We’ve all had that moment when we silently plot the demise of a supervisor. But we can’t condone the murder of one’s superiors—it’s too easy to get caught—so here are six expert tips for dealing with an irritating or straight-up-insane overlord.
#1. Take the high road
Career consultant Sue Thompson says an important step in coping with difficult bosses is to rise above them. “You must not allow yourself to be sucked into the emotions of the difficult behaviors, which are often negative, hateful, nasty, arrogant and vicious,” Thompson explains. “You have to do what’s necessary to keep yourself above the mess.” So if your boss presses your buttons, don’t fantasize about running him or her over. Just let it roll off your back.
#2. Try sweet talk
Become fluent in “idiot speak,” suggests Dr. John Hoover, author of How to Work for an Idiot (best book title ever?). “Learn the metaphorical language and what kind of references your boss uses, so that you can use the boss’s language and style deliberately to fall on friendly ears,” he says. That doesn’t mean sucking up, but it may mean using phrases like “monetize,” “scalable” and “bandwidth.”
#3. Try confidence
It works just like in the school yard. Projecting confidence and standing up for yourself (but stay professional) makes you more of a risky target for bullies and toxic bosses.
#4. Undermine his emotional detachment by humanizing yourself
In this approach, the idea is to try to humanize yourself to your boss by offering a gift or doing an unexpected personal favor. This might seem like a small thing, but it can actually go a long way in changing their perception of you and making it more difficult for them to be toxic. This can help to build a bridge and create a more positive working relationship.
#5. Blame yourself
This may seem like a difficult step, but Dian Griesel, co-founder of The Business School of Happiness and author of The Silver Disobedience Playbook: 365 Inspirations for Living and Loving Agelessly, says that taking 100 percent of the blame in a conflict with your boss, even if you know it isn’t your fault, can bring about a quicker resolution.
“Sometimes just putting the entire responsibility on yourself in a conversation is enough to wake up the other person,” Griesel advises. So walk into your boss’s office, smile, say, “It’s my fault” and try not to imagine a bear mauling him or her.
#6. Curb resentment
Sometimes employees who have problems with their bosses can let their negative emotions stew even when they get home. Hoover says that strategy is destined for failure. “In resenting bosses, it basically makes as much sense as drinking a cup of poison and waiting for the boss to die,” Hoover says. So instead of bottling up all that anger, try a more positive strategy, like…
Communicate with other employees about you are experiencing and you’ll probably find other people have a history with him/her as well. Agree to document (with dates, lists of witnesses) and share the worst incidents. The more people you have involved in this documentation process the stronger your position will be if things ever come to a head.
#8. Work on your skills
Take the time to improve your industry relevant skills and knowledge and make yourself look good to the company. This way you are more valuable to your company and less reliant on your toxic boss, and you can also leverage this to get a promotion or beneficial transfer.
#9. Wait for the fall
Bloomberg Businessweek online columnist Jeff Schmitt says that even if you can’t battle your boss directly, you can still wait for your superior to collapse under his or her own mistakes. “They truly hurt themselves,” Schmitt notes.
“Customers feel it, other departments feel it, family and friends feel it. It eventually comes back onto them and makes them less effective. Eventually they’ll time themselves out.” And when that happens, you can lean back in your chair, put your feet up, sip some whiskey and laugh maniacally as you finally get some measure of payback.
#10. Bail out
If you’ve tried everything and still can’t make it work, there’s always the old standby: quitting. Hoover suggests moving to another department under the guise of “career mobility,” which basically translates to “fleeing the bad boss.”
Griesel adds that it’s important to recognize the opportunities outside your office space. “When you acknowledge that you can do something else, the situation that you’re in becomes more bearable,” she says. “If you’re dealing with someone who’s just a mental wack-job, you should probably look for a new job.”