Discussion: May 11, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

I’m in a new position and coming up on my 90-day review. I like what I’m doing but my new boss is inconsistent (moody) and micro-manages (control freak who insists she wants me “to be the expert”). Do I have any options for broaching these topics in a diplomatic way?

Hmmm… Who’s reviewing whom? I like your perspective. You want to candidly review your boss. It seems your boss has two strikes against her already. And if she isn’t willing to talk about changing her style, the third strike may hit you in the butt on your way out the door…!

Okay, folks. How do you say it? How do you tell your boss her style is affecting your work without getting yourself fired?


  1. It’s important to consider why your boss might be acting the way she is. It could be that she’s a bad manager, but it could also be that she’s telling you that she’s dissatisfied with your performance! A boss who is being very hands-on with you while also telling you multiple times that you’re supposed to be the expert sounds like this might be a boss who has real concerns about your performance so far.

    How about telling her that you’ve noticed she’s been very hands-on and you’re wondering if that’s a reflection just of your newness, of her management style in general, or of her worry that if she backs off, you’ll flounder? The answer will probably be pretty revealing.

  2. Hi, Boss! I’m so glad we’re getting this opportunity to talk about my first 90 days here. I really love this work! And if there are any improvements I can make, I am more than ready to address them. (Listens – hears out the boss – does not take boss’s opinion as a personal indictment of self-worth! – paraphrases back to her what she said – agrees to make improvements A, B and C). Thank you so much for sharing all of that with me. Wow, I really wasn’t aware of some of the things I needed to do better but you can be sure I will be working on those, and you will see improvement, I guarantee it. I would appreciate your feedback later on about how I’m doing.

    Now, would you mind if we talked a little bit about how we interact? I’d like to improve how we communicate and I’d like to understand your style better. (Gently and considerately ask for what you want, taking care to be clear, understanding and not defensive. Come to mutual agreement with boss about how things can change for the better). Thanks so much for being willing to talk about my concerns. As I said, I love this work, and I’m looking forward to making big contributions to this team.

  3. @Marcia M: Nice, direct, respectful approach that hits all the notes!

  4. Unless you know your boss really really well from contact, and unless you are prepared to move on, bite the roof of your mouth and hold your tongue. Marcia’s advise will work better at your one year appraisal when you have established a working relationship as well as cracked the code on how to communicate to the boss, if you can. It can also worked out during the year piecemeal.
    360 review scenarios sound wonderful on paper, but it takes a mature manager to live them.
    Adaptation still leans much to recognizing that you joined the boss, she didn’t join you. In most cases unless the behavior is so onerous it is unbearable one finds adapting to things like moodiness, and even the hated micro managment are character building
    If you find you can’t stand it, you’ll likely move on which is what you do if you miscalculate or mis-speak to a supervisor who’s still close to a stranger within a 90 day probational period.
    PS I speak with some experience having responded to an INVITATION to critique my boss, taking it at face value and be greeted by what anyone could see..anger. And you’re not being invited to give your opinion..so the risk is higher.

  5. Be patient! 90 days is nothing in establishing a consistent track record to measure your capabilities. Since she really wants you to succeed, she is watching every detail. How would it look to her superiors if her hand-picked candidate failed?

    Give her a chance to see you perform week-in, week-out for another 90 days. If you don’t see improvement in her attitude by then, you can think about saying something.

    With regard to her moodiness, chances are, with more time, you’ll learn what “triggers” her and can avoid that behavior. Maybe she doesn’t like to be interrupted first thing in the morning. Maybe she faces some tough phone calls with suppliers or customers and needs someone to vent on. In another 90 days, what now seems “moody” could be quite tolerable.

    She might even change as she sees how capable you are, how loyal you are, and how good you make her look to the higher ups.

    I can think of two bosses I had where the first 90 days were rough. Then they got a lot smarter and things were great from then on (or maybe I got smarter?). Be patient.