my boss wants to talk about her feelings all the time

A reader writes:

My team is currently under a ton of stress — and will be for the duration of the special project we’re working on through the fall — and it’s turned my boss into a crazy person.

Let’s put aside that she’s lost the ability to organize, schedule, or remember anything she’s been told more than 10 minutes later, in either verbal or written format. Let’s also put aside that she has actual meltdowns, where she yells or flips out because a piece of technology doesn’t work or she’s late or someone didn’t answer her call. Oh, and that she complains about her direct reports to other direct reports all of the time.

One could navigate those things, especially because once the project ends in 10 months, the team will be disbanded and the stress level will drop dramatically.

But here is one problem that I and some of my teammates can’t figure out how to deal with: She’s taking everything personally, projecting all of her insecurities on her employees, and wants to talk about her “feelings” all of the time. We get dragged into these exhausting conversations that can be either getting berated for an hour or feeling like we’re serving as her therapist for an hour.

Disagree on something? It means you’re calling her an idiot and speaking to her “like the hired help” and don’t respect her. (She said all of those things.) Try to apologize profusely that she got that impression and insist you don’t actually feel that way? She keeps insisting that she feels that way and you aren’t doing enough to acknowledge her feelings.

I want to tell her I could care less about her feelings and that we have a job to do. But that’s not going to help. I’ve tried walking on eggshells. Apologizing. Refusing to apologize. Nothing is helping.

There also appears to be a bit of gender politics at play. She is a woman. She behaves this way toward the women (myself included) way more than she does to the men who work for her. She’ll then complain to the women about the men being mean.

During the most recent explosion (which was an hour-long conversation), she kept insisting that I don’t respect her and that I only respect the boss a step above her (he directly deals with our team and manages our work on an individual level as well). I have insisted it isn’t true. Heck, I barely even speak to that boss! I don’t take my questions or work to him. But she’s projecting her own insecurities on me.

Should I just suck and up and deal with the fact that she’s going to be bonkers for the next few months? I would be inclined to go to the other boss, who I’ve got a great relationship with, but now I’m afraid she’ll just think that proves I don’t respect her. Is there some way to deal with this personality type that you (or a reader) can recommend?

Yeah, your boss sucks and is highly unlikely to change.

You could try saying something like, “Jane, I want to focus on the work we’re here to do and not how any of us are feeling about it.” You could try adding, “You ask the women on this team to have a disproportionate number of conversations about feelings, and I want to return to focusing on work.” If you’re firm about it and decline to engage, it’s possible that she might respect that. But it’s also possible that it will further enrage her and make your work life even worse. And really, even if it did get her to back off a bit on the FEELINGS FEELINGS FEELINGS, you’d still be stuck with a boss who has regular meltdowns and is fundamentally unable to manage.

It’s possible that she could change if someone above her leans on her hard enough, but it’s likely that there would be a lot of hostile behavior toward you and your coworkers during that process (although a really good manager above her would make it clear that was unacceptable and watch her like a hawk to make sure it didn’t happen, and would be willing to remove her from managing people if it did). So if you trust her boss to (a) have good judgment, (b) see that this is unacceptable and needs to be addressed, and (c) act on it in a way that doesn’t implicate you, and if you have pretty good standing with him, then yeah, you could tell him what’s going on. Before you do that though, be sure you’re willing to handle any possible fall-out from it. Again, a good manager will protect you from that — but less-than-good ones won’t, so you want to know who you’re dealing with.

Will that work? Maybe. My guess is that it might improve some of it (maybe the yelling, for example), but the fundamental problems would remain — because fundamentally she’s really not suited for the work she’s doing, at least not without pretty intensive coaching, during which time you’d get to bear the brunt of her learning curve.

So given that, the question for you is really: Are you up for dealing with this or most of this for 10 months, or would you rather get out sooner? And if you do put up with it for 10 months, how are you going to feel about working with her after that, even if she does put this side of herself away at that point (something I wouldn’t count on now that the dynamics have shifted like this)?

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 137 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna No Mouse*

    Welcome to crazy town, OP.

    Population: your boss.

    I’v e had bosses that I thought had some emotional instability, but nothing close to the extent you’re dealing with. I wish I had more than my sympathies to offer, but really, I think Alison is on target here in terms of your options. It sucks that they’re not better ones.

    1. Barefoot Librarian*

      I used to have a boss that was so emotional and insecure that she’d alternate yelling at me and crying from day to day. To make it worse, HER boss was a completely b*tch who took delight in making her employees miserable, so going up a rung in the ladder about the problem wouldn’t have made it any better (honestly the boss’s boss is probably part of the reason she was the way she was). I tried everything I could think of to minimize her emotions playing a role in my day to day job, but it was a lost cause. She wasn’t a bad person, but I couldn’t work in that kind of environment long term. I was on eggshells all the time. It was exhausting. I left after the first year and never looked back.

      If your boss is always this way, I’d say run for the hills because it’s probably not going to improve. However (correct me if I’m wrong), it sounds like this problem is new and related to the project your team has undergone. Maybe it’s short term…? I really feel for you though. I’ve been there.

      1. LawPancake*

        Hah, I think I worked for the same woman. I finally just made peace with the fact that she was going to spend at least an hour of my day having feelings and that at least my listening and making various sympathetic/apologetic noises at her kept her from going after the people on my team. Utterly exhausting.

        To be fair, she was genuinely a cool person she just didn’t handle stress well and should NEVER have been given people to manage.

    2. Sketchee*

      Bosses with these kind of personal problems are tough to be around and very draining. Alison’s options are really great stop gap measures.

      I would reword the script slightly: “I think the more we focus on the work we’re here to do, the more we do the better we’ll feel about it.”

      If she projects feelings, feel free to correct her positively and directly. “Oh wow, I don’t see it that way at all! Is there anything I can say that will convince, what do you suggest?”

      The line “What do you suggest?” works incredibly well in impossible situations. If you don’t have the answer, put it back to them. “It always helps me to speak about actions. I hear you are feelings X, Y, Z. What would you like me to do with this information?”

      “Oh man, I see. If I knew what to do here, I’d definitely do it. Can you give me some guidance on this?” In every instance, ask her to be your manager.

      1. Camellia*

        I like this method of turning it back on her. I would love to see the reaction to this!

        I posted about a difficult coworker some time back and a commentor (I think it was fposte) labeled this coworker “inconsolable” and recommended choosing one simple line and then keep repeating it over and over. That might be something to try also.

        1. fposte*

          Just to clarify the credit–that was Not So New Reader. But I support the sentiment and the relevance here.

      2. Temperance*

        I would not recommend this course of action. If the boss has a mental health issue that is contributing to her instability, openly disagreeing with her ideas can have disastrous consequences for LW. A rational person can see ideas or disagreement as normal, healthy things, but judging by the contents of this letter, LW’s boss is going to take it as a personal affront.

        1. Sketchee*

          Every example I have provided is a “Yes and” improv technique. Agreeing with the boss and then adding. I’d love your feedback though, which part did you interpret as disagreement?

          1. Sketchee*

            Also like to add that I’m completely sure that the boss will not be able to answer the question “What do you suggest”, that’s completely the point. To point out that you’re both in the same boat.

            You had no way of knowing this from my answer– I saw it in one of your other responses–I also have a lot of close personal experience both with therapists, psychologists and close family with similar mental health issues. Pointing out that “Yes this is a difficult situation. I really wish I could help and knew what I do too” can be very helpful in showing that you’re both confused. =)

          2. ArtsNerd*

            My friend explicitly says “yes and” during heated conversations in our nonprofit work. It’s amazing what a difference that “and” makes vs. “but” in terms of keeping her comments collaborative, instead of adversarial.

  2. AVP*

    OP – when you say that the team will be disbanded in 10 months, is there a chance for you to get moved to a different manager? Or are the other people leaving and you are stuck with her?

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I just want to pint out that the project probably won’t be complete in 10 months. Projects that have non-leading leaders fail most of the time. That means it will stretch out months after the original delivery date.

  3. Amber*

    10 months is a long time to deal with that. I would talk to her manager and asked to me moved to another team.

  4. Monique*

    Oh dear.

    In terms of addressing it with her, it might also be worth adding something like, “When you have regular conversations with us about how our professional actions have made you feel, it makes it hard to focus on the work. Instead, I spend a disproportionate amount of time trying not to upset you, when in reality I’m only carrying out my responsibilities and none of that is meant to affect how you feel personally in any way.”

    I’d want to make it really clear that her emotional feels are making it harder for you to focus on the practical nature of the job, as you can’t be sure what will set her off, when you’re just working on your normal day-to-day responsibilities.

    And for what it’s worth, I’d definitely have a conversation with your manager’s manager for advise on how to approach this, since your boss has already demonstrated she isn’t able to discuss this rationally at the moment. (To quote from your letter: ” Try to apologize profusely that she got that impression and insist you don’t actually feel that way? She keeps insisting that she feels that way and you aren’t doing enough to acknowledge her feelings.”)

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      her emotional feels are making it harder for you to focus on the practical nature of the job

      This is what jumped into my mind first, too. She’s taking a stressful project and making it 100x more stressful, not just because of her emotional outbursts, but because you are taking time from doing your job to talk about her emotions.

    2. Frances*

      Exactly. One thing that jumped out at me is how this is affecting the work on the project. Her need for these conversations not only are emotionally draining and distracting to her team, they also take up a ton of time. If she is having multiple one-hour drama dumps each week, these are hours that could have been better spent working on the project or planning the project or working on team building so the work goes smoother or all sorts of other things.

      It sounds like the boss is overwhelmed and unable to have perspective. She won’t be effective in any way. If the OP’s relationship with the other boss is good and she decides to bring this up to him, I’d mention how much time is lost working on the actual project not just the emotional toll.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Not only would I talk to crazy’ boss, I’d suggest several of you do so, so he or she sees its not just you, this is serious, and it’s impacting the team and project severely.

  5. K.*

    I was reading this like “Yeah, you have got to go.” Have you worked for her before? Has she always handled stress so badly?

  6. Argh!*

    10 months of this? And how will you not have delays if the boss is misappropriating other people’s time? Not to mention, while she’s having meltdowns and heart-to-hearts with captive audiences, how can she be doing her own job?

    I agree about talking to her boss. The project is being endangered by this and money is being wasted. I bet a lot of the team have considered jumping ship. I would have a hard time respecting someone like that, so I would probably say “You are right. I don’t respect you because you’re not acting like a supervisor. I’m being paid to create teapots, not to have long conversations about your feelings.” (I would probably say that in exasperation after the 100th conversation, but I know I would eventually have to say it!)

    1. Kyrielle*

      Agreed re the misappropriating other people’s time. It sounds like this boss is a net drain on the project, not only not contributing but actively siphoning away people’s time. (Even if there were NO morale impact and you were all able to blithely roll with the ridiculous discussions, keep doing work without stopping to wonder how she’d react etc., *just* the time spent in the feelings discussions would be a negative impact. Add the rest of it – because I doubt there are very many, if any, people who could in fact remain un-impacted in other ways! – and she’s really really draining the project.)

      Either her boss needs to straighten her out ASAP (which may be tricky) or get her out ASAP, or you should run.

      (And honestly, it sounds like she may need pointing at an EAP and possibly some kindly compassionate disability leave, but that’s probably not something you can broach with her. Her boss, however….)

      1. Vagabond Pharmacist*

        Agreed about the EAP & possible disability leave. One thing that I learned many years ago in a “listening skills” course is to clearly re-state what she keeps going back to. If you can’t get her off of “nobody repects me”, tell her (non-judgmentally), ” You think nobody here respects you”, or “you feel disrespected”. If she’s angry, you say “It sounds like you’re really angry bout X”. It sounds like it’s an invite to a longer diatribe, yet it can often stop things quickly. People tend to keep going over and over things when they think they’re not being heard. You keep telling her what you’re hearing, in declarative sentences, and it’s as though a balloon deflates and she may be more ready to discuss the actual issue *and* hear what you’re saying. “From my point of view, I think/feel Y about X”

        Worth a try?

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      It brings out my inner Mean Girl but I would be so tempted to get some cards for licenced therapists and put them on her desk after she’s left for the day.

      I had a client who was like this and it drove me up the wall, across the ceiling and down the other side. The only “up” side was it took place over the phone, so I didn’t have to look her in the eye while she went on and on and on. Since the story never changed, I didn’t even have to listen, just a “Oh?” “Uh-huh” every so often and she was happy to moan and bewail her fate. But, eventually it was too much being treated like an emotional toxic waste dump. My client might have felt “better” afterwards, but I was feeling worse. The only solution was to just not work for her again.

  7. Master Bean Counter*

    Ugh! This would drive me bonkers too. The conversation you need to have with her would take a lot of finesse and really you aren’t the one who should be having this conversation.
    Also know that you don’t owe this person respect. You owe her a good working relationship, that doesn’t drain too much on you.
    If she really is becoming an obstacle in the path of this project then you might even owe it to the company to talk to her boss to get it resolved. Just know the risk of doing something like that is either a tense relationship with the boss if she stays.
    Personally I would have cut short emotional conversations with this person long ago.
    “how are you feeling?”
    “Fine. Now I need you to do X & Y so I can get Z done. What’s the timeline on that?”

  8. MaryMary*

    When irrational people trap me in a conversation and passionately insist that I don’t respect them (or like them, or take them seriously, or whatever the paranoid compliant is), I *really* want to point out that if I respected them before the conversation, I certainly don’t anymore. But you can’t argue with crazy.

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      And sometimes the answer is, No I don’t respect you because you just wasted an hour of my time talking about your feelings with no consideration for how I feel about being side tracked from my work.
      But you can’t always say that…

    2. alter_ego*

      It’s like if someone keeps asking you if something is wrong, or if you’re mad at them, over and over and over again. And then takes your snapping at them as proof that you really were mad, or that something really was wrong. Except that you were fine, until they drove you nuts with asking over and over again.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I had a boyfriend in high school who was always insisting that I didn’t care about him as much as he cared about me, and that he was worried I was going to break up with him. He was incredibly insecure and would do it so I would effusively reassure him that yes, I loved him and cared about him, and would never break up with him! But eventually I got tired of it and decided that no, I actually didn’t want to spend that much energy caring anymore, and so I did end the relationship.

        1. Mimioskivitch*

          I do love how selectively tolerant commenters on this site are. Talk about someone’s weight and you see all ” it’s a genetics thing. People can’t always help it. It’s a hard thing to break. etc. etc.” assurances, but no similar compassion for what is clearly a difficult emotional and possibly mental issue for someone? I mean yeah, it’s not appropriate to do stuff like this at work or in any social sphere where you don’t know someone well, but we have no idea what’s going on with this boss. “Oh, how annoying and draining these types of people are,” you say, but they probably mean well enough. She doesn’t sound malicious to me, just out of touch and clearly at a breaking point. Maybe she suffered abuse as a child and is doing her best to work through it. It’s hard for people to come to terms with their faults, and trying to find out how to fix them is even harder. Or maybe she hasn’t hit that point yet and she’s on a screaming, fiery train towards rock bottom. We don’t know, but so far, I haven’t seen anyone standing up for her in any real capacity. I guess things like obesity and anorexia are still more of a hot button issue than mental and emotional disabilities.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            But someone’s weight doesn’t impact my ability to do my work, or my own mood and mental health. Someone pulling me into lengthy conversations to talk about their feelings or make vague accusations absolutely does. Not to mention that we have no idea whether this person even has a mental illness! People can be needy, accusatory, and overshare without a mental illness, just like people with mental illnesses are generally capable of not doing those things.

            And yes, I have a mental illness too. That, in fact, makes me feel even more strongly about this. I’d be outright insulted if I found out my coworkers were holding me to a different standard–coddling me, basically–rather than treating me like an adult who can handle her own issues. When we talk about obesity, we generally talk about not treating the obese person differently than anyone else; as a mentally ill person, that’s exactly what I want too, not to be treated like an unexploded land mine.

          2. catsAreCool*

            I think we’re harsher on the LW’s boss because the boss is emotionally hurting people. “she has actual meltdowns, where she yells or flips out” “she complains about her direct reports to other direct reports” “We get dragged into these exhausting conversations that can be either getting berated for an hour or feeling like we’re serving as her therapist for an hour.”

            The boss is hurting people instead of trying to deal with the stress in some appropriate way.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            There is a line, if someone is verbally or psychologically abusive then that situation has to be handled in some manner. While we can be sympathetic to the root causes of the situation, the fact remains that this boss is hurting other people and has the potential to hurt the business.

            OP is not in a position to diagnose or treat her boss. Heck, she can’t even tell her to go to EAP. The balance of power tips in favor of the boss, with OP losing ground daily.

            Having seen bosses say things like “I can’t keep my thoughts collected” or “I think something is wrong with my mind”, I know too well what OP is talking about.

            A family member of mine marched into her boss’ office and told her that she had a problem and she needed to get counseling immediately. At this point in the story the boss had progressed to being suicidal. And this was a boss that was ONE TOUGH COOKIE. My family member was scared crapless to confront the boss but she also know that if she did not confront the boss the next thing would be a disaster. So she laid it on the line with the boss and waited for the blow-up.
            There wasn’t a blow-up.
            The boss went and got counseling, apparently the boss went for years. While the boss remained difficult in many ways, the boss always told my family member that she saved her (the boss’) life.

            I would not recommend this for OP. I would not recommend this for most people. I have never done it. It one of those stars-in-alignment things that my family member had a decent ending for this story. My family member took a huge risk.

            Unless a person is willing to help themselves, others around them must focus on keeping themselves from being injured from verbal abuse. Should there be a sudden AND major shift where OP’s boss gets tons of help and starts to pull herself together then we can talk about different solutions for OP.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      I wonder what the reaction would be if the next time the boss started complaining about her other direct reports, OP calmly said: “You often vent to me about our team members. Do you complain to them about me as well?”

  9. Katie the Fed*

    Oh god. I’m a feeler, but this is just insane.

    She has a LOT of issues, and she shouldn’t be in a management position. You just CANNOT manage like this.

    Another thing that Alison didn’t mention, and it’s awful and I hate to even suggest it – but you could decide that she is what she is and you only have to get through 10 months, and just try to meet her emotional needs. I know that’s gross and insincere, but maybe trying to lend a supportive shoulder would help both her AND you. She gets emotional support, and you get a boss who will probably think very highly of you and give you a great recommendation. Nobody has to know that her cheese is slipping off her cracker.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        What I worry about is that a little support becomes a complete emotional crutch. And everyone else resents you for being the boss’s confidant. But, if it works…

        1. neverjaunty*

          It doesn’t work. OP has already pointed that out in her letter. When she tries to respond to what Boss claims is the problem (like feeling insulted), Boss simply pulls another hammer out of her bag (you apologized? what about my feeeeelings?!).

    1. OriginalYup*

      I just had a full-body shudder at the idea of the OP and her coworkers trying to meet the boss’s emotional needs. It’s a kind thought if the boss an otherwise reasonable person who’s just temporarily in crisis. But from what the OP wrote, this is someone whose emotional needs are ENDLESS. Seriously, being a shoulder to cry on will make it worse, not better. You end up getting sucked into a vortex of unfixable complaints, escalating emotional dramas, and toxic interpersonal nonsense, and meanwhile no work is getting done.

      My advice to the OP is to treat it like a toddler having a tantrum. Stay calm, speak quietly and reasonably, don’t take the bait, and stay focused on “what needs to happen next for us to move ahead?”.

      1. Sadsack*

        I like your last paragraph. Tell your boss you didn’t mean to imply whatever it is bugging her this time, then ask what needs to happen for us to move ahead. The boss seems to be trying to draw some big emotional apologies out of her employees. Once you’ve said you are sorry, what more is there to say?

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Speaking softly might be a pearl of wisdom for our OP. You could try this, OP. Respond to her in a softer than usual speaking voice. Do not whisper. Find a volume in the middle between your regular speaking voice and whispering then use that.

      3. OhNo*

        As an alternative to your last paragraph, if the OP is feeling especially fed up at a given moment, the line, “You let me know when you’re ready to discuss work” followed by walking away does wonders. I’ve used it to great effect on family members.

        The only problem is that it is very dismissive, so should only be pulled out as a last resort. If you say it with a calm, reasonable tone it usually plays alright, but there is a certain personality type that will just use it as further evidence of how awful you are, so think about if your boss is one of those people first.

    2. neverjaunty*

      No. A thousand times NO. This is the worst possible advice.

      Forget that it’s gross and insincere and 100% inappropriate for the moment. The problem is that it’s impossible to “meet her emotional needs” in any way other than “meet her need to berate and emotionally abuse her direct reports because that helps her feel less anxious.”

      Boss is reacting this way because of the stress of the project, and there is literally nothing OP can do to make the project go away…. for another ten months. And Boss is wholly irrational and putting everyone in a no-win situation. If someone apologizes or tries to acknowledge her feelings, she just shifts gears and attacks from another direction.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        The worse possible advice would be to murder her. This isn’t THAT bad.

        We’re talking about a finite period of time here. If the situation isn’t going to get better, would it hurt that much to just be a friend? You don’t have to fix her, but it might be more expedient to just be friendly with her until the project is over.

        1. neverjaunty*

          We may disagree on whether that’s the worst possible advice!

          Joking aside: trying to navigate the minefield of an emotionally unstable and irrational person is way, way more than “just being a friend” even when that person is a friend. And she’s not OP’s friend, or even a co-worker; she’s the boss, and is using her work authority over OP and others to force them to act as her emotional vomit buckets.

          As far as coping skills go, OP is “being friendly” with her boss. She has, as she says over and over in her letter, repeatedly tried to work with her boss, to address her irrational fears and accusations productively, and to diffuse the feelingsbombs Boss is throwing at her. And it doesn’t work.

        2. MashaKasha*

          It’s not the worst possible advice obviously, it just isn’t going to work. I agree with neverjaunty’s assessment of what her needs are, and with a comment that I saw below, that “the boss is causing drama to meet her needs”. Being friendly to her and trying to help her address her perceived issues is not going to meet her emotional needs – it’s just going to make her more frustrated, because her efforts at creating drama (and thereby getting her own needs met) have failed and now she needs to come up with more drama. In this situation, a friend would set boundaries, tell it to her like it is, and maybe suggest she get help (not to armchair-diagnose, just thinking about what a friend would say). Someone who’d let her rant and rave and have impromptu meetings with her team to talk about her feelings in the middle of a tight deadline, would be an enabler, not a friend.

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          I’m not so sure it’s *just* this project, though. She’s had to have already had some of these traits and the project just brought out the worst of it.

    3. Clever Name*

      Unless you have a bottomless reserve of emotional strength, have a stress-free life at home, have absolutely no worries about anything at all, I would advise against trying to meet her emotional needs. Her emotional needs are limitless, and nobody can meet them for her. She needs serious therapy, and you aren’t going to provide it for her. Just no.

    4. Temperance*

      No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This is TERRIBLE advice. This woman is clearly unhinged or unwell. LW can’t fix her.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Agreed that LW proably cannot do anything at this point. Though the boss may not have an underlying condition, the stress has clearly taken its toll on her. Once people reach meltdown mode, they can’t be reasoned with.

        Since this behavior is impacting productivity, I think they might need to bring it to the attention of someone higher up who can intervene. They would want to be very sure of who they’re dealing with because of the potential fallout.

  10. Whippers*

    Are you working for my former boss?
    She took everything personally. The fact that someone didn’t close a window when she said she was cold. The fact that I walked away from her when I was changing a water cooler and she said she wanted to do it. The fact that I sometimes wanted to concentrate on my work in our shared office instead of talking to her. The fact that her staff took holidays, which she then forgot about and accused us of being “unkind” in not reminding her about them.
    It didn’t help that she was completely incompetent of course, but the constant insistence that other people were mortally offending her was very wearing.

    I don’t really have any advice for the OP because she was eventually fired and we hadn’t worked out any way to work with her prior to that.

  11. Juli G.*

    I would be so tempted to say “It’s really difficult to respect someone that behaves this way.”

  12. Mike C.*

    I would be inclined to go to the other boss, who I’ve got a great relationship with, but now I’m afraid she’ll just think that proves I don’t respect her. Is there some way to deal with this personality type that you (or a reader) can recommend?

    According to her rules, any sort of action you do is a “sign of disrespect”. So since you’re going to be doing the time, you may as well do the crime.

    There’s no sin in protecting yourself. Take stock in how much power this manager actually has and act accordingly. Document things. Don’t be afraid to get her boss or HR involved, as appropriate. But most of all, know that you shouldn’t have to put up with this crap and that you’re allowed to push back as much as you feel you are able.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I would also suggest going as a group. It highlights the severity of what is going on and makes you less of a target. To be fair though, crazy boss may blame you as a ringleader.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, but I wonder if she will have an emotional outburst with her manager when he talks to her about this. Hopefully, she will and then he’ll see exactly what her employees are dealing with. I am very curious to know how she interacts with her own manager at this point. Can she possibly be accepting feedback he gives her like a complete professional? I am kind of doubting it.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Exactly. And it probably would be wise to phrase this to BigBoss in very work-related, specific terms: Boss is taking hours of work time to have impromptu meetings where she berates employees about her feelings. Boss is having meltdowns rather than solving problems. Boss is making gendered and personal comments about employees.

  13. LawCat*

    Old Manager (still working in the same office) used to make repeated comments that I don’t like him or my former team even though they liked me. At my wits end on these types of comments, I told him it makes me uncomfortable when he makes comments like that and I am not sure what he wants from me when he makes those comments. It put it back on him to explain; he backpedaled a bit and it’s never come up again since.

  14. Lauren*

    OP, are any of the men on your team noticing she treats the women differently. It really doesn’t matter if they see it as “thank god it’s not me having to listen to that” or “why are the women getting all this extra time and attention” issue. But have any of the men either reacted or said anything at all that indicates they notice this difference?

    1. Aurora Leigh*

      While I hate to say it, this might really be important. Because only the other women complained about BadBoss, her boss (male) just brushed it off as “women being petty”. Of course he would have used any excuse he could find to avoid the issue.

  15. Lily Daisy*

    This woman, the boss, could be suffering from a mental illness. Some of this strikes me as borderline personality disorder, which I have and it mirrors a lot of my interactions with co workers when I worked before I got diagnosed and helped.

    And can we please stop calling people crazy, as someone who is recovering from mental illness it is off putting and very hurtful and it prevents people who need help from seeking it because they will be labeled crazy.

    Yes her behavior is crazy making but I do not think she is a “jerk”. That is the whole point of borderline personality disorder, a lot of interpersonal conflicts and what is perceived as “drama”. People with bpd are trying to calm their intense emotions and this woman could be doing that by always wanting to talk about her feelings and the taking everything as being talked to like hired help are classic bpd.

    The letter writer as a subordinate really can’t go up to her boss and say you are exhibiting signs of a mental illness and I think you should get screened but maybe if there is an hr and a boss higher up she can discuss her concerns about her boss’ behavior but do not say I think she has bpd, that is more for the letter writer’s info to help her understand.

    I was doing a lot of these things and I did not understand what was going on and I think your boss is very scared and not understanding what is going on and why she “can’t just get it together.” Mental illness is not the person’s fault and they can’t “just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

    1. Beenthere*

      This! +1 to not diagnosing to her higher ups, but it sounds similar to BPD to me as well.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Y’all, please let’s not armchair-diagnose this person. In fact, there’s a new rule in the commenting guidelines about that, which reads:

        Please don’t armchair-diagnose others (“it sounds like your coworker is autistic/has borderline personality disorder/etc.”). We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question anyway.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You had your email address as your commenting name, which I suspect you did not intend, so I changed it to “anon” (in case you’re wondering where that came from).

        1. mortorph*

          I can see your point towards arm-chair diagnoses. I’m not for calling people ‘crazy’ because that’s uncalled for. However, if actions like described above fit into typical behaviors for someone with a given mental illness, then there is practical advise to be given from that perspective. In my comment below, I talked about how I have been reading a lot about Gaslighting/Narcissism based on my experience in the workplace. Tactics that you may normally take to resolve a situation, may not work for someone who exhibits certain behaviors. I think its important to take these perspectives into consideration, even if its just to identify potential landmines.

          1. neverjaunty*

            1) The comments policy says don’t do it. So don’t do it.

            2) The fact that some behaviors fit a given mental illness doesn’t mean that anyone with those behaviors has the given mental illness.

            3) It’s supremely unhelpful to armchair diagnose mental illness in a boss when the employee has absolutely no ability to do anything about the mental illness.

            1. mortorph*

              The employee may not have the ability to ‘fix’ said mental illness, but there may be advice on how to best navigate the behaviors.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Actionable advice is great, but it doesn’t require a diagnosis to come along with it! As others have pointed out when this has some up in the past, even professionals won’t diagnose over the internet or based on anecdotes. So I’m holding firm on that point, but certainly encourage “I know someone with these traits, and here’s what helps in dealing with her.”

        2. MassMatt*

          This is a great rule for the reasons you state, but also armchair diagnosing tends to derail threads as people argue about theories of mental health and share their own mental health histories etc, none of which helps the letter writers.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      My sister is BPD and u agree that the actions of the boss appear to mirror BPD actions. The boss deserves sympathy. With that said:
      * it is not perceived drama – the boss is causing drama to meet her needs. It is real.
      * the actions of the boss are harming others on the team. The negative actions need to stop no matter the source. The actions are harmful. Harming others to soothe yourself is wrong.
      * the boss is not fulfilling the duties of the job. FMLA might be a short term solution to get over the bump of the current crisis. If it is BPD then longer work is needed. In the mean time the boss is not performing KEY components of the job so needs to improve or step down. This correction should come from boss higher up as well as help from HR.

      1. Amadeo*

        Pretty much this.

        Regardless of whether or not this lady has a mental health issue it is impacting her team’s ability to get their work done and needs to be addressed. It may be a reason, but it’s not an excuse.

    3. Laurel Gray*

      Yes, please no arm chair diagnosis. And in defense of the people calling this woman crazy, your mental health is your responsibility. It’s not even fair to ask the OP to consider this possibility or find ways to maneuver around a mental health issue that may or not be there.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Especially because OP’s co-workers might very well have mental health issues of their own that make it very difficult to deal with an irrational, emotionally abusive boss.

        Funny how people making excuses for abusers and scolding that ‘you can’t expect them to fix themselves’ never extend the same thoughtfulness to the victims.

        1. Temperance*

          In all fairness, a person without mental health issues can find it difficult to deal with someone whose emotions are totally out of control.

        2. Laurel Gray*

          Who’s making excuses for abusers and scolders? Is referring to someone as crazy in a reply here make someone an abuser or scolder or is this just a post-lunch jump to conclusions for you?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hey, wait, I agree that I haven’t seen anyone here making excuses for abusers and scolders, but the rest of that comment seems harsh to me. (I also think neverjaunty was agreeing with you!)

            1. neverjaunty*

              Yes, I was. (And I do think the previous comment was scolding, as it ranted about how mentally ill people can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps even though nobody had suggested that Boss was mentally ill, much less that she should cure herself!)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I didn’t read it that way, and would ask that people not call other people’s comments rants! All of which makes me think this is just all too heated and we should all move on.

              2. Laurel Gray*

                neverjaunty, my sincere apologies. I misunderstood your comment and thought you were saying the complete opposite of what you were. I shouldn’t have come off so harsh in general. Mental health issues and disabilities are passionate subjects for me and I cringe at arm chair diagnoses. Still not an excuse to be janky. Again, I’m sorry. :)

    4. Aurora Leigh*

      I had not heard of this before finding this blog and reading about bosses similar to mine. Ultimately there may be nothing OP can do to help, but I found it comforting that there might be a reason behind unreasonable actions. It’s helpful to acknowledge that I was not at fault in some way. OP sounds further along in her career, but since this was my first boss, I really appreciated finding out that it was thing, and not a thing all bosses have.

    5. fishy*

      No comment on the armchair diagnosis, but I also wish that people would stop dismissing this boss as “crazy”. It stigmatizes mental illness. There are plenty of mentally ill people who are perfectly capable of not being raging jerks who infect everyone around them with negativity.

      The main problem with this boss isn’t that she’s “crazy” (except maybe insofar as she doesn’t appear to be capable of handling the stress of managing this project) – the problem is that she’s incredibly rude and inconsiderate.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Stress can do all these things as well. It’s important that if the boss wasn’t like this until this project, it might just be too much for her to handle (or there could be other stuff going on at home that is adding to her stress). Either way, it’s really past time for some higher-up intervention. If she can’t deal with the responsibilities of this project, she probably needs to be moved to something else so the team can get the work done.

    7. Turtle Candle*

      To be honest, as someone else with a mental illness, I find the suggestion that bad behavior (which this is, whatever the cause) is necessarily a sign of mental illness pretty offensive–far more so than the colloquial use of the word “crazy.” And also the idea that the boss must be “scared” and “not understanding” if they do have a mental illness, too; it’s pretty condescending, and implies that mentally ill people are like children who need to be handled carefully and worked around. If I thought my coworkers were treating me that way (as opposed to holding me to normal standards and trusting me to handle myself), I’d be really insulted.

  16. Minister of Snark*

    Argh. I’m so sorry. I’ve been through this and it sucks. My workplace was thrown into chaos when my (wonderful, effective, badass) boss had a major health crisis. We said goodbye to her at work on Friday, and by Sunday she was in ICU and the doctors said she was going to be out indefinitely.

    Rather than letting us adjust to the shock and try to cover our department in the interim, which I honestly think we were capable of, our CEO decided to place a friend’s daughter in my boss’s office that Monday and let her run the department. She had no experience in this field. She had no idea how to manage people. She was an emotional hot mess. In the months she was there, Hot Mess Boss (HMB) would regularly make ill-informed, binding agreements with clients that either went against our own policies or undid WEEKS of our work. (i.e. agreeing to an “exclusive” sponsorship with Company A for an event that Company B was already sponsoring.) Instead of responding to criticisms rationally, she would get into screaming matches in to the hallway with employees. Or she would cry, in my office. A lot.

    For some reason, HMB seemed to think we were big buddies and she could come to me with her problems and using me as an emotional dumping ground. Never asking advice, just spewing out emotional garbage all over my office for up to an hour sometimes. We were not friends and this was not OK. Not only did this alienate me from my coworkers who were still (rightly so) loyal to our old boss, but it kept me from doing my work. I tried to be subtle, telling her I really needed to get my work done. She ignored my hints. I moved the chair she liked to sit in into another room. She moved it back. I tried continuing to work while she talked. She told me I was being rude and inattentive to type while she was unburdening herself.

    And then HMB stared writing me “employee improvement notices” because I wasn’t getting my work done on time. (Remember, I wasn’t supposed to be working during these therapy sessions.) I grew a damn spine and the next time she came to my office, I told her to “stop” before she sat down and made the following points:

    – We had maintained a quiet, courteous workspace for years. That was what we were used to and that was the environment we found to be most productive. The “before you got here” was silent.

    – Her screaming meltdowns in the hallway were creating an unhealthy amount of stress in our workplace. If she wanted to be treated with respect and courtesy, as she claimed repeatedly, a good start would be to show the same to us.

    – Mentioning the procedures established by our ailing boss was not a “jab” at her, we were merely trying to inform her of policies she seemed to be unfamiliar with.

    – Her “emotional downloads” in my office were time-consuming and unprofessional. It was unfair to demand my full-attention for extended amounts of time and then wonder why I couldn’t meet the deadlines she gave me.

    – We were not friends. She was my coworker and temporary boss. She should not share intimate personal information with me as it made me uncomfortable.

    NOW, I will caution you that this only worked for me because she was not my permanent, full-time supervisor. She did complain to the CEO about me, and when he called me into his office, I gave an honest account of her behavior, including dates and times of several hallway tantrums and the names of people she yelled at. I’m not sure how he would have handled it from there, because our ailing boss, having heard that she’d been replaced so callously and quickly, went against medical advice and came back to work before she was fully recovered. HMB tried to stick around to “smooth over” the transition, but quit in a huff when the staff listened to our old boss instead of her.

    My point is, you have to be honest and make good points about how her behavior is affecting you and your productivity.

  17. Beenthere*

    My mom behaved just like that when I was younger. It’s a challenge dealing with that kind of environment in someone above you. IF YOU DON’T LEAVE, here are some “tips”:
    * Don’t expect your boss to behave rationally at any time. This includes, imo, attempting to reason with them.
    * Don’t explain anything you do, or get defensive. By this I mean don’t give her any way to twist your words. Say exactly what you mean, and move on. “I’m going to email Steve my notes” not “I’ll email Steve my notes to catch him up on this topic, since he couldn’t attend the meeting” She could then read a bunch into that. Avoiding explanations means avoiding as many misinterpretations as possible.
    * Be a model of rationality and normality. If she isn’t acting normal, it will be even more apparent in contrast to you. This could, of course, make her more irritated (do you think you’re better than me?!) but if you want to stick it out with her as your boss, you’d need to.

    My biggest advice though, is to get out, and go above her head to explain why. All of why. This often isn’t the type of mental state where a person thinks there’s anything wrong with them — the problems all lie with someone else, they’re forever the victim (which is also why she’ll feel more threatened by women than men, though complain about everyone). I don’t see this situation changing without dramatic psychological intervention. Sorry you have to deal with the fallout of this.

  18. Aurora Leigh*

    Sounds a lot like my old boss! You have my sympathies, OP.

    I know I’m projecting here, but I’d be cautious about going to her boss. In my situation I also had a great relationship with the top boss, but he was very conflict averse, and had a tendency to shoot the messenger. So I only ended up harming my own reputation.

    As far as advice I can’t really offer any. In our case a teamate was willing to take the role of being her “friend” but it really didn’t alleviate much. Personally, I couldn’t do it. It felt too much like brownosing to me.

    On the bright side, I’m still friends with everyone who had to work under her, even though most of us, myself included, have moved into other jobs. We had each others backs in a hellish time.

  19. oh dear*

    OP, sorry that you’re in this situation. One thing that I have found useful for overwrought colleagues who can’t be consoled is to ask something like “How can I help?” “What do you need?” rather than I’m sorry, etc. Maybe it shifts the focus away from feelings, while still seeming sympathetic, etc. (even if you aren’t really feeling that way).

    Side note – I would think about taking advantage of your good relationship with the ‘other boss’ to see if he would get involved. It doesn’t seem like the situation can get that much worse even if problem boss finds out about it.

    1. catsAreCool*

      If you can trust her boss, letting him know about this would be a good thing for the business as well as for you and your team members (assuming that her boss will deal with this well).

  20. Clever Name*

    I sit next to a woman who has depression, anxiety, and apparently absolutely no boundaries at all. She is a giant gooey and dripping ball of FEELINGS, and she has absolutely no filter and says every thought that pops into her head (seriously, people, most of your coworkers really don’t want to know everything about your personal life). It’s really really exhausting. At least she’s a nice person and doesn’t yell at people, but she’s miserable to be around. Listen to AAM and get out sooner than later. I would ask to be transferred off the project if possible.

  21. super anon*

    Your boss sounds similar to my mother. I’m fairly certain she has Borderline Personality Disorder, and she often behaves exactly like this. She takes everything very personally, she can’t handle criticism, she thinks everyone are idiots who disrespect her, she will talk to anyone at length about anything, with the express purpose of getting you to validate her feelings on any subject and agree with her that she is 100% right. She’s also very adept at using guilt to try to control other people’s behaviour… which often comes with the “you/she/they don’t respect/like/care/etc (about) me!” conversations we have. A lot of my experiences with my mother are very similar to what you’ve outlined with your boss. (Note: i am not diagnosing your boss w/ BDP, but I wanted to set the context for the advice I’m going to give next.)

    It can be very hard to set boundaries with someone who reacts to situations in this way, and to stay healthy yourself. With my mother, I never agree or disagree with her because I find that can escalate her responses. I reply to her with vague statements like “That would be difficult/challenging/etc”, and let her talk until she runs out of steam. However, it can be incredibly emotionally exhausting to do this (and not to mention it wastes a lot of time), and I would very much not recommend not trying to become an emotional support for your boss, because it will do nothing but drag down your quality of work due to the sheer amount of time you end up spending with her, not to mention the emotional strain on yourself.

    If possible, I would try to set boundaries with her, and that may end up be going to someone higher up to explain what is happening, or leaving the team all together. Your boss may also react very poorly to any boundary setting (such as telling you don’t have time to talk, etc), so be prepared for that type of reaction.

    Also, if you find your boss uses guilt to try to control the you, I was recommended an amazing booking (from here actually!), called Emotional Blackmail by Susanne Forward. The advice in it has come in useful in a lot aspects of my life, not just dealing with my mother.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Your mom sounds similar to mine but mine has narcissistic personality disorder. These are great tips for dealing in the meantime, but either way (and since we’re not supposed to diagnose here), the Op needs to make her bosses boss and HR aware. It’s their job to coach her or suggest she get help or whatever. Bottom line is she’s impacting the project the team and the company.

  22. LaurenH*

    Hmmm…Can you maybe just have some strategies for disengaging from her once she starts one of her hour long rants/weeping sessions? For example, “I’m sorry to cut you off but I have a meeting scheduled with Fergus that I have to get to” or “I’m sorry but I have a call right now” or even “You’ll have to excuse me project X has a deadline today and I really need to finish that up”.

    It doesn’t solve the problem of your boss being terrible to work with but it might save you from having to waste an hour dealing with her and potentially you won’t hurt her feelings as much if you bow out of the conversation due to work.

  23. Temperance*

    LW, I’m so sorry. This sucks.

    I’m not going to armchair diagnose your boss, but I will give some advice as the daughter of someone who acts similarly, and who has a lifetime of experience dealing. I was especially shocked by the “hired help” comment, because that’s a thing that I’ve heard. (Obviously mom and manager aren’t the same thing, but dealing with someone with emotional issues can be really freaking hard and shitty.)

    Redirect. When she starts getting weird and emotional, pretend that you don’t see her acting that way and just get back to work or rephrase the question (if you’ve asked her one).

    Be polite, but not too nice. You don’t want to become her least-favored or most-favored. Do your job as much as you can.

    Go to the other boss instead of her. This woman has decided that you’re against her (or everyone is against her).

  24. mortorph*

    I just read super anon’s comment, and my thoughts run along similar lines. I would argue that this isn’t really about the project, but part of her ingrained personality traits. I’ve been dealing with similar (but not so severe) situations in my position. It lead me to reading a lot about Gaslighting and Narcissism, which also seem to fit your description.

  25. A Cita*

    I’ve been in a similar situation, though probably not at the same level of frequency. But the gist is the same. In case you’re not ready to move on or don’t want to, this how I handled it: appeared as if listening attentively while completely blanking out in my mind so as not to internalize any of it. Then after the weird emotional rant and completely off-base accusation, I’d say something to the effect of: “It sounds like you’re saying x (succinctly paraphrase and reiterate x). I didn’t realize my doing y was coming off that way, but I hear what you’re saying and I’ll make an effort to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Thank you for bringing to my attention. I really appreciate it.” Change the subject to something work related, preferably a detailed, in the weeds, but easy to answer inane question to effectively change course. Rinse and repeat. (And you will have to repeat because you cannot ensure your completely normal professional behavior won’t be interpreted as some sort of weird attack.) But it seemed to work to distract the manager and get back on track in that moment. It was never going to permanently fix it. Just a coping mechanism. YMMV.

  26. b*

    My former boss was like this. She scheduled meetings to “check in” with me on a daily basis (which were by phone if we were working out of different offices in our region), and would then spend the next hour ranting about other staff or her bosses or our funder or numerous other things that were completely unprofessional to involve me in. It was miserable. She tried to act like she needed to protect or shield me from other people in senior management, but it was just so she could have total control over my work. Everyone, including her bosses, knew that she was awful but it didn’t seem like anyone was willing to do anything about it.

    I finally went to one of her bosses and said, “Hey look, I have all of these ideas but they’re being blocked by Boss.” I think he realized that they were in danger of losing me, which would have been awful for the project since I’m pretty great at what I do. He recommended some next steps for me and was really supportive.

    She was furious when she initially found out that I’d gone over her head. She called me into her office and told me that no matter what, I would continue to report to her. It took about four months, but I eventually got a promotion – which meant that I no longer had to report to her. Six months after that, she was removed from the project entirely.

    So, in short – I agree with AAM here. If you can, go to her boss. If you can’t, just do your best to keep your focus and to shut her down whenever she tries to pull you into drama. Just stay above it all and make sure that your work is impeccable, and other people will (hopefully) recognize that. Also, document EVERYTHING. I had an Outlook folder that I named “NOPE” and saved all of her ridiculous abusive emails in it so that I’d have a paper trail if necessary.

  27. Nico M*

    Go to the big boss and say

    Look mate

    Off the record

    -Shes mental

    -Shes useless

    -The project will fail unless you get rid of her

    What do we need to bring to you “on the record” to act?

    If you arent interested, just say so, and this conversation never happened.

        1. Nico M*

          “And it probably would be wise to phrase this to BigBoss in very work-related, specific terms: Boss is taking hours of work time to have impromptu meetings where she berates employees about her feelings. Boss is having meltdowns rather than solving problems. Boss is making gendered and personal comments about employees.”

          I dont see much difference between your advice and mine.

          1. neverjaunty*

            If you really don’t see any difference between “My boss is having meltdowns rather than solving problems” and “Look, mate, off the record, she’s mental”, I’m not sure further explanation will help here.

  28. Rubyrose*

    How many hours over 40 are you working per week now, or will be working when this project is failing? And are you getting paid for them? Upper management needs to know this and know it now.

  29. MillersSpring*

    If Boss complains about her own feelings:
    “That must be tough. We all are stressed from this project. Did you need anything else? I really need to get back to X.”

    If Boss complains about LW’s attitude:
    “Whoa. That is not my perspective at all. We all are stressed from this project. Please give me the benefit of the doubt–I just want this project to be successful and we all need to work together smoothly.”

    1. CM*

      I really like this, and I’m adding: “I’m sorry you see it that way.”
      I think the biggest thing is: don’t apologize, don’t explain, don’t engage. Say something vaguely sympathetic and then steer the conversation back to work.

  30. Kaz*

    The boss needs to be made aware that she can see a professional therapist outside of work hours. Maybe the organization that the OP works for can set her up with such a therapist and maybe this will help lower her stress levels at work since she will be able to express her insecurities to the therapist instead of to her subordinates.

  31. Argh!*

    Another idea: when her FEELINGS are being dumped on you, reply by complaining about something really trivial (traffic or your feet being slightly different sizes) and don’t let her get a word in. She’s not a listener. She’s a talker. She’ll move on to a better target.

  32. motherofdragons*

    Any tips on how to approach this manager if you’re her superior? I had a really similar problem during a recent volunteer project. I tried to let the person know that her outbursts were negatively impacting the rest of the volunteers, and I got called condescending and all kinds of other fun things. We’re having our wrap meeting soon and I’m not sure how to address it, since it’s now in the past (and she’s said she’s not returning to the project next year). Is there anything left to say, or just let it lie and count my blessings that she’s out?

    1. neverjaunty*

      Well, unless you are 100% sure she’s not returning next year, you probably do need to say something. Usually the best way is to ignore the derailment, which is exactly what the name-calling is (and who gets away with calling their supervisor names?). “I’m sorry you feel that way, Jane, but let’s get back to the issue, which is that it’s not appropriate for you to have those outbursts when you’re frustrated with the email system.”

      1. motherofdragons*

        Thank you! I regret not kicking her off the project when she lashed out at me, quite honestly. Despite her dislike of my feedback, though, her attitude really improved at our event the next day so there’s that.

  33. Vicki*

    I think we could just do an acronym: YYBS – shorthand for
    “Yeah, your boss sucks and is (highly) unlikely to change.”

  34. AnotherAnon*

    I don’t know how well the following technique would work with a boss, but it has worked for me in establishing boundaries with emotionally needy friends/acquaintances. 1. try not to engage with the (irrational) content of what they are saying. also, don’t try to correct or fix their situation. e.g. if they say, you ignored me which means you disrespect me, etc. etc., don’t get drawn into a conversation where you try to convince them that what they are feeling is not true. 2. sometimes it helps to acknowledge the reality of what they are feeling, e.g. I can tell you feel very strongly about this, or I can tell that this feels very real to you. 3. (this is where it could be a little tricky with a boss, so maybe skip this step) try to identify any cognitive distortions in what they are saying, e.g that seems like a very black and white view. or that seems like mind-reading or catastrophizing. 4. ask whether they could be open to the idea that the reality is not what they are interpreting it as. and if she responds, no, but it is the reality, rinse and repeat steps 2 and 4: yes, I know it feels very intense and real, but could you be open to the possibility that it isn’t. That said, this technique has worked better for me if the person is depressed or anxious. Don’t know how it would work on someone with BPD. And definitely DO NOT use on someone with NPD because it’ll probably be interpreted as patronizing. At the very least, step 1 is good for establishing an emotional boundary. It’s exhausting though…

  35. David Smith*

    I have had success with the book, “Working with You is Killing Me” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster. The book covers standard techniques on conflict management and de-escalation like setting boundaries, the benefits of unplugging, separating what happened from interpretation, etc.

    When one of my direct reports complains about an ongoing conflict with a coworker I send them away with a copy of the book, ask them to read at least the first three chapters, and then return for a follow-up conversation. That second conversation is usually a lot more productive, with the employee having more ideas on what strategy or strategies might work for them and the situation.

  36. Karen*

    Hi all I have recently came across this website and I am in a bit of a dilemma. I was applying for a job position as secretary on and add that I found on Craigslist. I got a job offer to be a personal assistant to a person. Because according to the email the position was taken. I never did a phone interview but he send me task to do via email and text which are from the most part just sending envelopes through Fedex. The problems is I haven’t met my boss In person and when I try lookig for him I can’t find anything under his name and he constantly send packages that are over night spending atleast 1000 to 2000 dollars. He said we will meet in 3 weeks times but after talking to my family I am not so sure he can actually be a real person. I did however get my first payment but it was wired through western union. Should I be concern please help me . I don’t know what to do he has my phone number and email because of my resume.

    1. Not Sure If Serious*

      Your “boss” is real, but he’s either shipping drugs or black market human organs. Quit.

  37. Jane*

    I had a boss EXACTLY like this in a healthcare corporate setting. I left after two years and gave a two hour exit interview to a third party company that reports back to the highest level of the corporate office. She wasn’t allowed to fill the position for a year and a half (friends loosely kept me informed). Her antics persisted and I’ve recently learned they transferred her to a highly undesirable outpost. In short, they won’t fire your boss especially if she’s in a C-level position. You’re better off leaving now or at the end of the project. Save yourself!

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