My Boss Is A Jerk—What Do I Do? Ask Madeleine

Bad BossDear Madeleine,

My boss is a total jerk. I don’t know how else to say it. He obviously doesn’t like me or respect me. The problem is, I really love my job. I am good at it and have great relationships with my direct reports.

Nobody likes or respects my boss, who is the owner of the company. He is moody and erratic and often irrational. Yesterday he yelled at me for something completely irrelevant and actually said “go home, I don’t want to see your face anymore.” I was so shocked, I got in my car and cried all the way home.

My poor husband is really sick of me talking about this—he thinks I should just quit. Of course, things aren’t that simple. I am the main breadwinner and a job like this is going to be hard to come by in our small community. I wouldn’t even be able to look for something else without everybody knowing. The stress is killing me. What to do?  —Stressed Out 

Dear Stressed Out,

“My boss is a jerk” is pretty much the number one stressor in the workplace. Sometimes the employee is the actual jerk and the boss is just trying to get things done—but there are a lot of jerks in the world, so often it is the boss. I am sorry. It stinks. What to do? Well, if you really don’t think you can quit, here are some ideas.

Build yourself a really thick skin.

Part of the problem here is that you are taking personally the fact that your boss has a lousy personality. You just can’t. The fact that someone is an awful person has nothing to do with you. It is as disconnected from you as the weather. You don’t take it personally when it hails, do you? No. You wear a good coat and warm boots and you carry an umbrella. So treat your boss and his moods like the weather. Stay out of his way when you can, and when he does act out, observe the behavior and say to yourself “Wow, he is going off the rails again, how interesting.” Tell yourself that it’s not about you. It is about him—and the poor thing has to wake up as himself every morning. But you get to be you, which is way more fun. So put your thick skin coat on, carry your psychic umbrella, and get on with it.

Remember: not everyone has to love you.

For people who are lovable and tenderhearted, it is really a surprise when someone doesn’t like them. Presumably, you have plenty of good friends, friendly acquaintances and coworkers, and a husband who is on your side. Not everyone has to love you or even like you. It’s okay. You have all of the affection and love you need.

Define and practice drawing some boundaries.

If your boss goes too far, you can certainly put a stake in the sand with some pre-rehearsed boundaries. One example might be “Please don’t speak to me that way,” or, if it’s after the fact, “Please don’t speak to me that way again.” You could try “I think you owe me an apology.” Even a well placed “Really? You are going to yell at me for that?” might cause him to back off. If he is true bully, he will back down if confronted.

Use Silence.

When it comes to communication, often the person who speaks the least has the most power. Your instinct might be to talk things out, but if you don’t have a willing participant in building or repairing a relationship, it’s really not worth trying. So, if forced into a conversation with your boss, prepare by being clear about the one or two messages you want to share and share only those.

I understand that not everyone has the luxury of just quitting an excellent job when they have a terrible boss, but I would encourage you to examine your options with care. You never know what opportunities might be waiting for you. But if you decide to stay despite the terrible weather, you must distance yourself emotionally from it—or you will continue to suffer.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

7 thoughts on “My Boss Is A Jerk—What Do I Do? Ask Madeleine

  1. I like this piece. I have always enjoyed learning from your submissions and this piece particularly resonates with me.


  2. Dear Madeleine–so much truth! I think this should go to every university career center and especially folks who focus on women in leadership! I sent it to both of my daughters. Thank you.

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