How to Deal With a Bad Boss At Work
What makes a bad boss BAD ? - Introduction
A horrible boss can kill you, says research. If you are reading this, I assume that you are (or were) under the influence of a bad boss, who you think has/had become the biggest roadblock of your life and career.. But before moving ahead, lets first define what a bad boss is. You've tagged your boss as "bad" because of one or more of the following traits that he might possess:
- Hitler's Cousin - a dictator/autocratic - someone who wants complete control over your job
- Threats - which is his favorite weapon. Someone who believes that people are driven by fear.
- Offensive Conduct - You avoid talking because you feel that his/her speech is demoralizing and is lowering self esteem.
- Big Ego, Small Ears - Doesn't listen to anyone's suggestions. He does what he feels right. A complete narcissist(step up your vocab!) - these are the people who think the world revolves around them. These are terrible listeners.
- Blame Games - A bad carpenter blames his tools. A bad boss blames his/her team for the failed targets. He/she doesn't own accountability but blames the world around for the losses.
- Doesn't Practice What he Preaches - This is when you work harder and smarter than your boss. He/she fails to be a role model.
- Makes You Work Like an Ass, Pays Low - that is when you feel like an ass!
- Zero Motivation - Makes you work without any direction. Like a log of wood, which travels wherever the stream goes, you keep doing what your boss tells you to, without any clarity on direction.
- Invisible - This is when your boss is never available for a discussion, whether it is personal or a professional matter.
- Inconclusive - Can not decide what to do at the test of time!
- Micromanagement - Who even checks the time you were absent at your desk for a loo break.
- Inconsiderate - bad bosses love shaming people by being insensitive and rude. Sometimes in front of your own team.
- Credit Hungry - You've done the hard work, but your boss gets appraised. Your name is no where to be mentioned.
- Low Interpersonal and Communication Skills - Cant express what he wants to, as he/she has no hold over language!
- Workaholic - This is when you don't really remember in your 5 year tenure, if your boss has ever talked anything out of work.
- Appreciation - Never applauds for the hard work you've put in.
- Vindictive(one who loves revenge) - don't mess with him/her or else your life would be miserable.
- Ingratitude - He/she is never grateful for what you've done.
I have been a victim of working with terrible bosses in several projects over years. And trust me, its is a daunting task to enter the office, gearing yourself up, to deal with that person. But I just want to hit the bulls eye here. I want to share few tricks that I learned over time, dealing with variety of bosses who fell under the bad category.
Trick #1 - Get into his/her shoes
We are the only creatures who predict any situation and sense the danger before it actually happens. Very few living beings have this capability. Most of the things in your life turn up side down because only because you had assumed it to be something, ignoring the facts. In the scenario where you have a bad boss, learn what makes him act that way. Don't assume things like "his inherent nature is like that.". "He can never improve, he has been the same with all his juniors.". When you go out for a tea or coffee break, try to get personal with him, and try to learn what drives him. You might experience a paradigm shift, and soon, you might be his follower, and work with him with more admiration.
Trick #2 - Think that your boss is just a facilitator
In a shopping mall, you must have seen the house keeping staff. There's a manager who makes people work according to the directions he has been given. If you are from the house keeping staff, your aim is not to love or hate your boss, but take care of the mall, and the people that visit. Similarly, your boss is just a facilitator in your team. Never let his conduct affect your work. Look at a larger picture of the project you are in. Serving the clients well, will satisfy you, without thinking about your bosses behavior. "You don't need to speak, when your works speaks for you". And as you pay less heed to the behavioral environment, and more attention to getting the work done, you will be remembered at the test of time. You will be appraised. More work, less talk.
Trick #3 - Record everything on papers
You must've heard this a couple of time during your induction training. All the work related stuff should be put on papers. The generation of papers has faded, so now we have messages and emails, obviously. If you know that your boss has asked you to accomplish certain work, and you know that he might flip his mind in near future, you can humbly say "Could you please send me an email for the work that you asked for, by that it will be in my records and I will not forget it.". You accomplish two things here. You record an evidence of his requirements, to defend yourself in future. Second, you keep it as a reminder, so that you know you have to accomplish a task. If you record all the official stuff on papers, you are playing a smart and safe game in your office.
Trick #4 - The Response and Reaction Gap
There are two kinds of people in this world - Proactive and Reactive,as the famous writer Stephen Covey said. Miracles happen when you do not react to the immediate situation. All I am suggesting is - if your boss says something fiery to you, because of his nature, just listen to it, and comply, even when your anger volcano inside you has already blasted. Once upon a time, my boss when he was not in a good mood, publicly scolded me in front of a 15 member team, to which I patiently said "I will take care next time.". As time lapsed, he realized that I had done my part accurately, and still I didn't argue, which had his heart melted. He soon came back, and asked me to accompany him for a tea break in front of all! Managers and bosses have this tendency to spike up too soon, because of the nature of work they do - managing people. Understand this, and make sure you don't react immediately and make him/her to add more fury to his/her already perturbed mindset. Observe the correct time, and say "may I speak to you for a while in person?". Strike when the iron is hot!
Trick #5 - Kill the dependency
Most people are dependent on their boss for instructions, when they are conscious about the situation going out of hand. They wait for his instructions, instead of taking the right decisions on their own. This also results in your boss getting agitated over the right step not taken, receiving the bad boss tag. If you know the larger picture of your industry or project you are in, don't wait for the situation to go out of hand, but be a leader without a title, as the renowned author Robin Sharma says. This will definitely bag appreciation, not only from the boss, but also from the clients you work with. be your own boss. You are your own CEO at your desk. This philosophy will also demolish the need of a boss. Do you need to tag him/her as good or bad? NO. Because now you are your own boss, taking independent, and most importantly right decisions!
Trick #6 - "Is that what you mean?"
Sometimes, people can't say pardon, and ask for what his/her boss said, to gain a more clear perspective on the set of tasks he/she needs to do. And hence, when you do the task, come back to your boss with vague results, your boss is sure to say "Is this what I asked for, please redo everything?". Now you start to feel miserable, as you put in your heart and soul for a week, just to accomplish what he had said, in a rush. This is when you might feel that your boss is having a bipolar disorder (extreme states of mood swings), which is actually not the case. It's just that you didn't really ask him this question "is this what you mean?". Your boss will be glad to re-iterate the task, because it has given him/her an impression that you need clarity. When you ask "Is that what you mean, is this what I am supposed to do?" - you gain a fresh and clear perspective on the task. And soon after the task is done, you become a hero!
Trick #7 - Give what he/she wants
This not only applies to a bad boss, but to the real world as well. Schedule a meeting with your boss very week/month and ask him/her of the expectations. Write it down. Get to know what is really expected from you, from the given workload. If possible, make several meetings to know his targets from you very clearly. Only when you know what he/she expects, you can try and fulfill it. Once that is done, your professional relations starts grooming. And if you follow the golden rule of Under promise, Over deliver, there can be no room for misunderstanding between you and your boss. He/she will always be contented with you, as you give him/her (even more than what is needed!) what he/she wants! Pay obsessive attention to details if needed. Ask about the fonts, the editing, the color of fonts, the process, next steps....everything! Your terrible feelings about your boss will replace with professional greatness, in no time.
Trick #8 - Hit the Weaknesses
Your power of observation and analysis will come to play in this case. If you have worked over a period of time with your boss, you know exactly what your boss is weak at. Mine was weak at preparing statistical data in excel. Whenever there was a need to create a report out of a statistical data, I would take the ownership by saying "Can I make a trend line out of this data? - this will help the clients have a clear picture about our progress!". And he never said no. Soon, I became his favorite when it came to creating charts in excel. Any reporting related work that came to our team, was assigned to me. Focus on his weaknesses. May be he/she is weak at making minutes of meeting. Take the ownership and help your boss out. When he/she gets a feeling that you are helping him out, he lets go off the negative chemistry that he with you in the past, for whatever reasons. Hit the weaknesses!
Trick #9 - Journaling
When things get out of hands, everything you did out of compassion for your boss, is forgotten. Blame games start. And in no time, your office cubicle becomes a court's trial room. And what is that one thing by which the court runs? Evidences. When you have been wary of your supervisor's unpredictable nature, keep a journal. Note down all the events that may lead into a dispute in future. And when things go out of control, and when its time for you to speak, you have the facts handy. And when you have the evidences in place, you cannot lose.
Trick #10 - Survival of the fittest
Several hundred years ago, Darwin deduced that those living beings who are fit and adaptable, will survive; others will become extinct. So true, still valid. If your whole team of 20 people complains about the tyranny of your boss, its not you who is at fault, its your boss.Establish that fact very clearly in your mind. After hearing from everyone, you should be in a position to conclude that your boss is a tough nut to deal with. So first thing first - never let his reactions get into your nerves. Never let his conduct make you feel stressed. We as humans have an immense capability to adapt with the changing circumstances and changing people. So as soon as you enter your office, have one conclusion in your mind - "My boss is difficult to handle, and that will not affect my self esteem or my work. I will do what is right and expected, and leave the rest on the management.". If you practice this day in and day out, it becomes a habit, and now, instead of entering your office with a bad notion for your boss or how would you react to him/her, you start to think about your goals and to-dos, which actually matter in your project!
Trick #11 - Stand Up for Yourself
This applies to the bosses who love to bully. There will be a time when the accusations will creep into your nerves. When you no longer can deal with your boss. This is the time, when you should speak up for yourself. Schedule a time with your boss personally and let him/her know what he/she makes you feel, honestly. Eg. "Mike, I just wanted to let you know, that the way you are treating me is not something that encourages me. It is lowering my self esteem and making me feel dejected..". If that doesn't bring any change to his/her behavior, you have the full authority to report your supervisor's behavior to the senior management. Next, your boss is answerable to the management. And when he/she knows that you have the potential to carry your interpersonal issues to the management, there will be a change in his/her conduct. I remember once when my teacher hit me with a ruler in sixth grade, for not answering her question about social sciences. I approached the principal showing him the wound mark. Soon, she was called in the principal's office. Next time, when I did not know the answer, she would think "I should not hit him, or else my career will be in danger.". She did not hit any of my friend henceforth.
As a final piece of advice, if you are not yet assigned to a project OR if you are done with your project with a bad boss and will be assigned a new one, you should do a complete research of the project you will be getting into. Reach out people who work in the same project as a team and try to find the work culture. Is it friendly, hostile, isolated or difficult. Get to know about your new supervisor. Because the best trick to deal with a bad boss, is not to have one.
Most people don't leave their jobs because they dislike their work, its because they dislike their bosses. But if you look at a bigger picture, and follow the simple tricks above, a bad boss isn't too difficult to handle. I would love to hear your experiences too. You can comment and let me know about how you tackled your bad boss. This might help out others, reading this article. I wish you good luck.