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Angry manager

The simple answer is to quit, but I want to try other things first.
My manager seems to have an anger problem, with almost everyone, not just me. He doesn't exactly yell, but it's obvious from his tone of voice that he's on the verge of rage most of the time.
For example, if he asks me a question and I don't understand and answer immediately he gets mad. If I ask him a question and I should have known the answer (in his opinion), he gets mad. He does this to other people also.
The other day I heard him use his angry tone of voice to the head of the whole organization, over something unimportant.
There are reasons for staying at this job for a while. It's a good chance to get certain kinds of experience that I need, the hours and location are what I need for now, etc.
My performance evaluations have been very good. My manager does not think I lack intelligence or qualifications. However, the way he often speaks to me suggests that he thinks I'm stupid. As I said, he talks to most, or all, people that way.
Until now I have tried to ignore it. I just assume he's moody and/or has psychological problems, or whatever. I try not to take any of it personally. However, I do complain to others I work with, so as not to feel alone in this. It can feel very humiliating to be the target of rage, especially when I can't figure out anything I did to deserve it.
If I keep on accepting it, is it likely to get worse?
Does this sound like an impossible situation that cannot turn out well? I'll look for some of the books about working for jerks. But I'd just like to know if anyone has found a way to get along well with this kind of person. Should I just avoid him as much as possible?

Nobody Special
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Time to break out the whoopie cushion...

Nat Ersoz
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

It might be against your nature, but have you tried shouting back?

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

If you need something from the company that you don't foresee getting anywhere else quickly, then I would just ride it out.  He probably has a superiority complex and those are very difficult to deal with. 

Typically, in my experience, telling the person that he has a temper problem doesn't usually rectify the solution.  The person will only get very defensive and lash his ill-tempered rage back at you right then.  Now, the following may not be the best possible advice, so take it with a grain of salt...

What he doesn't see is how it's negatively affecting the people around him.  The problem is he's only seeing things from his own narrow perspective, and can't see how people will think and react to the way he carries himself.  A way I've found as an effective method of getting the person to "see" how he's acting from the perspective of others is forcing for him to play the role of others looking at himself.

Well, the only way to do that is to start mimicing how your boss acts, by being ill-tempered, condescending, etc. to others besides the boss himself when he's around.  That way he'll be forced to see how his angry tones aren't the best way of dealing with situations.  Of course, in the process of trying to enlighten your boss, you may end up alienating yourself from the rest of the company as your boss has done.  I told you this might not be the best possible advice :)

So there doesn't seem to be any perfect solution, and any decision you make will have tradeoffs.  You'll have to choose which tradeoff you can live with and prefer.

Good luck.

HeyMacarana
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Nobody Special --

I feel for you.  There's not an easy way to deal with a manager like this, and the advice I offer you is only speculative.

When he uses his angry tone of voice in a situation where you don't answer his question with sufficient alacrity, perhaps you can try a reasonable approach and say something along these lines:

"Bob, it sounds from the tone of your voice that you're irritated with me.  Have I done something to upset you?  The only reason I didn't answer your question immediately was that I wanted to clarify what you meant."

My theory is that this anger is a manifestation of a generalized, irrational rage that affects this man's entire life, or at least his entire worklife.  Because it is irrational, confronting it head-on by asking him to articulate his reasons for being angry may actually help to subdue the anger -- or at least not unleash it on you.  In other words, you're "calling him on it."  Once he is asked to articulate his reasons, and is forced to either (a) admit that he has no real reason for being angry, or (b) offer a patently absurd explanation for being angry, he may actually calm down.

My suspicion is that people in your company allow him to get away with this because he's not exploding with loud displays of rage.  The attitude people in your company may have is, "Well, he only acts irritated, and he doesn't start yelling and screaming, so we will let it slide."  The problem with that attitude is that the angry tone of voice you describe can be every bit as oppressive and traumatic to employees as screaming fits.

If you make it clear that you notice his ridiculous anger, and ask him to explain it, he may realize how irrational it is, and suppress his angry tone of voice (at least with you).  In fact, perhaps you could make a little joke out of it:  "Uh-oh, Bob, you're angry again.  Did you forget to take your chill-pill this morning?"

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that confronting this person's crap head on is the best way to defuse it.

Good luck.

programmer
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Videotape him.

Anon
Tuesday, November 26, 2002


I highly suggest Quality Software management, volume III by Weinberg.

While it's possible that your boss is just an angry guy (as stated above), I can offer an alternative explanation:

When your boss gets mad, people do whatever he wants.

This -rewards- the act of getting mad.  However, after awhile, morale sags, and people are doing less than they were before.  So he gets mad.  And they do whatever he wants ... for awhile.

In his book, Weinberg explains this as an addiction cycle, and talks about steps to break the addiction.  One good piece of advice is to stand your ground and not be intimidated: EVER.  You have to convince him that being mean won't work.

Weinberg comes up with several methods of disarming the guy, but the best one had probably been hinted at here: humor.  A little well-timed humor can change the subject or, better yet, get the guy to realize that he's being unreasonable.  (I suck at humor.  If my boss were mad at me because I couldn't answer a question, the only thing I could try is "What kind of swallow?  An African Swallow or an American Swallow? ")

  :-)

Good luck.  If it truely is a rage thing, you might want to check out "Stop walking on eggshells" - that's about borderline personality disorder.


regards,

Matt H.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Get a girlfriend for him :-)

.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

There is a terrific book called "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense."  You might also do a search for "Serial Bully" which is a well known term for folks we have all met from time to time.  These resources can help you pinpoint the nature of your bosses attack and if and how you can respond to them without going on the "verbal attack" yourself.

The reply from "programmer" above is on the money.

My worst experience with a serial bully was in a PTA.  I did some research on the bully's behavior and passed the information on to the rest of the PTA leadership.  Over a brief time the bully lost his/her ability to intmidate people and shortly after that person was out.

It doesn't always work that way or that well, particulary when the bully has some hire/fire kind of power over you or is in your family.

In any case good people suffer these attacked and often think they deserve it because they cling to the idea that there is a crumb of truth in what the attacker says.  Once you can recognize that your behavior is not the real cause of the attacks.  You'll feel better at the very least.  If you can defend yourself from attacks, even better.

I've certainly confronted verbal bullys.  It's a major hot button for me in that it often overcomes my natural sense of avoiding confrontation.  In nearly all cases my "I'm not gonna take this crap from you anymore" response gets the bully off of my back.

tk
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Get him a girl friend and then video tape _them_.

Mmmmm.  Leverage.

Nat Ersoz
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

“Nobody Special”,

I think I used to work at the place your working at now!  Regardless, this manager I worked for would yell at anyone about anything.  He would yell at anyone who didn’t agree with him, even when he was wrong.  He would yell at people over things they had no control over. 

Needless to say, turnover was very high, and the company still continues to bleed money from those who finance it.  This manager was the classic playground bully who throws sand in everyone’s’ face. 

It would appear that bullyish personality traits are often mistaken for leadership ability.  True, some people need to be yelled at and bullied in order to be productive.  With others, especially intelligent and skilled workers who enjoy what they do, yelling and bullying will have the opposite effect (obviously because they stop enjoying what they are doing). 

The biggest problem with this manager I was working for was that it was the good programmers in the company that would quit because of him.  I tried transferring to another development group, but this manager delayed the transfer for more than 6 months.  He eventually allowed it, but not before I had found another job.

I hate to say it, but I don’t know if there is any other option than to quit.  If there is, I would say I would have to agree with tk’s “I'm not gonna take this crap from you anymore” response.  I’ve seen people use this “If you’re nice, I’m nice.  If you’re an asshole, I’m an asshole.” approach effectively.  However, I’ve always been the type to avoid confrontation.  I guess you have to weigh how valuable the job is to you, what you’re willing to put up with, and what you are willing to do when bullied.   

Nick B.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Just curious - is English your manager's mother tongue?

English is not my first language and I found that culturally conditioned things like talking distance, tone loudness,  strange intonations, unusual gestures, etc. can very often misguide people.

I remember, my co-worker (he's American)  had a presentation for an Israeli company. After the presentation, they asked him a lot of questions. Later, he told me: "I think I failed the presentation, they were mad at me, shouted, I felt almost like they will beat me". However, later we found that in fact the Israelis were extremely happy with the presentation. They just talk this way. And we got a big contract as a result. Go figure :)

Igor K.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Anger == fear

Ask him if he is afraid of something.

msc
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I'm surprised no one has yet asked: what does this manager's boss think?  This isn't a question you're likely to want to ask directly, but if he's using this same tactic on his superior (as was mentioned), they almost certainly know how he handles those under him.

If so, they should be thinking of how to deal with the problem themselves.  If they aren't, then it's unlikely they ever will, and it speaks very poorly of them.  Bad upper management is all too common, and generally unfixable.

Ride the problem out, and start looking elsewhere.  Either it will be fixed by those above, or you'll eventually find a better gig.  Talking to this guy directly or attempting to confront them is probably not worthwhile, and may be career-limiting.

James Montebello
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Thanks for the replies. I'd like to elaborate a little more.
Yes, his native language is English and I am not mistaking his tone. He practically bangs his fists on the table and his face gets red.
I'm starting to be afraid to ask him anything. This is bad because we have to work closely. I have considered having an angry tone myself, or at least acting more forceful. However, I have built up quite a lot of anger towards him and I'm afraid if I start to let it out I will get into an irrational rage myself.
I have considered being truthful and letting him know he sometimes comes across as extremely impatient. It's possible he has no idea of his effect on others.
Once he told me that he's very "direct" and does not "sugar coat" his criticism. I told him that's fine, I like directness. Maybe that's why it's been getting worse -- he thinks I don't mind at all, so he has a convenient outlet for his generalized frustration.
One complication is that he knows more about certain things than I do. Also, he developed a lot of the system and therefore has an advantage over others in understanding it. This gives him a real reason to feel superior and to become exasperated with anyone who is below his level.
On the other hand he has some good qualities. He can admit it when he makes a mistake or doesn't know something, and he encourages me to learn new things.
But his anger really paralyzes me at times. I'm afraid to make a mistake, afraid I might forget something. And if I'm ever uncertain about what he wants me to do, I'm afraid to get clarification. Since I've been at this job (over a year), I have not made mistakes or forgotten anything important, so it's not like he has any legitimate reason for having lost patience with me. I have not been careless or lazy -- he stated the opposite on my formal review.
It sometimes is hard to concentrate on what I'm supposed to be accomplishing, because I spend more energy worrying what he'll get angry about next.
By the way, he also gets angry at himself and curses at his computer all day.

Nobody Special
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I have just another theory for your boss' behavior. (Pardon my bad english)

This guy just reaches for perfection. He expects everyone to be perfect immediately, in all situation. Seems he appreciates your work, but what make him angry is when you do not stand to his ideal level of perfection.

This is just a theory, but this is not an excuse for his pathological behavior. A cure in this case would be to make him understand total perfection is a goal (and a process), not a state.


Another theory is this person is utterly lacking self confidence. In his world's view, everyone abilities are at least equal or above his ones. So when he finds a "crack" in this über-man view of the other person, his ego boosts into anger, to express his temporary superiority.

In this case, I'm afraid there is no solution except for him to receive psychological counseling.

Good luck!

Robert C.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Nobody,

You say,

"Once he told me that he's very "direct" and does not "sugar coat" his criticism. I told him that's fine, I like directness. Maybe that's why it's been getting worse -- he thinks I don't mind at all, so he has a convenient outlet for his generalized frustration."

Giving someone permission to be direct with you doesn't equate to giving them permission to treat you like a doormat.  You don't have to take what he's dishing out.

"One complication is that he knows more about certain things than I do. Also, he developed a lot of the system and therefore has an advantage over others in understanding it. This gives him a real reason to feel superior and to become exasperated with anyone who is below his level."

Actually, it gives him a real reason to be more patient with people, not less.  If he's the brains, he should know how long it took him to figure it out, and should give everyone else at least as much time.

Please don't make excuses for your manager.  I suggest you find a way to discuss his behavior with his superior, or your HR department.  What he's doing is slowly destroying his department, and he may not even realize it.  You could do him a real favor by starting the process of "civilizing" him.

Karl Perry
Tuesday, November 26, 2002


Your statement:

"But his anger really paralyzes me at times. I'm afraid to make a mistake, afraid I might forget something. And if I'm ever uncertain about what he wants me to do, I'm afraid to get clarification"

really worries me.

I do suggest that it the problem does not get solved soon that you do look for another job or at least a transfer to another manager.

This sort of stress can lead to serious health problems (and I know this from personal experience). At the end of the day your health and wellbeing are more important than your career.

JB
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

"Also, he developed a lot of the system and therefore has an advantage over others in understanding it."

How long has he been a manager?  I would guess this is his first managerial gig.  Sounds like he may have been forced into this posistion.  Probably a former "code cowboy" who is in love with his code and feels threatened by others "messing around" with it...

aw
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

There's no good answer to these types of situations.

I spent about a year working for a woman who oozed hostility from every pore.  It was impossible to have a conversation with her, because she would interrupt you after the first three words left your mouth.

The only solution was a transfer.

(Incidentally, she's still with the company, but it's because she's good at kissing the butts of the people above her.)

J. D. Trollinger
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I wholeheartedly second the advice that, when he exhibits this behavior, you verbally identify it as soon as possible.  This means that he won't get away with his unacceptable behavior, while also providing a specific time to address it.

Irrational anger like this is often caused by an attempt to fill a need.  Perhaps he feels insecure about his position, and thus feels that he needs to be forceful to get his point across.  Perhaps he feels superior, and feels a need to shore up his position.  Perhaps he hates conflict, and he's found that his anger will quickly stop any threatening conversation.  Perhaps he really wants to help, but simply can't understand why people aren't as smart as he is, which frustrates him no end.

Whatever his reasons, trying to attack the anger itself probably won't solve his problem in the long term.  However, it will teach him that such behavior is unacceptable when he's dealing with you, so he can modify his behavior to you.  And it might provide him with an opportunity to take a fresh look at his anger problem.

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Confront him with honesty.

I would let him know that you respect his work and his position, but that his temper is really getting to you and is starting to have a big impact on your work. Let him know that you don't appreciate being delt with in such a manner, and be honest with the fact that you never know what he's going to get mad over next, therefore you're reluctant to interact with him.

My sister works in commercial construction, and when she arrived at her last jobsite she immediately noticed that the manager had a temper and yelled at everyone. She took him aside right away and told him that if he ever had a problem with her or her work, to simply come and talk to her calmly about it. She told him that if he ever yelled at her he'd make her cry (she never cries), and that she'd have leave for the rest of the day. She was honest and respectful in the way she spoke to him about it, and he has never yelled at her (even though he continues to yell at others on the jobsite).

If you wish to remain there for any length of time, you'll have to speak to him about it. He may not even realize he's doing it if someone doesn't bring it to his attention.

Susi Sloan
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Nobody Special:

<snip>
But his anger really paralyzes me at times. I'm afraid to make a mistake, afraid I might forget something. And if I'm ever uncertain about what he wants me to do, I'm afraid to get clarification. Since I've been at this job (over a year), I have not made mistakes or forgotten anything important, so it's not like he has any legitimate reason for having lost patience with me. I have not been careless or lazy -- he stated the opposite on my formal review.
It sometimes is hard to concentrate on what I'm supposed to be accomplishing, because I spend more energy worrying what he'll get angry about next.
</snip>

This excerpt summarizes the situation quite nicely.  It clearly explains your feelings and identifies the behaviour, on his part, that you find offensive.

Cut.  Paste.  Email.

Feel free to correct any necessary grammar to form a cohert message.  Also, I might suggest beginning with a few compliments on the things he does well (you did mention a couple throughout your posts).  Everyone likes to be buttered up.

Dr.Phil
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

It sounds to me like your manager may find himself without a job soon. Rage is not tolerated well in most corporate environments.

Alberto
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Either this guy isn't aware of what he's doing or he is aware of it and it somehow gets him the results he wants.

I think that in this kind of situation, I'd try smiling a lot and being very polite. An angry person can shout over another angry person, but anger is not the least bit effective when the person on the receiving end of it doesn't respond to it. That's much harder than getting angry back, but it does work.

Beth
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Sometimes, people somehow "sink" into a certain pattern of acting. For example: somebody gets used to a friend always paying for the pizza; somebody gets used to having a condescent tone when answering questions from someone else. And so on.
These situations can be acceptable a few times, but in time they get unbearable. At the same time, the person causing them does not notice it, mainly for the same reason it is much easier to forget that you have borrowed money from someone than that you have lent it to someone. They do get advantages from it, at the same time it seems that the other person doesn't notice.
The way out is to make it clear to the person that the behaviour is not longer acceptable. That may be quite hard, and it may take some time.
In your case, saying a short and slightly irritated "please stop doing that, I don't like it" and then returning to the matter at hand might work. Somehow, like a parent would say to a noisy child while talking on the phone.
Which makes me think of a great book I read once, called "Games People Play" by Eric M.D. Berne. It's mostly about that.
Well, just my humble opinion.

M.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Hmm, this sounds comical.  Can you tape record your next interaction (click it on when the episode starts to escalate.
), and then post the MP3?  I will pay for the mini-taperecorder.

Bella
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

You need to draw a line  in the sand, and tell him what is not acceptable.  How is your savings situation?  The more "fuck you" money you have, the more you can stand up for yourself (and gain more respect for yourself)  Those with children, mortgages, and lazy wives who take tennis lessons all day need to stick to "Yes sir, may I have another".  Maybe not you.

Bella
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

PS: I wasn't kidding about paying for the tape recorder.  This sounds real funny.,  I'd love to hear.

Bella
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The tape recorder idea is actually pretty good. If I listen to it later in private I'll be able to judge objectively how angry or irrational he really was. When it's happening I'm sort of in shock and it's hard to remember after.
I think the tape recorder would also be extremely useful in my relationship. Thanks for the good idea Bella.

Nobody Special
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

[How is your savings situation?  The more "fuck you" money you have, the more you can stand up for yourself]

I've been working hard on saving, for just that reason. I'm single, over 40, with about $150k. Not nearly enough. I'd hate to be out of work for a year or more and go through part of it.
I do freelance work in addition to this job, and I can save at least $20k every year. Although I love to work, people like my manager take the fun out of it. Having enough "fuck you" money could make it fun again. I could quit the job and just work freelance.

Nobody Special
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Its not your problem.

It sounds as if this person has become the company's prima donna and that his behaviour is tolerated because of his perceived value.

I was a consultant at a growing company for a while that had this problem.  The only person he didn't shout at was me, this could be because I was considerably bigger than him or that he knew I knew as much as he did.

He'd crafted and created his own system and the company relied upon it to do what they needed to do.  However they were growing faster than any system was ever likely to cope with and it naturally creaked and had to be stuck back together at times.

And then they embarked on a rewrite.

Anyhow, at some point the MD talked to me off-site about some of their issues and I pointed out that right now this key member of staff was a liability and getting in the way.  He either had to be managed or it was likely that the pack of cards would collapse.

The MD did take on some of the suggestions, he didn't completely sideline this person but he did ameliorate it by separating the support staff from development.  That way at least the daily irritations didn't blow up in everyone's face.

So, I think in the end you will either have to bite back, institute a formal complaint, tolerate it or leave.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

For your own mental health and self-respect, you need to stand up to this guy.  Something on the order of:

"I appreciate that you're upset.  However, I'm performing to the best of my abilities and don't deserve to be spoken to like this.  If we're going to work together, you're going to have to calm down"

I know it's hard to deliver this kind of statement; it doesn't "flow" well into a conversation.

I wouldn't recommend "offical" channels, such as HR, at least right away.  Looks bad, especially if your manager has clout within the company.

Do you know if he was always an asshole?  Or, was there a recent divorce or trauma?  Did he have a stroke?  Do you know what prior subordinates may have thought of him?  Could you call his old company?  Awkward, but you could give a bogus name and try it.

Best of luck.  No one deserves this.

Bill Carlson
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

As Simon alluded, size does matter.
I am 6ft exactly, generally, but not always, people are nice to me at work.
I have a friend who is 6'4'' generally if people at work are not nice to him he just leaves a pregnant pause before he responds, nearly always they never do it again.

People Suck.

Law of the Jungle
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

More information:
He hasn't been a manager long, only about 2 years. Before that he did everything himself.
His background includes the domain knowledge, which is one reason he is valued by this organization. He can communicate with the users of the system and can understand it in ways non-experts might not.
He is highly educated and intelligent, and also very knowledgeable about this kind of software.
There is another guy in the department who seems to be all-knowing when it comes to IT, and from what I've heard my manager does not get angry at him. From what I've heard he only respects people who are as "smart" as he is.
Well that leaves me feeling inferior. I used to think I was really smart, but lately I wonder.
How intelligent a person appears is a combination of their natural brain power and how much they know about a given subject (by my definition, anyway). Therefore, no matter how smart a person may be in some domains they will be quite ignorant in many others. I admit that in this particular thing my manager is superior to me, and that's ok. But the feeling I get from his contemptuous way of speaking is that he thinks I'm generally stupid. I have to keep reminding myself that I know things he doesn't in many other areas, that I'm at this job to learn this particular thing, and he is the best person to learn it from.

Nobody Special
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Forget analyzing him and get out.

Your manager sounds like someone who could show up at work any day with a gun and start shooting people. This is a potentialy dangerous situation and no job is worth putting your life in danger like that.

Ichabod Crane
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Ichabod,

While I have both know and heard of many managers that could fit the "angry manager" profile scetched here, I know of no instance where they have acted according to the script you present here.
I think the employee has many times more chance being hit by a car on his way to work this morning than being shot by the red faced bully in his lifetime. Would you therefore advice him to stay locked in his flat from now on?

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

May I suggest several points of technique when talking with this man:

- make sure you keep breathing deeply and evenly. I know from experience that it is terribly easy to start holding your breath in these situations, so you will have to make a conscious effort to do this.

- as this guy gets louder, become more soft-spoken. As he talks faster, you talk slower.

- think through your body and stand firm.

Responses that others have suggested may be right, although I've never personally experienced a situation where those ideas worked. I think it depends on the bully. In my experience almost any response you try, except the above responses, will rile the bully. Confronting him may send him into a frenzy of vindictiveness, ignoring him may send him into a frenzy of trying harder to provoke you, mirroring his behaviour may send him into a frenzy of self-righteous indignation, and so on.

This is because this guy is essentially having his tantrums on his own, without you, and your responses only superficially appear to influence him.

The fact that he is able to write accurate performance reviews suggests to me that he is able to be reasonable when he has time to sit down and think about what he is doing. From what you say, his temper comes out in interpersonal situations, and is therefore probably a matter of being highly strung and lacking in self-control. There isn't much you can do in the way of figuring out why he is this way.

I don't really think we can do much to influence people's character one way or another; we can only manage our own responses to them in a way which may or may not nudge them in a different direction.

And most of all, FIND A DIFFERENT JOB. If upper management is getting this crap from him, observing it every day, and doing nothing, I doubt you'll get very far in filing a grievance. (Though you could try it, if you really feel it would help.)

Good luck.

Fernanda Stickpot
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

I think you're worried about nothing. The guy apparently does a good job and treats you well and honestly, except that he gets angry. Big deal.

You just have to let him know you're on his wavelength and you're fixing whatever it is that's stressing him.


Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Heh, I had few leaders or two like this in the military.

Try smiling at him while he's throwing his tantrum.  If you appear to be unruffled by his behaviour it may force him to seek another tack.  If nothing else, it'll make him wonder what the hell you're smiling about.  When he asks you can explain how amusing his antics are, and how you get a kick out of watching people scurry away from him when he displays them.

You could also try telling him how amusing everyone else finds it too, and throw in a mention of the guy in your office who does a really great impression of him (there has to be at least one person who does this, there always is).

Steve Barbour
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

I've known people like this, the best thing to do is be at least as good at your job as they.  If this is not worth it, quit.

It is unlikely that there will be a touchy-feely way of doing things, and I don't think fucking with him mentally will work either.  But no harm in broaching the subject with him, in a professional manner.  Email him, it's a pretty neutral method of communication.  Don't complain, do it just to understand.

Tj
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

ok, I've been in this situation before.


I worked for a small software company in South Jersey for almost 2 years, that never had more than 15 employees. In the 2 years that I worked there, I outlasted every employee that was there when I started, with the exception of my boss. I also watched more than 25 employees come and go in this time, so many that I created a spreadsheet with their names and why they left, and how long they made it. I am not shitting you, a few didn't make it through the first day.


I stuck around for awhile, because I was unexperienced. I watched this guy treat everyone, programmers, tech support, clients, and potential clients, like total crap. The sarcasm was unparralled; I'd never seen anything like it in my life.


By the end of the first year, I was raising my voice back at him. By 18 months, I had mastered the art of sadistic sarcasm (that's sarcasm that's intended to make someone truly feel stupid, not to make someone laugh). I talked down to him like a four year old sometimes.


My advice is this-- Don't take anything he says too seriously. We had several screaming matches, and I enjoyed every one. Nine times out of Ten, when we'd argue, I'd have a smile on my face. That just made him more angry, but it gave me great satisfaction. I learned a lot there, and I'm glad I stuck around as long as I did.


Oh, or you could just set him on fire. Management hates that.

Mark
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Be very careful about upping the confrontation stakes, i.e. shouting back. It might work, but if it doesn't you probably have no more cards to play. Your only option then will be to quit.

However this isn't exactly an uncommon situation, and your company may have ways it expects you to deal with this situation. None of them are probably going to be quick, so prepare for many months of hard work.

Obviously, as with any problem like this, your recourse should be to talk to the angry manager if you haven't already done so.
If that doesn't get anywhere, for heaven's sake talk to someone. Staying silent or just quitting are helping nobody (it may come to quitting later, or you may not want to go through the process of trying to fix this).

The next person to talk to is your boss' boss, or someone in HR. Even a small company should have one person outside the management chain that you can go to.
If you have one you might go to a Trade Union or professional association representitive. They can give you better advice on what to do next. Try all the above people until you get someone who gives a satisfactory response.
HR people are often best, as their job is dealing with people.

Responses you might get include: suggested ways of dealing with the problem; sending you on a 'working with people' type of course; sending your boss on a 'working with people' type course; sitting down with an intermediary and working through the problem. Whoever you talk to mention that this is affecting your work, so it becomes a company issue.

Finally, try this book:

http://www.successunlimited.co.uk/books/bistress.htm

David Clayworth
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Irrespective of you sticking there or leaving that place, do not burn any bridges. You never know...

About recording the stuff he says, be careful, if your boss or anyone finds out, your goose is cooked!

About his attitutde, just don't take anything personally, but don't take shit from him, know where to draw a line. Be cocky, not arrogant.

Prakash S
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Jab a sharp knife deeply into his throat, preferably, severing his aorta. Then, scream, "my God, he's just stabbed himself."

Because of his past behaviour, most people will believe you.

Alberto
Thursday, November 28, 2002

It sounds to me like you are witnessing frustration rather than anger.

I think its impossible to simmer like this for weeks on end without ever blowing your top.
    
This man has a very specialised domain knowledge, and he might find that difficult to express to others.  The necessity to keep repeating the same, obvious, fundemental facts to people can really start to wind somebody up.

Have you ever had somebody non-technical with a computer problem.  Something simple, and you tell them what to do to fix it (say, clear the browsers cache).  They they start to doubt you answer, start asking for explanations of why.  You really don't want to have to start explaining the way a browser caches files.  You've told them how to fix there problem, and they are not excepting your authority on the subject.  I've been in this position, and I find I have to stop myself from getting annoyed and showing it.

Could this manager be in a similar situation?  The sympons you describe seem to describe this frustration and impatiance, rather than anger.

Ged Byrne
Thursday, November 28, 2002

I've read some of the suggestions on how to persuade the guy to change his behavior, but I'm deeply skeptical.  Maybe it's just me, but I have never been successful in changing other people who irritated me.

This sounds like some kind of touchy-feely self-help principle, but I think that the only person you can really change is yourself.  Just re-train your mind not to stay calm in the face of the guy's hostility.

Remember this principle:  Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.

Anonymous coward
Thursday, November 28, 2002

"Just re-train your mind not to stay calm in the face of the guy's hostility."

Um, sorry -- disregard the word "not".  (Why can't we edit these posts?)

Anonymous coward
Thursday, November 28, 2002

[The necessity to keep repeating the same, obvious, fundemental facts to people can really start to wind somebody up.]

The guy is not repeating obvious fundamental facts to me.
He blew up the other day because HE didn't know the answer to my question. If it was so simple and obvious, then he should have known the answer.
As it turned out, the problem was with his program. Is that a legitimate and rational reason to blow up at me??? My program had to use his program. Well doesn't it make sense to ask the person who wrote it why it didn't work? Or should I have spent the rest of the day trying to find out?
In addition, I didn't have a password I would have needed to run it. He got into such a frustrated state he became irrational, barking at me to run a program I didn't have a password for.
So much for your dumb theory.

Nobody Special
Thursday, November 28, 2002

Here are a couple of little-known secrets about managers.

a) Managers are not mind readers.

b) Technical managers, even less so.

In all likelihood, your manager does not know he's behaving like a jerk.  (Remember that report that came out earlier this year, showing that incompetent people don't know they're incompetent?  Getting angry with employees for no good reason on a regular basis is managerial incompetence.)  Or if he does suspect he's a jerk, he doesn't know the sheer magnitude of his jerkiness.  And he doesn't know how upset you are.  Or that you're at a loss about what to do.

Here's what you have to do. 

You have to tell him.

You will not, of course, say, "You're a colossal jerk," unless that statement is accompanied by your resignation letter.  Instead, you will tell him calmly, *specifically*, what it is about his behavior that bugs you.  Give examples.  Be dispassionate.  Be firm in your conviction that the problem must be taken seriously.  Play your best card: of the two of you, you're the adult.  The angrier he gets, the calmer you get.

Is this guaranteed to work?  Are you kidding?  Maybe it will, maybe it won't.  Sometimes jerkitude makes a person impervious to rational criticism.  But from everything you've told us, he hasn't picked up any subtle clues that you're unhappy.  So this isn't the time for the passive-aggressive stuff that engineers tend to resort to (I'll turn in bad work!  I'll poison all the plants in his office!) instead of the more straightforward-but-painful approach of actually trying to talk to him.  Tell him clearly and objectively what's wrong; don't be tit-for-tat nasty, but don't hedge, either.  If that doesn't work, go to his manager.  And if that doesn't work, it's shop-for-a-job time.

Use this problem as an exercise in learning how to deal with the lame and irrational.  I guarantee this won't be the last time in your career that such knowledge will come in handy.

Hardware Guy
Thursday, November 28, 2002

"Remember this principle: Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig."

another one I heard some years ago, kind of like this one:

"Never fight with a pig. You both get muddy, but the difference is that the pig likes it."

anonQAguy
Friday, November 29, 2002

-----------------------------------------------------------------
The guy is not repeating obvious fundamental facts to me.
He blew up the other day because HE didn't know the answer to my question. If it was so simple and obvious, then he should have known the answer.
---------------------------------------------- Nobody Special

Actually, this fits in with my theory.  I was writing from his perspective.  You probably asked a question that he should be able to answer easily - yet he can't.  He considers himself smart, and puts a lot of value to this and yet he cannot answer your question.  Frustration mounts.

Its surprising how much knowledge we think we have, but when somebody challanges us our ignorance is exposed.  We thought we were experts and all we really had is a bunch of leaky abstractions.

When somebody asks me to explain _why_ they have to reboot their computer, I get frustrated.  The real reason being that I don't know exactly why.  I have ideas,  theories, vague images of leaking memory, but I can't give a proper explanation.  I just know from experience.

Of course, his behaviour is still irrational and unacceptable.  The guy has a problem.  I'm just trying to be 'touchy feely' and relate. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------
So much for your dumb theory.
---------------------------------------------- Nobody Special

See, your starting to get a little aggressive yourself ;)

Ged Byrne
Friday, November 29, 2002

Yeah, Nobody Special is getting a bit aggressive.  If you have any friends or close family worth anything (some coders don't), I'd suggest you take care of this problem soon. 

I still don't think there's any non-neutral way to it.  Maybe he was beaten as a child, for all we know, and that part of his psychology is inaccessible to you.

Tj
Friday, November 29, 2002

I think Ged has the right idea. When someone is frustrated, they can often become irrational. Its not you question that frustrated as much as it pushed him over the edge. Once you hit you limit, its very hard to clear out your “frustration cache” and start over. You tend to remain in a high state of tension.

What you need to do is look at this objectively. Why is he frustrated? If you can identify some of the major issues, you might be able to “connect” with him. Once he sees you as someone who understands his pain things will noticeable improve.

I had this problem, and as other have said above, didn’t know it. I was always pissed off and alienating people but I didn’t see it. I was simply to frustrated to notice!

Here were my problems (as I identified them):

1. The management was incompetent. I couldn’t exaggerate how badly they handled things. This was because the product was originally written as an internal system for their company. They later shut down that business and “became” a software company. Need I say more?

2. I had lots of domain knowledge and knew the system inside and out. The problem was, it wasn’t very useful to anyone else. I wanted to change jobs because I disliked management so much, but I couldn’t because my skills were not in demand. I felt trapped in my job.

3. Because of management’s bad practices, I was forced to “protect” my team from them. My team never knew all of the fires I put out because I consciously protected them from it. This meant that I was always miserable and my team was always happy. I think part of me hated them for that…. In fact, it’s making me grumpy now… :)

One member of my team was a specialist at accounting software development. Because of this, he was often at high-level meetings with me. He never had to deal with the crap, but he knew about it. That led to a great working relationship between us. In fact, he was the one who sat me down and told me I was alienating the team.

The solution? I treated the team better; blowing some budget money on pizza’s each Friday and the like (I took all 35 to Starwars Episode I). Things got better and I found I really liked my team. In fact, 10 of us left together and started our own company. The upside of bad management? They weren’t smart enough to put in “non-compete” clauses into their contracts…. ;)

Been there, been that
Friday, November 29, 2002

Being subjected to his anger and not being able to fight back is making me one angry coder. I get "revenge" by making fun of him with co-workers (everyone knows what he's like), taking longer breaks, staring at the computer screen because I'm too mad to think, etc.
Yes, the built-up rage is also harmful to my close relationships.
My manager does seem to be a fair and rational person. One problem may be that he feels superior because of his high intelligence; even though he understands intellectually that he shouldn't look down on people, it's a habit he can't break.
And he knows intellectually that no one knows everything, not even him, but it still drives him nuts.

Nobody Special
Friday, November 29, 2002

Perhaps you can make fair sport out of this.

Make a list of all his characteristic angry behaviour and create a score sheet.

1 point for a slight raise of voice.  5 points for a huff and a puff.  50 points if you can make him blow his top and stamp his feet like a little child.

Then you can all have a go at winding him up.  Everybody buys the highest scorer a beer at the end of the week:)

Ged Byrne
Friday, November 29, 2002

I don't really have much concrete advice for you, NobodySpecial, but I can say that there are quite a few good suggestions in this thread. I would also say that it's very very very rare that assholes realise what they are (whatever this guy's abilities might be, self-perception is obviously not one of them) and make an effort to change. I'm sure it does happen sometimes, but I wouldn't say playing the odds is much more than optimism.

I know it's really tough to quit a job over something like this. One of the things I've found (for myself) to be a major psychological plus about working as a contractor is that you always know it will end... and it's sooo much easier to just not renew a contract (as opposed to quitting it outright).

Heh, a goddamn fscking drunk is bashing on the door and front windows of our house (it's currently half-past three in the morning) demanding money. Not too bright, doesn't seem to understand "no, fuck off", nor "police have been called"... *pause* Heh, now she's wandered into the road outside (still has traffic, even at this hour) and is weaving around trying to stop cars. Dumb as a post.

Anyway, where was I... oh yeah. There's only two ways you can be sure of a change - one is to quit, another is to get him fired. I'd suggest quitting (keep it in mind, at least), and when/if you do, make _damn_ sure that all of your co-workers and superiors know why.

BTW, just out of interest... your description of this guy is eerily familiar to that of someone I didn't work directly with, but heard a hell of a lot about. You wouldn't happen to be working in North Carolina, would you? For a company named after a breed of dog? Said manager's first name wouldn't happen to be "David", would it?

(okay, I know it's unlikely, but _damn_ it sounds like the same guy ;-)

Pete.

Pete
Saturday, November 30, 2002

No, it isn't Dave and it isn't NC. There are probably lots of these guys around.
Regarding your suggestion to quit and let everyone know why -- the problem is if I quit I would probably have to ask him for a reference, which I doubt he would give me if he knew I had formally complained about him.
I agree with what you said about consulting -- at least you know it will end and that makes almost anything bearable. Does the lack of security bother you, though?
I feel torn between this job and consulting because at least this job seems to be very secure and they never have layoffs, and they can't fire anyone after the first 6 months without a good reason. If I could learn to live with it somehow I would be pretty safe, at least.

Nobody Special
Saturday, November 30, 2002


NobodySpecial said: "No, it isn't Dave and it isn't NC. There are probably lots of these guys around."

Yeah, no doubt :). There were a couple of things you said about him that, put together, sounded just like the (David) guy I knew of.  Apparently David was just scary in a verbal argument - he was smart, but the main thing is that he was incredibly quick thinking on his feet and verbally aggressive. He would probably not be so successful in a formal debating environment, but in the day-by-day working environment it got to the state where nobody (_including_ people senior to him, _including_ the head guy of the company) would dare to disagree with him because they knew he'd wipe them out. Classical technical prima donna (see http://www.itrecruitermag.com/magazine/display-management101.asp?ContentID=603 , along with quite a few other references you can find via Google). Have a look at that linked article, I think you'll be nodding your head a lot and going "uh-huh... uh-huh..." :).

Much as is the case with your guy, where you said he'll behave in the same rude way to employees senior to him and get away with it. Dave could get away with it because the upper management (mainly VC-appointed) hadn't been with the company as long as Dave - he'd written a large part of the main project code, he knew every aspect of every project under development, he had all the domain knowledge.  Essentially, the upper management were too scared to even consider firing him, because they _believed_ he was too valuable.

And once they let him get away with being rude to them once... well, they could excuse it to themselves with "well, he's a technical prima donna, everyone expects him to behave that way" and then that behaviour just becomes the norm.

NobodySpecial said: "Regarding your suggestion to quit and let everyone know why -- the problem is if I quit I would probably have to ask him for a reference, which I doubt he would give me if he knew I had formally complained about him."

Ah yes, that's a point. I hadn't considered this... though on the other hand, future employers generally don't care that much about the specific person the reference comes from. If you can find someone else (preferably your manager's manager) who is prepared to simply say "Yes, he (ie. you) worked here for n months, he did everything he was supposed to and nothing he wasn't, was a perfectly satisfactory employee," then that's really all you need.

If any future employer asks you _why_ you left, you simply say "Personality issues" or some similar waffle phrase. Of course, it's preferable to be able to say "I got a better offer somewhere else..." ;-)

NobodySpecial said: "I agree with what you said about consulting -- at least you know it will end and that makes almost anything bearable.  Does the lack of security bother you, though?"

Heh. Interestingly enough, even though I've been without income for nearly three months now and have been supporting a partner who is studying, no. It's all part of the fun :). I gather your perspective changes dramatically when you also have kids to support, but I don't.

NobodySpecial: "I feel torn between this job and consulting because at least this job seems to be very secure and they never have layoffs, and they can't fire anyone after the first 6 months without a good reason. If I could learn to live with it somehow I would be pretty safe, at least."

Learn to live with it? Hmmmm. Well, think about how far ahead you can see yourself doing this same job. A year? Two? Five? Ten? And dealing with this guy (who will _never_ change) for all that time (whether as an immediate superior or not)?

Sometimes "job security" can actually be a bad thing *wry grin*.

Keep working on your "fuck-you" money - living inexpensively and saving a decent amount is the key to riding out periods of low demand. And always remember, work is a support system for life, not the other way around.

Pete.

Pete
Sunday, December 01, 2002

[Apparently David was just scary in a verbal
argument - he was smart, but the main thing is that he was incredibly quick thinking on
his feet and verbally aggressive.]

That might be the problem, but I don't know. I've noticed that he's more enraged when he doesn't know the answer. I used to think he was impatient with me because he's smart and I'm dumb. But after observing for a while I noticed that his degree of rage does not correspond to my degree of dumbness. He has been enrage by simple misunderstandings, or when something isn't working and it's his own fault.
In other words, I agree he is smart, but I'm not sure that's what's making him so mad.
One other possibility is I could try to switch to the other group. They have problems too but nothing like this. I am not looking for perfection, I just don't want to dread Monday mornings.
I would actually prefer a situation where I don't have just one person over me. It's just human nature for that kind of situation to be oppressive.

Nobody Special
Sunday, December 01, 2002

I'm sorry, but I just don't buy this "he probably doesn't know he is being a jerk" nonsense. Yes, it's nonsense. Garbage. Hooey.

Screaming, yelling and cursing at people at work isn't something you do without realizing it. Geesh. I find it amazing people can even suggest this.

He may regret his actions later, but rest assured he knows good and well he is acting like a jerk but he either doesn't care or does it because he thinks it will accomplish his goals.

...Or this guy is a dunderhead who likes to bully people. Either way, he knows he is acting like a jerk and anyone who thinks he isn't aware of it is in some serious denial.

Mark Hoffman
Monday, December 02, 2002

*****
I'm sorry, but I just don't buy this "he probably doesn't know he is being a jerk" nonsense. Yes, it's nonsense. Garbage. Hooey.

Screaming, yelling and cursing at people at work isn't something you do without realizing it. Geesh. I find it amazing people can even suggest this.
*****

I'd find it amazing, too.  I mean, I would, if anyone actually suggested it.

Damn, but I love the old rhetorical bait-and-switch.

Who said that he doesn't know that he's screaming and yelling?  Where did you read this?

He knows he's yelling and screaming.  No one's arguing that the guy's insensate, just insensitive.  Like so many people, he may see nothing wrong with what he's doing.  And I absolutely guarantee that if you told the guy, "You're a jerk," he'd argue otherwise.  Loudly.  He'd say he's being assertive, maybe even aggressive.  But certainly not a jerk.

Hardware Guy
Monday, December 02, 2002

Hardware Guy,

I really don't wish to squabble over this, but you said:

"In all likelihood, your manager does not know he's behaving like a jerk. "

Now, his behavior was described by the original poster as yelling and cursing.

Do I need to draw a picture?

Mark Hoffman
Tuesday, December 03, 2002

*****
I really don't wish to squabble over this, but you said:

"In all likelihood, your manager does not know he's behaving like a jerk. "

Now, his behavior was described by the original poster as yelling and cursing.
*****

The manager knows he's yelling and screaming.  He probably does NOT think that this makes him a jerk.  Nor would he say that he's behaving like one.  If you said to him, "Yelling and screaming are the signs of a jerk.  You're yelling and screaming.  Complete the syllogism," he'd claim extenuating circumstances.  The minute after humans learned to think, they learned how to rationalize.

Many people see nothing wrong with engaging in bad behavior that they would immediately identify as offensive if someone else were to do it.  The world is full of people who find nothing wrong with yelling and screaming as long as they're the ones doing it.  In all but a few cases, they most assuredly do not think of themselves as jerks.

*****
Do I need to draw a picture?
*****

I'm curious: do you think this comment is obnoxious?

Hardware Guy
Tuesday, December 03, 2002

"The manager knows he's yelling and screaming.  He probably does NOT think that this makes him a jerk. "

This is where you and I disagree. People know that yelling, screaming and cursing at a subordinate in an office setting is acting like a jerk. Period. It's is laughable to suggest that someone might say "Oh. I was being a jerk? I am so sorry, I had no idea that cursing at someone was rude." Puullleeease. He knows he is acting like a jerk but doesn't care.

"I'm curious: do you think this comment is obnoxious? "

Yes, it was obnoxious. See how it easy it is to identity rude or obnoxious behavior? That's why your argument is so specious. People know when they are acting like a jerk.

Mark Hoffman
Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Mark, thank you for illustrating Hardware Guy's point.

Devil's Advocate
Tuesday, December 03, 2002

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