How to Deal with a Boss Who Stresses You Out

Discussions amongst top management, tend to focus on leaderships positive outcomes, such as innovation, employee engagement, or organizational performance. However, for majority of employees, the leaders in their organizations are a source of stress rather than inspiration. Indeed, for every transformational leader and emotionally intelligent manager, there are dozens of toxic bosses, who come in many different forms. Barbara Kellerman of Harvard University has identified and categorized these into seven major types: (1) incompetent, (2) rigid, (3) intemperate, (4) callous, (5) corrupt, (6) insular, and (7) evil. What all these types have in common, is their ability to induce stress in others – particularly their subordinates. Unsurprisingly, research shows that the experience of having a bad boss can be akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since bad bosses are so ubiquitous, it is hard to avoid them. The best way of dealing with one would of-course be to leave him or her; but the next one may turn out be equally bad, or even worse. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

So what’s the best way to deal with a stress-inducing boss? Although there is no universal formula, here are three simple recommendations, that generally help:

  • Get inside their mind: Learn to predict their behavioral patterns, and they will become a challenge than just a problem. Once you figure out what they are like, there is no excuse for being unprepared. Focus especially on decoding your manager’s dark side — the undesirable or maladaptive aspects of their personality – that harms their ability to build and maintain a high-performing team and engage their staff.
  • Don’t be a source of stress yourself: Every manager has a bright side, and even the worst boss in the world will on certain occasions display some positive qualities. However, stress tends to bring out a manager’s dark side. Thus, don’t make things worse by being a source of stress. If you annoy or upset your manager, or the work you produce is unacceptable, you can expect the worst aspects of their personality to emerge, and in turn becoming a source of stress for you. Unsurprisingly, regardless of the job and industry, managers tend to promote employees who are rewarding to deal with. This explains the career-related importance of emotional intelligence (EQ), and why employees who have none are often in dire-strait even if they are talented and hard-working.
  • Make your boss look good: Finally, remember to get some leverage. By making yourself indispensable to your boss, and ensure that s/he looks better with you on board. No matter how stress-inducing your boss might be, and how good you become at coping with their dark side, the only way to ensure that you remain on their good side is by being a valuable resource to them. However, even if you make your manager’s life easier, be sure to keep it a secret. If the manager notices that everyone is aware of your value, he/she will be concerned that you may sooner or later leave them, take credit for their achievements, or even take their job.

The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes that the best way to deal with bosses that give stress is to be prepared by learning to predict their behavioral patterns and ensuing mood; by avoiding to be a source of stress yourself; and by working on one’s self to get leverage in order to make one’s self indispensable.  In the early stages of your career, your success is mainly a function of managing the dark side of your boss; during the later stages your success is mostly depend on managing your own dark side, especially if you are interested in being an effective leader.

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