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Coping with a difficult boss

Are those close to you tired of hearing you complain about your boss? Do you dream of getting even? Unless your boss leaves, or you are fortunate enough to get a new job, you will need to learn how to cope in order to survive.

Last week’s Career Corner (Nov. 11 Lakeville Journal) focused on general guidelines for relating effectively with your boss. This column and the next will zero in on different types of difficult bosses and suggest coping strategies.

The bullying and intimidating boss

This is the proverbial “boss from hell†who derives pleasure in humiliating staff, especially in public. Often, such bosses are insecure individuals, using intimidation to ward off challenges from others. As bullies, they focus their abuse on those perceived to be weak, that is, who will cower rather than stand up for themselves.  

Coping strategy: Those with a thick skin who can let insults “roll off†are most likely to survive. Regardless of your tolerance for verbal abuse, you need to convey your respect for the boss — and self-respect as well.

Make it clear that you value constructive feedback, but want to be treated decently. If the boss continues to tear you down, you might try saying, “I value your feedback but do not like being spoken to in a demeaning manner. Perhaps we can continue this conversation at a later time.â€

The boss who does not support staff, allows problems to escalate

An insurance manager had a crucial job opening that went unfilled for six months, ostensibly because the boss would not press the case with senior management. As a result, the workload backed up and morale suffered. Such a boss can be a serious problem when it interferes with your ability to succeed.

Coping strategy: First, you need to ascertain why your boss has not supported you. Perhaps he or she is not committed to your staffing request. You also need to present your case in writing, highlighting the benefits and consequences if not met. If necessary, you should suggest a joint meeting with his or her boss.

The boss who adds little value

Some may wonder why their boss was ever hired. He or she knows less than you and often gives ill-advised directives. While doing team-building with executives from a consumer goods company, each had similar complaints regarding a newly hired senior executive whom they described as a “jerk.â€

Morale rapidly decreased; two executives resigned for better opportunities elsewhere, and others circumvented the boss whenever possible.  

Coping strategy: First of all, you need to accept reality. Unless the boss slips up, you are stuck.

Circumventing your boss entails risk: he or she might have pertinent information, or resent your actions.

If you go the “Don’t ask permission; ask forgiveness†route, explain why you did it, e.g. you felt it necessary to move quickly, with the company’s best interest in mind.

Be sure to document ill-advised directives, delineating your concerns in writing. If necessary, request a joint meeting with his or her superior.

The boss who adds value but is rarely available

Such a boss is OK for those who are able to work autonomously. But it can be stressful to those who need a sounding board and “green light†to proceed with their ideas.

Coping strategy: The key is to get on the boss’s calendar, which can be done through his or her administrative assistant. Or try e-mailing your boss when you have concerns or questions.  

General guidelines

To summarize, general guidelines for dealing with a difficult boss include:

• Calmly communicate your feelings and concerns, making certain that your boss is aware of what bothers you.

• Be respectful, but demonstrate self-respect as well. Expect to be treated decently and accept nothing less.

• Protect your reputation by documenting problems in writing.  

• If necessary, use other resources to help address the problem (e.g. human resources, senior management).

Should you have a story to tell, please send me an e-mail. Confidentiality will be maintained.

Danella Schiffer, Ph.D., is an industrial/organizational psychologist who resides in Salisbury and works nationally, with organizations and individuals. She can be reached at danella.schiffer@att.net.

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