Ask the Chicken: My Deaf boss is making working life really difficult

Posted on August 5, 2013

In an uncertain world, there’s one person you can turn to for dependable advice: the limping chicken. Offering sensible tips for all kinds of common deaf-related problems. Here’s the third instalment of our ‘agony chicken’ column…

M, from the East Midlands, asks:

This is a bit of a strange problem. I work in a large company with one other deaf man.

Around a year ago, he was promoted and he’s now my boss. I was really pleased about this, because we are good friends, but it’s become very difficult.

I think he’s harder on me because I’m deaf too.

He often double checks my work, and sometimes he will joke about me to our hearing colleagues (he has good speech). Perhaps because I am deaf too, he feels it is ok to joke about me – he doesn’t seem to do this with my hearing colleagues.

It makes me feel like I’m not an equal member of the staff.

At lunchtime he always sits with me, and signs with me about my work, so it’s hard for me to switch off.

At work he is hard on me, but outside work he is friendly, it’s like before.

I’m not really sure I can talk to him about it because I know from the past that he can be sensitive about criticism. Also he’s my boss, I don’t want to make my life harder.

I must admit sometimes I think it’d be better if I was the only deaf person in the company. I’ve looked at other jobs but I feel happy here (apart from my deaf boss).

Do you have any advice for me?

The chicken replies:

This chicken sympathises. Many a time, I’ve seen other chicks rising to become the queen of the coop and accepting that isn’t easy.

Like you, I keep my head down, lay my eggs, and seek out a simpler, calmer way of life – away from the top.

Your problem is fairly unusual. Often, Deaf people complain about not being given the opportunity to get promoted, so it’s great that your boss has broken through the barrier to be managing both you and a team of hearing people.

The flip side of this is that you’re in the relatively rare position of being managed by the only other Deaf person at your company, and you feel like you’re being singled out.

It might be that your boss is keen to show your colleagues that you’re not being given special treatment, which is why he’s being a bit harder on you, but it sounds like he’s definitely over-compensating for this.

That said, it’s worth looking at the situation from his point of view. As a Deaf boss, he may feel he has something to prove, and that he has to work harder to stay in his position.

The clearest grievance you have against him is his jokes about you. If he’s not doing that to anyone else, that seems clearly unfair and could even be seen as being bullying behaviour.

However, he may be doing this because he feels more comfortable teasing you. It might be because you’re deaf too, but more simply, it might be because he knows you so well.

I would recommend having a quiet word.

You mentioned that outside work, he is more friendly, so I would suggest asking him if you can have a quiet drink after work, and bringing up the subject there.

The important thing is to avoid being confrontational in any way, or to seem like you are accusing him of anything. I would bring up the positives of working for the company first, then ask whether he would mind if you talked to him about how he works with you in the office.

Tell him that you don’t mind people sharing a joke about you – as long as other people are the subject of the same kind of humour. Ask him whether he’d mind sharing out the banter a bit more.

If I were you, I wouldn’t go into the issue of your work being double checked at this point. From this conversation, he may pick up that you feel you’re being treated differently sometimes, so hopefully he’ll cotton on and address this.

Of course, if this doesn’t work, and things get worse, it may be that eventually, for the sake of your friendship as well as your job, your best option is moving on to another company.

But do try and have a word first.

Good luck!


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