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Five tips for surviving a dysfunctional boss

Is your manager about to drive you bonkers? Steve Tobak shares some survival strategies.

One of my recent posts, How to Spot a Dysfunctional Manager, left room for a sequel on how to survive one. Well, having had quite a few dysfunctional bosses, and admittedly having been one myself, I guess that probably qualifies me as something of an expert, doesn't it?

But before I give you the keys to the dysfunctional castle, a word of caution. This stuff is like playing with fire. Once you commit, there's no turning back. Also, three of the five methods don't even work most of the time. You know what that means, don't you? The result won't be pretty, that's what.

The other two work, but I'm not so sure you're going to like them very much. What can I say; this is tough stuff. But still, desperate times call for desperate measures, right? So, take a deep breath, and let's get down to business.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in BNET's Leadership blog.

1: Go over his head

This one's the riskiest of them all, and the higher up you are in the management ranks, the riskier it is. Frankly, senior executives are relatively insensitive to whiny managers. That said, the technique did work for me once, albeit when I was a low-level manager. The key is to not complain about your boss, but to subtly ingratiate yourself to your boss's manager. In my case, he liked me, saw my potential, and eventually promoted me.

2: Take a vacation -- return -- try again -- freak out -- repeat

Keep that routine up until you get to about an inch away from burning out. You know, when you start having fantasies about going postal and your wife is threatening to take the kids and split. Then quit and find another job. That's one of the tips guaranteed to work. See, I said you wouldn't like it.

3: Go sideways

If your company's big enough and your expertise is transferable, go ahead and transfer. You can also network or become chummy with a manager and get him to hire you even if you're not exactly the perfect choice. Networking also helps if your boss tries to block the transfer. I guarantee that if someone at or above your boss's management level wants you, he'll find a way to get you.

4: Stab him in the back

I'm not saying make stuff up, but who knows -- maybe he lied big-time on his resume or screwed up a major deal, something like that. Just keep in mind, this kind of thing is risky and likely to backfire. It's also stooping to a dysfunctional level, but you know what I said about desperate times. Of course, I've never done it, but I've seen it attempted quite a few times and it does occasionally work.

5: Get over yourself and suck it up

This one also works, but it helps if you can compartmentalize your feelings. Anyway, look at it from the company's viewpoint. For one thing, a company exists to serve customers and shareholders, not thin-skinned employees who can't handle their own problems. If that sounds insensitive, well, guess what? That's exactly the way executive management views this kind of thing. Really. Don't like this one either? Well ... tough.

Well, those are my top five tips. Now it's your turn.


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12 comments
snaik95899
snaik95899

I've worked in plenty of companies that would make Initech look like the "company of the year". One thing I've learned is that there is no shortage of bad bosses. They're either not managing their department at all, managing from a 10,000 ft view, or standing over your shoulder micro-managing. You get ones that are either yelling at you nonstop or never talk to you to unless its to complain at review time. The only way to alleviate this problem is to get the hell out of there. Treat that place like it's a burning airplane ! Jump out as if your life depended on it. Trying to work for or with these kind of people is impossible. No amount of wishing, praying, casting spells, or hoping is going to fix or change this persons personality or management style. They simply will not change, so the only thing you can do to keep your sanity is for you to make the change to a more positive environment.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... is what the author calls "selective memory". Personally I think "managerial amnesia" is far better term. While most of the other characteristics of disfunctional manager are between him and your employer, managerial amnesia is between you and him. And it WILL get you into trouble, sooner or later. The only countermeasure I can think of is to request everything in writing.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Scary the crap out of it. Practice speaking with essentialist precision. Never speaking an untruth, and yet, never speaking an uncalled for fact, nor in any way justifying your statements uncalled for. It's terrifying. Truly. Be as verbose as you will when they don't hear though.

Regina55
Regina55

I prefer meditation. I imagine myself in a quiet meadow, sunlight filtering down through the trees, and a beautiful brook just bordering the edge. I imagine myself by the brook, smiling and looking down into the clear, cool water, into the face of the person I am holding under there?

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is not dysfunctional, she is not your boss. She is your co-worker.

JuliaX111
JuliaX111

Just go.. walk out the door.. don't turn around.. Write your letter of resignation to somebody a long way further up in the company being clear about your reasons and then leave and get on with your life. You never know. I have seen people pull this and 6 months later get invited for interview for the ex-bosses newly vacant position.

ruby2zdy
ruby2zdy

I was nearing 60, nearing 20 yrs of metaphorical coal mining, and my boss, who had told me before I started working for her that she didn't like me, tried everything to get me to retire early (I wouldn't have been able to live on my retirement income if I'd done so): put me in the smallest cubicle, which had a 3x3 building support column in it. Fine -- I hid behind the column. I was supposed to be doing Web design & was developing a database of employees & their computers, but she put me in "control" of determining the serial numbers of the computers of everyone in the department -- the State of CA Dept of Education, not as big as the DMV, but close to it. Since everyone kept their computers under their desks, this meant that I had to crawl on my hands & knees under hundreds of desks. I had bad knees & this was making them worse. Told my supe. Asked for student help. Nope, we don't have a student you can use. (I filed a Worker's Comp claim on this on the day I retired and eventually got $25K.) One day she & her boss, a smarmy little handicapped man, "offered" me the "opportunity" to move up. If I would just take over the email group. My boss had been handling the email group but she was a pure techie & hated supervising. I knew the 2 girls in the email group & how resistant they were to any supervision & had never done email management myself. Boss's boss said "there might be a promotion in it for you (smile, smile)". I'm not a good supervisor. I knew it would be a disaster. I asked if he would promise a promotion. NO, he barked! So I said I wouldn't do it. He got furious & things went downhill after that until a shift in staff got me a new boss, who'd seen how they'd treated me, and so for my last year there, I had a nice, kind boss who appreciated my work. There was also a previous 5-yr period where I had the best boss in the world (different dept). He didn't like supervising, and I was a self-supervisor & he trusted me & I did what he wanted & more. He even let me come in at 11:00 am & work till 7:00 (I'm a night person). Back to the Dept of Ed: Even with my kind boss, my work was never used thanks to higher ups. I was getting older, so at the earliest opportunity to retire with an almost decent income, I did. The 5 years crawling under desks and feeling despised was so traumatic it took me 5 yrs to recover. I basically sat on my couch & played computer games after I retired. I'm OK now. Sometimes you're just trapped.

ruby2zdy
ruby2zdy

Can you do this while 5 of them are staring you down in a small room accusing you of breaching some sacred corporate rule when you didn't actually do it? Managers only listen to each other. I've found that the most successful employees (a) are sycophants, (b) always appear happy, delighted to to assigned shitwork, (c) take on some big project (assigned, NEVER on your own), carry it out on time, under budget, and spectacularly. But don't expect any special rewards. They just probably won't set you up for failure. (d) To rephrase "c", NEVER EXPRESS AN OPPOSING OPINION AT A MEETING. Sorry, folks, but I've been through it, breaking all of those, and I paid. And no sarcasm. That really doesn't go over well. Oh yeah: (e) Men are more successful than women. If you're a woman and do your job with excellence, that's what they expect. If you're a man and you do your job with excellence (and they like they way you look -- surprisingly, this doesn't count with women past a certain point of scaling the ladder), they'll actually promote you w/o your trying too hard. If you're a woman, good-looking enough, and young, you may have to sleep with the boss (no, I didn't do that).

jkameleon
jkameleon

I've suspected there must be some sinister forces of selection at work here.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I actually thought you'd latch onto the convenient manner in which a recent blog entry on spotting a manager "left room" for the matter of surviving said manager, once spotted. Rather conspicuous, I'd say.

myepals
myepals

A well thought out exit interview can go a long way towards making things better for those left behind. Do not complain, SELL. This persons actions are bad for you and the company and you want no part of it. You prefer an environment that cultivates growth, professionalism and competency, not what you have. I have noticed that doing it in a subtle backhanded compliment works best.