The Way to Work

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The Way To Work: The Bad Boss Blues

August 11, 2008
by Rachel Balik
You spend the better part of your life at work. Our weekly feature, The Way to Work, offers tips and guidelines to help you succeed in the office. Of course, nothing can hinder that success like a bad boss. This week, we’ll talk about how you can handle a difficult boss, before she drives you either to insanity or another company.

Fatal Faux Pas

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The number one thing to avoid at all costs is trashing your boss behind her back. The New York Times shares some horror stories about getting caught bad-mouthing the boss, and a team of experts explain how to wheedle your way out of catastrophe. If you were actually expressing a concern about something going on at your company, it’s best to apologize quickly, and then schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your concerns in a rational, profanity-free manner. But despite your efforts at damage control, there may still be no way to salvage the relationship. B. J. Gallagher, a management consultant, advises, “Just stop thinking of the workplace as a place to vent about work.”
Sometimes, your boss simply makes a decision you know is wrong. In that case, you need to find a productive, and above all, calm way to approach him and get your point across. There are certain tactics you should definitely avoid when confronting your boss, says CIO.com. No matter how angry you are, don’t think about having an argument or perceive the situation “you vs. him.” CIO.com suggests tape-recording yourself before the meeting to check if you sound hostile. During the meeting itself, curb your urge to fly off the handle and spend the majority of your time listening.

Be the Bigger Person

AskMen.com profiles various bad boss types. Is your boss a “dictator” who redoes all your work? Or is he an “un-manager,” unknowledgeable and unhelpful? He might exhibit just some of the “signs of a bad boss,” such as not trusting his employees, refusing to give or take feedback, setting impossible goals or resorting to intimidation. The article also offers a simple list of measures you can take to improve your relationship with your boss. You might not like your supervisor, but certain communication problems can be fixed with concrete actions, such as changing meeting locations, or scheduling bi-weekly reports. If none of that helps, you can go over his head and seek help from his supervisor.
The best way to deal with a bad boss is to avoid working with one in the first place. But you’re not a psychic, how can you know what potential terrors might lie ahead of you? ABC News suggests a number of ways you can do a little preliminary investigation, starting with your good old friend, the Internet. A 2006 Gallup poll found that most people who leave a job are actually trying to escape their bosses. They turn to public forums like message boards and offer graphic (and often biased) accounts of what working for a particular person was like. Although you should use shrewd judgment while reading these reports, they can be fodder for tactful questions you can ask your prospective supervisor and coworkers during the interview process. That way, you’ll avoid getting into a situation you’ll soon be longing to flee.
If worse comes to worst, try to gain some sympathy and profit by entering Working America’s My Bad Boss contest. Submit a story about your horrible boss; once posted by the editors, readers can vote on it. Everything is anonymous, so if you keep the details vague enough, you should be no danger of losing your job. If enough readers pick your story as a favorite, you could win a weeklong vacation.
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