How Do You Handle a Bad Boss?

“My first job out of college was in sales, but it operated much more like a call center (mistake number one).

As a result of the high volume of incoming calls, every rep was required to be on the phone and at their desk at all times. That meant we had a ‘bathroom request’ button on our computers.

Any time you had to use the restroom you’d click the button, cross your fingers (or legs!), and hope for the best. The requests got kicked up to my not-so-great manager and nine times out of 10 denied immediately.”

This was an excerpt I read from a forum about bad bosses.


Sometimes we get the opportunity to work with a boss we really respect and like.

Other times, it’s the complete opposite and we are forced to deal with a bad boss that we can barely handle.

With that said, it isn’t exactly our plan to leave every job where we work with someone we dislike. So let’s look at our options:

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Bad Boss vs. Bad Person

First, we want to determine which category our boss falls into. This will help us a lot moving forward. 

We can classify a bad boss as someone who doesn’t give clear direction, guidance, or encouragement you need to do a good job. 

A bad person could be someone you don’t get along with due to more personal reasons.

Such as, god forbid, a manager who makes you feel uncomfortable due to sexual advances. 

 If your boss is just a bad manager, you can help resolve that through proper planning and organization.

If your issue is with your boss’ as a person, you might need to decide whether staying at that job is in your best interest.

Let’s address the common issues we deal with bad bosses:

The Micromanager

We all know this one. This is the boss who makes you feel like you’re being watched 24/7. 

They closely inspect every employee’s work, often making the work be redone or tweaked to meet their standard.

The micromanager pays way too much attention to the little details, and the constant hovering can make employees feel demotivated, aggravated, and even uncomfortable.

This type of boss can lead employees to feel like they’re not doing a good job.

As a former manager, here’s the thing I know about this – it’s not necessarily about you as an employee, it’s more about them as a boss.

What do I mean by that? If an employee fails to do what a boss wants them to, it usually (but not always) falls back on the boss in 3 different ways. They either:

  1. Failed to hire the right person
  2. Failed to adequately train that person 
  3. Failed to make the expectations clear

So know that you know that, let’s talk about how to neutralize a micromanager.

Related: 25 Career Tips Nobody Tells You

Handling the Micromanager

You’re going to want to prove yourself as versatile, capable, and disciplined. To do so, make sure you regularly communicate what you’re up to.

A micromanager is only happy with the employee who does the work exactly how they want it done.

The only way to achieve this is to ask specific questions about the task at hand, do routine check-ins, and recognize any trends in your manager’s critiques. 

Of course, this is the rational way of handling it.

Not all people are rational and some bosses will never stop looking for something to critique. If that’s your boss, you have to learn to gain your satisfaction from within.

Don’t let your boss’ obsessive behavior allow you to feel incapable and discouraged. That will only lead to more stress and lower your performance. 

Remember, a good report without a staple is still a good report. 

The Under-Qualified 

This boss was promoted to his/her position without much thought. They very obviously cannot handle the position they were given.

More than likely, they aren’t totally incapable, but they have people (or maybe even you) who work underneath them that have worked at the company longer and can clearly recognize the necessary skills that they lack.

Handling the Under-qualified

If you find yourself getting annoyed with this type of manager, it’s probably because you have the expertise that he/she doesn’t.

Swallow your pride.

Never undermine your boss.

Instead, try to share your experience and tips to genuinely help. Offer your guidance in a way that doesn’t come across as demeaning or condescending.

Consider this as information that your boss should have in order to succeed at their job.

Chances are, this will allow you to become their right-hand person and could mean they will return the favor for you somewhere down the road.

The Overly Friendly

This is the boss that’s too buddy buddy. By that I mean, not in the cool, team-building sort of way.

They are always asking you to hang out outside of work hours and they participate a little too much into office politics.

This type of boss is usually guilty of picking his/her favorites and dividing employees by doing so. They let the favorites get away with more but they hold the others to a higher standard.

This usually means the employees that should have been let go ages ago, still hang around and keep their jobs because they are buddy buddy with the boss.

Related: 8 Tips for Work-Related Stress

Handling the Overly Friendly

Set boundaries. Good fences make good neighbors.

Setting your limits will allow you to take control of the situation. If you become too friendly with this type of boss, you may never get rid of them.

The trick is to be friendly but not too friendly to the point where you feel like you can’t say “no” to drinks after work. Be consistent with your boundaries, even when your manager is overly pushy.

In this situation, it’s crucial not to take it overboard with your boundaries and become standoffish.

There’s a fine line, and you don’t want to create an enemy where you don’t have to.

The Dictator

The Dictator’s main concern is having power and keeping it.

 The decisions they make are to feed their ego.

They don’t mind using intimidation tactics, negative reinforcement over positive reinforcement, and doing things like cutting pay to try to shape behavior.

If someone challenges the dictator’s decisions or tries to do something different, they can be viewed as a direct threat.

Handling the Dictator

This strategy may hurt a little; but, the best way to deal with a dictator is to present your ideas in a way that lets them take credit.

This protects their ego. Be generous with giving credit, even though they are unlikely to return the favor. This will put and keep you in their good graces.

Pick and choose your battles wisely.

A dictator can be short-tempered and downright rude.

Be self-aware and keep a tight rein on your emotions.

A dictator usually looks for a good reason (or sometimes, no reason at all) to let someone go. They tend to have high turn-over rates in their company.

Keeping calm and feeding their ego will keep you off the chopping block until you can find something better. 

The Impersonal

In the mind of the impersonal boss, you are merely just a number. You are employee 56 out of 78.

Out of customers you’ve talked to today, you’ve made sales with 3 of them.

Your last performance review was 88 out of 100. You’ve called out twice in the past 6 months. See where I’m going with this? This boss makes decisions based on data.

When it comes to making a decision without numbers, they self-destruct.

They make little to no effort to develop a rapport with the employees, and simply look to their data to make decisions such as who gets a raise, a bonus, or who needs to be let go. 

Related: 15 Professional Habits to Embrace in Your Twenties

Handling the Impersonal:

To deal with this type of person, you need to learn their language.

When you have a new idea to bring to the table, make sure that you have the data to back it up. The same thing goes with performance reviews – make sure you bring value that can be expressed in numbers.

For example, mention the fact that you’ve increased sales by 22% in the last 6 months.

Once you’ve proved your worth, you can try to bring them out of their awkward shell.

Connect with them directly without being overbearing. Try to get face-to-face with them as much as possible to develop rapport. Respond to their emails by knocking on their office door.

This will put a face to your name and make you more than just a number.

Just make sure to do this in small increments so that you don’t overwhelm him/her entirely. 

The Dreamer

Their biggest strength is that they are full of ideas.

However, they are unable to hone into one thing long enough to do anything about it. They simply cannot focus on what needs to be done.

They are always worried about the next big ‘thing.’ When the opportunity comes for your team to put the dream into action, the dreamer is already thinking about the next idea, and you’re left to handle everything by yourself. 

Handling the Dreamer

Reverse their train of thought. The dreamer’s motto is, “I don’t get bogged down by the little details.”

They take a broad approach to everything. Act quickly by getting to the details.

Make things practical.

Ask a lot of very specific questions that force the dreamer to develop a rational approach that includes identifying potential bumps in the road and ways to handle them.

Don’t directly discount their ideas or else they will feel directly insulted.

Instead, focus their attention on what needs to be done in order to actually put the dream into action. 

More often than not, your line of questioning will help calm them down and allow them to see another perspective. This will allow them to commit to a line of action and the effort required of them to achieve their goal. 

The Around-the-Clock Boss

This boss has no life outside of work. They will not hesitate to call, text, or email you after work hours and on the weekends. Everything is usually an emergency on their part.
While you’re sitting here thinking, “Couldn’t you have waited to tell me this tomorrow at work?” they are wanting to tell you every little work-related thing that pops into their head.
They can be scattered brained and always looking for clarifications and changes on things that aren’t even urgent.

Handling the Around-the-Clock Boss

This boss already knows you are valuable or else they wouldn’t care about their ability to reach you after hours.

Continue to cultivate and reinforce your role as a valuable employee.

The more this boss needs you, the more willing they will be to respect your privacy you’ve created around your personal time. 

This allows you to politely tell your boss to take it easy on the after-hours communication. I also recommend stopping by his/her office in the late afternoon and on Fridays to have “check-ins.”

Be sure to ask, “Is there anything you and I need to go over before we leave?” 

Some employees have found that typing up a weekly or even daily progress report on what you’ve done, what you’re working on, and what you’ll do next will help to ease your bosses obsessive behavior.

I might add, this can help with the micromanager as well since they both tend to exhibit this type of behavior. 

At the end of the day, business is like a game. It’s about who needs who more. Does your boss need your services more than you need the job? If so, you’re in the power position. Do you need your job more than your boss needs your services? If so, you’re in a lower position in which many managers will take advantage.

There’s a million different ways to handle bad bosses. At the end of the day, the best piece of advice I can give you is no matter what, always search for better. Better benefits, better pay, better work-life balance. Even if you love the job you have, always look for something that could be better. This ensures you will always come out on top.


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