How to manage Angry Amy?
November 15, 2008 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I manage a staff of 14 people, and I enjoy the challenge of my job. I think I am pretty good at keeping people satisfied and productive. Part of my job is to give people what they want, within reason, and here's where my problem comes in: How do I deal with Amy, who makes unreasonable demands and becomes abusive when they aren't granted?

I've worked with Amy for years, and she's made no secret of the fact that she hates her job and is looking for other work. (She is notorious for being mean and cantankerous at work, hence the nickname.) She feels that she deserves special treatment because she's so miserable (despite the fact that our comany is generally considered a good place to work). I give her many of the things she asks for, but when I have to turn down one of her requests, she becomes nasty and abusive. Now I'm facing one of her onslaughts on Monday. How can I communicate with her in a way that causes the least unpleasantness possible, and how I can avoid having my weekend ruined worrying about this confrontation?
posted by smilingtiger to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How about "you're fired"
posted by nax at 4:22 PM on November 15, 2008 [14 favorites]

Refer to human resources? If shes being abusive towards you and other employees its time to give her a warning and get someone from HR to talk to her. After that warning, give her a pink slip.
posted by guniang at 4:25 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with nax. You are her boss, not her friend. Are you not allowed to fire her? Are her skills that specialized that she cannot be replaced? She will continue to act the way she does because there have been no consequences for treating you and her co-workers badly. Unless you can make it clear to her that her behavior will not be tolerated, you will continue to have to worry about it.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:28 PM on November 15, 2008

nax and guniang, I wish that were an option. It's hard to explain why it isn't without giving a whole lot of identifying information about my company, but it's not. Definitely not in the short term, anyway.
posted by smilingtiger at 4:29 PM on November 15, 2008

If you can't sack her, just call her on her bullshit (if in the presence of other staff, so much the better) and make it clear that you're not interested in hearing any more of it.

Be absolutely blunt. It will be fleetingly unpleasant, but will save vast amounts of unpleasantness in the long run.

"Amy, we both know I can't sack you because of XYZ. But if anybody else spoke to me the way you just have, which you do consistently every time any little thing doesn't go your way, they'd be out of here with my boot right up their date. Pull your bloody head in and get on with your job. If you don't like it here, piss off. I'm not interested in hearing any more of this crap from you."
posted by flabdablet at 4:37 PM on November 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

By the way, that kind of workplace nuclear weapon works much, much better for people who are known to deploy them only given extreme provocation.
posted by flabdablet at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2008

When she starts up, I would turn on my heel and walk away. If she protests, simply tell her you will speak to her when she gets hold of herself and not before.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2008

She sounds like a bully. Don't let a bully get you down. She's miserable and unhappy and chooses to share her misery with everyone around her and lash out like a child. She doesn't know how to behave, or act like a grownup, but that's not your problem. All you can do is lay down the law in a professional way. If she whines or complains, or starts attacking, say something affirming like, "I'm sorry things didn't work out quite the way you had hoped."

If the nice guy act doesn't work you could say, "Amy, we are all presented with challenges at this job. A lot of us would like more, but we are realistic and able to self-soothe and move on without sharing every little unhappiness with our co-workers." Whatever you say, don't allow yourself to be intimidated by her behavior and tell her like it is. Bullies are really wimps with awful self-esteem. If you don't take any crap she'll quit moaning and bullying.
posted by Fairchild at 4:42 PM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

how I can avoid having my weekend ruined worrying about this confrontation?

Amy isn't the problem, it's her effect on you, right? Deal with that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 PM on November 15, 2008

When she blows up, shut down. Tell her that her attitude is unacceptable and that you're not going to listen to her unpleasantness. Period. Then, make good on your promise. Not sure whether you're expecting this confrontation in an open space or your office -- if the former, turn your back and walk away, if the latter, tell her to get back to work.
posted by desuetude at 4:55 PM on November 15, 2008

Amy isn't the problem, it's her effect on you, right? Deal with that.

posted by smilingtiger at 4:56 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Minimum of unpleasantness is not going to happen. However in the long-run you will save yourself a lot of trouble by being very clear about what behaviour is acceptable and what is not.

Don't permit her to be abusive.

Say your piece, when she kicks off tell her that's unaceptable and tell her to leave your office/walk off.

Be not prepared to talk to her unless she acts in an acceptable manner.

I'd also keep a record of all such outbursts on her part and document her behaviour to build a case to get rid off her eventually.

Somebody in my office has bullied everybody who ever worked for her and who let her. She never tried with those of us who refused to take any crap from her - her general lack of social skills and ineptitude still makes working for her unpleasant but that's another story.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:58 PM on November 15, 2008

Based on you saying that you can't give further details, I'm going to bet that Amy is in some way 'protected' by senior staff at your company (generally one of the following: blood relative or wife or [ex-]girlfriend).

If that's the case, and you have to deal with the side effects, you have my commiserations.

Regardless, keep in mind that the person who decides to be cantankerous is making that decision on their own, and everyone around them (including you) can decide how to respond to that. One option (that I like) would be to make it clear to her that you're not going to have a conversation with her if she acts in that way, and tell her colleagues (as feasible) that they have the same option. Note that you aren't asking her to do anything - instead, you're asking your team and yourself to be adults.

She may resolve her issues, she may stew, she may explode, she may do something completely different.

Whichever one she chooses, take a step back from the meleé and enjoy the spectacle. Your life only sucks if you suck yourself into her drama.

Also: make notes. If she tries to 'call' you on your new behavior, you'll want something to fall back on.
posted by lowlife at 5:24 PM on November 15, 2008


Can't tell exactly what your situation is, feel free to drop me Mefi Mail.

Otherwise, stop giving a damn about her. Aren't you a bit tired of this recycled office drama? It never seems to change, she makes crazy demands, you try to please her and when you can't bend the time/space continuum to her will, she still blows up at you. At this point, why bother to trying to make her office life happy? You literally can't and you know this because you've tried.
The sooner you stop feeding into her drama, the happier you'll be.

Also, how's her work performance?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 PM on November 15, 2008

Call her out. Don't be nice about it. Say "Look, either do [task], or I'm assigning you to [extremely odious task]." In fact, perhaps you should start with [extremely odious task] in the future, so at least when she complains, it will be for a reason. And if she's going to be dissatisfied no matter what, why not save all the non-complainers from having to do the nastiest scut-work?
posted by adamrice at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

just suck it up, Smiling Tiger.

The capacity to deal with this anxiety is part of why you have the job. If you can't deal with it, pretend that you can to the outside world - that's the important part, right? Then "self-soothe" with yoga, or beer, or graffiti, or whatever the kids do nowadays, and get on with it.

That's what 90 percent of us do, I swear to god. I do it all the time, and sometimes I am so exhausted by it I am ready to fall down, but I do it. It's gotten me further than a lot of therapy approaches.

Document, cover your ass, send warning emails to whoever you have to send them to, and then deal with her shit Monday the best way you can. When it's over it will seem a lot smaller than how it seems today.

And this may seem harsh, but I mean it in the greatest sense of empathy - not with whipped cream and a cherry on top, but in the sense that I have been there.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:32 PM on November 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

Fairchild nails it for me. I really hate to admit it, but once upon a time I was an Angry Amy, and those tactics would have worked well on me. It's a shame no-one ever tried them, because shouting sure didn't work - the secret to dealing with the likes of us is to be assertive/calm/fair but firm as hell without being negative at all, as that just gives us more fuel to burn. I know it sounds hard and it's far from fair to you to have to be so controlled when she's being an asshole, but I think it's the way to go, as it's what I think will work best in the long term (other than praying she gets another job).
posted by Chairboy at 6:47 PM on November 15, 2008

Smiling Tiger, I use this technique when dealing with unpleasant people in my workplace:

1. Listen to what they have to say. Really listen.

2. Ask questions about why they fell that why. 'Amy, why is you feel it is really unfair that you have to do this filing I asked you to do?'. Do this several times. Already by this point the person is usually starting to deflate because they're not getting confrontation - they're getting interest and a neutral even interested response. This really takes the wind out of a person's sails especially when that person is looking for a blow-up to vindicate their own feelings.

3. Find something to agree with them in their response. Say, 'yes, you're right accounts can be a boring and stressful job and no-one really enjoys doing that'.

4. Then offer them a small compromise - say you will work around the issue by doing such and such small thing. But also give your reasons for not being able to respond the way they want - without making excuses. Say 'I can't switch you onto such and such task because Judy is already doing it, however I'll try to rearrange such and such to fit in with you better'. Don't lie, just respond with what you can do.

5. If they blow up at this, say something like 'I appreciate your point of view. I agree this situation seems difficult to you and I think we all want to reorganise matters so they suit everyone'. Continue to be non-confrontational. DO NOT GET DEFENSIVE. Defensiveness is what people like Amy thrive on.

6. Keep agreeing with them as they abuse you, even if it's in a really weird way. If Amy says 'you're a shit manager and an arsehole' say something like 'Amy, I could be a better manager and I am sure there are many people who are better at managing than I am'. As I said before don't lie, just find a point of agreement.

7. All the while, you need to remember this has nothing to do with you, the person, Smiling Tiger. It has everything to do with Amy being miserable and unreasonable. But while you remind yourself of this, try not to cast her as an inhuman bitch. Remember she's just an ordinary self-involved person who probably has absolutely no idea she makes you want to die inside every time she opens her mouth.

And if she does then she's a sociopath and the thing is, there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop her being a sociopath.

And when she abuses you, remember she is either right or wrong. If she's right about you being whatever she says, then you have a problem.

If she's wrong - which she sounds like she is - than it's her problem, not yours. And there is nothing you can do except defuse the situation in the way which is easiest on you and causes the least upset and tension.

I know this sounds simplistic but it all comes down to the basic principle that you can't control other people but you can control your reactions to them, and just understanding this principle has made my working life so much easier.

Anyway, I learned this technique from a book BTW, called 'Feeling Good' by David Burns. It's about depression and so on which isn't your problem, clearly, but I think the technique I've described here really works because it helps manage my own responses to these horrible stomach-twisting confrontations.
posted by jasperella at 7:04 PM on November 15, 2008 [24 favorites]

As jasperella said: . . . it all comes down to the basic principle that you can't control other people but you can control your reactions to them, and just understanding this principle has made my working life so much easier.

This is so true and it certainly has taken me a long time to figure this out. And sometimes I still forget it. This is indeed one of the fundamental issues when dealing with depression, but it works in "normal" life quite well, too.

Thanks for your insight, jasperella!
posted by nostrada at 7:15 PM on November 15, 2008

The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict. Sounds like she has some traits of PPD and OCPD. People with personality disorders usually feel uncomfortable to be around. But they can also be dedicated -if difficult- employees. The point is that it is not personal. She has issues. Put up a wall of pleasant. I think if you are able to reach some internal detachment it will provide you with a little ease of mind.

Seconding the astute articulation and wisdom of jasperella and By The Grace of God.

I'll be sending you encouragement in my thoughts. :)
posted by nickyskye at 9:22 PM on November 15, 2008

When I'm in a work situation I really hate, I imagine I'm in a bubble, and they're out there, while I'm inside. I don't have to care about that thing. I don't have to do anything; I'm in a bubble. (This does work best when you don't have to react at all, unlike a one-on-one meeting.) I know other people who imagine they're mesh, like a screen door, and that anything bad someone says just flows right through them. Another thing I'll do is say to myself "all you have to do is act professional," then let most of my mind -- the parts that would feel defensive or hurt or angry, and the parts that would want to win or improve the situation -- go somewhere else entirely. You'll never change the situation; all you have to do is get through it. So, I tell my core self, basically, "it's okay, I know this sucks, you don't even have to be here, all you have to do is just act professional." Then, when they're ranting at you, you just sort of ice out your mind, mentally unfocus your attention like letting your eyes go cross-eyed but with your mind. Scan for the content you care about and would need to rebut while filtering out all the emotional content ("what was your staff thinking? This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever read. The stupidest thing is that you focused on Thing 1 about us when really X." "You're exactly right, we didn't consider X; in fact our method only focused on Things. That's what the study was about.") As they wrap up, you'll still be able to say something professional that returns to your original point like "Yeah, I'm sorry, I know you find it frustrating. Unfortunately, we just don't have the budget."

The caveat is that I'm not sure how this would work in a management situation. Turning off while someone yells at you might not be the right thing to do if it's your job to set standards for their behavior, including letting them know that yelling at you is not appropriate. It's also not very good for strengthening your relationship with this person over the long term.
posted by salvia at 11:49 PM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

If all your employees complain about something, you've got an issue.

If -one- of your employees complains about something you've likely, as you've noted, got an angry and bent out of shape employee on your hands.

You're the boss. Over the years I've noticed many parallels between being a coach, boss, and parent. The traits that make a good boss and a good parent for example are more closely aligned than most people realize.

Who has the worst behaved kids? The people who try to befriend their children and allow bad behavior. Who has the best behaved kids? The parents who don't take any bullshit from their kids. As a guy who has been a boss, a parent, a camp counselor, a day care worker, a coach, etc. I can tell you that in EVERY single situation in your life people will give you as much bullshit as you will tolerate. It doesn't matter if you're a nice guy or an asshole, a good boss or a bad boss... grown men and children will misbehave as much as they can for as long as they can.

Be tactful, be kind with your words, but be firm. You don't need Angry Amy's bullshit. Her bullshit poisons your workplace. Her whining and rage taint the other employees attitudes. Your job is to align her piss poor attitude with the more positive company climate you talked about... and if it can't be done, to help her find the door. Don't ever underestimate the impact having a whiny asshole in the ranks can have.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 8:43 AM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

follow-up from someone who would prefer to reamin anonymous.
If it's bad for you, think how bad it is for your employees.

I have an 'Ann' at my job. Let me tell you as an 'Ann's peer, your staff feels resentful about the free ride she's getting. You try to give her what she wants? What about the other members of your team, the ones who aren't mean? Do they get what they want, or do 'Ann' tantrums mean that her 'needs' are prioritized over the people who don't cause trouble? I bet they think that is how it works.

I will tell a story which illustrates this.

Because of the 'Ann' at my work's penchant for childish, nasty tantrums she doesn't work on many of our group projects. It is better not to have her help than to have to placate her because she doesn't want to do her job. So the rest of the team works harder and 'Ann' takes it easy, because experience has taught us that 'Ann' is somehow magically exempt from the rules the rest of us are expected to follow.

I don't know why you can't fire her, but you need to do something that demonstrates to the rest of your staff that 'Ann's behavior is not acceptable*, or it will spread. Or the people you depend on will find other jobs, because it's not worth it to do 'Ann's job for her AND deal with her attitude.

In short, you're the boss. You need to act like it by leading your team and disciplining people who don't perform.

*and that doesn't mean cracking down on slight displays of irritation by the rest of the team while ignoring 'Ann's explosions, either.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 AM on November 16, 2008

you should tell her that in this economy she's damn lucky to have a job so STFU
posted by swbarrett at 11:42 AM on November 16, 2008

I have an 'Ann' at my job. Let me tell you as an 'Ann's peer, your staff feels resentful about the free ride she's getting. You try to give her what she wants? What about the other members of your team, the ones who aren't mean? Do they get what they want, or do 'Ann' tantrums mean that her 'needs' are prioritized over the people who don't cause trouble? I bet they think that is how it works.

This is exactly how I felt when I was Amy's peer, when she got used to getting what she wanted because the previous manager couldn't be bothered, or didn't have the balls, to put his foot down. Now that I'm her boss, I'm determined not to allow this to happen any more. As I said in my question, part of my job is to give everyone what he or she wants, within reason. I am hyper-conscious of not allowing Amy to walk all over me, or to get special treatment. It would be easier to let that happen, but I'm not going to.
posted by smilingtiger at 11:47 AM on November 16, 2008

You may not be in a position to fire her, but you are _definitely_ not in a position to have to take her attitude. You're the boss, and your team and your company need you to fulfill that role.

You need to set clear boundaries with her on two fronts--in front of the team, and within your company's formal HR processes. When she acts out tomorrow, you just need to tell her calmly and clearly that that's unprofessional, unacceptable, and it's going to stop. Then you need to arrange a formal discussion with your HR director where the two of you sit down with her, emphasize that the company--_not_ just you--is not going to tolerate her behavior, and that HR is going to schedule regular follow-up discussions to monitor how things are going.

I've managed people with these issues before, and while it's not clear why you can't immediately sever her, you need to make your own management step up, and at least put her on some kind of formal probation, where her job hopefully _is_ at risk in six months if she's still putting everyone through this crap. Assuming you have one, your HR department is there to help you deal with this, so let them help, too.
posted by LairBob at 12:09 PM on November 16, 2008

Can you not fire her because she's governor of Alaska? Seriously...

Deal with her entirely in email, if at all possible email that includes other people on the to line, so that you have a record. People like this run to HR or whoever is protecting them daily. While everyone else is busy working they are telling lies and creating a situation where keeping Amy from blowing her top is SOP and after a while people stop recognizing what they are doing and just react in ways that are designed to keep Amy from blowing her top - no matter how unfair that is to others - and anyone who stand in the way of that is seen as causing trouble.

She must be great at what she does - she's been looking for a new job for years and hasn't found one.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:56 PM on November 16, 2008

Keep agreeing with them as they abuse you, even if it's in a really weird way.

No. Never. Don't be a participant in your own abuse. If you are legitimately at fault for part of the problem, be accountable. However, there's no reason to placate her by pretending to accept blame for her behavior.

Refer her HR or Employee Assistance Programs. Put her on formal, documented performance improvement plan. Also, never give in to her tantrums. If she doesn't do the job, document. Perhaps you can't fire her, but you can withhold raises and bonuses for cause.

When other employees do something exceptional, make a point to thank them publicly and give bonuses. Amy is poison to your team. Show your staff that her behaviors do not get rewards, but teamwork and positive attitude do.

Document. Document. Document.
posted by 26.2 at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

So, any update to the story? I've been thinking about this one all week... ;)
posted by dancinglamb at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2008

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