10 steps in dealing with a bad boss

Dealing with a bad boss can be hard – follow our 10 steps for boss peace of mind!

When I joined the workforce I was so lucky to have find out that I had a great mentor as a boss.  They were considerate enough to take me under their wing, showed me how the workplace functioned and  gave me a fantastic start.   I was lucky.  While I’ve had a few challenging superiors since then, I’ve used that first experience to set the standard of how I expect my bosses to operate.

By contrast I have friends and colleagues who’ve had disastrous relationships with their boss.  Some of these bosses have been bullies, some have had favourites (and put my friends in the shadows) and there were those that I can only describe as well, inept. 

Given the sheer amount of time we spend at work, the relationships we have can have a really significant impact on our lives.  Sadly some of us will have challenging relationships, but if you’re in that position what should you do? 

Below, we list out 10 steps to try if you find yourself soured by your boss/employee relationship.  This isn’t meant to give you an exhaustive list but should give you a few ideas to motivate you to engineer yourself out of the bad situation you find yourself in.

1/ Learn what motivates them

A lot of the time when you see your boss reacting to things it’s because they have probably been motivated to do so.  Remember, they are human too.  Maybe they are under pressure from their boss or other functions within the company.  Make an attempt to find out what makes them tick.  Most of our own behaviour is as a result of us reacting to our environment, your boss is no different.  

Paying close attention to your bosses environment might educate you into what’s driving their behaviour.  Once you have this information you’re better able to use it to your advantage, maybe you can work to help them or at best see those situations that drive bad behaviour, see them coming in advance and avoid them.  This leads us on to….

2/ Key triggers that drive bad behaviour

It’s more than likely that certain things will trigger episodes of conflict between you and your boss.  This might be any number of things, from being late with a piece of work, departmental performance or work not meeting the requirement.  Unless your really unlucky you’ll find your boss will have peaks and troughs.   Perhaps things always get bad when they present status updates to their boss and this turns them into Godzilla.

Taking time to analyse those triggers that drive the bad behaviour can help you devise one of two strategies – engage or avoid.  

Avoid, stating the obvious, is one where you can see the situation coming and avoid it,

Engaging means taking actions that you have devised that help improve the situation.

3/ Don’t let your work get affected.

Ok I know this sounds easy while world war 3 is happening but the last thing you want is to provide a bad boss more ammunition.  You want to ensure you’re still doing the stuff you’re supposed to be doing and you certainly don’t want to create a situation where you can be disciplined.

Make sure that you know the standard that’s expected and drive to ensure you meet it.

4/ Network

Ok so you have to tread carefully with this one.  Don’t talk to colleagues saying, “oh my boss is awful” do say “my boss is having a hard time of it right now – how do you think I should help”.  Use this to gain insights both into what others think about your boss together with real insight into what others think you can be doing to help. 

5/ Set boundaries

Firstly take time to know your company policies.  Try and ensure your boss knows what you will tolerate and what you won’t.  Firstly do not tolerate any forms of physical bullying and intimidation, do not tolerate racism, sexism etc.  Anything like that and it’s a trip to Human Resources.  Where boundaries are crossed ensure you gather appropriate evidence that’ll help you in any discussions.

Where issues are of a work basis Gently (and I mean gently) ensure that this is clear.   Perhaps your boss is a shouter, gently tell them that you think it would be better if there was less conflict and perhaps you could work on a better method of collaborating.  The important thing is don’t be afraid of talking to them.  Chances are they may not be aware that their behaviour is having the impact on you that it is.

6/ Put a stop to micromanagement

We all know that being micromanaged can be awful – you’re there to do a job but you can’t do that effectively as your boss is constantly breathing down your neck, telling you how to do things.

The key here is to anticipate your bosses strategy and develop counter measures.  Get those tasks that your manager is likely to chase for complete ahead of schedule.

If your manager is constantly reviewing *how* you do things then suggest you work on the process together so you become more efficient on your own.  Remind them that you want to be more effective so that they can get on with their own work. 

7/ Focus on what will make your boss a success

While it might sound counter intuitive when you have someone causing you problems, take time to consider what things will make your boss a success and focus on how you can help him.   Perhaps there are KPI’s that you can help improve performance on, perhaps its being organised, perhaps it’s dealing with other functions within the business.  Take time to consider how helping your boss to do well will positively impact your relationship with them. 

8/ Communicate

I know!! How obvious is that one!!   But how well do you communicate with your boss?  Do you take time for a 1-1 with them each week where you can run through work, performance and key issues?  Don’t be afraid of listening to what they have to say but also try and  be strong enough to set your stall out in terms how you believe you’ve performed.

With these sessions try not to dwell on past events too much but try to forecast the future.  What’s coming up that you can help with, how will your role impact business targets, discuss what’s needed and how you achieve that.

Make sure these sessions are two way.  Don’t be afraid of speaking up.  Difficult conversations can be awkward but employees can find themselves stuck in stressful situations if they fail to reach out.  Don’t for one minute assume your boss knows about what’s bugging you.  They may actually be able to help.

9/.  Dealing with favourite-itis

It’s all too common to see Managers  pick out a team members as a favourite, someone they rely on and who may get the pick of the best tasks to do.  Perhaps they are aligned with your boss in terms of company culture, work ethic or other.   Whatever the motivational factor it’s never nice.

When you’re faced with this situation the key message is to keep going, try not to become disengaged.  Try and understand why your boss is making these choices.  If you have a 1-1 with your boss try and delicately raise the subject of how they could involve more of the team.  Maybe they don’t even realise what’s happening?

10/ If all else fails jump ship. But first…..

Of course the ultimate strategy is simply to not put up with a bad boss at all and simply change jobs. Before you do however, make sure you spend enough time to learn about the department or organisation you’re leaving for.

If you’re just changing department, think about what’s going to change and why.  Often bad bosses are as much about the company culture as anything else.

If your moving to a new organisation make an attempt to network, learn about the new company and see what makes it tick.

Ensuring you do this research upfront will help make sure you’re not jumping out the frying pan into the fire.

So there’s our list of 10 things you can try with bad bosses.  Have some of your own that you’d like to share with our readership, use our comments section below or fire us up on Twitter.