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How to tame a bad boss: 8 practical techniques

Meridith Levinson | Dec. 8, 2011
Management experts say employees possess the power to soften a bad boss's sharp edges. Here are eight tactics for making a bad boss more bearable.

3. Show your boss some empathy. If you get little recognition from your boss, imagine how much less appreciation (and even more grief) he may be getting from his manager. He may unfortunately be replicating the counterproductive management style with you that his boss employs with him.

Or maybe his nutso management style stems from a crumbling marriage, financial problems or troubled kids? He may be bringing personal stresses into the workplace, says Jim Finkelstein, CEO of organizational development consultancy FutureSense and author of Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace.

"When we do interventions, we seek to understand why the individual is behaving a certain way," he says. "A little bit of empathy can redirect bad behavior into cooperation."

Finkelstein advises employees to delicately but directly approach the boss to find out why he's on the war path. An employee might say to the boss: 'You seem really stressed out. Is there something that's bothering you that I can help you with?'

The boss might just respond, says Finkelstein, "I'm glad you asked. Just bear with me. I'm going through a difficult time."

If the employee is feeling particularly courageous, he might address one of the boss's recent tirades by asking, "Is there a reason you went off on all of us? Can I suggest a different way to handle that situation in the future?"

4. Seek out people who get along with your boss. Chances are, at least one person in your organization finds your boss agreeable. This individual may be a peer on your team or one of your boss's management-level colleagues. Finkelstein recommends identifying this person to find out what you're missing.

"Go to someone who's a peer of your boss," he says. "Tell them, 'I see you get along with Jane. I'm really struggling with her. Can I enlist some mentoring from you on how to approach her?"

Camden Consulting's Hewes advises employees to ask someone they trust to observe how they interact with their boss and give them feedback on their interaction. "You're trying to get some impartial ideas from someone who is not attached to your emotions," he says. "If you can get a few ideas of things you can adjust, that would help the relationship go better."

5. Address stylistic differences. Obtaining feedback on your interactions with your boss from a trusted colleague may help you pinpoint stylistic differences that could be the cause of your conflict. For example, if your boss is results-driven while you're process-oriented, conflicts are bound to ensue.

Hewes says to identify your boss's management M.O. and focus on giving her what she wants. If she wants results, give her results. Don't dwell on how you achieved them. The best way to know what your boss wants is to ask her directly for feedback on how she prefers information and ideas be presented to her.


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