M: Kris works for a multinational company and feels like her new foreign boss came straight from the depths of hell. Her boss just moved to her new role last November. Since then, she’s been micromanaging her and insulting her every chance she gets. She’s also telling Kris that she’s incompetent. Kris has been with the company for 10 years now, and has been promoted five times within that period. How can she be incompetent? Kris, you’re not incompetent. You’re just incompatible with your new boss. Do not let her engage you to be enraged. Instead, prove her wrong and do better.
DJ: Managing up is key for one to be successful in the corporate world. We grow higher when we have the ability and willingness to deal with a less than perfect boss. I’ve seen managers who mean well but who struggled after being promoted to the role and are adjusting how to see the entire picture when there are already 10 direct reports working for her instead of her doing a task all by herself as an individual contributor. Thus, the urge to micromanage and know every detail of what everyone is doing. The most common reaction to being micromanaged is to retreat further and avoid contact with the manager. This is an understandable reaction, but it will only make her boss stay too close to what she is doing. Keep the boss informed instead of waiting for requests for an update. This can help manage her anxiety or doubt. Engage her about a difficult task or project. This keeps her in the know while demonstrating competence.
M: The thing about working with foreigners is that not only do you obviously have different cultures but also different mindsets and manners of expressing yourselves. She may just be very straightforward. What seems insulting can also probably be a truthful observation but said in a tactless way. But we know insults when we hear them. Is it tantamount to harassment? You can always go to your HR and seek guidance on how to resolve your complaint. It will be difficult to try to speak directly with your new boss, so go through the proper grievance machinery or protocol of your office.
DJ: The way to get through, cliché as it sounds, is to do great work, show loyalty and help the boss accomplish her professional goals. From experience, to do great work can vary from country to country. In some cultures, it means listening exactly to what the boss is saying and doing it accurately and precisely as told. In some countries, it means to have initiative, suggest and volunteer ideas. It’s obvious that these different images of effectiveness are in conflict with each other. My suggestion then is for Kris to step outside of her own cultural comfort zone and learn how to manage her boss in the context she is in.
M: There is a difference between being brutally honest and verbal abuse. Be it in personal relationships or in work, there is a limit to what one can take. Do not allow yourself to be placed in a situation which will discriminate against you in your own country. We have to speak up against wrongdoing; otherwise, we allow abusive people to reign with impunity. We have to believe in our own capacity and self-worth, especially if we have worked hard to achieve where we are.
DJ: I also suggest for Kris to find a cultural mentor, to consult a colleague whose opinion she trusts and to do her own careful observations. We now live in a global space. Customizing context leads to a rewarding career in any diverse environment. Otherwise, LinkedIn is the key. Wink!