Workplace Woes: The Prying Boss What do you do with a boss who insists on prying and wanting to know what's going on in your private life? It could be a sign that she's lonely — or that she's concerned about your job performance.
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Workplace Woes: The Prying Boss

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Workplace Woes: The Prying Boss

Workplace Woes: The Prying Boss

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On Wednesdays we talk about the workplace, and today we're back with organizational psychologist Ben Dattner to talk about your workplace problems. Ben, welcome back to MORNING EDITION.

Mr. BEN DATTNER (Organizational Psychologist): Thanks, Steve. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: And of course we get letters from listeners, some of whom do not want their identities disclosed because they're asking about their jobs, about their bosses and so forth. And we have a listener here, Kathy(ph) in New Mexico. And she writes: what do you do with a boss who insists on prying and wanting to know what is going on in your private life? Kathy goes on to write: I've coming to conclusion that my boss is clueless when it comes to boundaries. Maybe she's desperate to have friends but I'm not being paid to be her friend. So how do I handle a situation like this? Ben.

Mr. DATTNER: Well, the first thing I would ask is, is it really just about your personal life and is it really just about being friends, or is your boss concerned about your work output? Are you not delivering on time? Is the boss concerned that you're going to miss deadlines, etc?

INSKEEP: Well, let's see if we can pose those questions to Kathy, who's been listening on the phone from New Mexico. Kathy, welcome to the program.

KATHY (Caller): Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And let's begin by asking if that is the situation. Is your boss really asking you about something else?

KATHY: My boss only has, from what I can see, her job, and is kind of desperate for more interpersonal relationships with people and seems to be trying to cull that from her work environment and/or her clients.

INSKEEP: So you just think your boss is lonely?

KATHY: Well, yes, that. I mean I do my job, I show up on time, I take care of what needs to be taken care of. But I feel really pressured, especially when I get called in and sat down and said we're very concerned about you and really want to know if there's anything that we can help you with. And I'm thinking, well, yeah, if you want to go, you know, have your teeth worked on for me in my place, that would be great. I don't really think that I need to really discuss why I have doctor's appointments.

INSKEEP: Well, Ben, how do you approach that squishy situation?

Mr. DATTNER: You know, what you said is that your boss is clueless about boundaries. So one thing you might try to do is gingerly educate her about boundaries. So go to her and say, look, I really appreciate your concern. There's nothing going on. If there ever is anything going on, I will certainly let you know.

KATHY: I have pretty much done that, but it seems to forget the lessons that I tried to teach.

INSKEEP: Well, maybe when your boss hears you on the radio, it'll all be very different.

KATHY: That may be true.

INSKEEP: I don't know.

Mr. DATTNER: And one thing that I would ask you, Kathy, is, you know, it seems like you face a choice, which is you can either interpret her prying as being annoying or interpret it in a positive way - that she genuinely cares about you and your well being. So I would say, you know, thinking about what it is about her style, who she may remind you of that makes her so annoying to you, might be something worth thinking about.

KATHY: Well, that has come up. We are working on that - ourselves. Myself. I am working on that.

Mr. DATTNER: And so what have you thought about in that regard?

KATHY: Well, I mean I am speaking with someone. I mean I am working on this issue of why I feel this way, why I feel that it's an invasion of my privacy and where that is stemming from.

Mr. DATTNER: Right. Well, there's the…

KATHY: Like family of origin.

Mr. DATTNER: Absolutely. And I think in terms of family of origin - there was a very interesting article written by Michelle Conlin in Business Week several years ago called "I'm a Bad Boss, Blame My Dad," about how people are increasingly thinking about how workplace relationships remind them of family relationships.

KATHY: Exactly. And a lot of what, a lot of that is mirrored here.

INSKEEP: Well Kathy, thanks for your call, and thanks for your letter before that.

KATHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Kathy from New Mexico wrote to Ben Dattner, who's our regular guest.

And if you need workplace advice, write us at, and just search for the word Workplace.

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