Career Woman

The 3 key ways to deal with a bad boss


‘You don’t leave an organisation, you leave a bad boss’, so the old saying goes and for the most part this is true. At some stage in a working career almost everyone will work for someone who is a bully, micro-manager, who doesn’t set expectations in the right way, doesn’t learn to get to know you and your style and who may frequently ‘fly off the handle’ at the smallest issue. Where good managers have a positive influence on your work and life, bad managers do the opposite.

These people create stress, anxiety, confusion and embarrassment and they’re often the first people you think about in a morning and the last people you think about at night…and not in a good way!

But what to do about them? Often people feel powerless to deal with bad managers resorting to gossiping with others or else taking it home to partners and friends. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between poor management and poor behaviour.

Poor management means that they don’t carry out the basic functions of their job, communicating clear goals, setting expectation, inspiring and motivating people, making decisions and holding people to account. These things can all be learned and require the application of new skills.

Poor behaviour is where an individual creates an unsafe working environment where people feel afraid, threatened, at-risk or ignored altogether. These issues need to be documented and escalated as no human being should ever be exposed to them. Unfortunately there are still too many organisations that aren’t dealing with this issue, so all an employee can do is to do their best to ‘educate’ the manager on how they feel and keep notes on the interactions.

Here are three things you can do to deal with a bad boss. These things can be done as a team or as an individual and will require courage and discipline. However, unless you talk to you continually talk to your manager about how you feel, there’s a good chance that nothing will ever change.

  1. Agree how you’ll communicate

Communication breakdowns continue to be a big reason for bad management. One survey in the Harvard Business Review found that 59% of managers were poor at communicating with staff and it’s no surprise when you realise that we taught how to communicate by our parents, then latterly those that we choose to spend most time around.

Where a manager doesn’t take the time to think about the message or how it should be communicated people feel confused about what’s being asked of them, leading to expectations not being met and in that scenario they’re a communication clash waiting to happen.

The easiest way to do this is for everyone on a team to get together and talk about how they like to receive information and how to set and manage expectations well. In this scenario, no-one can use the excuse that they didn’t know what needed to be done and by when.

Do you prefer face-to-face, phone or email? Let the manager know and also how you like to have expectation set too.

  1. Agree how you’ll behave towards each other

In a Tech Leaders survey from Kapor University in 2017, 78% of employees reported experiencing some form of unfair behaviour or treatment. That’s over three quarters of a workforce, an absolutely appalling statistic.

In order to deal with this you need to agree how you’ll treat each other as humans and how you’ll talk about it. Here, you are removing the opportunity for miscommunication and doubt, whilst also setting the tone for future conversations.

Where you find that behaviour towards you is outside of what has been agreed, or else not in line with corporate policy, then it’s critically important that you have the conversation with your manager to express how you feel and then with HR if you don’t feel listened to.

  1. Address issues early

Where you’re not getting what you need to be able to be able to do your job to the best of your ability then you need to speak to your manager as soon as possible. Remember, it’s their job to do this, so don’t let them palm you off with excuses like ‘I’m too busy’. Doing this will require courage and should be done as early as possible so that it doesn’t erode your confidence or motivation.

Dealing with a bad boss requires you to be the best version of yourself at all times to ensure that they have no way of turning the tables on you and whilst this is hard, you’ll not only feel better about yourself, but you’ll also have a better chance of getting a resolution too. And where all of your efforts fail then you have to ask yourself whether to take your chances elsewhere. Bad bosses ruin lives, don’t become another statistic.

About Colin Ellis'

Colin D Ellis is a culture change expert, an award-winning international speaker and a best-selling author. His latest book ‘Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work’ (Wiley $29.95) has seen him travel all over the world to help organisations transform the way they get things done. For more information about how Colin can help your team, visit

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