4 ways to deal with a bad boss or coworker when quitting isn't an option

Westend61/Getty ImagesBe sure to document everything.
  • Many people have negative experiences with a bad boss, manager, or coworker, whether the tension is caused by a clash of personalities or disagreement on leadership style.
  • While it may be tempting just to call it quits, that’s not possible – or feasible – for many.
  • Instead, try these four techniques for learning how to deal with a difficult employer to allow you to excel at your job, in spite of any conflict.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The first horrible boss I ever had screamed in my face for laughing. It was late on a Friday afternoon, and a coworker and I were having a conversation, and I laughed at his joke. Seconds later, my boss walked up to my cubicle, slapped her hand down on my desk, and yelled, “There is no laughing allowed in this office.”

That was one of a long list of wild moments with that horrible boss. I wanted to quit that job but I couldn’t. It had taken me months to get a job and it was the best paying one I could find. I had bills to pay, and couldn’t just walk out the door. But spending almost a year dealing with that horrible boss was painful, and a powerful lesson in putting up with difficult people.

So what do you do when you have to put up with a bad boss or coworker? Here are four strategies to add to your game plan.

1. Document everything you can

Christine Mooijer/Getty ImagesTake notes and keep track of any negative interactions.

When you find yourself going head-to-head with a bad boss, you want to have as much proof as possible of jaw-dropping comments or unfair situations. Pulling from memory won’t be a strong defence, so the best way to collect all what’s going on with your boss is to document it all in an organised way.

Paula Brantner, founder of PB Works Solutions, a consulting firm that builds harassment and toxic workplace prevention systems, recommended making every effort to have all conversations be documentable, especially as it relates to your work.

“Overcommunicate via email or Slack or whatever your employer uses to communicate via work matters,” said Brantner. “Send ‘Just to clarify….’ emails which explain your understanding of what you’ve been asked to do. If something is said to you that you cannot document, as soon as you can, dictate a voice memo in your phone or send an email to yourself that will time and date stamp your recollection.”

That way, when you’re ready to bring it to someone’s attention, you have all the correspondence you need ready to go.

2. Talk to HR

Carlos Osorio/APSpeak up if you are feeling mistreated.

Depending on your company’s size and departments, you might have an HR representative you can talk to about what’s going on, and get their help on what can be done to fix your current situation.

If that’s an option for you, Heather Hubbard, a former attorney and Founder of All Rise, recommended speaking to someone in HR and being transparent.

“If someone in a company is acting in an inappropriate or abusive manner, be transparent with HR that you 1) are not leaving, and 2) are trying to deal with the situation the best you can from a mental health standpoint,” Hubbard said. “However, it is important to be cognisant that if you are experiencing this hardship with a colleague or boss, most likely someone else is too. HR needs to know in order to interject, have your back, and know that there is an internal stressor in the company that could jeopardize their business.”

3. Learn the art of not reacting

Photographer is my life./Getty ImagesLearn to control and taper your emotions.

When you’re dealing with a difficult boss, you’re also dealing with the exchange of emotions. While you wish you could just tell the person off and unleash a long monologue about how horrible they have been to you, you understand you can’t just do that. However, you can learn how to manage your reactions so that you don’t mirror aggressive behaviour back to your boss.

While that doesn’t sound easy to do, Hubbard suggested starting with a mindfulness practice.

“Mindfulness practices are a great resource to learn various grounding techniques, such as responding without reacting. With this concept, understand that just because something is happening does not make it real,” said Hubbard. “Create space between your thoughts and your reactions. If someone’s words or actions immediately make you want to be emotional or fly off the handle then the best thing to do is process a situation differently. Techniques and exercises can help you learn nonjudgmental practices for both yourself and the toxic person, and how to utilise compassion in high intensity situations.”

4. Disarm them by validating their frustrations

JohnnyGreig/Getty ImagesTry your best to acknowledge their perspective.

Tap into powerful negotiation techniques that can manipulate your boss into realising how they are treating you and how their communication style is a complete mess. The first thing you can try is the art of active listening.

James Killian, a licensed professional counselor, said implementing active listening skills with horrible bosses plays a crucial role in minimising miscommunication.

“This involves repeating back what you hear followed by a request for confirmation. For example, ‘So what I’m hearing you say is… Is this what you meant?’ This will allow the boss to hear their perspective from someone else’s viewpoint and provides them the opportunity to clarify,” Killian said.

Next, try disarming them by validating their frustrations. Killian said it can be very difficult to continue to be angry or upset with someone when they completely acknowledge your feelings.

“For example, say ‘I completely understand your frustration. I don’t blame you one bit for being upset. I would be just as upset if not more.’ This kind of validation lets them know they are being heard, doesn’t appear defensive, and can disarm their emotional upheaval,” Killian said.

Showing up to work every day with the headache of a horrible boss is exhausting and emotionally draining. But thinking about your game plan, whether it’s to document communication and bring it to HR, or to spend time learning how to shake them up with your assertive behaviour so they can see how they are treating you, is worth a try.

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