Quell emotions when dealing with sarcastic manager

Dear Joan:
I am 30 years old but look like I’m 23. I have nine years of great experience, am extremely computer literate, and have been offered many jobs. I finally accepted an offer—a wonderful opportunity!

However, at the first "dinner meeting" I was horrified to find that the person who would be my boss locally is a sarcastic, wise-cracking numbskull. I have been hired as the (outside) Director of Sales for a retail store and he is the store manager.

He has made several remarks that I find offensive. I don’t know if it’s that I project myself to be too nice, or if there is something that he may have against me. He is also a new employee with the company. He has made comments like, "Your blonde roots are starting to show," and even answered "What? What? What? What?" to one of my questions, completely ignoring the question in the end. He also made a really rude comment about my culture, suggesting that I came off of a "banana boat." To top it off, he made these comments among a group of people - all new employees.

The person who wanted me hired is in another part of the country, and I don’t believe he knows this side of this man. I consider myself to be very bright, well-rounded, and in tune with the latest. How can I get over this problem without stirring things up? My start date is in about a week, and I am traveling half way across the world for training. Please help me understand how to deal with this situation.

You will have to decide if you want to fish or cut bait. If you are willing to cut your line and find a new job, tell your off-site manager what happened and be specific and unemotional. Calmly state that you are reconsidering his offer in light of this new information. He will be forced to deal with the offensive manager or let you leave. Perhaps he can reassign you or relocate you. If he confronts the fellow and you continue to report to him, it may become a mess you don’t want to deal with.

If you decide to stay and fish, here are some things to consider:

Was he drinking at the dinner meeting? Some people become obnoxious under the influence but are well mannered otherwise. Check this out by talking with some other women who work directly for him. Innocently ask, "Since I’ve only had one meeting with him, I haven’t had much personal contact with him. What’s your opinion of his management style?" Although he is a new manager, chances are those closest to him will already have him pegged.

Are you so nice that you shrivel away from conflict? When your manager was making statements about your blonde roots, the banana boat and other insulting remarks, why didn’t you say something? I can understand that you were shocked and I can also understand that this was a first meeting but what about future meetings? I’m not suggesting that you throw a verbal punch so early in a relationship but why not try a little humor to let him know you don’t appreciate his comments?

For example, with a big smile you could push back, "Gee, Gary, it’s so nice of you to point out that I need a dye job and that you think I fell off a banana boat! I can hardly wait to see what you’ll put in my performance review!" You will be able to judge a lot by his reaction to a little "friendly" volleying. If he’s got any hope at all, he’ll get your point and knock it off.

But, if you find that subtlety and humor are too cerebral for this fellow, tell him straight. If you don’t, he will continue his verbal bullying until you stand up to him or leave. Here are some words to use in private the next time he tries to be witty, "Gary, that’s not funny. I don’t appreciate it when you make comments to me in front of others about my blonde roots or suggest that I came off a banana boat. If you have a problem with something I’m doing or my performance, I’d appreciate it if you would just tell me directly."

You’ll notice that I omitted emotion from those comments. This will keep your remarks at a professional level and reduce the risk of escalating the situation. If you get emotional and start judging him or accusing him, the conversation (and the relationship) has little chance of being successful.

If he continues to be a problem, it’s time to talk to your off-site manager. Using the same unemotional tone, tell him about your concern and replay the store manager’s specific quotes and behaviors. Once you tell him, he is going to ask you what you have done about it, so you will be able to restate how you handled it and what the store manager’s reaction was. If you don’t confront the store manager before you tell the off-site manager, you will look like a nonassertive tattler. That’s why it’s best to try to solve it yourself, first.

In any event, you need to reassess your job choice. For instance, you may be on the road so much that you won’t have much contact with him. The job may be so good for your career that you are willing to deal with him on a limited basis. On the other hand, if he is going to be largely responsible for your performance reviews and you are forced to work with him on a regular basis, consider taking one of the other jobs you were offered. Those companies would be happy to hear from you.

Remember the lesson you’ve learned: Never accept a job before talking with every person who is in a position to evaluate your future performance.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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