Show me the man who has never cursed his boss, and I will show you a saint or a simpleton. Boss-berating is a parlor game played everywhere, from neighborhood bar to country club.
All of us have indulged in the (all right, it's satisfying ) activity from time to time. But there are degrees of boss-hating.
There's the man or woman who, during a Friday afternoon Happy Hour, tells all who will listen that his/her boss is insensitive, infuriating, and inhuman -- a perfect SOB if there ever was one. Listeners nod approvingly, and if they can get a word in edgewise, will try to top the story. This "first-degree" catharsis may be therapeutically valuable.
The more consistent "second-degree" boss denigraters spend a great deal of time -- on and off the job -- venturing their anit-boss feelings. gMost of them (men and women) remain civil in tone and reasonably factual (as they see the facts) in their appraisals.
And then there are the "third-degree-ers," strong on epithets and strong in conviction, but usually weak in evidence. On the basis of my ongoing and unscientific study, they form a minority of virtulent, not-to-be appeased haters who spend much of their days and nights, holidays and vacations, running down the boss. They are vocal, they are ready to damn the man at the helm -- be he a chief executive officer or factory foreman -- at the slightest provocation, and often without it.
They love their avocation, and one often wonders how they get any work done at all.
I found myself thinking about what makes people spend so much time cursing their bosses one morning, when I had two separate conversations with a man and a woman. Both -- well-educated and of above-average intelligence -- ringingly consigned their respective superiors to life eternal in a very warm place. Terms such as "corporate mossback," "idea-killer," "dictator" and "initiative-stifler," among others, swirled through the morning air.
Those two otherwise well-balanced people had decided to seek new employment to escape their bondage. Would they merely exchange one target for another?
There is a certain vagueness in the complaints men and women of every "degree" launch against the boss. They range from "he is giving me too much to do" (sometimes true, frequently not), to "he doesn't pay attention when I talk to him" (what's being said may not be worth the listening), to "why didn't he give me the assignment yesterday, if he wanted me to complete it today?"
When I had bosses (I still do, but now they're called clients), I knew that they were wrong about most everything. In particular one of them.
That boss did not understand us, our ideas, or our methods. My colleagues and I prided outselves, as writers on a national magazine, on being creative; our managing editor was "merely" an administrator, a mover of commas and killer of great ideas. Miraculously, "in spite of him, we managed to publish a successful publication.
Today I think of him as an almost ideal boss, understanding of our "creative" (translate: difficult) personalities and careful not to bruise our sensitive egos.
The passage of time can alter boss images.
Not too long ago, I ran into an old boss of mine whom I considered the personification of arrogance and indeciveness. He now seemed decisive and far-sighted. When I had worked for him, I felt that he grossly misunderstood my ways; now I wonder if I had not misunderstood his.
Bosses, past or present, are rarely candidates for sainthood. But saintly or otherwise, they seem to exist to be complained about.
It is natural for us to object to those who occasionally -- or often -- can make us do things we don't want to do, and at moments find inconveient. But is that why we love to hate them?
To get some professional answers I turned to psychologists Thelma Hunt and Clyde Lindley, who run the Center for Psychological Service, which helps organizations, including federal, state, and municipal agencies, deal with personnel problems.
The team of Hunt and Lindley turned out to be irreverant, cheerful and self-mocking ("Believe it or not, we don't have all the answers to your questions"). When I asked if anti-boss talk was caused by a dislike of Authority, they smiled and shook their heads.
"Well," they conceded, "perhaps a little. But that's not the complete answer. Definately not. Though, of course, some people are across-the-board authority haters."
With Hunt nodding vigorous agreement, Lindley pointed out that not everyone hates the boss. "On the contrary, whether they admit it or not, quite a few people actually identify with him. May women in particular actually look on the boss as a father figure. Some men do to."
In many cases, say Hunt and Lindely, the boss is not the problem at all. Merely a convient target.
Lindley, former president of the American Board of Counseling: "Some people hate their jobs, hate what they do, and take it out on the boss."
Hunt professor emeritus of psychology at George Washington University: "They don't always realize what the real problem is. But you also have to recognize that some people hate themselves. And quite a few are unhappy with the present state of their existence."
And of course, they note, anti-boss sentiment can arise from minor causes. "There are some sensitive souls who go thrugh life misinterpreting events and people."
Such as? Well, the boss goes to the water cooler, and he meets such a sensitive soul in the hall and does not return his greeting, or walks by the open door of another and neglects to wave. Immediately such people will feel slighted and the stirrings of a grudge may develop.
On the other hand, there are people who have a definite idea of how a boss should behave -- you might say they have a vision of a boss -- and if he fails to meauser up (if he is "too human, too friendly, too approachable") according to that vision, there can be resentment, contempt, even anti-boss hostility.
"But," adds Hunt quickly, "we are not apologists for bosses. There are many of them who deserve their reputations, and who are truly deserving of their employe's dislike. For example, the dictator, the inept manager, and the supervisor who totally disregards the feelings of his staff.
"Take the one who will tell you that you are out of line, but who never explains why. Or the one who gives you hell in front of your peers."
The boss going -- un-wittingly -- to the water cooler is not necessarily (a) an ogre, (b) mad at you, or (c) an employe-hater. He may be tired, under stress, or thinking about a delicate business decision.
And bosses, after all, have bosses (and you know what they're like!). The foreman has his boss, the marketing director his, and the man with three stars salutes the man with just one more. The president of CEO has his board of directors.
What to do?
Before you continue your "feud" with bosses, say Hunt and Lindley, try to analyze the man or woman who is your leader. One problem may lie in his career background. Perhaps he is an ex-military man who has not yet realized that he has left the martial world behind. Don't let his gruff manner and parade-ground voice throw you.
To survive in his "command," you may have to stand up to him and, perhaps, risk your job.
If the boss is not the problem, you probably are. You may be letting your dissatisfations with life in general -- or your job in particular, or the career you chose long ago (which suddenly seems like a wrong direction) or family matters -- interfere with your clear visions, and drive you into using the boss as a scapegoat.