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Talk with a difficult manager

I once had a talk with a manager that was very difficult. The talk, and the manager, I mean. Both were difficult. She’d been psychologically abusive the entire time I was there. It wasn’t just me that she was abusive to – she was abusive to everybody. I like to joke that she alternated between being a bully and a tyrant. Upper administration knew about her, or suspected quite a bit, but felt powerless to do anything because of her race. She would have threatened to sue if she had been disciplined or fired. It wasn’t her race that was the issue, but she would have made it one.

I didn’t say anything to her for years. I didn’t say anything in part because I didn’t often have to deal with her directly. There was a manager between her and me, and that manager caught most of it. I also didn’t say much because I grew up in an abusive home, with a pushy and manipulative brother and compliant parents. Being pushed around and not treated well was my normal. It was only in my 40s that I started doing my boundary work.

When the bad manager finally decided to retire, I knew I had to say something. I steeled myself up and prayed quite a bit. I sat, in her cramped office, lights and furniture angled to make everyone visiting in it feel like they were being interrogated (this was intentional on her part). I reminded her of the sentence she’d said at the announcement of her retirement. She’d said that she’d “been hard on us all this time because it was for our own good”. She meant that she was abusive because it would help us, she thought – spur us on to be better employees. She nodded, she remembered saying that. I asked her “Would it have hurt you to say ‘thanks for the good work’ every now and then?”

She didn’t reply. She was stunned. In 12 years she’d never said that, and she knew it. She recovered, and turned it around so that it was all my fault. This is her way. Leopards don’t change their spots, you know.

I didn’t do it for her. I didn’t expect her to change. I did it for me, because I’d changed. I wasn’t seeking revenge, just reconciliation. I had to speak up, even if it was just a little, even if it was at the end of our relationship. Late is better than never. I didn’t want to push her or abuse her – then I would have been the same as her. I just wanted to speak up, to let her know that things weren’t what she thought they were.

I left her office, holding myself together. I went into the bathroom and cried. I cried hard, not caring if anybody heard me, not really. I knew she wouldn’t. She rarely ventured out of her office. I didn’t want to cry in front of her – I didn’t want her to get the satisfaction of pushing another person around.

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