5 Strategies for Coping with a Horrible Boss

by Tonya Pierce


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5 Strategies for Coping with a Horrible BossThe first thing that comes to mind is find another job. That’s how I handled working for a horrible boss for over 13 years. It wasn’t always horrible, but it came to a point where it was past time to leave (I’ll save that for a another blog post).

Working for a horrible boss doesn’t just teach you how far you can be pushed before losing your temper. It can also significantly influence you while you’re both in and out of the office. One survey conducted by a national workplace expert found that employees spent an average of 19.2 hours a week worrying about what their boss does or says and 6.2 hours of that total was off the clock. This survey was conducted in 2009. Jump to 2013 and the number one reason why employees quit their jobs is, you guessed it, a bad boss.

Unfortunately, quitting is not always an option. Sometimes you must “grin and bear it” until you can make a strategic move. Sometimes you need to look inward and ask yourself if you’re part of the problem. Without a doubt, one of the worst things you can allow a horrible boss to do is ruin your career. You’ve worked too hard and too long building your reputation as a professional to give into a moment of frustration and tell your boss what you really think of them while walking out the door.

While you’re strategically planning your exit, you must find ways to cope. Determine what makes your boss horrible and then find a strategy that works with your boss.

After working with my boss for a couple of years, I found ways of coping with his behavior and less favorable personality traits.

Never Let Their Bad Behavior Affect Your Job

While it was tempting to let my boss’s behavior affect my work, I knew that I wanted to excel in my career. Even though my boss could be extremely difficult, I was learning more working for him than I could learn in 20 years working for another firm. I focused on what he could teach me that would benefit my career rather than the things that irritated me. Of course, he was not verbally abusing me or taking advantage of my strong work ethic. If that’s the case, you may have no choice but to go to human resources or find another job.

Anticipate Their Next Step

By staying one step ahead of a micromanager, you avoid conflict. My boss had a “to do” list that he carried around with him constantly. It drove me insane because he would stand in front of my desk a dozen times each day asking me if I had finished the next thing on that list. I began jotting down the next few items as he rambled them off each time. I began to work ahead so that when he asked for something, it was already finished. Eventually, he learned that I could manage myself — it was a matter of trust. Once you prove yourself to a micromanager, they will not feel compelled to watch your every move.

Learn Their Triggers

If your boss tends to lose their temper, pay attention to what is happening as they work up to an explosion. If you learn what triggers an outburst, you may be able to head off problems before they begin. One of my boss’s triggers was someone stopping him immediately after he got to work with a problem or an issue. Once I learned that he needed 30 minutes to get a cup of coffee, look at his to-do list, check emails, or whatever, I prevented quite a few blow-ups by holding his calls and keeping everyone out of his office for the first hour of his day.

Document Everything

My boss actually hated the fact that I could recall conversations from two years ago.  He really hated the fact that I gave him a memo with every file and every document for his review. I asked him specific questions in those memos so that he would respond to me in writing. If he walked into my office and verbally responded to a question, I immediately made a note on the memo of what he said including the date and time. I cut off many arguments by pulling out a memo and handing it to him — it was hard to argue with himself.

Learn What Your Boss Values

This is just a good rule of thumb for every job, however, when dealing with a horrible boss, it can be a lifesaver. I never lied to my boss about anything. I wouldn’t even lie if he asked me how he looked in his new suit — if I didn’t like it, I told him so (in a nice way). If I made a mistake, I admitted it. If I forgot something he asked me to do, I took his criticism with grace and I fixed whatever it was immediately.

How did this prevent blow-ups? When a client, co-worker, or anyone else tried to blame me for something, my boss always believed me over that person. He never questioned whether I was telling him the truth and he always stood up for me. He valued honesty above everything else. Knowing what your boss values is a very valuable tool.

What Worked for Me May Not Work for You

Every office is different and no two bosses are alike. What worked for me may not work for you in your situation. For some quick reads, check out these Forbes articles on why there seems to be such a proliferation of bad managers today and seven strategies for managing up. If you’re feeling stuck motivation-wise, check out this article on how to better cope and manage the resulting “horrible boss” stress.

What is your strategy for working through this difficult professional situation? You may have the one strategy that will help someone deal with their horrible boss when nothing else has worked.

Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).



Posted on 2018-01-13 02:01:18

Your advice is spot on! If any other legal assistant is reading this and experiencing a bad boss, TAKE THE ADVICE OF THIS BLOG POST. Seriously. I've worked for some wonderful attorneys, but I am now working for the worst boss I've ever had in my 30+ years of employment history. I replaced a girl who lasted two weeks because he made her cry every day. He is toxic. I told myself I'd give it a year. I made it a year, barely, and largely because of all the online support I found. It saddens me a little to leave because I really love working for the other attorney and I could learn a lot working with him. However, the other attorney puts up with the bad boss. The evil attorney needs to be sent to a leadership class. Leading attorneys need to identify toxic bosses and send them to management and leadership training classes. The first couple months were dreadful. I examined if it was me. Maybe hormones. It wasn't. Learning his triggers was a definite help. (Definitely no questions first hour!) DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING was an immense help, and doing so actually helped me improve I think. Good boss or bad boss, I always admit my mistakes, so I'm not sure how this helped or not with him. Lists help because he was very unapproachable. I had short 3 second lists I'd blurt at him. (I'm already a list maker, so that was easy.) Keep your interactions together as far apart as you can. You can also stuff the attorney's schedule with appointments when he's super annoying, send him to a hearing in the farthest court possible. Find ways to send him out of the office. What also helped is my son telling me about F*** it job mentality, and it helped. I'm usually super overly devoted, but this boss definitely lost out on my dedication. Toxic bosses have probably gone through a lot of assistants, and they probably won't be quick to fire as long as you stay professional. I kept everything strictly professional, and if he was a jerk, that's his problem, I ignored his shouting and slamming doors and every answer to his ridiculous comments and questions was short and curt. If I didn't know the answer I had a boilerplate "I have to check the file (or whatever) to be sure" response. I focused on the clients to keep myself from walking out the door. I pursued my interests and goals outside of work and took hikes after work. I did what I could every day to do something on the job and off the job to improve myself for the next job. I still feel like he sapped a valuable part of my life away from me and the stress spilled over into my home. As a mother, I also used child psychology on him as I did on my kids when they were toddlers. Another piece of advice for a bad boss: look at them as a little misbehaving child. Most importantly, I agree with you and also recommend anyone going through a bad boss to GET A NEW JOB. You are too good to have a toxic boss infect you on a daily basis. Move on as fast as you can.

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