Most people have to suffer under a “bad boss” at least once in their careers. Here’s how to cope.
Lucky you. You have work you love. Your colleagues are great. Even the commute is not bad. In short, you’re sitting pretty.
Or you would be if it weren’t for your bad boss.
A bad boss turns an otherwise dream job into a nightmare. After all, leaders set the tone. One who is erratic, unreasonable, quick to anger, belittling, bullying, picky and petty creates a work environment that is not only very unpleasant but a liability to your career (not to mention your health, physical and mental).
You can, of course, just quit. In the long run, that may be your recourse. People rarely change and this often goes double for a bad boss. But we can’t always instantly walk away from difficult situations. We can only strive to make them less awful. Here are three suggestions:
Put everything in writing. If you have a boss whom you can’t trust to honestly remember that, say, you’ve returned that phone call or vetted that report, then you must keep careful records. Never just tell your boss you’ve done something. Put it in a note, memo, email or report. When your boss gives you instructions, write them up and send the boss, and yourself, a copy. It’s cumbersome, yes, but also good business practice.
Learn the art of the “reverse time-out.” Bad bosses may remind you of toddlers and you may wish you could put them in a time-out. You can’t, but you can put yourself in one. Do whatever’s necessary to remove yourself from the scene of temper tantrums and rants, even if it’s only announcing a client is waiting for you or staging a coughing fit. Be creative. As much as possible, try very hard not to be alone with a bad boss.
Make your behavior beyond reproach. This can be difficult as you may feel tempted to slack off or lash out. But we’re always better served by taking the high road. So do good work. Build and maintain strong relationships with colleagues. Exemplify the integrity that your boss, sadly, does not.
Finally, it may help to remember that “boss from hell” scenarios are more common than you’d think. Most people will suffer through at least one over the course of a career. Fortunately, they are always temporary.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.