There’s nothing more devastating to one’s engagement level, happiness, or productivity than a toxic boss. They change the entire way you view your job–it’s just human nature. But sometimes nature needs some nurturing, and that’s what this article is about.
As much as you’d like to burst into your boss’s office and scream at them: “Hit the road, Jack/Jacqueline!”, you can’t. Other than in a dream sequence you’re engaged in while busily being disengaged at your desk.
But that evil warlock of a boss doesn’t have to weigh you down.
As I shared in Find the Fire, you can manage the malevolent manager by practicing these six tips.
1. Realize this too shall pass.
Everyone has a bad boss from time to time. Successful people learn how to manage through it. You can’t let their hang-ups hang you up and start affecting your work and well-being. I know, easier said than done, but it’s an important starting point.
Too many try to deal with a tough boss from an emotional place rather than a reflective place. With every difficult boss I’ve ever had, I dealt with them by remembering how I dealt with all the others–by keeping things in perspective and realizing it was a temporary situation in the grand scheme. I knew that in the end, I’d learn just as much from a bad boss as from a good one.
2. Know that no single situation, or person, defines you.
Stay true to your values and being the best version of yourself when working with a difficult boss. Maybe this boss will take your job away from you, or you’ll leave it, but he/she can’t take away who you are and what you stand for. Ever. For the very worst of the worse bosses, I always found this to be a reassuring thought.
3. Don’t shrink, or shirk.
Don’t back down to a bad boss. Stand your ground with confidence and calm. And you can’t shirk your responsibility for improving the relationship. Things won’t change by complaining. It starts with you, so own your part in the relationship and what you could do better. Want to change it as much as you need to change it.
Whenever I found myself stalling in addressing a bad relationship with a toxic manager, I’d remind myself, “Do you want to change the situation or do you just want the situation to change?” The latter ain’t likely to happen on its own.
4. Resist the temptation to label.
Once you’ve categorized your boss as horrid, evil, etc., you’re more likely to dismiss his/her finer points and unfairly categorize all of his/her messy points. Applying labels to your boss makes you jump to conclusions about his/her actions and makes you close-minded, which doesn’t help when you need open-mindedness to affect change.
Try this trick that really worked for me: think of the bad boss instead as a difficult client that you simply must learn to work with.
5. Learn to read their moods and identify triggers.
This is the low hanging fruit part of the equation. Knowing your boss’s moods (when you can approach him/her with what) and what sets them off can help you avoid inspiration-sapping encounters. You’ve got enough work ahead of you to get things in a better place, don’t drive through red lights on your way there.
6. Seek to understand.
I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. When you understand the why behind the behavior of a difficult boss, what to do about it becomes much more self-evident.
Specifically, seek to understand what’s important to them and why they’re doing what they are, i.e. their motivations. You have motivations behind your behaviors too, after all. This won’t be easy because the motivations won’t always be obvious–I had some bosses that were absolute puzzles to figure out. But through enough observation and inquiry, you’ll discover what’s driving his/her behavior, I promise.
If it’s fundamental character flaws, then there’s probably not much you can do to improve things. But if the tension is based on a set of explainable behaviors (such as underlying insecurities, pressure your boss is getting from his/her boss, issues your boss has outside of work, etc.), such comprehension drives the ability to cope, as well as, dare I say, connect.
We all know the adage that people leave their boss, not their job. Well, if you can’t fire your boss and leaving him/her isn’t an option, you may as well settle in and try your best to settle down.
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