Work Relationships

7 tips for dealing with a psycho boss

Written by Kate Lopaze

Even the best boss can seem like a tyrant sometimes. But did you know that some bosses are actually psychopaths? According to an Australian study, 1 out of 5 corporate executives exhibited clinically psychopathic traits. (For reference, the rate of psychopaths, in general, is 1 out of every 100 people.) Whether your difficult boss is psychotically inclined or not, here are 7 strategies you can use to deflate potential bad boss situations.

1. Determine what you’re dealing with.

Is your boss just having a bad day, or is he like this all the time? Is she dealing with other factors (pressure from above, employees flaking out, etc.) that are making her be extra hard on you? Or are you being too hard on her? Think about what may be causing the behavior. It might not justify it, or make the behavior any more pleasant to deal with, but everyone has a bad day. It’s important to consider whether this is truly your boss’s default way of working, or if it’s just a one-off problem.

2. Get everything in writing.

If your boss is a chaos-producer by asking for something, then claiming later that you were asked for something entirely different, it’s your word against theirs. Write down what you can—for example, if you were given verbal instructions, confirm in a quick email just so everyone has a written record of what was discussed/asked.

3. Stop and take a breath.

If you’re having a conflict with your boss, jumping right in with a heated reaction could be something you’ll regret later. Take a minute, breathe, and think about your reaction. Again, thinking about the “why” behind your boss’s behavior can also help prevent you from reacting from a place of pure stress.

4. Know and avoid the triggers.

Does your boss always fly off the handle when someone is late? Be extra mindful of your arrival time. Rant about typos in an email? Proofread twice before you hit “send.” If there’s a pattern to Angry Boss’s behavior, it’s definitely in your best interest to know what that pattern is and learn how to counteract those triggers before they happen.

5. Use communication strategies.

This is a common therapeutic method for improving communication. Use active listening by repeating back what was said, and asking for clarification if necessary. Many conflicts are due to people not feeling listened to or understood, so if your boss thinks you’re not listening, it can escalate a conflict.

6. Don’t let it derail you.

You have a job to do, and if you let a toxic relationship with your boss affect your work and your behavior, that’s not going to help you. Try not to take it personally or let it affect the quality of your work. If you find yourself blowing things off out of frustration with your boss, that can make your professional rep suffer.

7. Escalate if necessary.

If your company has ways to confidentially air your concerns to HR (or a similar employee resource) and you feel like things are reaching a breaking point, consider taking your issues to them. If you dread going to work every day because of the misery that awaits you for the next eight hours, that’s not a situation that’s good for you or your company—consider finding an internal (and neutral) way to bring up the situation.

We’ve all had a toxic boss at some point in our careers. Sometimes it gets better, and sometimes you just have to move on. Either way, don’t let it ruin your professional life in the meantime.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.