Horrible Bosses – 4 Ways to Cope Without Killing

Horrible Bosses - 4 Ways to Cope Without Killing Them
Horrible Bosses - 4 Ways to Cope Without Killing Them

Warner Bros. new movie - a cautionary tale?

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.

Tool to manage a bad boss

That's right Elsie. Start towing the line.

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.

Do you work for any of these guys?

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
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. In fact, poor management is one of the reasons why a startup might be suffering from high levels of employee turnover. Above all, if your job is pushing you to your limits, it is probably time to start looking for a fresh start.

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.


  • Kamil Ali

    Reply Reply July 8, 2011

    Wow Katy, what a great way to match Hollywood with the your ideas:)))

    What I learn to deal with problem boss is to just do what he ask you to do and then make some corrective changes if you can without letting him know.

    When the result will come out, tell your boss what good you have done with the project and how ugly it could have been if you wasn’t there to do it right.

    In short, your boss should know each and everything good you do to him and to the company!

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply July 8, 2011

      Hi Kamil:
      Yes, taking your work a step farther than expected can be a great way to show initiative. With some entrepreneur bosses however, hiding what you’re doing can sometimes lead to problems. That’s actually the topic of my next post, the 2nd in the series on communicating with your boss.

      So, I’d say that I agree with you depending on the boss!

      Thanks for reading Kamil!

  • John Paul

    Reply Reply July 8, 2011

    Very smart post tying it into a funny ass movie.

    I like the layout of the post too. I have had some bad bosses myself.. never a touchy feely one tho.. but I doubt I would complain if I had one lol

    The worse part of having a bad boss is how much he brings people down, brings down production.

    When I had great bosses I went that extra mile for them on me.. to help because they were jsut great people. Bad boss took me the complete opposite way.. I did nothing extra, I didn’t make any more effort then I was paid for..

    I am past those days 🙂 and I hope I stay that way.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply July 8, 2011

      John Paul:

      Yes, you are well past those days, being the online jedi-master that you are! 🙂 It’s funny, but I ended up working harder for some of the bad bosses I described than for other bosses. I think I’m the one that is always chasing the carrot. Feels like I’m living closer to the veggie garden now though!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Benny

    Reply Reply July 11, 2011

    Have you seen the movie? The trailer looks hilarious and I’ve heard good things from others.

    You had a boss write you a love note on an electronic billboard? What??

    I haven’t worked for bosses nearly that crazy thank goodness. The craziest boss I’ve had is the one I work for now. She’s spanked me before. Given me baths. Asked for kisses. I guess moms are allowed to do that though. 🙂

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply July 11, 2011

      Okay Benny – you had me concerned for a minute about your boss. Very funny.

      Yes, I had a boss flirt with me by posting a sign on an electronic billboard outside of a nightclub. This was while I was working in Mexico, and no one else there seemed to think it was as bizarrely inappropriate as I did. A few years earlier I had a similar experience in Japan when a vendor gave me a full-on love note “your eyes are a blue as the ocean” and that kind of stuff. It took me a while to realize that I was part of the problem. I was being far too casual in these business relationships…far too American, I guess…and it was being taken as flirting on my part. At least I think that’s what happened. Must be, because my eyes are not as blue as the ocean.

      And yes, saw the movie. It has it’s moments. I’m a fan of most of the actors so I enjoyed it.

      Thanks for the comment!

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