Career coaching: 7 stress-free ways to deal with a bad boss

If looking for another job isn’t something you want to consider, here are some tips to help you cope with a difficult manager

Zeta Yarwood
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Bad bosses. We’ve all had one. Whether it’s the angry or super stressed boss, the insecure boss, the incompetent boss, the “Please don’t talk to me” boss or the micromanaging boss – dealing with a bad boss on a day-to-day basis can be exhausting. Not to mention stressful and demotivating.

So what can you do when you have a bad boss? If looking for another job isn’t something you want to consider, here are some tips to help you cope with a difficult manager:


1) Put yourself in their shoes

Maybe not the first thing you wanted to see, but hear me out…

People’s behavior is a result of how they feel. Positive emotions lead to positive behavior while negative emotions lead to negative behavior. For example, if your boss is behaving in an aggressive, threatening, stressed or jealous manner, chances are underneath that there will be some level of fear. Fear of failure, fear of losing their job or the respect of their peers, or even a fear of not being good enough. Their reactions are an insight into what pressures they are under and how well they are coping under the strain. Remember - just because someone is behaving in a bad way, it doesn’t make them a bad person. I mean, we’ve all got angry at some point right?

There will always be a reason for their behavior. You don’t know what their story is and what they’ve been through. Working towards changing your perception of your boss and becoming more compassionate can help you cope with their behavior more effectively.

2) Look at your own behavior

Be brutally honest with yourself - how might your behavior be contributing to the situation? Do you miss deadlines, arrive late to meetings or skip corners on your tasks? Do you sometimes come across as stressed or flustered, giving the impression you are overwhelmed? Do you turn up to work demotivated, disengaged or with an attitude? You can’t control their behavior but you can control yours. Think about the behaviors you are exhibiting that could be adding fuel to the fire and work towards changing them.

3) Take preventive measures

If your boss has certain habits that irritate you, take actions that could prevent the behavior. For example, if you have a micromanaging boss who is constantly checking you are on top of your work, then you could:

a) Get the work done well before the deadline so when they ask you for it, it’s ready. Hopefully, once they see you are on top of everything, they will learn they don’t need to monitor you so closely.

b) Beat them to the punch and proactively give them updates on your progress before they come to interrogate you. And you never know – they might get so bored of seeing your face they’ll ask you to stop the updates and leave you in peace (we can all hope, right?).

4) Know their triggers

Some bosses are a stickler when it comes to time management. Some get angry having to give instructions more than once. Some hate sloppy spelling and grammar. And some only have to take a sip of a lukewarm coffee before it’s like Mount Vesuvius going off. Whatever it is that triggers them – do everything within your power to mitigate the risk of another explosion. Be early – for everything. Ask them to clarify instructions you don’t understand or get someone else to help you. Always use spell check and for God’s sake make sure that when that coffee hits their lips, it’s hot!

5) Anticipate their needs

They can’t come and demand an excel spreadsheet of last week’s figures if you’ve already sent it to them, right? Think about what projects or tasks your boss is working on and what information, documents or files they might need in order to complete those tasks. Give it to them before they need it to avoid any confrontations.

6) Be your own boss

If you have a boss that either ignores you, is incompetent or simply doesn’t have the time or desire to train you then it’s time to take your career into your own hands. Steer your role in a direction that will produce results for your company, and when you achieve something make sure senior management notice it. This means making yourself visible. Network with colleagues, find an alternative mentor, get involved in as many projects as you can (with your boss’ permission), speak up in meetings and be as helpful as possible. The more you are seen as a top-performing team player, the higher your career will soar – with or without your manager’s guidance.

7) Examine your reactions to their behavior

We cannot control other people’s behavior, but we can control how we react to it. Take a look at how you are reacting right now and what you can change. If you’re struggling to manage your reactions, seek the help of career coach or life coach.

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