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How to Deal With a Bad Boss: Don't!

Deal with a Bad BossWe spend an inordinate amount of time decrying and complaining about our bosses. Just looking at BNET posts alone, you'd think all bosses are complete idiots, dysfunctional jerks, micromanaging a-holes ... or that they just plain suck.

Don't get me wrong. Examining bad management behavior is the only way to improve it. And there are times when we can all use a little help learning to cope with a dysfunctional boss. That said, most blogs on bad bosses quickly deteriorate into whine-fests that sound remarkably like children crying about how their parents are mean and just don't get it.

Well, I've got news for you. When you behave like a victim, wallow in self pity, or act like you're entitled to something better, not only does it do you no good, but you may end up getting yourself fired or doing real harm to your career. To help you avoid that, here's a dose of reality about dealing with problem bosses:

  • If you go head-to-head with your boss, you'll lose. In What They Don't Teach You in Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack describes a situation where an employee got into a heated exchange with his boss and got himself fired. "No matter how wrong or intemperate his boss might have been, that, unfortunately, was now a nonissue. The situation did not reflect well on this particular employee's boss -- but his boss still had a job."
  • You actually have choices; exercise them. That's right, you can't pick your boss, but if you don't like him, it's a free country, you can quit. If you like or need your job, on the other hand, then get over yourself and suck it up. The choice is yours. But if you decide to go over your boss's head or to HR, don't be surprised if it ends badly for you. You may not want to hear this, but from the company's viewpoint, you're just a thin-skinned troublemaker who they'd just as soon not have to deal with.
  • Did it ever occur to you that it may be you? I'm not trying to burst your bubble here, but maybe you're not god's gift to bosses. Maybe the boss would be more relieved to get rid of you than you are to get rid of him. Sure, nobody thinks he's a rotten employee, but they're out there, and in far greater numbers than rotten bosses. So, if you actually like or need your job, you might want to take a long look in the mirror before you do anything drastic.
  • Burned bridges have a way of piling up. Maybe you're young and carefree now, but the choices you make and the behavior you exhibit today will follow you throughout your career. More and more, employers are checking references you don't provide, and a few little red flags can add up to one big red flag that says, "don't hire this guy." The truth is, if you burn enough bridges, you may very well find yourself all alone on an island somewhere with nobody else in sight. No bosses, and no jobs, either.
Bottom line: Look, I've had more than my fair share of dysfunctional and abusive bosses, so I don't mean to appear insensitive to what employees of crappy bosses really go through every day. Still, if you act subjectively without gaining some perspective, you may end up making things even worse for yourself. Just remember, you always have a choice. You can always quit.

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