Four-Step Program For Dealing With a Bad Boss

bad boss

Sooner or later we all have to work for someone we can't stand. When that happens, some people quit, some suffer in silence, and others cope by sulking, obsessing, or retaliating.

In their recent book, 'Working For You Isn't Working For Me,' authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster examine bad boss scenarios and offer a four-step program for improving each situation. AOL Jobs recently interviewed Crowley and Elster to learn more about how to manage a difficult relationship with a boss.

Q. What are the top reasons people have problems with their bosses?

A. Problems with the boss can stem from management mishaps such as:

  • failure to communicate clearly
  • lack of focus-- not knowing what the priorities are
  • lack of understanding what's expected of you

These situations can be remedied when identified, if employee and boss work together.

Then there are the difficult boss personalities:

  • The micromanaging boss who tries to control your every action
  • The mean-spirited boss who attacks without reason
  • The ADD boss who can't sit still or remember anything
  • The absentee boss who's never there

These situations are much more challenging and require specific interpersonal tactics to navigate.

Q. What are some examples of oil and water boss/employee relationships?

A. The ambitious employee who works for a sacred cow or absentee boss

The challenging, maverick employee who works for a very controlling boss

The peacemaking employee who works for an explosive, attacking boss

Q. When should an employee try to work things out with a boss and when should they just cut their losses and leave?

A. In most cases, we suggest you try and work out your differences -- even if you're hunting for a job on the side. Our four-step process of detecting, detaching, depersonalizing and dealing can help you manage almost any boss/employee relationship.

There are two situations that warrant quitting:

  1. If the relationship with your boss is causing you physical distress. If you're developing ulcers, have chronic headaches, are wearing a back brace -- it's time to leave.
  2. If you're working for a persecutor who is targeting you relentlessly and making work intolerable.

Q. What is the first thing someone should do when they realize they are having a problem with the boss?

A. The first thing you want to do is "detect." That is figure out what the boss is doing that's driving you crazy. Is this person giving you mixed signals, criticizing everything you do, saying "no" to every idea you offer? If you can detect it, you can correct your reaction to it.

Q. Can you give us a top-level approach for handling a difficult boss?

A. Detect, detach, depersonalize and deal. So, let's say you have a boss who says "no" to every idea you offer. You can detect that you're working for a naysayer. You notice that working for this person zaps your energy and makes you extremely frustrated.

You can detach by taking actions to gain some emotional distance from your depressing boss. Restore your energy by taking a run, working out, or walking the dog. Do something to purge the negative energy so you can see things more clearly.

Then depersonalize by understanding that the boss's behavior is not about you. This person has been saying "no" to every idea before you were in the picture and will continue to say "no" after you leave.

Once you detach and depersonalize, you can deal: Either work with the boss to uncover any pet projects he/she may have where your input will be appreciated, or look for opportunities outside of your direct report (such as conferences, task forces, good causes) where your ideas can be valued.

Q. Is it useful to enlist the help of human resources when you are having a boss issue?

A. We recommend you do this only as a last resort. First, try to rectify the situation using our four Ds. While you adjust your behavior, continue to document specific interactions between you and the boss so that you have concrete examples if you ultimately decide to lodge a complaint.

Q. What's a realistic time frame for expecting to see a change in the boss/employee relationship if someone follows your methodology?

A. Try our methodology for at least 30 days and see if you notice a change. Best results can be expected over a 90-day period.

Q. Can you tell us about your worst boss? Your best boss?

A. Kathi's worst boss was an alcoholic who could only hold lucid conversations before the lunch hour.

Katherine's worst boss was an absentee boss who could never speak in-person. "She left notes on my desk every few days."

Kathi's best boss was a seasoned manager in a large corporation who gave her opportunities to shine. "He gave me projects where I could really excel."

Katherine's best boss was a manager in the Peace Corps. "She showed me how to set goals and figure out priorities. She even let me come up with my own job description."

Q. Do you have any success stories to share about someone who followed your suggestions and improved their relationship with their boss?

A. Many. One in particular stands out. One of our clients worked for what we could call a sacred cow. He was hired to bring fresh ideas to the company and instead his sacred cow boss blocked every initiative. We told our client to stop trying to override this long-time employee, and start giving his boss credit for every project that he completed. Begrudgingly, our client complied. Eventually, the sacred cow boss included our client in a huge initiative that gave both of them great visibility and resulted in a promotion.

Q. What's a first step someone dealing with a difficult boss should take?

A. We want to encourage anyone who's having trouble with a boss to take our boss baggage assessment. You'll be able to see what you bring to the relationship. You'll discover your needs, expectations, and fears toward authority, which will give you immediate relief.

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Everyone seems to like to rage on the "boss" because that is the thing to do. Like it or not employees dont like to be seen as sticking up for management as it is typically not the politically appropriate thing to do around peers. Slamming a boss or manager eases the pain of job loss, pay cuts, and doing more with less- mostly a sign of the ecomony. I have worked since I was 15 years old, and just retired this year after 42 years working at some job or another. I moved up in all of my jobs, NOT because I ragged on about this bad boss or that bad manager but because I minded my own business, did my job the very best I could (which sometimes required working long hours and pay freezes), and worked hard- regardless of whether or not I had to work my job and someone elses too. I worked many a a job with the "less is more" mantra. Believe it or not, moving up often becomes a logical conclusion and perk of a positive work ethic. Funny how those that complain the most stay unhappy and seldom get promoted and never see themselves as the issue. Once I became a manager/supervisor I realized that regardless of the bad behavior, poor work performance and poor training an employee might come to the table with it was my job to educate, train, and try to keep open lines of communication- to give employees the tool needed to do a good job and be successful. Sometimes all the best efforts to help an employee succeed was for not. And yet, never did I pointlessly attack the integrity of the employee the way many employees do their boss (who doesnt do that around the water cooler?!) . After 40+ years in the workforce I have worked with any good supervisors, managers and bosses. I have also worked with some tyrants as well. I have had the pleasure of working with many excellent staff members too and they have made my days at work meaningful. Conversely, I have also worked with some employees ill equipt to do their job with an even worse work ethic who continue to blame the boss and the company for their bad performance after repeated retraining and multiple chances given to succeed. So when do you write an article about bosses who have worked tirelessly to help an employee who neither puts in the effort nor has the attitude to work? it works both ways- companies need people who come to work with a positive work ethic, trained to do the job or willing to be trained. Remember it works both ways.

December 05 2010 at 10:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They call this Bad Boss stuff the "Peter Principle" where a guy keeps getting promoted till hes in a job he does poorly. Really you don't want to be known as a boss but as a leader. Bosses threaten and degrade , leaders set the example. Having made my bucks I retired at 57 to boredom by the ocean. Gotta check to see if I'm on for tennis or golf.

December 05 2010 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

AOL should stop demonizing men, while portraying women as victims. Surely, there are countless female bad bosses. How about a photo of just one?

December 05 2010 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lets look at the flip side. Never work for a non profit. You believe in the cause - you give your heart and soul, you work for less pay than your counterparts in private industry and you give back so much of pay, time and talent. Bosses change on a regular basis changing from downright mean to absent minded. You carry on and your fellow workers carry on because you are the consitency. Then boom one day you realize you are being pulled at by the board members, clients and now this jerk who fits many of the above catergories. You throw back your shoulders, put up your chin, walk in and say goodbye. It is better to sit and eat a can of beans in a corner than to suffer this abuse. Oh by the way it is double hard when it is a non profit and Christian cause you just wouldn't believe what really happens. In your heart you knew you did it for the sake of those who needed help. That is your sanity and saves you from a near break down.

December 05 2010 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

At my job, the HR department is more like a corporate lawyer. EVERY attempt by employees to get results has been a dead end. She believes only what the bosses say about employees. So I really have no chance when trying to get things corrected

December 05 2010 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bad bosses,bad managers,bad supervisors,what's the difference? They all come
in many varied versions with complex demands. Its no wonder why we hear about
former employees turning on their former workplaces in the news headlines.
All of this stuff reminds me of high schools I have attended in the l970s.
Well dressed male teachers in dress shirts and ties would sometimes yell and
scream at me for minor stuff. Was all of that necessary? I dont think so.
I call it verbal abuse. What some people dont think about is the negative
impact they may have on present and past employees(the bad memories I mean).
Anger fosters more anger in return. I am glad that I dont work for anyone
else anymore. I decided that long ago I dont need the negative critique
as that does not make me better at what I need to do ,it makes me angry
and bitter in return. In summary, bad bosses,bad managers,bad supervisors,
bad directors,bad class teachers can have their power trip fantasies all
they want! I dont need them anymore.

December 05 2010 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

dugandbob: The only law I know of is the one that they must give you a break after four hours. In some states, such as Florida, it is also a right to work state which means they don't have to have a reason to fire you they can just say pack your things up and get out without giving you any notice and no reason.

December 05 2010 at 7:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have read a few threads and can not believe there are people out there so uneducated as to what is going on they still are blaming everyone but the person that has done so much damage in the last two years. Taxpayers money going for bailouts while the ceo s are still laughing and going on their fancy vacations on our dime. One mistake after another with this idiot in office and some still want to blame bush for everything. Grow up and get yourself educated as to what this person in office is doing and has done. OMG I still can't believe there are idiots still out there that choose to stick their heads in the sand and pretend he isnt what he is. Darn, does he still have a few of you fooled.

December 05 2010 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about a boss who has a totally narcissistic personality, is totally self-absorbed, envious and jealous of everyone around her?

There was a woman VP in our office who clawed her way up. As VP, she made everyone in the office call her "Baroness," and no one really respected her for doing that. She actually had a fake gold plaque on her desk that said "Baroness." She didn't realize how people laughed when she was not around. Needless to say, it was a very dysfunctional office.

December 05 2010 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why would a company tolerate a Bad Boss?

December 05 2010 at 7:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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