My Boss Is A Jerk!

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Ilya Adler

There is an old movie starring Jack Lemmon in which a father (Lemmon) is frustrated that his less-than-motivated son has quit his job after one day. When he asks his son why, his son simply replies, “My boss is a jerk!” to which his father replies, “All bosses are jerks … one day you’ll be a jerk too!”

Is this true? Murphy’s Law suggests that most of us end up getting promoted to a job for which we are not qualified, thus we become “jerks” in the view of those we have to manage. Indeed, in the booming ’90s, with so much shortage of personnel everywhere, one could make the case that an awful lot of people were promoted too quickly to positions for which they were not qualified. One of the negative sides of a booming economy, you might say.

Dealing with an unpleasant boss is both common and painful. Among the hundreds of managers I have met, this is one of the most persistent and harmful causes of job-related stress they comment on. When you don’t get along with your boss, your days in the office feel eternal, and what’s worse, the burden is often taken home.

Spouses are so tired of hearing about it, that some might greet their suffering companion with a “Hi, honey, how was your day, besides the fact that your boss is a jerk?”

So how do you deal with a boss who is, in your mind, insufferable? Some simply quit their job, hoping the next one will give them a different kind of boss. This solution, while popular, is unlikely to yield any positive results. The new boss might end up being worse than the one you just left. Some seek professional therapy, but the significant time and financial commitment implicit in this is often too heavy.

There is nothing in most management literature about what to do when you can’t stand your boss. I wonder why this is not a wider topic of discussion. Are those who write management books jerks themselves?

I decided to interview a few managers from various industries and countries to try to find my answer, and one manager did give me a possible solution. He has worked for years for a boss he truly believed is a professional jerk. Just thinking about his boss would raise his blood pressure, he assured me. After considering quitting his job and other typical solutions, he decided he had to be more creative about this problem. His solution was to stop treating his boss as if he were a jerk, and in order to do that, he had to force himself to stop believing it.

“It was a New Year’s resolution,” he tells me. “And you know what? I am discovering that as I treat my boss as if he were a nice guy and competent boss, he is actually becoming rather decent. I have discovered that the vibes one sends up are just as important as the ones the boss sends to subordinates.”

Another way of improving the relationship you have with your boss is to consider his actual words, and give him the benefit of the doubt. All too often when we don’t like people, we assume everything they say is stupid. If your boss rubs you the wrong way because she always disagrees with your ideas, you might try “reverse psychology.” Agree with her and carry out the idea. After all, what you should worry most about is whether the right decision was made, not whether it was yours.

So if hunting for a new job or career is not an option, it is up to you to improve the situation with your jefe. With news of layoffs and economic slowdowns barraging us on all fronts, we may just start worrying about whether or not we have a job at all. That makes seeing our bosses in a more positive light a good idea. Jerks or not, they still have the power to fire and hire. And they are more likely to keep employees who, beyond being good at what they do, treat them with respect.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2001 by Ilya Adler © 2008
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