Seven ways to deal with horrible bosses

Seven ways to deal with horrible bosses

We spend our working hours narrowly observing our managers, no wonder their very positive and especially negative points stand out so vividly!

Who liked the movie Horrible Bosses? Who fantasises about the things you could do with a trussed-up superior at your mercy? Particularly if you are enduring miseries at their hands? 

I get told about the ‘pin-stripe bully’, the ‘syrupy sweet assassin’ and many a ‘Romeo’.

Most incompetent and horrible bosses share the following traits:

They got there by accident and laziness

This is true because the people who recruited them were hasty or lazy in their selection process. Winnowing out potential dysfunction requires considerable experience, excellent interviewing skills, cross-checking and more.

They like to cover up their inadequacies

If they recognise their inadequacies, some don’t, they will have found ways to hide those and protect themselves. Their underlings will sooner or later spot these deficiencies, but for a variety of reasons won’t or can’t challenge.

They often detest detail but love to take the credit

With a wave of their hand, these types leave the knotty pile to others to unpick without breaking. Sometimes you get the micro-manager, that hairsplitter from hell, who’s generally motivated by fear and distrust, which then spreads to the people they supervise. I once had a boss that would grill me before every senior management meeting to get the scoop he needed to present as his own, but sadly for him, and great for me, when questioned more deeply about the strategies he wouldn’t always have the answers so I would get called in.

They are toxic

Yes, some are not victims of circumstance or past bad management; they are genetically wired to destroy. They may seem normal, even warm and disarming, but their machinations are soon apparent. They never stop until everyone is reduced to gibbering wrecks or willing zombies.

Is this an exaggeration? I wish it was. I used to think these kinds of bosses mainly existed in the past, but I am still hearing shocking examples.


So what can you do about a horrible boss?


1. Become indispensable

Decide which portion of the nasty spectrum your boss occupies – is he incompetent?

He may be incompetent, promoted for the lamest of reasons, but there’s a chance you can work with such a person if you’re prepared to unobtrusively steer them towards better behaviours. By observing and noting their cues and habits, you may be able to subtly position yourself as indispensable. Should this occur, seek suitable, above-board remuneration for dealing with the never-ending annoyance. You’re serving that person, but in the end, he is actually serving your purposes.  

And if your boss is consistently underperforming and it is disruptive or causing the output and results to be impacted – go to their boss or HR and talk about it.

2. Laugh

Yes, you must because otherwise you’d cry. Find a trusted colleague to share the humour, and turn this situation into comedy. (You never know, it really might end up a sitcom and won’t that be satisfying? Please send me the stories, no names or places, as they may be suitable for the Cutting Edge Communication comedy series.) 

Bad bosses of either sex seldom realise their behaviour and certainly never that the last laugh rests with their underlings. If they did, they would cease their reign of terror, and you’d all kiss and make up. As it is, many have ended up in timeless movies and sitcoms instead, immortalised in all their horrible, stupid glory.

3. Perform your role magnificently

Not because you seek that boss’ approbation but because it makes you a smaller target. No matter how they rail or the faults they find, you aim to be Teflon. You are doing this for you, and because there are others in the company with whom you are interdependent (fingers crossed that they’re not one of the boss’ zombies). Don’t add to the woe of others, and try to be a calming presence for them (this won’t be easy if you work for a narcissist or sociopath). It’s essential that you keep your own brand together (if nothing else). Learn new skills and do even better. Keep that CV in mind – it needs to get better and better. This strategy is good for preparing for a new job.

4. Do more exercise

Taking up boxing and really let that punching bag have it. Vent some frustration with martial arts or triathlons. Don’t resort to the wine bar or pub; you need to radiate “fit for purpose”.

5. Self care

Stop consuming nachos and energy drinks when you’re on a deadline. Try to eat well and healthily. Rest as much as you can. Breathe deeply and slowly, several times a day. Yes, that horrible boss plays havoc with your sleep patterns but if you’re not careful, you’re slowly consumed by their endless, frequently unreasonable, even sadistic demands.

6. Practise the art of deadly calm

This will test some of you. The temptation is to fly off the handle or worse. Never engage such people at their own level. Rise above it as if you were directing a movie, or observing animal behaviour, and order your character to keep their cool, to watch and wait, and to maintain correct principles and conduct. Your time will come. You are not wedded to this job or this boss. All being well, you may outlast them or will see a better opportunity elsewhere. Encourage others by your steadfast detachment.

7. The bully/toxic end of the spectrum 

If the boss is not merely incompetent but unpleasant and rude, stay professional at all times. Give feedback, ask them to refrain from this behaviour. But is your boss repeatedly intimidating you or others? Bullying is illegal. Is your manager the downright toxic, narcissist or sociopathic boss? If you recognise you are working for this species and your mental state won’t cope, don’t waste time or your energy. REPORT HIM OR HER, NOW!

Stewing on a bad boss situation is not good for your health. If this is all getting you down, look for a new job, and leave. Our health and wellbeing is too important to be brought down by a manager at work.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.


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