A 3-step guide to deal with a bad boss

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A great boss can serve multiple roles in your career and your life: mentor, friend, confidant, ally, and more. A great boss can teach you lessons you’ll benefit from the rest of your professional life and set you up for success.

But what if your boss is not that type of boss?

We all have our preferences about how we work. And more likely than not — unless you work for the same manager your entire career — you’re going to have a boss over the course of your career who has different preferences from you: you may not communicate well, you may not get along, or you may not approach problems in the same way.

So, how exactly do you manage up when you and your boss don’t get along? When are you better off leaving?

bad boss

Step 1: Figure out your manager’s style and how you can adapt

Observe how your boss works and likes to operate. What’s his or her workplace personality? How do they like to communicate? What are their priorities? What gets on their nerves?

Try to do it without judging them. Just notice: Do they like frequent updates on what you’re working on? Do they prefer you email with questions or knock on their office door? Do they value speed in getting a project done?

Then notice what your preferences are. How do you like to work?

Assess the gap and what you can do to adapt to become more aligned with how your boss works. It might be a matter of shifting your work hours earlier or later; it might be a matter of taking more notes during meetings so you can report on details your manager cares about.

Step 2: Once you’ve figured out how to adapt, try harder at it

Adapting to a work style that’s not your own isn’t easy.

Let’s say your boss is a micromanager. That boss lacks trust in you. Resisting that person or getting angry or bitter is not going to help. Instead, flood that manager with information, Abbajay says. Think frequent check-ins and status reports.

Might the projects take longer than if your boss had given you autonomy from the get-go and you didn’t have to spend time documenting updates? Maybe. Is it fair that you have to do that extra work? Probably not. But along the way you may get some helpful feedback, and it’s going to be a good lesson for you on how to work with people who are different from you.

Your whole career you’re going to have people who are difficult. The more adaptable we can be at managerial relationships with different people, the better off we’re going to be in our careers.

And do look elsewhere for mentoring if your boss isn’t providing it, she adds. Look for other senior people in your organization. Look for professionals outside of your organization that you admire and reach out to them.

Step 3: Recognize when it’s time to leave

What if you can’t adapt a little bit more? Or you’ve adapted for a while, learned your lesson, and have the wherewithal to look for another situation?

There’s no reason you should be miserable. Can you move to a different team? Is there another job opportunity for you? How unhappy is this person and this situation making you? There’s no harm in recognizing that you tried to figure it out, but it’s just not working.

It’s also important to recognize when a boss is truly a toxic one. Ask yourself:

  • Are you spending more time worried about your boss than about actually doing and performing in your job?
  • Do you feel nervous about most interactions with your boss?
  • Do you feel demeaned or devalued by your boss?
  • Do you find yourself trying to hide from your boss or reduce interactions with him or her?
  • Do you dread going to work everyday?
  • Are you bringing your boss’s negativity and toxicity home everyday? Are you making the people you live with miserable because of it?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, it might be a sign you’re dealing with a truly toxic boss and you might be better off leaving that job or finding a new situation. You are not going to be at your best or be successful if you are more worried about your boss than about your job.

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