UNINTENTIONAL EXPERTS: Boss advice from a stay-at-home mom


Having a bully of a boss is so bad it might become illegal, thanks to a worker's rights bill heading to New York's state senate. Kate Bly may not go into an office everyday but that doesn't mean she can't relate to the pitfalls of having a cruel employer. She's got two: Ivan, 2, and Luca, 1.

They throw fits when they don't get something they've requested, they're constantly checking up to make sure she's not doing any personal work on the job, and their performance reviews are notoriously rigorous. Especially when it comes to lunch. Plus they're so cute, they're hard to stay mad at.

In the business world, you have the trials and errors of your colleagues to guide you through management issues. But a stay-at-home mom has to invent her own rules for dealing with high-maintenance employers. These are some of Kate's tactics. If they work on her bosses, they'll work on anyone.

RULE 1. SET YOUR BOUNDARIES
You know how some bosses get upset when you run out to mail a letter, buy a gift or grab a coffee on the clock? Screw them, says Kate. "You can't be expected to spend your days doing only what's good for them. If you take the gentle but assertive attitude in your mind that they are there to come along for the ride, not run the ride, you both will be better for it." Instead of building resentment about someone else taking over her life, Kate has taught her tiny bosses not to expect a 24/7 clown. "If I have to go grocery shopping, walk the dog or meet up with friends, I take them with me and they've stopped expecting constant entertainment. Now, I don't give myself a big guilt-trip for not making it to the park just because they want to go there. They're in my world...I'm not in theirs."

RULE 2. BE CONSISTENT
Some bosses will have a dream about the way an office can run better, and the next day expect you to implement their dream. Even if it involved a roller-skating rink and Barry Gibb. That's when you have to tell them, gently, that can't happen. "Like grown-up bosses, kids feel secure knowing that some things just 'are' or 'are not' in the world," explains Kate. When a boss requests something that's impossible to accomplish, the impulse is to just say yes, but when you can't produce results they're disappointed in you. Instead, it's best to let them know that some things just can't be done the way they need it, and then offer a realistic alternative. Sometimes, they just need some one, even some one under them, to take the lead, make a decision and set realistic goals. "Listen, let them know you hear them, and instead of bluntly turning them down, explain how some things are just givens. Sometimes, they just want to be heard."

RULE 3. DON'T LET THE GRIND DRAG YOU DOWN
Going to the same place day-in-day-out, especially when it involves managing the emotions of an employer, can feel claustrophobic. The same goes for being a mom--although the hours are even longer. "Instead of spiraling into the 'when did this become my life' rut, it's important to remind yourself that everything is temporary. I tell myself I regret it if I don't try to enjoy some of these crazy moments, because they don't last," says Kate. Bosses get fired, kids grow up and when you look back nothing seemed as impossible as it did in the moment.

RULE 4. ALWAYS GIVE OPTIONS
"I never ask my kids if they want dinner. I ask them if they want chicken or pasta. Not only does this imply that they WILL be eating dinner, no matter what, it lets them feel empowered and part of the process," she advises. They also forget that the question of dinner even existed. Similarly, instead of asking your boss at work if you should hire a new assistant, re-frame the question to be "Would you rather I hire a new assistant internally or post an ad online?"

RULE 5. KEEP A SCHEDULE, IF ONLY FOR THEM
A lot of bosses don't actually measure productivity, they just want to feel it. Sending out an email with self-assigned deadlines for projects or a schedule of upcoming meetings lets them feel like you're on top of things, even if you're not. Same goes for kids. "They feel more in control and secure if they know what to expect. When they trust that I know when they're due for a change, food or a nap, they don't panic and things run smoothly," says Kate.

RULE 6. GIVE THEM FAIR WARNING
If you know a big merger is about to go down, or someone is about to quit, and your boss doesn't-- God help you. The best way to avert a total boss melt-down is to prepare them for a big change, so they at least feel some sense of control. "When naptime or meals aren't going to be at their regular time, I warn the kids. If they're prepared for a change, they're less likely to panic and throw a tantrum."

RULE 6. FIND A COMMON GROUND
"My kids and I eat together, because it's something we both love," says Kate. "So when we do it, no matter what else has gone on in the day, we're guaranteed a good time together." If you're boss is not the type to go in on an order of pizza, then find a trend or television show that you both agree on and shoot them a periodic link so you can share something pleasurable that doesn't have to do with work. If they don't only associate you with a stressful environment, they're likelier to want to keep you around.

RULE 7. KEEP PERSPECTIVE
It's never just one thing your bully boss says or does that sets you off, it's the accumulation of mistreatment over time. Employees and moms tend to swallow their anger until it bursts at the slightest passive-aggressive email, or bowl of hurled oatmeal. "You have to keep yourself in check, says Kate. "Ask yourself am I mad for a real reason, or is this really important? Is oatmeal all over your clothes really a problem or it something larger?" Seeing the big picture can help you when you do confront your boss, or bosses, about their cruelty. If all you've got to go on is a frowning emoticon or a messy kitchen, they're just going to think you're being too sensitive. Keeping a log of grievances could help you see overarching problems. And if you can cool down and have a sensible conversation, they might be able to curb their actions. Then again, they are just kids. All of them.

[image: Think Stock Photos]