Ask Miriam | Who’s the Boss?


Dear Miriam,

I work in an office without a clear hierarchy. A number of my co-workers call me their boss. This makes me uncomfortable, as I also believe it is inaccurate. Is there a way to correct them without sounding like the boss I don’t want to be?


Not the Boss

Dear Not the Boss,

My 7-year-old daughter Aliza has the following advice for you: You should tell them that you don’t like it in a way that you’re not asking them. You should say, “I don’t like you calling me boss,” and hope that they stop saying it.

I am going to expand on her answer, but with the caveat that the rest of this is fluff — she’s just totally right. Whether we’re talking about relationships that are professional, personal, familial, romantic or otherwise, the best form of communication is almost always straightforward and honest.

If someone is saying or doing something you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable, tell that person you don’t like it. As cliched as this sentiment is, tell them using I statements (“I don’t like you calling me boss”). After that, though you can’t change their behavior, you can hope they listen to you and you can change your reaction. Either decide not to let it bother you or keep gently reinforcing your “I statement.”

Beyond these practical communication tips, I do wonder what about the office dynamics leaves your co-workers looking for someone to call “boss.”

Maybe the lack of hierarchy is confusing or is creating a leadership vacuum. Maybe it’s to the benefit of the office that you behave in a way that puts you in this role even without the official title, or maybe you could take this as a sign to be more hands off with some of these colleagues.

Whatever the potential reasons, since it’s making you uncomfortable, it’s worth examining all the factors that might be playing into the situation.

Be well,



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