How to handle an irrational boss

By Amy Cooper Hakim

June 21, 2019

Picture: Getty Images

We may choose to limit our interactions with an irrational friend or loved one. But, what do we do if we work for an irrational boss?

Here are some easy tips to maintain your sanity and your job.

Open the lines of communication

Do your best to take emotion out of the situation. Remember: You do not want to be your boss’ friend. Rather, your goal is to be productive and happy at work, and to get through the workday without losing your cool.

If your boss is one to change her mind frequently, open the lines of communication so that you don’t get stuck doing double work or, worse yet, working hard on an idea or project that she will toss to the side anyway.

Remain calm by practicing one-liners at home, so that your comments flow more smoothly when you are in front of your boss.

Look your boss in the eye when she speaks with you and when you respond.

Practice saying things like, “I know that we both have the same goal. I want to meet your standards but am confused about [x].”

Or, “In order for me to be most productive, I need [y].” Or, “Yesterday, you said that this project was my priority. Just to be clear, do you want me to focus on this one now, instead?”

Say “No” to gossip

Lead by example and do not participate in gossip. If you are able to provide constructive suggestions to help the relationship, do so.

Remember, though, that coworkers are not necessarily your friends. Use care, as some coworkers might turn on you and share what you say with your boss as a way to help themselves to earn brownie points.

Watch your step

Keep track of conversations by making an electronic paper trail.

Follow-up an in-person dialogue by sending your boss (and any other related party) an emailed recap.

For instance, if your boss tells you to change course on a project, and you object but comply because he is the authority figure, send him a friendly follow-up email that you may store and recall, if needed. “Boss, thanks for our chat today. To confirm, I will change direction for this project, per your suggestion. As mentioned in person, I think that it is best to continue down our current path. But, I will do [x, y, and z] as you suggested. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!”

If there is an issue with this decision down the line, refer your boss (and others, if needed) to the email chain, so that it is crystal clear who directed you to complete the project in that manner.

Under promise and over deliver

If you know that your boss usually changes his mind minutes before a deadline, hand in your final product two days before you are due to present it.

Incorporate time for major revisions (and complete project overhauls) into your schedule.

If your boss is pleased with your work, you’ll have a short breather. If you have to make changes, you will then have ample time to do so with quality.

Stay true to yourself

Keep an electronic paper trail of your accomplishments and accolades that you may review (to boost your spirits) or share with others (for a potential work opportunity).

Find a mentor within or outside of the workplace who can help to keep you grounded and motivated.

Stay active in professional groups and on social media platforms like LinkedIn.

Give yourself a six month period within which you will give it your all at work before looking for another opportunity.

Give yourself permission to look for other employment at that time, if the situation hasn’t improved.

Also, take a deep breath and realize who you are dealing with.

You can’t please everyone all of the time.

Some people always look for problems.

Your boss may be one of those people.

Do your best work consistently.

Do not let your boss’ (dis)approval affect your happiness or self-worth.

Remember that happiness and self-worth come from within.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is reprinted with permission. 

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