Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Handle Your Horrible Boss

Why you should manage your bad boss like a toddler

With the movie Horrible Bosses Two soon being released, it’s an opportune time to examine whether these two words also sum up your current work situation. If you’ve been to any supermarket checkout line and have ever worked for anyone, then you can likely relate: terrible two toddlers and bosses with exalted, entitled views of their authority act out similarly. And not surprisingly, your boss also requires parental-style managing (minus the patronizing, of course).

Stress and frustration are the main triggers for both TOTs (Terrible Office Tyrants) and their younger counterparts. When toddlers and bad bosses lose their perceived sense of control, they act irresponsibly. When it’s your manager and your livelihood is at stake, your only option to make your job sustainable is to take matters in to your own hands.

Give an "all-powerful" person or child the word “No,” or a bad situation they can’t change, and watch the TOT emerge. They're used to getting what they want, based on their power and past experiences. When this doesn't happen, you start seeing regressive behavior…the worst of which is the famed tantrum. And only the voice of reason, namely you, can help.

Create Calm Out of Chaos

CALM is a great technique that illustrates how to manage up with chaos-creating childish bosses. It’s an handy acronym for: Communicate, Anticipate, Laugh and Manage. Remaining calm even though your boss provokes you is the best step you can take.

• Communicate — Keep the lines open. Communicate with your boss openly, honestly and frequently.

• Anticipate — Know your timing. Anticipate issues before they become larger problems …and have solutions ready.

• LaughHumor is a great diffuser. Laughter helps ease tension and brings down barriers.

• Manage — Be the voice of reason and manage up, using diplomacy. Managing up doesn’t mean kissing up. It means speaking the truth and setting expectations and boundaries with your boss.

CALM can be used to help cope with a variety of bad boss traits. As you look at other situations where people lose control of their emotions or unwittingly adopt childish behaviors (most mortals) including coworkers, friends, family and even the clerk at the local convenience store — the situation is no different.

Here's a specific list of 20 offensive boss (and co-worker) personality traits. See how many ring true with your boss or others you've dealt with in the past:

1. Bragging: Self-promotes by exaggerating his own achievements.

2. Bullying: They can run the gambit from the covert, fear-provoking boss to those who throw tirades and intimidate employees continuously.

3. Demanding: Your high-maintenance boss wants everything “Yesterday!”

4. Ignoring: A boss who behaves like you don’t exist.

5. Impulsiveness: Doesn’t think out the project.

6. Lying: Knowingly gives false information.

7. Self-Centeredness: Takes all the credit or is unaware of others’ needs.

8. Stubbornness: You present a project to the boss and the never-ending response is: “No…we can’t do that!”

9. Tantrums: Your boss suddenly has a meltdown and throws a tantrum reminiscent of an angry toddler who doesn’t get his way.

10. Territorialism: The boss thinks everything is his – office space, new clients, and your stuff

11. Whining: Constantly complains.

12. Endless Questioning: Wants you to explain every little detail to virtual exhaustion.

13. Fantasy World: Unrealistic expectations and unwillingness to face facts.

14. Fickleness: Just minutes from your project’s completion, he changes his mind.

15. Helplessness: Uncomfortable outside her comfort zone. You must come to the rescue.

16. Irrational Fears: The world and company are coming to an end along with you, unless you work late to do the miraculous.

17. Forgetfulness: Your boss seems to suffer from BADD: Boss attention deficit disorder.

18. Mood Swings: You never know if he’s going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. You pray for continuity each morning.

19. Neediness: Constantly wants reassurance, your time – and a lot of it.

20. Short Attention Spans: Never focuses on anything long enough to give it needed attention. The attention span of a fly when you most need focused time. The code word is BADD (Boss Attention Deficit Disorder).

It’s Your Career

Basic human nature doesn't change whether you're two or 52. Feelings of fear, and the desire for praise and recognition, for example, remain core human traits for a lifetime. However, some bad bosses are so out of control that no amount of managing up will effect enough change. If you work for a boss who stays in this mode constantly or is a full-fledged bully, you may be better off visiting your favorite job board.

But research shows that most bad bosses are not intolerable continuously... they have their moments and days. And that's the time to say “time out,” so you can thrive in your career.

Image credit: Dreamstime.

More from Lynn Taylor
More from Psychology Today