Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Irrational boss

Q: I work for a high level academic scholar from a leading university in Philadelphia. Whenever something goes wrong such as his laptop not working properly or work that someone has not done, I get the blame by being screamed at for sometimes hours. When I try to tell him that I deserve respect, I am told that I am "talking back" to him. Nothing I say seems to work. Reporting to HR is not realistic because my predecessor reported him 7 times without any action. Can you suggest something to say or something I should do to stop all this conflict? Philadelphia, PA

Irrational boss

Q: I work for a high level academic scholar from a leading university in Philadelphia. Whenever something goes wrong such as his laptop not working properly or work that someone has not done, I get the blame by being screamed at for sometimes hours. When I try to tell him that I deserve respect, I am told that I am "talking back" to him. Nothing I say seems to work. Reporting to HR is not realistic because my predecessor reported him 7 times without any action. Can you suggest something to say or something I should do to stop all this conflict?
Philadelphia, PA

My official response to your question is maybe. Maybe this guy is just a narcissist and doesn't care about other people's feelings. If that's the case, there certainly is nothing you can say to stop the conflict but there might be some things you can do short of quitting.

But let's first consider that he is not some kind of self-centered lug, but a regular human like you and me. So when he hollers at you, I wonder why he is hollering. Is he always on edge and does everything feel high stakes to him? If so, he is in distress. This does not mean that what he does is okay. Nor does it mean that you should allow yourself to be hollered at. But if you can begin to see him as a person in distress, his insults might not hurt so much. And perhaps you could ask him for 20 minutes of his time and try a whole different conversation. Tell him that when he screams at you it feels awful and you can't imagine it feels very good to him. Try to understand if things feel high stakes for him and if there's anything you can do to help him with these issues.

This is risky because he could reject you again but you might feel better having made an offer.


One of the best books on this subject is, "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most" by Douglas Stone and others.

Dan Gottlieb
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Dan Gottlieb
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