Purdue News

June 30, 2006

Expert: Information, facts key to dealing with an unreasonable boss

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Like the characters in the new movie "The Devil Wears Prada," millions of workers are subjected to difficult bosses, but a Purdue University expert says there are ways employees can cope with managerial meanness.

In the movie that opens nationwide Friday (June 30), Meryl Streep plays a ruthless magazine editor who frequently doles out insults and unreasonable demands, making life unbearable for her staff.

"Although there are many different kinds of bosses, bad boss behavior usually stems from the supervisor throwing his or her power around," says William Krug, an associate professor and head of Purdue's Department of Organizational Leadership and Supervision in the College of Technology. "Some even take a certain delight in being difficult."

He says the first step in dealing with a bad boss is to determine what kind of boss you have.

Krug says bad bosses usually fall into one of four types: controllers, analyzers, promoters and supporters. Controllers are demanding and insist that things be done their way; analyzers like a lot of information but have trouble making decisions; promoters are enthusiastic, dislike detail, like to make quick decisions but often lack follow-up; and supporters are seen as the "nice" bosses who consider their workers' feelings when making decisions but can be taken advantage of.

Krug says workers can use this information to determine how best to deal with an out-of-control supervisor. For instance, if "analyzer" bosses seem upset, employees should provide them with adequate facts about the situation. On the other hand, employees who provide the same amount of detail to a "promoter" boss can make things worse.

Krug says that while each type of boss has both good and bad points, he recommends three general strategies that employees should use when dealing with an angry, difficult boss:

• Make sure you are accurate. "Always make sure that you are familiar with what you are saying and that your facts and figures are right," Krug says. "If what you are saying is inaccurate, it gives your boss an edge, even if the way he or she is treating you is wrong."

• Always document. "Presenting facts is a great way to circumvent the emotional thought process that often goes on between boss and employee," he says. "Documentation has been made easier with e-mail because it gives you a clear trail of happened, when it happened and what action was taken, which can help prove you are not at fault."

• In a dispute, allow your boss to be the decision maker. "If you say, 'The only thing we can do is this,' that can make a boss angrier," Krug says. "But if you can offer a few options, that can help diffuse the situation."

He says these strategies help because they tend to have a calming effect.

"When a boss gets angry, the employee's brain shifts into fight-or-flight mode, and it's hard to think straight," Krug says. "But if you are ready with clear, accurate facts at all times, it tends to have a calming effect. The key is to always be prepared."

Krug says repairing employer-employee relations is vital to creating and maintaining a healthy workplace.

"What happens is that bad bosses often chase off the best employees — approximately 10 percent of the workers — because these workers can get a job anywhere they want. Then the organization is left with a large group of average workers. This really affects motivation, and workplaces that experience this often have higher turnover."

Writer: Kim Medaris, (765) 494-6998, kmedaris@purdue.edu

Source: William Krug, (765) 494.5614, krugw@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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