How do you survive a criticizer, a yeller or power-hungry boss without having a mental breakdown? And how do you speak up to the boss to get the accommodations you need or some of the work taken off your plate at a time when job security is a real concern? How do you cope with a bad boss, or improve a relationship in these difficult economic times? Here are some suggestions from experts.
Confront the situation. Most of us, unsure of the best way to handle a difficult boss and fearful of losing our jobs, avoid contact or stay silent. Bob Nelson, author and motivational expert, suggests employees do the opposite. Instead of avoiding your boss, ask to meet with him or her and talk about a problem in a positive way to come up with a solution together. "Don't be a victim, rise above it and get your manager on your side." This works, Nelson says, especially when the boss feels that coming up with a solution together will be to his or her benefit.
Compliment the boss. When your boss is a jerk, the last thing you want to do is praise him or her. But is there anything he or she does worthy of a thank you? "Find something to acknowledge and recognize your boss for," Nelson suggests. "To improve any relationship, you have to meet halfway by going 90 percent," explains Nelson, who wrote Keeping Up in a Down Economy: What the Best Companies Do to Get Results in Tough Times. "By calling the boss out for something they did right for you, that will register with them."
Counteract overload. When the head count has been cut and the boss piles work on you, resentment may strain your relationship. Doug Arms, chief talent officer of Ajilon Professional Staffing, suggests that instead of taking on work and complaining, calmly show the boss what you already are working on now and ask him to tell you what's most important to get done. "He will not be interested in how the workload is affecting you personally, but what speaks louder is the impact to the quality of work."
Don't take the bait. Counteract your desire to cringe, huff or smirk when the boss is condescending or rude. Author Aubrey Daniels says the better approach is no reaction. "It's likely your reaction is bringing on the behavior and increasing it. Every time you react, it reinforces it," says Daniels, author of OOPS! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead). He suggests perfecting a blank stare, devoid of any tense body language. "Not reacting is doing something. It's decreasing the behavior as it relates to you."
Create your own positive environment. When you can't stop thinking about your boss' mixed messages, micro-managing and condescending tone of voice, refocus. Instead of complaining and making disparaging remarks about the boss, create a positive environment by turning to peers for positive reinforcement. "The more you focus on being positive and helping your peers, the more you offset stress, and the more it can help you deal with a negative boss," Daniels says.
Get your needs met. Every year, Working America runs a national competition for America's worst boss — and it's tough competition. But there are ways to get what you want, even in these unstable times. Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America, says consider going to the boss as a group with others who want the same accommodation. Also, check to see if the change you are seeking is covered by law or is standard in your industry.
Think twice about going above the boss. When interactions between you and the boss are strained and you view your boss with disgust, taking your complaints to the next level is risky, even in good economic times. Experts advise against it unless your boss is doing something illegal or immoral.