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An acquaintance of mine - a manager high up the food chain of an international company - recently approached me for advice in a delicate situation between him and his boss. As their business has done well, high provisions were paid out for the last year. My acquaintance decided to buy a brand new electric car of a well known manufacturer for just under 6 figures.

He was having a polite but rather formal relationship with his boss until now. According to him that changed beginning the first day he drove into the company's parking lot with his new 'toy'.

While the car attracted considerable attention from colleagues and employees in general, his boss didn't even mention anything or ask him about it. The boss's attitude towards him changed from formal/polite to being passive aggressive, either by lecturing him in front of others in the weekly meeting or ignoring him when asked about certain directives regarding customer relations.

My acquaintance suspects that the sudden change of behaviour is due to some compensation mechanism of the boss since he (the boss) is accustomed to having not just the biggest, but also the most expensive, (private) car by far.

He doesn't know if he should openly approach him in a private talk after office hours or if he should just ignore the change and hope that the boss eventually settles down and their relation will become as it was prevously before he bought the new car.

Since I didn't have any practical advice for him since I haven't been in such a situation I thought I would ask here. What is a good way to handle this conflict in an effective and constructive manner?

  • Given the bitter, mean attitude of the boss, if you find another post would he then regret his behavior? Or just blame it on you anyway? – Solar Mike Jul 18 at 17:01
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    I've edited the post to improve how it reads. If I've changed the meaning in anyway, please edit it yourself to fix any errors. – GreenMatt Jul 18 at 19:40
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    One thing for everyone to keep in mind: we've got an extreme case of telephone game. Anyone answering should keep in mind that you're relying on your understanding of Logix's comments about his acquaintances' comments/understanding about his bosses behavior. Same thing to a lesser degree for the OP: you're relying on a single-sided, indirect account of what happened. Be careful handling the situation with any sort of conviction/certainty. – Kevin Jul 18 at 19:49
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    It could be worse. There was a British company who was very astonished to see their accountant on TV. On a program about a "supercar" exhibition where people showed off their cars worth a lot more than £100,000. And one of these cars was owned by their accountant. That was the day they figured out why their business wasn't doing as well as it should. – gnasher729 Jul 18 at 20:38
  • @GreenMatt Thanks for your edit! – iLuvLogix Jul 19 at 8:49
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The Thomas Kilman model of conflict resolution lists 5 approaches that can be used in different situations to manage conflicts.

It seems that the boss has turned jealous from your friend's purchase of the shiny new toy, and is now expressing his emotions via his passive aggressive behavior. Whether this is actually the case or not can only be judged by your friend - if its just the toy, or is there some other mistake your friend made that has angered the boss (an offhanded comment, some work related error) that your friend is not conscious of.

Anyway, we will assume that it is the toy which is at the heart of this conflict. The boss is already highly assertive, and your friend is lower in hierarchy. So your friend can not choose to compete. Since we assume that jealousy is at the root of it all, direct talk will aggravate the ego injury of the boss.

Your friend can therefore choose the avoiding style - in which he doesn't say anything to the boss, keep focussing on his work, and hope for the problem to die out.

If it doesn't die out, your friend can next move to accommodating style. Over here, your friend can try praising the car that the boss owns (after all, it is another shiny toy), or compare the features that his car doesn't have. This should soothe some egos.

However, if the conflict still doesn't terminate, but instead further grows, your friend can try the compromising strategy. In this, he could try options such as not parking his car in boss' sight, to not talking about it in boss' presence, to not using it on specific days.

Finally, if nothing works, your friend can turn to the collaborative style and aim at converting his boss into a lover of the new toy, and convince the boss on the merits to buy the same model or a superior one for himself.

Hope that helps :D

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    This is a fantastic answer. One of the things about cars is that they are very personal. Unless they are identical makes and models, just different years or accessories, the "accommodating" approach will likely work very well. – Julie in Austin Jul 19 at 0:34
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    Thanks for your answer & advise! That Kilman model for conflict resolution is very interesting - I sent my friend the link you posted. – iLuvLogix Jul 19 at 8:49
  • The fact is that the boss is damaging the company because of nothing else than penis envy. The company's correct reaction would be to give the boss a serious talking to, and if he is such a small minded little wimp that he can't get over a subordinate buying a nice car, then he should be removed from his position. – gnasher729 Jul 21 at 12:54

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