Don’t let a bad boss bring you down

I think most of us have probably had a bad boss at one time or another. Mercifully, most of us won’t have had to deal with Harvey Weinstein levels of bad boss-ness, but we don’t have to be getting groped at work for our managers to make us feel worthless, stressed out or to generally suck the fun out of work.

Firstly, the bad news, it’s tough to change other people. If you’re unlucky enough to have a line manager who just doesn’t know how to manage, it’s important to realise that you are not able to change them but you may be able to influence them and you can definitely change how you react to them.

It’s important to understand what is and isn’t within your control. None of us can expect our boss to have a crystal ball and automatically understand what we need or what makes us tick. It’s your responsibility to find a way to communicate that to your line manager. So many of us make the mistake of talking to our peers, friends or partners, but never taking the time to articulate our issues to the one person who can make them better – our bosses.

A lot of managers find themselves in a position of authority without really having intended to be there, just as a natural progression of their careers. Often the promotion comes without the requisite management training that teaches them how to lead in a way that brings their teams along with them. In this situation there are a number of things you can do to help your boss be better at managing you:

  • Let your manager know when their approach has been positive; explain how you like to be briefed; thank them when they get it right
  • Also find a constructive way of letting them know when they get it wrong
  • Use examples of a good boss and how their management style worked for you

Sadly, some bosses are just destined to be bad bosses. They aren’t interested in feedback. They’re too busy climbing the corporate ladder and looking after number one to consider or care how their behaviour might be making others feel. If you have one of those bosses, I’m sorry.

In this instance you can make a choice to leave (many people do), but if you love your job and you decide you’re going to stick with it, you need to find ways of coping that stop your bad boss bringing you down:

  • Switching rituals – make a physical break between work and home. You might listen to a particular piece of music on your journey home, make a point of changing out of work clothes as soon as you get in, go for a run or take a few minutes to meditate after you leave work to switch from work mode to home mode. Whatever works for you, find a way to leave work at work
  • Journaling can be an extremely effective and safe way of airing your grievances without anyone finding out. If you don’t like writing things down, try having an imaginary conversation with your boss in the mirror. Set a timer and get it all off your chest. Some people find writing letters to their bosses effective – if you choose this option, just make sure you never send them!
  • Take time for self-reflection. A bad boss can really erode your confidence in your ability to do your job. Don’t allow negative thoughts to chip away at your self-belief, use your positive self-talk to make sure you recognise the things you have done well. While you’re at it, don’t let your bad boss become an excuse for not giving your work your all
  • Focus on what you can control – take responsibility for how you are feeling about the situation, put your energy and efforts into doing your job really well and developing positive relationships with other people that you work with and who have influence in your career success
  • Talk to a coach/mentor – this is different to sharing with other colleagues which can often add to your own misery if they have similar views of a bad boss – instead talk to someone who can help you focus on what you can control and change
  • Take care of your wellbeing – working in a toxic or stressful environment can be physically and emotionally draining. Make sure you plan activities outside of work to relax and re-energise your wellbeing

And finally, if you are a boss and any of this is ringing a bell and you want to be better, be reassured there are things you can do:

1.   Ask for training – not everyone is a natural manager, but management skills can be learned
2.   Hold regular 1:1s with your team members. Exchange expectations and discuss how you can best work together
3.   Get to know each person you manage as an individual – understand what matters to them in and out of work
4.   Involve your team in decision-making – an inclusive leader knows their team works with them, not for them
5.   Be visible, available and open to feedback – let people know your door is open. Show up and interact. Ask for feedback on a regular basis informally and formally so your team feel comfortable to let you know how you are doing as a manager.

Ever had a bad boss? What coping strategies did you use or how did you manage the situation positively?

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