In an ideal setting, we would all have considerate and fantastic bosses. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Some may have anger management issues, show favoritism towards a particular employee, or they may be an absolute workplace bully. If that’s the case, it can be challenging to make the best of the situation and get your job done.
Though you may feel like planning an exit strategy, it would be wise to rethink how you can competently deal with the boss you already have.
Here’s how to deal with a bad or difficult boss, as advised by experts.
Emily Frank, M.A.
Founder, Career Catalyst
Some specifics depend, of course, on the nature of the supervisor’s badness, but here’s what I’ve found helpful:
Keep a record of your accomplishments
This can be on paper, or it can be on your own phone, computer, or personal thumb drive, but make sure it’s always accessible to you, not locked on a computer at work. Note the date of each accomplishment, any barriers you had to overcome, and some solid numbers when possible.
This is hard but necessary. Many bad bosses are bad communicators, so when you get a new task or goal, clarify how your boss will measure success. Ask questions, take notes, and if possible, have a coworker or two in the room so you are really clear.
Email your direct boss (and if you feel it’s helpful, copy that person’s boss) with what you understood about the assignment, when it’s due, and what the measures of success are.
If your boss doesn’t say anything, proceed as you planned. And know that you have a record of it, should that become necessary.
Report your progress
Send a weekly email to your supervisor with a list of what you have accomplished during the week, what you are working on, and when you expect to finish, and where you are stuck. For the section on where you are stuck, it can be helpful to specify what your boss can do to help you.
Enlist work friends
If these are people in your office, they may have suggestions for you about dealing with your boss. If they’re more removed from the situation, it’s just helpful to have a sympathetic ear and someone who might have advice.
When I had my own bad boss, it was really helpful for me to have a friend from a different office who could confirm that my boss was behaving in ways that weren’t acceptable, as I was beginning to feel just a little crazy.
Start looking for something new
The sad reality is that most bosses are going to manage the way they want to, and if the steps above aren’t enough, it’s better for you to get out. Do some networking, update your resume, and start checking sources like LinkedIn and appropriate job boards.
All of this does stink, and I absolutely acknowledge that. It’s a crummy feeling to have to do extra work simply in order to manage up, as it were, but these steps should keep you in a place of managing your own career instead of feeling like it’s entirely in someone else’s hands.
HarperCollins Leadership Author | Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition
Always document everything
That way if there are ever questions, (and there will be) you have a record and can avoid being blamed or beat up.
Share a weekly priority list with your boss
When your boss wants to add a new emergency, priority task, be sure to show your boss your list. Then ask: “What task would you like to reassign (on my list) so I can concentrate on this emergency.
Provide a short end-of-week e-mail progress report. Let your boss know “in advance” of any problems looming on the horizon.
Understand that a “nightmare boss” can change direction frequently
Learn to “go with the flow,” and send an email that states: “My understanding is that x my new priority is_________. This will impact my planned completion dates on, , and __. No need to reply, but I wanted to advise you of these changes.”
Condition yourself to just “smile” through it all
Smile through the intimidation, threats, and bluster by reflecting the negative emotions being heaped on you. Once your nightmare boss understands that he/she can no longer intimidate you, they will grudgingly back off.
Accept that your boss may take credit for your work
Get used to the fact that your nightmare boss will take credit for all of your good work. (Don’t worry, I’ve had several), and people in the company really know who is generating great work and excellent results.
Don’t be afraid to take the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Boss”
- I will always remember that my number one job is to make your job easier and that you always look good in the eyes of your boss.
- I will never say anything about you or our department that I wouldn’t say directly to your face.
- I will never surprise you in front of others in meetings with new information that I didn’t share with you first.
- I will always come to you with information or grapevine gossip that you may not hear but need to know.
- I will always come to you with several options when a problem arises.
Many bad, difficult, overbearing, “nightmare bosses” are extremely insecure and have bullied people all of their lives. The “Pledge of Allegiance to the Boss”(tm); has worked every time that I used it (good boss or bad).
Understanding the dynamics of an insecure “bully boss” gives you back the personal locus of control that a “bully boss” will rob you of, if you let them. Finally, most bad, difficult, overbearing, “nightmare/bully bosses” are not going to change.
Accepting this fact will enable you to begin an “under the radar” job search. The minute that you begin you will suddenly feel:
Relief; knowing that alternative jobs exist and you no longer have to tolerate being bullied, humiliated, or put down.
Confidence; by documenting the quantifiable, measurable, benefits that you have accomplished throughout your career on your resume, suddenly you begin to see the highly marketable person you really are.
Fearless; a “bully boss” thrives on creating a toxic workplace driven by rumors and fear. Regularly threatening people with the potential of being fired drives people to achieve short term results that inevitably lead to long term burnout.
Able to “rise above” the toxicity of the work environment. When you recognize bad, difficult, overbearing, “nightmare/bully bosses” for what they really are, you have a choice. You can “go” or you can “stay.” Embracing this fact gives you control of your work life back.
Knowing the situation for what it really enables you (for the most part) to stay cool, calm, and rise above it all.
Elene Cafasso, MCC
Executive Mentor and Coach, Enerpace, Inc.
A difficult boss can negatively impact the work environment for everyone. This means they ARE impacting business results and perhaps customers too, so it needs to be addressed.
Get really clear on what behaviors, competencies, or attitudes are the root causes of the issue
Then those can be contrasted to ones that will more favorably impact the business, customers, and coworkers. You now have enough information for the first hard conversation. As long as you can talk about these things in relation to results and the job itself, you have a basis for a conversation.
If possible, bounce your approach off of your HR partner to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for trouble down the line and that everything you will be sharing is professional and appropriate to the job.
The best way to address the situation is to state what you’ve noticed, without any emotion or blame. Express your desire to fix the situation and maintain a positive working relationship.
You might say “Sue, I noticed you gave Bob the file on XYZ company, even though I typically handle that account. I figured you might want to have more folks on the team familiar with them, so I didn’t mention it. Since then though, it feels like our interactions are different or“off” in some way. Can we set up some time to discuss it? IfI’ve done something that’s interfered with the positive working relationship we’ve always had, I’d sure like to fix it!”
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that your boss will be willing to engage. While you can’t control their reactions or actions, you can know you’re behaving professionally and have done what you can to keep your side of the street clean.
If your boss is resistant, don’t be a pest. But do bring it up again the next time you speak privately – perhaps at your 1X1 meeting. If you have a peer you can trust, try asking what changes they’ve noticed in your boss’ behavior. It may be a boss issue and not a “you” issue!
Conversely, if you don’t have to interact with your boss daily, focus on protecting your energy. Imagine there’s clear glass between you and the hateful person. Whatever they spew your way, can’t get to you. Wrap yourself in energetic bubble wrap. Since it’s all their issue anyway, it will just bounce off you.
Finally, there is no law that says we have to like everyone we work with. Stay professional and give some thought to what behaviors are triggering such an extreme reaction in you. It’s most likely hurting you much more than it is hurting them!
Communicate upwards often
One of the challenges many people face is a boss that tends to micro-manage. One of the things that can help the most, in this case, is to communicate upwards often.
One of the things managers complain about the most is when people don’t let them know what’s going on and they feel nervous about whether things will happen on time and to their satisfaction.
This is especially true in this new world order of the Coronavirus crisis and remote work. We have not yet established routines and patterns for working in this new way.
And what we now know from cognitive and neuroscience is that humans are hard-wired to crave certainty. It makes us feel safe. In fact, one of the key ingredients for trust is a pattern of reliability.
So taking these factors together, I’d suggest that the employee can take ownership of their end of the situation and create opportunities to establish the perception, in their manager’s mind, that they are reliable, competent, and trust-worthy by manufacturing “micro-patterns of reliability”.
How? Instead of only communicating on a need-to-know basis, or ad-hoc, or only checking in when the final deadline is nigh, do this: promise and deliver multiple instances that allow you to show up as doing what you said you’ll do.
It might be saying something like, “Would it be okay with you if I send you a quick bullet-point status update at the close of business each day in the next couple of weeks? Or, may I send you a progress report on Fridays? [Choose the appropriate frequency.] I thought it would be good to just let you know where I’m at on the project?” and then, like clockwork, send confident, competent updates as promised!
Your boss’s brain will have both certainty (they’re not in the dark about what’s going on with you) and demonstrated reliability. These patterns will provide them the ‘evidence’ that they need to feel they can trust you and will reduce their anxiety or need to micro-manage.
And you’ll have an opportunity to get some mid-course input and feedback so that you’re not in the dark and so you can make course-correction if by chance you were going down the wrong path. Win-win!
Whatever the ‘difficulty’ is, talk to your manager about your work and communication together
Does he or she know you are finding it difficult to work with them? There might be an opportunity to change how they work with you if you spoke with them about it. Of course, this might be a difficult conversation – giving this kind of feedback is often uncomfortable for both parties.
But it’s important to give them the benefit of the doubt, and give them the chance to discover that there’s a problem for you. Here are a couple of reasons to consider this scary but necessary approach.
Feedback is a gift – and an opportunity to improve.
If they didn’t realize it, they will have an opportunity to make a change, instead of keeping this information to yourself (or worse, sharing it with others but not with the source of the problem), and then they are in the dark.
We wouldn’t want to keep doing something that isn’t effective, and keeping them uninformed prevents them from choosing to change. Most managers want to do a good job and don’t want to be micromanagers.
Talking about what’s not working can help you discover that you could change.
We naturally assume that we’re in the right and the other person is wrong. But, of course, it’s only one possible reality. It is entirely possible that by talking with your manager you might learn about something you might be doing to cause or exacerbate the problem. You will gain insight into what’s not working for them, and how you might be able to shift your approach to fix that.
If you approach the conversation in a respectful, sensitive way, you will likely strengthen the relationship.
We’re often afraid of difficult conversations because we worry that they will harm our relationship with the person. But in fact, if you do it well, you will probably increase the level of trust, intimacy, cooperation, and respect between you by showing that you care enough to be open and vulnerable, to want to give them the opportunity to change themselves or change yourself for them.
Executive Coach| Speaker | Chief Shift Officer, Peloton Executive Coaching
Reframe the problem
Start by asking yourself how is this happening for you versus why is this happening to you? We can learn from all our bosses, and sometimes our most difficult ones provide the best lessons.
Create a personal board of directors
Understand that you don’t have to face this by yourself. Connect with professional and personal allies who can serve on your personal board of directors. They can help you manage your frustration and offer tips on managing up better.
Have a conversation
Commonly, perception clouds reality, especially with status-based relationships. That’s why we frequently face communication issues with our boss. So, instead of making up a story, have a conversation that helps clarify expectations and strengthens your partnership.
This step takes courage; that’s why most don’t do it, but the clarity will help you understand your boss’ perspective better.
Manage your energy
With everything that 2020 has thrown at us, it’s easy to feel drained, and dealing with a bad boss doesn’t make things easier. So avoid letting your boss’ behavior get you down, set boundaries, and remember to take moments to pause, breathe, and reflect.
You don’t want your energy to fall so low that it impacts your performance, which will only make matters worse.
Christina Previte, Esq.
Divorce Lawyer | Founder and CEO, NJ Divorce Solutions
As someone who can be a demanding boss, I can tell you the best way to handle this situation is:
Do not take things personally
It’s not about you. In fact, most things in life are not about you. You never know what other pressures your boss is dealing with, which could be personal issues or business issues.
As an owner, if I am having other business challenges, such as a difficult employee, a legal matter affecting the business, or a cash flow problem which are things the staff would never know about it, it can greatly affect my mood and my ability to be focused.
My staff should never take my shortness or lack of attention to them personally. However, they often do, because they are often looking for praise and recognition from the boss.
Related: How to Not Take Things Personally
Your self-worth shouldn’t be determined by your boss’s opinion of you
If your boss is just a bad boss or is difficult to work for, don’t let that impact your opinion of yourself. It’s not about you. You didn’t make them that way. They were that way long before you and they’re probably just not a very happy person.
Always do your best, work to the best of your ability, and let that determine your self-esteem and your self-worth. I see so many employees, especially younger, less experienced employees, constantly seeking praise and affirmation from their bosses.
It’s nice to be recognized, but if you rely on that to feel good about yourself, you are always going to be disappointed.
Don’t argue with your boss
You won’t win the argument, even if you are right. If you get to the point where this is even an issue, it might be time to start looking for another job!
Try to troubleshoot problems yourself before you go to your boss
It’s incredibly irritating as a boss when staff comes to me with problems, especially trivial issues, that they haven’t even tried to address on their own first.
It shows me that you can’t problem solve and take initiative to do things on your own and that you are just looking for someone to tell you what to do.
Propose solutions, not just problems
If you do bring a problem to your boss, make sure you have tried to resolve it to the best of your ability on your own, and have a proposed solution.
This shows the manager that you aren’t just looking for them to fix your problem for you and that you are being proactive about resolving it collaboratively.
Make your boss’s job easier
All of the above suggestions are ways you can do that. The best way to make the boss likes you, especially a difficult one, is to show them your value.
Be the one the boss misses when you go away on vacation. That is what really makes the boss like and value you, and we always treat those key employees a little bit better, even it if’s subconscious.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio
It is important to know that working in a toxic workplace is a serious mental and physical health issue. Remember that toxic work environments usually contain a bully or several bullies. Bullying is abuse.
Bullying can impact adults and lead to depression and anxiety, including symptoms like low self esteem, and problems sleeping.
Going to work in a toxic work environment for a toxic boss can tax your immune system and even make you more susceptible to viruses, like colds and the flu.
Spending regular time in an emotionally abusive and toxic environment can lead to significant chronic physical health conditions, such as heart disease, migraines, and other headaches, digestive tract distress, rashes, and bruxism, or TMJ.
Begin working on a safety plan to get out as quickly as possible
If you currently work for a toxic boss in a toxic work environment, begin working on a safety plan to get out as quickly as possible. Toxic work environments should be treated as seriously as abusive relationships, and share serious long-term consequences for your mental and physical health.
Don’t allow yourself to just get used to the maltreatment
Don’t just hope it goes away and gets better. Toxic work environments tend to worsen over time. Actively work to take the necessary steps to get out of your toxic workplace as soon as possible. If you need more support, find a psychotherapist to help you break free.
No job is worth your health.
Dealing with a bad boss starts with trying to have a conversation with the problematic person
Frame the expression of your concern around what “I” am experiencing or struggling with. “I don’t always know what actions you want me to take,” or “I want to ask you to share your criticisms of my work with me in private first, not at team meetings.” If the boss doesn’t outright dismiss the feedback, ask him or her “How would you like me to respond if this happens again?”
With more direct or abrasive leaders, you may have to have more direct conversations to be heard. “How you spoke to me at that meeting is not ok. That can never happen again. Do we understand each other?”
In any workplace, being direct and standing up for yourself can be risky. But from time to time in your career, you may have to speak truth to power. You may have to draw a line in the sand, decide that some behaviors are unacceptable, and give voice to that.
This takes courage; it assumes the risk, but it’s often the difference between suffering in silence and affecting change.
Report your concerns higher up the organizational chart or begin looking for other opportunities
If you’ve made an effort to discuss the behavior and asked for change, and no improvement occurs, assume that it never will. At this point you have two choices left, report your concerns higher up the organizational chart or begin looking for other opportunities.
Both involve risk and both can lead to disruption. Of course, remaining and continuing to suffer at the hands of flawed leadership is another option, albeit one that tends to do long-term harm to all parties involved.
What’s important to note is that it is not the responsibility of an employee to fix the problematic performance of a supervisor, nor should it be. That is the responsibility of the supervisor and his or her leadership.
Where poor managers are present, talent leaves and work product suffers. It is a common and necessary consequence of continuing to allow a bad boss to remain in charge of people.
Managing Partner and CEO, Shapiro Negotiations Institute
Just because they are bad – mean, difficult, selfish, or anything else – doesn’t mean you have to be as well. As a matter a fact, that gives you even more reason to follow the NICE acronym:
Neutralize your emotions
Dealing with a bad boss can easily get emotional. The more emotional you are, the less rational you behave. Conversely, the more your emotions are in check, the more you can be in control of a positive outcome.
Identify the type
Our extensive research led us to the fact that there are three basic types of difficult people:
- The Situationally Difficult: those people whose situation or circumstances make them difficult.
- The Strategically Difficult: those people who believe being unreasonable is effective.
- The Simply Difficult: those people with an ingrained personality characteristic, this is by far the least common.
The key is to figure out why they are being difficult (the type) in order to decide what strategy is best for dealing with them.
Control the encounter
Once you know which type of individual you face, you can employ the appropriate techniques to help shape and determine the outcome of the encounter.
For example, do you bring with you some allies (colleagues) in order to balance power? Do you move the meeting to a neutral place such as a coffee shop inside the company headquarters?
Even after shaping the encounter, you may still be at an impasse. The process of getting “unstuck” often requires the development of options.
The key is to provide your boss with a few options, which he/she can choose from – this way you only offer solutions that are acceptable to you and he/she still feels like they are in control.
Founder and Owner, Fertile Ground Communications
If you are dealing with a bad or a difficult boss, the most important thing is to ground yourself. Realize that it’s not about you or your abilities. I’ve noticed that if I have a challenge with someone, others usually do too.
Check-in with friends, coworkers, or family members who know you well and ask them for their advice and support.
Document your issues and specific interactions carefully
If you trust your HR group, talk to them confidentially, and share specific examples and how the relationship has affected you. If they do not address your concerns, your documentation will help you protect yourself.
Documentation will also help you reflect on how bad the situation is. When you look back on your interactions, you’ll feel better about knowing how to respond. If you decide to pursue a formal complaint or legal action, you will be prepared with evidence.
Stand up for yourself if you can
Even if it’s difficult to do so, and document that conversation too. When I had to confront a difficult boss, I told him that I could not thrive when he treated me the way he did.
If none of these things work, consider legal action, especially if you are being discriminated against for your gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, parental status, or disability; if you are sexually harassed; or if the company does not address your concerns.
Find a way out
If you can, figure out how you can get out of your situation by either transferring to another group in your organization or looking for another job. Having a bad boss can cause both mental and physical health problems. We spend too much time in our jobs to endure bad bosses!
Larry Sternberg, JD
Senior Leader, Talent Plus
Whether you like your boss or not, your success depends on her success. Whether your boss is a narcissist, a micromanager or an abdicator, one strategy can help you succeed.
Ask questions that help you understand what your boss wants to achieve, and make your boss’s goals your goals
This assumes your boss’s goals are ethical. If you help your boss achieve her goals, she can grow within the organization (maybe even into a position where she is no longer your manager), and your contributions to her success can enhance your value to the organization at the same time.
It’s a win (win) win. If you find that you genuinely cannot make your boss’s goals your goals, you should consider finding a job in another department or in another organization.
Certified Career & Life Coach
How we deal with a bad or difficult boss has a lot to do with us focusing on ourselves rather than focusing on them. I know this isn’t a typical response, but hear me out.
We tend to blame others because of their behavior towards us or with us. Their behavior has a lot to do with them and what they are feeling, thinking, and going through. However, we are responsible for how we accept being treated.
So if you have a difficult boss, ask yourself a few questions:
- Did I clearly lay out boundaries of how to work with me? Deal with me? Talk with me? Did I explicitly state the consequences of crossing the line with me?
- Why am I still here?
Really, it’s just that simple. Easy? No. But simple.
Clearly state boundaries
Boundaries are important in any relationship. If you don’t clearly state your boundaries, you put yourself in the position to ultimately resent anyone you’re in a relationship with.
Again, it’s really that simple. When someone says or does something that we don’t like how do we respond? Do we get upset? Do we talk to them? Do we walk away?
There are several responses when working in a professional environment, but I say the best response is to get ahead of the problem and put in place boundaries on day one!
This can be done when you’re meeting with your boss to discuss expectations. If we really want to be honest, you may sense that your boss will be difficult or has the potential to be difficult during the first or second interview.
By asking the right questions and reading body language you can learn a lot about a person, and at the end of the day, the choice is yours.
So if you have a difficult boss, what do you do? If you are determined to stay in your job, it is your responsibility to talk with your boss and ask them what they need from you, what is it that they feel they are not getting, and continuously have the conversation about expectations especially when they give you new projects or assignments to work on.
Try to find a way to either work with them by putting boundaries in place or if it’s unbearable and not working for you, it may be time to look elsewhere.
Assistant Professor of Management, Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics
It is really difficult to deal with a bad boss. And unfortunately, this is all too common as 75% of employees say that the most stressful part of their job is their boss. Further, 65% of employees would prefer to have a new boss over more pay.
Be more sympathetic and less critical
While it is possible that employees can “manage up” in a manner that gets their boss to transform, the reality is that this is unlikely. So, what employees need to do is to see their situation as an opportunity to improve their own self-management.
Here is the reality of the situation: When a boss operates ineffectively, he or she is likely doing so because he or she has fears and insecurities that are causing them to engage in behaviors that seem good to them, but are often detrimental to those around them.
When employees understand this, it allows them to be more sympathetic and less critical, which allows them to more mindfully navigate the relationship.
Founder and CEO, Invisible Culture
Identify the needs of each party
From an outside perspective, the first step in creating a healthy relationship with a difficult boss is to identify the needs of each party. Typically, work relationships go sour when there is a focus on positions versus what is actually needed to get the job done.
An employee may be able to understand why the boss is being difficult if the situation can be reframed from positions to needs in order to re-orient parties towards a mutually beneficial relationship.
Learn about equality-based communication
The way to keep in a safe middle ground is to learn about equality-based communication. Just because there is a hierarchy, doesn’t mean that a boss shouldn’t treat their employees as equal human beings. If this is a concern, then it is time to bring in HR.
When inequality in positions results in unequal treatment, then there is an issue. Ideally, HR can resolve conflicts and provide support to develop employees to better match their intent to their impact.
If it’s just a difference in working styles, then a good-hearted conversation about preferences is a good starting point. If the spirit behind the conversation is authentically equal and there is a mutual goal of working well together, then these solutions should be enough.
Career Expert, ResumeLab
Most of us have had bosses at some point in our careers that didn’t exactly teach us valuable lessons that benefited our professional life and set us up for success. Luckily, there are a few things you can do before pulling the trigger and leaving your organization.
Try to pinpoint your boss’s management style and see how you could adapt to it
Judgment aside, throw under the microscope how your direct manager likes to work, how they prefer to communicate with direct reports, their workplace priorities, and, most importantly, what gets on their nerves.
Ask yourself: do they like to keep their finger on the pulse and receive frequent updates? Or they tend to be more hands-off? Then, take a minute to gauge your workplace preferences and compare them with those of your boss.
Think of what you can do to adjust to your direct manager’s workplace and managerial behavior
Perhaps you could improve how you communicate project details or shift your work hours earlier or later to suit their schedule better.
In essence, you need to put some elbow grease to learn your boss’ motivations in the workplace, understand yours, and then try to figure out how you could collaborate more seamlessly with that person for the benefit of the company.
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Resume Expert and Career Advice Writer, Zety
The cases where a subordinate gets rid of a horrible boss are a rare phenomenon. If there’s absolutely no option for you to quit your job, you need to make friends with enemies.
Start with proper research
Try to get to know what drives and annoys your boss? What one values and is interested in? How does your supervisor process information, and what’s the best time to make an approach? Does your boss make independent decisions or values the advice and seeks for trusted advisors?
You need to turn your instincts on here and become an observer and a psychologist. Once successful, you will get a picture of who your boss is and a manual of how to handle things daily.
Slowly earn trust by doing things his way
Showing your readiness to learn those ways – you may actually learn something valuable once you put your resentfulness aside.
Flattery and appreciation will take you far
Often, a boss that feels appreciated gains confidence and gives back. In the end, with some effort and will, you may actually build a harmonious relationship.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Behavior Coach | Consultant
Get support around the issue
If you know you are dealing with a bad or difficult boss, the first thing to do is get support around the issue. The level of support you obtain can often determine whether it is sustainable to remain at the job. Talk to a therapist, coach, or trusted colleague.
Assess the situation
Is the bad or difficult behavior only directed towards you, or is this person generally difficult towards everyone? If this person is generally difficult towards everyone at work, it will be easier to find validation and support.
However, if the bad and difficult behavior is directed towards you—and everyone else thinks your boss is a saint—there is a possibility that you may be working under a toxic person who wishes to undermine your work and reputation. If the latter is the case, it is best to devise a plan to leave.
Remember that you have options
Remind yourself of them. The danger of working for a difficult boss is believing that you are trapped in the situation, feeling as if you do not have the resources to leave.
Update your resume, network, research on job sites, develop skills that make you a more desirable employee, or explore starting your own business. All these actions will increase your sense of agency and help you remember that you are not stuck in this job situation.
Do not expect your bad or difficult boss to change
Remember that giving them feedback is a gift of your time and energy. Do not fall into the trap of telling them “how to treat you”—this works well in theory, but if you are the target of a narcissistic boss, this will only give them more ammunition to use against you and frame you as the toxic person.
Furthermore, it is up to your boss to do their own personal work around their toxic behavior. You are not your boss’s therapist or coach. Work on your marketable skills and remember your resources.
Chantay Bridges, CNE, SRES
Coach | Realtor, Los Angeles Real Estate Now | Speaker | Writer
Be wise and lay your ego aside
This is a time where you lay your ego aside, despite you being right and them possibly 100% wrong. It would be better to find a way to adjust, thrive, and survive.
As you know what you are up against, now utilize it to your advantage. Don’t add fuel to the fire, find a way to alleviate the flare-ups. Be wise especially being they have authority over you. Let’s say, don’t make matters worst. They already are unfair, you don’t want them docking your pay to boot.
Make it hard for them to act that way
Yes, they tell everyone in the office off for no real reason but be such a team player, go to helpful person that it would bother their conscience to treat you wrong. Make it hard for them to act that way.
Be the first to volunteer to do something outside your job description. When everyone says no, say yes. Stand out for a good reason. It will baffle them, they won’t understand why you are the nice guy or girl. Give them a reason to treat you differently.
Don’t lose sleep over their words or actions
Chop it up as to that’s the way they are and go ahead and live your life. Just because they are miserable doesn’t mean you have to be too.
Take what they say and do with a grain of salt. If they say you are the worst writer ever, dismiss it and move on. If it bothers you, take a writing class but don’t let it change who and what you are on the inside. Unhappy people are just that, don’t become one because someone else is.
Managing Director, Iakoe
Dealing with a difficult boss can have an impact on your happiness, productivity and overall job satisfaction. It’s often easier said than done, but the key lies in developing effective communication skills and exercising your emotional intelligence.
Recognizing your trigger points
No matter how well-prepared you are, emotions can take hold. Depending upon how emotionally charged the situation is, you might go into a rant or withdraw from the conversation entirely.
Consider what these responses look and feel like so that if they do start to take hold, you can bring yourself, or them, back from the brink.
Start conversations with the end in mind
What do you want to achieve: for yourself, for your relationship with your boss? How do you need to behave in order to achieve it?
Keeping these points in front of mind will anchor you towards the end goal, rather than just trying to ‘win’ the argument.
Present the facts of the situation
Start with the facts about the situation as you see them, before explaining how you feel and the impact that has. Separating facts from emotions means you can communicate the whole story in a rational, clear manner.
Listen without filters
Ask your boss to explain the facts from their side, their feelings, and the impact on them.
Focus all your attention on what they’re saying, taking into account non-verbal cues, and avoid mentally planning your next counter-argument: it’s a dialogue, not a debate. Only by understanding the situation as they see it will you be able to reach a solution.
CEO, Scout Logic
There is a difference between a difficult boss and a bad boss. A difficult boss is competent but may be challenging to work with based on style or expectations.
Asking for feedback and expectation management are two keys to success
I once had a very difficult boss who I was sure was going to fire me. I finally worked up the nerve to ask him for feedback and he shared my work was great and to get out of his office and go back to work! So, it is important to ask for that feedback so you know where you stand.
With that same boss, I also produced a high-level status of all my work and his requests so we could prioritize where I needed to focus. This meant we were on the same page most days and that makes a big difference.
Bad bosses are a totally different story and they can range from being incompetent to bullies to having integrity issues. In those situations, it is critical you document everything and set yourself a personal deadline for the situation to improve.
For example, if after three months there has been no improvement, it is time to look for another role and/or share what is going with human resources. Of course, if any of the behavior violates company policy, you should always go to HR immediately. Difficult bosses can help you grow, bad bosses are likely wasting your time and hurting your company.
General Manager, Rockstar Recruiting
Do things that make them look good or at the very least make their lives/job easier
If you can be an asset you will remain in good standing with them. It is also incredibly important to take the time to understand who they are, what makes them tick, and more importantly what they respond positively to.
There are some bosses who absolutely do not want input from their subordinates, they want them to carry out their vision. If you keep trying to make suggestions or changes you will only frustrate them.
There are others who are not great at articulating what they want and need someone who can read between the lines and improvise. Take cues from how they react and try to work accordingly. It can also be very helpful to speak with others in the organization who may be able to offer tips or tricks for how to best work with someone.
Many bosses have been in a position for a long time and get can very stuck in their ways, it will be much easier for you as the subordinate to mold your work style to them as opposed to expecting them to fit your style.
Career and Communications Coach
When I think back to my experiences working with a difficult boss, here’s what the older wiser me wish I knew:
- People know when you don’t like them, even if you don’t tell them. It comes across in body language, facial expressions and actions so don’t think you’re keeping a secret by not overtly telling them.
- While some bosses leave a lot to be desired as a manager, sometimes our own behavior leaves a lot to be desired as an employee.
- Ask yourself whether you’d like to be on the receiving end of your own behavior.
- Treat people with kindness, always (even if you feel they’re making life difficult).
- Use curiosity. If your boss is a micromanager, get curious about why. If they don’t trust you with the important projects, get curious about how you can earn their trust.
- Don’t give your power away. At the end of the day, we only have control over how we show up to the situation. Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions and stop allocating them to another person.
Marketing & Communications Executive, Morgan Jones Recruitment Consultants
Identify not only if your boss is bad or difficult, but also how they are bad
For example, dealing with a chronically hands-off boss is very different from dealing with an aggressive micromanager. By identifying what traits they have you can either work around them or address them directly.
We’re big advocates of open honest communication and this situation is no different. By identifying what kind of traits make your boss bad or difficult to work with, you can then approach them and talk (as politely and productively as possible) about what you need to succeed in your work and then you should listen to them and what they need from you. By arriving at this middle ground, you should have resolved a lot of the issues.
Like any relationship, the boss/employee relationship require communication and work to be as productively.
Look to see how your boss acts around your colleagues
Are they the same around your colleagues or are they targeting you? If they are targeting you, and you can’t resolve this, then it can be workplace bullying which is very serious.
Lead Project Engineer, Tacuna Systems
Dispel their doubts and assert your capabilities
One of the major reasons some bosses tend to be control freaks is doubt. Doubt in their employees’ abilities to get the job done, doubt that employees’ would do their jobs as they should, doubt that they would follow instructions.
An effective way to manage a controlling boss is by dispelling their doubt and asserting your capabilities. You can do this by handling any task assigned to you with the utmost professionalism and effectiveness.
While this may not have an immediate effect, it would gradually register in your boss’s mind that you can get the job done anytime. It also helps to use verbal assertions when you are assigned a task. Phrases like “I’ll get to it immediately” and “Consider it done”, help reduce the controlling nature of bosses.
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