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Got the Bad Boss Blues? How to Cope

TV shows and movies are full of bad bosses. From Michael Scott in “The Office” and Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” to “The Simpsons’” Mr. Burns and even Ebenezer Scrooge, there is no shortage of examples.

But what if the horrible boss you fear isn’t fictional? What she sits in the same office as you?

Unfortunately, this situation isn’t uncommon. Nearly half of employees surveyed by our company said they have worked for an unreasonable manager. Among those who have been beleaguered by challenging supervisors, 59 percent stayed in their jobs and either tried to address the situation or resolved to live with it.

Your relationship with your manager has more bearing than any other factor on your ability to succeed in your job — and how much satisfaction you derive from it. Here are four types of bad bosses and ways to maintain a productive, harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship with each of them:

“My boss is too controlling”

The type: The controlling boss isn’t comfortable unless he knows everything and has a say in all decisions, no matter how small or routine.

How to respond: The best way to make progress with this type of boss is to do it gradually. The next time you’re assigned a task, break it down into steps. Select one or two that are relatively simple and that you know for certain you can handle on your own.

Go to your boss and, as tactfully as possible, ask for responsibility over those tasks. Assure your manager that you’ll run everything by him and allow plenty of time for changes or feedback if necessary.

You’ll gradually earn your boss’s trust and broaden your sphere of responsibility. Just keep in mind, however, that your success depends on your ability to deliver on promises. Any failure on your part could reinforce your boss’s tendency to micromanage.

“My boss is too wishy-washy”

The type: This boss is reluctant or slow to make decisions. She is also unable to articulate clear objectives, set precise deadlines or give constructive feedback on your performance.

How to respond: Whenever you need your boss to make a decision, do your homework first and then offer a recommendation. For example, you might say: “I see three options: A, B or C. I believe that B is the best choice because of X, Y and Z. Do you agree?” Reassure your boss that you’re confident about your recommendation.

Also be sure to communicate deadlines. That alone can sometimes prompt indecisive managers to take action. Just don’t push too hard, or you risk damaging the relationship.

“My boss makes unreasonable demands”

The type: This type of manager asks you to squeeze in 12 hours worth of work into an eight-hour day. The result: You either stay late or risk being reprimanded for your poor performance.

How to respond: Sit down with your manager and make a list of performance objectives. If you see a gap between what’s being requested of you and what you believe you can accomplish, ask that expectations be altered or that you be given additional resources.

A good way to strengthen your case before such a meeting is to create a detailed report that tracks your activity over a few weeks. This document can help show that you don’t have enough time to complete all the tasks you’ve been assigned. Your log also can highlight tasks you’ve been given that fall outside your job description and prevent you from completing core duties.

Above all, keep an open mind. Requests considered unreasonable at one company may be considered reasonable at another. You need to understand the norms at your company and decide whether you can live with them. 

“My boss is a tyrant”

The type: The worst type of boss. This manager is prone to angry outbursts and other forms of unacceptable or even abusive behavior.

How to respond: Unfortunately, your options are limited. Your first step may be to try to talk things out with your supervisor. If you’re uncomfortable with that idea, you might bring your concerns to senior management or human resources. But these actions may not improve the situation and could even backfire.

If you’ve dismissed this strategy, or it hasn’t been effective, ask yourself two questions:

1. What do you stand to gain by hanging in there? If it’s something you can’t get elsewhere — such as unique training or a fantastic paycheck — you may decide the trade off is worth it, at least for a while. This realization alone may help you cope more effectively with the pressures.

2. Can you adopt coping mechanisms that will help get you through the tough times? Clearly, you need a thick skin if you work for a tough boss, which means you can’t allow yourself to take it personally when your manager starts to blow off steam. You also need to become more attuned to the day-to-day moods of your manager and adjust your behavior accordingly.

In the end, the question of whether you can work for a truly difficult boss comes down to your own personality and tolerance. Here’s a simple test: If you get a knot in the pit of your stomach as soon you walk in the door, your job or company is probably not right for you over the long term.

This article was brought to you by Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide.

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