This is the boss who doesn’t seem to be happy unless everyone’s in panic mode. Everything is over-inflated. It’s not an issue, it’s a problem. It’s not a problem, it’s a crisis. It’s not a crisis; it’s the end of the world. This boss can often be quite fun to work with when things are going well, but the moment things go wrong, the old stress-o-meter spikes big time.
The most common mistake people make when dealing with over-reacting bosses is to try and placate them – to sooth them and reassure them that everything will be okay. This approach usually backfires, as bosses will now feel compelled to argue more forcefully in support of their position. The rant escalates, along with your stress.
The best approach to take with an over-reacting boss is an agree-echo- resolve technique. You agree with his (her) assessment of the situation, echo his concern, and introduce a possible solution. Here’s an example of a better and worse way to deal with an Over-reacter:
You (trying to calm the boss down): “It’s okay. It’s her own personal fax machine in her own office. No one will be seeing it but her”
Boss: “You sent this fax without a cover sheet? This is a nightmare! What if it doesn’t get to the right person! What if she doesn’t remember what it’s referring to! I can’t believe this is happening!”
You:“Oh no – I can’t believe I forgot that! You’re absolutely right (agree). There could be confusion (echo). Let me get a cover sheet right now and re-send it (resolve). In fact, just to prevent this from happening in the future, I think I’ll put a note above the fax machine that says ‘don’t forget a cover sheet.’ That shouldn’t have happened. Sorry boss.”
Be careful that you don’t come across as mocking you boss, but do make a point to absolutely support his concern. One of the reasons that the Over- reacter behaves the way he does is because he thinks that overreacting is the only way to get people to take action. The more he sees that you are as committed as he is, the less he will rant in the future.