How Do You Deal With A Horrible Boss?

horrible bossI’ve just got off Skype with one of my coaching clients and she told me that she’s been having deeply uncomfortable experiences at work because of a horrible boss. She doesn’t know how to deal with the situation or how she feels.

On some occasions the boss can be really mean and on other occasions really pleasant. While I’m sure her boss is not consciously trying to manipulate; playing Jekyll and Hyde is straight out of the Effective Manipulation textbook. The outcome is that my client rationalizes away her uncomfortable emotions and does nothing to address the position she finds herself in.

In today’s session she told me that she was upset on 3 occasions last week about situations at work. Most of these instances involved feeling put-down or barked at in an angry and condescending way. She is experiencing an increase in self-doubt and a decrease in self-confidence. She feels that her performance at work is being impeded and is keen for the boss to think highly of her.

So what’s the solution? Should she just tell her boss to stop treating her unfairly? Will that work? In my view, probably not.

Here are some basic principles to begin with. The emotions triggered in my client come from inside her, and arise as a result of…

  • her innate ‘wiring’
  • her own self-perceptions
  • the situation and environmental ‘energy’
  • whatever else is happening emotionally for her that day
  • other deeper beliefs and perceptions about life.

The point being that emotion is a complex interplay of biological and energetic factors all woven together moving throughout our body and brain. That being said, when the initial emotion is triggered what we do next is the most important thing. How we respond to the situation affects how we feel in the coming minutes and hours – our interaction with life creates our emotional experience. The purpose of emotion is to guide us back to our true self; it’s almost as if emotion is trying to nudge us back on track because we run the risk of deviating from our true selves, our core.

So what does my client need to do?

  1. Know that it’s what she does, her actions that create her emotional experience not what others do.
  2. Let go of the need for her boss to change…that’s just a resistance to what already exists out there in life. Her role is to be herself for herself.
  3. Let go of trying to impress her boss or have her boss like her…this requires a refocus of attention from outside to in. Being externally driven often results in problems. Shifting focus internally and allowing a drive and flow to come from the core results is a significant shift in self-esteem and performance.
  4. If my client choses a route where her focus is on trying to please her boss she is likely to try and defend herself and justify her actions which will send her spiraling into the ‘victim-vortex’. She will feel more negative emotion because she will be moving further away from her true self. The assumption being that her true self is an empowered being that doesn’t compromise its authenticity to please or placate others. She needs to move into a ‘space’ where she does not justify or defend herself, rather she articulates her thoughts and feelings in an authentic manner without trying to please or placate her boss. (I know that might sound slightly tricky in a work setting; however, our focus for this exercise is to improve my clients mood, emotional state, fulfillment and performance at work)
  5. She wants to appear smart and sometimes feels dumb (which she attributes to her boss). The refocus from outside to in, being driven by doing her best for her, rather than the boss will go a long way to alleviate this point. There is also the question of what is being smart? I’d argue that it’s adaptability; it’s not our existing behaviour or skill level. It’s our ability to recognise where we are, adapt to the circumstances, upskill when required, and get where we need to be. Being adaptable and flexible means we need to be self-driven and self-corrected. When motivation has an internal locus it’s much easier to be OK with being wrong. When we are externally focused and driven by our desire to please and impress others, it can be very hard to be wrong because we can become preoccupied with how others perceive us.

These were just a few points for us to start working with…next week we’ll see how much progress she’s made.

7 thoughts on “How Do You Deal With A Horrible Boss?

  1. Jeremy Thorn

    An excellent article Kyle. Thank you.
    And I agree. I think all bosses can appear ‘horrible’ at times (I have had quite a few myself – and no doubt have been one too!) And of course, it is so tempting as the ‘injured party’ to blame others and become defensive, passive-agressive or even just plain agressive, rather than consider our own contributions to any given situation.

    As a coaching tool in such circumstances, I regularly find the core elements of Transactional Analysis (by usefully labelling our own and others’ verbal behavioiur, resolutely staying in our ‘adult’ ego-state and even the concepts of the ‘Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer’ drama triangle, can be really helpful to explain and explore.
    What do you find?

    But meanwhile, some bosses really *are* horrible…
    Then, of course, as individuals we do have to decide whether to stick with this situation, build the courage to deal with it assertively rather than agressively, ‘organisationally wisely’ and emotionally sensitively, and negotiate a better way forward – or just move on before it gets any worse.
    (And as for any such dilemma, this could of course equally apply to any human relationships!)

    While there are lots of techniques for deciding on and making the best of each and any of these options, they can certainly all clearly benefit from skilled coaching.
    But I had thought, when I saw your ‘headline’, that this article might have taken genuinely ‘horrible bosses’ the thrust of your subject.
    Will you be covering this later perhaps?

    1. kyle davies Post author

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback, Jeremy. I’m not entirely sure I understand your question at the end. The thrust of the article is about engendering empowerment; whatever we encounter on our ‘journey’ is ultimately about us and reflects what we need to address about ourselves.

      As a general point, I think ‘horrible’ can be harder to deal with when subtle because there is this tendency to rationalise away ones feelings rather than honour them.

  2. anon

    I dont agree with point 1

    If someone say shouts at you, it is them creating your emotional experience, regardless of your actions, you will feel annoyed or shaken up a bit, there’s not a lot you can about it, what you do is pretty much irrelevant really

    1. kyle davies Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to read and post your thoughts. You raise an important perspective; here are 3 points that come to mind…

      1. Our emotion comes from inside us as a tap on the shoulder to invite us to respond to a situation in an authentic way. When we recognise that our emotion is about us rather than about what someone else is doing to us it makes it easier to remove blame and move out of a victim space’. As long as we can allow ourselves to feel our ‘annoyed’ and recognise it is an opportunity for us to act authentically in a situation there is no problem. Frequently what happens is that people either bury how they feel or resist it somehow, then blame the ‘perpetrator’ and get stuck in a pattern that repeats itself.

      2. We are always going to be impacted by the ‘energy’ of our environment and there is a wide spectrum of choices for how we chose to behave. Ideally what we do and how we respond is constructive rather than reactive or destructive and aligned with our ‘true-self’. When we see that our emotion is about us not them it becomes easier.

      3. Finally, whether we are aware of it or not we are playing a significant role in the creation of our experience, both internally and externally. Whatever ‘shows-up’ in our life is something of a reflection and an opportunity for us to learn something about ourselves and move forward.

  3. Anon

    Could have benefitted from this advice a few months ago unfortunately my boss made me feel victimised and I have resigned. Felt worthless despite knowing I’d helped hundreds of people throughout my career.

  4. Douglas

    Hi Kyle,
    Nice article. I have always struggled with being externally focused. And yes it causes problems. But how do we re-focus internally and be authentic?
    Most people I know just leave situations they don’t like such as family gatherings, jobs, study, relationships etc. But I notice that I tend to stay in situations I don’t like, such as my job. I have seen many people come and go in my job and is mostly a result of my bosses personality. I wonder sometimes why I am still there as I feel very frustrated with him often.


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