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How to Manage a Difficult Boss

Going to work every day with a boss you don’t click with ranks up there with getting a tooth pulled without novocaine.  It’s downright painful.  I’ve been right there with you, a couple of times. And I’ve made some mistakes while trying to manage the situation. Lucky for you, those mistakes have turned into valuable learnings that will help you avoid similar pitfalls. Read on if you want to get to a better place without jeopardizing your career.

If you find yourself stuck working under a bad boss, here are some survival tips to help you:

1. Blow off steam and practice self-care- Having a bad boss leads to many feelings of anger, frustration, and maybe even hopelessness. When these feelings build up, you become like a soda can that has been shaken up and, if you don’t find a way to release the bottled up negative energy, you are bound to burst. Find the thing that helps you feel better. These are different for everyone but here are some of the most common:

a.   Work-out

b.   Journal

c.    Escape to nature

d.   Volunteer

e.   Meditate

It may be tempting at times like this to increase your alcohol or drug consumption but while a glass (or two!) of wine won’t hurt you, try to prevent yourself picking up bad habits or over-indulging on a regular basis. You already have a lot on your shoulders so be kind to your body.

2. Seek a confidante- You will need someone to talk to about all the ridiculousness at work. Someone who can sympathize and maybe even allow you to get to a place where you can laugh at some of the craziest boss behavior. This can be extremely therapeutic and will allow you to release negative energy and perhaps reframe what’s happening. A best friend is a great person to fill this role and a partner, from time to time. If it’s a colleague, make sure it’s one you can trust. Be careful about using one person too much. Friends and partners don’t like to see you in pain and, if this becomes the dominant topic of your conversations, it can weigh very heavily on those around you.  If you want an unbiased source, you may consider working with a coach or therapist.

3. Update your resume/LinkedIn profile and network- After a day with your bad boss, it’s so tempting to come home, grab a quick dinner and a glass of wine and binge on Netflix. It’s so, so tempting. And at times, this is exactly what you need to do to give your mind a mental break. But if you do this every night, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to escape your bad boss faster. After you’ve had time to do #1 or #2 to clear the negative energy, try to start planting seeds for your next job. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees but there are so many great opportunities out there and companies eager to hire talent like yours.

4. Find a champion (or two)- No matter how bad your boss is, they are also the primary input to your performance review. Make sure that others in leadership positions have visibility to the good work that you’re doing so they can balance the biased review your boss may give. This can also help you get out from under your bad boss. Having 1:1 meetings where you voice interest in another team is a very healthy way to get moved around the organization. People have a natural tendency to assign doubt and recoil when they hear others complain so refrain from sharing the negative feelings you have about your boss, unless you know you are with someone you can trust. Instead, focus on how excited you are to “keep learning” which is corporate speak for, “please move me to another team stat.”

5. Take time off (if possible)- This one can be hard to swing but some companies do allow time for sabbatical. One-two week vacations are essential but, no matter how good your intentions are to spend part of this time looking for a new job, most people tend to just tune out and escape their tough situation and don’t feel motivated to look for a new job. That’s very natural and likely, much needed. By taking even a month off, you can spend the first couple of weeks unwinding and the next couple of weeks being introspective. What is it you really want? Do you like your company and just need a new boss? Or are you tired of the company/industry you’re in and want to go in a completely new direction?

One final word to offer from someone who has been there.  Please don’t make the mistake that I did and tell your boss how you really feel. Your friends will cheer you on if you do so and others will encourage you to speak your mind. But it will backfire. Imagine the last time someone told you, “you are doing this all wrong and you’re making me crazy.” How did it make you feel? If you were in charge of their future, how might you react? If you truly have a bad boss, chances are, this approach will not make them turn over a new leaf. Instead, do everything you can to take care of you and release that negative energy before and after you engage with your bad boss. And finally, know this: every challenge is accompanied by opportunity. Your bad boss will soon be a distant memory and you will have become a stronger, wiser, and more successful person for enduring the pain you did.  Hang in there, my friend. Brighter times are around the corner.

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