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How to Survive a Stressful Boss

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t get stress, I give it.”? Is this the kind of boss you work for?

The effects of working for a stressful boss can be far reaching. It can affect the company environment as well as your personal morale and productivity level. And you’re likely to take your stress home with you thereby increasing the stress you experience at home as well.

Some bosses are in denial about their stress and are just spreading it around. Others think their method of managing people improves productivity and the company overall. Regardless, there are several different types of bosses and different ways to cope with each.

The Dictator

This is the boss who is all about work and they expect their employees to do the same. They may say they want input from their employees but, in reality, their word is the last word. They expect you to follow their orders without question. They don’t care about your personal needs and will see it as interfering with work.

Best Way to Cope

You can try to talk to your boss about their behavior and its effects on you and your co-workers but chances are this won’t work. This isn’t the type of boss who can hear things about themselves without getting defensive.

The best way to cope with this type of boss, providing that they’ve been giving lip service to the idea of democracy in the office, is to find a way to point out the discrepancy between what they say and what they do.

For example, if you have meeting notes that clearly describe what was agreed upon, you could compare that to what was ultimately done. Evidence of a pattern of discrepancy is more likely to open your boss’ eyes than trying to talk to him/her about their behavior, which they will likely interpret as whining.

The Silent Type

This is the type of boss who doesn’t give their employees clear expectations of what’s expected of them. If you ask them for guidance on a project, their feedback is vague. This leaves you feeling unsure of what the project should look like in the end and not knowing if you’ll be praised or criticized for the final result.

This type of boss is a poor communicator. There are many reasons for this. Some bosses are promoted to a position beyond their competence and comfort level. They’re afraid to make any firm decisions that could be wrong and get them fired.

Best Way to Cope

Insecurity is your boss’ problem not yours. Why should you worry about your job because your boss won’t take responsibility for theirs? You can keep on being the scapegoat or you can take steps to get clearer instructions and feedback.

Schedule regular visits with your boss. Go to him/her with a pad of paper and ask for instructions. Write them down. Don’t accept vagueness. Before leaving their office, read what you wrote and get them to agree. If you ask for quantity on the final project and they say “enough,” ask something like, “Is 20 enough?”

Then, halfway through completing your project, go back to them for a feedback meeting. Bring the notes you took at the initial meeting, review them with your boss, tell them what you have done so far and ask them if you’re on track to successfully completing the task as agreed to or if they want any changes.

Be sure to take notes during this meeting also. Your boss may try to remain noncommittal but you’ll have evidence that you completed the agreed upon tasks. That makes your boss responsible for their part regardless of the outcome.

The Shadow

This is the type of boss that has been with the company for a while but has outlived his/her usefulness and the company doesn’t want to let them go. This type of boss goes around trying to lead teams but their efforts end up hindering the team’s progress.

Best Way to Cope

This is the easiest type of the stressful bosses to deal with because they’re not fully in touch with the functioning of the organization. They’re too busy focusing on themselves and trying to make themselves look and feel useful.

Because they’re focused on themselves and not you, you have some freedom in that space to carve out something satisfying about your job. Chances are, they don’t expect you to make work your life, so you have freedom to develop a hobby, take on a fun project at work or spend more quality time with your family.

The Criticizer

This is the type of boss that always finds something to criticize about your work. They make you feel like you’re not good enough and nothing you do is ever right. They never give you praise. You know when you’ve done a perfect job because all you get from them is silence. This type of boss will erode your self-esteem and make you reconsider your fit for the job.

I have personally worked for a boss like this and it affected my performance to the point where others started to wonder what was happening to me. Luckily, they knew the quality of work I was putting out prior to being broken down by this type of boss.

Best Way to Cope

You must realize that their treatment of you is not personal. This is how they deal with everything including themselves. This is a person with low self-esteem desperately trying to cover that up. The better you are at your job, the more it threatens their self-esteem, making them question if they’re good enough or if you’re better than them.

Instead of defending yourself and your work, thank them for their feedback and their perspective. Say things like “I never saw it that way. Thank you.” Or “You could be right about that.”

Look at the words in those two sentences. You can say each one with sincerity. You aren’t agreeing that you’re wrong and that they’re right. You’re simply acknowledging their feedback. By doing so, you make them feel valued, which is what we all want. It was amazing how much this helped and how quickly this worked.

A couple of years later, I was able to confront this boss regarding their initial treatment of me. At first, they denied it but then came around to some sort of acknowledgement of how they treated me.

You may not get a chance to confront your boss years from now but the effects of coping with this kind of boss will be reward enough. Remember, deep down it’s not about you.

You may have a boss like one of the types mentioned or a combination of several types. Just like we have certain expectations from our parents, we have expectations of our bosses.

Most bosses don‘t go to school to become bosses. People end up at their jobs in different ways and get promoted to leadership positions with little preparation on how to lead. Very few people have ideal bosses.

If you think some of the tips in this article can help, try them out. You can also ask your co-workers how they deal with that person. Unless everyone on your team is looking for a transfer or a new job, they’re doing something to cope. Find someone with healthy coping skills and see if you can follow their lead.

And don’t forget, all of us are bosses of something or someone. You may be supervising others, raising kids, or working solo. What kind of boss are you?

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