Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 38;   September 21, 2005: My Boss Is Driving Me Nuts

My Boss Is Driving Me Nuts

by

When things go badly, many of us experience stress, and we might indulge various appetites in harmful ways. Some of us say things like "My boss is driving me nuts," or "She made me so angry." These explanations are rarely legitimate.

Sandy unlocked and opened the driver's side door, pushed the button to unlock the passenger door for Ed, and they both hopped into the car. They buckled up silently, while Sandy started the engine, put the car in gear, and moved out of the parking space toward the parking lot exit. Sandy felt it was best to wait for Ed to speak.

Finally, Ed did. "Well, at least it's over."

Sandy tried to be both supportive and honest. It was difficult: "Yes, it is over."

A cheeseburger with friesMore silence. At a stoplight, Ed added, "If Alton hadn't made me so nervous, I could have explained the problem more clearly."

Ed's model of what went wrong is that Alton's actions made him nervous, and that caused his failure to perform. Perhaps. But we hear these explanations more often than they actually apply. Here are some other similar explanations:

  • My boss is driving me nuts
  • You made me so mad
  • She destroyed my self-esteem
  • I couldn't get a word in edgewise
  • He left me no choice

In most cases,
these explanations
are invalid
In most cases, these explanations are invalid. Let's suppose that Ed believes that his boss is driving him nuts. Unless his boss has him incarcerated or physically restrained, it's an unlikely scenario. To actually drive someone nuts requires great skill and significant time and resources.

It's more likely that his boss is doing some things that are pretty abusive, and that Ed is using those things to drive himself nuts. If that's what's happening, all Ed has to do to keep from going nuts is to stop doing that.

When we tell ourselves that someone else is doing it, we're telling our brains to look in the wrong place for the cause. That way, we can do what we want to ourselves without getting caught at it.

In a strange way, believing that other people have direct control over us is very liberating. It frees us to harm ourselves without feeling guilty or stupid about doing it. So for instance, if my boss is saying horrible things about me in front of others, I can use that to destroy my own self-esteem, and gain an excuse to eat cheeseburgers with fries, which is what I really wanted to do. Then I can blame my boss for making me sick and fat. The reality is much simpler: I ate the cheeseburgers myself. And the fries.

And there's another neat trick — we not only relieve ourselves of responsibility for our own actions, but we also "escape" responsibility for dealing with the consequences.

I have a small metal mirror on my desk. It's a memento with other meanings, but it also reminds me that when I want to shift responsibility to others, I ought to check my own choices first. If you get something similar for yourself, please don't think I made you do it. Go to top Top  Next issue: Give Me the Bad News First  Next Issue

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeComing May 29: Rescheduling: Project Factors
Rescheduling is what we do when we can no longer honor the schedule we have now. Of all causes of rescheduling, the more controllable are those found at the project level. Attending to them in one project can limit their effects on other projects. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
A switch in the tracks of a city tramwayAnd on June 5: The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle
When the current schedule is no longer viable, we reschedule. But rescheduling is unlike devising a schedule before work has begun. People know that we're "behind" and taking time to reschedule only makes things worse. Political pressure doesn't help. Available here and by RSS on June 5.

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