Most of us have been there. Okay, we’ve all been there. Whether it’s a boss who truly isn’t good at their job or one who seems to just live to make work-life more challenging than it has to be, dealing each day with someone difficult – sometimes even combative – is stressful and always toxic.
As you read on, we hope you’ll find some helpful Do-s and Don’t-s; a few techniques that, surprisingly simple and may help to make your time with your boss less tortuous. These techniques may even go much farther than you would ever believe in improving your relationship. Or, perhaps, what you read will lead you to consider leaving as the best way of coping with what really is an impossible situation.
Let’s take a look at several types of bosses -- management styles that, in the end, are counter-productive to getting the job done and more often only serve to confuse. Let’s take a deep breath and dive into the pool of superiors who are anything but pleasant.
They are everywhere. From the corporate know-it-all and the Produce Manager at the local grocery store. They are women and men, young and old. They are highly trained or rose through the ranks. They have put in their decades learning the ropes or just started this week and are determined to make a big splash. (No doubt drenching everyone in the process!)
Whoever they are, they are most likely driven by their own insecurities, fears, and ego. The latter stands in their way and, sadly too often, prevents them from having even a bit of the self-awareness and insights that would make them genuinely successful managers. As a result, they are clueless about their impact on others and the work environment as a whole. Nor do they care.
How To Deal With A Bad Boss - Case 1
Incompetent Carl Plans a Picnic (and What Not to Do)
In my very early days in the corporate world, I worked for (because in those days we would have never worked with our boss) Carl. To this day, just typing his name gives me a chill and reminds me of one of my not-proudest moments.
While Carl enjoyed the perks of his middle-management role, he made sure to sign-up for anything that would position him to rub elbows with senior management. Or, for that matter, their administrative assistants. That was how Carl met Annie. (See an upcoming article: Surviving Colleagues.) Annie’s boss, Dr. W, was second-in-command of our large product testing laboratory. It was Dr. W who decided we should have a department picnic and that Annie should disseminate the details. Annie immediately formed a committee, as Annies always do. Carl practically knocked me down, racing through the halls to sign-up to be on the picnic committee. Most of us were running in the opposite direction.
Annie selected Carl to prepare the one-page picnic invitation detailing the event. You would have thought they were working on a rewrite of War and Peace. Finally, when they had finished and printed a hard copy, Carl presented me with the results of their efforts to proofread.
Date, Location – looked good. Time – uh-oh. It read: Noon until Dust.
I probably groaned aloud. Dust? This would mean one more Carl encounter would be necessary to point out the error and gain permission to change it. I walked into his office and stood, as Carl wouldn’t allow anyone to sit until he told them to. I explained that I did find something – that the time of the picnic read as Noon until Dust.
“So?” he said. I was immediately sorry that I hadn’t waited until the next morning when I would be fresh and feeling hopeful. “So,” I said in a casual no-big-deal cheery tone, “the word is dusk.” He shrugged. “What’s the difference?” I sat down without approval.
“Well,” I began, “I think you meant to use a K rather than a T. D-u-s-K.” Advanced-degreed Carl shrugged. “What’s your point?” he barked. “Dusk,” I continued, “is sunset. Dust is loose dirt.” Carl leaned back in his semi-executive chair. He thought for a moment, reaching for a book on his obligatory middle-management credenza. He slid the dictionary across his desk, toward me. “Look it up,” he commanded, nastily.
Carl, alone, was surprised by the findings. But he didn’t let that stop him. He pondered. He contemplated, and then, leaning back as far as his vinyl chair would carry him, he announced with another shrug: “Copy it as it is. We need 200 to distribute.”
My heart leaped with joy. Dr. Mc, the laboratory director, was going to have a fit. We had only a few weeks before endured an hour-long lecture on the importance of accuracy in all that we prepared.
I sat for a few minutes at my desk. This was it. This was my chance. My chance to show the world that Carl was an incompetent boss. That he was the arrogant maniac that I knew him to be. Now the world would know. Now Dr. Mc would know. (Bonus Point: Dr. W would also know that Annie was as dumb as a box of rocks.)
After a bit and with a massive sigh of reluctance, I understood that exposing Carl for the fool he was, well, it wasn’t the right answer. I had spent three years quietly changing Carl’s writings to present the best image of a strong, careful department. I didn’t want my work ethic and professionalism to die on Dust Hill.
It was then, while I was pondering how I could best convince Carl that we really didn’t want it to be released this way, I heard him shout my name: “JULIANNA! Are you going to sit there and DREAM or make the COPIES?” Decision reached. I stood and walked past Carl’s office to the copy machine and pressed 200.
It wasn’t long before Dr. Mc visited me. I was such a minion; I was surprised he knew where to find me. After one of the very harshest reprimands I have ever to this day received, I tried to explain that I had brought the misspelling to Carl’s attention. I explained in detail the entire encounter. In the end, it didn’t matter. I was the one who let the document go with the mistake – and an error that may make Dr. Mc’s laboratory personnel appear to be illiterate fools to the entire corporation. If we can’t correct simple mistakes, how can we hope to produce trusted test results?
As a red-faced Dr. Mc walked away, my late-arriving insight showed up. I had just learned a fundamental lesson: You can reveal your boss’s incompetence. If you do, you’ll likely be the one to bear the brunt of the result – and you are very likely exposing his incompetence to the same people who put him in that position in the first place. I wasn’t telling Dr. Mc something he didn’t already know and was doing nothing about. Not to mention I had just pointed out to Dr. Mc that Carl, this walking-talking arrogant fool, had hired me.
Be you. It took me a long while and with many staff of my own to realize that Dr. Mc wasn’t surprised by Carl’s idiocy. He was surprised by mine. I turned out to be the disappointment. Dust was expected from Carl. Not from me. It will never be a surprise to upper management that your boss is incompetent. Remind them of it, and you will likely find yourself, even if unfairly, painted with the same brush.
How To Handle A Bad Boss- Case 2
Beating Helen the Micro-Manager at Her Own Game
Having survived Carl, it was years before Helen, and I crossed paths. Helen was polished to a high gloss. Everything about her was perfect. She was determined to keep it that way. To make certain that nothing in her control slipped, she put the M in micromanagement.
In what was the worst of all imaginable bad boss situations, we shared an office. TIt meant that Helen saw everything I did and said throughout the day. She made my work her own.
Helen would ask that I contact a doctoral student enrolled in her program to advise them of something, then frequently shout out to correct me or add additional information as I was speaking on the phone. Helen would re-hang my coat. And re-tie my scarf. She would place my left glove in my left pocket and my right glove in my right pocket. I felt like I was five years old. She once invited her administrative assistant, MaryLee, and me to join a group of professors and university officials in her home for a dinner party. Attendance was mandatory, so I didn’t bother asking if I could pluck out one of my eyes – her choice on which – instead. On the day of the dinner, Helen pulled me aside to remind me to watch 42-year-old former catering manager, MaryLee, to be certain she was using the correct fork during dinner not to embarrass anyone. Anyone being defined as Helen.
What felt like a thousand times during any day, she would suggest we have a meeting to “catch” my thoughts. At the beginning, frustrated and exhausted by the constant interruptions, I threw those thoughts pretty hard. I rebelled. If you want to know what I’m working on next … and next and next – too bad. Nothing was ever late, and she had everything that she needed and then some. Somehow that wasn’t enough. Ever. My way was my way, and her way was the right way.
One winter’s night, riding home on the bus, I thought about my career, my work … my Helen. It was time to go. This woman was clearly way, way too much of a micro-manager for me. Every day was miserable.
As the bus pulled to my stop, I felt the cold rush of winter air as I stepped onto the curb. Another lost day, I remember thinking -- feeling as though my day were spent just explaining my days and assuring and reassuring Helen that, yes, it would all be completed and completed to her satisfaction – just as it always was.
With freezing hands, I reached into my coat pockets to warm them only to find my gloves! Helen, who was forever telling me that I wouldn’t always leave my gloves at the office or scramble with numb hands to find them if I put them in my coat pockets. I rolled my eyes. She was an outrageously difficult boss with a difficult personality. But she put my gloves in my pockets for heaven’s sake. The left in the left pocket, the right in the right. Because, as we all well know, is there any other right way?
That alone warranted at least one more try. But, perhaps what I needed was a different approach. Maybe, I don’t know; maybe I could beat her at her own game.
I began by suggesting a daily morning meeting—first thing. We could sit at her little, round conference table, have a cappuccino, and I would regale her with my daily schedule. I suggested she set milestones to know that she would receive information from me on those dates. She needn’t ask. We would meet again before leaving for the day and reviewing what I had worked on and what I had resolved.
Over time, the evening meetings disappeared. When they began, the milestone reports were hourly (no kidding!) – tapered to weekly, then monthly, then went away entirely.
Her trust in me grew because she had a tangible paper in front of her – and me and my double latte – daily. Her trust in her management ability grew. Peace reigned throughout the land.
Beat your micromanager to the punch. Answer their questions with details before they have the opportunity to ask. As a result, their trust in you will grow, and they will most likely loosen their death grip, allowing you to do your best and even learn some ways to improve your own communication style.
In the end, Helen was a good person and a bad boss but the latter, only for a while only until we figured it out.
How to Stage an Effective Coup with the Help of 1975 Pop Music
“Hop on the bus, Gus … make a new plan, Stan …” Singer/Songwriter Paul Simon may have been thinking of 50 Ways to Leave your Lover when he penned the song, but he does make some carry-over points!
So often, we lament that we are stuck; stuck in a regime of unreasonableness and suffering the ensuing confusion. Our work performance slips, and our energy is forever being drained. We are exhausted from the moment our eyes open in the morning. We are consumed with a rage that’s taking a toll on every aspect of our life.
That’s it. They have to go. The only answer is a well-planned overthrow.
Much Better Idea:
Take some time. Whether it’s preceding your weekend plans (let’s face it – those activities are beginning to fail at rejuvenating you for the upcoming week, anyway) or setting aside another pleasurable activity, you need the quiet time. Wherever you find it, carve time to truly evaluate your work environment. You may find that what you are experiencing may not be a bad boss as much as it is a bad fit for you. Only with this knowledge can you truly make the clearest decision on what’s best for you.
Where to begin to look at what is no doubt a hot mess of confusion and upset? Make a list. Trite-but-true: Lists work. Play out both scenarios in your mind: What does life likely look like if I stay? If I leave?
As you grow closer to making your final decision, take a walk to clear your mind.
Speak with a Kasamba Advisor to help you to put the current situation and the challenges ahead in perspective. Get that second opinion from someone without a desk next to yours.
And most importantly: Don’t stay without a plan. Don’t leave without a plan. When in doubt, be Gus and Stan. But being Stan first is always the better option.
Dealing with a bad boss is a very personal experience. Only you can honestly decide whether to leave or, frankly, how to stay. Whatever action you choose, be true to yourself. Make yourself proud.
Either with honest dialogue, new techniques, or by moving on. We can again put our trust in the advice of Paul Simon: “Don’t need to be coy, Roy. Just set yourself free.”