How to cope with boss from Hell?
June 5, 2006 6:22 AM   Subscribe

What coping strategies will help me deal with a new boss (on a much-needed temporary job) who is admittedly "anal rententive." She is anxious, rude, insecure, demanding, disparaging of my judgement and predicts my ultimate failure. If I didn't need the money so much I'd move on, but I want to keep this job. It's not a career move, just a matter of income. How can I manage and tolerate her and or cope with what seems to be a difficult situation? TIA
posted by NorthCoastCafe to Work & Money (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I once worked for someone like this. I eventually discovered that his histrionics usually had little to do with me, even though he might choose to take it out on me. That made it easier to not take things personally. I also discovered that he responded to humor, which made it fairly easy to defuse situations that he made pointlessly tense. These people are impossible to please. If you accept that, you might be able to just get your work done and collect your paycheck and go home with a semblance of sanity.
posted by scratch at 6:28 AM on June 5, 2006

the way I've always dealt with these type of bosses is by outdoing them. Come in early stay late drive them crazy with anal retentive questions - pretty much make them seem like they can't keep up with you. They'll eventually get off your back and move on to someone else who allows them to be superior to them.
posted by any major dude at 6:46 AM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

scratch already said what I was going to say - don't take it personally and try humor.
posted by caddis at 7:12 AM on June 5, 2006

I've dealt with some people like this in my time, and often, they (unintentionally) are so focused on the job and the work that the other employees are looked at as resources and not as people. One thing to try is to make some type of personal connection to help your boss see you as a person and not just a worker drone. "How are your kids? How was your weekend?, etc" Strive to develop that connection while maintaining professional rapport, and it makes it a little harder for the boss to treat you as a worker drone. Chances are, she'll just find someone else to pick on, but she at least will leave you alone. People like this don't change for any reason other than they choose to. As long as you know you can't change her behavior, only direct it elsewhere, you'll be fine.
posted by galimatias at 7:39 AM on June 5, 2006

I once had an annoying but polite boss who was "anal retentive." Years later while watching Monk I figured out he was probably OCD, and after emailing some former co-workers they were all "Duh. Didn't you know that?" So knowing that this person had some kind of diagnosable condition made me less upset with them as a person.
posted by mecran01 at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2006

I've had bosses like this, and I find the same tact that I used with all of my children works extremely well in these situations: Never confront, never argue, just distract. Negotiating a settlement on an issue is so much easier when the troublesome individual is concentrating on the metaphorical shiny ring of keys.

With an anal retentive personality, you need to plan ahead and set up roadblocks you can casually place in conversation or about the office to throw the boss off the trail. The less obvious the roadblocks are, the better, and the more it doesn't point to you, the better.

For example, I had a boss that liked to come in and ask me about progress reports. The progress reports meant nothing to him any more than a stack of printed paper or an inbox he could point to when his boss came by looking for his capabilities as a manager. But, still, they had to be completely thorough dissertations of my work.

So, I got into the habit of, when he came around for the progress report, I'd start discussing the ROI calculations for a particular project plan that he needed completed, and the debate over the different values would fill the next half hour. After he left, feeling satisfied that he'd made himself worthwhile for the day, I ended up with a week's worth of meaningless busy-work off of my desk, and a happy boss.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:59 AM on June 5, 2006

Keep a little log of the most egregious things that your boss says or does and write it up as a journal of your time there. It'll be cathartic and probably pretty funny for you to read and share with friends. (Important note: DO NOT POST ON INTERNETS.)

During the day? Stay calm. Nod a lot. Don't get wrapped up in her drama -- think of your job as strictly a series of tasks and take your job pretty literally. If she doesn't like the way you do a task, ask her what info you can provide. Do not be self-deprecating, don't comment on the bizarro-manipulative disparaging stuff she says. Basically, compartmentalize and realize that this is ridiculous behavior from a supervisor. /been there.
posted by desuetude at 7:59 AM on June 5, 2006

I once asked for help with a more passive-aggressive situation than you describe, but I got lots of good advice.

Maybe you'd find it helpful in your situation. AskMefi rocks.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:13 AM on June 5, 2006

I'm dealing with this now, actually working on a mutual resignation with an anal-retentive (hideous hag) boss who never figured out how to work with other women.

I second desuetude's "stay calm," and the advice not to get wrapped up in her insanity. The minute I let the professional turn personal, I was doomed. I regret the time I spent trying to decode my boss--it was futile, frustrating, and it reflected poorly on me when I guessed wrong and tried the wrong approach. I'd stick with total detached professionalism at work--and try to get her expectations in writing as much as possible. That way you can point to the ways in which you're fulfilling your job requirements should you ever be called on the carpet.

And in your own time, remember that her craziness is not a reflection of you, your work ethic, or you abilities. I consider my current job a basecamp: a place to make the money that will support my life, which I try to fill with people and occupations that fulfill me. When you're able to move on, get outta there with a quickness and don't look back.

Then again, I know a lawyer who punched his boss in the face after one too many evenings of abuse. Amazingly, that was the catalyst they needed to talk honestly about their relationship and its shortcomings. They worked together for another three years, and they're still golf buddies. So there's always, you know, a last resort...
posted by hamster at 8:16 AM on June 5, 2006

Allow me to introduce you to BadBossology.
posted by scalefree at 8:35 AM on June 5, 2006

My advice is to not underestimate the long term toll that working in this sort of situation can take on you. I had a similar sort of boss for quite a while and even though I knew that s/he was nuts, and even though I got things to the point where I avoided a lot of the shit without feeling like I was constantly walking on eggshells, it still left wounds.

At best, I often had to wonder about my own judgement for staying in such a situation. Even after I left, I realized the experience colored how I dealt with other bosses and coworkers, and the way I thought about myself when weighing my judgements about less than ideal situations.
posted by Good Brain at 8:58 AM on June 5, 2006

I've recommended this book before on AskMeFi (here) - it's called Dealing With People You Can't Stand: "How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst". They identify ten different types of difficult behaviors - I would guess your boss may be acting like a "Tank" (pushy, aggressive, plowing over you) or "Sniper" (sarcastic, humiliating, seeking to embarrass you) based on your description - and then they show ways for you to cope with a difficult person constructively. The reason Tanks and Snipers behave as they do, for example, is that they feel they need to exert control in order to get stuff done properly. With that understanding, you can use the authors' methods to reassure the other person that you are capable - and also to shut them down when they act negatively.
posted by Melinika at 10:26 AM on June 5, 2006

Keep looking for a new job.
I had a boss that was just like that. Things were great, small company, everyone was happy.. then this turd came on board and fucked things up for many people, me included. He had hired on "his" type of employee. He made my life hell, and I tried all of the typical stuff like "do a better than expected job" etc. Eventually I was working long hours, putting out fantastic work, doing way more than expected, etc.

The guy learned that he wasn't going to win, so he fired me. None of the psych tricks were effective in the long run, and I ended up unemployed with no severance package. They even screwed me out of my vacation time.

That's my story. My advice is to keep looking for a new gig and since this is a temporary job, just smile and go on with your day and be happy that it's not a permanent deal.
posted by drstein at 11:49 AM on June 5, 2006

The stress comes not from what she says but in how you react to it. Try this, it really works. In your mind, imagine that every time your boss speaks to you, a invisible shield pops up and all those words just bounce off without impacting you at all. Imagine that you remain completely unaffected by anything she does or says.

Practice it in your mind until it becomes automatic. You'll be amazed.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:01 PM on June 5, 2006

Good advice above, though I'm not sure how sustainable any of it will be if she's as bad as you say.

One other suggestion -- try talking to her directly (not angrily or emotionally, just straightforwardly) about how you feel. Always state things in terms of "I feel that . . . " or "when you do x, it makes me feel y" -- otherwise, she'll likely feel that she's being attacked.

Some people will keep up these bad behaviors only inasmuch as their victims don't stand up for themselves. Sometimes standing up for yourself can change the whole dynamic from a monologue into a dialogue.

If you do decide to go this route, however, I would seek advice from HR first. Not that they will have any useful advice. But if your boss goes ballastic then the fallout is less likely to land directly on your head if HR is already aware of the problem and believes that you're sincere about wanting to improve it.

Best of luck with whatever you decide.
posted by treepour at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2006

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