Over the years, I've worked with some pretty crappy bosses. In a perfect world, we would all have a boss or manager that made us feel valuable, encouraged us in our work and helped us to be more innovative. Then, at the end of long day, the entire team would go out and celebrate our accomplishments - on the boss’s dime, of course.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world though, and we’ve all had the unpleasant experience of working for someone who is just downright nasty.
Hopefully you love your job because if you don't, most of these tips won't help. If you do love your job and want to make this job work, here are 10 tips in getting along with this nasty boss.
1. Know Who You’re Dealing With
I've seen all types of bosses over the year that I could classify as nasty. Some are annoying because of the habits they have while others are toxic or like to scream at their staff. Some situations related to stress while others just seemed like they liked to be nasty. It was important to figure out what I was dealing with in terms of their personality and the reason they were that way so I could get a handle on it.
Some patterns that determine which type of boss you’re working with include:
- The micromanager is anxious and wants be hands on with everything. You can make them feel more comfortable by being transparent and addressing any concerns in advance.
- The procrastinator is afraid of making the wrong decision and waits until the last minute. Try setting up a timeline and initiate the first steps of a project.
- The idiot isn’t familiar with the business or industry. Approach your boss with information, but don’t be condescending.
- The dictator runs the show in an authoritative style. Ask them if they’re open to listening to your suggestions. If not, shut-up and don't press it.
- The abuser is known for screaming and yelling, but can be rational. Wait and talk with them when they’re calm. However, truly abusive bosses are toxic. So, it may be in your best interest to start looking for a new job.
- The non-communicator never says what they really want or expect, yet have plenty of blame if something isn't done. Try asking for a short 20 minute meeting or phone call, once a week catch up and make sure that you are both on the same page.
Kevin Kruse, in a Fast Company, noted that it's a good idea to observe your boss and assess what they do. I have found that this helped me get an idea of the type of person they were and why they might be behaving a certain way, which then helped me deal with it better than if I hadn't considered these factors.
2. Avoid Confrontation
You may not agree with the actions or behavior of your boss. However, they’re still your superior and you must respect their position. Show-up and do what you were hired to do in the first place. Remember, this is a professional setting and that means it’s no place for having a showdown and especially not in front of your colleagues.
At the end of the day, however, you can vent to your spouse or friends or blow-off some steam by exercising. If you can’t wait until then, there are some quick exercises that you can do in your office. I've done all of these and it has helped me not to lose my cool in front of a boss that was horrible.
3. Don’t Cave
However, that doesn’t mean that you should completely cave-in to your nasty boss. Don't be a doormat because this will decrease your creativity, motivation, and career advancement. You will also start hating yourself for being a "yes" person when all you want to do is say "no." When standing up for yourself, you should be assertive, state the facts, and specifically identify what needs to change.
I wanted to do what I was supposed to for my boss, but I drew the line when they became unreasonable or it ate into my personal time. By standing up for myself, I gained confidence and my boss didn't pressure me as much.
4. Have an Action Plan Ready
If you’re aware of your boss’s behavior, then you should be able to anticipate their actions and have a plan to handle them. It's a good idea to have notes and prepare certain responses. I would note down those things I felt were not motivating or where it seemed like my boss just shot me down. This helped me to reflect on these and then have a response that was appropriate in case they would do it again -- and they did do it again. When they did, I was ready with a response that was firm but not disrespectful.
Additionally, you should have a plan in case it still doesn't work. There were some bosses that responded positively when I interjected with my planned responses. Other times, though, it didn't go well, so I had to be prepared for that as well. I would have responses that acknowledged that they didn't like me speaking up so I could diffuse the situation. It is important to get your point across, but if it's not working, it's time to move on to ensuring it stays calm.
5. Document Everything
I kept notes about everything and asks that my boss give me requests in writing. This paper trail not only ensured I knew exactly what I was doing and had that in case my boss turned around and accused me of anything, but it was also important in case things ever get worse and I would have to prove that certain situations occurred. It is a good safety net to have and provides a way to keep communication open with your boss no matter how they act.
6. Go the Extra Mile
It’s tough to stay motivated and want to give it 110% when working under a difficult boss. The thing is, if you go above and beyond you’ll stand out among your colleagues. And, you’ll also be better able to help prove to upper management or ownership that you’re a valuable member of the team. Even though you may have a boss that may argue otherwise, it’s hard to dispute the facts. Let your work speak for itself and don't let your boss get in your way.
I've always been very committed to working hard so when I have had a difficult boss, it only makes me work harder. Sometimes, what you may take as someone being nasty is just a person that is trying to get you to reach your true potential. It's tough love, and I see its value in certain situations.
7. Set Boundaries
Put boundaries up so that people do not affect you as much as they are trying to do. You control the effect they have on you, so you can choose to separate yourself from it so that it doesn't impact your work and motivation. You can be like other successful people how have set boundaries by identifying your limits, paying attention to your feeling, not being afraid to establish boundaries and being aware of your environment.
8. Don’t Go Over Your Boss’s Head
Even if you are frustrated and feel like you have had enough to the point where you think that it’s time to present your case to their superiors, you might want to still stop and think about it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the best course of action since it’s a surefire way of causing a rift between you and your boss.
Unless you evidence that your boss is doing something illegal, going to superiors with allocations isn’t going to lead to them letting your boss go. Instead, it may end up halting your career advancement if you end up earning a reputation as a complainer.
9. Optimize Communication
Communication is one of the most effective ways in handling workplace confrontation and addressing any issues. However, you don’t want to wait for your boss to make the first move. Initiate the conversation and schedule a meeting with them so that you can tackle these problems one-on-one. I have always done this because I want to make sure I understand the other person. One of the tricks that has worked for me is to repeat back what they've said and then ask them if that's what they mean. This has cleared up many misunderstandings and stopped a difficult situation from getting any worse. And, in some instances, has removed the awkwardness from the relationship with my boss.
10. Share Accountability
Rather than assuming my boss had all the power and control, I looked at our relationship as one of shared accountability. This meant that we were in it together and should talk about issues, performance, and working roles rather than assuming one has all the power and responsibility. Here are some examples of how you could approach shared accountability with your boss.
- "One area that I still struggle with is month-end reporting. I’m trying my best but I think if I could get the XYZ report earlier it would help me to produce a quality report in less time. Do you think I could get that document earlier?"
- "I just wanted to follow up on that item that came up a couple months ago. As we had discussed, I’d be much more efficient with that widget for my computer. Did that request ever go in…have you heard anything about it? I don’t mind following up on it myself…want me to call David for the request?"
- "I know the Diamond Project is very important and you want to make sure it’s done right, but the detailed nature of your instructions and questions makes me think you might not have confidence in me. Can I confirm the end result you’re looking for and maybe let’s see if I can run with it on my own for a few days? I’ll definitely shout for help when I need it."
Lastly, be patient as each nasty boss will be different and will require a different approach. It may take some time for these tips to sink in. I had to use different combinations of these tactics and put in different levels of effort with each boss where we butted heads. However, in the long run, it paid off to be patient and keep trying various tactics to alleviate the tension and stress of having a difficult boss.