I spent almost 10 years working in the public service and in that time, I have had over two dozen superiors – made up of immediate supervisors and division heads – that I worked closely with. A few of them were some of the most brilliant people I’ve met and have shaped who I am as a person and professional.
However; several of them were bullies and a small handful were complete psychopaths who need immediate and intense therapy. Unfortunately, almost all of the insane bosses I had were women. If some of them are reading this post (because I know you are) GET HELP.
Thankfully, I now work for myself and no longer have to be subjected to the whims of dysfunctional people who take pleasure from ruining the lives of others.
Although some workplace bullies are obvious with their tactics and could potentially be held accountable, many behave in a way that tears you down without you being able to explain exactly what they’re doing.
These are traumatic experiences and I don’t want you or I to have to relive it. I do, however, want to validate what you consider to be signs that your boss is insane and give you tips for how to manage a terrible boss.
This post will outline 13 ways that psychopathic bosses make your life hell using gifs from my favourite show, The Office, my favourite TV show ever.
These are things that you know are bullying but you can’t explain why…
1. You never know where you stand with them
One of the things you’ll quickly realise with psychopathic bullies is that you don’t quite know where you stand with them. You’re never sure what they think of you. Some days you think they hate you, then you think they might like you.
A normal boss won’t let you question where you stand with them. They give you timely, constructive feedback. If you feel your boss is leaving things too vague for comfort, set up a meeting with them in their calendar that states that you’re specifically looking for feedback. This leaves a paper trail demonstrating that you’re being a grown up.
There was one awful woman who supervised me who would tell everyone how much I sucked. I set up one of those meetings with her and gave her every opportunity to say it to my face. Instead, she told me that the sun shines out of my butt. I was able to tell the people she spoke shit to just how great she thought I was.
2. They turn colleagues against each other
Psycho bosses like to turn staff in their teams against each other. The instability makes it easier for them to mess with people.
They might do this by either playing favourites to build resentment or by spreading small amounts of gossip amongst their team. This is incredibly childish and destructive behaviour.
You should never engage in this behaviour with them. Never share a negative opinion about your colleagues. Never spread the gossip they tell you. Remember that your colleagues are only human too and have their own pressures (including your psycho boss) to deal with.
3. They’re two (or three or four) faced
Psycho bosses have an amazing ability to hide who they really are. They often have several personas that they put on. Sometimes you’ll find that they’re jerks to people below them and kiss the butts of those above them. This was the preferred approach of one of my least favourite bosses. She would put on a flirty, giggly demeanour to our senior executives who thought she was delightful. Underneath that facade, she was a venomous snake.
Don’t read this person’s motivations and intent based on what they say – look to their actions. Ask yourself ‘is this person trying to help or hurt me?’ Don’t feel like you have to warn your executives about that person. It is unlikely to do you any good.
4. They micromanage everything you do
One think you’ll find with psycho bosses is they’re not very good at their jobs. It might be part of the reason they turn to such hurtful behaviour – they know they’re not going anywhere based on merit. These bosses will ‘correct’ your work with idiotic, asinine changes that only slow you down. They’ll want to make you do things in a way that you don’t think will work.
There is no point trying to convince them otherwise. I strongly recommend that you advise them about how things should be done – in writing preferably. Then (unless it’s illegal) do things the way they want to. If you’re ever called into question, you’ll have evidence that you gave them the right answer and they ignored it.
5. They think way too highly of themselves
EYE. ROLL. Psychopathic bosses are convinced that they’re the greatest and smartest gift to mankind.
The solution to this one is pretty simple. Ignore it.
6. They attribute wins to themselves and losses to you
I’ve noticed that the best sign that your boss is normal is that they make sure to credit people who have done something particularly well. However insane bosses make sure that failures are the team’s fault and win’s are attributable to their greatness.
This is where team spirit is important. Take the opportunity to publicly thank your colleagues when they help you or do a great job. Do it in emails and team meetings. Also, keep your own record of your wins. This will enable you to stay strong as they slowly grind you down.
7. Everything seems to go better when they’re not around
Your boss should be the heart and soul of a team; they should be navigating and leading in a way that makes things better. That’s why there is nothing better than a psychopathic boss calling in sick or taking a day of leave. You know they can’t be there to make you miserable or ruin something you’ve worked on. It’s like you are on holiday as well.
Make the most of this time. Use it to recuperate and have lunch with your colleagues.
8. They lie. A lot. Even about tiny things.
One of the ways that psychopathic bosses make you feel crazy is by lying about a lot of things. Most of the time, the lies are so insignificant that they don’t seem to even matter or make a difference.
You don’t have to correct this person if you don’t think you can (or if you think it will make things worse). However; you don’t have to let their lies manipulate your truth. You know what’s real. You know what you said. You know what they said. Don’t let them convince you otherwise.
9. They treat you differently in private
Psychopathic bosses have this knack for treating you one way in public and another in private. I had a pycho boss who was SO nice to me in private but couldn’t bring herself to be even half decent in public. It was like her insecurity was so crippling that she couldn’t tell people I was doing a good job but was too cowardly to tell me she didn’t like me to my face.
If you’re having the opposite problem, you should make sure to take notes during every meeting. You can be obvious about it too – tell them you’re taking notes. If they’re unwilling to let you (I’ve had this happen before too…) take notes immediately after the meeting. Are you noticing a theme here? Keep records!
10. They make you lose the motivation to work
Terrible bosses can easily destroy your motivation to achieve anything. Dealing with them takes so much energy so it’s easy to see why people can be so unwilling to do any actual work around them.
Don’t let their negativity hurt you and your career. Do a good job for yourself. Do it because it feels good to work hard and achieve things at work. Also, do it because you don’t need to ruin your professional reputation because that’s all your idiot boss wants.
11. They make you cry
This is an obvious one. Psychotic bosses are really good at making you cry. They mess with your emotions and make you feel incredibly insignificant. They can make you feel ridiculous for feeling so upset about it too.
You absolutely need a support network of understanding family and friends. You also need to seek the help of your doctor or a psychologist to help you deal with the feelings of anxiety or depression. For people who don’t want to speak to someone in person, there are now a whole lot of online mental health services too. You can check out the MindSpot Clinic or e-couch who undertake assessments and offer courses to help you better deal with your symptoms.
Remember; you are not weak for feeling this way.
12. They like to pretend to be your friend
13. A lot of what they say or do is problematic but you don’t always know why
One of the biggest problems with psychotic bosses is that it can be really hard to pinpoint why they’re a problem. You know know in your gut that there’s something wrong with them and the way they behave. You know you can’t trust them even while they’re trying to be trustworthy.
Sometimes it’s just the little things they do that feel insignificant at the time, so you try to brush them aside.
Trust your instincts! Humans are incredible at processing information and sometimes your brain just reads so much data that it’s hard to pinpoint a thought. There is an entire theory about unconscious cognition. But if your mind and gut are yelling at you to be careful, trust this response. Do not trust them.
Now it’s your turn. I would love if you shared some traits of your psychopathic bosses or how you’ve personally managed those relationships in the comments below.
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