7 Ways to Tame Your Office Tyrant

Use humor, common sense, and rational thinking, and set limits to bad behavior.

By Lynn Taylor

In a time of record unemployment rates and job insecurity, many people get stuck having to deal with less-than-ideal bosses. The boss’ tantrums and stubborn, whiny, or needy behaviors are reminiscent of a boss stuck…in his Terrible Twos, a.ka., a Terrible Office Tyrant or TOT. 

Maybe you’ve come across one or two. TOTs are managers who have trouble modulating their power when frustrated or under stress. If you work for one, you just can’t rant, “Go to your (board) room” or “Stop whining, or you’ll get a nasty timeout”—or you’ll soon be visiting your favorite online job board.

Fortunately, you have the opportunity to proactively manage the “toddlers” running amok in your office by using humor, common sense, and rational thinking, and by setting limits to bad behavior. If you choose notto learn effective coping techniques, then you’ll be an emotional punching bag for your boss. By incorporating a few “parenting skills” in the workplace, without patronizing, you canlearn to tame the TOTs around you, whether they are bosses, co-workers, or staff—and thrive in your job while doing so.

  1. Develop strong listening and communications skills. Listening and not “just hearing” can start the dialog rolling. Instead of tuning out the tirades, actively listen to what the boss has to say. Many bosses who stomp around angrily are interested in first venting before anything else. Try being empathetic, then help your boss focus on core issues. If necessary, restate any problems the boss expresses so he knows you are listening. Then communicate openly, honestly, and frequently. Be the voice of reason. P.S. Never join a tirade or peek your head out of your office to participate in a tantrum fest. Wait to get your approvals at the appropriate time.
  2. Demonstrate calm under pressure. When your TOT’s mood pendulum swings to the dark side, be a sea of calm. Remind yourself that she’ll settle down soon enough. Bring her back faster by showing a relaxed, in-control demeanor yourself. Think of it as a child going from euphoria in Aisle 2 to freak-dom in Aisle 6. If you participate in the roller coaster, you might just hear, “Security!” not to mention, lose all respect from your child, which takes time to regain (same with your boss). And if you allow this to spread to your staff, just watch how it boosts productivity. Not.
  3. Be a good role model for leadership and respect. Be a beacon of honesty with your boss, and indicate diplomatically that you would like the same respect. Admit to mistakes early. Put constructive criticism inside positive statements: “I like working with you and particularly on the xyz project. It did set me back a little when abc happened…Thanks again for listening. I really enjoy working here.” Don’t expect quick results or even a retraction of old lies. But by showing the light, you’ll encourage good behavior. Positive and negative reinforcement. It works at home and at the office.
  4. Be a proactive problem solver. Remain aware of potential problems before they escalate and offer proactive solutions. Always have a stockpile of new initiatives ready and demonstrate that you are proactive. If you want to get ahead, be thinking of future possibilities so your boss doesn’t have to go overboard on your behalf. Picture Sally, your daughter, becoming dangerously interested in jumping from higher and higher steps. Your boss, Marcia, is threatening you with increasingly stressful projects. It’s time to speak up before the inevitable happens and you lose it. Anticipate and act!
  5. Work around a boss’s strength’s and weaknesses. Instead of focusing on the boss’ weaknesses, play to his strengths. Encourage and support what he’s good at doing. If he’s great at schmoozing clients, then arrange more face time between him and them.
  6. Use humor.A little levity will diffuse tension and create a bonding atmosphere. A bad boss may tend to see the glass as always half empty. Help improve your boss’ outlook by being positive and showing the lighter side of each situation as it arises. Have you ever seen a toddler forget his obstinate mood because someone did something to “jam the system” and make her laugh? Whether we’re two or 52, we have the same basic instincts and emotions.
  7. Show empathy. Your boss is under pressure to produce. Have empathy and show you understand his plight and are willing to share the load. Offer support and ask your boss what you can do to make his job easier.

TOTs don’t leave juice stains on the carpet hallway, but by now you know how to spot a TOT and what to do. You are the parent with the proverbial cookie jar when it comes to managing them. By adopting these strategies, you’ll clear out a lot of confusion in your job. You’ll likely have a few laughs along the way, too.

Lynn Taylor is a national expert and spokesperson on career and hiring subjects, and currently serves as an advisor and consultant to executives facing workplace management issues. She is a speaker and the creator of the TOT series, which includes the book,Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT).

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.