Now you might be thinking, “If I do that, I might as well pack my belongings and get out myself — permanently.” The fact is, like a parent, you can give your boss a time out for bad behavior — in effect. It just doesn’t involve sitting him in the corner while he ruminates over his misdeeds. Actually in this case, you are the one who can diplomatically leave the scene for a legitimate reason — so that you both have a cooling off period.
Call it a reverse time out, break or chance for a fresh perspective — but in the workplace, some managers can take issues overboard, where the proverbial “count to 10” concept is needed. This is your opportunity to empower yourself by taking control in an otherwise downward spiral. That’s not to say you should regularly excuse yourself from a meaningful, challenging discourse. But if your boss riffs endlessly after you’ve allowed her to vent and acknowledged her issue — you’ll likely do yourself a favor by neutralizing the situation, and returning when your boss has had a chance to reflect.
Before you trigger the time out (for yourself), ensure that your boss knows he’s been heard — mirror back what’s been said, and if you’re culpable, the sooner you apologize, the better. Your boss: “We can’t respond in this fashion any longer to the client. It’s unacceptable and I won’t stand for...” You: “I understand your frustration with how this was handled with the client; I’m very sorry.
Then if the drama continues, it’s time to strike. You have several options: you can excuse yourself to take important client calls, make client calls, handle a critical matter with staff, conduct an urgent meeting, handle a new business opportunity — anything that is high priority. Make sure you give your boss the sense of urgency involved. And if the conversation has been dragging on for what seems like an eternity, you have the right to visit the restroom for that needed escape!
You’d be surprised at how much “jamming the system” can change the dynamics. It takes the wind out of the sails (or maybe the “hot air” out of the balloon). Once managers have even a few moments to reflect, it’s often as if there’s nothing more to say. And you’ve saved yourself more stress. Moreover, with the frenetic flow of e-mails, calls, texts and other interruptions, you may not even be asked back.
Another similar approach, which really depends on the strength of your relationship, is some self-effacing humor — assuming the reason for her dissatisfaction is somewhat warranted. Your boss: “This particular deadline was extremely important, and because you submitted it late without enough warning, I have to do a lot of back pedaling. This is inexcusable and really makes me wonder if this is going to be a new problem...” You: “I’m very sorry. I don’t think you’ve seen this from me before, and you certainly won’t see it again!”
If you get a sympathetic response, you can help normalize the dialog with some lightheartedness, as long as you don’t trivialize the matter, e.g., “I really don’t believe that ‘someday’ is a day of the week!” I'll deliver promptly next time.
Of course if your boss is consistently acting in an egregious manner versus episodically — in more run-of-the-mill, frustrating ways - you’ll have to take more serious steps that are commensurate with the behavior.
When things settle down, make sure you double-back with your boss or Terrible Office Tyrant ("TOT"), to add closure — but approach matters on a positive note. For example, your next point of contact could include upbeat news on ongoing assignments, competitive or industry news.
While you can’t yell, “Go to your boardroom!” to a cranky boss — you can isolate yourself from over- the-top behavior by taking one of your own allotted “time outs” until things simmer down. That puts you in the driver's seat.