Hate Your Boss? Manage Up to Stay Sane

Last Updated Nov 28, 2008 10:52 AM EST

  • Tame the hatred.The Find: If you've reached that point where it's no longer possible to convince yourself you don't hate your boss, all is not lost, thanks to these tips on how to "manage up" and make the best of a bad situation.
  • The Source: An article by career coach Nancy Halpern on Business Know-How.
The Takeaway: Economic trouble equals more stress equals monster boss. It's a familiar equation and one that doesn't have to end with "equals career death." Think of managing your difficult boss as a way to prove what you can do. First step, identify exactly what kind of trouble you've got. Is your boss patronizing, arrogant, flat out dumb, a snake, a workaholic or the slimy office politician? Before you do anything, get clear on your issues with your supervisor.

Step two, according to Halpern: "realize that 'managing up' is not the same thing as 'kissing up.'" Hateful bosses demand tough-minded tactics. No one's saying that's easy, but if you're up for it (and not inclined or able to simply leave), here's the next steps in Halpern's game plan:

  • Don't push your boss's buttons. What are his pet peeves? What sets him off? Consider the little as well as the big things. Now that you know you're boss's pressure points, think of the opposite behavior that will keep him calm.
  • Know his favorite communication methods. Does he prefer to communicate via email, phone or memo? Does he use one medium for themselves but another for his staff? Find out and stick to it. Your adherence to his choice will make him more comfortable, and will make him believe that you are more like him, and that therefore you must be very, very smart.
  • Scrutinize the successful. I know it hurts, but do it. Turn your gaze to colleagues who are successful with this boss. Who gets promoted? What traits or behaviors do they use in front of your boss? Forget your own attitude, be it envy or disgust, and try to be objective. It doesn't mean that you have to be that way, but it will provide clues as to what your boss really likes.
  • Keep it to yourself. Button your lip until you are blue in the face, but do not grumble about your boss in the office.
  • Forget about HR. If you haven't yet learned this painful lesson, please etch these words into your soul: HR exists to serve the needs of the corporation, not the individual employee.
  • Document, document, and document. Keep every memo; write down every offensive comment, every broken promise, and every out-of-control outburst. Be sure to include dates and participants, and enough detail to make yourself believable. Then keep this in a very safe place. Because you never know.
  • Have an exit strategy. Think about it, write it down and file it away - you'll feel better. This document should include a current resume, a list of headhunters in your field and the names of three or four good references.
  • Manage your boss. Realize that you need a strategy on how to manage your boss. Be cognizant of when you give your boss information, what that information is and how you deliver it. Know your boss's weaknesses and objectives, as well as the pressure he's under. Be aware of your own working style, and plan how you can balance the two.
Or to summarize: perform reconnaissance, gather data, understand yourself, strategize for your interactions with your boss, implement your plans.

The Question: Should you ever stay in a job that demands this level of boss management?

(Image of really angry guy by Sebastian Fritzon, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.