Over the last couple of weeks, I talked about How To Manage Your Manager, Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers, and What Excuses Turn Us Into Jerks. What remains, is to talk about what you can do when your manager really is an abusive jerk and difficult to work for. As with anything in management, there are no easy answers but let me outline couple of options and what their pros and cons are. It is up to you to figure out what fits your specific circumstances, and what the best course of action is.
1. Suck it up – doing nothing is the easiest thing you can do. However, you need to be aware that it won’t change anything and you will continue to feel unnecessary stressed, have a low job satisfaction, experience depressions, and at the end will feel miserable about your life. The psychology behind this is that you will continue to feel like a victim of your bad boss. Chances are that in time, it will show up on your performance that will degrade and ultimately you may end up being the one who gets fired. I guess, not the best strategy.
2. Fight back – this tactics really depends on your personality and whether you can pull it off. For those who are generally outspoken and don’t avoid conflicts this may do a lot of good to their stress levels. Just yell back at the boss, when he is yelling at you. Ok, maybe don’t yell, but definitely speak up and stay your ground. Give him taste of his own medicine and you will feel good. The positive side is that you won’t feel like a victim. You will feel like equal partner in the argument. The negative side is, that with some exceptions, this is not a strategy that will lead to career success and can make situation even worse and ultimately get you fired.
The fact that you may get admiration of your co-workers who won’t speak up may help you feeling good about yourself but may not save your job. In my time in corporate environment I’ve seen couple of instances where this worked and when the boss realized he has over-reached and started to treat the employee who stood up to him as equal. Sounds good, but probability of this happening is not that great.
3. Passive-aggressive play – it is a particularly nasty way to fight back. You do it by ignoring your boss, talking behind his back, badmouthing, not giving your full efforts to the job, or even sabotaging his efforts. Curiously enough, according to a study carried out by Bennett Tepper, a professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, it seems that being passive aggressive with your bad boss will work just fine for you personally. It will remove the stress and you will feel like you are doing something about the situation.
However, it will have a negative impact on effectiveness of the team and ultimately it will wear you down. In other words, you may survive, you may feel well, and even enjoy what you do, but there will be lots of collateral damage. The toxic environment this will create may lead to other people losing respect for you, for the boss, and for the organization. They will either perform on lower levels or leave altogether.
4. Accept – this option is very similar to the first one with one significant change. You can’t change your boss and how he acts but you can change the way you react and feel about it. It is very difficult thing to do, especially if you are already feeling as a victim and have been it that position for a very long time. However, if you have generally positive view of life you can accept the boss for who he is, limit your interactions, and look at it as an opportunity to learn.
What will you learn? For starters, how to deal with difficult people, how to keep cool under pressure, or how to remove your emotions from conversations. You may even start coaching and mentoring other people on the team and essentially become the team leader instead of the boss. If you love your job and the team, and the only thing you hate is the boss, this may be pretty viable strategy. Remember, bosses come and go. It would be shame to ruin your life only because a jerk boss who may leave in couple of months anyway.
5. Speak up – having a face to face conversation as two adults is the right thing to do in most cultures. You need to realize that you won’t be able to change who the boss is, but it can be a good idea to let him know what impact his actions have on you and the team. Don’t attack his character (or lack of thereof) but rather describe impact of his actions.
I would suggest that this is the best first step you should take. Unless the boss is total psychopath, he will listen and may even hear it for the first time in his life. As long as you keep your emotions in check, focus on hard facts and not feelings, don’t attack him, don’t threaten in any way, and you may get good result. There is a chance that you will be able to build a good professional relationship with your boss. You may still not like him, but you will feel good about yourself for pulling it off, you will be more confident in future interactions, you can even get more respect from the rest of the team. And if it doesn’t work you can always take the second step on this particular journey and escalate.
6. Escalate – there are very few organizations that embrace abusive behavior. Chances are that the boss is abusive because he can. Simply, no one in power slapped his hand yet. Chances also are, that no one in power knows what’s going on or takes it seriously until it gets escalated. Too often organizations learn about bad apples on their management teams only when multiple people leave the company. Being able to escalate abusive behavior to your HR department in a professional manner is a sign of mature adult who cares about the success of the organization.
You shouldn’t worry about being marked as the troublemaker. We are all adult human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. It is important to realize that the moment you set in this direction it will make you an enemy of your boss. Any jerk would immediately take this personally and would fight back by trying to smear your reputation. At the end only one of you keeps standing. If the HR team, or the organization does nothing, or even worse, if they punish you for bringing this up, then you better get out since they don’t deserve you.
7. Get out – realizing that life is too short to work for a jerk boss can be a very liberating experience. Yes, you may need to find another job, but it may be the best thing for your mental health and for getting more balanced, happy life. If you work for a boss who is a jerk, you need to see that you are getting something in return. It might be a great career opportunity, a huge paycheck you won’t get elsewhere (assuming money is more important than peace of mind to you), or just the fact that you learn how to deal with difficult people.
If there is nothing you are gaining, then you shouldn’t willingly submit yourself to that sort of treatment and just be elsewhere. But the same as before, even in this case, be professional. Be open with the organization on why you are leaving, keep emotions out of it, and don’t burn bridges. Sooner or later the bad boss gets fired or leaves on his own and you may be asked if you want to come back under better conditions.
So what is the magical formula to deal with a bad boss? There isn’t one. So much depends on particular personalities of you, the boss, the company culture, and your unique circumstances that no one can really tell you what to do. Only you can decide what you want to do, how you want to feel about it, and take the necessary steps. Remember, you are an adult human being, and you do have options!
What are your tips on how to deal with a jerk? Do you prefer a direct approach, Machiavellian machinations, or a retreat?
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