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29 September 2004

Dear F@W
My boss is a ticking time bomb. He blows up over the most insignificant things. Everyone walks on eggshells around him because you never know when you will trigger an explosion. However, once it starts, you can’t discharge it. His beady little eyes glaze over, then the veins in his neck get huge, then his voice gets real low before he blasts out rants and curses and spittle-filled accusations. It is so over the top it’s funny. But it is also impossible to work with. It has gotten to the point where I am beginning to worry about his mental health. I have tried ignoring the outbursts and asking him to stop shouting but nothing seems to help. Is there an option I haven’t considered?
–Mary-Anne, Boston Massachusetts

Dear Mary-Anne,
Your story reminds me of a client by the name of Michelle whom I recently coached through a similar problem. Michelle also had a boss who blew up with little provocation. For a long time, she felt badly about it because she didn’t know what to do to help him or herself. Everything she did seemed to make the explosive episodes intensify. One day she casually asked him, “What should I do when you lose your temper?” Her boss replied, “Say nothing, don’t take it personally, and wait until it blows over. It always is just a matter of time.”

My advice to you is to choose a time when things are going well with your boss, and mention a specific incident when he got angry with you or someone else. Tell him you didn’t know how to handle the situation, and ask him what you might do next time a similar situation arises. No matter what he tells you, you will learn something interesting from the conversation.

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