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Is Your Boss the Jerk? Or Is the Problem You?

Before you blame your boss, engage in a little self-reflection.

You are feeling frustrated and upset. Your boss is worried, agitated, and getting increasingly angry. You don’t want to make things worse—and you certainly don’t want to get fired. But it’s getting harder and harder not to say something because the boss is being a complete jerk!

Have you ever had a boss who really was a complete jerk? They come in all types:

The boss who is intimidating, mean, or abusive; the boss who pretends things are up to you when they are not; the boss who doesn’t keep track of what’s going on, but who makes big decisions that affect everyone.

Then there is the boss who soft-pedals her authority until something goes terribly wrong and then comes in and chews you out; the boss who lets small problems slide, but comes down like a ton of bricks when a small problem gets out of control; the boss who imposes his obsessions on you; or the boss who wants you to be a beck-and-call-assistant.

Do any of those bosses sound familiar? Some are worse than others, of course. But if you want to succeed—and keep your sanity—you need to know how to deal with them. And you need to start with yourself.

Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Consider whether you might be contributing to frustrations with your boss at work.
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Is it your boss, or is it you?

Sometimes the boss really is a jerk. But if you think that the description applies to one of yours, the first question you should ask yourself is this: Is it really the boss or is it you?

Ask yourself: Have you been allowing yourself to be under-managed by this boss? Or have you been engaging in a regular one-on-one dialogue about your work? Have you been working with the boss to make sure that her expectations for your performance are spelled out clearly, every step of the way? Have you been helping her monitor, measure, and document your performance on an ongoing basis?

If your answer to any of those questions is “no,” then that might be the reason that you have not been getting the guidance, direction, feedback, and recognition you need to succeed in this relationship.

Without regular daily or weekly management conversations, you and this boss have no natural venue in which to discuss how your work is going. In fact, you probably talk with this boss only when something is going wrong and the two of you realize that you absolutely must talk about the work. No wonder the relationship is not going well! No wonder you think this boss is a jerk!

Before you give up on this boss, take a giant step back. Try to manage this boss into a successful working relationship. Figure out what she really needs and wants from you. Start engaging in regular one-on-ones, and help her spell out expectations for your performance. Then monitor, measure, and document your own performance in relation to those expectations. Once you do all that on a consistent basis—being sure to customize your approach to whatever works for this boss—it should be easy to tell whether the problem is you or the boss really is a jerk.