How to Work With a Difficult Boss: The SME nightmare.

Have you ever been in the situation where your Boss has been so difficult to work with that you feel very angry about it? The Boss may be mad, sad or bad, it doesn't matter why, it matters that your life is dreadful. Perhaps he or she is micro-managing you, or over-loading you with work? Maybe she or he is a bully, regardless, you still have to deal with the situation.

Unfortunately this happens on a daily basis for hundreds of thousands of people across the planet. And they are stuck just like you as the mortgage, rent or whatever that has to be paid and these small business owners, who should know a lot better, make your life a misery.

This article is based on the experience from many in this sort of position and solid research from my PhD. The heart of the problem lies in the fact that in a normal situation when a person is rude, angry at you, or makes your life miserable, you are able to simply walk away. But in the workplace, there is a new dynamic that enters into the relationship. That dynamic is based to the ability for the executive to fire you. Immediately this puts you in a subordinate position when you become alerted to this fact. In a good workplace, relationships are based on trust, including dealing with Bosses who work extremely hard. In a less than average workplace, relationships are based on fear. And if you are worried about how to deal with an executive, it is because the fear of being fired has been deliberately detonated within you by the executive him or herself. This can be done in very subtle ways, even without words, but nevertheless, it is given to you in clear messages so that you know the rules when you work with this individual: Do what I want or you are out. This type of manager is known as a 'Malevolent Executive'.

Never resign without getting a job offer in triplicate first!

Do not resign if you can possibly help it. This is absolutely important for your economic safety and your long-term security. Realize that being away from the source of stress is one of the best ways to deal with it. There are decent workplaces out there with high-quality executives and you have to find one immediately. Do not procrastinate, get yourself an email account that is anonymous and apply for jobs online on the many job boards that exist on the internet. Of course, you do NOT do this in your workplace, otherwise they have grounds to fire you. Or worse, someone may get to know this and make life even more difficult for you and leak out this confidential information. Talk to friends (not work colleagues) and family and let them know that you are seeking to find a position that can better meet your career needs. Do your job search from home or internet cafe, and do it massively. It is your number one duty to look after yourself and to move away from the malevolent executive. Sometimes you may be able to organize a transfer, or promotion in a department away from the executive, but for most people, it means moving into another organization.

Do not 'jump from the frying pan into the fire'

The objective of the job move is to secure yourself a position that is safe from a malevolent executive. Make a number of checks about the company. They are likely to do pre-employment screening on you, so why not do a pre-employment screen on them? Talk to as many people as possible in the organization about the company itself, how well it's doing etc. A good indicator of a company's well-being, is through its performance. So revenue, profitability, its share of the marketplace etc., will help you understand more about the structure of the organization. But there are other checks to be made too, for instance when talking to other employees, ask why the other person left, is there a high staff turnover in the business area that you are looking at? Also, do they pay above market rates, average or under? Much of this information is available on the internet in blogs, social networking sites etc. All of this information will help you ascertain if you have a good business in your sights.

Your job search has to be at your level of competence

One of the most terrible mistakes you can make is to take a position that is beneath your capability. Out of my national research on unemployed women managers I found that those women who took a job lower than what they should have, suffered more trauma than those who did not. And this was even with comparing women managers who stayed unemployed. It seems sensible at the time, as the reasons are level-headed: "At least it is something else to do", or "The income is lower, but I can survive", or the great bait on the hook by mean employers is "You can grow into a higher position once you have proved yourself." Your self-esteem will plummet with the lower grade job, and if this is happening to you right now, get another job immediately then resign from this tight-fisted company.

Zone out from your malevolent Boss

Meanwhile, how do you survive during your job search? One of the things about high maintenance malevolent executives is that they will give you deadlines that are unreasonable and return work to you that is fine but they still want you to rewrite it. Take time to give yourself a break, even if it is just staring at the office wall. If someone says that you are daydreaming, just say no, you are only preparing for the task at hand. Zoning out will give your brain a chance to recuperate and recharge itself. If you have learned meditation, that is even better. But the message here is, no matter what you do, take time to rest. Burnout is likely to happen with a malevolent executive and you do not want to have that happening to you.

Focus on the positive aspects of the malevolent Boss until you have a job in hand

Thinking positively has undoubtedly helped millions of people in terrible hardship. In the concentration camps in World War 2, Victor Frankl found that the individuals most likely to survive were the ones that held hope in their hearts. Just console yourself that this situation, as dreadful as it may feel to you, is only temporary and you will find yourself a better job. No matter how bad a person is, the executive in question will have something good about him or her. Focus on that when the executive asks you to do something which is quite unreasonable, it will help you to understand where this person is coming from.

Reflect on what drew you to the small business in the first place

This is a good thing to do in a quiet space at home, with paper and pen to jot your thoughts down. Remember when and how you were recruited into the company and what was said to you by this executive, HR department or job advertisement to draw you in. There will be something strong in this memory that reverberated in you, and this is what to look out for again. Maybe you were lied to, as often is the case, sadly. Maybe you felt you had to take the job as there was no choice. Maybe you were painted a picture of exactly what you wanted to lure you in. Whatever it was, use this quiet time to reflect if you really want that now, and possibly your answer will be different.

All of the above will help you become a stronger person by enhancing the ability to look after yourself in the workplace by transferring the power from the malevolent executive - your Boss to yourself. Removing yourself is one way to take power and naturally taking an equal or better position in a quality workplace will enhance your self esteem and you will feel a whole lot better about this episode of learning in your life


Terry A. Sheridan's, aka The Executive Doc, expertise is all about workplace conflict. It is based on years of experience, serious research of executives for her PhD and development of a different methodology that allows direct intervention at the senior management level. She arrives at the workplace, diagnoses the heart of the conflict (which may be very different than the presenting problem) and deals with it rapidly. The approach gets an instant turnaround with senior managers (no blood loss,...

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