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February 25, 2016

How to improve your relationship with a frustrating boss

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Dec. 19, 2018.

A bad boss can put a damper on your work life, but it's possible to make your relationship more manageable, Robin Madell writes for U.S. News & World Report.

7 must-have conversations between you and your boss

A 2011 study from the staffing service OfficeTeam found that almost half of workers said they had worked for an "unreasonable" manager. While many people suffer bad bosses, there are steps you can take to deal with your boss and get through the work day a little easier.

Determine if your boss really is toxic

Not every boss you have will be totally competent or pleasant, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're toxic. According to Christine DiDonato, founder of Career Revolution, a truly toxic manager is "someone who is often abrasive and micromanaging." She says clients identify toxic bosses as those who instill fear or anxiety in their employees, which makes employees less apt to share new ideas or talk to their bosses.

"Bad or toxic bosses are overly critical, demeaning de-motivators who suck the lifeblood out of the people they manage," says Daren Martin, international speaker and author of "A Company of Owners: Maximizing Employee Engagement."

Think about whether your boss has these characteristics—or is merely mediocre at his or her job. It will help you put your situation in perspective.

Take care of yourself

A toxic boss can take a huge toll on your emotional health. If you must keep your current job for the time being, experts recommend finding ways to stay upbeat and focused. Ronald Recardo, managing partner of the Catalyst Consulting Group, suggests working closely with your boss to show off your skills, which will ultimately make your boss look better. However, Recardo also notes the importance of developing relationships with coworkers other than your boss.

Martin recommends acting like you are your own boss to boost your confidence and regain control. "Decide in advance that you are going to outperform expectations, truly enjoy your day and act like an owner," Martin says. "Even bad bosses don't get to determine your attitude."

You can even help your boss develop better coping skills, says Jackie Kellso, president of PointMaker Communications. Pinpoint the issue at hand and tackle it head on. "Once you label it, it helps to bring the boss to a thinking mode and out of an emotional stress reaction," Kellso says. "Confirm and repeat your interest in aligning with him or her to fix the problem."

Leave if things get out of hand

Even with the best of intentions, sometimes you can't fix a relationship with a bad boss—for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, acknowledges that it may be best to transfer or seek out a new employer in these circumstances. But if you are able to meet with human resources for an exit interview, give an honest, constructive assessment of your boss.

If you think your boss's behavior is truly harmful, take note of the ways in which your boss is hurting the company before you depart. "Document transgressions, plan financially, give warning, give notice, and get out of there," says Debra Benton, executive coach and author of "The CEO Difference: How To Climb, Crawl, and Leap Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career" (Madell, U.S. News & World Report, 2/22).

Learn more: 7 must-have conversations between you and your boss

For the past seven weeks, the Daily Briefing has dived deep into the most important conversations managers should have with employees. Now, read the full series—and download tools, templates, and best practices to help you have these critical conversations:

Read the Series

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