Q: My manager is a nightmare. Name anything that exhibits the worst of bad management and she’s done it, including presenting my ideas brazenly as her own.
Recently, I did a favor for a co-worker — not a personal favor, a work favor. As thanks, she surprised me by bringing in a box of fancy mini-pastries — two dozen! — for me and to share with my team. My manager sits next to me. After my co-worker walked away, the manager commandeered the pastries. She gave me one, then walked around meting out one here and one there to people she likes, having nothing to do with my team. With easily 18 pastries left, she put them under her desk, telling me she was taking the rest home to her family. (They don’t appear to be starving; she and her husband live in a mansion and drive expensive cars.)
Aside from my horrible manager, I like the company, and I don’t want to quit. What, if anything, could I have done so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again? I am furious. — Anonymous
A: Gifts shouldn’t have stipulations. If I’d been you, I probably would have joked to the pastry-giver: “To share? Yeah, right!” And then, while everyone was chuckling, wordlessly placed the pastries in my desk drawer for consumption by me alone. THEY’RE MINI.
One interpretation is that your manager is a true-blue psychopath who remorselessly stole your gift before your very eyes. This is statistically unlikely; the research consensus is that individuals with psychopathic features make up just 1% of the population, on top of which, per the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, anti-social personality disorder is “much more common in males.”
I’m not a doctor, but I am highly critical of everyone around me. I have been blessed in my career to have worked alongside multiple people who expended so much effort cultivating an air of mysterious unknowability and fearsome ambition, I could only conclude that they wanted colleagues to conclude they were psychopaths. I blame prestige television and the early-2000s vampire boom for glamorizing psychopathic tendencies. The sad truth is that most people are not charming enough to be psychopaths. I include your manager in that group.
More likely, your manager is simply a jerk who, in addition, didn’t quite understand what was happening in that moment: that the treats were in recognition of your extra work. Is it possible she felt that she, as supervisor, had delegated the work favor to you and that this was her thanks for effective management? This interaction is so strange and specific I cannot conceive of what a second instance of “this kind of thing” might be, let alone envision the conditions that would result in such events becoming recurrent.
What you could have done: the instant you sensed she intended to move the goodies to a second location said, “I’m going to send an email to make sure the team knows we got these as a thank you,” and then sent one. That way, even if she had, bizarrely, hand-delivered mini-pastries only to her favorite people — a group that did include you — she would have been publicly identified as their custodian. When team members came calling, you, innocent as a lamb searching for a fallen apple blossom, could have turned to her and asked, “We still have some of those mini-pastries, right?”
Mistakes become harder to correct with every passing second, and by the time she tucked that box under her desk with no protest from you, her error had become your reality. I maintain you could have corrected her then, even if awkward. (I encourage everyone to tolerate low-grade social awkwardness whenever possible; this improves character.)
I’m relieved this incident did not make you want to quit a job you like, where you apparently are liked or at least appreciated by your co-workers. You will be happier if you keep your interactions with and thoughts about your manager to a polite minimum and focus on (1) those aspects of work you enjoy and (2) your favor-driven cultivation of generous supporters.