Bad Bosses: Five Ways Your Boss Bugs You - And How to Respond
From Meryl Streep's icy authority in Devil Wears Prada to Steve Carrell's hilarious ineptitude on The Office, the big and small screens are bursting with stories of hellish bosses. Unfortunately, some of these characters exist in real life, too.
If you're working with a difficult boss, Lilit Marcus, founder of the blog SavetheAssistants.com and author of Save the Assistants: A Guide for Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace, suggests "figuring out what your boss' weaknesses are and trying to make them your strengths. That way, you guys will balance out and you can handle tasks that he doesn't like or isn't good at."
For instance, you could help your terminally late boss by "remind[ing] him where he needs to be and even print[ing] out driving directions to give him before he leaves," she adds.
Want to learn more about handling bosses and their annoying habits? Read on.
Bob McIntyre had a micromanaging boss who insisted on tracking the number of call each sales representative made each day. Even though this "quantity over quality" approach didn't lend itself to higher sales numbers, the boss only cared about the number of calls, so McIntyre and his colleagues came up with a clever solution. "Several of us who always arrived at work before the boss would call time and temperature to keep our call numbers up," McIntyre says. "He never caught on."
If you're dealing with a micromanager yourself, Lynn Taylor, CEO of Lynn Taylor Consulting and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT), suggests that you "over-communicate, send frequent emails, and anticipate problems before they arise."
2. Rapidly changing expectations
Marcus knows all too well about expectations that feel like a moving target, since her first boss was prone to wildly inconsistent demands." One week, he wanted me to answer phone calls a certain way, the next week he'd change his mind and get mad at me for not being able to read his mind," she says.
Blaine Loomer, President at Mitchell Publishers and author of Corporate Bullsh*t, says the key is to ask questions and take notes. "If you want to follow up with email, say 'this is what you're expecting, this is the project deadline,' he adds. "Make it clear what you're responsible for."
3. Disappearing when you need them
You need your boss to approve a press release and "poof" she's nowhere to be found. Or you send an important e-mail that sits unanswered for days. One strategy for dealing with a disappearing boss is to figure out what communication style they favor and follow their lead.
"If you find that they're always texting you or their emails are never longer than four lines, take note," says Taylor. "Go into the meeting and make sure they're participating. Ask them 'What do you think of this?'"
Some bosses are prone to wild tangents of TMI (too much information). "My old boss used to get sidetracked easily and he was a conspiracy nut," says Ben Fox, a copywriter based in the UK. "We'd be talking about work and all of a sudden he would come out with something like 'Yeah, but you know they've found a plank of wood on Mars' and start talking for up to an hour."
The good news is you're getting lots of face-time. Taylor recommends that you "diplomatically bring the conversation back to the work at hand. When they're sharing too much information, that gives you a great segue to questions that you need answered." That's what Fox did. "After a couple of months I realized I could use his absent-mindedness against him by suddenly saying "Oh, before I forget ..." and then steering him back onto a work related subject," he explains.
5. Taking ownership of others' work
If you suspect your boss might take credit for your work, Loomer suggests bringing up the project in a group setting where other higher-ups are present. "Say 'our group has done X" and ask for an opinion on your efforts," he says. "It's usually a pretty good eye-opener, because it's hard to politic in a public forum."
Of course, sometimes the best way to deal with an annoying, unethical boss is to plan your exit strategy. That's what Patti McKenna did after her boss asked her to write an admissions essay for a master's program. When her boss got accepted using the essay that McKenna wrote, she knew she'd had enough of being reprimanded by a micromanaging boss who passed off her work as her own. "I gave my two-week notice, quit my job and started my own writing and editing business," she explains.
Susan Johnston has written about careers for PayScale.com, The Boston Globe, Experience.com, US News & World Report, and other publications. Her articles on business and lifestyle topics have appeared in DailyCandy.com, Dance Retailer News, Pizza Today, Mint.com, Self magazine, and in two essay anthologies. She's also the author of LinkedIn and Lovin' It (Rockable Press, 2011).