Deal with a Bad Boss

One of the main reasons that workers become unhappy at work is bad management. A bad boss can turn even a good working environment into an uncomfortable and unhappy workplace. They have the ability to assign good or bad tasks, and ultimately to fire us. This power imbalance is why a good relationship with your manager is so important. You are not powerless to quietly accept a bad boss and have a responsibility to speak up in an attempt to change the situation. However, you must recognize that some bosses are intentionally bad because they receive benefits to which they are entitled and you could be seen as a threat, in which case you must know how to defend yourself. If you want to know how to deal with a bad boss and to improve your work environment, see Step 1 to get started.


Improving Your Relationship

  1. Speak up. If you are struggling to have a good relationship with your boss, then you shouldn't stew in silence. Talking to your boss about the problems you're having in a calm, polite, and professional manner can help you work together to resolve them. Of course, the type of relationship you have and the type of person your boss is can affect how you approach your conversation, but in general, saying something and trying to improve the relationship is superior to getting angry and frustrated and not being able to get your work done.[1]
    • You'd be surprised by how many bosses have no idea that the people they are managing are feeling overlooked, angry, frustrated, or like they're getting mixed signals. When you voice your concerns with your boss, then he or she will be grateful that you said something.
    • If you never say anything to your boss about it, then there are almost no chances that your work relationship or your work environment will improve. Saying something is unpleasant, but it'll be worth it in the long run.
    • You should carefully plan what you'll say, ask your boss to set a time to talk, and come prepared with evidence and examples of times when you were frustrated with your situation.
  2. Work with your boss, not against him or her. Though it may feel good to undermine your boss or to make him or her look foolish or incompetent, in the long run, it's far better to help your boss look better and to achieve goals that are good for you and the company. If you spend your time making your boss look incompetent at meetings or sabotaging your boss's efforts to get work done, then you'll only be poisoning your relationship and your work environment. Instead of making things work for yourself, try to help your boss achieve goals and everything will run more smoothly.[2]
    • Sure, the last thing you may want to do is to work with someone you don't really respect all that much. But this is far better than constantly being at odds with someone you work with.
  3. Keep track of all of your interactions. Though documenting all of the annoying or horrible things your boss has done to you may not sound like the greatest way to spend your time, you should start doing this once you feel like the situation has gotten out of hand. Keep all of your negative email correspondences, save memos that show that your boss is giving mixed messages, and just do whatever you can to document all of the problems you have had in your professional relationship. This is advisable for two reasons:[3]
    • One, if you and your boss discuss your problematic relationship and your boss acts like he or she doesn't know what you're talking about, then you have something to point to as proof. If your boss just hears that you're getting mixed messages, it's less effective than showing him or her two emails with completely different messages.
    • If your boss is the type to bring false charges against you, then documenting all of your interactions, or even having your communication in front of others, can help you set the record straight.
  4. Don't bad mouth your boss to your coworkers. Saying negative things about your boss to your coworkers will only fuel the fire at best or get you in trouble at worst. Though you may feel tempted to vent about your boss's managerial style, you should keep your negative feelings to yourself. Having your coworkers join you in complaining about your boss won't make the problem go away, and if the wrong coworker catches word of what you're saying, it may get back to your boss in a very unpleasant way.
    • You should especially avoid saying anything negative about your boss to your superiors. This won't help your reputation. Remember that you want to look like the agreeable person who gets along with everyone, not like the crank who is always complaining about everyone in the office.
  5. Anticipate problems before they happen. Another way to improve your relationship with your boss to is to watch out for future problems and try to make them go away before something blows up. Think of it as anticipating the tantrum of a toddler: if you hear your boss begin to fume on the other side of the hallway, you better have prepared something to say to calm him down, or have found a way to stay out of the situation. If you know your boss pretty well, then you should know the kinds of things that set him or her off, and you'd be better off if you came up with a game plan before things exploded.[4]
    • If you know that a coworker is going to introduce a major problem in the office at a meeting, you can talk to your boss about the problem in advance so he or she feels prepared.
    • If you know that your boss is in a foul mood whenever it's raining and he is stuck in traffic, be prepared for some good news when he or she walks in the door.
  6. Work around your boss's weaknesses. Sure, it may be tempting to exploit your boss's weaknesses, but that won't get you very far in your company or your work environment. Instead, work to help your boss to counteract his or her weaknesses so that everything runs more efficiently and with less conflict. If your boss is chronically late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for him or her. If your boss is disorganized, offer to get the next report into shape before you have to present it to your clients. Look for places where you can really help your boss and jump at the opportunity.[1]
    • If you help your boss get things in order, then your relationship will have to improve. Your boss may even be grateful for it.
  7. Praise your boss when he or she gets it right. Many managers never receive praise because somehow, it is mistakenly believed that praise should only flow from managers to employees. You may be nervous about approaching your manager to offer advice, but good managers are truly grateful for constructive, useful feedback, and will appreciate any opportunity they get to learn how to do a better job. However, be careful not to flatter a bad boss, because that won't get you anywhere.
    • Your boss will be impressed at your attempt to make him or her feel more positive about his or her managing style and everything will run more smoothly.

Having the Right Mindset

  1. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a bad relationship and a bad boss. A bad boss is one who is intentionally mean or unethical and is not receptive to dealing with you in an honest and open way. A bad relationship is an inability to communicate or work together to achieve mutually-beneficial goals. When you approach your situation with your boss, you should focus on the relationship instead of the person. This will help you keep your cool and to find a productive way to address the situation.
  2. Make sure you're acting right. Before you go and blame your boss for all of the problems in your relationship, you should ask yourself whether or not there are aspects of your own performance that can be improved. You may feel like you're acting perfectly, but you should make sure that you're actually meeting the goals you were supposed to meet, pulling your weight with projects, and communicating effectively. Ask yourself if there's anything you can do to improve your own behavior, and if that could be leading to some of the problems you're having with your boss.[5]
    • Of course, maybe your boss really is completely unreasonable and there's nothing you can do to improve how he or she treats you. But it's better to have your bases covered, just in case.
  3. Don't lose your sense of humor. A healthy dose of humor can help you approach your relationship with your boss and to not take the whole thing too seriously. Though there may not be anything funny about workplace conflict, you have to take a step back and remind yourself that, at the end of the day, your work is not your whole life and that you have plenty of meaningful relationships and outside interests apart from the workplace that give your life meaning. The next time your boss frustrates or just plain annoys you, learn to laugh about it, brush it off, and not to take it so darn seriously all the time.[3]
    • Of course, if your boss is downright offensive, discriminatory, or acting ridiculously out of line, then there's nothing funny about it. But learning to laugh off some of the run-of-the-mill everyday annoyances can help you improve your attitude about your relationship.
  4. Be professional at all times. Though you may be tempted to slander your boss, to act childish, to show up late to work just out of spite, or even to do something as silly as stealing your boss's stapler, these antics won't get you anywhere. Even if you find that your boss is childish or immature, you should not stoop down to his or her level and maintain your professional nature at all times — after all, you have to remember that you're at work, not having a bar brawl or chewing out your friend over the phone. Work to maintain your calm and dignity, so that your boss will be the one who looks unprofessional if you have a conflict.[6]
    • If you act unprofessionally, that will reflect poorly on you and your future prospects at your company. You don't want the other people you work with to think you're childish just because your boss is driving you crazy.
  5. Don't fight fire with fire. If you and your boss have an altercation, it may feel good to start fighting back with harsh words or abusive language, but only temporarily. Even if your boss blows up at you, you should avoid using offensive language, being aggressive, making personal attacks, or doing anything else that you may want to do to get some of that frustration off your chest. Though it may feel good in the short run, in the long run, you'll only be damaging your relationship further and also incriminating yourself. You want to walk out of there taking the high road, not being implicated in your boss's antics.
    • If you feel yourself getting so angry that you might say something that you regret, excuse yourself and come back when you feel ready to talk again.
  6. Focus on the problem instead of your boss. If you focus on your boss instead of the problem at hand, then you are liable to get frustrated and to make things personal. Instead of getting angry at your boss for being disorganized, confusing, or distant, you should work on addressing the problem at work, whether it's that you have trouble running efficient meetings or that it's difficult for your coworkers to work together on a project because your boss gives you mixed signals. See how you can tackle this problem both by working with your boss and working apart from him.
    • Looking at the problem at work instead of the potentially frustrating behavior of your boss will make your actions to improve your situation more productive. If you focus more on just how your boss is acting, you are liable to make things personal.

Taking Action

  1. Talk to your supervisor. If the problem has really gotten out of hand, then your best bet may be to talk to your boss's supervisor or someone higher up in the company. If you've tried everything or have just thought it through and realized that there is nothing else you can do, then your best bet may simply be to take the problem to the next level. Talk to your supervisor about the problem. Make it clear that you'd really like to make things work at your company but that you just haven't been able to work with your boss. Be as calm and professional as possible, even if you are upset.
    • Focus on productivity, not emotions. Don't complain about how your boss is mean or rude, but focus on work-related aspects of the job, such as the fact that your lack of communication makes it difficult to get work done.
    • Don't bad mouth your boss to your supervisor. Be as kind as possible while voicing your concerns. Don't say that your boss is crazy or completely insane; instead, talk about how your boss has been a bit inflexible or has been changing objectives a lot. You don't want to end up saying something that makes you look like it's hard for you to keep your cool or to get along with others.
  2. Find another mentor within your company. Your boss doesn't have to be the be all and end all to you when you come in to work. If you want to stay at your job but know that you have a difficult relationship with your boss, then you may be better off trying to find someone else at the company who is pleasant to work with and who has a lot to teach you, so that you can focus on other positive relationships. If you've been working with someone you really admire, see if you can find a way to spend more time with that person and to learn more from him or her; this will lead you to have a more positive work experience.[5]
    • If you and the person are friendly and cooperative, then perhaps he or she can shed some light on strategies for best working with your boss. You don't have to bad mouth your boss to get some insight into how to approach your relationship with him. The person can offer some valuable insight about this, especially if he or she has been at the company longer than you.
  3. Ask to be transferred to a different department. Another way you can deal with a bad boss, once you realize you just can't work together, is to simply ask to be transferred to a different department in your company. If you want to stay at the company but have determined that you simply can't work with your boss any more, then your best bet may be to talk to your supervisor about finding a better fit for you within the company. You'll be able to start a new with a better working relationship with a more understanding boss.
    • If you have worked well with others in the past and have simply found it impossible to work with this particular boss, then it won't reflect poorly on you. In fact, you'll be much better off for taking the initiative to improve your situation.
  4. Take action if you feel you've been discriminated against. If this is the case for you, then it's important that you consult the EEOC (for free) or an employment attorney (for a fee) if you believe you have been discriminated against and you are in a protected class. Some conflicts involve disagreement about what is legal. Whistle blowers who report violations may have legal protections, and may consider raising their concerns outside the normal chain of command.[7]
    • If the conflict arises from a fraud to obtain money from the government, whistle blowers may need to follow special procedures to protect their rights. The False Claims Act requires that whistle blowers with original knowledge of such fraud be the first to file their claim, and refrain from public disclosure of certain information about their claim.
  5. Consider whether or not it's worth it for you to leave. If your situation with your boss has gotten so bad that you can't see a way out of it without leaving the company, then you have to do some soul searching to figure out the right thing to do. If your work situation is hurting your health, your self-esteem, and your general well-being, and there's no way to get transferred or to improve the situation, then it may be time to clock out. However, keep in mind that it can be pretty challenging to find a job, especially in today's economy, and that you should consider whether it's worth it for you to start the search again.[2]
    • Of course, you can do what many people do when they are unhappy at work: start applying for other jobs while you're still at your current job. This will make you a more desirable candidate because you're already employed, and it'll give you a sense of what the market out there is like.
    • However, if your situation at work is truly intolerable, then you can't make any excuses about the job market to force yourself to stay. You'll know where your breaking point is.
  6. Do your research before switching jobs. Some people are so eager to leave their current work situations that they are desperate to take the very next job that gives them an offer. However, before you go and make this step, you should talk to other people at the company, talk to your future boss, and do your research to make sure that you're not escaping a terrible work situation for one that is just as bad. Though you may be eager to leave, it won't benefit you to begin a situation that is no better than the one you escaped.[1]
    • When you accept a new job offer, you should do so with having any bad feelings in your gut about your future boss. Once you make this choice, you'll be on your way to having a productive and healthy working life.


  • All legal claims have time limits, and some are surprisingly short. The time limit for environmental whistle blowers to file a complaint against retaliation is just thirty (30) days. Some public employees have time limits as short as ten (10) days.

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Sources and Citations