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Do’s and Don’ts When Dealing With a Bad Boss

By Tessie Davenport

Bad bosses – sadly we’ve all had them and desperately hope to never have one again. It seems like good managers can be hard to find, which leaves us desperate for any help we can get when dealing with a bad boss. There will never be an easy fix when it comes to working with a not-so-great manager, but here are some do’s and don’ts you might want to consider.

For your own sanity and career growth, don’t:

Expect anything to change if you don’t have that difficult conversation with your boss about the behaviors you are observing and the impact it is having on you. See how they react to your input, give them time to assess your feedback, and provide them with a little patience as they work to make necessary adjustments.

Allow your own performance to suffer because you are angry, disappointed, or frustrated with your boss. You still have your own reputation to uphold and slacking off because you’ve lost incentive might start reflecting poorly on you.

Hold your boss to standards that you yourself would not be able to uphold. It’s good to have high expectations for your manager but tell them what you need to be successful before you appraise their management skills unfairly.

Assume your supervisor knows how you are feeling. If you are upset about something your boss did, gather your thoughts and prepare to have a conversation about how their actions upset you. Don’t expect them to realize there is a problem without telling them there is a problem. Better to speak up early so the conflict doesn’t become unwieldy.

Talk poorly about your supervisor behind their back to anyone and everyone who will listen. Gossiping about them to everyone in your office spreads mistrust, fear, and anger. Instead, try finding one good friend or a trusted colleague outside of your office you can vent to, but try to avoid hurtful gossiping sessions about your boss with your immediate coworkers.

Tell your boss that everyone in the office feels the same way as you do when you bring up an issue. This is secondhand information and hearsay which is not really fair for you to convey without your coworkers’ consent. Remarks like this will leave your boss feeling like the entire team is against him and that he can do nothing right by any of you. Be bold by communicating how you feel and leave your coworkers out of the conversation.

Get stuck constantly playing the victim, as you are likely not completely helpless. Seek advice from a mentor or a trusted friend to gain an outside perspective on what is happening and how to best navigate the situation.

Constantly jump to unfavorable conclusions about your boss’ actions. Seek to understand the full picture of what is happening and why. Try giving your manager the benefit of the doubt instead of looking for any and all indications of wrongdoing that supports your theory that your boss is awful.

Let a bad boss make you question yourself and the value you bring to the organization. When you start to question your own worth and ability to contribute to the company (and you’ve tried talking to your manager about this), it might be time for you to move on.

Here are some things you should keep top of mind and put into practice:

Try to find common ground with your boss when the two of you aren’t seeing eye to eye on how your team should be operating. Use the organization’s vision, values and beliefs to come to an agreement on what is best for the team.

Take time to understand how your supervisor approaches things, as your perspectives might greatly differ. Try having a conversation with your boss about their expectations of the project at hand. Ask clarifying questions along the way to ensure you are on the right path. Gaining their perspective early on might help you avoid producing a final product that falls short of what he was expecting.

Establish requirements when feedback is not cutting it. State your needs upfront to your manager when assigned a new task. Be specific with what you will need to bring this project to fruition. Consider emailing these mandates to your boss and holding her accountable to them so there is no question later as to what your specifications were for success.

Consider bringing in a third party to help facilitate a conversation between you and your boss to address specific grievances you have brought against him.

Do some self-reflecting to determine if you have contributed to any conflict or tension you are having with your supervisor. Take ownership of anything you might have said or done to initiate or worsen any interpersonal misgivings you are experiencing. If it is a substantial wrongdoing, apologize directly and ask how the two of you can work together better moving forward.

Present your manager with solutions or ideas if you have them. Your boss might be struggling with something and even anxious when it comes to admitting they need help. Your idea and willingness to implement it might be just what your boss and the team need.

Give your manager credit where and when it is due. If your supervisor does something for the good of the team, consider expressing your appreciation to reinforce positive behaviors.

Hold them accountable for meeting the expectations you have communicated. Define the gap between what was expected and what your manager actually delivered. Use specific examples of their subpar performance and describe how their actions are hindering your ability to succeed.

Report harassment, abuse, discrimination of any kind, or criminal violations committed by your supervisor immediately to your organization’s Human Resource (HR) professionals. If necessary, document examples of wrongdoings to ensure HR has the necessary information to take appropriate actions.

Walk away from the job if it is starting to negatively impact your personal wellbeing and quality of life. If there is no way to find a resolution with your manager and you are miserable every day, it is probably best to seek a new job.

Learn from your boss’ poor behavior how not to treat others in the future. Learn from his mistakes how not to be as a leader and make a commitment to never resort to his way of managing.

Clearly, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to dealing with a bad boss. As frustrating as it is working for a bad manager, try to remember that no one is ever going to be perfect. We are all humans with different experiences, personalities, backgrounds and expectations that we are bringing to the workplace. Naturally, this will cause some tension, conflict, miscommunication, and disagreements that need to be thoughtfully navigated and respectfully addressed.

Tessie Davenport has served as a leader in the Department of Defense for the past ten years. Her breadth of experience includes creating successful teams, coaching, mentoring, and leading development programs. 

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