How to Outlast a Bad Boss


If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, most likely you have encountered a “bad boss” situation. While it can make the time in a particular position difficult, there are some ways to avoid misery.

You can only control you.

In Improv we have a game called “One Word Story” where a group of players tells a story one..word..at..a..time. The most difficult challenge in the game is releasing control of the storyline because, ultimately, you only have control over the one word you speak. It’s a great life lesson. You have zero control over the behavior of another person, only how you react to it. 

Take a quick gut check.

Before you decide that you have a “bad boss,” take a quick peek under your own hood. A little introspection will help to identify any problem areas in the way you relate to your boss and show up at work. Do you have behaviors or habits that are feeding a dysfunctional relationship between you and your boss? Take some time to try to understand your boss’ motivations and triggers. This can help you foster more positive interactions in the future. 

Maintain your integrity with a positive work ethic.

Don’t get into the “I’ll show them” game by working slower, taking excessive days off, or creating opportunities for your boss to look bad. It’s ultimately destructive, only puts you further behind in your work, and helps your boss build a case against you.  

Battle overwhelm with strong boundaries. 

It is incredibly easy to find yourself working longer hours, taking on extra tasks and falling into the perfectionism trap in order to “win over” your difficult boss. You’ll only find yourself worn out, burnt out and more likely to get sick by trying to work yourself into your boss’ good graces.  While this might work for a while, it is unsustainable in the long haul and eventually becomes more ammunition against you.  

Row the same direction. 

At the end of the day, your successes and those of your boss are inextricably tied together. With that understanding, learn to craft questions and requests in such a way that they highlight how helping you helps your boss. Show your boss that you are rowing in the same direction and you are actively engaged in helping to meet his or her goals. 

Lead yourself...and document everything.

If you are struggling with leadership who isn’t giving solid direction, goals or setting realistic expectations, lead yourself by creating your own. Set your own goals and expectations and keep a detailed record of your accomplishments. Detailed records also come in handy if you have a boss that gaslights or blames you for not completing certain tasks. Email is your best friend. Keep written records of all requests and correspondence. 

Sometimes the best approach is to leave.

If the situation isn’t improving and the likelihood of a move for you or your boss is slim, start planning an exit strategy. Toxic work environments can, quite literally, be hazardous to your health.  A 2008 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employees who had bad managers were 60 percent more likely to have suffered a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition. Sadly, the truth is, the longer you stay, the more likely you are to develop work habits that are maladaptive and won’t serve you well in a new job.  

Struggling with a bad boss is difficult, but it can teach you some valuable lessons about the way you work, lead and live life. Keeping these tips in mind can help you get through the situation with your head held high and your health intact. 

Feeling stuck? Schedule a free 15-minute session with one of our Deep End Coaches.

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