How to Deal With an Unpredictable Boss

Is the mood in your office more changeable than the weather? Are the people around you bright and sunny one minute and cowering under threatening storm clouds the next? If so, the problem may not be the coffee or bad feng shui of your office, but the effects of having an unpredictable or volatile boss.

As I recently mentioned to ABC News, it’s not enough to simply avoid Jekyll and Hyde bosses when they’re in “monster mode.” A more constructive tactic is to find out the underlying reasons for their less than agreeable behavior – and then manage your boss’s behavior.

Of course it’s possible that your boss’s personality changes are as random and inexplicable as those of a . . . toddler. If that’s the case, then you may have a classic Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT)™ suffering from childlike fear on your hands. If this is the case, you can take steps to navigate through the challenges of having a chameleon boss:

Become a 30-second detective. Before you scroll down in your head to “shut down,” examine the possible cause for his shift from 9:00am to Dr. Evil at 3:00; the triggers that might have occurred before the dark side emerged or any patterns to the moodiness? Is there a particular time of day or event – such as a regularly scheduled visit from the boss’s boss, or a staff meeting that sets offs the bad behavior?

Be a good listener. Many bosses that who suddenly stomp around angrily are interested in first venting before getting down to business. Listen first, then help your boss focus on the non-emotional side of the task at hand. Let them blow their top, but don’t endure abuse. If a bad pattern escalates, you may need to give your boss a “professional time out” and diplomatically leave the scene. However, if the issue becomes intolerable, it’s time to consider leaving the position.

Role model steady behavior. You can’t admonish your boss for his unpredictable “MO”, but you can lead the way indirectly by being even-keeled and modeling the voice of reason. Sometimes the contrasting style you create can result in embarrassment or even apology by a temperamental boss.

Lighten things up with levity. A moody boss may tend to see the glass as always half empty. Help improve her outlook by being positive and showing the lighter side of each situation as it arises. A little bit of well timed humor, or using what I call the levity lens™, can shine much needed light on a doom and gloom situation.

The next time you find yourself wondering whether the next encounter with your boss will be a stroll in the park or an encounter an insolent infant, take heart. You can become armed with the tools to gradually change the dynamics from the unexpected – to the more manageable, positive and expected.