June 20, 2023

Essential Advice for Working With a Bad Boss

You may have heard the saying, “A bad job with a good boss is better than a good job with a bad boss.”

Gallup and Forbes Studies credit the stress that many employees feel as a result of their immediate boss. One study found a staggering 87.2% of employees surveyed expressed their desire to leave their current employer within the next 12 months, with 52.6% of employees surveyed attributing this intention to a lack of trust in their boss. The data suggests that finding a good boss can be very challenging. However, it’s important to assess whether your own boss truly falls into the “bad” category. If quitting is not an immediate option, here are some practical things you can do.

Strategy #1: Confirm If Your Boss Is Really Bad

Is it your boss, or is it you?

Before branding your boss as “bad,” consider if your perception is based on accurate information or preconceived notions.

  • Look for the good. If you discover your dislike is based on a misunderstanding or personality clash, try shifting your attitude. Nobody is perfect. Focus on finding positive qualities in your boss, which can foster a more productive working relationship.
  • Treat your boss as a customer. While your boss may not be your ideal manager, adopt a customer mindset. Just as you would strive to provide excellent service to a customer, deliver your best work and maintain a constructive relationship with your boss. Don’t let the relationship tarnish your reputation.
  • Find a trusted confidante, preferably someone in a senior position, who can offer guidance and insights. Share your concerns and seek their feedback in a confidential setting.
  • Set a timeline for how long you’re willing to work in this unpleasant situation. Meanwhile, engage in proactive networking initiatives with colleagues and managers in other departments to open doors. Create a compelling elevator intro that highlights your skills and positions them as transferable to different roles.

Strategy#2: Confront Your Boss

What if you like your boss as a person but not as a manager? Addressing your frustrations are crucial for your well-being. Rather than enduring the draining experience, it’s important to empower yourself by speaking up. This may be risky but doing so will prevent you from reaching a breaking point. Do the potential costs of having the conversation outweigh the potential benefits?

  • Your boss may not even be aware of how you feel. Find the right time to engage in your courageous conversation, when your boss is in a good mood. Ask if you can be open and candid about a tough situation that you find yourself in.
  • Practice active listening. Don’t approach a conversation with your boss based on assumptions of what you believe they may say or are thinking. Instead, clearly present your position and then stop and listen to their response.
  • Adopt a fact-finding mindset. An immediate resolution may not be possible. Chances are if this is the first heart-to-heart you have had with your boss, both of you may need time to assess what was said and what needs to be done going forward.
  • A difficult boss may not be open to hearing feedback about their failings. Be specific in what you need and avoid generalizations. “During our team meeting this Thursday, while I was presenting the market research, I noticed that you interrupted me three times…”
  • Set the stage by neutralizing the situation. Give your boss the benefit of the doubt. Start off by saying: “I know it’s not your intention, but I feel that I’m being micromanaged. Can we talk about this?”
  • Take ownership of your feelings by using “I” instead of “You”. Using “You” statements will make your manager defensive, such as “You always have to be right.”
  • Explain your perspective by using phrases like: “When we discuss an issue, I often feel…” or “I get the feeling that you are distracted…” or “I’m having difficulty lately as I feel that….”
  • Always maintain your cool, even if your boss loses theirs. Your boss may explode. Avoid responding in retaliation as you don’t want to say something you might regret later, which your boss could potentially use against you.

Strategy #3: Construct A New Relationship

If you have been successful communicating with your boss, you may now have an opportunity to move from a transactional relationship to a stronger and more meaningful relationship. Are you open to the challenge?

  • Engage your boss in deeper conversations. Show interest in their career. Ask about their perspective on the direction of the business or any topic to tap into their personal viewpoint.
  • Differentiate yourself by proactively solving problems before your boss asks. Anticipate their needs and demonstrate that you are thinking ahead for them. This will set you apart for being resourceful, building goodwill with your boss.
  • Find opportunities to socialize outside of work. This could be a team event or a dinner together when you are at an offsite meeting. Often getting a boss away from the business setting provides you with an opportunity to see a more personal and likeable side to them. Think about initiating virtual coffee breaks to catch up.
    In the end, you are the one in control of your career and well-being even when dealing with a bad boss. As Kenny Rogers sang, “You have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.” This advice from the song “The Gambler” holds true in making wise decisions when faced with challenging situations.

Ask yourself: Is it worthwhile to persevere and seek opportunities to excel despite the challenges with your boss? If the negative effects of dealing with a bad boss outweigh any potential benefits, it might be time to “fold them” and quit.

You deserve to be happy!


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