DETROIT — Bad bosses. We've all had at least one. Hey, you may actually even be one. And tough economic times make bad bosses seem even worse.
Many bosses are stressed to the max because they have to produce more with fewer people and limited resources. So whatever bad behavior and irritating habits they have — be it a hair-trigger temper or a disorganized managing style — can be exacerbated.
"In times of stress, we return to our worst orientation," says Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-trained psychotherapist who studies how people work together.
And you know what, dear beleaguered underlings? That notion applies to you, too.
"If I'm an employee who tends to confront or retaliate, I'll tend to do so more when I'm under stress and interact with my boss," says Crowley. "My behavior is worse, too."
So everyone should just take a deep breath.
Crowley and Kathi Elster, an executive coach, are the co-authors of Working for You Isn't Working for Me (Portfolio, $25.95).
"The boss may seem worse because fear is so prevalent and the environment is much more suspicious," says Crowley. "We may be interpreting our boss' behavior through a darker lens, such as why did he go to the meeting without me, and why wasn't I included in that e-mail?"
In their book, Crowley and Elster lay out several ways to cope. "Our automatic coping mechanism is not good, since usually we want to retaliate or wish for their demise," says Elster.
The authors stress the need for employees to develop their lives away from the office. That means setting aside time for exercise and meditation, or engaging in recreation with family and friends, or pursuing a volunteer activity.
"You're proving yourself competent in other areas, so the boss doesn't have that much power over you," says Elster.
Write down your successes every day. "Even if it starts with something as simple as getting to work on time," Elster says.
Share the credit. Make sure you give co-workers and your boss credit for what you're able to accomplish. If you have a boss who's threatened by your smarts and prowess, they'll feel less threatened if you direct some praise their way, says Elster.
Detach emotionally. If you have a yeller boss, imagine you're watching a bad movie. "You don't start defending, excusing or explaining, because somebody in that state is not available for a conversation. Instead, just start taking notes as they're yelling. If there are issues to address, do it later."