IT Employment

What to do about an obnoxious boss

It's a touchy situation when the person making your work life miserable is your boss. Here are some tips for easing the problem.

When you have a problem with your boss, some of your options for dealing with the situation are limited. But there are best practices you can follow. I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Kristene Doyle, Director of the Albert Ellis Institute and an adjunct professor with St. John's University and the University of London, about a couple of things. Dr. Doyle has been a psychology and therapy expert on CBS, CNN, BusinessInsider.com and the WB11 Morning News. She's helped professionals, couples, and adults deal with all kinds of conflicts involving social issues, anxiety, relationships, anger management, family, and workplace.

I had in mind some familiar scenarios when I asked Dr. Doyle a couple of questions. The first one was How do you approach a boss who always undermines your effort?

Dr. Doyle: The first thing I tell employees is to check your emotions at the door. People who are angry, anxious, or depressed often do not convey the message they intended to deliver. Although you may have every right to feel angry at your undermining boss, approaching him/her while you are angry will likely create a distraction from the real problem. Your emotional upset becomes the focus.

I would recommend that you manage your emotions and practice some assertive conversations prior to approaching your boss. Ask a friend who can be both objective and supportive to give you feedback. When expressing yourself, do not be vague in what you are describing. Give specific, concrete examples of what you are referring to.

For example, stay away from "You are constantly undermining my efforts in my job" because implicit in that statement is an assumption that your boss is aware of what he/she is doing. Instead, it is better to spell it out for your boss: "When you dismissed my report that I submitted, which I spent a great deal of time on, I felt overlooked and dismissed as an employee. I would really appreciate when you give me constructive feedback you also acknowledge my efforts."

In this assertive statement, you are taking responsibility for your emotional reactions to your boss's behavior, as well as making a specific request for the future. There is no blame that is being placed on your boss, which will put him/her on the defensive and further undermining behaviors. Additionally, it may be helpful to express to your boss your perspection on what he/she is doing (again with cited specific examples) and try as a team to brainstorm possible solutions to the problem.

My second question was How do you manage the bully boss?

Dr. Doyle: This is not an easy task, but it can be done. When you have an incident with your bully boss, document, document, document. If it's not in writing, it didn't happen. As much as possible, try and disconnect your emotions from your interactions with your boss. Keep in mind that an attack on you is often masking an emotional issue on the part of your boss. Try and connect with other coworkers. Do not isolate yourself. Isolation breeds bullying, so align yourself with others. There is strength in numbers.

In that vein, remember that one is more likely to get injured in a dark alley than on a crowded street.  Put yourself in the presence of other employees, customers, or clients that your bully boss highly regards, and you will be less likely to become a target. If you are feeling overwhelmed or threatened by your boss, politely excuse yourself to go the bathroom or a meeting to diffuse the situation. Finally, while it may be tempting to talk to other employees about what is happening with your boss, it is in your best long-term interest to play it calm and cool as you build your case against your bullying boss.  Don't put all your cards on anyone's table in the process. It will likely backfire.

What other kinds of issues have you seen with your boss?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

13 comments
Gabby22
Gabby22

Typical pointy-haired bosses are hard to take - I've worked for a few in the past. The most important thing is not to undermine them. Yes they;re stupid. Yes, they're vain, selfish, irritating. It may sound strange, but you need to actively *support* bosses like this, making them look better than they are. If you white-ant them, it'll reflect badly on you in the long run, regardless of what they were like, and your boss will try to blame you anyway. If you support them, others *will* notice. So support them while you're working out how to move, because you'll probably have to. Andrew

mongocrush
mongocrush

One part about this article that is correct is to document everything. It could save your hide when your bully boss turns on you.

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

A bad boss is actually GOOD for you. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but my last bad boss & job was honestly one of the best things that ever happened to me. Without that bad boss/job, I'd probably still be stuck in an unfulfilling, frustrating job, If you hate your job, use your negative emotions to propel you toward something better. Keep thinking about your crazy boss and lousy job each day, and you can motivate yourself to take actions--even small steps--every day that move you to a better situation. I made the transition from frustrated employee--with a micromanaging boss--to satisfied business owner. I started a consulting business part-time, and built it into my full-time gig, and QUADRUPLED what I used to make at my day job--and have much more flexibility & financial security. Whether you decide to start your own consulting business as I and lots of others have done, you can use a bad job to propel you toward a better place. Greg Miliates StartMyConsultingBusiness dot com

sslevine
sslevine

...of the story I forgot to add, was the people I worked with and had assisted for a number of years really liked me and appreciated me, and watched out for me. I was able to do a lot of good things there for a number of years, until something more interesting spirited me away. I still have many friends there.

sslevine
sslevine

The IT Director I worked for 8 years ago was a psychologist's fantasy; robust, dynamic, hands-on (he claimed and named a hard hat during the construction of the new building, which got him ejected from the site), a whirlwind of activity and curiosity (which he felt enabled him to walk in and sit down at any meeting he felt he needed to be at), a real proactive guy who researched great solutions to technical problems. He was highly intelligent and motivated; BUT completely undisciplined. He had no concept of personal or professional boundaries. When pushback inevitably occurred, he would steam, smoke, and sulk. He was also a liar; and was usually angling for whatever he felt he needed. When he promised me a retired server we desperately needed for a test environment, he was the entirely benevolent dictator. When he decided he wanted to curry favor by giving it to another organization, and I called him on his two faced behavior, he cornered me in the server room and had a meltdown. He was literally inches from my face, screaming unintelligibly, to the point where two female administrators came banging on the door. When he let them in, the alarm on their faces was clear; they had feared for my safety, and told me so later. I'm a small (but mighty!) female, but I had not considered the fact that he might have been more bipolar and violent than I realized. Not long after, he was sent packing, due to his abrasive nature and unpredictable emotional temperament. Just food for thought - you never know what could happen. I work for a public safety organization, now, and that is clearer every day; the human being is a complex, unpredictable entity.

Odipides
Odipides

Who hasn't had one? If Dilbert's boss didn't resonate with so many IT professionals Scott Adams would still be a network engineer. You simply CAN'T explain technical issues to people like that without getting a 'thousand yard stare' and a glazed expression while their brain flutters off to warmer climes. Unless you're in golden handcuffs, or in the middle of a recession, my advice is vote with your feet. But then I've been pretty much bankrupt on a few occasions so maybe I'm used to it.

mattps
mattps

In my previous employment I had a boss that was great, very knowledgeable and placid - until something went wrong (usually by his own hand). This would result in "toys being thrown out the pram" in a big way. Rants would ensue and then extended periods (weeks) of silent treatment and all the bad jobs would come our way. I left, which was a shame as I really enjoyed the work, the job and my colleagues.

johnscar
johnscar

Bullies see any emotional response as confirmation of their assumed power. Break the pattern by sticking to business goals. Don't attack, don't get sucked into being an allly, and don't allow yourself to be hurt. The business bullies I've known act that way because they believe that bullying is what has brought them success. They have an area of vulnerability that they are (unconsciously) fighting to protect. If you find out what that vulnerability is, do nothing that would tip off the bully that you know about it, but keep in mind that the bully's suffering is quite real.

Domingus
Domingus

I have had an boss that you could not turn your back too before he stabbed you with a knife. Only thing to do when this is the case, find a new job. Only thing i regret in regards to my previous job, and that is that i did not quit earlier...

essex133
essex133

The idea of using a bad job to propel you toward a better place, by starting your own business, is all very well if you happen to have skills that can be turned into a business, not to mention the ambiton and drive required to do so. But more often than not and through no real fault of their own, the majority of people simply do not HAVE such skills or enough drive and ambition to do as you did. For example, I was just a very conscientious and hard working solicitor's account clerk for 11 years; my best friend has been a checkout operator at Tesco's for over 20 years; one of my daughter's was a counter clerk in the Post Office for 11 years and my Ex worked in a factory. And I think you'll agree that NONE of these types of jobs provide any kind of stepping stone to starting your own business. But I believe the main purpose of your post Greg Miliates is to promote your own business, which you have succeeded in doing.

essex133
essex133

Whilst it may well be true that bullies are often suffering from emotional and/or mental problems themselves, knowing this does not really help the target of their bullying very much at all! I know this from first hand experience because I was the target of a bullying boss, who made my life an absolute misery for several years! And as for Domingus's advice that you should find a new job, I tried in vain to find a new job for abourt 3 years! And because I couldn't find one, I couldn't leave my current job because the Social would have said that I had made myself unemployed and would therefore not have paid me any money to live on! My bullying took place in 1997, when I was 49, and I woke up one day and just could not face going in to work. I had spoken to my bullying boss and to the Personnel Manager but as no other memeber of staff had complained about him, they obviously thought I must be over-stating my case. But I was not: I was so depressed by the time I left that I couldn't even face doing my grocery shopping during the day, when the store would be crowded. Nor could I face seeing my best friend. I just locked myself indoors and only went out in the early hours of the morning, to do my grocery shopping.This went on for several months until I finally had the strength to seek help. I have never worked since because this experience left me petrified that it might happen again. So I spent 16 years on State Benefits and couldn't afford a single holiday, anything new for the house or even to go out for a drink with my friends. I have now retired and I can finally relax and get on with the rest of my life without having to worry about ever being the victim of a bullying boss ever again.

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

It's true that some people aren't cut out to run their own business, but I also think that most people discount themselves and their skills, which limits their options of what they believe is possible. I truly believe that we have more control of situations than we typically believe. Life is full of choices, and once we realize that, we can take control to improve what we don't like. The classic book "Man's Search For Meaning" by Victor Frankl describes his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, and how he saw how some prisoners used their power of choice to psychologically survive such a brutal and hopeless situation. I've had bad bosses. My last bad boss called me out in a group meeting, accusing me of missing a prior meeting for excessive sick time (I had actually been out to attend my father-in-law's funeral); my prior bad boss was paranoid, prevented me and everyone on my team from doing any work (literally) or taking initiative, while micromanaging us. We always have choices. You don't have to start a business--that's only one choice (though I've found the experience of starting my own business has led to a completely new and more empowering worldview--a worldview that most people who haven't started a business don't share). And if you choose to start a business--even if you work as a checkout clerk in a grocery store--I bet there are still skills you have from your hobbies, interests, or life and work experience that you can parlay into a business. Maybe you tinker with PC's in your spare time, or love taking care of children, or like to read to the elderly; those are all marketable skills. No one is helpless, but many believe they are; they're called victims, and I used to think like one. But no matter your situation, you can take steps to improve it. As Henry Ford said, ???Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you're right.???

naresh_sn
naresh_sn

Hi - I dont know whether you did the right thing by not going for another job rather than just sitting at home. I guess in these situations we need to muster courage and face the situation. Remember there is a silver lining at the end of dark tunnel.

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