May 30, 2012

How to Cope with an Unreasonable Boss

How to Cope with an Unreasonable  Boss

In our last segment, we talked about how to disagree without being disagreeable with our spouses or friends. But what about those situations when you're in a "one down" position and aren't allowed to disagree. Today we're going to look at how can you deal with folks in authority and offer some tips for how to cope with a boss's unreasonable behavior.  

When faced with an unpleasant situation that can't be changed, it often appears that there are only two options: either to blow up or to just take it. We'd like to tell the so and so off but we need the job and can't risk getting fired. On the other hand, to passively accept mistreatment takes an emotional toll and increases our stress. Fortunately, there is a third way, a way to maintain your cool and sanity in the midst of unreasonable demands or treatment and I'm going to tell you how it's done.    

Understanding the psychology of being a subordinate
It is important to understand that no one likes to be in a subordinate role and therefore a certain amount of anger and resentment is normal. However an irrational boss can make matters intolerable. Things like unpredictable moodiness, unreasonable demands or criticism or the lack of recognition for work well done can push workplace frustration over the top. Even though you might not have the power to change the conditions, you can reframe the meaning of the situation and change your experience of it.  Here are some tips to help you cope with bad bosses.       

Tips for coping with unreasonable bosses
1. Look at your own behavior and participation in the problem.  
Examine your situation carefully and see if your boss is really being unreasonable. Reality test your perceptions.  Talk to co-workers. Typically, workplace problems are not one sided. It usually takes "two to tango". When you're in a calm place think about how you typically react to your boss. Ask yourself if there are ways you could improve your responses. Recognizing your participation in the problem will not only help you feel better but also may reveal clues for finding a resolution.
2. Decoding the emotional meaning of mistreatment. Don't take bad behavior literally. The key to coping successfully is to reframe your understanding of what the boss's bad behavior means from you to him (or her). Instead of seeing it as an attack against you, it is possible to see the crazy actions as about your boss's high stress level. Although it is counter intuitive, remember, the more unreasonable or nasty the boss is, the weaker and more out of control s/he feels.
3. Empathize and Defuse
Do something unnatural. Think about your situation from your boss's point of view and not from your own. Don't react emotionally, think. To succeed in a difficult work environment you need to not take unreasonable criticism and treatment personally. It takes a high level of maturity, self assurance and self control to successfully manage these kinds of circumstances but understanding that irrational mistreatment from a boss is a symptom that s/he is stressed or feels out of control will help. Responding to his/her sense of powerlessness may reduce the tension and restore reason.
4. Process your experience.
Sometimes empathy doesn't work and things can get ugly. When you have had a bad experience with a boss, it is important to express your intense negative feelings in constructive ways.
Common used non-constructive ways of coping are:
-- Holding it in.
-- Avoid it.
-- Stuffing it with food.
-- Bottling it with alcohol.
-- Anesthetizing it with drugs.  

Instead, try one or more of these techniques:
           -- Ventilate your intense emotions by writing in your journal and/or talking with a friend.              
           -- Exercise. Meditate. Get a massage.
           -- Step back, look at your situation from a larger perspective.  
 
Effective stress management techniques provide not only a distraction from the frustration but also convert the raw anger into manageable thoughts .
5. Keep a record of problems. If an abusive situation reoccurs, write it down in detail along with dates. In the event you would want to take the problem to HR, you'll need specifics. Even if you don't make an issue of it, you'll feel better knowing you've kept a record of the mistreatment.


These remarks were prepared by the Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC for Bridge Street 5 30 2012.   

To Archives