How to Deal With an Insecure Supervisor and Insensitive Co-Workers

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WATCH 'Dear GMA' Advice Guru Winner: Liz Pryor

Liz Pryor from Studio City, Calif., is the recently-appointed "GMA" Advice Guru and she is here to help with life's tough questions. Read her responses to the viewer-submitted questions below.

Hi Liz,

First off, congrats! My question is, I work in an office with six women that get along very well. However, our supervisor is very insecure about herself and therefore insecure about our friendship. She tends to speak with us individually and tell us something that we said to her about the other that is not true. And she likes to control, manipulate and will go as far as to separate us. We never want to step on her toes in fear of our jobs (especially these hard economic times). But how do we tell her enough is enough with all your unwanted drama? Thank you in advance for your advice!

- Allison in Florida

Liz's Advice:

Oh Allison, I've heard a lot on women, and work, and friendship, and I have to be honest, this is in the top five most challenging questions I've ever received -- very sticky stuff in that she is your supervisor. So let's figure it out.

My instinct is to remind you that there is always power in numbers. The fact that you and your co-workers all get along well enough to have figured this woman out is truly impressive. At least her antics have failed. You aren't upset with one another because you know she is lying, and you have pegged her manipulation. Good for you guys.

I want to present a few different options to you. The first being, if you all can agree to it, is to confront her together. The power in numbers is really significant here. As a group you could plan out what you would say and most importantly decide how you will present. I would suggest you begin by telling her that all of you want to sit down and have a conversation. If she asks what it's about you can answer that it's about the office environment. Make sure to map out the meeting in your heads. And open the conversation with the idea that you feel there are miscommunications and misunderstandings of situations going on in the office that you are all are hoping to put to an end.

Give it a beat and then ask her how she feels about it and if there is anything you guys can do to help this shift. If she asks for specifics you could give examples of this but I wouldn't go at her right there in the meeting and bust her on previous behavior, it will only shame her and could be counterproductive. She knows what she's done, you guys are just letting her in on the fact that you know!

Initially you could think of this meeting as giving her the opportunity and permission to change her ways. The part that is going to be tough is that you really will need to try and go at her without going for the jugular, and with as few accusations as possible. The bottom line is you want her behavior to change and in order for that to happen she cannot feel attacked. She is insecure to begin with, right? It might help you to realize that what has happened is the past she knows already, and you will be best off if you focus on how you would like the environment to look and feel in the future. Most people when confronted are taken so off guard they will need time to process, so leave room for that.

All this said, you should have a plan B in place; which would be to go to her boss. You have a perfect case. The office productivity and morale is entirely compromised by your supervisor's inability to work as a team. And rather than present your view of her insecurity and power trip, stick to the facts that apply professionally if and when you take it above her head. She is not a team player nor does she seem to be able to put in place the kind of leadership qualities that are effective. The only alternative to any of this is to remain where you are now, dealing with her manipulation. I understand the value of a job these days, and I'm sure all of you do as well. Which is why I say stick together as a full team -- it will ensure your employment. They aren't likely to allow her to fire six women together.

It is incredibly challenging to deal with people like your supervisor; try with all that you are to make this a clean best effort. Be patient, and please focus on the quiet confidence all of you will need to display when this goes down. And keep your eye on the ball; this is not a meeting to call her out on her stuff as much as it is to get her stop doing it!!!!

I am so wishing you success through this, and hope I've helped.


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Advice Guru Liz Pryor Answers Your Questions

Dear Liz,

I am extremely sensitive to the chemicals used to produce colognes, perfumes, lotions etc. I work with several people (including my direct supervisor who is one of the owners of the company) that wear such colognes, perfumes, lotions etc. I am forever on medication because I either suffer ear infections, sinus infections, even gastric upset due to the exposure to these chemicals. Please tell me, how do I deal with this problem when I have spoken to them and they continue to wear the offending "scent" regardless? I truly feel as if they just don't understand that someone can actually react to those products in the ways that I do. PLEASE HELP!!!

- Carolyn in Indiana

Hello Carolyn,

Well, I have to say this is a very difficult situation. I am so sorry, and can see why you feel at a loss.

I wonder how you went about informing the people at work of your predicament to begin with?

I am going to suggest that you speak with your physician and get his input on how you might approach this issue. If you find out how others have dealt with this in their lives it might surely give you some ideas. Also, if your co-workers were able to better understand the medical consequences as written by a doctor, they might be more open to changing their habits, so consider asking for a letter from your doctor.

Carolyn, often in life the response we get from those around us is based on how we present whatever it is we present.

Understand these people may not really get the gravity of the situation. You want to be careful about how you present to them to be sure they do understand.

I would suggest going to your immediate supervisor and having a heart-to-heart. Not demanding, but explaining your situation. Show her the doctor's letter. Tell her you don't know what to do, you want to keep your job and respect everyone's freedom to wear what they please, but that you have this awful reaction, what might she suggest?

Even though she wears perfume, all the better I think. You don't ask her to stop wearing it; you just explain your situation and ask her what she thinks you can do. This conversation alone might get her to stop. And in turn she is the supervisor she might be able to appeal to the others.

As cut and dried and is this looks to you, remember you are basically asking these people to change their morning hygiene habits to suit your medical needs. It's reasonable, but it could feel intrusive to some. So be kind and appreciative when asking for such adjustments of those around you. I'll bet you can get results here; you just have to find the demeanor that will be most productive. You want to appeal to them to do this for you, and I think you can do it!

Good luck, Liz

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