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Submitted by kcherico on


My manager is very even-keeled, diplomatic and just plain nice. He values people who are the same way. I've worked hard over the years to moderate myself at work, to be kind and compassionate with others and to regulate my emotions. Still he says I "don't hide anything" and that I "sound angry" at times when I don't feel angry. He just says I sound that way. I've gone to therapy, I've taken anti-anxiety meds, I take supplements that are supposed to have a calming effect. I don't know what else I can do to please him short of having a frontal lobotomy. I'm getting frustrated with trying to be like him and I'm starting to resent that I should have to be like him. I can't help but wonder if this would be happening if I weren't female. I do good work. I manage a team of 6 people. My team is happy with me. The internal customers my team supports are happy. Only my boss has a problem with me because my personality doesn't match his. Help.

mattpalmer's picture

I'd say you're going to have to either learn to modify your behaviour to suit your boss' desires, or find a new boss who is closer to your own behaviours.

Here's the thing: your boss has been given responsibility for achieving some outcome.  He believes (rightly or wrongly) that to "better" achieve that outcome, you need to be more like him.  You're almost certainly not going to change his mind on this, and trying to "appeal" his decision is going to end in a train wreck.

Thankfully, changing your own behaviour *isn't* actually all that hard.  I can attest to this personally, as I'm rather like you -- loud, seeming angry when you're not, that sort of thing.  I'm the boss, so it would be easy for me to continue to behave like that, but I've come to believe that to be effective, I need to moderate my behaviour -- I work with a lot of people who are a lot more reserved, and when I'm my natural self, I'm not as effective as if I adjust my style to be a little more like the other person involved.

Where did I learn this magical behaviour?  At a Manager Tools Effective Communications Conference (  I'd recommend doing a DISC profile ( yourself, and perhaps ask your boss to do one too (with the stated aim of improving your interactions with your boss).  Read both profiles with an open mind.  I'd guess you're largely high-D (like me), and your boss is a high-S.  If you can get to an EMC, do it -- you'll learn (and practice) a huge amount about adjusting your communication style.

mike_bruns_99's picture
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Matt's right, this is a personality style issue. You're not communicating effectively, and you need to understand what your boss is looking for.

In addition to the conferences, listen to these episodes:

jrb3's picture
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Personality isn't something one can change in others (as generations of disappointed spouses have discovered :-)  You report being highly effective in all other aspects of your work life, so it's down to a matter of adapting your behaviors to better fit how he understands the world.

If you want specific podcasts on DiSC, to gather ideas on what to try, go to the "Podcasts" menu on every page, then select "All Podcasts" from it.  The page you're sent to has a drop-down;  select the tag "disc" and hit the "submit" button.  Hit each of the "The x in DiSC" podcasts, and figure out which one is your tendency and which one is your boss' tendency.  Then listen to any of the other podcasts which seem relevant, and try out possible improvements which come to you.

If you can successfully ask your boss for behavior-oriented feedback, that would help matters.  My wife, for instance, will often say that I'm shouting when she disagrees with me, even when I'm talking at conversational volume and tone.  She might be reacting to a firmness which comes in when I'm over-stressed and defending a core value.  Is his "sounds angry" interpretation a matter of volume, pitch, speed, terseness, tenseness, word choice?  All these are behaviors you can control and adjust consciously.

Good luck with improving your ability to communicate well with your boss!

-- Joseph

maura's picture
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I'm going to guess that if you both took the DiSC, your Boss would be a high S and you'd be a high D.  Check out this cheat sheet for quick ideas on how to communicate differently with him (and probably to others while he is present...Though I'd argue that this is going to be less effective than communicating to that person in THEIR style, his eye is on you, and he doesn't know the DiSC, so you may need to sacrifice one gain for another there.)

kcherico's picture
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Thank you for the feedback, Matt. You're correct - I am a high D, high C. My boss is most likely a high S. I went to an EMC a few years ago but I could definitely use a refresher. I can change my behaviour and I needed to be reminded of that.

kcherico's picture
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Thank you, Mike. This isn't exactly what I was hoping to hear. But this is what I needed to hear. I need to further hone my communication skills. I will listen to the episodes you shared.

kcherico's picture
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Thank you so much, Joseph. All the replies to my post have a consistent thread - I need to work on my communication skills. Instead of feeling frustrated that I'll never be who my manager wants me to be because I'll never be just like him, I need to work on the things I can control - my behavior and my communication skills. Thanks for the wake-up call.

kcherico's picture
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Thank you, Maura, for helping to point me in the right direction. I am a high D/high C. My boss is most likely a high S. I can't control his expectations or behaviors but I can control my own. I need to work harder on that.

leanne's picture
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You sound a lot like me. I was told for YEARS - and by years, I mean well over a decade - that I needed to learn to manage my anger better. Now, sometimes I would walk out of a meeting going 'ugh, I can't believe I screwed up that badly, got that angry, whatever', and they'd tell me that; ok, good. Far more often, they'd tell me that and I'd stare blankly at them and think 'but...I wasn't angry. I thought we had a *good* meeting, got through things that had been stopping us, made good plans to go What?' I struggled with 'how do I manage my anger if half the time or more, I don't know I'm angry even after the fact?'

Then someone introduced me to DiSC, and Manager Tools, and that helped a lot. I thought on first reading the summaries that I was a high C; turns out, I'm D/C. He also pointed out that I 'prewire' myself for meetings I think are going to be problematic or bad - work myself into a less-than-ideal state of mind. (Actually, he didn't point it out, precisely. He asked me if I had done so. I'd not heard the term yet - hadn't reached that cast - but it fit perfectly with what I'd done.) I ended up writing myself a list of questions to help me un-wire myself if I'd gotten into a bad state, that I try to review before meetings if I'm at all concerned about my mood or the meeting itself.

And then Career Tools did this cast:

If you haven't listened to that one, DO SO as soon as you can, and listen to it as a way to see yourself from the outside. Key bits for me were:

* Don't say a high D has an anger management problem. (They might, but that's not guaranteed. I did; it was just a LOT smaller than people had made it out to be.)

* A discussion of the behaviors that make people think a high D is angry when they're not. Raising your voice is the biggest one I remember.

I can't remember if all of these are in it - sad; I only re-listened to it less than a week ago - but here's things I found myself doing that, when I compared them to my high C and sometimes high S coworkers and management team, I decided might be affecting them:

* Talking faster. The more excited I would get, or the more interested, the faster I would talk. This does not come across as enthused or excited, when paired with even a slightly-raised voice.

* Gestures got sharper. For instance, when not as excited I might gesture with an expansive hand gesture, an arc, palm cupped and turned towards the person I was talking to, or towards the ceiling. The more excited I got, the more it became more like a straight line, palm flat towards the floor. It was also faster - I'm pretty sure it would be characterized as 'cutting someone off'.

* My tone got more sharp. I find describing tone awfully hard, especially since I didn't usually mean anything by it, so I can't really describe what I noticed.

I hope some of this helps you.

kcherico's picture
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Thank you so much, Leanne. Your feedback is so helpful. I will listen to the Career Tools cast as soon as possible. It helps to know there's someone else out there like me. It's possible to come across to other people as angry when you're not. I'm not a complete freak! It also helps to know that I can make small adjustments like moderating my tone of voice without feeling like I have to get a personality transplant in order to please my boss and succeed in my career. Thanks again.

leanne's picture
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Definitely not a freak. Learning what it was that made other people think I was angry was such a *relief* to me.

It's not always *easy* for me to pay attention to tone and gestures and such while in the middle of an intense conversation. I've found it to be *infinitely* easier than trying, during an intense conversation, to be aware of my non-existent anger growing. Good luck!

TNoxtort's picture

 Do you thinl you might have an over-reactive fight/flight response? You said you went to therapy. Did that uncover anything? I'm wondering if you have any deeply held emotions that are holding you back. If so, I might recommend a book called Taming Your Outer Child by Susan Anderson.

svibanez's picture

Leanne's "self pre-wire" idea sounds like just the ticket for me. Thank you for sharing that thought - it was exactly what I needed after an especially bad meeting yesterday run by a person who I *know* always has unproductive meetings.

This new tactic may well help me lower my expectations enough to stay sane through these poorly-run meetings on an initiative that is very important to the organization.


DiSC 7114

naraa's picture
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You are not alone.  A college of mine once asked me directly: "Why are you angry?"  To which I replied I wasn´t angry.  And he replied back: "Then why are you yelling?"  I am a high D, high I, and he is a high C, some D there too!  I was actually very greatful for him to have asked.  It took me years to find Manager-Tools and find out about DISC style and how to modify my style to better suit the listener´s, but he questioning me made me more conscious of the way I was acting and I like to think I lower my tone of voice.

There is a recent podcast from manager tools that says something like this: "Personality is a set of behaviours which we came to group together and call it personality."  Figure out which ones are the behaviours that draws people to say you are angry and you are 80% there!  It is not easy to be some style we are not though, it takes a lot of energy away.  But then over acting one style is also detrimental.  I had a college told me once I moved around so much and were doing so many things at once it made her nervous just to watch me.  I wish I had acted on the subtle advice to change, because a few months later I burned out!

You should focus on communication style because that is what you can change.  But your perception that things are worse because you are a girl are not wrong.  Most of us (men and women) have the stereotype of fragile and dependent women in printed in their minds.  Our minds works by comparison: it compares how someone is behaving to what our expectations of what the person should be behaving like is.  So when the expectation is for women to be soft, a high D woman, comes across as even more high D than she is (thus the detrimental comments we hear all the time about women in leadership roles!).  The difficulty is that if you are not high D a woman gets nowhere in world predominantly lead by men (at least all women I have encountered in my professional life that are in leadership roles have been high D, I hope somebody here can prove me wrong!)!  So don´t change all your high D characteristics... And if you are high D, high C, smile, smile smile!

You may like to watch the video Miss Representation ( which draws an analogy to how women are portrait by the media and the shortage of women in leadership roles.  Nothing you can do to change that perception.  But what was nice about the movie for me was that one of the statistics presented by a women newscaster, that throughout her professional life that she always received 14% of hate male and all related to gender issues, also matches my perception, that there is always about 1 in 10 people that no matter how hard you try, will always see you with that gender bias!  There is nothing you can do with regards to those!   But they are a minority!  And what we need to do is turn off the unconscious switch to try to please everyone.  It ain´t happening!  Luckly, it doesn´t sound like your boss is that guy, just smile more, soften up a bit and you will be fine!  If you do try, if other people see you have changed, but your boss doesn´t see it, than he has that gender bias and can´t get over it, and you need to look for a different job!


etapbeta's picture
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Dear KCherico, everybody has already given you a lot of hints and tips.

I just wanted to share my admiration for the very open way you took the recommendations. I think it takes a very intelligent person to listen with an open mind to what other people are telling her about how to change her behaviour, and by your comments you did so very well!

I am sure that by now you have solved 90% of your issues with your boss!

azurefire5's picture

 It sounds to me like you're pretty flexible and adaptable, and have done what you could to try to succeed in your career. But maybe your boss has faults too. If your boss is saying "you sound angry" and you said you don't feel angry, then he's making a subjective assessment of your behavior. 

You could try to up-manage and tell your boss in a one-on-one how you like to hear feedback. Like others say here, it sounds like part of the issue is a difference in communication style. 

naraa's picture
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Hey Kcherico, guess what?  I just found out there is a podcast for your question!  Surprise surprise!  Here is the link for Dealing with vague feedback:

The recommendations are great!  A big one is not to be defensive about your bosses feedback, even if given vaguely, as he will understand that defensively as an unwilliness to change.  Say something like: "Thank you.  I always appreciate getting input on what I can be better at.  Can you point me to some specific actions I could engage to improve?"

Good luck!