Boss Explodes

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about boss’ unpredictable anger :

My boss (also company owner) is unpredictable, to say the least. All is sunshine one minute then, BANG! Where did that come from? He will ask me to solve a problem (most often a computer problem that stems from his lack of knowledge) and, while I’m trying to do so, he’ll get impatient, won’t mind what I’m explaining, and start yelling. He will also react this way, at times, in instances when he’ll ask for explanations or clarifications on some matters. He’s even once told me, “Of course, you’ll have an answer; you always do.”

But, that’s what I’m paid for! I’m usually pretty good at dealing with his behavior, ignoring it and staying focused on the subject rather than the emotions, but it becomes tiresome and, sometimes, will affect me, even keeping me awake at night. I’ve worked for him for 6+ years now and have discussed this with him before. It works for a while then it all comes back and round we go again.I love my job, get along great with all my co-workers and, when he’s in a good mood, enjoy working for my boss. It’s when his mood if not so good (and we never know when that is), that it gets rotten and not just with me, but mostly with me. I think that he may have a psychological or even physiological disorder. Could it be? If not, how do I deal with this? Is there a miracle recipe? Thank you!

Signed, Need A Miracle or At Least a Recipe

Dear Need A Miracle or At Least a Recipe:

Tornados, typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions happen. We labeled them natural evils and know no way to prevent or completely explain them. Why, we ask? Scientists have theories and data that help explain this world we love and fear, as far back as the Big Bang. Yet the best we can do is try to predict and cope. Apparently, you have survived over the past six years, in a job that you love, but are stress out over the occasional unpredictable explosions of your boss. You, no doubt, have tried to ignore, smooth over, bit your tongue, repress your anger, and confront him.

Even now after six years, I assume with this same boss, you wonder why he is as he is, and you hope for a miracle. Miracles are not impossible. When it comes to some physical and psychological-based behavior, miracles are not impossible. On rare occasion human illness and behavior change radically. Because such changes are unlikely and we can find no rational explanation for them, we refer to such changes as miracles. In your case, I wouldn’t count on a miracle. Can you cope for the rest of this year and perhaps the next and the next? Based on the six-year relationship history with your boss, I predict that you can.

Should you have to cope occasionally with an unpredictable explosive boss? No! So, in addition to the ways you have steeled your self in the past to cope, is there anything else you might do or redo that will help you predict and prevent his outbursts? Here are several suggestions that you can weigh in light of your work situation:

1. Recall and note what it was that might have set off the little and big bangs? How many can you recall? When did they happen? What was the context of each of them? Were you behind in your assignments? Was the boss under certain deadlines? You describe him as impatient and yelling at times when you are trying to explain. Briefly describe how it made you feel; angry, demeaned, discouraged.

You say you have tried to stay focused on the task and ignore the emotion. Note to the best of your recall, your own behavior before and how you reacted in each instance of yelling and explosion. A careful analysis of specifics and details of past explosions can surface several insights: · Answer the question of frequency and intensity of the little and big bangs. · Chart a pattern or ups and downs of the rainfall and big storms. · Provide a picture of situational factors that have contributed to and/or might be blamed for a change from sunshine to storm. · Reveal who is involved. Who saw and/or heard the language and demeanor of the little and big bangs. · Enable you and possibly appropriate others to understand what has occurred. In item #2, I will suggest if and when such a boss-bossed log might be appropriately brought to your superior and/or in item # 3. when and if it might brought to Human Resources. Ideally, the problem you describe should a natural outgrowth of boss-bossed performance reviews. However, from what you say, you have spoken to him about his outbursts, but they have not ceased. You have not come to an agreement on do and don’t communication rules that should each of you should follow.

2. Request a private time with your boss to boldly confront how you would like for your working relationship to be productive, harmonious and free from the distress both you and your boss feel. One way to begin such a meeting is to talk about what has been going well and what he and you think might make your work and work group more productive. Such a topic should not shy from your real concern about the explosions, and here is where you might discuss past blowups, how they affect you now. Should he not acknowledge the problem, you have the list you prepared in Step #1. Showing him that list probably will anger him, but it will prove how seriously you are that you want his explosions to stop. Even if it unnecessary to show him your list, Step #1 should help you think through and prepare your thoughts of what might prevent and help you better cope with future explosive behavior. You will have to speak candidly and seek his agreement to hammer (WRITE) out together dos and don’ts that can be used in a trial period. And it would be wise to have ready your own list. For example, rules that you think should foster a cooperative and productive working relationship and prevent explosions, such as: · Do together plan ahead and establish a reasonable load and schedule; perhaps for a week at a time. · Do set a time each day or week to confer on the progress of projects; possibly have a board to post progress on assignments. · Agree on ways to ward off and deal with pending outbursts, for example, make it ok to say, “Stop, Dan. Back off?” Or “This is a problem that can best be explained or solved after you allow more time.” Or “Is this the kind of problem that would best be discussed later?” Possibly, raising one’s hand can be agreed as signal to calm it or back off. In your situation, as I mentioned above, it would be wise to write out in advance what are do and don’t rules that can make for effective boss-bossed communication.

3. Think “we”, not just “I”. You have co-workers. You are a member of a work group. Your work group likely is a component of a larger organization. You don’t describe the size or nature of your workgroup or company, but whatever its size, almost every workplace has established policies, rules and procedures to address difficulties with work relationships. What does your policy book or custom say about destructive and constructive boss-bossed communication: such as listening to one another, verbal abuse, yelling, cursing, and how to resolve problems? And to whom should you go if you have complaints about how you are bossed? My advice is to follow that advice. When one-on-one between a boss and bossed does not result in resolution of a serious on-going relationship, as is the one you describe, to the satisfaction of one or the other, that is the time for both of them to meet with an appropriate third party; perhaps the boss’ boss, Human Resource representative, interpersonal counselor, or mediator. My advice is that you do not by-pass your boss and secretly go to his superior or HR about his outbursts. Rather, ask yourself how you would feel about someone complaining about you without first telling you that she or he was going to do so. If you are like me, I would prefer that someone, who had a problem with me that we could not resolve together, would invite me to go with her/him to an appropriate source get help with that problem.It is likely that you already have shared with your family, friends, and co-workers your annoyance about your boss’s outbursts. Such ventilation of stress and anger is natural.

Reflect on how much you have voiced your stress and complaints about your boss. You might find that you are allowing your stress not only to cause you to lose sleep and to feel rotten. Ask if you have allowed your sourness to cause family and friends to see the rain and not smell the flowers. Possibly co-workers have seen the way you have been disrespected and yelled at by the boss or they themselves have experienced similar distress. If so, those who feel distressed as you do, might want to join with you in working on do and don’t rules of communication with the boss. However, I would not count on others. Unless you have a union or regular staff meetings where do and don’t rules might be high on the agenda, you are the one and only person you can count on to fight your battles. So avoid general gossip about the boss. Do not allow your feelings take on an adversarial conspiratorial voice against the boss. Don’t say to others what you would not say to his face.

Think and act with a We-think attitude; one that is expressed in word and deed to make your internal and external customers happy and to make your boss and co-workers look good, not bad. Express that love of your job in cheering others on, and that includes your boss.The type of problem you have lived with (worked with) across the years has no quick fix. Usually a boss’s pattern of rough talk has been stamped into a habit because it has worked for him/her. Maybe it was one learned by example from parents or when he was a young subordinate. Upper classmen sometime harass and haze because that is happened to them. Changing customs and especially hardwired habits will take persistence and courage. I recommend that you take time to read several of the Q&As in our Archives. My associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe is the wisest person I know when it comes to interpersonal communication in the workplace. Study several of her carefully composed suggestions. And feel free to modify or reject my advice. From a distance, I have no way to know if you are exaggerating or if, indeed, that boss comes across as a wild tornado. So apply these thoughts only after weighing them carefully. Much of what I say is summed up in my signature: Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden