By Leah Zerbe
Workers with a certain trait become more creative when dealing with an angry boss, but it harms others.
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PAâ€”Got a boss that blows his or her lid every once in awhile? Depending on a factor called your “epistemic motivation”â€”that is, the motivation to have accurate perceptions of the world, to understand the way things really areâ€”an occasional run-in with an angry boss may actually boost your creativity, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“People with high epistemic motivation want to understand what’s really going on. If they have received angry feedback, they want to know why their boss is upset about their work,” explains psychologist and Rodale.com adviser Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, author of the upcoming book The Mind-Body Mood Solution: The Revolutionary, Drug-Free Program for Healing Depression Naturally and Rapidly (Rodale, Dec. 2010). “They are more motivated to understand the reason for the anger than to avoid, dismiss, or rebel against the angry behavior.”
THE DETAILS: The Dutch researchers enrolled 63 undergraduate students into the study and used a series of questions to determine their epistemic motivation (EM). Then, the students performed tasks while receiving either angry or neutral feedback. Those with the highest EM displayed more creativity after receiving angry feedback, while angry feedback negatively affected those with low EM, who may have felt more personally attacked.
WHAT IT MEANS: While the way you perceive situations may be part of your personality, you may be able to better harness positive energy from angry boss feedback if you focus on the issue at hand instead of going into defense mode by feeling attacked. Before you crawl back to your cubicle and start putting pins through a boss replica voodoo doll, figure out if what your boss said is an accurate critique. Even if it’s unwarranted, resist the temptation to lash out in a moody email or a head-to-head confrontation. If your boss regularly dishes out unfair criticism, it may be time to gather up the troops and head to HR.
Here are some ways to manage an angry boss:
â€¢Â Boost your EM. In this study, people with the highest epistemic motivation (again, that’s the idea of accurately interpreting what’s going on) handled angry feedback the best. So even if you’re not naturally full of EM, Rossman says you can practice mindfulness to more accurately interpret situations, particularly stressful ones. “Pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment. Rather than making snap judgments or hasty conclusions, be curious, and try to understand more clearly what is happening,” he says. “If you are confused or don’t understand why something is happening, ask someone to explain it to you.”
â€¢Â Figure out if it’s really a problem. First, it’s important to put things into perspective. If an angry outburst is a rare occurrence with your boss, then pay close attention to what he or she is concerned about and try to find a way to constructively address the situation. “If your boss tends not to be volatile, then there is probably something important that needs to be remedied,” says Rossman. “See if you can channel your energy into fixing the problem as soon as possible.”
But on the flip side, if it seems like your boss is trapped in a state of recurrent rage, and if it bothers you, it’s time to start learning how to manage your boss. “Talk with your colleagues, check out their perceptions, and ask how they deal with your boss,” suggests Rossman. “Explain to your boss that you could perform better and you would appreciate it if he [or she] communicated calmly and less angrily.”
â€¢Â Know how to ID true boss abuse. An occasional flip-out may be nothing to worry about, but a boss who yells, berates, threatens, or launches personal attacks on employees may actually be harming workers’ mental and physical health, warns Rossman.
Use your own body to figure out if there’s a real problem. If you experience anxiety or dread about going to work because of your boss’s anger, if you ruminate about your job outside of work hours, or experience physical stress-related symptoms, your angry boss needs to be put in line. Contact your boss’s supervisor or the human resources director and ask for help in dealing with your boss. If other coworkers agree with you, ask them to contact these people as well. “If your boss’s behavior is abusive, your company is legally required to ensure that you are not forced to work in a hostile work environment,” says Rossman. “In such cases, they may coach your boss on how to be a more respectful supervisor.” Or, they may be able to arrange for you to be supervised by someone else. “You can also ask to be assigned to a different job or department within the company,” Rossman says.
â€¢Â Know when to be visible. To get on your boss’s good side, be visible. That includes keeping your door open and taking frequent walks by your boss’s office.
If your boss is a flat out bully who likes to come down on you publicly, take him or her aside to address your concernsâ€”it removes the audience that fuels the bully’s confidence. Just calmly address your concerns and walk away if things turn heated.