How to Outsmart a Difficult Boss

I wish that the words “evil” and “boss” never met. But if you have had three or more jobs, you have likely crossed paths with a rotten boss who ruined many of your days. It would be awesome if offices were free of power poison. Unfortunately, too many bosses are toxic.

It is unclear if they were toxic before they became managers, or if gaining positions of power led them astray. Regardless, it is very hard to advance within your organization if your boss blocks your progress.

When a pay raise, promotion, or lateral move is within reach, your boss is often the one who decides if it will happen. Not having her convinced you deserve it will hold you back.

I am sure that you have your own stories to tell of the boss who destroyed the office and its culture. And just maybe you had a boss who was so bad that she drove you away. I myself had a boss who took credit for my ideas and threatened to damage my career when I finally decided to join a new company.

There was also George the CEO (name changed) who liked to chase the VP of Sales around the conference room table threatening to fire him if he did not “close the deal.” So, what do you do when your boss is toxic? You probably cannot just pick up and walk out the door.

Before you give your two weeks’ notice, here is what I suggest you do:

Stay calm
Toxic bosses often overwhelm us. That is because they are out of control. When you feel like firing back, take a moment to acknowledge your emotions. Be honest about your situation — is your boss really being a bully? Or do you overreact? Taking a hard look at yourself will help you refrain from being impulsive.

Look ahead
Remember that this job is part of your bigger future — it is just one step along the way. Stay focused on doing what is right for you, your boss, and the business. Every afternoon, write down three small tasks to accomplish the next day. Crossing them off will reinforce that you add value to your business — and can survive tough times.

Make friends
A bad boss is no excuse to run and hide. Expand your relationships throughout the business — including with your boss’s boss and influential colleagues. If you are known as someone who produces strong work with a positive attitude, your efforts will not go unnoticed. And if you choose to leave your toxic boss, work friends can serve as trusted references.

Remember that all bosses are human, too. It generally helps to focus on the one or two qualities that you do admire, or at least can learn from.

There are limits to what you should tolerate, though — no job is worth getting sick over. But if you master your emotions and take responsibility, a toxic boss can be your best teacher. If nothing else, you will benefit from taking mental notes of the bad deeds that your boss does, so you do not repeat them when you earn the “boss” label yourself.

What have you done to outsmart a toxic boss?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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