Brenda, age 36:
“I had asked for a raise and my boss, Ron, never set up a meeting. I asked him again and he gave me a 10% increase, but he also told me he would like me to work an extra four hours per week for the next sixty to ninety days. When I asked if I would be paid overtime, he answered, ‘Absolutely,’
“The first week he signed my paycheck, which included my increase and the four extra hours, he made a comment that it did not look right, but he wanted to let it go. The next week, when I gave him the paychecks to be signed, he blew up! He said I was gouging him – I was taking advantage of him. He denied remembering that I had asked him specifically about being paid for the extra time I was working. Then he went on to rant and rave about other things that had nothing to do with me.”
“My first reaction was feeling guilty for disappointing him. That feeling passed and was followed by the desire to point out that he was wrong and making a false accusation. After a few more seconds, however, I realized that his anger wasn’t about me and wasn’t about taking advantage of him. I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I did not take it personally. I sat there quietly as he finished signing all the checks, belly-aching all the while. I did not mind being silent at all. I didn’t have anything to say, so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t feel threatened or devastated. I was not guilty of anything. I didn’t feel irresponsible as I sat there letting the waves of his anger wash over me. I was not responsible for causing his distress or for relieving it.”
“However, I did feel hurt by his unfounded attack. I also felt disappointed in him as a manager. I had trusted him to be a mature, competent person, and I felt that he had betrayed my trust by behaving in this inappropriate manner. But the loss was more his than mine. I was not standing in judgment on this unhappy man. I was merely regretting that it had happened. I was aware he had lost control and that he could lose it again at any time. Perhaps I had put him on a pedestal before. Now, I have found that he is merely an imperfect human being like the rest of us. I felt a sense of loss. It was the trust I used to have in him. He had made it hard for me to trust him.”
“Previously, I would have felt crushed and annihilated like an ant that had been stepped on. This time, however, I didn’t take it personally. I was able to cope with a painful, potentially destructive situation. I realized that I had made a very significant choice. I had chosen to stop reacting to someone else’s standards and started to live on my own terms. Instead of trying to correct his thinking or placate him or make him ‘understand my position,’ I made a real choice for myself:
a) I chose not to take his onslaught personally, as if it were a reflection on my worth as a person.
b) I did not perceive it as a victimization because I managed to respect myself as a worthwhile human being in spite of the hurtful things he was saying.
c) I was able to consider the source – ‘It’s only old Ron ranting again.’
d) I was able to identify the anger as it rose up in me. I managed it like a grownup. I accepted my right to be angry in the present. I didn’t suppress it, I didn’t let it blow up out of proportion to what really happened. I stayed focused on what was happening in reality. I wrote Ron an anger letter and tore it up. It wasn’t for him, it was for me.”
“I am sure that, by restraining my old impulses, I avoided aggravating Ron’s anger problem. I allowed the storm to run its course in a much shorter time. I wasn’t out of control, I was in control of myself. It wasn’t nearly as hard to do as I thought it would be at first, and I know I can do it again any time.”
“After it blew over, Ron went on with his business like nothing had happened. In a sense, nothing had, nothing that made sense in the real world anyway. It was unpleasant, it was scary, and I wish it wouldn’t happen. But if and when it does, I am confident that I will be able to ride it out again. Since I’ve stopped taking it so personally, my anxiety is a lot better.”
“I could quit my job and go to work for someone else. But who is to say that the next boss will be any different? I am already beginning to see that as I get out of Ron’s way and let his anger run its course, these anger attacks end sooner and sooner each time. Also, they are coming farther apart. That is encouraging. I know that Ron isn’t perfect, but I’m not perfect either. He puts up with me, I can put up with him, in spite of his faults and imperfections.”
“I am not a worse employee because of Ron’s angry words. I will never be inferior nor will I be superior, I will always be good enough. My mistake was to take his kid stuff personally which I can stop doing any time I choose. I can also choose to identify his insults as absurd nonsense and not take them seriously. If he called me a purple elephant, I don’t change colors and grow a trunk. If he says the world is flat and the grass is pink, it doesn’t means it true. In a way, he is demonstrating that his arguments are bankrupt and he is regressing to this absurd, childish level of debate because he is out of ammo. I can chose to be an adult and act as a model of respect.”
Angry boss image available from Shutterstock.