Dealing With a Bad Boss
Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott might hold the title of the worst boss ever, but at least he’s entertaining and only on a television show (see NBC’s The Office). In reality though, working with someone who is lazy, crazy or incompetent can create a hostile environment that could affect an employee even outside of the office.
A difficult boss makes it difficult for you to work, and it can even impact your health. Work stress has been proven to lead to other health-related issues like depression, heart disease, and obesity.
To help workers everywhere avoid the side effects of a bad boss, MainStreet consulted the experts to put together some proactive tips for dealing with annoying bosses before they give you a headache.
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Find the Root of the Problem
When looking for a solution for a boss you can’t stand, begin by evaluating yourself as well as your superior.
First, determine the pros and cons about your boss. Is he or she disorganized, demanding, ineffective, unoriginal, or an introvert? These are questions that workplace expert Debra Shigley says employees should ask themselves before they start to tackle the issue.
“Figuring out what the issue is will help you chart your plan for dealing with it,” she said.
You should also evaluate yourself, she recommends. How is your own attitude and performance at the workplace? “If no one else is having a bad experience, then maybe it is time to evaluate if it truly is you,” said Vanessa Ting, a product development and retail coach.
Make sure that you understand and are clear about the boss’s expectations and goals are. Lisa Boesen, a Houston-based speaker and coach, recommends that you attempt to address the differences or needs through a dialogue or conversation that is meaningful, non-confrontational, and non-threatening. It also helps when you can put yourself in your boss’ shoes to understand the pressures and expectations that he or she has, said John Demartini, a behavioral specialist.
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Choose Your Battles
If your conflict is simply a clash of personalities, determine what those differences in character are and try to avoid getting into situations where such conflicts may arise. If it goes beyond personality, find out which issues are a priority for working out.
“Analyze which of the boss’s hot buttons pack the most heat, and make certain to cover those fires first and in the greatest depth,” business management coach Gayle Gregory recommends.
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Don’t Take It Personally
A boss’s bad temper, mood swings or ice-cold demeanor should not affect your work. Some bosses may be introverted, while some simply have poor interpersonal and communication skills.
But as long as you get your job done and are confident you’re doing it well, take your boss with a grain of salt. When you can help fulfill your boss’s objectives, he or she will most likely open up and be more receptive and respectful toward you, said Demartini.
Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo agrees, suggesting that the most important thing in the office is to “be confident in yourself and diligent with your work.”
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Take the Lead
Rather than complaining or sulking about your boss’s lack of recognition, take the initiative and be proactive in your work.
Make sure that you are speaking to your boss on a regular basis or schedule a proper tête-à-tête from time to time. If your boss is a micromanager, you can preempt this by establishing a regular interaction with him or her or providing daily updates of your work.
Robert Hellmann, a career coach and professor at New York University’s School of Continuing Professional Studies, recommends that you meet with your boss at least once a week for an hour. He recommends being prepared with an update on your progress, address what you may need help on and bring new ideas.
When your boss gives you an assignment, make sure to write it down and repeat it back for clarification. Make him or her define the expectations if they are not clear. And if necessary, ask your boss for suggestions and examples of how you can get the job done in the best way possible.
You can also give your boss positive and truthful feedback since as this can improve the relationship. For example, a compliment may encourage your boss to be a better leader, Shigley said.
“It is just as much the employee's responsibility to help make his boss a good leader as it is for the boss to help employees feel valued and successful,” Susan Fletcher, a psychologist, said.
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Communication is Key
Silence is not golden in the workplace, so you need to speak up, especially when a conflict arises. As Shigley warns, “the worst thing you can do is let antagonism fester.”
Often you will have to take the lead when it comes to extinguishing a fire. Go over the situation and make sure that you and your boss are on the same page. Give yourselves some time to mull over the situation, and do not confront your boss right away with an angry rant or the silent treatment, Shigley said.
Shigley advised to always settle disputes in person, or at least by phone call, as emails can get lost or misconstrued.
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Track Your Progress
A good dictum is to always write things down. Paul Smithson, an Internet marketer and software designer who heads up the software provider, Intellimon, said that a weekly status report always comes in handy.
“This is powerful stuff and yet few employees realize what an amazing tool it is, not just for building your own personal brand, but also for covering your back completely,” he said.
Smithson said a status report should include the progress made, problems encountered, and any help needed.
Providing a report ahead of time and without being asked is also a useful tip, Fletcher advised. In addition, career expert Laura Labovich said that leaving a paper trail will cover you if someone else tries to take credit for your ideas.
A bad boss may have a selective memory, so having things written down can come in handy now and further down the road, Smithson said.
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Find Common Ground
Finding common ground outside of work-related issues will often help get beyond any differences between you and your boss, Shigley said. To do this, she suggests use neutral situations like asking how your boss’s children are and if he or she has tried that new lunch spot is one way to establish a rapport.
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Build a Network
A good way to cope with your frustrating boss is also to build a supportive network among your colleagues. A good working relationship with your co-workers can offset the negatives you may feel about the job and also minimize exposure and time with your boss, according to Beth Thomas, author of “Powered By Happy,” a book on how to find happiness in the workplace. Such a network will allow you to vent to people who will understand your situation and get their advice about how you can perform better and deal with your boss.
Also, try to establish a social network outside of work completely so you don’t have to think about work or your boss all the time.
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Sometimes, educating yourself in other ways will help you feel more empowered vis-à-vis your boss.
“Any area of your life you do not empower, someone else will overpower,” Demartini said.
He suggests educating yourself, increasing your business and financial savvy, working on communication skills and time management, all of which will build your confidence in the workplace and help you deal with a bad boss head-on.
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Pay a Visit to HR
Human resources can be an invaluable tool in a company to sort out work-related problems. HR may have already heard the complaints you have about your boss before and will be able to give you tips for how to deal with him or her.
Keep track of any conflicts you have with your boss especially if there is a pattern of bad behavior on his or her end. If the situation escalates to a point where it becomes verbally abusive, unethical or discriminatory, always head higher up and report it to your boss’ supervisor, or to the HR or legal department, Shigley advised. Of course, she cautions that you must be prepared to open up a can of worms and deal with the formal dispute-resolution process your company has in place.
Should your work environment become too unfavorable, the best thing for you may be to look for a new job altogether.
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