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How to Shut Screaming Mimi Up

Article #2 in the series “The Dirty Dozen of Bad Bosses”

Screaming Mimi costs the company more than she’s worth.   She’s needy, fickle, and stubborn, and her peers and subordinates never know when she’s going to throw a tantrum… and she’s still your boss.

As tempting and as justified as you may feel to assume the victim role in this story, it puts you in a position of powerlessness, and you lose the opportunity to grow.  Today, we’re going to take a more active and empowering approach.

The first question to ask yourself is, “If I had the power to change Screaming Mimi’s behavior, what could I do?”   I bet your instincts are good and that you’ve come up with a actionable list.

If you haven’t yet formulated a list that you’re comfortable with taking action with, here are some survival tactictics:

  • Answer the question, “What opportunities does being in this position provide?”   This may provide you with the opportunity to be thicker skinned, to be a better judge of your performance for yourself.   You may use this as an opportunity to create a support network of people who benefit from your work. This is not a therapeutic group for you to complain about your bad boss; it’s a group of people who will have your back because you serve them well and have reached out to them to develop relationships.
  • Do not engage it in the fight!  Engaging both validates the argument and escalates the tensions.
  • Find a way to diffuse the situation.  The best way to do this is with a pattern interrupt.  Screaming Mimi throws tantrums because that’s her default behavior.  It’s a habit a.k.a a pattern.  When you interrupt that pattern, Mimi will likely calm down.  Humor’s a good tool, as long as it isn’t at Screaming Mimi’s expense.
  • Know the signs.  If Mimi is set to blow, adding to her stress isn’t going to help.  Even if it’s fun to push her buttons and watch her go, resist the temptation.
  • In private, let Mimi know that she crossed the line.  The conversation looks something like this, “Mimi, when we spoke earlier, you used a tone that I interpreted as hostile.  I felt demeaned and embarrassed in front of my peers, and I am not willing to accept that behavior.  My request to you is…  Can you honor it?”

And, for the advanced players, here are some tips about how you can get ahead of the game:

  • Communicate openly and honestly with Screaming Mimi.  The natural urge is to lay low and avoid her, and this fuels her insecurity.  The natural urge is also to work on the projects we like.  We’re less inclined to work on projects we don’t like, and that’s more true when we don’t like our boss.  Find out what Mimi’s priorities are, often, because these things shift, and encourage her to let you know when something comes up.  Set expectations, to reduce your churn.
  • Anticipate problems.  You become very valuable to Mimi when you don’t dump a bunch of stress on her all the time.  Hone your strategic thinking skills.

A note to Screaming Mimi’s boss:

Your first step is to let Screaming Mimi know that this behavior is unacceptable.  Believe it or not, she may not know, especially if she’s been getting away with it for a while.   And, of course, the next step is corrective action, either carrots or sticks, depending on how Mimi is best motivated.

Here’s the challenge.  In this setup, you’re going after behavior.  Behavior’s driven by thoughts and emotions, so if you really want Mimi to be successful, that’s where your efforts are best directed.  Consider this, if Screaming Mimi continues to behave in a way that’s counterproductive for your team and self-sabotaging to her best interests, she most likely doesn’t have the foundational leadership skills to do anything different.  If Mimi is someone with potential, whom you think you want to develop, this is the place to invest in her success. Leaving her to flounder around on her own isn’t working, and she may not know what to do to fix this on her own.  Coach her, or find her a qualified coach.

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann Jacobs

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