Bad Bosses Are Getting Worse — 3 Ways to Deal With Them (That Don't Involve Quitting)

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 19, 2024 at 1:42AM UTC

“There’s no shortage of arrogant bosses in the world,” write Amy Edmondson and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

They point to research that finds that as humans tend to overestimate their talents (even across many different domains), we as observers have a tendency to mistake confidence for competence. 

The more “deluded” people are about their own competencies, the easier it is for them to trick others into believing in their capabilities. That’s where arrogant bosses and their hard-to-work-with behaviors come in.

“When arrogant people are in charge, they tend to disengage, alienate, and diminish others. Their teams experience a lack of psychological safety, their performance suffers and their organizations (or nations) pay a high price. Considerable research demonstrates that humility is rational and constructive.”

So if you’re dealing with an undeniably bad boss, how do you cope? 

Many people will encourage you to just quit, but perhaps, for whatever reason, that’s not an option, or at least not an appealing one. Fortunately, there are some ways to deal with a difficult boss that don’t involve up and leaving.

1. Seek to understand why your boss is “bad.”

What makes your boss such a bad one? Identify the specific behaviors they exhibit and the decisions they make that make them such a poor manager. This will help you narrow down the issue beyond just “bad” — after all, they could have some redeeming characteristics.

Then, try to assess their motivations. Pinpointing the reasoning behind what they’re doing will better equip you to understand them on a more human level and perhaps even empathize with their behavior. This doesn’t excuse them, but it can make you more willing to deal with them and meet them where they are.

2. Support your manager (in terms of putting forth your best efforts, work-wise).

By no means do I mean you should support your boss when they are clearly exhibiting bad behavior. Instead, you can keep doing your best work and apprise your manager of your efforts. Hopefully, this will put them at ease and allow them to see that you are putting forth your best efforts, which, in turn, can reduce tension.

Does this mean they will value you and express their appreciation? If they’re a toxic boss, probably not. But it will go a long way in preventing you from being the target of their rage, which will hopefully make your life easier.

3. Temper your expectations.

We’ve all had relationships, personally or professionally, where we know the other person is difficult, and yet we experience a “win” and get drawn in, only to be fooled and hurt again. It could be a romantic partner, who, when they feel you pulling away, showers you with attention. Or, it could be a boss, who every once in a while offers praise, only to chastise you a minute later.

Avoid getting drawn in. Don’t assume that breadcrumbs mean everything is okay. Don’t be fooled by their dramatic change in behavior again and again. 

On a similar note, avoid getting swept up in their drama. In order to remain in control of yourself and your career, stay above the fray. Keep everything professional — you never know what could come back to haunt you, even what you assume is the mildest of comments, especially when you have a toxic boss. Maintain your distance, and solidify your boundaries.

Of course, ultimately, you may find that dealing with your bad boss is affecting you too much, to the point where it’s wreaking havoc on your life beyond work. In that case, it may be time to know when enough is enough — and seek greener pastures elsewhere.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for coping with a bad or arrogant boss? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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