How to Build a Healthy Relationship with a Bad Boss


Bad bosses are in every industry. Before long, if you haven’t already, you will come across one.  They exist for all kinds of reasons. But, regardless, you are now stuck with one and it is up to you to figure out how to handle the situation.

Your job is to make this relationship work so you can do what is asked of you and do it well. As a new manager, you have to learn how to manage up as well as down and across. You need to figure out how to get along as much with your new employees as with your new (and challenging) boss.

It helps to first figure out what kind of bad boss you have. What makes them difficult and why? Here are some situations from new manager training scenarios that you need to manage effectively.

Your boss:

  • Ignores you. This may be because they are too busy, assume you know what you’re doing, or don’t want to interfere. You need to be the one to ask for help or support. Frame your request with the understanding that you both have the same goal…the success of the team.
  • Is brand new. Consider that they may be overwhelmed. Introduce yourself and ask for an appointment to clarify expectations for your job. Ask how your success will be measured, how often they would like to be informed of your progress and how they prefer to communicate.
  • Works off site. So the opportunity for regular feedback and spontaneous face-to-face meetings is decreased. Request regular phone/video sessions at their convenience so you can bring them up to date and ask any questions you have accumulated over the interim. Prepare so your sessions are focused brief and to the point.
  • Gives conflicting requests. It may be best to summarize each interaction in an email so you are both clear on exactly how you will be spending your time. Couch the communication so that it seems you are not contradicting but questioning in order to support their success and their goals as effectively as possible.
  • Thinks they know it all. It is best not to confront but to ask permission to make a suggestion. Perhaps you observed someone else handling a situation differently. Would it be OK if you tried that method too? This boss does not want their superiority questioned but they do want to be successful. If you indeed have a better way, hopefully they will accept it.
  • Knows too little. It’s clear to you that you have more experience and knowledge of the job than your boss. Swallow a little humble pie and think of yourself as the member of a team who seeks to create value for the company as a whole. You are not in competition but in a position where the better you can make your boss look, the better you, too, will look in the end.
  • Express the thought that they may need more time for high level strategic thinking and that you can support them by doing your job more independently. Ask for more responsibility as part of your learning goals and prove yourself step by step.
  • Doesn’t like you. Try to get the relationship back on track. If possible, ask for a meeting to find out how you can repair the damage and earn the necessary trust and respect for your capabilities. You may never be “friends” but you can hope to establish a working relationship that is respectful and productive.

Managing up is a challenge, especially with a difficult boss. But, as a new manager, it is important to proactively find a way to work with your boss so they appreciate your contribution and buy into your ideas.

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