How to Deal with a Bad Boss

image from the The Daily Worth blog

The recent rise in sexual harassment complaints has highlighted one aspect that may arise in dealing with a "bad boss." But bosses can be troublesome in a variety of  ways. Four general behaviors that indicate a supervisor may be problematic are:

  • Communicating only rarely. This type of boss might only communicate when he or she has something negative to say.
  • An unwillingness, repeatedly, to take personal responsibility for problems.
  • No evidence of a moral center--cannot focus on what is right and wrong for the organization, but will do anything to improve his or her own situation.
  • Failure to foster and mentor subordinates.

Forbes magazine recently did an article on how to deal with a difficult supervisor, suggesting five constructive ways:

  • "Make yourself indispensable.
  • Try to see things through his or her eyes.
  • Don't complain to your boss's boss.
  • Stay true to yourself and your values.
  • Don't be a victim--vote with your feet."

It is difficult to apply these rational responses and deal with the emotions that arise in the moment when being criticized or otherwise poorly treated.  Mindfulness is a technique that might help. Mindfulness is meta-awareness about what one is experiencing. In a simple example, one can experience frustration or even road-rage in bad traffic among selfish drivers. Meta-awareness would be noting that one has a strong feeling and that a choice exists as to whether to run with those feelings or just sit and notice that the feeling has arisen, not taking the situation personally.  

With respect to the bad boss issue, meta-awareness might look like this: if one experiences a thought such as: "I am really being treated unfairly! What a jerk!"-- it is possible to have two responses (at least). One response is to feel moral indignation and ramp up one's emotional agitation regarding the unfairness. Another response is to have a meta-awareness: "Oh, I am experiencing strong emotions here. One is anger. Another is fear. I could really let this build until I want to explode. I can choose, however, to  just sit in this meta-awareness until the strong feelings of helplessness subside.Then I will think about the situation rationally and maybe discuss it with a trusted friend or colleague so I I can handle it more skillfully." 

Source: "5 Constructive Ways To Deal With Bad Bosses," by Victor Lipman, Forbes, September 14, 2017. 

Follow up

  • Give examples of how a person might exhibit each of the five behavioral suggestions for dealing with a difficult boss. 
  • When might each of the five suggestions be inappropriate? Give examples. Are any of these suggestions useful in sexual harassment situations? Explain your answer, and offer better alternatives if you think of any. 
  • Do you have any experience with mindfulness or meta-awareness when dealing with difficult people? Describe. You might want to read more about this concept: "Situational Awareness Matters."