How to survive the curse of the bad boss

A bad boss can cause a great deal of frustration and stress. Even a dream job can become a nightmare if your direct supervisor or manager is difficult to work with. However, it’s up to you, as much as them, to fix any issues and establish a productive, positive working relationship.

Genuine harassment or unreasonable workplace behaviour is a different matter and, if it continues, should be dealt with through the appropriate HR channels. However, most bad bosses aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong in an HR sense. The problem is usually that their management style clashes with your own idea of your role. And that means there are various things you can do.

Take an objective view

It’s important to try to understand why certain situations arise, divorced of any emotion or subjective ideas of unfairness. Does your boss have superiors of their own that are placing unreasonable pressures and targets on them? Is your boss inexperienced in managing others or, more specifically, in managing employees with your skills? Are your business goals simply incompatible, for whatever reason?

Understanding why your boss is behaving in this way can help greatly in resolving these issues – maybe even becoming a valuable ally in managing the higher-ups.

Improve communication

To solve any problem, communication is required – most workplace frustrations and disputes come from a lack of information of one sort or another. Don’t expect your boss to always have the same detailed skills and level of experience in your specific role. Many bosses manage a wide team and develop a broad or simplistic understanding of individual expertise, and this can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.

If you feel your boss is placing too much work on your shoulders, have you demonstrated how long each task takes? If your boss demands impossible results, can you educate them on the issues and barriers so they can decide on a better approach?

Be clear on deadlines and be willing to explain when you cannot adequately complete a task in the time available. Alternatively, list your current workload and ask your manager to prioritise the various tasks. This information also helps your manager deal with their superiors, helping them set the appropriate expectations. Most importantly, always keep your boss updated on your work, particularly of your achievements, so there is never any doubt that you’re performing to the best of your ability.

Choose your battles

If you expect every decision and every idea to go your way, then you’ll always be in a fight with management. Believing that you are in the right doesn’t mean you should always fight your corner on every issue. That just tags you as difficult to work with.

Instead, you’ll win some and you’ll lose some. So try to make sure you win more of the points that are important to you by not fighting your corner on less important or trivial issues. Don’t waste time and energy getting upset about a minor procedural irritation, for example, when you want your boss to take your side on the major new IT procurement package tomorrow.

The tactical retreat

Sometimes the best strategy is retreat. If you genuinely feel there is nothing you can do to resolve or improve the situation, prepare to jump ship. That doesn’t mean quitting in a fit of rage after a bad meeting – storming out of the office is never a good career move. What it does mean is towing the line and performing your job as well as you can while you update your resume and start applying for new positions.

And never, ever, complain about your bad boss in a job interview. No matter how wronged you may feel, a potential employer doesn’t want to hire someone who openly admits to personality clashes in the workplace.

Above all, the best way to manage a manager (or impress a potential future employer) is to become essential to their goals as well as to your own. Stay positive and focused on solutions, not irritations, and you’ll always have a better chance of success.

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