From How to Cope with a Horrible Boss, Part I, you may conclude that your boss is… well… horrible. And you’re wondering if there’s any hope of them changing; or if your only options are to grin and bear it or slide a resignation letter under their door.
To help you decide, Part II offers several suggestions on things you can do and what you should not do to cope with a horrible boss. (Also, I urge you to follow the links included in this article as they will give you further guidance on this issue.)
Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with horrible bosses
DO help your boss communicate with you.
First, learn how your boss communicates best (email, phone, text, in person), and use that method to connect with them. Second, for “whirlwind” bosses who never have a spare minute to give anyone, Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, suggests that you “send a short update on a weekly basis or a recap of the projects you’re working on. That way you can use the limited time together to ask specific questions as opposed to updating your manager on the status of different projects.”
“The definition of bad depends on the employee’s needs, the manager’s skills and the circumstances.”
DO put yourself in their shoes.
The position of manager is a tough and conflicting job; and it’s a job that rarely comes with much formal training. A manager has pressure from below (subordinates) and from above (executives).
“Middle managers have a complicated relationship with power because power is activated and experienced in the context of interpersonal relationships,” write Professors Eric M. Anicich and Jacob B. Hirsch. “[They] are expected to play very different roles when moving from one interaction to the next, alternating between relatively high and relatively low power interaction styles.”
So instead of seeing your boss’s irritating behavior as an effort to torment you, see it as the manifestation of the confusion and frustration they’re experiencing from having to balance various roles.
DO celebrate their good behavior.
Email them a note telling them you appreciate a particular positive behavior. When dealing with a “whirlwind” boss, for example, send them a note thanking them for the time they took to review a project with you. (Remember, we’re trying to be the bigger person here.)
DO approach your boss honestly, but very tactfully.
If you’ve reached a point where you’re ready to quit, take time to cool off before discussing your manager’s bad behavior with anyone at work. Further, keep in mind that good and bad are relative; meaning, the definition of bad depends on the employee’s needs, the manager’s skills and the circumstances.
Human Resources expert, Susan M. Heathfield makes two very interesting points. First, what one employee views as bad managing could be seen as good managing to another employee. Again, it depends on each individual’s needs.
Second, what an employee might view as bad managing could be seen as good managing to a manager. For example, says Heathfield, “A hands-off manager may not realize that his failure to provide any direction or feedback makes him a bad boss. He may think he’s empowering his staff. A manager who provides too much direction and micromanages may feel insecure and uncertain about his own job. He may not realize his direction is insulting to a competent, secure, self-directed staff member.”
DO find out what causes them to behave the way they do.
I get it, you shouldn’t have to play therapist just to get along with your boss. But, for their more minor or less harmful behaviors, it’s helpful to try to uncover what’s making them tick.
Business psychology professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says, “No matter how bad your boss is, they are probably consistent. Learn to predict their behavioral patterns, and they will become a much smaller problem.” (Emphasis mine.)
DO learn from your situation.
Forbes contributor Margie Warrell offers this outlook: “Having worked with numerous not-so-inspiring bosses in my corporate career, I’ve learned they provide invaluable opportunities for developing executive leadership skills and learning ‘what not to do’ when managing people who work for you.”
Eilleen Hoenigman Meyer, writing for Glassdoor.com, agrees. “You’re honing your crisis management skills and you’re learning to stay calm and strategically solve a difficult problem. Give yourself credit for this instead of feeling badly that things aren’t going better at work.”
DO outsmart them.
Jen Dziura, writing for DailyWorth.com, gives this clever suggestion for that irritating micromanager:
“Anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time.”
“Out-micromanage her so you’re in control.” Meet with her and then “lay out every single thing you plan to do that day.” She may soon tire of your constant, blow-by-blow run-downs, and tell you to just take care of things yourself. Score!
Another idea for putting a stop to micromanagement, from TheMuse.com staff writer, Kate Douthwaite Wolf, “is to anticipate the tasks that your manager expects and get them done well ahead of time.” With each job done in advance, it would be counterproductive for a manager to make you do it over again just so she could hover over you.
DO stay professional.
No matter what, as long as you continue working at your company, you must display professionalism even if your boss doesn’t. Keep your calm even as they rant and rave; continue to give your best in all your assigned work; and keep showing up on time every day.
If the day comes that you decide it’s time to find employment elsewhere, remember that your horrible boss still could be a valuable reference for you. They will remember your good character and excellent work even when they cannot remember how miserable they made you.
Don’t complain about them.
Complaining about your boss is interpreted by others as bad-mouthing them. Don’t do it! First, it will get back to them in a much worse version you said it. Second, it makes you look like a negative person, even though you’re trying to get some stress off your chest. Last, it could get you fired.
Do yourself a huge favor: when you’re angry at your boss, keep your mouth shut until you’ve completely calmed down. And for heaven’s sake, STAY OFF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!!
Don’t make them look bad in front of others, particularly their superiors.
Clinical psychologist and author of Got A Bad Boss? Dr. Noelle C. Nelson reminds us that “the reason why your boss is a boss probably has something to do with the person above him.” Keep in mind that if you go over your manager’s head, you will be complaining about the very person the higher-ups put there.
In an in-depth article for CIO.com, Bob Weinstein warns, “Management-team members interpret any confrontation an employee might have with a boss as also being a confrontation with them, and without well-documented proof of a pattern of behavior, they will likely view the employee as the problem.” [Emphasis mine.]
“Instead,” suggests Dr. Nelson, “get the higher-ups’ attention with outstanding performance and productivity. Volunteer to take on projects that involve other departments and explore your talents.”
Don’t tolerate bad behavior.
Although it’s never wise to go head-to-head with a manager, if you don’t stand up for yourself on important issues, you are giving them permission to continue bad behavior. Staying quiet about abusive behavior seems to make them lose respect for and abuse you more.
In a post for CheatSheet.com about bullying in the workplace, Megan Elliott writes, “When it comes to getting ahead at work, the rule of thumb is to never say ‘no’… But when you have a bad boss, constantly saying ‘yes’ can quickly lead to a miserable work situation. Whether you’re dealing with bullying in the workplace, pressure to skirt the rules, or unrealistic performance expectations, there are times when you just have to stand up to your boss.”
Don’t try to change them.
Don’t exert yourself trying to turn a bad boss into a good one. While it’s possible to influence them, “there are limits to what you can change about another person without their cooperation.” writes psychologist Art Markman for the Huffington Post. “Unless someone is willing to really commit to a new goal and make plans that will help them achieve that goal and turn it into a habit, that individual is unlikely to make lasting changes in her life.”
It’s healthier for you to just let go of your own need to control, says Hoenigman Meyer. “Exercise good self-care and do your best to keep your stress level low. Find an inner circle that can give you support, preferably comprised of people outside of work.”
Don’t feed into passive-aggressive or toxic behavior.
Personal story: When I worked as a counselor for a psychiatric hospital, there was a particular psychiatrist who would stop at the nurse’s station to document his patient visits. (Note: this was pre-electronic charting era.) If a pen wasn’t visible to him, he would open desk drawers and then violently slam them shut. That was his way of communicating to the staff he needed a pen. It rewarded this bad behavior every time one of the staff stopped their work to ask him what was wrong or, for those familiar with him, automatically gave him a pen.
His tactics didn’t work with me because either I pretended I didn’t notice his antics, or I would leave the nurse’s station. After a couple failed attempts to manipulate me with his passive-aggressive behavior, he refrained from acting out if I was the only one around. He’d simply ask, “Hey Pam, do you have a pen?”
For passive-aggressive behavior, what you reward will continue; what you consistently ignore will eventually cease.
Where do these horrible bosses come from??
With so many bad managers, one can’t help but wonder: How did these people get to be managers in the first place? Such behaviors must have been noticed before they were hired or promoted to these positions, right?
“There are rules and training programs for almost every conceivable job… but not how to be a boss.”
To help us understand how some managers become bullies, CIO’s Bob Weinstein explains: “Mention the word ‘boss’ and we immediately think that the person has some special abilities or training. There are rules and training programs for almost every conceivable job, from sanitation engineer to nuclear physicist, but no set curriculum teaches you how to be a boss. An obvious way to compensate for a lack of skills is to be tough and unyielding. You stand a better chance of being left alone and unquestioned this way.“
While many studies emphasize horrible bosses, most managers mean well but don’t know how to perform effectively in their roles. According to psychologist Robert Hogan, executives often promote individuals to management positions based on “how they appear, rather than on their capacity to manage or lead.” Being promoted to manager is often a reward for excellent performance as a staff member, rather than a sound business decision.
“To be fair,” writes Jennifer Dziura for MarketWatch.com, “most bad bosses aren’t actually terrible people—they’re good people in the wrong role.”
What about you?
Can you tell us about an experience you’ve had with a horrible boss? (Please withhold names!) How did you cope with your situation?