Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Ask people about their bad bosses and the stories come tumbling out: The supervisor who expected his staff to field calls from his wife during intimate lunches with another subordinate. A woman who was asked to hike a mile through unplowed, snowy roads to the office, even though she was six months pregnant. A boss whose management tool of choice was a lie-on-the-floor, full-body tantrum.

But, as anyone who has tangled with an unprofessional supervisor knows, it's a difficult situation to handle. Do you tough it out? Do you confront? Or would a heart-to-heart talk help? "There are so many of these unprofessional jerks around," says Joyce Weiss, corporate speaker and author of Full Speed Ahead: Become Driven by Change. "There's no right answer."

The problem, of course, is that this isn't just any relationship. Unlike the grouchy spouse or the untrustworthy friend, your supervisor controls your livelihood and professional reputation. There's very little margin for error here.

But it's helpful to remember the only thing you can control is yourself, says Richard Whiteley, author of Love the Work You're With: Find the Job You Always Wanted Without Leaving the One You Have.

"The biggest thing to do is to focus on yourself," Whiteley advises. "Breathe deeply and understand it's not about you. It's about them."

One thing you can do is clarify in your mind what your limits are. Though it's not possible to set a zero-tolerance policy on all lapses, there's always some blurring of ethical lines in the workplace, you can set limits if your boss does things that embarrass or disgrace you, he says.

A double layer of sneaky and back-stabbing bosses who especially delight in fighting against each other makes for a truly toxic workplace. Some of the bosses "speaks to you about other people and then speaks to other people about you." He/She makes everyone feel like they're a confidante when she's just spreading negativity." And the conniving extends outside the office walls.

The key is to avoid a righteous stance. Focus on your own feelings with phrases such as, "The way I see it is. What's true for me here is. It seems to me that." When the sneaky boss tries to engage in office gossip, don't tell her she's an awful person; instead say, "I'm really someone who tries to see the positive in people," he suggests.

Any confrontation is a risk. But there are ways of mitigating it. You have more leverage if you're a high performer, so make sure your job performance is strong before you make a move, Whiteley says. And one of the most common ways that bosses bully their subordinates is by heaping on unreasonable demands and blaming the resulting failure on the employee. Some situations are just intolerable.

If it's that bad, the experts say, there's only one solution: GET OUT!

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