Most people don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad bosses.
‘Absolutely not,’ replied a horrified Neeraj when I asked him the question that’s the headline of today’s column. ‘I can’t wish death for someone, no matter how horrible he is,’ he said, and before I could feel proud that my friends belong to the human race, he added, ‘haan, saal mein 4-5 baar fracture ho jaye saale ka toh badiya.’ Hmmm, I’m back to questioning the kind of people I hang out with, but you please spare a moment for soul searching to see if you were secretly tempted to answer yes to the headline. Because a new research in the UK (I sometimes wonder how the British get time to do research amid worrying about life altering developments like the birth of a royal baby etc) says that an overwhelming majority of people are sick of their bosses to the extent of wishing grave harm to them. Vaise, I’ve been unusually lucky in the boss department and by the way, so is my team, which has been suitably bribed or threatened to not dispute this claim. But I’ve seen a lot of people go through unimaginable stress at work because of a species who have the working title of bosses but are actually monsters from hell. Well, if you are a victim, take heart in two facts — one, you have company and two, there are always ways to deal with difficult people in life, and that includes bosses. Let’s first classify the devil that’s making your work life miserable.
1. The Shirker: Hmm…this kind of a boss is rather common, but thankfully not very harmful. He doesn’t do much himself, and enjoys a comfy ride on the back of the mules he has around him. Ironically enough, such people also get promoted by some magic stroke of luck, leaving others to wonder if God’s promotion department software has some permanent virus. A typical hands-off person, he is quick to criticise when something goes wrong, and usually justifies his non-involvement by saying that he is ‘empowering’ his juniors. In most cases, this generosity of empowerment comes only because he has no clue or clarity in his head about what he wants out of his own life, let alone his team. No vision, no goal, and an uncanny ability to never own up to his team’s failure. That’s Mr Shirker for you. I call such a boss less harmful than other animals at workplace only because their laziness prevents them from turning vicious as long as their ego is not messed with. It’s best to enjoy their absence, keep doing the good work and being on generally friendly terms with such bosses. Let them feel happy by appearing to take credit for anything successful, but always remember that deep inside, people know who’s done all the work. Also, don’t forget that a useless person never enjoys an unbeaten innings – the good luck will run-out the day something changes on the top and they are held accountable for their performance. Wait and watch, with interest.
2. The Sulk: This boss, in his childhood, was the obnoxiously spoilt kid you see today lying flat on the floor of a shopping mall, throwing a massive tantrum because his mum is not buying him the seventh ice cream. He just likes to sulk, endlessly, over the smallest issues. I once had a boss, who wouldn’t respond to my good-morning greeting on the days he was sulking. Obviously enough, my mornings didn’t remain very good after that. A boss who sulks silently is often unsure of the validity of his or her displeasure with you. It’s best to help him come out of that mood by asking, not more than once, if you have something to do with what’s bothering him. If he chooses to not tell you, choose to assume it’s not you. Also, it’s best to not fuel mistrust in the minds of such bosses by having private conversations with colleagues, making them feel you could be conspiring against them. So no whispering and pausing a conversation the moment he passes by. Even if you were planning his surprise birthday party!
3. The Conqueror: Now we are inching towards the more harmful ones. A boss in the sulk mode is easier to handle, a boss in the hulk mode isn’t. This one’s all out to intimidate the daylights out of you. He bullies, he shouts, he swears. He won’t hesitate to throw you in front of the bus if it comes to saving his ass in front of the management. His strategy is to rob you of all your self-esteem, so you go home every evening feeling like a loser, no matter how hard you work. Dealing with this devil starts with the first, and the most important step of believing that the problem person in this situation is he, not you. And the next step is to counter an abusive behaviour with an irritating amount of calmness. Yes, you heard me right. Nothing rattles a violent, abusive drama queen more than his or her victim responding each time firmly, and calmly. If he abuses or shouts at you inappropriately in front of everyone, tell him clearly that you are not sure what this is about and would prefer to discuss this with him in detail, and in private. It’s tough to keep shouting when there’s a very formal, cold response from the other side. Send him a mail later, expressing ‘disappointment’ that you became a reason for him to lose his peace of mind, and ask him for suggestions on how not to be such a reason ever again. In all probability, you won’t get a reply. You won’t get abused either.
4. The Manipulator: This, according to me is the most harmful of the boss species. This guy devotes all his energies, to not learning his job, but the tricks of manipulation. A deeply insecure person, this kind of boss has the superhuman ability to play games to keep his team divided and fighting, so that no one’s left with any energy to notice his inadequacies. If the constant negativity is zapping you of your strength and spirit, it’s very easy for me to tell you to look for an alternate job. But then, when have I ever suggested easy routes to calmness? Here’s an opportunity for you to turn around an insecure, negative person into a positive, reassured one. The first step to dealing with such manipulative people is to somehow make it clear to them that you can see through their games, and that they don’t bother you enough to go into a panic mode. Half of their battle is lost if they can’t seem to rattle you. And you can make them lose the other half by involving them in your accomplishments. Even when — and especially when — they haven’t done much in a successful project, use the terms ‘our’, ‘we’ and ‘us’, instead of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ when informing them and others about your accomplishment. Show them that you have no interest in being a threat to them by being more popular or successful. Remember the golden rule of dealing with manipulators — consciously refuse to be their victim. The moment you take away their target, you take away their strength.
Sonal Kalra’s team just called her to check if another photo of a horrible boss was required in this write-up, since there’s a pic of hers anyway. Guess who all are getting fired tomorrow. Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. or facebook.com/sonalkalra13. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.