Some workers are fortunate to have evenhanded, consistent relationships with their bosses. Others have to look out for missiles.

QHow do you advise coping with an unpredictable boss? Things go swimmingly for a while and then, out of the blue, comes a stinging reprimand. I'm reacting by trying to stay under the radar and do my work in the best way I know. Sometimes, though, this doesn't work. How can one protect herself from the irrationality?

APam Farr, president and chief operating officer of Cabot Advisory Group, a Bethesda workplace consulting firm, said that before this worker pursues a complaint against her boss, she ought to "take a long hard look at her conduct to ensure that she is meeting deadlines, following reasonable management instructions and not manipulating or inflaming the situation."

Even if the worker is satisfied that the boss can be blamed for the blowups, Farr said, she should still consider whether it is worth the battle that might ensue. "Quietly check around with co-workers to determine if you are the only person subjected to these harsh reprimands and seemingly unreasonable conduct of the supervisor.

"Once you step forward," Farr said, "you have to be prepared with specifics -- when these diatribes occur, what are the circumstances, what triggered them.

"The next time an outburst occurs, make some notes and look for patterns with past interactions," Farr said. "But don't take on a hostile person.

"Circle back within a reasonable amount of time, say 24 or 48 hours later, when everything has calmed down. You explain to the supervisor that looking through your lens, you think that his behavior has changed and you are confused. The supervisor may say, 'I didn't realize that I was so hostile.' "

But Farr acknowledged the manager may well reject the complaint. Some large companies have employee advocates skilled in employee dispute resolution, and Farr said the worker may want to contact that person for help. Or perhaps, Farr suggested, the worker may enlist the help of a peer of the boss.

In the end, if not much changes, Farr said the worker may want to look for other opportunities in the organization removed from the mercurial boss.

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com.