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6 Ways to 'Manage Up' With a Bad Boss

If your boss is a Grinch, there’s still hope.

The holidays are here, and still, your bad boss is a pill. He’s passive aggressive about your request for vacation; angry that he’s not on vacation; and he mocks the celebratory atmosphere. And like in the TV show, The Office, many attempts at holiday spirit are awkward at best. But you can take control.


Sometimes it seems easier to give up than to manage up with a bad boss, but with each small victory, you’ll feel more empowered. Managing up means being a proactive problem solver, helping your boss see the big picture, being a role model, and using diplomacy and people skills, among other tools. With the New Year around the corner, now may be the perfect time to tap into these techniques (and save your sanity at the same time).

Here are 6 ways to manage up with a bad boss:

Take charge. If you believe there’s a problem, there is. If you’re sitting around worrying about the relationship and it’s affecting your productivity, then take charge and address it. Your boss may be too busy to address the issue, so it behooves you to try and resolve it so you can deliver excellent results. Discontentment typically festers – it won’t be solved by inertia.

Be the one to bravely communicate. If your annual performance review is coming up, that may be the perfect venue to have a discussion. Once you do speak with your boss, be diplomatic, but direct. Instead of asking, “How am I doing?” or “Is everything alright?” ask in advance to meet on project status and make sure you have ample time. Be specific in your questions: "Did my performance on the XYZ project meet your expectations?" "What worked and what didn’t?"

Ask questions that are open-ended to avoid a ping-pong match conversation, and choose a mutually convenient day and time. Try to set up regular meetings in a venue and on a frequency that makes sense for your manager.

Be upbeat. Discuss your regular projects in a positive way, and then bring up the interpersonal relationship. Use positive bookends in the beginning and end, “I really enjoy working here and with you. I want to perform at my best, and so I want to share a concern I have. There have been times lately when I have felt X.” Use expressions such as “I have felt like and avoid terms such as “you” which can seem accusatory.

End on a positive note, with a phrase such as, “Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to discuss this. I enjoy my projects. By the way, the Smith project did come through…”

Use positive and negative reinforcement. Part of managing up is also setting boundaries and limits to bad behavior. When your boss does something right, let him know: “I really appreciate the recognition you gave me at the staff meeting; thank you.” If something negative occurs, have a diplomatic discussion — but choose those conversations carefully, and always be discreet. Remember: if there’s something in it for your boss, you can usually effect change.

Ask your boss how you can improve. Your job performance may be stellar, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Maybe your boss does have a concern; maybe his job is on shaky ground; maybe he’s unaware of his demeanor. Your bad boss may be unfriendly to most people, but it seems like you’re being singled out.

There also may be something very minor that has been irritating your boss, but she’s afraid to bring it up. By first asking how you can improve, you'll lessen the blow of bringing up sensitive interpersonal issues.

Remember, you have leverage. Your manager has invested significant time and expense in you. You’ve been trained and offer a unique, applicable skill set, plus you understand the corporate culture. Your boss may be very regretful to see you go. Managers are often shocked when their talented team members resign; all the more reason to correct misunderstandings early on.

Managing up with a bad boss can be a helpful tool as you reflect on your goals in 2016 and beyond. It’s not just beneficial for your current job; it’s a technique you’ll want to develop and deploy throughout your career.