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How to Handle a Bad Manager

Understanding how and why your boss leads in the manner they do will help you figure out how to deal with your situation
How to handle bad manager

It's almost impossible to find a job where there isn't at least one person that you don't really mesh with. When that person is your manager, the situation is especially difficult. So what do you do if you find yourself working for someone who is a bad manager?

Understanding how and why your manager leads in the manner they do will help you figure out how to deal with your situation.

There are a variety of management styles, but they all fit under one of two main categories: Autocratic and Permissive.

Autocratic management style

With this style of management, you'll find people who are strict, demanding, and power-hungry. They make sure their staff knows they are in charge and may strive to control every situation, from decision making to how a form is completed.

This type of manager can be manipulative, disrespectful, and extremely competitive. Some are process driven, focusing more on how things are supposed to be done, micromanaging their staff, and some make threats to ensure their demands are met.

Autocratic managers are most interested in their personal success, often to the detriment of the organization.

Permissive management style

As a rule, permissive managers are more interested in the success of the organization as a whole. Some are visionaries, inspiring those around them. They set clear direction, then trust others to work effectively to accomplish company goals.

Managers in this category share information and believe in a supportive, collaborative work environment. Open communication and the sharing of ideas is encouraged, decision-making may be completed by a team, and employees are often encouraged to work autonomously. Managers practicing this style trust their employees, allowing more employee growth.

According to a 2014 study conducted by Gallup, organizations select the wrong manager 82% of the time. They also found that an alarming number of employees aren't engaged at work — 30 percent or less are happy and working to their full potential.

In addition to management style, personality may play a role in your difficulties. Some personalities clash even when neither party intends to be difficult.

Consider the level of stress derived from working with your boss. Are they bad because they don't give clear direction, because they belittle you in front of your counterparts, or are less qualified for the job than you are? What level of difficulty is acceptable to you?

Tools to cope with a bad boss

In his book, You Can Win at Office Politics, author Robert Bell, Ph.D., writes about how using the Basic Decision-making Principle of the Game Theory can help guide behavior in difficult work situations. In a nutshell, the concept is this: "For each of your choices, consider only what you don't want but are afraid you might get, and pick the alternative that looks best when viewed in this light." By viewing each challenge with your boss in this light, you can work toward the best course of action.

Look behind the scenes. Make sure that the problems you have with your boss are not driven by a personal crisis on their end. Perhaps they need a little extra understanding, and compassion may be appropriate.

Practice the pause — if a conversation is heated, step away for an hour or even a day before responding.

Communication tips

If problems are more serious, document the bad behavior, creating a list that notes the event, the date, and any witnesses who might have seen or heard what happened. Is there any sort of pattern that might explain the behavior? Create this list on your personal computer so that you always have control of the file.

Next, set a meeting with your boss. Be prepared with a plan for what you want to discuss. Identify the bad behavior, why it is damaging in the workplace, how it is affecting you, and how you would like it resolved. Set a cooperative, friendly tone to your meeting.

Follow the meeting with a summary of the conversation in writing. If you are afraid of repercussions, send a copy to your human resources department. If a personality conflict is to blame, hopefully your well thought out, conversational approach will be all that is needed to resolve the problem.

What to do if your tactics aren't working

If trying to address the situation directly doesn't work, it's time to get your human resources department involved. You may not be the first person to file a grievance against this manager. It might be a good idea to simultaneously put out feelers for another job, in case the organization sides with your manager or you're not happy with how the company handles the issue. If you love the company, look for another position within the organization. If the boss is staying, and you're still not happy, it might be time to find employment elsewhere.

We spend more hours at work then we do with our loved ones, so make sure you're working in the healthiest environment you can be.

For more support, read our work stress self-help guide, join our empathetic community, talk to a free, trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.



Bell, Robert. You Can Win at Office Politics, (Times Books, 1984)

Posted: 19 June 2019
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Kathy Wenzel

Kathy is the editor of a leading regional publication in Michigan with personal experience with and a passion for mental health issues.

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