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I Dislike My Boss

The "Bad Boss" Epidemic:
Part II of IV

When You Dislike Your Boss

It's tough when you realize it isn't your job you dislike.
It's your boss.  Now what?

Welcome to the continuation of the series: The "Bad Boss" Epidemic. This article addresses a second common struggle in the workplace:  when you dislike your boss.

I still remember the first boss I didn't like. The job was perfect. The boss was not. My ever-so-optimistic self decided to take the job, despite a strong intuition that I wouldn't like my boss. I can't say it was a bad decision, because I learned a lot in the short period I stayed. I can say, though, that I could've learned a lot more had I known how to work for a boss I didn't particularly like.

Sometimes you just don't like another person. When it's your boss, you feel the impact every single day at work. That doesn't mean it's hopeless. Almost every relationship can be improved with a little effort. This is true even when you simply don't care for another person on a fundamental level. It's rare that you can write-off your boss or completely ignore him or her. Sometimes you just have to make it work.
How can you be successful, and satisfied, working for a boss you dislike?
What Makes Your Boss Bad?

In last week's article, I identified four challenges you may have with your boss:
Competence: Does your boss have the right knowledge and perspective to lead the team?  Does he or she have the right skills and competencies? Does your boss have good judgment and the ability to make sound decisions?
Likability:  Do you like your boss's personality; do you get along? Does your boss have an ego that gets in the way of your relationship? Is your boss respectful and sensitive to you and your colleagues?
Approach:  Does your boss's management style work well for you? Does he or she communicate with the transparency, frequency, relevance, and style that you prefer? Does your boss accept accountability, or blame, bully and sabotage others?
Integrity:  Is your boss honest and does he or she honor commitments? Is your boss fair in the treatment of employees? Does your boss discriminate? 

Most people who struggle with a perceived "bad" boss have concerns in one or more of these four areas. Last week's article addressed what to do when you believe your boss is incompetent. Click here to read that article. This week, we're focused on Part II: Likability.

I Dislike My Boss

Life would be so much easier if you liked your boss. Life would be easier if you liked everyone you interacted with on a daily basis. But in the real-world? You won't like everyone you work with, or for. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's helpful to consider the distinction between not particularly liking your boss... vs. actively "disliking" your boss.

Here's what I mean. Sometimes you don't particularly "like" your boss, but you don't really "dislike" him or her either. If someone asks you about your boss and you shrug your shoulders and say, "Meh." then you probably don't have a real concern in this area. If, however, you're asked about your boss and you say, "Ugh. He's the worst." then you may want to keep reading.

Here are some ideas on how to work well with a boss you dislike. Your goal is to be successful in your role and preserve your job satisfaction in the process.

a.  My boss and I have a personality conflict.
For most of us, there are certain traits, characteristics and behaviors that we like and find ourselves drawn toward. Others we can take or leave. And then there are the personality traits that we genuinely dislike. I'm sure there are scores of psychology books that outline in great detail why certain personalities trigger a negative response in our psyche. I'll leave that research to the experts. Our focus here is how to move beyond an instinctive negative response to your boss's personality... to find a tolerable and productive working relationship.
What to do:
The best way to work through a personality conflict is to find common ground, 
understand and manage your triggers, and adapt your own behavior as needed to improve the relationship.
Find Common Ground
Step one in working well with a boss you dislike is understanding what you have in common. Anything you have in common establishes a foundation for your working relationship. Maybe you both need coffee first thing in the morning, before you talk to others. Maybe you share an interest in a key priority for the business. Maybe you're both parents, or soccer players, or involved in your church or community. Keep this common ground top-of-mind as you interact with a boss you dislike. By recognizing that you have something in common, you'll find him or her less annoying. It works every time. You may have to hunt, but find something.
Identify Your"Triggers"
It's critical to understand what triggers you to dislike your boss. By this, I mean moving beyond broad assertions ("she's a jerk") to concrete aspects of your boss's personality that you dislike. This isn't about his or her competency or management style. This is strictly about who your boss is at the core - his or her personality.  
It's easy to speak in generalities about how you just don't like someone. It's hard to get specific, at least in a productive way. Focus on your biggest annoyances, the things that set you off within seconds. Triggers are specific behaviors, mannerisms, and physical traits. We're preconditioned based on our life experiences to like some things and dislike others. Acknowledge your triggers and then challenge yourself as to which ones really matter. Minor annoyances rarely impact your success or satisfaction, although they may cloud your judgment if you let them. Look for the big triggers.  
I'll share some of my triggers here to demonstrate the point. (Please don't hold any of these against me.) I strongly prefer people who are positive and use humor, over those who are negative and cynical. I'm uncomfortable around people who violate my personal space and stand too close. Aggressive physical behavior, in any form, is intolerable. I dislike people who speak louder than is socially normal or acceptable in public, particularly just to garner attention. I have a strong negative reaction to fake laughter or pandering. I don't appreciate people who are oblivious to the reactions and feelings of those around them. I hate having to repeat myself, so poor listeners are a big trigger for me. 
It all sounds petty, right? But here's the thing. This isn't about judging others. It's simply about knowing what you prefer and what you don't. Understanding your triggers and evaluating exactly what it is that you dislike about another person is VERY helpful when trying to establish a positive working relationship. 
Work Around Triggers 
Once you know your triggers, you can more effectively develop a positive working relationship with your boss. In some cases, you may need to say something to your boss. As an example, I ask an attention deficit disorder (ADD) boss for his or her undivided attention when I need it. If he or she doesn't listen to me, and I have to repeat myself, I become less effective as a communicator. I'm too annoyed to make my point. I've also reminded bosses that we should probably keep our voices down out of respect for the offices around us, because I'm uncomfortable when someone speaks like a foghorn. It makes me flinch. When a boss is negative in discussions with me, I generally restate their point in a positive and continue from that vantage point. 
Some triggers of yours won't be a big deal to work around at all. You can be subtle or direct in trying to avert triggers. You can simply ask for a change, or help model the behavior you prefer. Other times, you'll have to adapt.
Know When To Adapt 
Some issues aren't behavioral; they're more fundamental and sustained. Maybe it's a tone of voice, a physical tick, an expression you dislike, or a lack of sincerity. Your dislike of these things can negatively impact your relationship with your boss in material ways over time. In these cases, you have to ask yourself this question: What can I adapt in my own approach or reaction to improve my working relationship with my boss? Whether you like it or not, your boss isn't the one who needs to adapt in your relationship. You do. We can talk until the cows come home about what he or she should do. In the end, should's don't matter. 
Once you know what causes you to dislike your boss's personality - specifically - you can look for ways to work around it. Avoid him or her at certain times of the day. Determine in advance how you'll handle annoyances. Make it a personal challenge to smile every time the trigger surfaces, to trick yourself and make it a game. Be creative and commit to trying to reduce daily annoyances and your boss will become more likable. It's amazing how a change in your approach or perspective can make a huge difference in someone getting under your skin.
It's also important to be honest with yourself about what role you may be playing in exacerbating your differences vs. improving them. Do you minimize your challenges or magnify them? Do you shake your head and move on, or do you talk endlessly with colleagues about your boss? Your goal is not to be friends with your boss. All that's required is a productive relationship that doesn't negatively impact your success or satisfaction. You need to be polite, respectful, and moderately personable. In fact, if you have a personality conflict with your boss and you attempt anything more than that, you'll likely make things worse. But you have to make the effort. And most of the time, a little effort really pays off. 
Note:  For more on working with people you dislike, or people who dislike you, read this article
b.  My boss is egotistical. 
Working well with a boss you dislike is much more challenging when there's unhealthy ego in play. It's not uncommon for leaders to get caught up in self-importance. The power and responsibility that comes with some leadership positions requires ego for a leader to be successful. Unfortunately, ego can become unhealthy, translating into condescending communications, dictatorial behavior, and aggressiveness. None of those things are particularly likable. 
What to do:
To "like" a boss who has an ego, you have to recognize the source, which is insecurity and fear, understand the motivations, and reinforce good behaviors. Practicing tolerance helps too.
Recognize the Source 
No one likes to be around someone who's arrogant or has an unhealthy ego. The only thing that makes it more tolerable is to view the person as what he or she really is on the inside: insecure and fearful. You may never know the cause of the insecurity or fear, but recognizing what's behind the "front" of ego makes it... less powerful. You still have to deal with the behavior. But you can view it differently when you know it's coming from a point of weakness.
Understand Motivations 
The best way to have a positive and productive relationship with an ego-centric boss is to understand his or her motivations. In nearly every case, fear and insecurity drive the need for "proof points." This proof allows your boss to demonstrate his or her competency to the business. If you know what matters to your boss, you can deliver the proof that he or she needs to feel competent (or depending on the level of ego.. commanding, victorious, or omnipotent). When you deliver what matters, your boss generally directs his or her ego elsewhere. Take the time to understand motivations and help your boss be successful. His or her ego may get worse with success, but it won't be directed toward you.
Reinforce Good Behavior 
One other key to a productive relationship with an egotistical boss is reinforcing good behavior. Your boss misbehaving with ego... is like a child throwing a tantrum. Try to reinforce positive behavior, rather than responding to negative behavior. It's hard not to be disgusted and respond to an unhealthy show of ego. If you ignore it, you diffuse its power. Instead, comment on positive behaviors, in the hope that you'll see them repeated. If you tie positive feedback to one of your boss's motivations, all the better. 
Keep Your Perspective 
At all times, tolerance is the name of the game here. Bad-mouthing your boss, rolling your eyes, or ignoring directives when he or she misbehaves doesn't serve you well. Tolerance allows you to see the behavior for what it is, and not take it personally. Your satisfaction will increase tremendously if you can create "distance" from your boss's ego. Know that it has nothing to do with you, even when it's directed right at you. Think toddler and tantrum when ego is displayed. It'll be much easier to view it as the spectacle it is, rather than a personal attack. 
c.  My boss is disrespectful or insensitive. 
Everyone has their hot buttons and triggers when it comes to interacting with others. This is mine. My reaction to disrespect and insensitivity is strong and swift, whether it's directed toward me or others. It's incredibly challenging when your boss demonstrates these behaviors. The power balance in your relationship makes it difficult to be direct, but you do have options. You always have options. 
What to do:
Having a productive relationship with a boss who's disrespectful or insensitive requires you to establish boundaries and negotiate a shared understanding. This means you'll have to have difficult conversations on occasion and be prepared to protect yourself if situations escalate. 
Establish Boundaries 
Establishing boundaries is hard to do with someone you love, let alone someone you dislike. The first step in doing so at work, and specifically with a boss, is to know with some clarity what you should tolerate vs. what you shouldn't. Unfortunately, there isn't a magic rule book that tells you where to draw the line when it comes to respect and sensitivity. You have to develop your own guidelines.
Let's say your boss makes dumb remarks that are largely harmless. Don't play along as if you think they're funny. Don't validate them in any way. But don't make a fuss either. Avoid responding one way or the other, and you deny the reaction your boss seeks. The behavior may or may not dissipate; if it's harmless, it doesn't really matter. If, however, your boss says or does things that are hurtful to you or others, or impacts your ability to be productive at work, you need to speak up. This is where difficult conversations come in.
Negotiate A Shared Understanding 
The best approach to dealing with insensitivity is to start by giving your boss the benefit of the doubt. Assume that he or she doesn't intend to be insensitive, even if you believe otherwise. As always in difficult discussions, you want to avoid emotional responses whenever possible. It's also important not to take action on assumptions. Don't convince yourself that someone feels one way or another, or believes one thing or another. Only act on things that are said and done. It isn't easy, but you need to be direct and clear in what you want to see done differently. Be professional, be gracious, and be respectful.
Here's an example: "I'd like to share my perspective with you about something that happened earlier. When <this was said/done>, I felt uncomfortable. I don't think you intended to make me feel <this>, but I did. I'm wondering if we can handle this situation differently moving forward. I would be more comfortable with <this> vs. <that>. I recognize fully that this is my challenge, but I could really use your help." Your inside voice can scream, "Stop being dumb." Your outside voice is intended to change behavior, not judge right from wrong. Practice what you want to say in advance. Make it about you, and you're more likely to see the changes you want in your boss. You're acknowledging his or her power and asking for help.
Respect issues are even more challenging than insensitivity. The approach is largely the same - to communicate what makes you uncomfortable and request a different type of interaction. An interesting dynamic I've observed is that leaders are better at handling criticism on the issue of sensitivity, because it feels like it's about the other person being overly sensitive. When faced with feedback on respect issues, it feels more like a judgment on the leader and his or her style. This just reinforces the need to be judicious in what you raise as a concern.
My suggestion is that you determine your threshold on respect issues, and then push the boundary by another mile. What I mean by this is to accept that you have to tolerate some amount of behavior that is different from what you'd prefer in any working relationship. If you establish your desired set-point and then decide to tolerate "another mile" and give your boss some latitude, you'll have a more productive relationship. If respect issues surface only occasionally and you don't sense a negative pattern of behavior developing, that extra mile can be very helpful. Think of it as your window of tolerance. 
Protect Yourself 
If your boss's insensitivity or disrespect escalates or moves toward harassment, your best bet is to ask for help in the organization. Your human resources department is a good option in most cases. You can also rely on someone else in the organization who you trust and respect for guidance. Don't allow things to escalate without asking for help. And don't allow yourself to become so emotional that you aren't able to be productive in addressing the situation. 
Bottom Line

It's very likely that at some point in your career you'll work for someone you dislike. The good news? You can be successful and satisfied in your job anyway.

If you have a personality conflict with your boss, find common ground. It's easier to like someone when you have something in common. Do the work to really understand what it is you dislike about your boss. Get specific. Only then can you determine the best way to work around the issue. Speaking in generalities gives you no direct path to improvement. It's likely you'll need to adapt your approach or reactions in some cases. It's worth the effort.

When your boss is egotistical, know that it comes from a feeling of insecurity and fear. It's a sign of weakness, not strength. Never take ego attacks personally. It has nothing to do with you. Understand your boss's motivations. An ego-centric boss is driven by a need to prove his or her worth and competency to the business. Help your boss achieve, and his or her ego will likely be directed elsewhere.

In situations where your boss is disrespectful or insensitive, give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Assume that the behavior is unintentional unless you learn otherwise. Be willing to have direct conversations to ask for specific changes in behavior. When you address the challenge based on how you feel, rather than judging behavior as inappropriate, you're more likely to reach a shared understanding. Have some degree of tolerance for behaviors that don't meet your expectations. But always ask for help if bad behavior escalates, before it turns to harassment or abuse.

You can absolutely be successful and satisfied while working for a boss you dislike. You have to work at it, but the effort you put forth almost always pays off.

More soon,