crazy, shouting, crying, bullying boss

A reader writes:

I am a working for a 69-year-old woman (owner of a small company) who feels threatened by me. She is highly insecure, and though I have been kind to her, she consistently tries to bully and manipulate me into confrontational (and totally irrational) conversations. The partner in the office noticed her feeling threatened and thinks she is trying to get me to leave. I have only been with the company 5 months and have had great successes with the partner in the short time I have been there. The partner gave me a raise after 3 months.

It seemed to have escalated after I witnessed her and the partner having a shouting match and her in tears. She cries a lot, takes everything personally, shared too much personal information with me, badmouthed the partner to me, all in spite of my asking her to respect those boundaries several times.

How can I handle a crazy boss and maintain my cool? Everyone seems to walk on eggshells around her or roll their eyes. I would love your insight on how to handle this.

There aren’t a ton of good options. My first piece of advice is probably the hardest to swallow, and it’s this: It’s her company; she’s the owner. This means that she’s entitled to be as crappy of a boss as she wants (and it sounds like she’s a pretty crappy one), if that’s the sort of business she wants to run. But you are also entitled to choose not to accept those conditions and go elsewhere.

People who bully and manipulate and generally behave like asses are highly unlikely to change, especially with no one above them to insist upon it.

Of course, in this economy, it may be harder to just walk away than at other times. So if you can’t leave quickly, the following may help:

* Ask the partner who likes you for advice on handling the situation.

* Ask the owner herself for feedback and things she’d like to see you do differently. If nothing else, you might get some insight into her thinking, which is useful even if her thinking is utterly insane.

* Accept you have a crazy boss and that you need to play along until you can put the real solution into action, which is to leave. Sometimes simply accepting it and realizing that you won’t get anywhere by struggling against it can actually make situations like this more tolerable. But it’s an unhealthy environment to be in for a long time, which is why ultimately, you probably should plan to find a boss who doesn’t cry and bully people.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Ethical Slut*

    My current boss is over 70, and age should be mentioned here. Its a delicate situation, because its an age where people develop health problems, including dementia. My boss is wonderful, but you can tell her memory isn’t the sharpest and she is often frustrated that her mind and body aren’t physically keeping up.

    There are two things I do to “deal” with her. The first defense is to do an absolutely perfect job…its not too bad if she’s crabby and can’t find much to yell at me about because I’ve done my job well.

    The second…well, I tell my interns that she’s like a horse: you can’t show fear, you have to pretend that you can control them even if they’re bigger and stronger, and they only have a seven second attention span. If things get heated, I just walk out…if your boss is anything like mine, then your position will have had high turnover, and they need you more than you need her.

  2. Anonymous*

    Ethical Slut.. I’m still laughing at your nickname :)
    Thanks for the advice. I’ve always felt it rude to walk out on authority, but given her antics, it IS the best move to make. She can’t say diddly about my work. I have done a great job for them. She is Jekyll and Hyde. She’ll pick on the stupidest thing and makes everything personal.. and she lies. Ok, she is now a bucking bronco and I’ve realized sugar won’t work.

  3. Just another HR lady...*

    Unfortunately I have to agree with AAM, this person owns the company and is not going to change her personality for you or for anyone. If this was an employee, or even someone “not” the owner, you may be able to take some steps to promote a change in behavior, but I think it’s highly unlikely that anything you do or say will change her behavior.

    Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the only way to deal with these types of people who are at that level, is to accept who they are and choose not to let it bother you…it’s not personal, it’s truly not you, it’s them. Limit your conversations with this person to the job, and “be busy or have to make a phone call” when she starts gossiping about others, or raising topics that you are uncomfortable with. Most importantly, don’t get caught up in her emotional turmoil or angry behavior if it’s directed at you, just remind yourself that her behavior has nothing to do with you personally.

    And then the other question you have to ask yourself is…is this something I can or want to deal with on a long-term basis in my daily work life. Only you can answer that question for yourself.

  4. Anonymous*

    Borderline Personality Disorder – seriously, Google it. Excellent book on how to deal with it is something like “Walking on Eggshells” (makes sense now, doesn’t it?).

    Very doubtful this is age-related and not surprised the owner is the owner, as she isn’t capable of working for anyone else.

    Original submitter will have to move on, sooner rather than later, as a good reference cannot be expected regardless of performance or how things are upon leaving…

  5. Wally Bock*

    Another piece of this is that you could be part of a power struggle. It sounds to me like you might be the prize in some sort of game that the partners are playing. It doesn’t matter. AAM is right. It’s time to find somewhere else to work. This place won’t get any better for you.

  6. Career Encourager*

    Couple of thoughts
    1 – The “Partner in the Office” – is he a peer with the owner (part owner) or does he report to her. If he is a peer, then his acctions are off the mark and he needs to take more responsibility for the work environment.

    2 – I agree with AAM that it may be time to leave. If she’s the owner, she has the power and it may not be a struggle you want to invest in when you could be expending your time and energy growing your career someplace where you are treated better.

    3 – A good mentor once told me that one of her staples for a good career is to ‘always have something going on the side’ so that when work is tough, you have something to look forward to. She happens to like school, so for many years her ‘something on the side’ was to take a class. Over the course of 8 years she completed 2 masters degrees by taking one class at a time. She has enjoyed that immensely and it has helped her career a lot too. Now that she isn’t interested in any more degrees, her ‘something on the side’ is community service through her City Council which is helping her learn about politics, develop highly marketable skills in negotiation and collaboration, and also develop a strong network of the business leaders in her community. All of these activities ‘on the side’ enrich her life and have helped her through both the tough times and the great times at work.

    Best wishes!

  7. Anonymous*

    So true. There is a struggle in the partnership. Sometimes displayed openly. With the realities of the economy becoming clearer everyday, I feel blessed to have a job at all right now.

    Thank you all for your insight and advice.

  8. Leroy Grinchy*

    I had many, many years working under bosses like this. Since they were my first few jobs, it took a while to realize that I wasn’t a shitty worker, I was just getting abusive bosses.

    I have some techniques:

    1. Don’t say anything substantial to the boss b/c that will piss them off. Be nice.

    2. Do minimal work to get by and spend most of your day looking for a new job. Use vacation to search for a new job.

    3. No matter what the boss says, say, “OK.” OK is always the right answer in America. Nobody gets fired for saying, “OK”, to a boss.

    4. When you get a new job, quit the old one, and start the new one right away. If you wish to give two weeks then fine. It will be a hell of a lot easier once you get a new job.

    5. Hide. Use random doors. As you walk through the building, hug walls. Look around corners. Out of sight, out of mind.

    6. You will probably get a shitty recommendation from this boss anyway, so you should make contacts in the job besides the boss to use as references.

    Remember, she’s the problem not you. You are not alone in suffering abuse of power.

  9. Anonymous*

    What do you do in a stuation where the boss/bosses have given most of the control of the business to the BPD manager/supervisor, because they want to be left alone. What if this manager/supervisor has a negative influence on overall morale for the whole office/company?

  10. Anonymous*

    My Boss is a Psychiatrist who has Botderline Personality Disorder.

    She has told me this. I have worked for her for almost two years. To go into the details of this once wonderful (always marked with her self destructive tendecies) and now heartbreaking relationship would require an actual computer. I am currently on my IPhone. So I will cut to the conclusion, I left my job yesterday, under what many would consider to be at least harrasing circumstances.

    I have no job to go to. She has approximately 600-700 patients. I am worried about my prospects for future employment and need to file for unemployment insurance.

    She has recently done some things that are nerve racking, and at best unethical. I am pushing my own hurt back in order to survive.

    I believe she chose me as her office manager for 2 reasons:
    I am honest
    I am ignorant of BPD (tho fast learning)

    I left her with my letter of resignation, no notice, and reason why for leaving without notice.
    I do not wish to cause her further pain, but cannot afford to go without income, or be the victim of her disorder. I have a family to support.

    Please advise.

    Sincerely Non BPD, seeking advice.

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