Spooky Szn: Tips On Working With A Nightmare Boss

This “spooky season,” I want to address the worst terror of them all – the ones who haunt you during the day and keep you up at night: nightmare bosses. These are the micromanagers, credit takers, and blame gamers who can affect your job stability and mental health. 

It seems inevitable that everyone will experience at least one bad manager throughout their career. Especially as a Black woman, it can feel even more inevitable because according to BBC, “workplace trauma can be exacerbated when gender, race or age dynamics affect communication and relationships among managers and employees.”

I’ve tapped five Black professionals to help create a step-by-step game plan on working with a nightmare boss:

Step 1: Align on Work Style

Netta Jenkins, DEI Expert & Co-Founder of Dipper, advises her clients to be proactive by working with their boss on an agreement focused on work-style alignment. Suppose your manager doesn’t honor the work-style alignment agreement in place. In that case, Jenkins encourages folks to “share the impact of their manager’s behavior, be direct, and request a path forward for greater success.”  

Before creating your work-style alignment agreement with your boss, it’s important to be able to communicate your needs in a structured way. To begin, start reflecting on your own work style using a few of my favorite prompts:

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does that affect the way you like to work? Do you process information better while collaborating with others, or are you best when you brainstorm on your own? What is your learning style? Are you a visual learner, auditory learner, reading and writing learner, or a kinesthetic learner?

Step 2: Always CYA (Cover your Ass…ets)

Much of workplace tension is due to miscommunication. In fact, according to Dynamic Signal’s 2019 study, 80 percent of U.S. workers report feeling stressed because of ineffective communication, and 63 percent considered quitting because it interfered with their ability to do their job. This is why it’s popularly encouraged to document everything.

“By tracking everything in writing, you quite literally have a paper trail of all of the conversations and collateral exchanged between you and said manager,” Amanda Peterson, a Strategy and Experience Analyst shares. “This way, if you ever need it, you can pull out those receipts.”

My advice is to always take and share meeting notes outlining feedback that your manager has shared. Your meeting notes should specify the final deliverables, who is responsible for each deliverable, and any tasks that cannot move forward without action from your manager. It’s also essential to confirm via email when a deadline has changed or when a priority has shifted. 

Step 3: Shift the narrative

When dealing with credit-takers and blame-gamers, Lola Bakare, CMO Advisor & Inclusive Marketing Strategist at be/co has strategic advice. “Take back control of the narrative by advocating for yourself with their peers,” Bakare shares. Initiating relationships with leaders outside of your daily operations will help create a narrative of you free of what your nightmare boss may say.

To initiate these relationships, connect with leaders on Linkedin and “start with a bit of praise for their role, celebrating their wins, in your success,” says Bakare, “You’d be surprised how much goodwill can come from a short email sharing how something they said or did inspired you.”

Step 4: Explore your options & know when to leave

If you have already tried the above, it may be time to explore your options. DEI Consultant Janice Gassam Asare, Ph.D. says to find out if there is a way to transfer teams so that you don’t have to interact with your boss. “I also would look into your company’s anonymous hotline, an external consultant, or ombudsman if your organization offers these resources,” she shares.

Asare cautions that HR often works in the company’s best interest rather than the employee’s. “If you feel like HR can be trusted, I would advise going to HR as well, but they’ll want to see and know what receipts you have available that showcase the manager’s behavior.” 

Only you can know when a situation has become intolerable, and if that is the case, it is time to start interviewing with other employers. Antwan Mckenzie-Plez, Clinical Director, Grief and Trauma Specialist, and Licensed Mental Health Counselor, shares, “Your mental and emotional well-being is your responsibility and no one else’s.”

Mckenzie-Plez often reminds his clients, “while your boss may be a leader at your place of employment, you are the CEO of your life, and you get to make executive decisions!” Antwan says, “If something is not working for you, don’t be afraid to speak up [or] make some hard calls, if necessary.”

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