Lessons from a bad boss

Posted by Bob Corlett on July 25, 2012

If you are stuck with a bad boss, how do you deal with it in the best possible way?  Most of us handle it badly: we cycle down into anger, resentment, or depression, and we act out by complaining and/or indulging in petty sabotage. So here, says Erika Andersen, a contributor to Forbes, are ways to survive until you can get to a new job.

1. Learn what not to do.  “My worst boss was the one I had just before I started my own company,” recalls Andersen,  “so every time he did something short-sighted, small-minded, wrong-headed, or controlling, I’d take a deep breath and think to myself, I will never do that when I’m a CEO, or I will never treat an employee that way. Thinking like that changed my mental and emotional state — it shifted me from frustration and anger about what he was doing, toward curiosity about how I could avoid doing the same thing in the future.

2. Sift for truth. Even terrible bosses are right sometimes, says Andersen.  It’s easy, when someone’s mostly awful, to assume they’re entirely awful. “With another bad boss I had,” she writes, “I used to make a kind of game of sifting out the gold from the dross.  If I could find one useful, smart, or insightful thing my boss did or said on a given day, I’d consider it a win.”  That behavior shifted her mindset away from how wrong-headed he generally was, toward how smart he could be.

 3. Develop a Teflon shield. “I’ve been fortunate in having had only one truly mean boss for one six-month period in my whole career,” writes Andersen. She says she decided the only way to keep from being emotionally damaged by him was to figure out how to become impervious to his negative, critical, insulting remarks. “I was able to do two things that really helped shield me:

1) I told myself every day, as a kind of mantra, This isn’t about me, it’s about him, which I knew was true: he was a very angry, insecure person, and he treated nearly everyone badly.

2) The second thing I did was rely even more than usual on the positive relationships in my life. I tried to spend as little time as possible talking about my boss with the people I loved — I didn’t want to chew up that precious time by complaining.  Instead, I focused on doing and talking about things we loved and that reminded me of all things I cherish in relationships: affection, mutual support, clear communication, fun.

“These ideas are survival techniques, they aren’t intended as long-term solutions,” Andersen says. “Think of them as you would putting the ’donut’ spare tire on your car: they’re only meant to last till you can get it to the mechanic and have a real tire put on.”


Topics: Career Advice, Job Search Strategies