Diving with Sharks: How to Deal with Difficult Supervisors

Thank you to the student who was honest about her experience and suggested this blog post                    

to help others overcome similar situations.

I am about to dive into uncharted territory with this blog post, and the surrounding shark-infested waters are a bit treacherous. Nonetheless, it’s my job to drudge up the tough topics from the depths of the murky sea, bring them to the surface, and shed some light on the issues.

The topic?

Bad bosses.
Difficult supervisors.
Narcissistic managers.
CEOs with superiority complexes.
In other words, SHARKS.

According to a Gallup report, a bad relationship with a boss is the number one reason people quit their jobs; the report states: “Employees leave supervisors, not companies.”

For the most part, we all have a war story related to a bad boss, and we all have battle wounds to show for it. Maybe that big, bad boss bully put you down in front of the entire staff. They do whatever they can to belittle you and demonstrate their “power over” mentality, rather than the more effective “power with.”

“Power with” works through collaboration, collective strength, and mutual support. Everyone’s a part of the team, and we’re all equal players. But bosses who work in a “power over” capacity must always remind their subordinates of where exactly they rank on the totem pole — all the way at the bottom. In the end, it’s difficult to exercise “power over” for a long period of time. It’s draining and ineffective. It’s also an easy way for a boss to lose credibility.

So why are they bullies? Why do they exert their power and control, when it doesn’t necessarily mean good business or happy employees?

  • Studies show that aggression or “power over” tactics in the workplace sometimes occur when a boss feels threatened.
  • In other cases, some people tend to act superior in order to disguise their inferior feelings and low self-esteem.
  • Gina Abudi, author of “The 5 Types of Power in Leadership,” explains: “Coercive power is conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, being demoted, receiving a poor performance review, having prime projects taken away, etc.”

When you find yourself in a power struggle with someone “at the top,” who constantly asserts his/her authority over you, how do you deal with it? What tools are presently in our resiliency toolkits that we can use to “beat the boss blues?”

Forbes magazine recently ran the article, “Smart Ways to Deal When Your Boss Is a Bully,” which explains how to handle an “Oscar the Grouch,” who is typically unhappy about his/her life and wants to make everyone equally as miserable.

  • Resist the urge to organize the troops with torches and pitchforks and go straight to Human Resources—this is usually counter-productive. HR will probably just issue a “warning,” and your boss will return to the office like an animal that’s been poked at—pissed off and ready to pounce.
  • Try taking a less aggressive approach. If your boss likes to get in your face and yell, create some physical space. When you’re standing so close you can smell what he had for breakfast, it feels like you’re in the eye of the storm, and that can make you feel even more anxious than you already do. But if you back away, it’s easier to take a deep breath and see the situation for what it is—your boss freaking out for no reason.
  • Then, you can choose to tune out, or you can force a smile and kill him with kindness. Try not to be sarcastic or passive-aggressive—it’ll only throw fuel on the fire. Tell yourself that his bullying has nothing to do with you, feel sorry for him because his blood pressure must be at dangerous levels, and then give him a genuine smile and agree to fix whatever “disaster” he’s bemoaning.

One more tip: Treat work as just that — work. If you’re struggling with a difficult boss, try not to take is so personally. Clock in. Work hard. Do your absolute best. Punch out. Leave your place of business knowing you did everything you could to make it a better situation for yourself.

In Michael Hyatt’s article, “The Value of Working for a Bad Boss,” he mentions 20 lessons learned from the worst bosses he has ever had the pleasure of working for. If you have dreams of leading an organization one day, take a note of these.

  1. Everyone on the team matters. No one deserves to be treated poorly.
  2. Bosses create an emotional climate with their attitudes and behaviors.
  3. The higher up you are, the more people “read into” everything you say and do. Stuff gets amplified as it moves downstream.
  4. A word of encouragement can literally make someone’s week. Conversely, a harsh word can ruin it.
  5. Hire the right people then trust them to do their job.
  6. Don’t ever intentionally embarrass people in front of their boss, their peers, or their direct reports.
  7. Don’t attack people personally. Instead, focus on their performance.
  8. Get both sides of the story before you take action.
  9. Tell the truth; then you don’t have to remember what you said.
  10. Give people room to fail, and don’t rub their noses in it when they do.
  11. Be quick to forgive and give the benefit of the doubt.
  12. Measure twice, cut once.
  13. Don’t ever ask your people to do something you are unwilling to do yourself.
  14. Respect other people’s time, especially those under you.
  15. Don’t believe all the nice things people say about you.
  16. Follow-through on your commitments, even when it is inconvenient or expensive.
  17. Don’t be ambitious to get promoted. Instead, focus on serving and doing a great job.
  18. Be responsive to everyone at every level. You never know who may be your next boss.
  19. Keep confidences. Make no exceptions.
  20. Do not complain about your boss to anyone who is not part of the solution. If you can’t keep from complaining, then have the integrity to quit.


Write a comment: Which of Hyatt’s 20 lessons resonates most with you? Post in the comments below.

love & peace,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s