Your knuckles turn white, your teeth clench down painfully, and you can’t help but feel your blood pressure rise at the mention of your boss's name. Your significant other knows not to mention him unless she wants the conversation to turn sour. Perhaps you even own a dart board or voodoo doll bearing his likeness.
It can be extremely challenging and emotionally exhausting to work for someone you either don’t like or can’t respect. So what can you can do about it, and how do you change the dynamic?
Here are three easy rules to keep in mind the next time you want to throw a punch or two:
This is the very first thing we should all attempt. Regardless of your industry or role, your job is to work for your boss and support their initiatives. Exceptions to the "support your boss" rule are rare and exclusions would be those initiatives that are illegal, immoral, or otherwise destructive to you or the organization.
Take the initiative to find out what your boss’s expectations and top three priorities are. Begin with some small talk before diving into the details. It is surprising what you can learn about someone’s background, family, or personal interests in a very short time. You might even be amazed to find more in common with your boss than you realized, and some common ground may help to break down barriers.
Once you understand these priorities, attack those initiatives with fervor. Provide unprompted, routine updates on the progress you are making. A manager who knows that you are actively supporting their best interests (and not working against them) can come to see you as a great ally—thereby changing overall working dynamic. Beyond building trust, and perhaps some autonomy, we all tend to see an increased satisfaction when we are producing results.
One option you have when dealing with a difficult situation is to give things time. It’s like the weather: if you don’t like it, just wait a while, it will eventually change. Relationships and expectations can change and evolve, often producing very different working environments over time than the ones we are first introduced into.
Balance a patient attitude with maintaining a realistic perspective. Just because you want things to change in your favor does not mean that will always happen, as you can sometimes do everything right and still not control the outcome.
As I mentioned, I’ve worked for a large number of bosses over the years. Many of these changes weren’t a result of my own actions. Reorganizations, promotions, mergers, new opportunities, layoffs, and other changes can affect us all. I’ve had wonderful bosses leave, lousy bosses stay, and several times have even been left in a state of limbo without a boss while awaiting organizational realignment.
Remember that nothing is permanent, and a little bit of patience can sometimes produce opportunities and outcomes that delight you and work in your favor.
The job search site Monster used to bear the slogan "There’s something better out there." They were right, there often is something better. Yes, there can be family, legal, competitive, industry, or other obligations that make changing our situations difficult. However, we are individually responsible for our own careers and should always be aware of the other options out there.
If you have made attempts to change the working relationship with a bad boss and have still come up empty handed, a remaining option is to take control of your destiny by moving on. Be vigilant, search for the right opportunity, and ensure that you leave maintaining your professionalism.
Taking an active role in changing your situation may just take you to the most fulfilling and exciting opportunities of your life. The color will return to your knuckles, your blood pressure will drop, and before you know it, you’ll find yourself excited to talk about your new working environment.
—Justin Webb is a veteran technologist and has served in various leadership positions in the field of IT. He has held positions supporting government (military, state government), multinational financial institutions (Europe, North America, Asia), domestic Fortune 500 companies, within higher education, in retail entertainment/hospitality, as a consultant and as an entrepreneur. He currently serves as President of X1 Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm based in Virginia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.