How to get your own way with the boss from hell!

Getting what you want at work means negotiating with the boss. But if you're unlucky enough to have one of those "difficult" managers, that can be tricky! Shaun Belding, author of a new book "Dealing with the boss from hell" has some advice about what NOT do…

By Shaun Belding

I think the hardest part of having a Boss from Hell is that very few resources are available to you. We're pretty much left to our own devices. We work on instinct and respond to situations the best way we know how. Unfortunately, though, many of the strategies we use are not only ineffective but also sometimes painfully counterproductive. The official term, I believe, is CLMs: Career Limiting Moves.

CLMs are usually a product of speaking or acting before thinking. We forget that, while the boss isn't always right, he or she is still always the boss. There are five kinds of CLM you should try to avoid…

No 1 Public embarrassment

We can think whatever we want about our Bosses from Hell in private, but when we're in public it is important that we keep our game faces on. If you strongly disagree with a decision your boss made, or something the boss said, discuss it with him or her in private.

It's not a good idea to correct your boss in front of other people unless it is absolutely necessary. As an example, I once had a conversation with the CEO of a financial company and his executive assistant, Rose. The CEO was trying to give me a broad overview of the company and the challenges it was facing; the executive assistant seemed to be intent on contradicting him on all of his facts. (CEO: The company has about 500 employees. Assistant: 485. CEO: We've introduced a lot of new products this year. Assistant: Nine. Not as many as last year.) This went on for half an hour until the CEO stood up and said, "Rose, can I see you in my office please?" I never saw her again.

When you feel the need to correct your boss in public, it's a good idea to ask yourself, "How important is this really?"

No 2 Being confrontational

There is a big difference between confronting someone, and being confrontational. Confronting someone is an assertive position. Being confrontational is an aggressive position. Confronting your boss might mean going into his or her office after a meeting and saying, "You know what, Boss? I really didn't appreciate being singled out in the meeting like that." Bringing up the fact during the meeting by saying something like, "Hey why are you singling me our?" would be confrontational.

Being confrontational with bosses forces them to become defensive and it's rarely a good strategy. While getting it all out might make you feel better in the short term, in the long term you're almost guaranteed to lose.

No 3 Threatening

Any time you put your boss in a position where they feel defensive, it's a Bad Thing. A direct threat ("If things don't change around here I'm going to quit"), threatening to go over the boss's head, or threatening to get a group of colleagues to unite against the boss only serves to polarise the situation. Indirect threats have the same effect. The boss begins to notice you've started to use back-covering cc's on your emails, and that you're spending more time with the district manager. You begin documenting things you never before documented.

Like all of us, Bosses from Hell have a survival instinct. When they feel threatened their fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in. Given their position of power, their greater experience and their probable better connections within the company, it's a no-win situation for you.

No 4 Psychoanalysing

There are a lot of people who like to categorise everyone they meet into personality types. Sometimes these pigeonholes are based on convenient stereotypes, giving us a feeling of superiority over the people around us. It's a defensive strategy we often use when faced with a boss we don't see eye to eye with. The problem is that once we've convinced ourselves that someone is a certain type, we typically close our minds to any of that person's other attributes.

It's a bad strategy at best, and it becomes a CLM when you decide to voice your opinions to your boss. I once sat in a senior management team meeting and heard one of the executives say to the CEO, "I know you're thinking that a woman can't do this job, but I still recommend Sylvia". The CEO bristled at the suggestion that gender had entered his deliberations. I remember a call centre employee once saying to her supervisor, "I expected you to do that. You're a deflector. That's what deflectors do".

Nobody likes being pigeonholed, second-guessed or psychoanalysed – especially by an employee. It hints at disrespect, and creates an uncomfortable working relationship.

No 5 Hiding

This is a fascinating strategy that some people use to avoid being confronted by their bosses. They hide. Think for instance of the salesperson who hasn't met the targets for the month and knows the boss is going to be asking why. The salesperson creates a diversion and acts distraught over some personal crisis. The boss, feeling sorry for the salesperson, decides to postpone the talk about performance. Mission accomplished.

There are many different ways to hide – you can call in sick, you can take breaks at convenient times, you can immerse yourself so deeply in something else that people don't want to disturb you. But eventually people will start to see through it. Once your boss realises what's going on, it's a definite CLM.

Think about the potential consequences of everything you do, and ask yourself if they're really worth it. The fewer CLMs you commit, the fewer challenges you will have with your Boss from Hell.

Shaun Belding is the president of Belding Skills Development Corporation, an international training and development consultancy specialising in customer service, teambuilding, management and leadership. "Dealing with the boss from hell" is one of a series of books, published by Kogan Page ( in September 2005 at £8.99, which includes "Dealing with the customer from Hell" and "Dealing with the employee from hell".

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