A reader writes:
I am a working for a 69-year-old woman (owner of a small company) who feels threatened by me. She is highly insecure, and though I have been kind to her, she consistently tries to bully and manipulate me into confrontational (and totally irrational) conversations. The partner in the office noticed her feeling threatened and thinks she is trying to get me to leave. I have only been with the company 5 months and have had great successes with the partner in the short time I have been there. The partner gave me a raise after 3 months.
It seemed to have escalated after I witnessed her and the partner having a shouting match and her in tears. She cries a lot, takes everything personally, shared too much personal information with me, badmouthed the partner to me, all in spite of my asking her to respect those boundaries several times.
How can I handle a crazy boss and maintain my cool? Everyone seems to walk on eggshells around her or roll their eyes. I would love your insight on how to handle this.
There aren't a ton of good options. My first piece of advice is probably the hardest to swallow, and it's this: It's her company; she's the owner. This means that she's entitled to be as crappy of a boss as she wants (and it sounds like she's a pretty crappy one), if that's the sort of business she wants to run. But you are also entitled to choose not to accept those conditions and go elsewhere.
People who bully and manipulate and generally behave like asses are highly unlikely to change, especially with no one above them to insist upon it.
Of course, in this economy, it may be harder to just walk away than at other times. So if you can't leave quickly, the following may help:
* Ask the partner who likes you for advice on handling the situation.
* Ask the owner herself for feedback and things she'd like to see you do differently. If nothing else, you might get some insight into her thinking, which is useful even if her thinking is utterly insane.
* Accept you have a crazy boss and that you need to play along until you can put the real solution into action, which is to leave. Sometimes simply accepting it and realizing that you won't get anywhere by struggling against it can actually make situations like this more tolerable. But it's an unhealthy environment to be in for a long time, which is why ultimately, you probably should plan to find a boss who doesn't cry and bully people.