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The Rude, the Narcissistic and the Abusive: Dealing with Difficult Bosses

To work with an incompetent, abusive or tyrannical boss can be emotionally, professionally and physically exhausting. Find out how to deal with a difficult boss without running your career.

At one point in our careers, every employee encounters the less than ideal or difficult boss. While some of the bosses are aware that they are hard-driving, there are some difficult bosses who think that they are great and have no clue what employees think of them. Dealing with a difficult boss can take a toll on your mental and physical health, and can be bad for your career progression. At one end of the spectrum, bad managers are those hard-driving tyrants thriving by evaluating success based on the employee’s productivity without any consideration of employee welfare. For such bosses, nothing is as important as the bottom-line.

However, there are bosses who are so concerned with being liked by employees, or fitting into the group, that they give little consideration to control or authority. While these bosses may be liked as an understanding and sympathetic friend, that is not what being a good boss is about. In fact, a recent report by Gallup shows that 50% employees who leave their jobs cite difficult managers as their reason. So, what makes a difficult boss, and how can you deal with them? Read on to find out more about how to deal with a difficult boss.

The Selfish and Narcissistic Boss

From a psychological perspective, the narcissist is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need to be admired. Individuals with a narcissistic management style or personality generally think that they are better than others, giving little consideration to the feelings of others. However, as noted by an article published on Forbes by Victor Lipman, behind such a mask of bloated confidence lies self-esteem that is fragile and vulnerable to the slightest appearance of criticism. Working with a boss who seems narcissistic can be quite challenging as they tend to use a demanding tone when communicating with employees. Although it can be difficult to tell, with certainty, whether your boss meets the threshold for clinical diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, you should look out for the following attributes in a narcissistic boss: 

  • Insists on always being right
  • Can easily swing from one extreme of treating you like the best worker of the month, to threatening to dismiss you from work.
  • Is unable to handle dissenting views
  • Demands constant admiration
  • Often pits employees against each other
  • Can be extremely competitive with their colleagues or subordinates

Working with a bad boss who possesses these attributes can be emotionally and physically exhausting. So how does an employee should deal with a narcissistic boss? According to a Mr. Adams Jeffrey, a renowned career counselor at Skillroads: “Firstly, you should try to make the chief look good, including going beyond what is required of you, and not talk negatively about your problems with the boss to your colleagues. Secondly, try to discover what the boss values and try to succeed, whether those things appear silly or unimportant.”

Dealing with constant criticism and too much pressure at work can also be emotionally challenging, and you may need to use your emotional toolbox. Be kind to yourself by having a positive attitude and taking breaks. You could also make plans for fun things before and after work or exercise. Most importantly, when working with difficult people, remain focused on your career goals, and if the working atmosphere becomes unbearable move on to other opportunities.

The Workaholic Boss Who Expects the Same from Employees

Of course, everyone desires to work with a devoted and committed leader. However, there is a line between a boss with a diligent work ethic and someone who arrives long before other employees and leaves long after everyone. This type of boss lives and breathes the office, and often expects employees to have the same input. Life under the watchful eye of the boss who is a workaholic who never seems to stop thinking about work can be exhausting. Such a boss may bombard you with emails even after work hours. Of course, this is somewhat different from when your boss is out to get you. Try these strategies if you feel drained by the ever-demanding boss.

  • Work a little harder. The other side of the coin from the boss who works too hard is the employee who gives too little. Before looking for ways to address the problem, have an inward reflection on whether you are trying hard enough.
  • Ask about what is expected. Just because your boss is a workaholic who never seems to leave the office does not mean that the same is expected of you. Sometimes the boss doesn’t expect you to give as much input or stay as long as they do. Ask.
  • Establish boundaries in your work relationship. Express to your boss that, while you intend to deliver your best, you need to define and set boundaries.
  • Seek other alternatives and avoid toxic people. In case you and your boss have different views regarding life-work balance and the amount of input and time that should be dedicated to your job, and if the gap can’t be resolved, then it may be a good idea to shift to an environment that best suits your arrangement.

The Abusive and Rude Boss

Working with the rude and abusive types of bosses can be quite challenging. The rude and abusive boss often talks or acts without consideration of the employee’s feelings. In the best case, these types of bosses often get upset and yell, although they may apologize for the afterword. Other bosses may also be passive aggressive bullies, giving you the silent treatment and throwing sarcastic comments that are inappropriate for the workplace. In the worst case, the abusive and disrespectful boss is toxic verbally, and the mistreatment may escalate to the sexual or physical threat. Please note that, for your well-being, there is no actual strategy for dealing with the truly abusive boss.

Possible strategies for dealing with a mildly rude or abusive boss is to stay calm and rational. Act with an engaged indifference. However, for the truly abusive situations, if the stress mounts, refine your resume and seek a saner work environment.

The Authoritative and Controlling Boss

The controlling and authoritative boss has a flair for drama and is the ultimate risk taker. On the downside, this type of boss is often a poor communicator and can be suspicious of others. Some evident characteristics of a tyrant include the need to control every detail of the work environment, including what you wear and how you look. In the event that the behavior of your boss boils down to personality style, learn to adapt by being accommodating and by staying out of the way when you can. In the event that the aggression from your boss originates from insecurity, try to reassure them that you are in control of things.

The Utterly Incompetent Boss

Please note that an incompetent individual is one that is either functionally inadequate or possesses insufficient skills, strength, knowledge, or judgment. In other words, such a boss lacks the competencies needed to perform well in their role and probably knows little about what you ought to do. One way of dealing with a boss who is incompetent is upping your game. When there is a lack of leadership, for instance, you can step in and provided the needed guidance if you know the area well enough. You could also teach or train your boss regarding your sector of employment. You could also seek a mentor from elsewhere in the company to act as a mentor. This could be good for your experience and career progression. The last option could be to leave the job rather than attempt to stick it out.

One of the main reasons employees quit their jobs is difficult bosses. Of course, before you decide to quit, consider the alternative strategies provided here to handle this situation. Quitting should be last resort. 

Written By

Alice Berg is a blogger and career advisor, who helps people to find their own way in life, gives career advice and guidance, helps young people to prepare for their careers.

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