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How to Successfully Manage a Difficult or "Bully" Boss by Shona Garner

If you've ever worked for someone who made your life a misery; who didn't understand you; who seemed to give no recognition of the work you put in, or who undermined you or bullied or intimidated you, I should imagine you'd probably find, not just you, but a whole team working at sub-optimal level.

As a coach, I know this means you'll do just what you need to to keep out of trouble - and no more. And your eye is on the exit.

So how do you manage the "nightmare" boss? Here are four key tips to help you navigate this tricky situation.

1. If your boss is behaving badly, stay calm, step back and consider the following questions:

Has this behavior happened before? The first two times are probably chance, but according to Brad McRae, author of "Negotiation and Influencing Skills by the third it's probably a pattern.

Is your boss under a lot of pressure? Stress may be causing this adverse behavior.

Is this behavior just with you, or with others too? (If it's just with you, perhaps you need to consider honing your rapport building techniques.)

Have you been under a lot of pressure? Stress on you may be causing you to see the world in a way you wouldn't normally, under more relaxed circumstances.

Have you had an adult to adult conversation with this person? Sometimes people don't realize their behavior is a problem for you, and talking to them can clear up what turns out to be a simple misunderstanding. Don't avoid doing this. Whilst it may make you feel uncomfortable, long term avoidance leads to situations not only continuing, but often getting worse.

Worst case scenario? Try mediation. Try speaking to Human Resources or another, more senior member member of staff.

2. Dealing with an angry boss

If your boss gets angry regularly - don't even try to join in. Let him/her get angry; have the tantrum. You maintain the adult, higher ground.

The trick is to make yourself scarce until it blows over. Say: "I'm sorry you're so cross about this, but the only way to solve this is rationally. I'm going to leave now, and I can come back later when we've both had time to think this through."

Then leave. No matter what they say, tell them you want to leave it for now, until there's been time to reflect. Stay cool, and deal with the issue on your terms.

And when you do eventually speak, stay clear of accusations, or blame, and focus on using the word "we". "We" shares the responsibility (even if not for the incident, for how you are going to resolve it) and doesn't look like you are apportioning blame or being condemnatory. "We", does nothing to inflame the situation.

3. Acknowledge emotions - but never get into an emotional argument.

There are always two important factors in any conflict: the facts over which you disagree, and the emotions each individual feels about the situation.

You may feel like telling your boss he's a rude pig, a bully (and they may well be), or to "stick their job where the sun don't shine" - and that may give you momentary satisfaction too; but you'll regret it. The moment you lose the plot - you've lost.

If you can see they are angry or upset - acknowledge that, but lead them back to thinking in rational, adult mode, rather than tantrum child mode. And if you're feeling frustrated, angry, upset, or any other strong emotion, tell them, but explain which behavior of theirs is causing you to feel like this. Focus on the behavior you want to change, not the person themselves. The minute you use language which starts with "You", you're into accusatory mode, and they'll just get defensive; which leads nowhere.

4. If all else fails - leave.

Sometimes it's clear it's just never going to work for you. Life's too short to spend what is a third or more of your life feeling miserable, de-motivated, and unable to utilize your talents. If you are good at what you do, bale out and find another job. But do it on your own terms, in your own time and at your own pace. And while you're searching for the exit, keep your head down, and your counsel to yourself.

You can probably take comfort from the fact that, if this isn't a case of an individual personality clash, your boss's behavior will be noticed elsewhere - and team performance is likely to be suffering. Those above will notice - and at some point, your boss may get his "come-uppance."

But that's not your problem at this stage. You just take control and find somewhere your talent and skill are utilized and appreciated.

Shona Garner is an experienced Executive and Business Coach, specializing in helping managers build top performing teams, and increase their own standing in the organization. For a straight talking, practical guide to the top four secrets of every outstanding manager, visit [ can't find increasingmanagerialsuccess.com].

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