The new dark comedy Horrible Bosses comes out tomorrow, and the premise is pretty simple. Three friends, pushed to their limits by bad bosses, make a pact to “off” them.
I get it. Really, I do.
But I also think there may be a few less legally ambiguous ways to manage a bad boss. Four ways to be exact. Each one guaranteed to keep you out of jail.
In my career I’ve had some bad bosses. Some really bad bosses. I’ve worked for the uncontrollable temper boss. The disappears-for-weeks addict boss. The now-I’m-screaming-now-I’m-crying boss.
I worked for one boss that wrote me a love note. A love note he ran on an electronic billboard. No, we weren’t dating.
I’ve worked for some doozies.
Working for one boss was so bad that I actually went into therapy. It might have been easier (or healthier) to have just quit, but it was a job in a startup that I was attached to. A startup that I thought had huge potential. A startup that I thought would change the world.
Okay, okay. It was a startup where I had equity vesting. I had to stay.
After several weeks of listening and nodding encouragingly, asking me the difficult questions, evaluating if I was seeing all sides of the situation, my well-paid therapist finally shared his words of wisdom with me.
His advice – buy an electric cattle prod.
Hollywood Knows Bad Bosses
I assumed my therapist was kidding, but no. He was serious.
His point was this: it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t change someone else’s nature. When someone’s behavior is regularly absurd, they will only react to equal absurdities such as cattle prods and hired killers and the like.
His point is proven in Horrible Bosses.
Jennifer Aniston’s character, the sexually harassing man-eater, isn’t at all affected when her meek employee explains that he has a girlfriend. She doesn’t care. The heart (?) wants what the heart wants.
It doesn’t matter to Colin Farrell’s character that it’s inappropriate to ‘trim the fat’ in his company by firing the fat people.
And it doesn’t matter how hard Jason Bateman’s character works to please his boss Kevin Spacey, his boss will never be happy. He’s a tool. Period.
All you can change in these situations is your own behavior. You can change your reaction.
Four Ways to Manage a Bad Boss (or Tools for Dealing with Tools)
1. Leave the Sandbox
If your boss is a screamer, the kind who can’t hold a conversation without the neck veins bulging, or is just plain verbally abusive, end the cycle by disengaging.
Many offices breed this kind of behavior. One person heats up the conversation and everyone involved follows suit. Like with a dysfunctional family, this compounding bad behavior can be a difficult cycle to break. Be the adult by not reacting.
I can’t guarantee that it will have an immediate effect on your boss’s behavior. I can guarantee that that it will have a positive effect on your blood pressure and peace of mind.
2. Point Counter Point
For every (annoying) action, there is an equal (and more annoying) reaction. If your boss is a chronic micro-manager, learn how to communicate the minutia. If your boss is constantly unclear about his expectations, learn to repeat back what you believe to be the task at hand. If your boss has selective amnesia about things promised to you, become the Michael Jordan of note taking.
The goal isn’t to frustrate your boss. The counter-point behavior, although cumbersome for you, might lead to your boss relaxing his neurosis a bit.
3. Get by With a Little Help From Your Friends
Sometimes you just need to get it out. There’s nothing wrong with venting. Tell your friends how frustrating your boss is. Tell them the ridiculous thing your boss did today. Tell them how you want to ring his neck. Just don’t tell your work friends.
Toss negative vibes around within the walls of your office and you’re sure to get hit in the face. Keep it in the street.
4. Get Packing
No, not packing heat; not a good idea. Neither is hiring a contract killer. Even if he looks like Horrible Boss’s Jamie Foxx. Actually killing your boss falls under the category of short-lived satisfaction that rapidly diminishes as you stare at your prison walls. (That’s a category, right?)
But if your difficult boss is so bad that you feel that murderous drive on a daily basis, it’s probably a sign that you need to move on. Get a new job. Some situations just aren’t right for you. Some situations just aren’t right for anyone.
Working for Wonka? Know this: If you work in a startup up, killing your boss is not the answer. You have to focus on the long game. If you kill your boss, chances are the business will close. Now how would that help you?
However, if you decide you want to test the cattle prod tool, well, that’s up to you. Just let me how it goes. My therapist is still waiting for a report.