Dealing With a Nasty Boss

nasty bossMy daughter loves her job – it’s just her boss that makes her work life miserable.  She is miserable to the point of frequent tears, lost productivity, and all around general upset.  So what earns a boss/parent/teacher – an authority figure – the dishonorable ‘nasty’ label?

In the case of this boss, it is many things – stealing credit for the work of those she supervises, gossip mongering, holding herself to a different (lower) standard – in other words, she doesn’t have a rule structure for herself, but holds her direct reports responsible to pre-determined set of unwritten rules. [For more on rule structure, see post from 3/25/13.]

When the authority figure doesn’t fight fair, plus is holding all the cards, it’s a tough position for the underling to be in.  The boss holds the trump card of “I’m the boss” – not fair!  And if the employee needs or wants to keep the job in spite of the boss situation, it’s a hard struggle to face every day.  Many reach a mental point of no return and start looking for another job, figuring the boss isn’t going anywhere.  This is unfortunate as a lack of communication doesn’t solve anything, and the situation perpetuates with the next hire, repeating the cycle indefinitely.

A recent survey by Office Team found that nearly half of all employees report having worked for an “unreasonable” boss, and 59% of those boss-unhappy employees stay in the job anyway!  Dislike of the boss is the #1 reason people give for work complaints – higher than low pay concerns.  And when there is no boss’ boss to turn to, or that person is ineffective, the quandary of really being boxed in deepens.

To understand why an authority figure is nasty is to largely understand low self-esteem.  While you may think that the bombastic, pompous, son-of-a-gun has too much ego, in fact often the loud ones deep down are lacking in self-esteem; they are just covering up their feeling of inadequacy with a loud show of arrogance.   They feel really diminished when the bright young upstart comes into their sandbox.  How dare she have talent, youth, and looks to boot – jealousy is a green eyed monster, grrr!

So what are the choices?  If you leave, you lose a job you liked and were good at.  If you stay, you grow to hate the job.  But if you stay and communicate, there is hope of problem solving the situation, especially if you start early enough in the relationship.

Unfortunately what most people do, since most are non-confrontational and lack good communication skills, is to be passive aggressive – play hard ball quietly – with a detailed letter into HR file, all the while smiling and agreeing to anything.  While this approach may be defensively necessary in some cases, ultimately it is unsatisfying to be disingenuous.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Clear communication is hard enough with ‘normal’ people, but it is made even harder dealing with nasty personalities.  While several factors go into creating less than pleasant interactions, the question to consider when dealing with such a person is, “What must be true in the belief system of this person for him to act this way towards me?”   When you know that, you can decide your next behavior move.

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