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I’ve got a manager who is a woman, who I suspect subconsciously favors men. She is less communicative with the women than with the men, more respectful towards the men, and excludes the women from the discussions (both social and work-related). I have observed her even in social situations that she herself has organized, with her own friends, and she really inconveniences herself to turn around and face her one male-friend in the group instead of her many female friends, who are right in front of her. In doing so, she slowly excludes from the conversation all of the women and makes everyone watch her engaging in a discussion with her male-friend. And this is just an example -- I'm making this judgment based on 1.5+ years of observations.

I am happy to write this off as bizarre, but ultimately harmless behavior, except this gets troublesome to have to deal with as her direct report.

As I mentioned, she is considerably less communicative with me about work stuff, certainly less willing to be social with me than the men who are direct reports. I try to not get this way, but l get really anxious and nervous around her when the men in the team are around. I’m more tense and guarded, as oppose to my usual easy manner. While I don’t let this affect my work or my work-related communication, she’s sensitive to emotions and picks up on my nervous behavior. She is even less communicative with me if she senses that something is bothering me. I don’t want to end up looking like the rude one, or the one who is unwilling to have pleasant communication with my manager (who I otherwise like and admire very much) because of this.

Is there any way to maybe gently communicate my feelings to her? Or any strategies to deal with this privately that anyone can think of? I'm really averse to conflict, so any suggestions that align with the latter are more my speed.

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    TBH, it doesn't seem like your a big fan of her, despite your professed admiration. she might not like you either, that's the vibe i'm getting. you don't need to be chums, just professionals. Don't let her shortcomings or your suspicions detract from your professionalism. in general, stop worrying so much about her; so she's dumb/mean/weird/whatever, lots of folks are; I wouldn't bother trying to mend a relationship. Avoid her. If getting along perfect w/her is part of you're continued employment, you're on mission impossible. If you can do a good job with her out of your way, do it. – dandavis Dec 29 '17 at 6:00
  • @dandavis Ha -- yeah I mean this is one of the more obnoxious things about her. I try to not be critical of people in general (it took me more than a year to even talk about this). Manager is insightful, knowledgeable and persistent, and I respect those things about her. I might add that we have some pretty good conversations one-on-one when she gives me a chance or hears me out on rare occasion. Unfortunately, those are so few & far between! My main strategy has been to suffer the disrespect gracefully, but it's getting so frustrating... – Meg Dec 31 '17 at 23:53
  • @JoeStrazzere Well, I hope to say something to her to make her understand that she's putting me in a difficult spot with this behavior. It doesn't exactly have to be "communicating my feelings", but my current responsive nervousness is making things worse. I just want a solution that will make things... not-worse. – Meg Jan 1 '18 at 0:31
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You are probably right about the reasons for your manager's behavior. But I guarantee if you go to her to discuss that aspect of herself (you respect men more than women) it will end badly, even if you're right and even if she knows this about herself, all the more so if you're not or she doesn't think you are.

Let's reword your question to something like this:

I like my manager and admire her very much. On some work matters, with others, she is very communicative. With me, less so. The effect is even stronger if those others are around when I need to hear from her: she speaks to them instead of me. This makes me nervous, tense, and guarded and I know that's making it worse. I hate conflict, so I don't know how to tell her that I wish she would communicate with me the way she does with the others.

With the added proviso that you can't just "become more like the others" because they differ from you in a way you can't change.

Can I suggest something kind of "off the wall" that might work for this particular boss? You say you like her. Try asking her for advice. Like this:

I would like to be a manager some day. I know that means that I will need to be heard in meetings and such, and also know who to listen to and pay attention to. Can you teach me about the dynamics of meetings? How do you decide which team member to explain things to, which one to ask questions of, whose ideas to support and whose to shut down, who to choose to summarize the week's progress for you and so on?

I mean really ask these questions and really listen to the answers. You may get some very important information about how she believes she manages her communications approach. You may learn that you are missing some cue to request communication. She may hear that you would like to be "a better communicator" and thus communicate with you more. Even if it doesn't improve things with this boss, it is likely to bring you good insight into her thought processes and decision making.

Depending on how that part of the conversation goes, and if she's giving you career advice about stepping up in meetings etc, you could ask a hypothetical like

So if I am in a meeting with you and [team member X] and you're telling X how to do something that X and I will both be doing, is it ok for me to interject with questions about it, or should I do that with you privately afterwards, or with X afterwards? Or if you tell X all about it is it ok that I say "ok, we'll get right on that" to show that I know I am also doing that task?

This will help give you confidence about the communications that are happening and at the same time, you're planting this tiny seed that "hey boss, when you need to tell me and X to do something, what you actually do is tell X to do it while I stand there feeling small." But you don't say that out loud with your mouth, at least not at the beginning of solving your communications issues with this boss.

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    Just an amazingly awesome answer! – Mister Positive Dec 29 '17 at 14:58
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    One aspect you didn't really touch on about this - if the manager is not intentionally favoring the men, but is, for whatever reason, having to break down and explain the communication dynamic to OP might cause her to see and realize what she has been doing and make her conscious of this, if she wasn't before. Obviously, not a criticism of your answer. – PoloHoleSet Dec 29 '17 at 15:18
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    @PoloHoleSet that is indeed part of the plan. The questions may change the boss. The questions may enlighten the OP. Any number of things may happen but I'm pretty sure they're all good-to-neutral. Confronting someone about a bias they may not know they have, or possibly even may not have? That can go spectacularly wrong. – Kate Gregory Dec 29 '17 at 15:37
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    This is seriously such perfect advice -- it gives me a chance to get her to be introspective, which is exactly what I've been trying to do. Also, as a side note, I know I was being a bit vague in my question (out of desire for anonymity), but you understood that my boss does things like telling X to do something when she really needs to be talking to both of us! Which I really appreciate! – Meg Jan 1 '18 at 0:54
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This is more of an interpersonal answer than a workplace answer but it may be what the situation calls for. Perhaps your aversion to conflict is part of the problem. In my experience, people tend to form deeper, more meaningful relationships with those who challenge them intellectually.

Instead of just making banal small talk about the weather or what you did over the weekend, maybe try bringing up something important that's been on your mind (nothing personal or political) and see if you can spark an interesting conversation. When you're talking about work, try to use phrases that inspire intelligent debate. Don't be a "yes man."

When people agree (or worse, pretend to agree) on everything, things tend to get boring really fast. She may have developed a stereotype early on that men or more likely to engage in controversial discussion which could explain her preference for male social companions. Believe it or not, disagreeing can actually bring people closer together.

  • Hi, I appreciate your time and consideration, but -- I meant "adverse to conflict" in the sense that I am unwilling to talk to someone who makes choices regarding my employment about their behavior. I engage in friendly debate, defend unpopular work opinions, have friends who I've bonded with over conversations outside of "weather/weekend plans", etc. The issue is that shes not giving me a chance to develop such a bond with her. As I've mentioned, she even does this to her own friends, people she's chosen to bond with as opposed to forced with by coincidence of same employer. – Meg Jan 1 '18 at 0:07
  • @Meg Boy, I guess I was way off on this one. Glad you got at least one useful answer though! – AffableAmbler Jan 1 '18 at 3:44
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Except for the fact that you might risk your performance review with her, I don't see anything stopping you from approaching her directly and asking her for a few minutes out of her time and discuss this with her one on one. If you are not assertive about yourself and maintain the fear of her unexpected reaction to your thinking, you might continue to suffer the same confused situation you are currently in. She may have N number of reasons for her behavior which may have nothing to do with you or your worries.

Talk to her, and get to the bottom of it, and then based on what you understand, weigh the risks and then you could decide whether you would continue reporting to her or not. As long as you are sure that she is not affecting your work or your growth, you have no problem. She is clearly in her territory. Again, for everything, the best thing is to be direct and talk. She may even start liking you for being direct and frank about your concerns

Reference: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty: How to Cope, Using the Skills of Systematic Assertive Therapy by Manuel J Smith

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