Good Boss, Bad Boss: Here Are 5 Strategies to Cope With an Unpredictable Manager

Jekyll, reflecting on mankind, “All human beings… are commingled out of good and evil.”

You may be familiar with the Robert Louis Stevenson story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll believed that he found a method of separating the good and evil that he believed resides in all of us. The consequences of his experimentations did not bode well for him or the safety of others.

The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been used as an analogy for the balance many people try to maintain, between being a good person and doing “the right thing” at work, and acting in accordance with other self-interests. We have all likely worked with individuals who may not have always acted in the best interest of their employer and/or their customers, which can create an ethical and possibly moral conflict.

A duality can also be used to described individuals who are perceived as being moody, or someone who does not demonstrate a well-balanced sense of emotional intelligence. This is a person who seems to have an on/off switch that can be triggered or activated, with or without warning. Those individuals are challenging to work with and when it is your manager whose personality or demeanor seems to constantly change – that poses even greater challenges as that person is responsible for your work assignments, performance evaluation, and reputation with your employer. When you find you are in this situation, there are coping strategies you can implement to help how you respond to and work with this manager.

The Art of Managing Others

While there are countless articles written about managing employees effectively, along with resources that describe leadership styles that bring out the best in employees, managing others is still individually based. For example, some managers can manage employees well while other managers have developed leadership qualities. Some managers are actively engaged in the development of their employees and others manage from a distance – intervening only when there is a conflict that cannot be resolved.

One aspect of managing others that has a significant influence on working relationships is a manager’s disposition. Some managers rule with an “iron fist” while others may view their role as collaborating with employees. Some managers may seem like dictators and others may appear to be aloof and not very responsive to the needs of their employees. It is this disposition that can appear to fluctuate from time to time and if so, that is when employees may perceive they are working for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Do Personalities Matter?

As a career coach, I’ve heard many clients state that they did not expect their manager to act in a certain manner after starting a new job – as if that manager intentionally changed their personality. Most people display their best personality when starting a new position, and that includes the employee and their manager. Even with the most engaging job interview, and use of behavioral based questions, it is not always possible to predict how someone else will behave in the long run. You may believe that you have a good feeling about a manager; however, you won’t know if that feeling is an accurate measurement until you have worked with that person.

There is an expression that is often used when employees do not get along and it refers to a difference in personalities. A manager or an employee may state that about the other when it is difficult to get along with them and/or a working relationship has broken down. If the manager has made that statement it is often used as a warning sign and indicator that the employee is expected to change in some manner. No matter how hard employees work to ensure that relationships at work remain professional, after time on the job there is always going to be a personal aspect. Friendships are formed, cliques are established, and a distinction of who is liked or not liked becomes clear – and may be based entirely upon perceptual factors. This happens with every employee and every manager within an organization.

Five Coping Strategies

When it seems that you are working for a manager who frequently changes personalities or their disposition, there are strategies you can consider as a means of coping with and working with that individual.

When you are able to relate to someone else you are finding common ground with them and being relatable means that you are breaking down potential barriers that could block a productive working relationship. This is not a process that works instantaneously or happens overnight, rather it is a process that is done through a series of positive interactions. When you look for ways to relate to your manager, try to find neutral topics that avoid emotional reactions. In other words, if your manager is challenging to work with you may want to avoid discussing politics with him or her.

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