How to Deal with a Difficult Boss

Work life can have enough stress and anxiety attached to it, but dealing with a difficult boss can put it over the top.

Work life can have enough stress and anxiety attached to it, but dealing with a difficult boss can put it over the top.

We spend about a third of our lives working - and often more than that in Washington DC and surrounding areas.  Do you have a boss that is making your life miserable?  Here are some tips for handling this difficult situation:

1.  When you aren't at work, you aren't at work.  Dealing with them 40 hours a week is bad enough, but when you are spending even your leisure time ruminating about your boss that means that you never get a break.  You deserve some time that is actually for you, and treating yourself well during your off hours will make you more calm and centered when it comes time to deal with the boss at work.

2.  Remember that this is not all about you.  Unfortunately, many people who have difficulties with rage, control and insecurity bring these issues into their work positions.   People don't feel a need to bully or over-control at work if they feel secure, safe and satisfied within their lives.  It can be helpful to remember that although your boss's behavior certainly impacts you, it is not really personal.

3.  Keep your side of the street clean.  Dealing with difficult people can lead you to want to exact petty revenge, gossip, or engage in other behaviors you wouldn't ordinarily.  Work hard to make sure that your behavior is in line with your values; feeling bad about the way that you are interacting doesn't level the playing field, it only adds to the overall level of negativity.

4.  Be clear about your boundaries.  It is important in a situation like this to think carefully about what you are willing to do and what you are not.  It may be ok with you if the boss demands extra hours, but not if they contact you over the weekend.  For another person, it may be no problem when their boss takes credit for your work but really infuriating when they say set unrealistic timelines.  Get clear with yourself about where your boundaries are, and then assert them in a non-confrontational, matter of fact tone with your boss.  

5.  Consider what this situation might be bringing up for you.  Sometimes difficult bosses remind us of other people who have not treated us well throughout our lives, especially people who have had a similar position of power over us such as parents, teachers, and coaches. Consider whether this is the case for you and, if so, see if you can parse out your present-day reactions from those that  might be rooted in history.

6.  Get support.  It can be helpful to talk to coworkers, but be careful about this- not everything you say may be held confidentially and you may not be certain of where your coworkers' loyalties lie.  It can be helpful to turn to the Human Resources Department, as well - even if it is not a highly functioning department there will at least be a record of your complaint.  For many people talking to a therapist about work situations can also be helpful - it provides an objective perspective and support that does not ebb and flow as the workplace politics change.