How To Drive Your Supervisor Nuts

Have you ever wondered how exasperating people manage to be so exasperating? Well, it requires a set of skills that most people don't have but can develop, with practice. If you aspire to be among the exasperating elite, here is a baker's dozen of the most useful techniques for totally exasperating supervisors. With time and concentration, even amateurs can become proficient at exasperating most anyone. The only requirement is to creatively expand these techniques to other relationships and to add new and innovative techniques as you go along. Read and judge for yourself.

1. Always play it safe; and above all, don't take any chances. If it is not in writing, either get it in writing or refuse to do it until it is in writing. If it is already in writing, ask for clarification. Once you have gotten clarification, check with your co-workers to see what their understanding is and then ask your supervisor for a meeting to discuss the confusion your fellow employees are experiencing.

2. Put most of your time and energy into worrying and hoping nothing changes. When things do change, ask for written procedures and clarification. Once you get clarification, suggest to your supervisor that the changes be put off until everyone has had an opportunity to provide input and to discuss the long-term implications of the changes. After everything has been discussed at least twice, take your sweet old time getting with the new program, letting everyone you talk to know that the changes are causing things to back up and nothing is getting done.

3. Avoid taking responsibility for anything. Certainly don't volunteer and be reluctant even if asked. If you can't avoid it, ask for written instructions and check with your supervisor often for additional instructions and clarification. If your supervisor says something like, 'If you can't handle this, I will find someone who can,' you should say, 'That's an excellent idea. I guess that's why you are the supervisor. I really have too many other responsibilities to handle this right now anyway.'

4. Don't put up with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of other people. You know how to behave and they should too. If there is anything about them or the way they do things that you know isn't the way people should act, mention it to a few of your co-workers and then confront your supervisor. Say something like, 'I suppose you have heard what people are saying about so-and-so.' Not one supervisor in a hundred will resist saying, 'No, what?' Now just lay it out, being careful to emphasize that, although you don't feel that way personally, other people are getting pretty fed up with it and that you just want to give your supervisor a head's up about the problems that are brewing out there.

5. Since someone is going to screw something up sooner or later, you might as well just assume that things are a mess. Even if they seem okay right now, all you need to do is wait around for a while. To be on the safe side, you can bring it up when you meet with your supervisor and especially during staff meetings. You need only pick a couple of things that could go wrong since they likely will; and if not, something equally bad will happen. As sincerely as you can, say something like this directly to your supervisor, 'Have you thought about the consequences of this or that happening? Don't you think we better think this through more carefully and not be so quick to jump into things we don't thoroughly understand? We have done that before and it looks like we would learn. I would hate to see us end up with egg on our faces again.' (If asked, you can mention most anything that didn't work out at anytime in the past.) Now, when something down-the-road does not work out as expected, and something will not work out, you then only need to say in your most concerned voice, 'I was worried that this might happen. I will certainly pitch in and help you with your problem but I'm sure not optimistic. It's too bad things are such a mess around here.'

6. Since most people are out for themselves, including your supervisor, do not take anyone on an 'as is' basis. Just assume that what they are saying to you and what they are really thinking are not the same. It will help support your insight into human nature to ask your co-workers if they can completely trust your supervisor. You will find some who don't and that proves your point. Now all you need to do is listen carefully for the inconsistencies and contradictions in what your supervisor says to you and to other people. The fact that your supervisor is not to be trusted will quickly become obvious. You knew it all along. you best schedule a confidential meeting with your supervisor to offer a friendly head's up. 'Although I'm usually pretty comfortable with you, I think you should know that there are some people who are not sure they can trust you. I tell them that they should give you a chance but. . . . Well, I just thought you would want to know what people are saying about you. Of course, I can't say who feels that way since I told them I would keep it confidential. I don't want them to have a trust problem with me too. If you want, I will keep you posted about what people are saying about you.'

7. You need to be stingy with your praise for anyone, especially your supervisor. At the same time, as much fun as it is to get into blaming and accusing, you need to be careful about that too. Remember that supervisors come and go and you never know which way the organizational winds are going to blow. It is an, 'If you can't think of something nice to say, don't say anything,' kind of thing. Of course, if you can think of something nice to say, keep your mouth shut anyway. If your supervisor asks, say, 'I don't have a problem working with you;' and if someone else asks, say, 'My supervisor and I have an adequate working relationship.' Also be sure to use the same approach with your co-workers, since you never know how things are going to go.

8. A similar approach also helps when your supervisor brings up a problem with you or your work. You can say, 'I have avoided being critical of you and have not bought into the talk. I thought our working relationship was fairly good. That is why this surprises me. I hope our relationship is important enough to you that this does not get in the way. I would hate for us to get into the kind of thing you have with some of the other people. That would be a real shame.' If your supervisor asks for clarification, say, 'I don't think it is appropriate for me to get into that with you. I value our relationship and don't want it to change over a little thing like this.' Now, just keep your mouth shut. If all goes well, your supervisor will not get back to whatever the problem was.

9. When meeting with your supervisor, focus the discussion only on things that are not going well somewhere in the organization. Especially if you are asked about your work, bring up a problem that is no more than indirectly related to you or your work. Ask what is being done about the problem you have highlighted. Whatever the response, say something like, 'It's problems like these that make it so hard for us to do our work. As you know, when things are a mess in one part of the organization, they spill all over everything else. It's a wonder we get anything done. I'm surprised I manage to get as much done as I do, all things considered. I don't know how you put up with it. How do you do it?' Now just listen. If the conversation gets back to you and your work, deal with any problems or issues by saying, 'It's like we were just talking. I certainly am going to try some of the tricks you use to get anything done in this place. I hope you will be willing to share more of your techniques with me. If it weren't for you, I'd never get anything done. I don't know how you do it.'

10. Be sure that you never hint at being proud of the achievements of others, especially those of your supervisor or work unit. It is important not to act like you are totally unimpressed; but be careful. Your supervisor or your supervisor's boss will expect people to do at least as well or better than they have done in the past. If your supervisor has done well, the temptation will be to try to do even better. The only way that can happen is for you to work harder and do better, thus making your supervisor look good. If your work group has done a good job, the same thing happens. You are going to be expected to work harder and do better. You are in real trouble if one of your co-workers shines. That will quickly become the standard for everyone. Your best shot is to avoid calling attention to anything that happens that someone might think is particularly positive or desirable. It just means that you are going to be expected to work harder and do more.

11. Whenever your supervisor cautions you about your work, place the blame squarely on the person who didn't get the job done and who, of course, isn't you. You would have done your usual superior job were it not for so-and-so. It will help you to give some thought to this before starting any task, since it may take a while to come up with a plausible reason for not getting it done or not getting it done the way your supervisor expected. Someone made you late. Someone did not do their part the way you expected them to do it. Someone got their part done too soon and got things out of the expected sequence. Be creative. The point is that you were counting on them and they let you down. You can say to your supervisor, 'The next time, I'll just have to do everything myself. That's the way things are around here. I know you try; but getting everyone to pull their weight is a real problem. If you want, we can spend some time thinking about ways you can get more cooperation. Maybe you should call a special meeting to deal with this issue.'

12. In these days of political correctness and cultural sensitivity, stepping on the feelings of others may not at first seem like a safe strategy; but don't be too quick to go with the popular wisdom. There is still a lot to be said for old-fashioned rudeness and abrasiveness. You will need to do most everything you do with a fairly high level of drive and force; but if you are up to it, the results can be impressive. The key to success is in the reputation you develop for being ready to go to war over anything. You are a person of high principle. You don't enjoy being harsh and abrasive with people, but your principles won't let you just sit by and see things going down the tube. It exhaust you; but you have to do what you have to do. Even if some people get their feelings hurt, you can't just let it go; and you especially can't let it go when you are conferencing with your supervisor. Whatever your supervisor tries to discuss with you and particularly if it sounds like things are about to go south, you need to blow up. Don't over do it; but you can be rather intense. 'Now I'm starting to get that same nonsense from you. It is bad enough getting it from everyone else; but I expected more from you. You want to waste our time talking about trivia when there are serious issues that no one appears to care about. I'm not going to let you of all people get away with ducking the real issues. Those points you want to spend our time with would not be problems if we dealt head-on with the things that actually matter. They are what make things seem like problems that aren't problems at all. Do you want to use our valuable time solving problems that don't matter that much anyway or don't you care either? I really need to know. Which side of this are you truly on?' There is little doubt which way your supervisor is going to go. As important people, supervisors will virtually always opt for the truly important issues, as they are defined today, by you of course.

13. Never let anyone take advantage of you, especially your supervisor. Of course, this starts with not volunteering to do things that just come up and someone has to get done. That is your supervisor’s problem; and if you start volunteering for things like that, the first thing you know, people will just take it for granted that you will take care of it. There is no end to how people will abuse your good nature. You also need to be alert for signs of responsibility drift. That is when things mysteriously end up on your plate when they should not be there. Your supervisor asks, “How are you doing with thus and such?” You hesitate, trying to figure out what this has to do with you; and before you catch your breath, your supervisor continues, “When you are finished with that, I have another little thing that you need to take care of for me.” It is first this and then that; and before you know it, you are not only being used, you are used up. Your best strategy is to nip this sort of stuff in the bud.

Now you know so there you go. You are free to be as exasperating as you care to be. Of course, any unexpected repercussions of that are your problem and are not the responsibility of management. You're on your own.

By Gary Crow March 23, 2017