By Joni Lindquist

A frequent challenge facing my clients is dealing with a “bad” boss. What makes a bad boss? Some common themes I hear are:

Poor communicator– too busy to meet with you, s/he doesn’t set expectations, doesn’t provide feedback, doesn’t keep you informed, isn’t clear when providing direction, etc.

Bullying– these folks are just downright rude and use intimidation to get results. They tend to be hyper critical and act as if you are not capable. Nothing you do is right.

Ego-centric– “It’s all about me” is this boss’s guiding theme. S/he makes decisions not necessarily with the thought of “what’s right for the business?” but rather “What’s best for me?”– to look good, to protect turf/power base.

Constant Crisis– these bosses seemingly have poor time management and emotional intelligence skills. S/he lets things go or just makes everything into a time-bound crisis that must be done immediately, often at the expense of other important priorities you are working on.

So if you work for a “bad” boss that exhibits any of the above or other bad behavior, what do you do? Given the current environment, quitting your job is probably not the preferred option nor practical. Instead, try to make the situation as tolerable as possible. Three basic premises to keep in mind:

1) You cannot change the person
2) You can make changes to the situation or environment
3) You can change your approach and your reaction to him/her

Focus on what you can control. You cannot change the other person, so focus on what you can alter:

Change Situation/Environment

1. “Wait and Watch” is one strategy that actually can provide some relief. In this case, don’t feed the beast – try not to reinforce the boss’s bad behavior. Clients have found that often if they wait to respond, things work themselves out and you don’t have to do anything. This strategy is best used sparingly and you must be able to differentiate the truly important from the items that the boss flits around on a whim.

2. You can also shift the environment by adding people into the discussion with your boss. Find allies, such as peers who are facing the same bad behavior, and band together. Even if you don’t all agree on a particular topic, it’s still sometimes better to move away from one-on-one’s with your boss. You may not “win” the argument, but you may alter the situation enough for the bad behavior to be limited. At worst, you have buddies to share the pain with. But make sure you DO NOT talk badly about your boss with others – it’s okay to brainstorm strategies to improve the relationship, but don’t dwell on trashing your boss.

3. Change where you meet with your boss. Get him out of his office. Hold more meetings in your office or in conference rooms. Try to manage when you meet with her. Learn to know when your boss is the least stressed and attempt to meet with him/her then. If they are not a morning person, try to avoid meeting then. If their negative behavior seems to increase as the stresses of the day mount, try to avoid meeting with them in the late afternoon. You cannot control all of this, but a thoughtful approach may help.

4. When you get in a heated discussion with your badly behaving boss, use your voice to shift the atmosphere. Don’t raise your voice, instead lower it. Speak softly and more slowly. It’s easy to fall into the trap s/he is setting – if they like to yell, it’s easy to follow. Don’t. When you don’t feed the beast, they often quiet down. Get back to basics – focus you and your boss on “what are we really trying to accomplish?”

All of these strategies may appear to be a form of avoidance and less direct. However, clients have found these to be practical strategies to make the relationship more tolerable. A lot of advice in articles is academic and not practical. In the real world, you often need to survive working with a bad boss, because with constant re-orgs and changes, you may not need to work for them for a long time. If you value your career with the organization you are in, you need to find a way to survive and move on.

And while you are employing some of these strategies, you will need to keep trying to build a stronger relationship with your boss even if they are difficult. Call us when you are dealing with difficult people and would benefit from an unbiased, external planner, an executive coach, to help you through these situations.

For help getting through this difficult time in your career, schedule a meeting by clicking below, contact Joni Lindquist –, or call (913) 345-1881..

Photo credit: GDS-Productions / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)