Remain Cool, Calm and Positive When Dealing With a Bad Boss

Q.  My boss is very talented, but he sometimes becomes an arrogant, mean-spirited SOB especially with others.  This is driving people to look for jobs elsewhere.  I like my client assignments and enjoy working for a fairly large and well respected agency.  But I don’t like the tension that hangs over the office.  It took quite a while to get this job so I’d prefer to stay for more than a year, but I’m being encouraged to join the planned exodus.  Any other suggestions?  –PL

A.  Follow your head and heart, not the herd. Don’t let others color your attitude since it’s important for you to stay put and gain needed experience. You are right in thinking you should remain where you are for at least a year, ideally longer.

I discussed your question with a few PR friends, including Chicago PRSA chair-designate Abby Lovett.  Abby offers the following three tips for dealing with a difficult boss:

#1 tip – Know. Your. Stuff.  It’s really hard for someone to be a jerk to you if you have done your homework, have the answers and are always prepared, working hard and on time. If you’re doing all of that and they’re STILL a jerk, read on.

#2: Smile.  Again, it’s tough for people to be horrible to people who smile. In fact, it’s incredibly disarming to grumpy a$$holes when you tell them that you like their shoes … or they told a funny joke in that meeting … or you appreciate their help in a shared effort. Of course, no need to be fake/over the top, but the power of a smile never fails.

 #3: Take care of your mental health.  Go for a Run. Read The Onion on the train home. Have a nice date with your partner. Do whatever it takes to get the jerk off your mind. Without releasing the “pressure valve,” a small/slight comment might be the straw that breaks your back … and YOU end up being the one folks tell stories about for years to come!!

I also encourage you to consider having a conversation with your boss.  You can’t tell him he’s a bad boss, but you can ask him to help you understand what success means.  Getting his feedback and direction is important for your career–and he should be impressed by your overture.  Conclude the conversation by asking him what you can do to help ensure his success.  If he doesn’t appreciate this outreach effort, then it might be time for you to leave.

Final piece of advice, keep your own counsel.  Sometimes attitudes improve by simply avoiding the negative nay bobs who always see the glass as half empty.  Focus on what you do well.  Such positive energy makes you valuable to the organization.  It might be time for others in the agency to move on, but that’s not necessarily the case for you.  If the situation remains unbearable, you may decide you need to leave.  If that’s the case, don’t do it abruptly and keep the decision to yourself as you quietly conduct your job search.  You’ll remain more positive about yourself and be less stressed out if you don’t engage in office politics.  Good luck.

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