Dr. Bob Wright | November 26, 2019

How to Deal with a Difficult Boss

Dealing with a difficult boss isn’t always easy, but there are steps you can take to empower yourself.

Is your boss a jerk? If you’re wondering how to deal with a difficult boss, here's how to empower yourself.

I hate my boss!

My boss is a jerk!

I have the worst boss ever!

I hear this sort of comment all the time. In a few cases, your boss might actually be a jerk. There are people out there who abuse their power position. But in most, if not all cases, there are steps you could take to empower yourself and address the situation.

Here’s how to deal with a difficult boss.

“It’s Not You. It’s Me.”

So, you think your boss is a jerk. Well, has it ever occurred to you that you may have authority issues?

It may sound harsh at first, but it’s up to you to deal with the situation. I’ve worked with clients who had the most challenging, difficult bosses on the planet. The first order of business is to get them to operate in good faith with their difficult boss.

Is your boss a jerk, simply to abuse you, demean you, or tear you apart? If that is the case, it needs to get addressed with human resources immediately. It may be time to liberate yourself from the job and find different employment. No matter what, it’s within your power to refuse to be mistreated by your boss (or anyone else for that matter). Don’t become the victim of someone’s bad behavior.

In many cases, though, you may need to examine your behavior. Is your boss pushing you hard? Are they challenging to give more? Do they believe you’re capable and competent?

Look at your behavior. Are you out there giving 100% for the time you’re paid? Are you working your best and in good faith? Good faith means, “I do my job with the intention to succeed and to empower other people around me succeed.”

Often, people aren’t really pushing themselves. They’re operating in what we refer to as “bad faith.” They may believe their territory matters more than the success of their coworkers (and even the company). They’re more interested in passing up their peers than they are in empowering their peers. They aren’t interested in helping other people around them become as good as they can become. They don’t help others reach their potential.

A lot of people seek a job where they can phone it in. They want a position where they walk in, punch a card, and do a mediocre job. But if you do this, you WILL end up hating your job. You will resent your boss for calling you out on your lack of motivation. You will resent your coworkers who actually care about their positions and the well-being of the company.

It’s incredible to see the way your perspective shifts when you decide to speak up, buy-in, and give it your all. When you start seeing the success of the company as your success, you own it. You push yourself farther and you seek new assignments and new opportunities. You zone in instead of zoning out.

If you don’t want the best for your company and the best for your boss, then you aren’t operating from a trustworthy position. You have problems with authority. So, when you point the finger at your jerk boss, remember three fingers are pointing back at you.

Deal with Your Boss by Dealing with Your Unfinished Business

Believe it or not, your work relationships mirror your relationships with your parents. After all, your boss is offering you resources (money), direction, and (sometimes) praise. It’s no wonder our relationship with our boss is often similar to our relationship with our Mom or Dad.

It comes back to what we refer to as “unfinished business.” Like it or not, each of us is carrying around limiting beliefs about ourselves stemming from our early childhood. These beliefs may include the idea you’re too much, you’re not enough, the world is dangerous, or you can’t get what you need.

Today, as an adult, you may logically think you don’t carry these beliefs around with you, but our limiting beliefs are under the surface. They often dictate what we do, our perception of the world around us, and our relationship with others and ourselves.

Maybe your parents didn’t have your interests at heart, but instead, they had their interests at heart. Perhaps you had a parent who was abusive, or hurtful. Maybe the other parent defended them with excuses like, “He does it because he cares about you so much,” or “she acts that way because she loves you.”

These messages stick with us throughout our lives and cause us to fall into familiar patterns, especially when it comes to our work dynamics. You may find your relationship with a coworker is similar to one of your siblings.

You may also find yourself falling into the pattern Karpman named the drama triangle. This triangle consists of three roles: Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor. If your boss is the persecutor and you are the victim, does your coworker act as the rescuer? Or do you trade off the rescuer/victim role? When given authority, do you take on the part of persecutor?

We are all drawn to drama. Look at our love of reality TV and other dramatic shows. We get sucked into a story where someone is the villain, someone is the savior, and someone is the unfortunate, hapless victim. But the truth is, the drama triangle is an unhealthy zone to live in. It’s disempowering. It robs us of our ability to stay in control of the situation. It masks as engagement, but it’s pseudo engagement, where we’re stirring the pot, without actually going anywhere.

Now, you may think you had a childhood free of the drama triangle. You may even think you had a childhood where you never formed limiting beliefs. Unfortunately, the reality is none of us had perfect childhoods. By the very nature of being children, we experience limiting beliefs. The world is big; we are small. The world is unsafe, and we must look to our parents and others to guide and protect us.

As we get older, the world is no longer too big for us. We can reach the pedals and read the signs. We’re operating in a world made for adults…but we still carry around these beliefs and unfinished business. It’s up to us to work through our business, or it will continue to crop up in our relationships, both personal and professional.

So, if your boss is a jerk, ask how are you allowing him or her to be a jerk? Are you falling into the drama triangle? Are you looking to others to intervene and swoop into your rescue? Do you fall into the role because it feels safe to stay the victim and have someone else rescue you and fight the battles?

Standing Up to the Jerk

I worked with a client who was a C-level officer of a major global corporation. He had this same complaint, “my boss is a jerk.” So he and I started to break it down. We went through his unfinished business and examined what he could do to address it.

He worked very hard to stand up to his boss. Finally, one day, he stood up to him in a very public situation, calling him out in the middle of a stakeholder meeting. He did it so abruptly, he ended up humiliating his boss.

While in certain regards, the confrontation was a major success in terms of his authority issues, he now had another problem—he had lost any chance of good faith with his boss. So he and I began to work together on ways to address the issue. I started coaching him on how to start winning with his boss.

He realized he needed to give it his all. He needed to push himself to take on challenges, and he needed to be straight with his boss. Fast forward, and he became his boss’s closest confidant throughout most of his career. One day, a close friend of his boss came up to him and said, “Once this guy has an opinion about someone, he NEVER changes it. I’m blown away by how you went from someone he didn’t trust, to becoming his most trusted advisor besides me!”

The client had been reacting to his boss initially due to unfinished business with his family. As he worked through his business and stopped projecting it onto other people and situations, he was able to move into a place of good faith with his boss. He stopped using his boss’s bad behavior as an excuse for his bad behavior.

When significant changes happened down the road in the corporation, he was the most valued person in the transition. In fact, the company went through a successful transition thanks to the work my client did with his boss.

If you think your boss is a jerk, it’s time to start looking at the ways you’re choosing to deal with your boss. Are you falling into old patterns? Are you jumping into the drama triangle?

It is certainly possible to turn around your relationship and start working toward a place of mutual good faith. It means you need to find ways to challenge yourself and express your feelings honestly to your boss. If you don’t like something, speak up! Don’t shy away from confrontation or from going for what you want.

At the same time, you must be willing to put in the work and invest your effort toward the success of the company and your peers. If you aren’t giving the job your all, you aren’t operating in good faith.

For more ways to find more success at work, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll connect with others on their transformational journey. We’re also happy to announce that many of our courses are now available online at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about yourself! Go forth and ignite your world for a greater tomorrow!

About the Author

Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

Like this post and want more? Sign up for updates – free!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.