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My boss has suddenly been cold and distant
May 14, 2009 1:55am
I am a PA to an extremely volatile boss. Over the years I have developed a good working relationship with him – I understand his little ways and work around them. I also have – or had – a good relationship with his wife, with whom I often talk on the phone. The two of us sometimes joke about his lack of organization and about his tendency to forget appointments and then blame someone else. However, since last Monday he has been cold and distant and keeps referring sarcastically to his “famous lack of organisation”. I am certain that his wife has said something to him. Is there anything I can do to rectify the situation?
PA, female, 36
May 14, 2009 1:55am in Uncategorised | 32 comments
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1. If you have had a good relationship with his wife, why not give her a call and tell her about the change in her husband's attitude? She may be able to explain why he's taken offence and work at her end to smooth it out. If she has let slip your private jokes about him, she may not be aware that he has taken it so hard and is taking it out on you. Of course there may be another reason for his change of attitude and she might be able to shed some light on it. Poor you - moody bosses are hell!
Posted by: Clare, NZ | May 14 04:59am | Report this comment
2. Grab the bull by the horns and tell him something like "and that's why I'm here - you have far more important things to do with your day so leave it to me to organise it'. If he has some sense of humour, he will see your point and stop this nonsense. If he hasn't, he will see this as you rightfully acknowledging his "superior status" and that should also stop this nonsense.
Posted by: Miranda | May 14 09:04am | Report this comment
3. Oh PA, PA, PA... no no no. As a man who has had almost as many secretaries (sorry PAs, but that's what you are, what's in a name anyway?) as wives I can tell you that you have fallen into a classic wife honey trap. It's vintage behaviour for a jealous wife. She has probably heard her husband talk about how wonderful you are, how you always complement his Brioni suits, how you always bring him a double-shot skinny mocha with just the right amount of nutmeg, and how you satisfy him in ways his wife could never... ok maybe not the last one.
Anyway, she became jealous somehow and decided to do some digging for herself. After befriending you she was shocked to hear how chummy you are and apalled by the amount of understanding of her husband you demonstrate. Cleverly she steered the conversation towards weaknesses, and she has dropped the organisation bomb at home, expecting it to go off at your desk. It has, and you're screwed. Your boss will never forgive you, understandibly so. There is only one thing you can do now, find a new boss, and never ever ever talk to his wife.
In fact I want to let any future secretaries know, in plain English, if you want to work for El Stel then iksnay on the alktay to the ifeway, or I'll sack you like a quaterback. (I love sports metaphors! Woops, that was a simile)
Posted by: Stellan Sjögreen, Banker, 39 | May 14 09:15am | Report this comment
4. Dear PA
well never in life combine job issues with personal relation .....first do noting except never talk about this or other similar issues again
Egyptian gulf bank
Posted by: amr Tawfik | May 14 09:18am | Report this comment
5. first never ever count on female solidarity against an alpha male again
and that's why I wouldn't bet on a straight talk with her or with him might help the scenario
second keep acting strictly professional, overhear the remarks unless he is a very rare very adult male then a simple "I'm sorry it will not happen again" could work
other than that make him look efficient and well organized at every occasion the way Miranda describes it in the "that's what you hired me for" way in your best "you wouldn't want to deprive me of my livelihood would you?" mind-set ... and never never admit, if you can avoid it with even mininum credibility that you were so stupid as to girly-girly with his wife at his expense
in short go by your gut but keep in mind that no matter what ultimately he'll side with his spouse
Posted by: Silke, DE | May 14 09:18am | Report this comment
6. Thats a tough one, he's clearly a bit upset.
So all you have to do is show him respect and make him feel better for what he is good at, I'd pacify his comments by making sympathetic remarks concerning the difficulties of organisation when your role has such a large remit.
Some things are better dealt with subtly, all you have to do is take the thorn out and it should resolve itself.
Don't talk to his wife about it, just learn your lesson and watch what you say to her in the future.
She may be nice but at the end of the day she has demonstrated a lack of common sense which ultimately has put you in a bad situation.
Posted by: Robbowobbo | May 14 09:20am | Report this comment
7. I'm sorry, but I think Clare's comment is ridiculous! If your boss has already taken offence to you talking about him with his wife, the WORST POSSIBLE thing you could do is exacerbate the problem. Under NO circumstances contact his wife! You could be making a career changing decision if you do.
In my experience I have found it best to deal with these situations head on. Ask your boss if there is something you have done, or perhaps is there something you can help with as he seems a little stressed at the moment. If it does turn out to be the comments you have made to his wife, simply explain you let your guard down as you find his wife such a pleasant person. Pay him a touch bit of lip service by highlighting his strong points.
Posted by: ParaplannerWR | May 14 09:37am | Report this comment
8. a few thoughts:
1. As you appreciate, in relationships (especially long ones) arguments can get heated and bombs dropped. I'm guessing he was having a disagreements with his wife and she threw a curve ball at him "even your PA thinks you are disorganised" or "you're not that great, not even your PA respects you, she thinks you are disorganised"....something along those lines. I think a comment was made to your boss by his wife to hurt him, and you provided the armour piercing ammunition (unwittingly). Why armour piercing? because he may be whatever he is at home, but he deems himself "alpha" in the work environment. If his "alpha-ness" can and has been undermined at home, then if his angry or bitter wife tells him he's useless in a spur of the moment comment, the really, really takes it to the bank.
2. I think it is really bad form for your boss to be now actively linking house-to-work life, wife-to-PA relations. Just absolutely pathetic. You did not insult him, but he may feel betrayed that his weakness at work was revealed to the one person that can use it effectively to undermine him if necessary, his spouse.
3. What to do? I would personally not extrapolate on your boss' bad form. If you now confirm that "you know he knows" that you joke about his organisational skills with his wife, you have to ask yourself what your end-game is. Can you fix it? the answer is no. The man is disorganised and that may not be something you can fix. So, unless you can fix the source of embarrassment, don't add to the "noise" or "volatility" but engaging in a dynamic for which you have no feel of the situation (you don't know what was said or how it was said).
Leave it, lesson learnt - if you have to discuss someone that you work with, let it not be with their wife, husband, sibling or best mate. Joke about it with a completely unrelated party. Be professional, ignore the childish remarks from the boss. In making sarcastic remarks about his disorganisation, does he want you to tell him that he is organised? He is being very childish.
Posted by: Curious observer | May 14 10:43am | Report this comment
9. Try the Sabine women approach.
Posted by: Gwilym Rhys-Jones | May 14 11:28am | Report this comment
10. It is unfortunate your boss' wife chose to break your confidence, but the next time he brings up his "famous lack of organization," remind him he is lucky to have the skill to choose such a wonderful persnal assistant who can mange his organization and that is part of the reason he has a PA at all. In the future becareful of the wife. I am sure she simply slipped, but this is what happens when one pokes fun at others behind their backs. - Analyst, 38, female
Posted by: Charlotte Anne Bond | May 14 12:26pm | Report this comment
11. A wife is supposed to be the closest confidante to her husband. So by discussing his weaknesses with her, you touched a raw nerve and the boss is evidently 'cross'. You cannot really blame him as he is human. You should have kept your opinions to yourself. Imagine if his wife had told your partner of some of your weaknesses he had confided in her. You would have been livid. So in future try not to interfere. Find a moment with your boss and apologise. In this way you clear the air.
Posted by: Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgium | May 14 12:50pm | Report this comment
12. If you are truly a PA rather than a Secretary, why are you letting him forget appointments? - also, why is he so unorganised? - I am now retired and had wonderful PA's over the years and they made sure I was organised and properly briefed when required. A PA role is so important and some even go onto much higher positions as they often learn the jobs of their bosses better than the Boss.- Maybe you have let him down and in any event you should never privately or publicly gossip about your Boss - What about loyalty. You may have lost his confidence in you forever !!
Posted by: User3922724 | May 14 01:41pm | Report this comment
13. PA, 36: you fall in the net, in the "poisoned" net of a jealous wife.......
If I were you, I would start looking for a new job...
In my opinion,in the short-medium or long term, "the wife" will never change her mind about you... (as a woman, you know that better than any men....). Unless your boss shortly leaves the company, I would suggest you to get a new job, if not, you will shortly be out of the company.........wife's power.....
PD: never, never again you get involved in a friendship with your boss wife......
Posted by: User4211288 | May 14 01:47pm | Report this comment
14. Give it a week. He's a) a man and b) forgetful. He'll have completely forgotten about it given a little bit of time.
Posted by: Disorganised Male | May 14 02:39pm | Report this comment
15. I suspect that somewhere along the line your boss has got wind of the shared jokes and feels threatened by the two of you; something has been said by his wife which has tipped him over the edge.
Do not play further on the connection with his wife if his volatile nature upsets the balance for you at work. Instead, take him out to lunch, ask him senstively about his change of attitude towards you and soothe his ego. Defuse the professional situation quietly and move on. You may need to tone down your contact with his wife, if she is indiscreet with the information and jokes you share. Familiarity breeds contempt, as you have just learnt.
Posted by: User3735410 | May 14 02:44pm | Report this comment
16. Your boss isn’t by chance a Tory MP? Maybe he’s ashamed of himself.
Posted by: Brian | May 14 03:08pm | Report this comment
17. I agree with Stellan; cherchez la femme. I think the wife is behind his change of attitude so do not confide in her anymore, indeed, treat both of them with less chumminess. With your boss just be cool, calm and professional. Treat the work you have to do for him with with utmost seriousness, handle his belongings as if they were sacred relics but he should be invisible, do not even talk about him or think about him other than as the person for whom you currently work and for whom you do the best possible job you can. He may worry about this change in attititude on your part, perhaps he will think he has upset you and will try to recover the relationship you had before and you can cross that bridge if and when you come to it. If he remains cold and distant, which incidentally I don't think he will for long, then tant pis, just do the best job you can and put out feelers to see if there might not be something out there you would enjoy doing more.
Posted by: Gaucho Gil | May 14 04:12pm | Report this comment
18. Sadly, you have rather belatedly discovered the difference between a Personal Assistant & a Secretary. You have failed to meet the confidentiality standards expected of a PA. You have created this situation by not managing yourself. The essential bond of trust is, at best, dented. You have also invaded his home life with his work in a way that he probably would not have welcomed.
You must re-establish your honourableness. Go to your boss, apologise and assure him that it will not happen again. Do not be surprised if he asks you to leave. What you have done is serious; consequences follow.
If you have been as good as you suggest, you may just get a second chance, but don't count on it.
For the future, decide if you are going to become a professional PA & what you are going to do to get there, or perhaps you'll be more comfortable as a Secretary.
Business Improver, 57
Posted by: A65Bill | May 14 06:24pm | Report this comment
19. A65 Bill is largely correct. You have forgotten the first rule of being a PA, and this applies to secretaries as well: Never forget who you work for! You don't work for the spouse, the kids or anyone else your boss has a relationship with. Allowing yourself to have any kind of personal friendship with his wife was very unprofessional.
Apologize simply ("I'm sorry, it won't happen again", end the friendship with the wife, then keep your head down and do your job as professionally as possible, and hope that the relationship can be salvaged. Or start looking for another job now.
Posted by: CCT, Las Vegas | May 14 07:26pm | Report this comment
20. Ride it out. At some point he will permit you to make an apology, now is not the time for you to force one. His wife threw the "organisation" thing at him at home in a very hurtful way and with accelerant she could have only obtained from you. Fortress "Office" was comprimised and he had no defence; you were the gatekeeper so there is no wriggle room for your culpability.
Ride it out, look for the opportunity when he signals that you can make ammends or say something to appease him , then you do just that.
Humor, tact and personaity are your tools in this situation. By the way, I agree with a number of the comments here that you should realize that your chumminess with the wife ends now. He , not she, is your employer.
Posted by: Allan Howell Male 40, Manager | May 14 09:39pm | Report this comment
21. classic gossip queen tactic.
wife doesn't like the sound of you so she entices you into girlie banter to draw out negative comments about her husband. she uses comments as ammunition against you in private. husband will never find out what his wife said about him (unless you are dumb enough to say) so that makes you the villain, hence cold shoulder.
best option is to discredit the wife's side of the story. find a senior colleague your boss respects and drop into conversation how strategic and organised your boss is, with luck your message will be transmitted back to your boss, once again with your name attached.
your male boss being male will only remember the most recent message and return to his old self.
Posted by: tricky triangles | May 14 10:24pm | Report this comment
22. I just have to take issue with A65Bill. There is no difference between a PA and a secretary. There certainly aren't any higher standards for PAs... There is nothing wrong with being called a secretary. I don't see Ban Ki Moon complaining and insisting on being called UNPA
Posted by: Stellan Sjögreen, Banker, 39 | May 15 09:34am | Report this comment
23. It's rare that I agree with the chaps on their understanding of the female psyche, but, El Stel and Gaucho Gil have hit the nail on the head. Your instincts are right - of course the wife has had 'A Word'. Any corporate wife worth her Manolos knows exactly which buttons to press in order to get what she wants...which is to put a bit of distance between you & her husband. She obviously feels that you've overstepped some invisible mark, but it may well be her insecurities rather than your actions being at fault.
Don't even bother trying to rectify things - you haven't done anything wrong, have you? You will just be drawn further into the wife's little game, which is one you can never win. Rise above it and do your job as immaculately well as ever, and wait for things to thaw between you and your boss....which they will. Being a man, he won't have the energy to see-saw between frosty relationships both at home and in the office for very long.
Posted by: Stellanista | May 15 10:14am | Report this comment
24. Give him a week. He'll grow up.
Posted by: User3165228 | May 15 02:14pm | Report this comment
25. You made a huge mistake in getting too friendly with the boss's wife. Better look for another job and don't make the same mistake again.
Posted by: J.J. | May 16 01:28pm | Report this comment
26. The basic problem is that the wife is jealous of the younger woman who waits for him each day in his office. We can therefore see the problem as being connected to European society's knowledge that men are naturally polygamous (who really would say no to their secretary if they thought they wouldn't get caught?) on the one hand, combined with society's refusal to accomodate that fact. Instead we try to wish into existence a different world with different men (when I say world, I don't mean the globe of course, as globally most societies are polygamous).
The wife is afraid, as women in monogamous societies often are and with some justification, that her husband will leave her for another woman, because having them both is not an option long-term. You should have been much, much more careful. I assume you are not interested in him yourself, but it is socially assumed that he is interested in you so jealousy from the wife is to be expected.
What to do now? The wife has already made her move and I can see two main strategies.
1) Do nothing, do your job well and hope for the best.
2) The bedroom option. He will say yes for sure and when you walk out of the bedroom it will suddenly be him who is afraid for his job and not you. Of course not every Myers-Briggs personality type can do this.
More generally, if you are talking about someone, imagine them in the room with you. Live with the principle that if you wouldn't say it in front of them then don't say it at all. It's not easy to do this all the time but even if you succeed in following this most of the time you will gain respect.
Posted by: Samec | May 16 03:34pm | Report this comment
27. Oh my god! Samec, I love option 2! It's pretty childish, but deliciously dastartdly. It would serve her right for being so manipulative... she totally started it! I bow down in appreciation
Posted by: Stellan Sjögreen, Banker, 39 | May 16 04:08pm | Report this comment
28. My initial reaction would be to run for the trenches and deal with the bombing but sometimes that is the worst thing you can possibly do because you're just waiting for a grenade with your name on it to drop and then you're gone.
This time around you have to pick yourself up from feeling the shame of having fallen for his wife's trickery and deal with it. Both you and your boss's work relies on a clear understanding between you two so you should have a frank conversation with him behind closed doors, and ask him if there was something you said that upset him and what can you to fix it, apologize and say you'll make sure it will not happen again, and for goodness sake, do not assume a confrontational position.
As you said, you've been with him for years and good PA's are hard to find. You need to maintain a clear channel of understanding between you and your boss and this little jab at his pride should not be left alone to fester. He's thinking if you speak to his wife about one thing, what else do you say of him to someone else behind his back? So, it's a matter of maintaining that element of trust.
Strike while the iron is hot, your job depends on it.
Do not speak to his wife about anything closely resembling work in the future. Stick to the Manolo Blahniks and other trivialities and try to not be seen alone so much with her if your boss is around. Be polite and distant.
Also, it's best to realize once and for all that any and all mention of anything negative regarding your boss will automatically reflect on you: if he is disorganized, why aren't you doing your job of organizing? If he forgets appointments, why aren't you remind him of them on time?
Talking crap about your boss is self-sabotage, even if you think his wife is on "your side". Wives can be divorced from and PA's can get fired for lack of discretion. Only you can control what you say and you need to control what you say a lot better.
Posted by: Self-Employed, 34 | May 16 10:47pm | Report this comment
29. As an aside, it's always best to show a united work front to your boss's wife and I'm sure your boss will see that it is the best course of action too, if he wants to continue to clearly divide home life from work life and will send out the message to his wife not to interfere, if she has half a brain.
Posted by: Self-Employed, 34 | May 16 11:06pm | Report this comment
30. "Famously disorganised" is a epithet that will be starring on many an election manifesto in the coming year. The current leader of London managed to sweep into office proudly wearing this epithet as a badge of honor. I suspect in business that the sweeping tends to happen in the opposite direction and so you are rightly concerned, although for the wrong reasons.
You extremely volatile boss had a flash of sobriety several years ago when he decided to hire a PA to become famously organized. Not only would he be seen as brilliant, witty, incisive, maverick, passionate, but he would be ORGANISED.
His wife has realized that this is not working. In the midst of this recession hubby dear is wobbling on the economic treadmill and soon she will have no place to send the bill for the horse manure for her oh-so-special roses. Had she been worried about you as an emotional competitor, you would have been out in the first three months. No, my belief is that she worries that you are not doing your job, and by the sound of it you aren’t.
You need to move fast and in a business fashion. Being famously disorganized is clearly no longer a joking matter. Time to dust off that action plan you made optimistically several years ago, update it with your unique experience and talent for organization, and sell it to him immediately. Remember, he has to sell it on to his wife, so it better be good. Probably she even passed you a few tips over the years if you think back carefully.
Chris, 56, Male, VP
Posted by: chris johnson | May 17 10:20am | Report this comment
31. When you're in ******, don't keep digging! However lovely and fiendly you, your boss and his wife are together, you are still his employee and he will expect loyalty from you. Even if it isn't obvious, there is a line - and you stepped over it by discussing his habits with his wife. It's a faux pas. Men are particularly sensitive to being discussed by women - haven't you noticed? And you really can't know that his wife won't use the information against him in a moment of fury. For now, ignore your boss's sarcasm and comments. It will pass. Just don't gang up with his wife against him again!
Melanie Allen, Coach http://www.melanieallen.co.uk
Posted by: User4453290 | May 18 11:20am | Report this comment
32. Why shouldn't your relationship with your boss be cold and distant? Is it an office or a sewing circle? This phony chumminess, which is so popular in the modern office, is just a distraction from the job in hand and inevitably leads to ill feeling when the mask slips (as it has in this case) and inevitably must do whenever discipline needs to enforced or there is dirty work for the boss to do. When he gets over it and stops sulking (assuming he does and he's not the type to bear a grudge) then you will find it's better for everyone if there's a bit of distance and professionalism. I don't know why some posters are getting so hot under the collar about you being friends with the boss's wife and would also take some some of the more colourful ideas that have been suggested (have they read too many Jackie Collins novels?) with a pinch of salt. There's just the rather obvious drawback that husbands and wives do talk to each other from time to time, often with a fair degree of candour, so you have to be careful what you say.
Posted by: Kentish Curmudgeon | May 18 01:23pm | Report this comment