Interview with Lynn Taylor: On taming tyrants in the workplace

Vera: Most people I am sure have had a ‘bad’ manager/co-worker or observed one. In using the word tyrant, paint for us a picture of how this type of person acts?

Lynn: A Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT) is a manager or coworker who has trouble managing stress or frustration, similar to a child in his/her Terrible Twos. The parallel is that they both have the same reactions when they’re not in control. They range from tantrums and demanding behavior, to bullying, self-centeredness and whining, to name a few. If you’re the perpetrator (we’re all capable of TOT regressions) you must apply emotional intelligence when the unexpected or undesired occurs. If you are the recipient of the behavior, your best and most empowering course of action is to manage up – or “parent up without patronizing.” I believe sometimes the inner child should stay there when it comes to the office!

Vera: There’s obviously the personality/behaviour of the manager/co-worker and the factors that tolerate this in the workplace. What are some of the seemingly ignored conditions or even tacit complicity that permits such to exit?

Lynn: The demands for increased profitability can allow a “TOT zone” to fester. It’s the path of least resistance to look the other way when conflict arises and just get back to business. Meanwhile, global competition is continuing at a breakneck pace from a corporate standpoint, but also in terms of the talent pool. Add to that the fact that people are wired to their office virtually 24/7 to keep pace. The pressure cooker environment can place “office humanity” on a low priority. Ironically, it’s the collective state of mind of every employee, each day that has the greatest impact on profitability.

Vera: Your 20 classic traits of tyrants list is really eye-opening. You include ‘short attention spans’ and ‘forgetfulness’ on this list. How are these tyrannical behaviours?

Lynn: When a manager shows a repeated pattern of short attention spans or forgetfulness around you, they’re displaying disrespect. Everyone has distractions and memory lapses from time to time. But as a continuous practice, this makes employees feel that they don’t matter – or in some cases that they barely exist. You may be presenting your project, and they’re taking calls, allowing visitors or reading emails; they’re not listening, and it causes distress.

A prime reason employees leave companies is that they feel they’re not heard or recognized. Similarly, a forgetful boss may forget they promised a salary increase, bonus, promotion or other perk. On a more granular level, they may routinely forget to invite you to important meetings, respond to you or show up. That lack of reliability can cause anxiety unless some managing up techniques are deployed.

It’s also helpful to remember that if there’s something in it for your boss, you can change behavior. So by, for example, making your presentations more lively and interactive – or choosing your timing wisely, you might improve your manager’s retention. You can manage up by devising workarounds to your boss’s forgetfulness through paper trails of discussions, wrap up emails, reiterating what was said, and other methods.

Vera: The usual power dynamic means that employees are unlikely to do anything about their ‘bad boss’.  In your experience, what strategies work in how people can confront the bullying/tyrant boss effectively?

Lynn: I suggest they think of the acronym C.A.L.M: Communicate, Anticipate, Laugh and Manage up. First, it reminds you to keep your cool during conflict

  • Communication always helps reduce confusion and tension; just know when and where for optimal results. Make communications honest, regular and frequent. If your boss is upset, let them vent first; then be the voice of reason.
  • Anticipate challenges before they become significant problems; take preventive steps. Never bully a bully back or fight fire with fire.
  • Laughter helps bring people together and diffuse tension. You don’t have to use humor at the expense of your colleagues. Instead, use clever humor to remind you and others that you’re all in this together and bring a broader perspective to issues at hand.
  • Managing up demonstrates that you’re a problem solver and can think rationally. Role model the behavior you want to see in others. It also means setting limits to bad behavior, as you would with a child acting badly. Positive and negative reinforcement is key in this regard.

This approach will help you apply emotional intelligence to difficult situations and help empower you with your boss and colleagues.

Vera: In what ways can an organization be proactive about creating a safe space free from this kind of tyranny and sustain a culture that supports sanity of all?

Lynn: Create an environment that is safe for success. Let people make mistakes and encourage risk-taking, which is the path to innovation. Encourage people, show empathy and train them to reach or exceed their potential. Being nice costs nothing and the Return On Investment (ROI) is terrific. Being unkind is costly…and if tyrannical, could even land you in court.

Vera: Working with a difficult boss or co-worker is tough – no doubt. How can an individual keep a positive outlook in all this even as a coping mechanism?

Lynn: It’s important to realize that you have more power than you think to help your boss see the light. When you take the time to analyze why your boss or co-worker is behaving badly, it will change your approach and open doors. You’ll be able to approach colleagues with an enlightened perspective and better emotionally intelligent tools. Otherwise, you can easily fall into patterns that will keep you stagnant. By recognizing your own worth and being confident about it, you will make the best decisions about your career future.

Vera: Finally any tips on how to humanize the workplace generally?

Lynn: The golden rule goes a long way. Fast forward your life at work five years. In looking back, are you the colleague or boss that you want to be? Are you leaving each day making the workplace a little better?


Lynn’s profile

Lynn Taylor is a widely recognized workplace expert and bestselling author on achieving career and leadership success. In 2016, Lynn reached more than 15 million people with her career advancement and leadership advice and book, Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.. She is a frequent contributor to numerous national business publications, a Work blogger for Psychology Today for eight years, and a self-proclaimed “Empowerment Zealot.” She is passionate about establishing a productive, invigorated and empowered workforce. More about Lynn’s work from


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