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Coping with a Toxic Boss – “ERIC THE ERRATIC ONE”

Surviving the Toxic Workplace, by Linnda DurreBy Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.

As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years.  In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.

In my column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender.  Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the DictatorBashia the BackstabberSewell the Sexual HarasserCarl the Control FreakPaula the Passive AggressiveClayton the CluelessGreta the GossipSusie the Sugar CoaterIan the Idea StealerAl the AlcoholicNancy the NarcissistDonald the Deal Maker,Vernon the Verbal AttackerBobby the Boss’s RelativeCynthia the Silent Treatment TorturerPhil the PhilandererNed the NegligentSal the Slave DriverPorter the Political Soap BoxerMichael the MicromanagerWade the One UpperBetty the Battle Axe, Phoebe the PhonyPeter the PigBill the Big Picture BossDan the Detail BossEllery the YellerSandy the Snob, Blaine the Blamer, and Winnie the Whiner.

THE SITUATION

Eric changes his mind constantly.  He is moody and you never know what he’s going to say and do next. You feel like you are walking on egg shells all the time.  You don’t know if he’s going to applaud you or fire you.  Job security is not a quality you feel in your position.  Eric can be elated one minute and then deeply depressed the next – communicative and talkative one day and totally silent and isolated the next day. His moods fluctuate often and intensely – the good moods can last every morning and then turn dark in the afternoons, or Eric can be positive for days and then turn angry and critical for the next week.  It’s unpredictable.  In psych jargon, what you are experiencing is known as intermittent reinforcement and it’s the most maddening thing to deal with because of Eric’s unpredictable moods.  There is no predictable pattern to how he will treat you.  You feel hyper-vigilant always on the look out, trying to read his moods. Sometimes you think it’s your fault or something you’ve said or done. It’s NOT!

Other people in the department experience the same thing and you find solace that it’s not just you who experiences this. They, like you, don’t know whether Eric is going to give them a compliment or start screaming that they’re incompetent. They are clueless to know if Eric is going to totally change the direction of the project and scrap everything that people have been working on for weeks or months or tell them that it’s fine and congratulate them on a job well done.  Working for Eric is frustrating at best.

Most co-workers are too frightened to say anything. It may be difficult to get your fellow employees to talk, back you up, or say anything if and when you go to HR.  But they all feel like Eric is wasting their time and the company’s money by giving people different directions and then changing his mind again, for the second or even the tenth time!  And they are correct.  The company has the right to know if Eric is wasting company money and employee time.  And it may be up to you to inform them.  Best to go to HR for this.

THE EXPLANATION

Eric may have biochemical disorders: either attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.), or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and/or bi-polar disorder, also known as manic-depression.  He may even have ADD and bipolar disorder or ADHD and bipolar disorder.  It is important to read up on the symptoms of all three disorders, since many times they can look very similar. The DSM-IV has listings that will educate you in your search as will other websites on the Internet, such as Web M.D.  The medication and treatment for these different maladies are very different and a professional evaluation and diagnosis is crucial for proper handling of these conditions.

A.D.D. exhibits symptoms that include distractibility, short attention span, lack of focus and poor concentration, inability or impairment to finish things, procrastination, forgetfulness, impaired memory, spaciness, disorganization, and poor time management – being late for or totally forgetting appointments and assignments.

ADHD can have all or some of the symptoms of A.D.D. listed above, with the added factors of hyperactivity and inability to sit still. Rocking, moving, twitching, foot shaking, finger tapping, and other such tics can all be additional characteristics.

Bi-polar disorder is a biochemical imbalance – mostly genetic and found in the family tree somewhere – due to a lack of Lithium, which is a naturally occurring body salt that is found in the blood. There can be episodes of mania or depression, or a combination of both that can be rapid cycling – changing hourly – or the cycling can occur over the span of several days, weeks, or months going from highs – rapid speech, thought racing, enormous spurts of energy, high productivity, impulsive spending, sexual promiscuity or high sexual energy – to depression – crying, lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, futility, low self-esteem, and worthlessness; sleeping too much, and suicidal ideation and/or attempts.

Many times people with ADD, ADHD, and/or bi-polar disorder are in denial about what they have, don’t want to find out, or are so used to their disabilities that it is “normal” to them. They tend to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, including, but not limited to, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.   These do not get at the root cause of the disorder and can be addictive.  Eric needs to see a qualified psychiatrist and get on the proper medication.  It will definitely help him.

THE SOLUTION

You may need to go to HR first to handle the more delicate aspects of confronting Eric on his A.D.D., ADHD, and/or his bi-polar disorder.  If you have a sympathetic HR director, they need to be aware of how Eric is driving you and other people in the department crazy.  Bring a list of all of his transgressions that have occurred – what days and times – how and when Eric changed his mind about projects, flew off the handle, didn’t show up for meetings or work, cost the company time and money, didn’t meet project deadlines, felt the project was hopeless, scraped the entire thing, etc.  The company has a right to know the facts.

You may need to inform HR that you and others believe that Eric may have A.D.D. ADHD, and/or bi-polar disorder and Eric may need medication and to see a psychiatrist.  Go into HR with handouts from professional websites and send them links about both disorders that you have found from credible and professional links on the Internet. These would include the DSM-IV [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual from the American Psychiatric Association].

If you don’t have an HR department that is willing to do this, you may have to go to Eric’s boss.  He may be too busy to know what has been going on.  Bring the list of Eric’s transgressions and the Internet research and print outs on bi-polar disorder and ADD/ADHD with you.

If you feel you can’t do that or if Eric is the company owner and doesn’t have a boss, then take your conversation with Eric in a series of small steps, starting with a gentle discussion of how everyone wants to do the best job they can in finishing the project – it’s just that the game plan changes constantly and you and other employees would like that to stop. Give him the examples.  Be prepared, however, to be fired if Eric is in a very impulsive state and doesn’t want to hear the facts.  You may want to start out gently with compliments first and say something like this:

Eric, I admire your creativity and your ability to switch gears very quickly.  You are able to multi-task very well and that is a gift. What I find difficult to deal with is that you change your mind so often that I rarely remember what you wanted me to do in the first place.  And then when I’m half way through an assignment, you change it completely, which has wasted my time, energy and efforts, as well as wasted the company money and productivity.  I’d like you to think a little more completely before you give me an assignment so I can save myself and the company the time and effort that goes into my work.  That way we all win and the company doesn’t get any complaints from about why certain projects may be behind schedule.  I would be happy to sit down with you and strategize how you’d like each project to be finalized – how you visualize the goals, accomplishments, and end results of what we’re working on.  If we could do that together, I could help you to be more specific with others in the department and they would feel more secure in the direction of their assignments. I hope you can do that because I really love my job and I enjoy working for this company.”

If you pass the first conversation with Eric, and feel Eric is listening, then work up to you feeling more secure about discussing A.D.D., ADHD, and/or bi-polar disorder. Or you may want to wait a few days or weeks to see if there has been any improvement.  Either way, bring the articles with you and suggest that Eric see his physician and a psychiatrist to help him understand the erratic nature of his behavior.  Once again, be prepared to be fired, since his impulsivity can return at any moment.   You may want to say something like this:

“Eric, I enjoy working with you, and I am concerned about what I experience as unpredictable mood swings.  I’ve done some reading and I have some articles here that I thought would be helpful to you. Perhaps you want to get a check-up with your physician or consult a psychiatrist about your symptoms. I’m sure they can help you and it’s covered under our insurance plan. I hope that you can seek help because I enjoy my job and would like the constant changing of plans to stabilize. If there’s anything I can do to help you, please let me know.”

I hope this helps in dealing with Eric the Erratic one.

—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, international speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com Her book interviews include Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Investors Business Daily, Inc Magazine, Monster, AOL, Yahoo, and others.

She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her atLinnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620  or 323-333-1393.

Coping with a Toxic Boss – “ERIC THE ERRATIC ONE”
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