Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is Your Boss a Michael Scott?

One of my favorite T.V. shows is The Office, which depicts the frequent absurdity of corporate work life. The characters on the show are really fun to watch, especially the branch supervisor, Michael Scott. I think everyone has had at least one experience with a boss that drives them crazy. This person may not be malicious—they may be doing the best they can—but it is clear to all of their employees that they should not have a managerial position.

Managing a difficult boss is more challenging than dealing with a difficult co-worker. This is due to the power discrepancy between employee and boss. Employees Jim and Dwight constantly tease and play practical jokes on each other in The Office. They are act like quarreling little kids until Michael, their boss, intervenes. Michael is not subjected to the same kind of teasing because he is theoretically their superior at work and has some influence over their professional lives. Michael has good intentions, but he is often inappropriate and offensive. The Office employees tend to roll their eyes at Michael behind his back to blow off some of their aggression. No one, except maybe Toby in Human Resources, really feels like they can confront Michael about his behavior. Being the boss (at least on the show) gives you a free pass to let your crazy out.

It can be very frustrating to deal with a difficult boss. Many of us spend over forty hours a week at work and log more time with our co-workers more than with our families! If you have a difficult boss, it may help to write down all the things that drive you crazy about them. (Maybe do this at home, so your boss doesn’t accidentally find it). Can you change any of your own behavior to affect change with your boss? For example, what do you do if your boss is a chatty Kathy who monopolizes your time and keeps you from finishing work? Can you simply close your office door more frequently so that you are less available to him or her? Can you say something to your boss, such as, “Gosh that is an interesting story about bone meal, but I should really go and finish those quarterly reports?” Would your boss be receptive to discussing some of the issues directly? Always consider the consequences of confronting someone, as well as your ultimate objective. Also choose a time when neither you nor your supervisor is angry or upset.

Try to empathize with your boss. Why is this person so difficult? It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it might help you to understand them more and see them as more human. Also, you may need to make it a regular habit to just vent about the situation to a trusted friend, partner, or therapist. Use caution when venting to other co-workers. Workplaces tend to be political environments and while other co-workers may be feeling your pain, don’t compromise your own professionalism.

"People ask me, would you rather be feared or loved, um easy, I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."—Michael Scott, The Office

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