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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 and in turn, gain leadership skills that will help you uplift your career trajectory.

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.

Navigating workplace challenges can be stressful and overwhelming, making it important to find a confidante who can provide support and understanding. Having someone to talk to about the ups and downs of your work life can be immensely therapeutic and help you process the sometimes ridiculous behaviors exhibited by bosses or colleagues.

Your confidante should be someone who can empathize with your experiences, allowing you to vent and express your frustrations. Ideally, they can also help you find humor in the situation, helping you see the lighter side and possibly even find a way to laugh at the craziest behaviors. A best friend or partner can be great choices for this role, as their familiarity with your personal life can make them more understanding and supportive.

If you choose a colleague as your confidante, it is crucial to select someone you trust implicitly. Sharing workplace grievances with a trusted colleague can provide a sense of solidarity, but be cautious not to rely on this person excessively or make them the sole recipient of your frustrations. Friends and partners may find it challenging to constantly witness your pain, and continually focusing on negative work experiences can strain those relationships.

If you desire an unbiased perspective, you may want to consider working with a coach or therapist. These professionals can provide guidance and support without the personal attachment that friends or colleagues may have. They can offer objective insights, help you reframe challenging situations, and equip you with coping strategies to navigate workplace dynamics more effectively.

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.

After dealing with a challenging day with a difficult boss, it can be tempting to seek solace in activities that provide immediate distraction, like watching Netflix or indulging in a glass of wine. Taking time to relax and unwind is essential for mental well-being, and it's okay to do this occasionally. However, if this becomes a nightly routine, it may prevent you from taking steps to escape your current situation and find a better work environment.

Once you have given yourself a chance to clear the negative energy through activities like self-care or venting to a confidante, it's important to shift your focus towards your future. Updating your resume and LinkedIn profile allows you to present your skills, experience, and accomplishments in a compelling way to potential employers. It ensures that you are ready to seize new opportunities as they arise.

In addition to updating your professional profiles, networking plays a crucial role in finding your next job. Actively connect with others in your industry, attend networking events, and engage in conversations with professionals who can provide insights and potential job leads. By nurturing your network, you increase your chances of discovering hidden job opportunities and finding companies that value your skills and expertise.

While it may be challenging to see beyond your current situation, remind yourself that there are numerous organizations actively seeking talented individuals like you. By planting seeds for your next job and exploring the possibilities, you open yourself up to exciting opportunities and the potential for a more fulfilling work environment

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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