Childish manager uses “silent treatment” – what’s next temper tantrums?

Dear Joan:

I am desperate for an answer on why a person would use the silent treatment in an office. Is this the fashion in the US, in an office environment where five women work and the leader continuously gives one or two the silent treatment?


Is this good education? Is it ignorance? Is it due to a mental health condition? Is it acceptable in an office environment?


In summary, this office leader uses the silent treatment when she wants to ostracize someone. She claims continuously that she is “Daddy’s little girl!” She is 37-years old.



Daddy’s little girl is overdue for a spanking.


It’s no wonder you are scratching your head and searching for a plausible explanation. I can assure you it is not acceptable, nor is it ignorance. I suspect she is well aware of the power of her silent treatment…apparently it’s been working for her for years.


My best guess is when she stomped her foot, Daddy gave her what she wanted. When she spurned her high school friends, they begged her to take them back. So the little missy has learned that the silent treatment gets people’s attention and they change their behavior to make her talk to them and treat them nicely again.


If she were a co-worker you could roll your eyes and tell her to grow up. But when it’s your boss…oh baby, the stakes are a little higher.


Here are a few things to try before you pack it in and go look for an adult to work for:


The Straightforward Approach

The straightforward approach requires you to respond to her childlike treatment of you with an adult response. It may break her cycle. The next time she acts huffy and stops speaking to you, approach her and say, “I notice you haven’t been talking to me and you seem irritated. Have I done something you want to talk to me about?” Chances are she’ll deny it but her body language will tell you otherwise.


If she didn’t have the maturity to calmly tell you what the original problem is, she isn’t likely to be able to honestly answer your direct question. Instead of cowering, worrying, or begging her to tell you what the problem is (all the responses she’s used to), take her denial at face value (pretend she is an adult) and don’t play her game.


Say, “Oh good. I must have misread your body language. I’m sure you would tell me if something were bothering you.” In other words, call her bluff. Don’t beg her to tell you, or get sucked into saying, “Oh, come on…you are mad at me aren’t you? What did I do wrong?” By simply walking away and then acting like the matter is settled, you may be able to “reprogram” her behavior. She certainly won’t be getting the reaction she expected, so at least you’ll confuse her!


The Ignoring Approach

Although it may be difficult, write off her behavior—she is an immature person who has not learned to express herself as an adult.  If you like your job and you feel comfortable that you aren’t doing anything that is endangering your employment, perhaps you can let it roll off your back. After all, you may be getting the cold treatment this week, but who knows who will be her victim next week?


I’m sure her behavior has become a joke to the group—how could it not? So, if you get along with your co-workers and wish to keep your job, this approach may work for you, especially if she is the vindictive sort and The Straightforward Approach would be viewed as a threat.


In the long run, I suspect her manipulative antics will wear you out. If you find this to be the case, start looking for another job before your tolerance runs out. Leave before you bring her wrath down on you by saying what you really think.

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,, or 
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