Unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably have to figure out how to deal with a boss you hate–at least for a while. Pretty much everyone has this problem at some point in their career. The good news is that you can and will learn more from a bad boss than from a good one (especially about yourself). The bad news is that this isn’t easy.
STEP ONE- REFRAME
The first step is to take YOUR emotions out of it. The best way I know to do this is to REFRAME the situation. We assign all kinds of import to the boss/subordinate relationship. We bring a ton of baggage to it. We want approval–sometimes even love–from our boss. We realize that the boss has power over us, so we are afraid of the interaction when it is unpleasant, and more so when it is always unpleasant. Maybe he will fire me! All of this sets us up to be more emotional in our interactions with a bad boss. As long as you’re focused on your boss’ power over you, and your needs that aren’t getting met (appreciation, approval, respect), it is unlikely to get better.
Think of a relationship that isn’t as important to you. Maybe an acquaintance, or a sales person, or a customer (that one is my favorite). Think of your boss as someone in that other role. How would you treat that person. Hopefully you wouldn’t be rude, but you would be matter of fact, and you would continue to try to make the situation work out. If you think of your boss as a customer, then you can position yourself to try to make her happy (the customer is always right, right?), but you’re not going to blow up if the customer is rude. You’ll deal with it. You’ll be responsible and even-keeled and you won’t stew over it forever. Remember, REFRAMING is only the first step, but it is an extremely important step. It will be hard to be able to do the next steps if you can’t get yourself to this more neutral stance.
STEP TWO- UNDERSTAND
Oh, you’re not going to like this step. You need to see the situation through your boss’ eyes. You may need help to do this. Ask others–several others. Ask them for their opinion of what the boss’ perspective is. How does your boss see you? Why? Does he think that he’s told you what you need to do and you haven’t done it? Does he think you’re just not right for the job? Does he think you don’t listen? Does he think you’re more trouble than you’re worth? Forget all the ways that he’s wrong. Really understand how/why your boss thinks what he does.
I once was having lots of problems with a boss and I just couldn’t understand it. I had made so many improvements in the brief time I’d been in the job! From my perspective, I was doing one of the best jobs I’d ever done. Maybe he was a sexist. Maybe he was an idiot. Maybe he just didn’t know what he was doing. (You can imagine that there was no “maybe” in my thinking.) No matter how hard I tried, he wasn’t satisfied. It seemed like everything (including the situation that I had walked into) was my fault in his eyes. One day he said pretty much exactly that. I suddenly realized that although I’d only been in the job for three months (too little to fix it, I thought), he had only been with the company and my boss for two months. He actually thought that it was all my fault. No wonder I was on his wrong side. Telling him that I had just started was not sufficient to change his opinion of me–we had been pushing each others buttons for a while. It was enough, however, for me to finally understand the problem.
Once you can see the boss’ perspective, you have many more options. You DO NOT have to agree with the perspective. You just need to see it. You also need to figure out what makes your boss tick. Does she make decisions based on lots of facts and details? Does she rely on others’ opinions to make decisions (others who have issues with you?)? How does she like to be communicated with? Does she like frequent updates? You need to spend the time and energy to figure your boss out.
STEP THREE- MANAGE THE BOSS
Now you need to start to manage your boss. Who gets along with your boss? What do they do? (This may be especially difficult if you don’t like the person who is succeeding with the boss—but you don’t need to like them. You need to understand what they DO that works.) Start to communicate in the way that your boss prefers (not the way that you prefer). Provide the information that your boss needs to make decisions. Stop making it obvious that you don’t like/appreciate/respect your boss. Remember she’s the customer.
Pay attention to your assumptions about what the boss knows, wants and needs. Look at the others who are succeeding with the boss—what assumptions do they seem to be acting on? Pay attention to the way that you communicate with the boss. Do you question the boss when others just say OK? Do you make sure you’re clear on what the deliverable is? Does the boss know what you’ve accomplished? Are you cheerful or glum?
Your job is to help your boss succeed. Are you doing that job? It is really possible to turn this “bad boss” situation around. I’ve done it. I have had lots of clients do it. In fact, it is more common to fix this situation than not. Don’t give up.
STEP FOUR= FIGURE YOURSELF OUT
Now it’s time to focus on you again. WHY does your boss bug you so much? What buttons is she pushing? Who does she remind you of? What do you think that she should be doing (for you) that she isn’t? This is how you can learn more about yourself from a bad boss than from a good one. As long as those buttons are “pushable,” then you are not in control of your performance. Sometimes you don’t even know that they are there until a bad boss starts pushing them. Don’t blame the situation entirely on the boss. This is a relationship like any other—two are responsible for it. The more you understand about yourself, the more successful you’ll be in improving this situation.
STEP FIVE- MOVE ON
If doing these four steps doesn’t work, find a new job with a new boss. DO NOT bad mouth the boss, however, as you do it. You’ll set yourself up for a bad situation with the next boss—if you even get the job.