Your manager's been on a tear lately, ignoring your e-mails and assigning impossible deadlines. Don't take it personally: Even well-paid top dogs feel insecure at work now and again and take their frustrations out on their underlings. Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT), decodes what your boss's barbs really mean and how best to deflect them.
SHE SAYS: "I know it's late, but have it ready for me by tomorrow morning."
SHE MEANS: Yes, this is a ridiculous deadline that can only lead to mediocre results--but my superiors are on my case to get it done ASAP.
WHAT YOU DO: Involve her in the process by asking, "Given such a tight deadline, what would you do to make this a success?" Soliciting her guidance makes it more difficult for her to blame you later if things go badly.
SHE SAYS: "Where have you been all afternoon?"
SHE MEANS: I'm a little needy right now and want you by my side 24/7.
WHAT YOU DO: Sell her on the upside of your absence: "I took our clients to lunch, and I think I convinced them to renew their contract with us!" Next time, be sure to remind her the day before, the morning of, and an hour prior to heading out of the office, and leave a note explicitly saying when you'll be back.
SHE SAYS: Nothing—she hasn't responded to any of your e-mails in days.
SHE MEANS: I'm incredibly busy. Don't e-mail me unless it's urgent.
WHAT YOU DO: First, stop pinging her about minor matters. Then, be direct with her about the best way to communicate. Taylor suggests something like, "I know you're inundated. Would it be easier for you if I asked your assistant to set up a meeting for us to review my questions and ideas?"
SHE SAYS: "You haven't finished the report yet?!"
SHE MEANS: I may be blowing this out of proportion, but I'm overwhelmed and, yes, I'm taking it out on you.
WHAT YOU DO: The simple truth is that your boss needs to vent periodically—and you're the unlucky sap standing in front of her when she blows. Just be professional—no trembling lower lip, ladies! She'll probably pop by later to smooth things over. Accept her peace offering and move on.