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How to Handle a Bad Boss

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Tips for dealing with a difficult boss


Many people are faced with the daily dilemma of dealing with a manager or boss who just doesn’t seem to like anything they are doing or who just makes work unbearable. I’ve been fortunate, most of my bosses have been superb, but I remember one difficult boss early in my career that gave a co-worker of mine a very difficult time.  With every encounter, she would walk away feeling defeated and demeaned.  To her, it felt like she was back in school and she had to watch her every step or face punishment. In her case, she feared getting fired almost every day she worked there and that’s not a fun place to be mentally.


Difficult bosses can be intimidating.  They are hard to understand, especially if you do not know what pleases them and they can often give mixed signals. You can use the following steps in dealing with your difficult manager to improve your relationship.


  • Be professional: Being objective in a situation that is draining you is difficult, but if you draw the boundaries between you and your boss, it could actually earn you their respect. Draw the line between personal and work-related issues. Avoid the temptation to gossip or talk negatively about him or her to your co-workers.  Regardless of the level of trust you have, you never know what can get back to them or be “overheard”.  Carry on with your work in the most professional and positive manner you can bring.
  • Research the behavior:  Some bosses are passive-aggressive, and others are just aggressive.  Whether your boss takes credit for your work or finds some way to demean you in front of others, it is important to keep their actions in context.  There are numerous books out there about surviving work when you have a terrible boss.  They expose the personalities, the triggers, and the reasons behind their behavior.  Read up on some material so you can develop a strategy that will work with your manager. Know when it may be time to escalate things to HR or your boss’s boss and don’t be afraid to take that step. Keep notes and track the specifics of interactions as soon as they occur so you can bring these up if needed.
  • Document your progress: As hard as it may be, keeping track of your work is the best bet you have in showing evidence of the work you have accomplished. Even if you don’t have metrics developed for your role, I suggest you set your own and track your work.  If you can demonstrate in writing those things you are doing and how those contribute to the company, you are in a much stronger position than someone who doesn’t.  For example, if you are getting yelled at for a customer complaint, and you can state the fact that you “resolved 80% of customer complaints in the month of August”, it will go a long way to taking the “ire” out of the rebuke.  If continued problems lead to an “HR” involved situation, you can have some ammunition in your defense.  An added benefit of tracking your successes is when you get ready for a job search you can use these metrics in your resume.
  • Keep your emotions in check: As hard as it may be hearing your boss yelling, taking credit for your work, or calling you names, self-restraint is the best option. Keep calm and be the rational one.  Be brave, enlist trusted support, and develop a strategy to help you deal with your situation, and remember that most problems resolve themselves with time in one way or another.  My co-worker eventually had enough and found another job, but I have always thought that if she hadn’t had a boss she hated, she wouldn’t have had to leave a job she loved.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help you deal with your difficult boss. Most managers want to do a good job in leading others, but many simply aren’t trained or equipped to do so.  While some aspects of leadership can be taught, but there needs to be some degree of innate skills for a true leader to emerge. If you feel you’ve done all you can and you simply can’t tolerate your boss any longer, it may be time to consider starting a job search.


What is the worst thing you’ve seen a ‘bad boss’ do to an employee?