You Could Kill Your Dumb Boss, Or Try This

Today we offer a case study in how to talk to your boss, who is often either one of the following:

  • an incompetent boob
  • a crazy lunatic
  • an insensitive moron

or simply a nutcase.

It is absolutely amazing how many of us have absolutely awful managers. What did these people do to get the job they have? What did they say in their interview to wow the company suits? Bosses are people. They are human. Expecting superiority in the way they deal with challenges is to probably asking way too much from them.

Not all bosses are horrible. Some are authentic, kind mentors. Some are motivators, positive cheerleaders and coaches.

Many, though, are maniacs.

It’s possible your boss hates you. Maybe that’s too strong. There’s a chance you are not your bosses’ favorite person. That’s okay –  if they manage you like an adult, set clear expectations and treat you with respect around your colleagues. But what if it seems it’s personal?

I have a friend (I will call him DeShaun – not his real name) whose manager, Shari (not her real name) is an unpredictable nut job. His co-workers have asked him (privately), “What is her problem with you?” It’s obvious to the team. Imagine how embarrassing that would be for someone.

DeShaun performs his job at an exceptional level. He is popular in the office, and works well with everyone on the team. But Shari has on more than one occasion called him out in meetings and humiliated him in one-on-one settings.

Action was needed, for a couple of reasons – the stress of dealing with this boss was draining DeShaun. He was also scared of losing his job, for reasons he had no understanding of.

The Zombie Boss

We talked about ways to uncover the reasons why. DeShaun was exasperated. “I want to ask her, ‘What have I done to you? How am I failing you?’”

I told him that was the worst possible question. Shari would not tell him the truth if he asked that way. It also would put her on the defensive right out of the gate.

I advised him to walk into the office, sit down, act like nothing is wrong, and ask for his manager’s thoughts on a couple of crucial projects. DeShaun was banned from using the following words in response to questions from Shari.

  • but
  • why
  • you

Any word that reflected back on the manager, forcing them to respond in a defensive way, was forbidden.

I then recommended DeShaun should pause when Shari said something provocative, or said something in a way that was demeaning or childish. Consider the power of this brief stop. When you pause, you have choices. When you react in a knee-jerk (instant) way, you have eliminated any opportunity to try and respond another way. Your pause can be for a second, a few seconds, or maybe even a day!

DeShaun could have said, “That’s an interesting take. I’m going to really think about that before I answer. Thanks.” Consider how much strength that just gave you, and the choices you were just afforded.

Recap: nothing in the conversation DeShaun and Shari were about to have would require her to reflect. The conversation was about shared goals, moving forward, getting it done. Somewhere in the conversation, the answer to what Shari’s “problem” with DeShaun might be discovered.

Here’s what he emailed me this morning:

Hey man,

I think you made a very strong point that determined the outcome of the discussion: don’t start her off on the defensive.

Even though my approach was to confront her with my concerns and look for some approval or guidance to improve my behavior, she would have had to explain herself to me, and that would be me telling her what to do. It’s not a good base for a productive discussion.  She hates being told what to do.
I won’t say I ignored our issue.  I just emphasized what she cares about:  improving her projects and her success. Looking for ways that I can continue to meet those goals amicably was just part of the discussion.  This is what Shari said at the end of the meeting : “This is great.  I understand how all of my directives can be frustrating. I have too many moving targets. It can be frustrating, but you are doing a great job. This is a good plan. I think it will work very well.”

Thanks, DeShaun

Well. That’s a pretty good way to end a meeting, isn’t it?

Pause. Walk a mile in their shoes. Find points of agreement. Getting your way without the other knowing you did is not sneaky – it’s a winning way to communicate.

Picture of John ScottThere are 9 days left in John’s Kickstarter campaign to produce a hardcover version of his new book, “Destination:Reinvention”. Your backing makes it a reality. Find out more at

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