New York Etiquette Guide

Workplace Etiquette: How to Deal with Impossible Boss

Posted on Mon, May 14, 2012


Impossible Boss

by Lyudmila Bloch, Etiquette Expert New York

Photo credit: The Guardian, UK

In the ideal workplace, the boss is a leader and a mentor, helping you solve problems and inspiring you to your best efforts. As any business etiquette expert would tell you, a good boss makes you feel appreciated! A bad boss can make you dread coming to work every day. Whether through irresponsibility, disrespect, lack of business etiquette knowledge, verbal abuse, unreasonable expectations, unethical conduct, some bosses are just terrible to work under. If you have such a boss, workplace business etiquette expert suggests four important steps you can take right now.

  1. Honestly evaluate the situation, including both your behavior and your boss's. Make sure there's nothing in your own work or conduct for him to complain about. If there is, acknowledge it, apologize, and correct it. Make sure that your own frustration isn't coloring your perception of your boss's actions and motivation. Some bosses are bullies who use their authority to abuse those they supervise, but many are simply trying to do their jobs and have a management philosophy incompatible with their employees' personalities. Figure out what your boss is thinking when he behaves in objectionable way, and you'll be able to identify the best approach to resolving the situation. Read our tips on effective conflict resolution.

  2. Remain calm and composed when you discuss the problem with your boss. Control your body language and facial expressions.  Even if he gets emotional or starts yelling, don't respond in kind. If you get visibly angry, it escalates the confrontation and only gives your boss more ammunition to use against you, including the possibility of disciplinary action. Do your best simply to state your points and concerns respectfully, and if your boss gets too belligerent, offer to resume the conversation at a later time, at his convenience. While you are a subordinate, you are still a person and workplace business etiquette entitles you to be treated with respect and kindness; insist on it without disrespecting your boss's authority.

  3. Document your complaints, and seek support and corroboration from your coworkers. If your boss is engaging in harassment or disrespectful or abusive behavior, write down every instance with as many details as you remember, including the dates and times of encounters. Keep track of e-mail exchanges between you and your boss that demonstrate breaches of workplace business etiquette or other problematic behavior. If you need to back up your claims to either your boss or a third party, it's important to have these records to illustrate a pattern of inappropriate actions. In addition, having your claims reinforced by coworkers can show that your boss's behavior is negatively affecting office culture and that the problem isn't just a single disgruntled employee but a pervasive trend in the office centered around your boss.

  4. Know your rights and be prepared to take action if necessary. Going over your boss's head to his supervisor is the nuclear option of workplace business etiquette, as many bosses will see it as a betrayal and have the power to make your life at work even more unpleasant. Bringing your complaint higher up the chain of command may also get you labeled as a troublemaker. However, for serious workplace problems, it may be necessary. Start by speaking to your company's human resources department; with their business etiquette skills, they may be able to resolve the issue positively, or give you crucial advice on your next step. 

If you pursue these options without a satisfying result, inquire about a transfer within your company, or start quietly looking for another job elsewhere. You cannot force your boss to change, and if your efforts at resolution are ineffective, it may be time to find a healthier work environment.

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Tags: conflict resolution, business etiquette training, workplace etiquette, etiquette expert new york, business etiquette tips, office etiquette