I honestly don’t know what to do about my situation.
I hate my boss. I know those are strong words. But it’s true.
He’s a whole range of bad things. He micromanages me all the time. He asks me to share company related announcements on my social media. He never praises me for a job well done. He undermines me in front of my colleagues.
It’s difficult because I love my job. The company I work for is producing good things for the world. My colleagues are my friends.
It’s my boss that’s the problem.
He joined the company 3 months ago in a senior position. He has the goal of increasing sales by 50% in the next year. He’s obviously under a lot of stress.
I try to feel empathy for him. I try to understand where he’s coming from. I try to do better at my job according to what I think he needs.
But every effort I make results in more undermining, more yelling, more frustrations expressed by my boss.
Just the other day he did something particularly bad. I had to go to him as I needed help with one of our suppliers who has regularly been late providing what we need. The situation had basically gotten to a breaking point. So I went to my boss to get some help. Instead of helping me figure out a plan to better handle this situation, he just started yelling at me again. He yelled at me that we need these supplied goods more than anything right now to deliver on our goals, and I needed to “just make it happen.” This was the problem though – I had no idea how to “make it happen” and wanted to at least brainstorm some possible solution.
Another situation happened the other day when my boss got me to write to another supplier. He insisted the email came from me and dictated what I should write. I can’t repeat it here because the language is just terrible. I felt awful pressing the send button but my boss insisted I do. This hurts my own relationships in the industry.
I’m not sure what to do about my boss. I hate him. But I would like to rise above this hate and do something constructive with it. Please share your advice with me.
Hating your boss is a terribly unfortunate position to be in and something I can personally relate to.
The behavior of your boss in this situation isn’t okay. Yelling is abusive. Having power puts the person in a position of responsibility.
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Your boss is taking advantage of the power he has. It’s not right.
You now have a choice in how you respond to this situation. You can be a victim and blame things external to you for what’s happening. Or you can take responsibility for how you react to having a boss you hate.
I’ve put together 7 steps below that will help you to handle your situation better.
These steps will empower you to take action. They’ll transform you deeply.
I’ll begin with the steps that will help you handle the situation better at work. The last few steps are more drastic and should only be carried out if the previous steps have failed.
1. Find the opportunity in this terrible situation
Firstly, I want to say how much I feel for you. It sounds like you’re really happy with your job and the people you work with.
Having a boss you hate can be one of the worst experiences in life. It can be difficult to communicate with them at the best of times. We spend one-third of our lives at our job, and our bosses have a lot of control over such a large chunk of our lives.
The first step to learn is that having a bad boss is actually a big opportunity for you.
The opportunity is this:
You have been forced into a situation where you need to stand up for yourself. You now have the chance to take control of what’s happening.
How you approach this situation will have a big impact on your self-identity. It’s going to create the seeds of change deep within where you won’t stand for shoddy behavior from people around you.
Now let’s move on to the next steps where we’ll help set you up to behave differently in this situation.
2. Show some empathy
This step sounds easy but it’s often very difficult for people to do.
You need to focus on showing some empathy for the situation your boss is in.
Most bosses aren’t inherently bad people. They often have noble intentions but are unknowingly carrying out their work in a way that is negatively impacting people around them.
What are the external pressures your boss is under? Are they trying to reach strategic goals that are driving them to act aggressively towards you and your co-workers?
When you look deeper into the situation, you may find that your boss is not targeting you personally. How they treat you may be a function of the context they are operating in.
If they are targeting you personally, you may start to associate your boss’s treatment of you with what they are strategically trying to achieve.
Research shows that practicing empathy is a skill anyone can learn. Practicing empathy consciously results in your perceptions of other people’s feelings being more accurate, according to experts at the Menninger Clinic.
How can you start practicing empathy?
The key point is that you don’t need to make an appointment or drastically change your behavior. Instead, your empathy comes from within you. It’s about arriving at a place of understanding why your boss behaves as he does.
3. Enlist the support of your coworkers
Now that you’ve started to practice some empathy, has it changed your perspective on what’s happening at work?
Perhaps it hasn’t.
The next step is, therefore, to start talking to others in the workplace about how your boss is behaving.
This serves two purposes.
The first purpose is that you find out whether your coworkers are having the same experience with this boss as you are.
It can be lonely at work sometimes, and often people feel fear in expressing their frustrations.
By approaching others and letting them know what frustrates you, you’ll be given them a chance to open up to you.
The second purpose of talking to others is that you’ll create powerful allies, which is going to help you in the steps to come later in this article.
Finally, a quick note. It’s important to start talking to your coworkers in a subtle manner.
You don’t want to appear too confrontational. This keeps the focus on your boss’s behavior rather than your own.
If you approach your coworkers in an angry or aggressive way, the inadvertent consequence may be to turn them against you.
You don’t want that.
Instead, you’ll find out what your coworkers really think by asking questions that put the spotlight directly on your boss.
Point out specific examples of how your boss is behaving. Ask open-ended questions of your coworkers so they get the chance to give you answers you may not be expecting.
4. Confront your boss with diplomacy
If you’re lucky, the first three steps may be enough to make the situation at work much better.
You have already shifted your attitude by seeing your bad boss as an opportunity. You’ve practiced empathy, learning valuable and translatable skills in the workplace, and life more broadly. You’re building better relationships with your colleagues.
The situation at work may already be getting better.
If that’s not the case, it’s now time to confront your boss about how he’s behaving.
This happened to me often at work. How I handled it isn’t how you should handle it.
I used to be a management consultant, working on mining sites around the world. On one particular project, I was working in Vorkuta, Russia. I had a terrible boss. He undermined me regularly.
I confronted him in front of everyone. I had a point to prove and wanted to show him that I wasn’t someone who could be bullied around.
It didn’t go well. My boss reacted negatively and wanted to demonstrate his authority in front of the other team members.
Instead, I wish that I had have confronted my boss in a diplomatic way.
Here’s what I wish I had have done.
I wish that I organized a meeting with my boss to discuss some issues I had. At that meeting, I would have like do to begin by outlining the parts of the job that are going well. I then would like to explain clearly the frustrations I have.
Rather than personally attacking my boss, I would have liked to speak in terms of the strategic goals that my boss has. For example, at the mining site, I could have begun by stating that I know we’re trying to create a new organizational structure that will increase production.
Then I would have explained the following:
I would be a much more effective team member if my boss didn’t constantly undermine me. Here’s what I need to do my job more effectively.
I would then focus on the specific grievances I have.
By framing the issues I have with my boss around the overall strategic goals we’re trying to achieve, I would be speaking in a language my boss would have understood. He immediately would be more sympathetic to the challenges I am facing and not take it as personally.
This would have more likely eventuated in a better workplace for me and relationship with my boss.
So I urge you:
Confront your boss, but do so diplomatically.
5. Minimize contact with your boss and plan your exit
You’ve confronted your boss and given him a chance to change his behavior. You’ve done this in a considered way with empathy for what your boss is trying to achieve.
What is the result?
Perhaps your boss is starting to change his behavior. If so, you should congratulate yourself. You are taking responsibility for a key area of your life and influencing people around you in a very positive way.
What if the step above hasn’t resulted in any change in your boss’s behavior?
Now you need to minimize contact with your boss and start to plan your exit.
This is a crucial step to take before we move on to steps 6 and 7 which are more action-oriented.
Now is the time to create your back-up plan. The back-up plan is going to be an exit out of a bad situation.
The reality is that you can’t control the behavior of people around you. There are bad bosses around.
You can’t stay in a situation that is making you unhappy. Your work is an expression of your inner creativity.
Having a bad boss isn’t your fault. But staying with a bad boss is.
You now need to start working on your resume. Talk to recruiters in your industry. Put the word out that you’re looking for opportunities elsewhere.
Take pleasure in these actions. You’re taking responsibility for your own destiny.
In my case, while I was working at the mining site, I started to apply for Ph.D. programs. I remember clearly an application I submitted for an Erasmus Mundus fellowship in international political economy while I was in Russia. I ended up being accepted in this program.
I still had to put up with my bad boss for one more month. I laid low at work and did my best to help the team deliver on their goals.
After one month, I was out of there.
You need to do the same. Create opportunities outside the organization you’re currently in.
It will give you a feeling of security. You’ll need it for the next step.
6. Organize a mutiny
This is where the fun begins.
You’re already a different person from when you began step one.
You are capable of empathy. You have tried to help your boss reform his behavior. You’ve got your team members onside and built better relationships with them.
You have a backup plan with opportunities outside where you currently work.
But you mentioned above that you love your job. You value the products being created.
It would be a shame for this bad boss to continue creating discord in the company.
You now need to organize a mutiny.
Make sure that you have documented multiple examples and different types of bullying behavior from your boss. Find other people in the workplace who have witnessed what has happened to you and can corroborate that this is also happening to them.
The more people willing to go on record supporting your complaints, the better.
Finally, think through the impact your bad boss is having on the organization’s bottom line. Put together some brief notes on what will happen if you and others leave the organization.
You now have two choices with regards to who you approach with your issues with the bad boss.
You could approach HR, making clear the ways in which your boss is contravening the company’s currently existing rules and regulations.
Or you can bring your complaints to your boss’s manager.
My recommendation is usually to approach your boss’s manager. In my experience, I’ve found that HR doesn’t often have enough clout to meaningful impact on the behavior of senior managers in an organization. But your case may be different. You’ll know what’s best.
It may be a little scarier to approach your boss’s manager. But it will have the greatest chance of creating change inside your organization.
7. Move on
It’s been quite a journey, going through these steps. It’s been a chance for me to relive my own professional work experience.
If you’ve been through the six steps above, I applaud you. You have a lot of courage. You are standing up to the bullies in your life.
What happens if your mutiny isn’t successful?
My advice is the same as if your mutiny has been successful.
It’s probably time to move on from this organization.
You now have a wide range of experience dealing with conflict in your workplace. You have approached this constructively and learned plenty of skills in the process.
You are a much stronger person.
Yet the reality is that you shouldn’t need to deal with so much conflict in your workplace. There are many great bosses out there who are a delight to work with.
Go out in search of those bosses. Reap the benefits of the work you’ve done in step 5 above.
You deserve to work in a place where you can creatively express yourself and grow as a human being.