If you haven’t had a bad boss yet, just wait. Sooner or later, everyone ends up working for one. The only question about the bad boss is where they are in the range of badness, ranking low as simply incompetent to the high-end after-your-job types.
Whatever type of bad boss you might acquire, you may find yourself in a situation where leaving the job is not an option. Even if you choose to leave, your manager might be more involved in your career than you expect, so it’s not always a clean break from the relationship.
Consider using the following tips to help you prevail:
#1 – Find out what’s important to them. Everyone has a few things that are the focus of their professional universe and can throw them off. It’s usually not someone’s aim to make your life miserable. If they are the compulsive type, they may be thrown off by a lack of organization in either their work or in yours. They might pride themselves on attention to detail and expect the same of their employees.
On the other hand, sometimes there are outside factors that directly affect their mood. They might be having family issues that cause them lack of focus during the day. They might have bad bosses themselves. Watch and learn. Then, see to it that you align your work to those hot buttons.
#2 – Communicate. Communication is always the weak spot in every organization, even with good managers. With a bad boss, they’ll be a bad communicator and you’ll likely try to avoid communicating with them. You can easily fix bad communication by finding out what style of conversation, meeting, or update your boss likes to receive. Adapt to their style and it might let you forge a better working relationship. Too much or too little information, done in a rush, in a format that doesn’t work for them (like texting or hallway chats) will backfire. Pay attention to how they like to talk.
#3 – Figure out the triggers. As you are busy paying attention to what makes your bad boss tick, figure out what turns them from bad to worse. We all have a “backup” or stress mode. When a person is triggered, it can cause a quiet person to go on a verbal rampage or an outgoing person to clam up. Did they miss a sales target, and are now looking for someone to blame? Don’t be that person -- instead, be the employee that helps them move past it with a new solution or project.
#4 – Recruit others. Just like any other business problem you set off to solve, you will do far better when gaining insights from others. How are others effectively communicating with your boss? What do they see as ways you can improve the relationship? Remember to be as polite and political as possible in these conversations about others -- they’re important to have but require tact.
#5- Manage your performance. If you work in a company that routinely assesses your performance and gives you feedback, you’re lucky. In most businesses, performance management is largely missing. Whatever your situation, you need to understand that your performance is yours to manage. Ask for meetings about your performance and get it down on paper that you’re doing well when you are -- it’ll make it harder to disparage you when things go south with a relationship later.
#6 – It may be you. A lot of people I speak with think they are working for a bad boss when in reality they are working for someone who simply wants them to perform better when they aren’t. It is hard to think of someone positively who thinks what you do stinks -- but if you aren’t performing, it is their job to get it corrected. It won’t be fun and you will think even the best manager has it out for you, when all they really want is for you to improve. Reflect on the situation and determine if you have to be more cooperative.
#7 – Seek out a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor in the company, get one. We all do better when we have the support and counsel of an objective person. This could be a peer in another department or an executive at the organization who is impartial and removed from your situation. Your mentor may see things much clearer than you and be able to advise you on how to manage your boss.
#8 – Don’t vent. We all need supporters and people we can vent to. But if it’s a bad boss you’re venting about, don’t do it at work. Now, before, we said recruit others -- in that fashion, you were bringing others into a conversation about how to tackle a problem. But venting? Describing all the bad communication and your bad feelings about your boss? That can get back to your boss or your boss’s boss in a truly negative way, and then the problems really kick in.
#9 – It (usually) isn’t about you. So don’t take it personally. If you do, you’ll start to dislike your bad boss on a personal level in addition to the professional, which means you won’t be able to use any of these tips effectively. That hurts no one but you. Take the time to detach your working relationship from your human relationship with that other individual and make sure to keep the feelings productive -- “do I have a problem to tackle, or do I not?”
#10 – You can make the difference. The best bosses often have the one employee they manage that they must trust, rely on for performance, and depend on for advice. If you can figure out how to be this person for your boss, your entire team will benefit as a result. Be that key player that everyone knows keeps their boss in check.
With a bad boss, you may need to turn into a student of human behavior to help you manage the situation more effectively. You should never have the expectation that this person will change or that you can change them -- instead, you can both adapt around each other in a way that makes you effective partners at work. If it’s a bad boss, you might have to do most of the adapting. Try it before you bail on making the relationship more productive.