How to deal with bad bosses

Having a bad boss can make you miserable, but there are ways to manage up.

About half of American workers have left a job to get away from a terrible boss. Half! That is crazy! And only 21 percent of workers think their performance “is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work,” according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace.

A full-time worker will spend more than 2,000 hours at work every year, so having a bad boss has an immense impact on our overall well-being and happiness. At its worst, it can even lead to symptoms akin to PTSD.

But having a bad manager doesn’t always mean you should up and quit. (Unless it does — more on that later.) There are many reasons we might have a bad relationship with our manager, but often it comes down to poor communication, or a lack of it, according to Mary Abbajay, author of “Managing Up: How to Move up, Win at Work and Succeed with Any Type of Boss.”

“You have to think about how you like to communicate,” she said, then “understand how your boss likes to communicate and assess the gap between and figure out what you can do differently.”

She added, “Work with the boss you have, not the boss you want.”

Managers come in many different flavors, Ms. Abbajay said, naming a few: You might have a ghost boss (a manager who rarely communicates with you and is seemingly never around); a sea gull (bosses who she said swoop and poop or swoop and scoop, meaning they “divebomb into a project” and leave a mess behind, “or they dive into it and take it away from you”); or a simple incompetent (“the Michael Scotts of the world”). And, of course, most managers are a combination of different styles.

The thing to keep in mind, however, is that often the relationship we have with our boss is based on our perception of his or her behavior, and not necessarily the reality of how he or she is acting. This is called the fundamental attribution error, a cognitive bias that leads us to attribute behavior we don’t like to other people’s characters, rather than circumstances or outside factors.

“Understand that whenever we see behavior in someone that isn’t what we want, we tend to make up a story about why they’re doing these things,” Ms. Abbajay said. We think, “they’re ghosting me, so they don’t care about me. That may be true, but another story could be they’re really busy, or they just trust you.”

Cultivating better communication with your boss is easier than it sounds, and Ms. Abbajay has a simple script you can follow to figure it out. Ask your boss to coffee, and ask her these three questions:

1. What are your preferences in terms of how you like to communicate?

2. What are your priorities?

3. What are your pet peeves?

That’s it! These questions are designed to get at the core of the manager-employee relationship, and having an open, honest conversation around them can save an ailing relationship or bolster a solid one.

However: “If the well is poisoned, the well is poisoned,” Ms. Abbajay said. Signs to watch out for include spending more time thinking about how to deal with your boss than actually working, dreading going to work every day and feeling physically or mentally exhausted or sick.

“If you’ve tried everything you could think of,” she added, “you owe it to yourself to leave.”

Source:, August 2018
Author: Tim Herrera
About the author: Tim is the founding editor of Smarter Living, where he edits and reports stories about living a better, more fulfilling life. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Washington Post. @timherrera

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