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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Feeling Like a Doormat?

Dear Sue: I am a recent graduate and I am in a new full time job. I have only been working here two months, so I am still fairly new and in a learning mode. As a result, I still make small blunders at work. The problem is my supervisor -- I work closely with her and she is very condescending towards me. She loves to "rub it in" every time I make a mistake.

I consider myself to be a very hard worker, and on many occasions I have stayed later then I should. At the end of the day all my self confidence is gone. The way she speaks down to me seems unfair. How can I handle this so I donít feel like a complete doormat? Ė Doormat

Sue Says: How have you been handling her comments to you? Do you remain silent, provide an explanation or ask questions? Are you willing to let your supervisor and others determine how you feel about yourself? Perhaps your supervisor is rather harsh and insensitive, but is it possible that you are overly sensitive to your supervisorís comments? Could she simply be trying to help you learn from your mistakes, and not ridiculing you for them? Are you the one who is hard on yourself and punishing yourself for making errors?

I realize it is not easy to be new in any position, and that it takes time to feel competent in any job. But learning new things and making mistakes is ongoing; you are going to need to learn how to deal with the mistakes you make, and how to handle the corrections of those mistakes.

Start by patting yourself on the back for working hard and doing well. The next time you make a mistake, view it as an opportunity to learn. Ask questions and donít belittle yourself. If your supervisor makes comments, listen and see what you can learn from her as well. If you believe she is belittling you, say something. Donít accuse her of anything Ė just let her know you are not sure how to take her comments. You will only feel like a doormat if you act like one. Donít allow your confidence to disappear; focus on your strengths and try to realize that the problem may not be your supervisor as much as your reaction to what she says.

Dear Sue: My boss frequently uses intimidation and manipulation to keep "order" within the staff. She doesn't appear to have strong people skills, and either isnít' aware or doesn't care that she is offensive and disrespectful in the way she treats her employees. The setting in which we work would run much more smoothly if there were a greater degree of trust in the professionalism of the staff and a show of respect for their abilities and experience with clients.

This supervisor doesn't tolerate insubordination well and labels a lot of behavior as insubordinate if it is not aligned with her way of doing things. She threatens employees with being "written up for insubordination" frequently as a tactic for controlling the employee.

Fear is the basic mode of "management". Morale is low, and several quality people have either been "black balled" and pushed out of their positions by her, or have chosen to move to another department or service area in order to avoid having to work with this person.

How would you suggest this person be approached? Can confrontation be productive? What is the most professional manner in which this situation could be addressed? Ė Not afraid

Sue Says: If you can determine where she is coming from and what her motives are it will be easier for you to determine how to best handle her. If she isnít aware of how she comes across and how people are feeling, it could benefit her to know. If she is out for power and doesnít care what people think or who she hurts, she wonít have much motivation to change.

You have nothing to lose by attempting to talk with her. You might approach her with a concern and let her know that at times you are uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of approaching her. Giving her the benefit of the doubt while assuming she wants people to be comfortable coming to her, ask her what she prefers and how she would like to be approached. Share with her your concerns for the low morale and your willingness to try to improve things with her assistance. If nothing changes or she reprimands you for your sincere efforts, then consider going to her supervisor or someone in human resources who can help you.

There is no easy solution; it may take awhile to see change, and it is possible change will never take place, but you wonít know unless you try. Good luck.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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