How To Stand Up To A Bad Boss

You can’t avoid this forever: If you have a bad relationship with your boss, Here’s how to speak up for yourself without getting fired.

How To Stand Up To A Bad Boss
[Image: Flickr user Matt E]

Your relationship with your boss is the most important factor in your working life.


If you’ve got a great one, it can make your day-to-day life seem perfect. If don’t have the best relationship, well, let’s just say your life can be a little harder. But no matter what kind of relationship you have, you’ll have to stand up to this person at some point. And doing so isn’t always easy. To help, career coach and author of Careeranista: The Woman’s Guide to Success After College, Chaz Pitts-Kyser shares her expert advice for solving problems and creating a more harmonious work environment.

Define the conflict

“Makes sure this is a conflict and not a pet peeve. If a boss is doing something that affects you emotionally, or prevents you from doing your job effectively, that is a real conflict,” Pitts-Kyser says. But if you have a personality conflict, that doesn’t mean it’s a real conflict. For example, you might want to let the fact that your supervisor never replaces the water cooler go.

Articulate what you want to see happen

When you’re going into any type of situation, you want to visualize what you want to happen, Pitts-Kyser suggests. To alleviate nerves, practice the conversation beforehand in front of a mirror or with someone.

Set a meeting

Pitts-Kyser cautions that it’s not a good idea to spring this on your supervisor without warning. Schedule a meeting with him or her to talk, preferably when you think he or she will be in a good mood. Feel free to keep the subject vague and just say you’ve been having issues and you’d like to talk. If your boss pries, just say it’s a personal issue.

Be concise

“Say what the issue is,” Pitts-Kyser says. “Use very clear examples.” Come prepared with a list of dates and times your boss did something you want to address. “Instead of putting direct blame on your boss, you need to articulate how she or he makes you feel,” Pitts-Kyser says. Pitts-Kyser once coached a young woman who told her supervisor she felt belittled each time her boss shot down an idea she had in meetings. After the young professional gave her supervisor clear examples of that, her boss apologized.

Related: 8 Get-Ahead Questions to Ask Your Boss


Think about your supervisor’s rationale

“Be honest with yourself, and make sure that you’re not doing something to upset your boss,” Pitts-Kyser says. For instance, if you’ve been showing up late recently and your boss has an attitude about it, you may want to start arriving on time.

Do not go to HR after the first instance

“If you have a really horrible relationship with your boss, you don’t want to go over their head and talk to HR about how your boss is treating you. Because although it seems like it’s HR’s job to make sure everyone gets along, they’re mostly going to be interested in what your boss has to say. And your boss has way more pull than you do. If they’re going to get rid of someone, they’re probably going to get rid of you,” Pitts-Kyser says. She suggests that you always want to directly address the problem with your boss first. After all, you want to be fair and give the person you’re in conflict with a chance to speak.

Do not share how much you dislike your boss with others

Venting is natural. Just try your best not to do in front of your colleagues. “More than likely, it’s going to come back to you,” Pitts-Kyser says.

Work on small conflicts first

If you’re really shy or intimidated by your boss, tackle small conflicts at home before you talk to your boss. That way, you can work your way up to addressing the problematic issues at the office. If you’re having trouble visualizing how you feel, write a letter. Although you should always address it verbally first, “if you find that you absolutely cannot work up the nerve to address a conflict with your boss, you don’t just want to let it fester. If you feel like there’s nothing else you can do, then go ahead and send an email addressing the concern.” Afterward, set up a time to discuss it in person. Pitts-Kyser does caution that you should only use this as a last resort and if you’re extremely shy.

Related: How to Get Over Nice Girl Syndrome

If the idea of confronting your boss makes you cringe, realize that the discomfort you feel when discussing an uncomfortable topic can ultimately lead to a better working life. “Everyone needs to and deserves to work in an environment where they feel respected and are comfortable. Whether it’s your colleagues or your boss, you want to have good relationships with people,” Pitts-Kyser says. “Standing up to your boss enables you to have a better working relationship.” And having a sound work relationship is something everyone can agree on.


Teresa Tobat is a writer and editor based out of the Washington, D.C., area. In her spare time she enjoys exercising, traveling, hitting up the best restaurants in town and playing with her two long-haired Chihuahuas. View her website at Follow her tweets @ttobat88.

This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted here with permission