When your boss is evil

Without doubt, the most important person in our work life is our boss. We need to be able to work well with our boss BUT it is possible to have a perfectly good working relationship with someone you wouldn’t choose to spend time with. And conversely you can have a difficult time with a boss that you really like as a person. And sometimes – for whatever reason – the relationship can become toxic. I am so lucky that my current boss is brilliant so this isn’t about him! I would have to say that but it does happen to be true. But this hasn’t always been the case. And sadly I doubt they know who they are because they probably didn’t even think the relationship was bad. Or perhaps they did but didn’t care. I have spent a lot of time coaching people who struggle with their boss for all sorts of reasons and I have had my own struggles. I am absolutely certain that people will have struggled with me too! So this blog is perhaps more about what I could have done early in my career to try to fix bad relationships with my boss. And it is a lot about the coaching conversations I have had over the years.

The important thing is to understand that this about a work relationship. What starts out as a less than brilliant relationship can progress by degree to a point where you believe your boss is just evil. So what happens if this relationship has gone bad and it seems there is nothing you can do about it? In most cases, it is possible to do at least something about it. And because your relationship with your boss is so important, it really is worth making the effort.

It is vital that you take some responsibility for your relationship with your boss. You won’t necessarily be able to fix it but it is quite common for people to take no responsibility for it and place all responsibility on the boss by saying “It shouldn’t be up to me to…” or “She should take responsibility…” it really isn’t going to improve. So here are some tips:

1. When talking about your boss a sentence that includes the word “should” is unlikely to be helpful. For example “Well he should make sure he doesn’t have to ask at the last minute”. These may be factually accurate but they are unlikely to be helpful. Your boss may well leave things to the last minute and this affects you. However, if this has happened before, it is likely to happen again. Find other ways to allow for this to make your life easier.

2. You are frustrated because your boss is frequently wrong – and this may be the case. However, there is a good chance that you are misunderstanding what their priorities are. You perhaps don’t know the big picture. Or maybe you are wrong. The reality is that actually it doesn’t matter. You cannot make your boss be righter. Or more correctly, make your boss think more like you.

3.Your boss doesn’t listen to your suggestions and this makes you feel devalued. The worst thing you can do is to carry on trying the same tactics. Try different approaches – is your timing right? Have you put yourself in his shoes to work out what his priorities are? What of approaches have worked – spreadsheets? Stories? Bold words? Who does have the boss’s ear – and how has this happened?


4. Pick a time to raise issues with your boss. Ideally this might be in a review or catch up. Perhaps you could pre-warn by saying something like “Could we spend a few minutes in our next catch up by looking at ways I can be more effective?” . This isn’t exactly what you want to talk about – the reality is you probably think “how can you stop being such a nightmare to work for” but this type of framing is unlikely to work particularly well! It might sound a bit underhand, but taking a softly softly approach helps to avoid the boss feeling attacked and therefore becoming defensive.

The upshot of all these is essentially the same. You have a very limited ability to change the way your boss works but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. The only thing you have control over is what your reaction to it is. So focus on what you can control. Once you have made your views on a particular issue, let it go. Your boss will do what your boss will do. Your job is to find ways to deal with it.


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