If you haven’t had a bad boss before, consider yourself lucky—most people have had at least one in their lives. Narcissistic, bullying, arrogant, backstabbing—just a few of their traits that can make your life a living hell. So what steps can you take to navigate out of this dystopian work environment?
The first thing to do is come up with an escape plan. You need to get out before you have all of your emotional energy sucked out of you. Consider what you need to do to not only to keep your sanity, but also develop your skills and use your current job to get to the next level.
This calls for some strategic thinking. You will have to find ways to work around your boss and cope with his behavior until you are out of there. Let’s face it, you are at a disadvantage. Going to human resources or beyond your boss may not render the solution you're hoping for. Some of these bosses are chameleons, being nasty to you on one hand but sweet as sugar to those above them. It will be easier for those above them and human resources to side with your boss, and sadly that is usually what happens. If they were smart and cunning enough to get into their position, they are usually crafty enough to remain there.
Don’t go around complaining about your boss to anyone at work. It will waste your energy and could make the situation worse. Help out your colleagues whenever you can and build a supportive workplace environment. Find opportunities to work in areas outside of your own and build relationships with others who are on your boss's level—someone who could possibly give you a positive reference. Building good working relationships with coworkers will also help diffuse some of the negative energy you will have to deal with coming from your boss.
Do some intelligence gathering on your boss. Pay close attention to not only what they say, but how they say it. What impresses or influences them? What are their favorite ways of getting things done? What do they value in life? Find ways to use this knowledge to your advantage. If they admire someone in the organization, subtly slip in a positive reference to that person when an opportunity arises. If they strongly believe in family values, slip in references to the strong family values you were raised with. Most of what influences people works on a subconscious level. What you are trying to do is have them perceive you as an ally, as someone they have something in common with. The key here is subtlety.
Realize that if you find yourself in a power struggle, you will lose. But to keep your dignity intact you have to work up the courage to let your boss know that what he does bothers you. Some individuals only respect people that have the courage to stand up to them, and your boss may be one of these. Never confront when you are emotionally charged and your anger is bubbling over. Wait until you are calm and collected.
The person who is able to keep their emotions under control while interacting comes out looking the best. Do not attack and accuse them of actions, but rather speak about the impact of their actions on you, making "I" statements. For example, let them know that when they yelled at you in the staff meeting, you felt attacked and embarrassed in front of your coworkers.
It is not easy to do your best and keep your emotions in check when you fear being criticized or undervalued. Alter your way of viewing the situation—you are working for yourself instead of your boss or the organization. Any skills that you learn now will help you to be a more valued person in your future endeavors. Use your present job to develop not only your skills but your coping mechanisms. Surviving—even thriving through—your experience with a nasty boss will heighten your appreciation of a good boss.
More important than anyone else recognizing your strengths and abilities is you recognizing them. Giving your best, regardless of those around you, will increase your sense of self-worth and self-confidence—and that is really your ultimate goal.