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Help!! I Hate my Boss!
by Nancy Halpern

Please select one of the following. My boss is:

A) A Monster
B) A Cretin
C) Genghis Khan
D) All of the Above

Does this sound familiar? Is this what you face everyday? Do you harbor fantasies of the perfect crime? Do you keep thinking that there must be a way around, up or out of this awful situation, if you could only figure out what it is?

Don't despair. At one time or another we have all faced an impossible boss. Too many people don't realize that "managing up" is not the same thing as "kissing up." Managing your boss is part of your job and a key indicator of your success. In learning how to do this you will master valuable lessons about management, human behavior and how not to perform under pressure. These are skills that can be turned around into survival, and even success, strategies.

How did a nice person like you get stuck in a place like this?

Most people don't willingly sign up to work for a difficult boss. There are a few intrepid souls who think they are "up to the challenge", but the sane among us run in the opposite direction.

Sometimes you accept a new job, and your future boss seems really, really nice. Then the first deadline approaches and he or she turns into a screaming banshee. Sometimes your current boss leaves and senior management selects their replacement. Sometimes you are transferred into a great new position, but a terrible boss manages the department. And sometimes you have had a perfectly fine relationship with your boss and something goes sour, creating a downward spiral that you just can't seem to climb out of.

Pick a Boss, Any Boss…

Let's see if we can peel away the layers of horror here. Exactly what type of problem boss do you have? Here is a far from exhaustive list of some killer-type bosses. Do you recognize yours?

The Patronizing B_____D and The Arrogant B___H

Sister and brother, this type of boss believes that intimidation, sarcasm and fear are key motivators. They seem to derive special pleasure from publicly humiliating subordinates and appear impossible to please.

The Idiot

Yes, he or she really is that stupid. No matter how many times you shake your head in wonder, they do continue to amaze you, don't they? Pick the absolutely dumbest strategy, and they implement it. You wonder how they survive; yet they continue to be promoted over and over again. Why? Because they don't intimidate their own boss and are perfectly content never to rock the boat.

The Politician

Manipulative and self-motivated to the core, this boss will tell everyone exactly what he or she thinks they want to hear. Weeks, months, years later, you realize that they have been lying all along. In fact, they are so good at selling their own version of events that what is common business sense gets lost or forgotten. Their concern is never what's right for the business, but what's right for themselves.

The Serpent

This is the one who says: "I tried to talk them out of it" or "I really fought for you", smiling as they ooze insincerity. A masterful blend of snake oil salesman and actor, she or he is verbally unctuous and inherently untrustworthy. Think of Eve's temptress in the Garden and you get the picture.

The Workaholic

This person has no life. They live to work. Ergo, work is life. They assume that the family photo on the desk is enough quality time with the spouse and kids. Unrealistic deadlines, calls at home, frequent business travel on weekends - these are some of their favorite techniques. Most staff members end up working excessive and late hours without recognition or reward. In fact, the more work they accept, the more they are given, but the money and title never seem to follow.

Hope for the Sick at Heart

We all know it isn't easy to live with a tough boss. You've probably tried a lot of different things - and most of them haven't worked. Have you sighed in resignation, accepting this burden as punishment for sins committed in a former life?

There are ways to make your relationship with your boss if not more successful, than at least more pleasant. Here are some strategies to think through, and some ideas you can begin testing tomorrow.

  • Don't push your boss's buttons. What are their pet peeves? What sets them off? Write them all down, and for each pressure point, put an antidote that is the opposite behavior. Now tape this list it in a private but easily accessible place and reread it every day. Be sure to consider the "little" as well as the big things. For example, you may not think it's a big deal to arrive five minutes late to a meeting, but to your boss this frequent tardiness indicates sloppiness, poor planning and a lack of respect for him or her. They may view it as your failure to manage your time, or think that you doubt the meeting's importance. Remember, this is all about your boss's sensitivities, not yours.
  • Know their favorite communication methods. Do they prefer to communicate via email, phone or memorandum? Do they utilize one medium for themselves but another for their staff? Find out and stick to it! Your adherence to their choice will make them more comfortable, and will make them believe that you are more like them, and that therefore you must be very, very smart.
  • Know their communication style. Are they formal or informal? Don't be exactly like them; just use it to point yourself in a general direction. For example, if someone uses vulgar language it doesn't mean that you will endear yourself to him or her if you start swearing all the time. But acting shocked won't help you either. Take it as a sign of informality, or perhaps a tactic to embarrass you, and don't react. The same thing is true for their style of dress. Don't mimic it - just use it as working knowledge of who and what they are.
  • Scrutinize the Successful. I know it hurts, but do it. Turn your gaze to colleagues who are successful with this boss. Who gets promoted? What traits or behaviors do they use in front of your boss? Forget your own attitude, be it envy or disgust, and try to be objective. It doesn't mean that you have to be that way, but it will provide clues as to what your boss really likes. You can decide later if you can emulate your colleagues or not - right now we are still collecting data.
  • Keep it to Yourself. Button your lip until you are blue in the face, but do not grumble about your boss in the office. It may seem like common sense, but you would be amazed by how many people publicly bad-mouth their boss. Not only do the walls have ears, but they have tentacles and stereo speakers, too. The first nasty remark may not get back to your boss, but the third or fourth one will.
  • Forget about Human Resources. If you haven't yet learned this painful lesson, please etch these words into your soul: HR exists to serve the needs of the corporation, not the individual employee. If you bring a complaint, no matter how legitimate, to HR they will take it straight to your boss and it will hurt you. Trust me on this - no matter how friendly they seem HR is not your friend.
  • Document, document, and document. Keep every memo; write down every offensive comment, every broken promise, and every out-of-control outburst. Be sure to include dates and participants, and enough detail to make yourself believable. Then keep this in a very safe place. Because you never know.
  • Have an Exit Strategy. Think about it, write it down and file it away - you will feel better. This should be a living document, including a current resume, a list of headhunters in your field and the names of three or four good references. If you decide, or it's decided for you, to leave, then the first thing you do is pull out this document. And boy, will you feel better when you do.
  • Manage your Boss. Be it this job or the next; realize that you need a strategy on how to manage your boss. Be cognizant of when you give them information, what that information is and how you deliver it. Know your boss's weaknesses and objectives, as well as the pressure they are under to perform their job. Be aware of your own working style, and plan how you can balance the two.

"You can't change other people. You can only change yourself"
                                                                - H. H. Getter

Mind you, even if you do all of these wonderful things, your boss may still be a jerk. But they'll be a more manageable jerk. Or maybe you'll discover that he or she is not so bad after all. Perhaps they've been misrepresented by jealous colleagues, or have a reputation that you assumed, falsely, were true.

But either way, they'll be easier to live with. And all the people you've been complaining to for so long - they'll think that you're easier to live with, too!

Nancy Halpern is founder of Strategic Positioning for People in Business, a career coaching and executive training company specializing in goal realization, presentation and negotiation skills, career development and quality of work/life planning. Nancy is the Channel Editor of the "It's a Living" section at, and can be reached at:

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