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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Bad Boss Personalities—and How to Deal With Them

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Awful bosses are highly entertaining on-screen (look no further than Meryl Streep’s fabulously vicious Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada). But in the real world, a terrible boss is anything but amusing.

For all that a nightmare supervisor may make you want to quit your job, that’s not always an option. Read on for three common types of bad-boss personalities and some quick suggestions for how to cope.

1. Bad Boss Personality: The Credit Hog

I eagerly await the day when all supervisors understand that talking up their employees highlights the value of the entire team—both the fabulous worker and the person smart enough to hire her. But in the meantime, there are some supervisors who think their job is only safe so long as the C-suite thinks they’re the sole person on staff with brilliant ideas.

The temptation here is to set the record straight, and shout from the rooftops—or over a group email—that you had the idea that saved the day. But, as you probably already know, a, “No, it was my idea” back and forth won’t do any good.

How to Deal: Credit the Team Environment

What you can do is reinforce the idea that you’re a part of a team whenever the project comes up. Think: When you hear, “It was brilliant of John to suggest we move the annual conference up two months!” try following up with something like, “Yes, the whole team really came together with wonderful ideas to improve on the event we’ve held in years past.”

First, this approach makes you look good because everyone loves a team player. Second, it makes you more likely to be heard than a “he said, she said” approach. Finally, it still accomplishes your goal of reminding others that John gets his ideas from a room full of staff.

2. Bad Boss Personality: The One Who Steers You Wrong

It can be very frustrating when your boss’ instincts couldn’t be further from your own. You go to him for advice, and instead of a game plan, you come away with directives you don’t want to follow.

Frankly, this may be a problem of your own creation. You’re asking for help, and he’s trying to provide it. The fact that you don’t want to take his suggestions (but feel like you have to) is a different story.

How to Deal: Ask for Approval, Rather than Advice

Try seeking out a new sounding board. Perhaps your boss always suggests a direct approach, and you’d rather be more delicate. Is there a colleague or mentor who seems to always “get” your approach? Especially if this person is well-respected within the organization, you’ll be getting helpful advice and an ally all in one.

Then, in your next meeting, instead of saying, “How would you suggest I tackle this issue?” try, “I was uncertain how best to approach a client with a difficult personality. Sarah—who also has some tough clients—suggested the following approach, and I think it will work well.” That way, you’re still keeping your boss informed—and letting him weigh in if necessary—but you should have more opportunities to handle things in a way that makes sense to you.

3. Bad Boss Personality: The Boss Who Loves to Say “No”

Every time you approach your boss with a new way to get things done, she says, “No.” Whether it’s about a tight budget, a lack of resources, or just a penchant for the way things have always been done, she doesn’t want to hear anything that’s a break from the status quo.

Well, my question is: Are you a glutton for punishment? Do you think that, one day, after months of sharing every idea that pops in your head, your boss will suddenly change her tune and say, “Yes, that’s a brilliant innovation!”? (I know from experience: It’s not going to happen.)

The truth is, you’re probably fighting a battle you can’t win. You want to demonstrate that you think outside the box (which she doesn’t value). Or you think your way is better than hers (which she doesn’t believe). Or you disagree with how things are done (which doesn’t matter to her).

How to Deal: Take Your Ideas Somewhere Else

If this rings true, you’re not a culture fit. It’s hard to hear, because from where you’re standing, it’s your boss who isn’t a fit. But if the company decided to place her in a management role, it’s putting stock in her approach. Certainly you can wait it out a bit, or you can even discuss your frustrations with other leaders or human resources. But if might be a better approach to start channeling your creativity and new ideas toward updating your resume.

The supervisor-employee relationship is a significant one, and it’s frustrating when it feels like it’s not working. Try the tips above to get back on track.