It can be difficult to figure out how to deal with a boss who has a tendency to be irrational. You might characterize them as volatile, highly demanding, and generally hard to please. Perhaps they tend to be quite overreactive and worrisome on a daily basis, and consistently send you and your co-workers into a frantic state of anxiety and stress. Do you battle with a micromanager huddled over your shoulder to oversee every move you make? There's only one way to describe this sort of boss: control freak.
To get a sense of what the best, most professional methods to dealing with an irrational boss, I consulted with Business Expert Heather Monahan, aka "Boss in Heels"; Director of Clinical Health at Psychology Life Well Michele Barton, Ph.D; and Paul Glover, The Workforce Development Coach.
"In any work environment there will be challenges and opportunities, when it comes to difficult bosses and how to handle them, the landscape remains the same. Understanding the person is step one; step two is responding to the individual in a way that will yield the results you are looking for. Realizing that you can never change your boss or their behavior is key. What we can change, though, is our approach and how we respond to him/her," Monahan tells Bustle via email.
Make Sure You're Covered
"It is imperative that you cover yourself every day when dealing with an irrational boss. Email is your friend. After meeting with an irrational boss, it is imperative that you send a recap email to outline the meeting and everything that has been agreed to. Moving forward, you will reference your email recap to keep the irrational boss in a reality check," suggests Monahan.
Keep a record of everything. If you sense your boss is objectively irrational, it is grounds for taking the issue to human resources, in which case you want all of the supportive evidence possible.
Barton adds, "It is best to be in full control of your work what needs to be done, deadlines, and other issues that might cause your boss to need to address you, irrationally. Gaining these skills may enable you professional advancement, as taking on more responsibility for your own work will show initiative."
On that same note, take full responsibility of your role working underneath your boss. Cover yourself in the sense that you are 100 percent confident in your work and the impact you make on the company.
Never Disrespect Your Boss
"Regardless of how vehemently you disagree with your boss, always treat him/her with the respect due to them as a person and as the person holding the position of authority and responsibility. Conversely, you are entitled to that same degree of respect from your boss," Glover states.
Respect is a mutual construct of every relationship. Where respect is not present, no one person should associate him or herself with another person. It is fair and just to reiterate that point and make it very clear that you will not be disrespected, in the event that you are.
"The basis for every meaningful relationship, workplace or personal, is respect. Irrational/unreasonable expectations are a clear indication of lack of respect. The realization it doesn’t matter how hard you work to meet those irrational expectations eventually destroys the motivation necessary to give the discretionary effort necessary to do great work. And staying in an abusive relationship will take its toll mentally and physically. Commit to doing the best you can and begin the plan to remove yourself from the toxic environment your boss has created," Glover adds.
Stay Focused On Your Strengths
"Not letting others affect you at work is a winning proposition. When you are able to limit the impact others have on you, you are able to elevate yourself to another level. Keeping your focus on you and what you can do to improve business will keep you centered and calm when dealing with an irrational person. Yoga, mindfulness, meditation can all aid in difficult work situations and keep you grounded," Monahan tells me via email.
When you can, separate yourself from the workplace and the emotional expense you pay to deal with an irrational boss. Do what you need to do to bring yourself back to center, stay grounded, and not let the world shake you or stop your determination.
Keep Your Nose To The Grindstone
"There is an inverse relationship between logic and emotionality. If an individual is behaving irrationally, they are being emotional and therefore less likely to contribute logic to the discourse. This inversely proportional relationship between emotion and logic accounts for a large majority of communication issues causing confrontation. In order to avoid confrontation in these types of interactions, it is important to keep the discussion to fact based items and stick to that agenda. Attempts to derail or insert irrationality to situations needs to be deflected. If you can maintain this pasture, eventually boss's irrationally should diminish as the efforts are not being reinforced," Barton suggests.
Avoid emotional encounters at all costs. If you feel yourself getting emotional, take a personal moment and excuse yourself from the situation. Emotions should not play a role in professional matters; stick to the task at hand, and stay focused on doing your job well. If you should face disagreement, look at the matter from a third-party perspective, collect your thoughts, and take it directly to the source, your boss, with a cool head.
Glover confirms, "When you disagree with the boss, immediately take that disagreement directly to the boss. Don’t express your disagreement with your boss to your team or co-workers. This behavior serves no legitimate purpose because, one, only the boss can change his/her opinion, two, the person you are complaining to may tell the boss you are complaining about them, and three, your complaining will erode the team’s morale."
In any case, where there is high stress or the moment is heating up, you should cease the conversation before it escalates. The matter can always be addressed at a later time.
"We all react with varying degrees of defensiveness when facing disagreement. And the higher the stress level at the time of the disagreement, the less likely the reasons for the disagreement will be properly heard," Glover further explains.
Accept The Challenge
"In the case of many successful individuals, others might have judged their standards of goal satisfaction to be irrational. If you can use these directives to challenge yourself and raise the bar a little higher, it might be a wonderful learning experience and achievements may exceed expectation. If approached effectively, this can amazing career boost," Barton alleges.
If you have thick skin and the emotional fortitude to face an irrational boss every day, accept the challenge. Why not? In the end, the relationship will pay off, considering you will learn valuable lessons while also fostering the skills to deal with a range of people.
Cultivate A Level Playing Field
Step one to dealing with an irrational boss is to get in your his or her good graces. Discover what your boss values in an employee and what he or she values personally. Set goals that set you up for success by playing into the goals of your superior.
"Finding common ground with an irrational boss is key. Whenever you want something from someone else, you need to understand what is important to him/her. There has to be a driving force that is the underlying cause to the irrational behavior. Does your boss want recognition, is he/she afraid of getting fired, is your boss unhappy at home and feel unappreciated? The better understanding you can gain into what is driving the behavior the better chance you have to be an asset to your boss. If you discover that your boss wants recognition in the organization, you can become an advocate for your boss to help achieve that goal. Find your common ground and work to help your boss achieve his/her goals and watch your situation improve," Monahan tells Bustle via email.
Stick To The Facts
According to Barton, "It is important here to keep things very clear, concise, factual, and even documented. In hopes of self-preservation, it is important to remember not to take the boss's irrational behavior personally. Or that is, don't take it just personally. Recognize this is an challenge you must overcome and possibly a daily struggle. However, if this is the boss's behavior indiscriminately, you should not take this personally. Yet, do take some time to mentally review the situation and separate irrational behavior from the content important for you to achieve success in your work. Some days this might feel like two full-time jobs."
Again, it's crucial that you keep your daily interactions in the workplace documented, not only for your review but also to keep you covered in the event the situation gets more serious.
To add to that, Glover writes, "Once there is objective evidence of a boss’s irrational behavior, then it can and should be reported to HR. And the key word is 'objective.' 'Subjective feelings' about a bad boss are not enough to go to HR and complain about the boss’ bad behavior. Those subjective feelings needed to be supported with facts and examples. Those supportive facts and examples are there; you just have to look for them and record them in writing. Remember, poor writing is always better than good memory."
At some point, your boss' behavior may cross the line from being subjectively irrational in your point of view, to being completely inappropriate in black and white. It's at that point, you should recognize the difference, and present your case to human resources. If that's not the path you wish to take, the option to leave is always on the table.
Before jumping the gun to evade a difficult boss and possibly surpass a lucrative opportunity for you and your career, accept the challenge. It will only benefit you to learn from bosses of varying degrees of difficulty. Use it as leverage to get to the next stepping stone of your career and to bulk up your repertoire. In the end, you will be better equipped not only in the daily workplace, but also to succeed in achieving your biggest goals.