Issues (05/16/07)

Dear Zelda,
I work at a privately owned company. They have been in business for 30 years. I am a new employee and have only been working for the company for four months. The boss is a tyrant and loses his temper at the drop of the hat. He yelled at me for the first week. Now he tells me that I am doing a wonderful job and that I know my job’s details, and his assistant seems to be getting yelled at for things she has done. But she wants to make it look like it was my responsibility. Everything that he confronts her on is HER responsibility not MINE. I am in my own department and handle totally different things than she does. My question is, how do I confront her or him about this dilemma? I feel that if I let things keep going, it will cost me my job! Please help.
New and Irritated
Dear New and Irritated,
It sounds like your boss’s tyrannical temper tantrums are turning your office into a “duck and cover one’s own a**” environment. The real expert at this strategy appears to be his “a**”-istant, who is clearly trying to keep her boat afloat by deflecting all the blame onto you, the new employee. Whether or not she deserves to be subjected to his tantrums and his blame-game is irrelevant; you are clearly the innocent bystander with the target on your chest, and you need to find a way to get out of the line of fire. Coping with conflict in any workplace isn’t easy, but it’s especially hard when the boss’s leadership style has turned the daily office environment into survival of the least responsible.
The good news is that your boss clearly appreciates your work. He is also probably aware of his assistant’s shortcomings. The best thing you can do is to continue doing your job well and stay on his good side. Your boss, not his assistant, is the person you need to impress, and it sounds like so far he’s impressed with your work, and his opinion of you apparently hasn’t been affected by his assistant and her petty attempts at shifting blame. So if you do want to keep this job, keep doing it well. Great work speaks for itself. Work longer and harder. Come up with suggestions to help the company improve its profitability.  Be the employee everyone would like to have in their office. This is your best insurance against the accusations of the evil assistant.
Should your problems with the assistant worsen and you feel the backstabbing may put a pink slip in your future, you should deal directly with her. Your boss is obviously hard to handle, and his assistant must have a tough job surviving his daily temper. While she definitely shouldn’t be trying to defer the blame onto you, it sounds like she’s in a rough spot too. Talk to her directly, and make sure you’re armed with specific examples of times when she has tried to shift blame onto you undeservedly. Don’t go into the discussion with an argumentative tone; rather, let her know that you sympathize with her situation and recognize what a difficult boss you share. But be firm: let her know that shifting the blame on these issues is unacceptable, and that if it continues you’ll have to bring it up directly with your boss.
For further reading on this tough subject, a book I’d recommend is Cain & Abel At Work: Politics and the People Who Stand Between You and Success by Gerry Lange and Todd Domke. The authors are veteran political strategists and media consultants who discuss how people can be sabotaged because they didn’t anticipate the motives of enemies in their workplace. Not everyone at work is out to get you, but in a hostile environment like your company, people definitely get good at protecting their own hides.
Good luck weathering the storm, and, as they say in the yachting world, “get your ship together,” navigate carefully, and don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.
Dear Zelda,
I have a four-year-old female boxer named Kylie. I cannot keep Kylie away from the plants in the backyard. She keeps tearing them up. Kylie will break the branches, rip the leaves off, and chew up the stakes holding up the new plants. She hasn’t been eating the plants but she does throw them about the backyard. No fence seems to stop her; she will reach right over or through them. Is there anything else that can help us keep her away from the plants? I am frustrated and desperate.
Baffled in the Backyard
Dear Baffled,
Spring has sprung, the grass has ‘riz’…I know where your doggie is! Kylie is out there tearing apart your garden! Her motivations are clear to me: sounds like she’s bored and trying to get your attention. I have a couple of suggestions for you.
Start by giving Kylie something more tasty than the ‘stake’ dinners she’s been enjoying. She obviously enjoys chewing, so why not give her a healthy tough treat to munch on? There are many varieties available and you’ve heard my favorites before, but my pals and I love those Kong chew toys filled with peanut butter and cheese. Just fill the Kongs, pop them in the freezer, and when Kylie is headed outdoors toss one in the backyard. I’d bet my green thumb she chooses the Kong over the plants. Of course you’ll need to keep an eye on her until you see how long the Kong lasts. I’d also suggest giving her other tough chew toys like a Nylabone Galileo (see my Z-List). Keep changing the toys so she won’t get bored and be tempted to tiptoe back among the tulips and tomatoes.
Another way to keep Kylie from pulling up petunias is to get her more exercise. Four-year-old boxers have a seemingly limitless supply of energy, but trust me, getting her more exercise and more time outside of the yard will definitely improve her behavior inside the yard. If your schedule allows it, try to take her for a run every day, or at least let her frolic in the local park for a while. Also, see if you can find a playmate for Kylie, either to meet in the park for play-dates or as a visitor in your back yard. You might not think that adding ANOTHER dog into your yard would help protect your garden, but it might be just the distraction Kylie needs. These measures alone won’t solve your problems, but combined with other efforts (like a newer, sturdier fence for the garden) this will definitely help reduce the damage in your yard.
My final suggestion that will let you add colorful flowers to your backyard is to use hanging baskets. These are a beautiful, simple way to display flowers, and they’re (hopefully) not within Kylie’s reach.
Some combination of these efforts is bound to turn your “Garden of Eaten” back into a “Garden of Eden.” I think Kylie is about to meet her match.
P.S. According to the ASPCA, the top five canine-killing plants that you should not have in a pet-friendly yard are lilies, azaleas, oleander, sago palm and castor bean. If you don’t know whether a plant is poisonous or not, phone your veterinarian or your local poison-control hotline. Most cities have a 24-hour operator, or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-4 ANI-HELP).

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