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First Step in Managing a Crazy Boss: Start Talking

Gil Schwartz, head of corporate communications for CBS, writes workplace advice under the name Stanley Bing.
Gil Schwartz, head of corporate communications for CBS, writes workplace advice under the name Stanley Bing. (By Tina Fineberg -- Associated Press)

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, August 12, 2007

I once had a boss who had a habit of walking up behind me while I was on the telephone or working at my computer and then just standing there with a notepad in hand until I finished whatever I was doing.

It was so aggravating. I would spend a lot of time turning around to see if she had crept up behind me. When I complained about this to my husband, he suggested that I talk to her about how I felt.

"Talk to her?" I said. "I can't do that."

"Why not?" he asked.

I didn't have a good reason.

So I arranged for us to have lunch. I couldn't sleep the night before. But we met and talked, and it seemed that she wasn't trying to annoy me. She had no idea that her behavior was maddening. She apologized, and we became good friends.

Maybe what is driving you to distraction at work or causing you to update your résumé could be stopped with a conversation or two, said Gil Schwartz, executive vice president of corporate communications at CBS. Schwartz, who writes under the pen name Stanley Bing, is an authority on the nutty behavior of bosses. His book "Crazy Bosses" was last month's Color of Money Book Club selection.

Schwartz joined me online recently to take questions from workers struggling with crazy communication and relationships at work. Schwartz and I saw plenty in our online discussion to confirm the conclusions of the 2007 Job Satisfaction Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. The survey found that good relationships with immediate supervisors and communication with senior management ranked among the top five things employees consider necessary to be happy on the job.

From the dozens of questions we received, it was clear that many employees are frustrated with their work situations. I asked Schwartz to answer some questions he couldn't get to during the discussion.

One person wrote: "How can someone truly and effectively stand up to a bad boss and not risk his or her job? Do you just give up and go find another job?"

"I never believe that giving up and finding a new job is a viable strategy except where actual physical torture is involved, and even then a lawyer instead of a headhunter might be in order," Schwartz said. "To make it in this business world and remain sane, you have to work hard to manage the boss, no matter how crazy that person may be."

To manage a difficult boss, it's critical to demonstrate high competence, patience and strategic thinking, Schwartz said.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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