Toxic work culture: Expert tips on dealing with a bad boss
When your life is a bad remake of The Devil Wears Prada
Like your first bite of karela, dealing with a bad boss can leave a bad taste in the mouth. The one who yelled at you for a misspelling in the middle of a meeting. Who gave you assignments at 10 PM with a deadline of 8 the following morning. Any working adult can tell you — Bullies don’t always get left behind in school corridors, some find their way into the corner office.
An increasing number of patients name workplace stress as their main complaint, according to Urvashi Bhatia, psychologist and mental health counsellor. “There’s a mentality that people are replaceable. That impacts the thinking of both the employer and employee,” she says.
But is there a way to hold on to the job you love while effectively dealing with a bad boss you’ve grown to despise? Bhatia steps in with a mental checklist.
→ Know what you’re getting into – If you’re joining a new office, Bhatia suggests finding out as much as you can about the work culture beforehand (this can be a tricky task). Clearly ask about work timings, days off, interactions and official communication after hours. Then ask yourself: is this a place you’re willing to work in?
→ Mark the line they cannot cross early on – Define the relationship and set your boundaries to keep things professional. “Of course, you’ll want to have a good relationship with your boss and peers, but you need to maintain a distinction between professional and personal life,” she advises.
A good response to being given direction on a project/assignment after-hours: ‘Noted, will get to it first thing once I’m at the office’. This allows you to politely acknowledge their communication but also keep work at the workplace.
→ Keep a cool head– Confrontations never end well when there’s a difference in the workplace hierarchy. “There are some odd people that love confrontations. Getting emotional reactions from people become cheap thrills, especially when you know you have power over them. Try your best to detach yourself from the situation. Screaming matches won’t help you, other than maybe improving chances of getting fired. The boss will always win.”
A good technique to detach yourself from a tense situation, Bhatia suggests, is to mentally block out hurtful words. “You can zone out a little bit. We’ve all done this at some point unintentionally. Here, do it actively. Shift your attention to something else – recite a song in your head, count from 50 to 1.” Another is the 4-7-10 breathing technique as a stress reliever. Do a mental count to 4 breathing in through your nose. From 4 to 7 hold your breath. The 7-10 count is your time to exhale.
Approaching the boss with problems can be challenging. “They might see it as a personal attack.” Bhatia says come prepared with possible solutions for what you’re pointing out. If Option B is what you personally think is the right path, give them slightly more unachievable Option A and C as well. This is a way to show off your problem-solving skills too.
Restructuring your sentences can keep the peace with someone you already know is narcissistic. Replace “I think” and “We should” with “You mentioned you wanted to achieve XYZ, do you think we should”. Position it as a question where their inputs are valuable, so that you don’t trigger their insecurity.
→ Try and connect with them on their goals –”Finding common ground is good. If this person sees you as someone trying to help them achieve what they want, they’ll be more open to what you have to say,” says Bhatia. Helping your boss reach these milestones can create a stronger professional relationship. You end up positioning yourself as indispensable to the company.
It’s going to take a bit of sleuthing to find out what exactly these are. “Sometimes people are open to discussing it if you just ask. Position it as you, the employee, wanting to make their job easier by knowing what they want,” says Bhatia. You can then use this information to frame your suggestions to them, connect with them in a way that they still feel will serve their ultimate purpose or priority.
→ Keep an exit plan in place – Keep your resume up-to-date, your Linkedin profile active and professional network strong even after you start a new job. Work on developing new skills, try working and collaborating with different departments. Bhatia says this exercise becomes a safety net. As committed as you may be to a company that you really admire, your loyalty should also be to yourself, your growth and future.
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