, cuz you always feel the discomfort that you may not know what’s going on, and if you assume one thing and did that thing, it may not fix anything.

Lynn-Marie: Exactly. Like, oh gosh, what did I do to make them happy? What did I do to make them mad? Or, maybe it wasn’t me at all. So, validate that. Get it all out on the table, because you’d be surprised the people who want to participate in those dialogues.

Lei: And respond to that kind of courage, taking the courage to have the honest dialogue. To kind of open up and sort of clarify everything and almost defuse any elephants in the room.

Lynn-Marie: Exactly. And then I think for me, the biggest thing, and I’m kind of going like, the countdown to what’s number one. And I’d say the number one thing you have to do is, make yourself known as somebody who is not a pushover, someone who’s gonna stand up and address issues head on, even if it’s paralyzingly terrifying for you. Even if it’s completely uncomfortable, it’s something that has to be done, and when people know you as somebody who doesn’t let things slide, then they’re not gonna try and get away with anything with you, cuz they know that you’re gonna deal with it. You’re gonna address it.

Lei: Right, and you can do it tactfully, professionally.

Lynn-Marie: Right, you can be respectful, but you need to stand your ground, because there are some people out there, fortunately not too many people, but a few, who will push you around when they’re having a bad day, just because they know they can.

Lei: Hopefully it’s just a few. Management definitely gives people a sense of power, you know?

Lynn-Marie: Absolutely.

Lei: This is a great story. Thank you for your time.

Lynn-Marie: You’re welcome.

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