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Have a Difficult Boss? Whatever You Do, Please...Don’t Do These Things

Plus, tips for handling your bad boss

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

free

If your boss drives you crazy, makes your work life impossible and creates an atmosphere in which you and your colleagues are continually uncomfortable, upset or angry, you’ve got a bad boss.

You’re not alone. According to The Predictive Index, 41 percent of employees report disliking their managers both personally and professionally. The biggest complaints are that they’re selfish, lazy, rude, arrogant, and untrustworthy. Add to that accusations of being poor communicators, micromanagers, and just plain mean, and it’s not surprising that 77 percent of people with bad bosses are planning to quit—soon.

But what if you like your job and you don’t want to quit? And then there are varying degrees of bad bosses: What if your manager is a nice person, but just doesn’t give enough direction? Or what if your boss is wonderful in every way—except they micromanage you to distraction? How do you deal with a difficult boss who may not even be aware of the damage they’re causing.

We’ll look at the things you should never do when dealing with a bad boss, and what you should and can do to make the relationship work.

Don’t make generalizations

There are many reasons why employees don’t like their bosses. While those reasons may be valid to one person, that boss may not seem so bad to you. It’s important that you don’t just make a blanket statement that you’ve got a difficult boss. That won’t help you decide how to deal with the situation; details are needed.

Journalist Rhymer Rigby, author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work, says you need to analyze your feelings about your boss. What exactly is the issue? Is it that you don’t like the person or that you don’t respect the way they do their job? 

If it’s that you simply don’t like them much, but they’re an effective and fair manager, you can use that realization to build a good working relationship, he says. Remember, you don’t have to be their friend to work well together.

In fact, the problem may not be the person at all. It may be that you don’t jive with their management style—you prefer a participative management style and they’re more top-down and autocratic. “This does not make someone a bad boss. Rather, here, the onus is on you to consider your own biases and recognize that, although their methods are not your methods, they get the job done,” explains Rigby.

Don’t try to fix your boss

Business productivity consultant Adriana Girdler says that in cases when your boss is great, but has a few bad habits, don’t try to fix them. The only person you can change is yourself.

Instead, focus on what you can to reduce friction. For example, if your boss sends you over the edge by never giving you enough information or direction, Girdler says to book a meeting with them. It doesn’t have to be long, but you can get the answers you need to start, continue, or complete the project. If they have a tendency to micromanage, for instance, create a shared document that shows your boss which tasks and to-do list items have been accomplished in real time. Another approach is to see if you can take on some of your manager’s work. This not only relieves their stress level but also can help with your own future at the company.

Read more: What Does It Mean to Manage Up? Well, I Got Really Good at It

Don’t blame yourself

Unless you have a boss who you know is out to get you personally, their behavior isn’t about you. If you are good at your job, and there’s no validity to their behavior (like criticizing your work even though you meet or exceed all your goals), then that behavior is about them.

It’s important to take a moment for a little self-examination. Are you really fulfilling all of the expectations your job requires? Can your boss depend on you to get the work done, professionally and on time?

If the answer is yes, then put yourself in your manager’s shoes. For example, it could be that your boss is unhappy: The pressure they’re under is creating such anxiety about completing a project on time that they’re micromanaging you out of a place of insecurity.

Understanding the source of the behavior doesn’t make it go away, but it can make that behavior less offensive and much less personal. 

Don’t let truly unacceptable behavior go—ever

The first time your manager goes from being just a difficult boss to being overtly abusive and goes out of their way to “get” you, it may be so shocking that you won’t respond at all. You might have a hard time believing that you heard correctly. Believe it: toxic people exist. 

Unlike friends, however, you don’t have the luxury of choice as to who you directly report to. They may well be a person who has anger management issues, uses offensive language, or touches people inappropriately.

In the case of discrimination, harassment, or abuse, you need to take issue with each instance of offensive behavior as it occurs. This may well be exhausting and extremely uncomfortable, but it is necessary to maintain that you will not put up with whatever the behavior is.

So, if your boss is having what can only be described as a temper tantrum, leave the area immediately, saying you’ll return when they are able to control themselves. Do not subject yourself to abuse; if they threaten to fire you, document the incident by recording it on your phone or creating a memo, possibly backed by a coworker who witnessed or overheard the incident. This information can form the basis of your report if you need to escalate.

Girdler faced this exact situation. She had a boss from hell at a great company she didn’t want to leave. So she documented everything—every conversation, every meeting—and brought the proof to the human resources department. It wasn’t fun, she says, but it helped her tremendously when she had to go down that road.

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