I’m not naming names but I’ve worked for some pretty difficult people in my life. Oh, who am I kidding? They were jerks. It’s probably just the nature of the professional world. Some people are cut out for management and some aren’t. But what do you do when you’re stuck with a boss who’s a real pain in the you-know-what? Below, I’ve listed a few of my recommendations. For those of you who have experience with this sort of thing (and I know you’re out there), please add your own advice (anonymously or otherwise) in the comments below.
Get an Outside Perspective
I know you’ll hate hearing this but maybe—just maybe—you’re not giving your boss a fair shot. It’s possible. So why not share the facts with an objective third party? Take your emotions out of it and explain exactly what’s going on. Maybe this other person will see something you’re missing. Maybe you’ll hear yourself and realize things have been blown out of proportion. Or perhaps you’ll be reassured that yes, your boss is indeed a jerk. Regardless, it’s helpful to get outside of your own head. Keeping it all bottled up will only escalate your emotions.
Please note that I said “objective” third party. This does not mean a co-worker who hates your boss just as much as you do. And it doesn’t mean your mom or your husband—they’re automatically on your side. You’re looking for someone who cares about you but won’t be afraid to challenge you if needed. A career coach is often a great resource for this kind of discussion.
Design the Alliance
This is a skill I learned when I became a coach. The whole idea revolves around the fact that all relationships are more productive when there’s an open dialog about HOW the relationship will work. Of course, in our daily lives, we don’t normally address these things until there’s a problem. But the more proactive you can be, the better. So, even if things are just fine right now, this is still a great exercise.
The process is simple: Sit down with your boss (schedule an appointment if needed) and discuss exactly how you work best. At the same time, invite your boss to share his or her work preferences with you. Some of the information won’t be surprising. You probably already know quite a bit about one another. But once you really start digging in, you’ll probably discover some minor changes you can make that will greatly improve your relationship. Likewise, you’ll probably be able to identify some small things your boss can do for you that will have a dramatic impact. Together, you can design a working relationship that is productive and positive for both of you.
Here are a few examples of the types of questions you can ask (and the information you can share about yourself) to get things started:
- How do you prefer to communicate? (Do you like email, phone or in-person conversation best?)
- How often do you like to communicate? (Every day, once a week, etc.)
- What drives you insane?
- How do you prefer to address challenges?
- How do you like to be rewarded?
- How do you like to receive feedback?
- What are your biggest weaknesses and how can I help compensate for them?
Ask for What You Want
A big piece of “designing the alliance” is simply asking for what you want and need from your boss. Don’t be coy. If you’re having a hard time working together, tell him or her exactly what the problem is and ask for what you need to resolve the situation. The ASK is the biggest piece. It’s not just about stating the problem. It’s also about offering the solution in very precise terms.
Let’s be honest: Your boss isn’t thinking about this. He or she doesn’t have the time or desire to commit to fixing the situation. Acting like a jerk is easy and, until you point out exactly what the alternatives are (and make them just as easy), your boss will continue this behavior.
By demonstrating all the work you’ve done and the thought you’ve put into this, your boss will want to help. You’ll show just how much you care about your job and about doing the very best you can.
So be direct and ask for help. Clearly outline what needs to happen to improve your relationship and define exactly how this will impact you, your boss, your team and the actual work you’re both doing. Be professional but honest.
Most people find it useful to put their thoughts on paper first. This helps keep you focused on solutions and moving forward rather than placing blame or rehashing past frustrations.
Go Around or Over
After you’ve exhausted the options for dealing with this on your own, you may want to get assistance from someone else. Find a supporter who is on the same level as your boss or higher. Ask this person to help mediate or simply provide some confidential advice.
Of course, this should go without saying but please choose your ally wisely. This is not a gossip fest or a vent session. You need someone who will listen with compassion but also remain professional and be your mentor. Do not go into the conversation looking for someone to simply agree or sympathize with you. Instead, you want someone who can help improve the situation in some way.
Forget It or Get Gone
At some point, you may have to just let it go. Your boss is a jerk. You’ve done your best but there’s nothing you can do to change it. Either learn to live with it or move on. Don’t be rash about it. This shouldn’t be an emotional decision. Think it through.
Ask yourself, “How much does my boss impact my day-to-day work?” Is there anything you can do to minimize that? Maybe you can telecommute a few days a week. Sometimes, a little break makes a world of difference.
Also ask yourself: “How much will my boss impact my future career?” Is this jerk going to prevent you from moving forward in this company? Is he going to damage your reputation? Or is it possible he’ll leave soon and you’ll end up with a new (better) boss??
No matter what, don’t let anyone else make your career decisions for you. Whether you stay or leave, the choice is yours. Jerk bosses exist all over the world. If you run away from one, you may run right into another. Do what’s right for you and do your best. When all is said and done, you want to look back on the situation and know that you didn’t just give in to a bully. You tried to make things work but life had other plans for you.