6 Ways to Deal with a Lousy Boss

Don't do subpar work in response to sloppy management.

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Rebecca Thorman
Rebecca Thorman
When you have a bad boss, you can't afford to be a bad employee. Double down and manage up to retain your pride and productivity. Also try these six winning strategies:

1. Stay positive and perform. If your boss tells you to make coffee, make the best coffee out there. Your boss can't complain if you're doing everything right with a positive attitude to boot. Plus, you'll feel better by taking pride in your work. You actually contribute to the negative work environment around you when you whine and moan. Show your value and work ethic instead.

2. Make it a learning opportunity. The most important opportunity at your job is not learning industry-specific skills, but learning people skills—that is, how to manage, interact, persuade, and mold those around you. Businesses are built on relationships, and people skills are what differentiate you from the rest of the pack. Difficult people will always exist, both at your job and in life. Take advantage of your situation now to understand how to navigate difficult situations later.

3. Discover what your boss cares about. Your boss could care about leaving at 5 p.m. to see her kids. Or she could care about pushing through her pet project on eco-friendly envelopes or making sure that she never has to write notes at meetings. Whatever the push-point is, find it and use it to make your boss look good. Use this strategy to get your boss on your side so you're able to contribute to the larger goals of the organization.

4. Seek out more responsibility. When you ask for additional responsibility, your boss might be at a loss. But if you take on the challenge of finding holes in your organization and producing meaningful work to fill them, your whole team will be grateful. Just make sure you're not letting your existing responsibilities fall by the wayside and that you're focusing on the right priorities. If no one cares about social media at your organization, starting a company blog isn't the way to impress.

5. Mimic their work habits. One manager may like to be pinged via instant messenger. Another may want detailed emails and still another might prefer you to stop by their office with a quick overview. When things get difficult, take the initiative to mimic how your boss works to create as smooth a process as possible. While you may feel that you deserve a supportive work environment, managing up is all about making work easier on those around you.

6. Remember your boss is a person. Not everyone is suited to be a meaningful leader. Realize how difficult it is to be a good manager. As employees, we're expected to climb the ladder whether it suits us or not. That means that when a leadership role opens up, not everyone is prepared. Sometimes the onus is on you as the employee to bring out the best in your boss. Your empathy and respect toward your supervisor will be reflected in how he or she treats you.

Rebecca Thorman's goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. Her blog Kontrary offers career, business, and life advice that works. She writes from Washington, D.C.