Does the following seem familiar?


‘Here I am again. I’ve been in this situation hundreds of times before with my boss. Why am I so bothered and hot under the collar? Just when I thought I had the best job in the world, my boss seems to throw a spanner in the works.’

‘Generally I like him. Well, most of the time; when he’s not in a bad mood and so darn angry. I mostly love this job. I’m fond of my work colleagues, the salary is good and the variety of the role keeps me interested. If it wasn’t for him and his irritability at times everything would be fine.’

‘What I can’t cope with is how he treats me – how he speaks to me in front of other staff and how he forgets to appreciate the many things I do for him even though it’s outside my job description and working hours.’

‘He can be incredibly insensitive, non-empathetic and disrespectful. Sometimes, I think he doesn’t even know it and I could actually shake some sense into him. It’s so frustrating.’

I have heard the above conversations many times in the past 20 years during private counselling and anger management courses. Unfortunately, mostly coming from women but that probably has a lot to do with the kinds of roles women play in organisations. It’s often a very difficult predicament to be in and can be a sad reflection of the culture of business, but that is another conversation.

The female of the species…

In my experience, women are very good at talking and sharing with family and friends. This tends to focus on issues in the office, where they are often looking for advice and ways of resolving certain situations with a boss. While this is an excellent de-stressing mechanism it can also sometimes not offer any real solutions to a problem. Even though family and friends have our best intentions at heart, it is sometimes necessary to get a professional viewpoint from someone who works with these issues on a daily basis.

It is difficult to tackle these issues of our own accord, especially if we have not encountered it before. Having a personal expectation that we should know how to tackle an angry and difficult boss is an unrealistic one. When a boss is unaware and disrespectful of their staff’s needs, it can lead to tension, resentment and often conflict. Unless there is a good structure in place to deal with these issues they can often go unresolved. And there is nothing more detrimental to a business than subversive and passive aggressive staff.

There are a few things bosses can forget. Mostly due to the fact that they tend to concentrate on the broader picture, so often miss what’s directly in front of them.

People often tell me that despite working like machines to complete everything:

• They are also human;
• They have feelings;
• They have lives beyond their jobs;
• They love their jobs;
• They want to keep and enjoy their jobs. However, they also need to set some healthy boundaries for themselves;
• The boss can be very demanding and challenging at times; and
• The boss needs to be more sensitive to our feelings.’

Emotional intelligence

If bosses could get inside their people’s heads they would perhaps realise that at times their constant demands can be exhausting, especially in a scenario where they have already been working overtime or have had limited breaks. This sets up a stressful environment and if a staff member does not have sufficient emotional resilience, they will find it very difficult managing their work. The sad thing is that these unresolved frustrations from work are often taken out of the office and passed on to our loved ones at home, where it’s safe to offload.

It is useful for people working for bosses who are sometimes moody and irritable (or just downright angry) to know that certain psychological characteristics could be at play. It is common (but not always) for people in positions of power to display signs of egocentricity and sometimes even a touch of narcissism. It might therefore help to understand what these characteristics look like, in order to be more tolerant of our bosses.

In this way we become more emotionally educated and also have the benefit of an instantaneous stress buster. Needless to say, bosses could equally go a long way in developing their skills in emotional intelligence, by becoming more empathetic towards their staff members. These skills are considered fundamental to today’s business environment.

Emotional intelligence is the innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognise, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain feelings and emotions.

One could ask the question, how many bosses were given their positions because they were deemed to be highly emotionally intelligent?

The bigger picture

In the film ‘The Devil wears Prada’ starring Meryl Streep, the boss from hell is beautifully depicted as being intelligent and conniving, but would you call her emotionally intelligent? Most professionals would love her lifestyle, success, money, power, status and prestige, as well as the envy of competitors and peers alike. However, behind the scenes her personal life is a nightmare. Quite possibly because of this, she projects her anger, frustration and every other toxic feeling she has onto the people around her, who dedicated to her success. Why does she treat her staff with such disregard? The obvious answer is because she can. Unfortunately, it really is as simple as that.

The problem is, everyone she employs has low self-esteem. This is the ultimate control mechanism. The less self-esteem a staff member has, the easier it is to exploit them. The lower a person’s self-esteem, the easier it is to take them for granted, knowing that they will be too afraid to answer back simply because they are afraid to lose their job. Underlying that fear within the framework of someone with low self-esteem is that they should be grateful to have a job in the first place.

If one had to investigate the above rationale one would realise that none of it is true of course. There is a business transaction between an employer and an employee. You work an agreed number of hours per day to provide your skills under the term of employment, and so that you will be paid a certain sum of money. The reality is that when we work for a boss who shows little respect or undervalues us (or simply uses us to dump their anger on) we need to decide whether we want to remain in that job or find something that is better paid, closer to home and with a boss who is an angel.

Put up or shut up?

However, too often the reality of doing this is just not possible. In these instances we need to find a way to work around the situation, by accepting that:

1. The boss can be a grumpy, moody and irritable;
2. We can change ourselves but not them;
3. We can re-evaluate our personal boundaries and decide what we are willing to put up with and what we are not;
4. We can have a conversation with them and tell them how we feel;
5. We can evaluate our job description and have a chat with the boss about being ‘dumped onto’ when it is not part of our job description;
6. We can register a complaint to HR and get support;
6. We can accept that the boss is stressed and this will eventually pass;
7. We can write a letter to the boss to say how hard we find their moods at times and that they need to take into consideration the affect that their anger has on us; and
8. We can argue and fight back knowing that it might have consequences.
If all else fails you may have to accept that you can change your job and get a new one.

The danger doesn’t lie in not finding another job. It is in finding yourself in the same position, in another job. The main challenge is learning how to assert yourself without feeling that by pushing back, you might lose your job.

Life’s too short

The reality of the situation looks something like this: remain in a job and be treated badly; or, increase your self-esteem by prioritising your needs, standing up for yourself and drawing very clear boundaries around what you are and are not willing to tolerate. Then stick to your guns.

This way you could end up in a better position, feel more job satisfaction and keep your self-esteem firmly intact.

Life is too short to deal with bosses that are abusive and disrespectful. Either they shape up or you ship out. With enough self-esteem, you can walk into a job within weeks of leaving your old one. Or you can identify an alternative role and leave when you have found something else. However, whatever you do, you do not have to put up with abuse from anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Being treated disrespectfully is inappropriate and the more employees that stand up for themselves and recognise that they are the success behind the boss, the better the organisation. Any employer who understands the true value in an organisation will have a deep understanding that their staff’s contentment is of top priority.

Mike Fisher is a counsellor and group facilitator. He is author of Beating Anger and is in the process of writing his second book, Anger and the Art of Mindfulness. Mike founded The British Association of Anger Management (BAAM) nearly 15 years ago and is ... (Read More)

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