Director Has Ice Water in Her Veins


I know others say they work for a difficult boss but mine stands out. You could have been writing about her yesterday when you wrote about the manager who didn’t “get it”. As just example, on September 11th when the terrorists planes crashed into the World Trade Center, our boss scolded us for listening to the news, saying, “Get to work, you can watch the news later.” The most important news of the decade and she wanted us to focus on data entry.

We need help.

You wrote about “empathy, the magic ingredient that changes how the workplace feels. Managers and coworkers possessing empathy relate to others’ emotions and experiences and demonstrate caring, understanding and compassion”

What do we do, other than quit, when we work for a boss that has no empathy? What strategies have you seen work when staff need support from above?


You ask great questions.

Yesterday’s post, details how to make a case to the managers above your manager.

Here’s what to ask for and what you might expect.

Ask senior management

Arrange a confidential meeting with the manager above your manager. Provide concrete evidence outlining the problem.

Ask the manager above your manager to arrange a neutral 270- or 360-degree review on your manager. In these reviews, employees respond to anonymous questions asking for information on their manager’s strengths and weaknesses. Specifically ask that senior management assure all employees that s/he will maintain the review process’s anonymity.

Sample review questions include: “how does this manager communicate?”; “how does this manager handle individuals with views other than his/her own?”; “what can you say about how this manager makes judgment calls?”; “what are this manager’s Achilles’ heels?”

Given what you’ve said, this review can make the case for you and your fellow managers.

The next step

Based on the review’s results and what you’ve said, your senior manager will likely arrange targeted coaching for your manager. When clients have arranged that I coach their Darth Vader managers, I’ve used resources such as Leadership and Self-Deception and the Outward Mindset, published by The Arbinger Institute and worked to help them see how making changes benefits them.

The earlier post provides this example from OM’s first chapter,

The SWAT team pulled up to the building on Wabash Avenue. Armed with a “no-knock” warrant, they stormed through the door unannounced and dressed in black from head to toe.

As the team takes down two suspects; others cower, and infants scream at the top of their lungs. One SWAT team member rifles though kitchen cabinets searching for white powder.

When he finds and mixes the Similac, then pours the formula into baby bottles that he distributes them to crying babies.

The calm this team member creates enables his SWAT Squad leader to be heard, as he explains what happens next.

If you’re on your own

If you don’t get help from above, you and your coworkers need to support each other and your clients. You outnumber your manager. Don’t give your manager more power than s/he deserves. Take pleasure in doing the very best job you can, in the fact that you personally have empathy, and in the good you can do despite your manager.

Finally, the story you shared with me over the phone when you called to follow up reminded me of the “scorched earth fighter” and narcissist bullies I wrote about in Beating the Workplace Bully, You can find specific bully “takedown” tips in chapter 13 and 16. Good luck!

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, and “Solutions”, (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Send your questions to her at or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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5 thoughts on “Director Has Ice Water in Her Veins

  1. Warrior! my thoughts about some of the situations you’ve handled, Lynne. Your experience helps us see that we, too, can do it–just need persistence and a good approach!

  2. Lynne,

    I agree, that the person who made this submission asks great questions! As always, thank you for your professional, measured approach to advice about difficult workplace situations.

    I do have a follow-on question for you, hoping that you might expand a bit on your answer to “What do we do, other than quit, when we work for a boss who…”

    Your advice in this case was to seek assistance from upper management or HR, in an appropriate and professional way. I have, however, seen what can happen to employees who appropriately seek that assistance, and are served up to the problem supervisor for even more fierce mistreatment.

    In some of your other articles, I have also heard you advise employees to “vote with their feet.”

    My question is this: How can or should an employee assess their environment, and determine if it is safe to seek assistance or if it really is time to move on? Some environments are so toxic that the simple act of seeking assistance could be the ticket to employment termination or destruction of their career.

    Thank you for taking the time to compare and contrast those types of situations, if you would.

    1. Hi, this is a great comment and I’ll work on a blog post that covers this topic. Do you have thoughts to offer?

  3. Thank you Lynne!

    Yes, I do have one other thought to offer… One of the common misconceptions held by employees is that the purpose of HR is to “protect” employees. I believe most don’t understand that the essential function of HR is to advise and keep organizational leadership out of messy situations (including litigation) with their employees.

    When you have time to address the “how do we know if it’s time to quit” question, an explanation of the actual vs perceived role of HR would be very helpful.

    No doubt, you have addressed this in previous articles, but it is a distinction that seems to easily escape employees, and likely cannot be clarified too many times.

    Much appreciate you, Lynne!

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