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How To Deal With A Nightmare Boss

By Adrian Savage
Posted Tuesday, February 22, 2005

It can happen to anyone. there's a change in the organization and -- suddenly -- you find yourself working for the boss from Hell. Arrogant, demanding, ignorant, bullying and insensitive. Do you leave right away? Do you fight back? Here are some tried and tested ways of coping with impossible bosses -- and coming out on top.

* Boost your confidence. *

This is the single most important indicator of success. Asshole bosses typically work to undermine your self-confidence the whole time. Don't allow this to happen.

* Don't collude. *

Start looking for the subtle ways you hold yourself back by colluding with the asshole boss. When you find them, STOP IT AT ONCE.

* Establish a "territory" and control entry. *

Make sure you show your job is important. The establishment of a "territory", part physical, part psychological shows others that you see your job as important. Treat it that way yourself and make sure others do so as well. The aim is to make others take you seriously as someone who does something important -- even vital -- to the future of the organization and it's business.

* Prepare and present. *

Don't explain your ideas to your *sshole boss and let him take them to the people who matter. You can be sure he'll imply he thought them up himself and will take all the credit. Prepare thoroughly and make sure you present your own ideas. Try informal meetings at first -- invite a few people (plus your boss) to "help you" with something you're trying to sort out. Make use of opportunities of formal meetings as well. But never undermine or obviously bypass your boss. Just come out with the bones of the idea and make sure people know it's yours. If he tries to stop you, say you were simply getting feedback before bringing the completed idea to him. You know how busy he is and don't want to waste his time with something that may turn out to be impractical.

* Use informality. *

Never despise informal meetings -- say after work -- where people just chat. If they exist, make a point of going. If they don't, start some. Use them to talk casually about your ideas and what you've achieved. Let others brag about what they're doing, but make sure you're seen as the central person around which all the talk circulates. That way people will start to see you as an important person to get to know.

* Develop your own staff. *

Work as hard as you can at developing your own staff. Be everything to them your boss isn't to you. Nothing gets people noticed faster than capable, loyal staff who tell everyone what a great boss they have. Once you have a reputation for being a first-rate coach and developer of others, you'll be sent all the best people -- the ones the top people really care about. And when they start saying how great you are, it will be believed without question. Remember, if the people below you are headed upwards fast -- and they're loyal to you -- they'll push you up ahead of them.

* Be subtle. *

Copy the right people in on your messages, but do it carefully and subtly. Don't copy everything to everyone. That will make you look foolish and pushy. Just ask yourself who else (other than your boss) has a legitimate interest -- who else could find what you're saying genuinely helpful -- and add them to the cc'd list.

* Draw up a portfolio of examples of all your best work and greatest achievements. *

Use it to remind yourself of your worth and to boost your self-confidence. It will also be extremely handy if you need to think about getting another job that fits your abilities better (and another boss who isn't an asshole) and need to revise your CV/resume.

* Document, document! *

Keep your files and your administration meticulous and document anything important. If your asshole boss tries to blame you for his mistakes, make sure you can immediately find documentary proof that you did exactly what you ought to have done. Never argue or get angry. Let the facts speak for themselves.

* Treat others well. *

Make sure you always treat yourself exactly as you want others to treat you. If you want them to take your achievements seriously, make sure that's what you do. If you want them to see you as someone important, treat yourself that way. No one will ever see you as more useful or important that you see yourself. If you act like you don't count for much, that's exactly how others will act towards you. But never be boastful or a braggart. People love to take folk like that down a peg or two. Leave that to your asshole boss. Be subtle and restrained. The name of the game is to work quietly from within, so no one can challenge what you're doing.

* Never, NEVER fight. *

Never complain. Never whine. People have very little tolerance for -- or interest in -- the problems of others, especially if they're gloomy or likely to cause trouble. If you fight, people will avoid being involved. If you complain, they'll try to keep out of it. If you whine, they'll see you as the problem. Just keep up your confidence, be unfailing polite and friendly, and work behind the scenes to get your way.

* Be generous. *

Be generous with praise and niggardly with criticism. People love to be praised and recognized -- and love people who do it to them. The more you praise others -- with justification -- the more they'll praise you. The same applies to criticism.

* Be deserving of success. *

Be helpful and generous to everyone you meet on your way up. They'll remember you for it and help you on your way. And they won't try to pull you down once you've reached higher things. The aim is to have everyone convinced -- and saying -- you richly deserve your success. Companies aren't democracies, but top people didn't get where they are by ignoring public opinion. And if you're still held back, use the support you've won to impress another employer. Most industries are rather small worlds whose word spreads quickly.

* Never gossip. *

Word always gets back and the person you gossiped about will dislike and distrust you.

* Organizations are like clubs. *

The people who get to the top positions put themselves there and choose others they think are like them. They don't choose problem people or those they don't trust. You need to establish three things without question:

1. You're outstanding at what you do today.

2. You're completely trustworthy.

3. You're a really nice person to have around.

Do this and you'll be unstoppable -- whatever your boss says.

About the Author
Adrian Savage has contributed more than 25 articles to leading British and American publications and has been featured in articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Chicago Tribune. His white papers have been featured in numerous web and print journals. ( gives you "E-Mentor", the resource for everyone interested in making the workplace more civilized, happier, and more effective.


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