Dealing with the Bad Boss

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

According to a recent survey, 15 million American workers report having bad bosses, and more than one-third of workers (36%) feel some pressure to stay with a bad boss because of the current economic situation.

The survey, by Lake Research Partners for Working America, explored how employers are perceived by their employees and identified the biggest complaints employees have about their bosses.

Managers take note: the leading worker complaints were that bosses are “lazy” and “dishonest.” Between one-fifth and one-third of respondents said their bosses take credit for their work, do not provide them with recognition for success or hard work, and do not provide them with the guidance or opportunities necessary for advancement. About one-third of workers say it’s difficult to get time off.

How to Make Things Better
The following tips are from AMA’s seminar Responding to Conflict: Strategies for Improved Communication:

The first step: understand that there are no difficult people. There are people with whom we have difficulty communicating or with whom we have trouble establishing rapport. It generally is not productive to label people and then write them off. It is much more useful to recognize they require special observation, analysis, and deliberate communication and handling.

Of course, this takes effort. However, once rapport is established with a person with whom we initially had difficulty communicating, it often develops into a rich and productive working relationship.

Also keep in mind that while conflict is often seen as negative, it can lead to great change and improvement when handled skillfully. Learning when your conflict management style is appropriate and adding new styles to your alternatives will enhance your ability to work better with your boss and others.

The Five Basic Methods for Handling Conflict
1.  Avoiding or Withdrawing: The person tries to solve problem by denying or ignoring its existence. Results in win/lose.
—Appropriate to use when: Issue is relatively unimportant; timing is wrong; cooling off period is needed; short-term use.
—Inappropriate to use when: Issue is important; issue will not disappear, but build.

2. Smoothing: Differences are played down; surface harmony exists. Results in win/lose in forms of resentment, defensiveness, and possible sabotage if issue remains suppressed.
—Appropriate to use when: Same as above, also when preservation of relationship is more important at the moment.
—Inappropriate to use when: Reluctance to deal with conflict leads to evading an important issue; others are ready and willing to deal with issue.

3. Competing: One’s authority, position, majority rule, or a persuasive minority settles the conflict. Results in win/lose if the dominated party sees no hope for self.
—Appropriate to use when: Power comes with position of authority; this method has been agreed upon.
—Inappropriate to use when: Losers have no way to express needs; could result in future disruptions or opportunities to “get even.”

4. Compromising: Each party gives up something in order to meet midway. Results in lose/lose if “middle of the road” position ignores the real diversity of the issue.

—Appropriate to use when: Both parties have enough leeway to give; resources are limited; win/lose stance is undesirable.
—Inappropriate to use when: Original inflated position is unrealistic; solution is watered down to be effective; commitment is doubted by parties involved.

5. Integrating: Abilities, values, and expertise of all are recognized; each person’s position is clear, but emphasis is on group solution. Results in win/win for all. Takes time.
—Appropriate to use when: Time is available to complete the process; parties are committed and trained in use of process; if it’s a onetime interaction.
—Inappropriate to use when: The conditions of time, abilities, and commitment are not present.

Detoxifying Language—Saying It Differently
One surefire way to stimulate a conflict is to use words that mean one thing to you and another to someone else, or to say something in a tone that sounds sarcastic or offensive to the other person. Saying things differently, so that our ideas can be accepted, can be a challenge.

Toxic Statement: “You never do anything.”
Statement Detoxified: “Would you share with me how you choose what is important enough to do first?”

Toxic Statement: “You're wrong!”
Statement Detoxified: “I'm concerned because our facts don't seem to agree.”

Toxic Statement: “I can't believe you did that. How dumb can you be?”
Statement Detoxified: “Help me understand your thinking behind doing that. I'm concerned about the outcome.”

Words mean different things to different people because of culture, background, relationship, and present environment, and challenge us to become more nimble in our phraseology. Think about your interactions with people and try to come up with your own alternatives to toxic statements you may have made.

Final Thoughts
Many people complain about conflict, but few invest the time and energy necessary to learn about it, to focus on different ways of viewing it, or to become more confident in managing it. It you do take the time to discover productive ways to deal with conflict, especially when it involves your boss and/or your direct reports, the return on the investment will be huge. You’ll find that every business encounter will be more productive and your job will become more fulfilling.

Read a complete summary of the Bad Boss Survey Report:

About The Author

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.