I have 6 years of work experience (pre-MBA) and now (post- MBA) for the past 8 months have been working with my current manager. She is Eastern European and has a heavy accent. She's a very nice person but I'm having a really hard time with her as my manager.

I have difficulty understanding her and she makes it difficult to ask her questions/clarifications. For example, I was given an assignment with little context and very specific instructions on what to do. I completed the assignment as such but was later berated because the answers were not logical (through no human error). We have weekly meetings and she never indicated to me that there was something wrong until I was presenting it to the client.

She will also often catch me off-guard by asking quiz-type questions. For example, she once asked me how I would structure a revenue model. When I rattled off what I would do, she cut me off and got frustrated because I hadn't responded with what she had in mind. The other day she quizzed me to see if I knew what components go into calculating a profit margin.

Furthermore, she is notorious within the company for being short-tempered. I have been in several meetings with her where she has been short-tempered and frustrated with others in the company who are at her level or higher. Some in the organization have even approached me and asked me explicitly what it's been like working with her.

My question is: How do I maintain a clear communication channel with my manager in a way that will not result in her getting frustrated and short-tempered with me? I think there is a lot I can learn from her and would love to be able to ask her questions without hesitation or fear. I have never dealt with this type of behavior from a manager before so I sort of just shut down when she begins to show her frustration.

  • Have you addressed the big picture at all? Do you get the sense that higher management is asking you those questions to build a case to fire her?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 11:52
  • My manager was brought on a few months before I was. Those who have asked me about working with her are largely at my manager's level. I have seen my boss's boss become frustrated with my boss but we have never discussed it. I'm just relieved that, were I ever to speak to my boss' boss about this behavior, it wouldn't be coming out of left field.
    – Mara
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 18:16

4 Answers 4


She doesn't sound like a very nice person to me at all, but if you're worried about misunderstandings due to her accent why not confirm the outcome of your meetings to her in an email? It gives her a chance to correct any misunderstandings and you also have a paper trail if she changes her mind on specs, etc.

It doesn't have to be a long email. Something like "Further to our conversation, I'd like to confirm I'll be doing X, Y and Z", would do.

  • 2
    This should always be done in my opinion. Regardless of how difficult an manager (or whoever you had the meeting with) is.
    – Jeroen
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 15:51

I'm seeing three main issues here:

Detailed assignments without context

This is always dangerous, because -- as happened to you -- you can follow the rules exactly and get silly results. Recommendation here is to study the task to understand what it is for. That way you will see before completion that the answers aren't making sense. If you get such a task and you don't understand it, talk to manager or whoever the ultimate requester is.

Pop Quizzes

When I rattled off what I would do, she cut me off and got frustrated because I hadn't responded with what she had in mind.

The mistake here is that the conversation shouldn't be over. You might tell her, "Okay, my approach isn't suitable to what you have in mind. I think I need some more context; what are we doing with this [whatever]?" Really, this issue is very similar to #1 because at heart the failure is that your manager isn't giving you enough context. Why do we need a revenue model? What will we be doing with it? There are many ways of constructing one, picking one theoretical model out of a hat isn't likely to fit the actual needs of whoever is consuming it.

Manager frustrates and angers easily

Honestly, seems to me that a good portion of this comes from her communication problems. Clearly she's not doing well doling out tasks usefully or getting info from you (the first two issues). If you work on those two, her frustration levels may go way down.

Another thing you can do is recognize when this is starting to happen, and take a step back. "Okay, I think we're talking at right angles here. Let's take it from the top" Make everything logical and unemotional. "Let's grab the whiteboard and write down a list of all the issues we need to solve here..."

Lastly, I won't tell you not to get frustrated yourself. Of course you will, that's natural. But I will ask you to hang on to your serenity the best you can, as two escalating parties in one discussion is a recipe for fireworks!


This is a difficult situation. Your manager seems to expect you to read her mind. On top of that, her behavior - which would be unacceptable at many organizations - seems to be widely known and tolerated by her peers and upper management. That's not good, and maybe you should consider whether this environment is right for you in the long term.

That said, I think you need to be a bit more assertive. Ask for a meeting with your manager. In this meeting, you should lay out the problem as you see it. You want to to a good job and provide the best performance possible, but you feel that your objectives are sometimes unclear. Emphasize that you will need to ask questions and solicit feedback sometimes - this is true of every good employee. Ask her what you can both do to improve your mutual communications so you can ensure that she is happy with your performance.

In this meeting you should be as dispassionate as possible. Frame the discussion as though these are facts, not opinions. Be calm and businesslike no matter the response. She sounds like the type of person who does not like being questioned, and may she may react poorly.

Her response will tell you a lot about your future in the organization. There's a chance that she will provide more feedback for you, which is what you want. She may also throw a tantrum. If so, HR is always an option, but it's frankly not a good one if her behavior is already known and tolerated. You may also consider talking in confidence with her manager, especially since (according to your comments) he has shown frustration with her behavior in the past.

All in all, if you make an honest effort to improve communication and it's rebuffed - or worse, if your relationship deteriorates - it's time to think about looking for the next opportunity.


You are going to have to be a tough cookie.

When you receive a task from her, get back to your desk and review the task that she has assigned you. If you have questions to ask, make a list of questions, then make an appointment with her to go over the task before you start on it. Before you get to her desk, make sure that your mental attitude has reached the point where you don't care that she screams at you. Mind over matter. You don't mind and she doesn't matter (*). On the other hand, you need those answers and those answers are all you need her for.

When you are with her, go through each question until you are satisfied that she has answered your questions. Every question. If some of her answers raise more questions, that's too bad for her. Think "noise to signal" ratio. Her screaming is noise and you don't care about noise. You can hear it but ignore it. All you care about is "signal", which you getting the information you need to perform your task. I have ignored bosses who were screaming at me 30 cm or 1 foot away from my face, so I know it can be done and that my advice is not idle advice. All you need is practice :)

Don't let any of her screaming get to your head, even though it's ringing in your ears. Shut down the ear to brain connection while she is screaming at you, filtering only for the information you need. Don't take her screaming personally: apparently, from your mention that she is short-tempered with people at and above her rank, I'd say that she treats everyone she thinks is incompetent the same way - like dirt. You need to be confident in your abilities in dealing with her. I sense that she respects competence and intelligence but that she is all too quick to wrongly assign incompetence and stupidity. In dealing with her, never be ashamed or act ashamed of any gap in your knowledge. Ask your questions up front. The more of your questions she answers, the less pain you have to deal with going forward as you get closer and closer to fully figuring out her approach to analysis.

If her screaming nonetheless gets to you, stare at her icily and say "LOOK! I am not a mind reader and the only way I know what you want is when I ask you want you want and you give me an answer." You don't need to be adversarial about it. Making the point and driving it across is showing enough toughness for one day. Pay attention to your body language and your demeanor: don't be a mouse when you are meeting with the cat. In fact, you don't even want to be seen as a mouse, given what cats do to mice.

Make sure that you have a conversation with your manager's boss about your manager. Let your manager's boss that the relief you seek is that that her screaming stop. Apparently, there is some kind of consensus among the rank and file of the firm that her interpersonal approach is in conflict with the firm's culture.

(*) If a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it fall, does it matter? If she screams at you 30 cm or 1 foot from your face and you just don't care, does it matter?

  • 3
    I'm not sure what workplaces you're used to but in any I've been in, the correct response to someone aggressively shouting in your face is not to just sit there and take it. It's to cut the "conversation" short and walk straight to HR. OP also hasn't mentioned behaviour even close to that so I'm not sure why you've made most of your answer about that.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 11:51
  • If anything is job suicide, it's that last paragraph of yours. Talking back to someone who's terrible enough at their job to resort to screaming at employees is going to end with you either being fired or punched in the face.
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 12:29
  • @Erik - You get one chance to show me that you read my answer and my comments with the appropriate care and respect. Where in my comment did I say "talk back"? Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 12:36
  • Thank you for your advice. I definitely need to harden myself up a bit and keep my cool and wits about me. I've been fortunate that many of my previous managers have been very supportive and mentoring. Therefore never had to deal with this type of personality before.
    – Mara
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 18:19
  • @Mara - Live long enough and work in enough different places and you'll get to meet all kinds of characters :) Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 18:21

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