How to deal with a ‘psycho boss’?

“My boss is a psycho!” Have you ever heard or used that phrase? I’ve heard it many times in my career. It is not intended to conjure images of maniacal killers rampaging through the streets, more to depict the type of behaviours they exhibit in the working environment. Indeed, research has shown that as many as 1 in 5 leaders and managers, often described as ‘psycho bosses’, do have borderline personality disorders.

Psycho boss imageThe behaviour of a ‘psycho boss’ tends to reflect psychopathic tendencies – they are firmly results-driven, ruthless and will often use charisma to get what they want out of staff and colleagues. Interestingly, their focus on results is what most organisations want and tend to reward. Thus, they typically move through organisational hierarchies with a degree of ease and so, odds are, you will encounter a ‘psycho boss’.

Of course, you might just have a driven leader. What sets them apart from ‘psycho bosses’? Broadly speaking, psycho bosses give clues in their behaviour. They will regularly take credit for ideas and achievements of others. They will charm you to your face and stab you, metaphorically speaking, the moment your back is turned. When confronted about their negative behaviours, they will show no remorse. They will often lie to serve their purpose and they can be very manipulative. Most likely, you will feel you cannot work hard enough or effectively enough to satisfy them.

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Does any of this sound familiar? Have you or do you encounter this in your workspace? Not to worry, it is more common than you might believe. More importantly, there are ways you can address this type of behaviour without losing your sanity or equilibrium. Managing the relationship is the key. Ideally, you should:

  1. Learn to become an expert at what you do. This makes it hard for anyone to criticise you
  2. Avoid provoking attacks on yourself. The simplest way to do that is to hold your counsel if you believe they are wrong. Do not say this to them, not even in private. A ‘psycho boss’ will find a way to punish you if you do so.
  3. Identify early on in your relationship what motivates your boss – this may often be, for example, power, status, money, knowledge, or greed? When you interact with your boss bear these motivators in mind and tap into them.
  4. Pay close attention to how they behave. They will have regular and consistent patterns of behaviour, which you can learn. Use that knowledge to predict what comes next and take appropriate action.
  5. Respond wisely, holding your emotions in check. Remember, a ‘psycho boss’ will see you as a resource, nothing more. Arguing may make you feel temporarily better though in the long term it may just make things worse.
  6. Find a way to vent when you’re having a difficult day. Break the cycle. Take a walk, have some strenuous exercise, eat lunch in a quiet, green space, or have a trusted friend on hand to off-load to. Whatever suits you best, take advantage of it, as it will help build your resilience and make you more effective in managing your thoughts and feelings.

Remember, once a psycho boss forms their behaviour patterns and the habits that underpin them, they are almost impossible to break. So stay focused on managing your side of the relationship. You will be much the better for that.

If you’ve worked with a ‘psycho boss’ before, I’d be delighted to hear of other techniques and approaches you’ve used to manage that relationship. It is a subject dear to many peoples’ hearts and I’m sure they would welcome any tools and tips you’d care to share. I know I would.

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