Q: My boss is dysfunctional in many ways and also probably a narcissist. He thinks and acts like he is more important than anyone else, including his own family. (I have heard him on the phone with his wife.) As for staff, he hurls insults and calls us derogatory names if anyone makes the slightest mistake, or what he thinks is a mistake. And he blames us for doing things that are not true. We are never allowed to defend ourselves, and God save us if we open our mouths in any way while he is criticizing us. If we ask questions, he calls us stupid; if we make a suggestion, he orders us to "stop talking." He will take away an assignment he had given to one of us and gives it to someone else, loudly saying that maybe that person can do it correctly. We don't think he is aware of pitting us against one another, but fortunately, we all get along and stick together. I have never known or worked for anyone like this, but I can't quit until I find another new job. Suffice it to say this man is sick, and not in a good way. How do I make this situation more tolerable and how do I explain why I am looking for a job without commenting or exposing this man's craziness?
A: Few adults can change or break bad habits, even when they want to. So imagine what it would take to change a personality. Simply put, it can't be done. Since you're not ready to give notice, don't jeopardize your job by talking to him other than to answer his direct questions to you. Your goal of tolerating the situation is to remain passive and uninvolved. You've already seen that he interprets anything you say as a challenge to raise his ire.
It's a plus that you and your co-workers see the obvious problem and feel a bond with each other so his divisive attempts fail. Do your job as best you can in these conditions, and accept that the man has severe emotional problems that will prevail.
Read books on the many interview questions and interviewer styles used today and in your field. This will help you develop a plan for answering all possible interview questions. Remember, not all interviewers will be on your side, and some may even seem adversarial when questioning you. Prepare yourself for every type of question about your job, your work style, your boss' work style, your method of handling difficult situations and your contributions to your job, as well as the company. Being prepared will stop you from blurting out the truth about your boss.
An experienced interviewer knows how to build rapport with a job candidate to see how open and candid the responses will be. Don't be lured into divulging or confirming anything negative about your boss. The interviewer may be testing you on your professionalism and loyalty during your employment. If you're interviewing in a particularly close industry (one where company owners and management at the various companies know each other), rest assured they either know about or have heard comments about your boss. Few people can hide their attitudes when discussing employees.
When you get a new job, remain professional in your attitude and conversations with others. Leaving a bad situation at a company is not a "green light" for bad-mouthing anyone from the past. Most employees, somewhere along their career path, have encountered annoying, incompetent, difficult or impossible personalities. Accept this reality, be thankful for successfully moving on in your career, and expend your energy on positive thinking only.
Email LindseyNovak@yahoo.com with all workplace experiences and questions. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.