April 17, 2011
How to deal with a clueless boss
As you've no doubt heard, Will Ferrell is guest starring on "The Office" this spring. If you watched Thursday night's episode (preview below), you know that Ferrell's Deangelo Vickers is just as bumbling a boss as Steve Carell's Michael Scott.
Although Carell and Ferrell's characters might make the real-life clueless bosses of Corporate America look competent, that's little comfort for the direct reports who have to deal with them on a daily basis. For suggestions on how to handle these corporate clowns, I turned to a handful of workplace experts. Here's how they recommend managing four common types of bozo bosses:
The wildly inappropriate boss. What do you say to the socially stunted supervisor who can't resist sharing the intimate details of her recent visit to the gastroenterologist? Nothing, advises Alexandra Levit, author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World. "You could say something, but I wouldn't unless it's absolutely intolerable," Levit explains. "If the behavior isn't hurting you, what good can it do to insult your boss?"
The shockingly inept boss. How do you stop from blowing your top when your manager constantly botches critical deadlines, misses key meetings with clients, and misspells the company name? The trick, Levit says, is to subtly suggest ways your boss can operate more effectively. Example: "Hey Boss, I downloaded this great new app that keeps track of meeting times when the participants are in different time zones. Want me to send you the link?"
The forever flip-flopping boss. First your disorganized boss wanted that five-page report on his desk by 10 a.m. tomorrow. Then he changed his mind and said he wanted 10 pages by 5 p.m. today. Now that you've busted your hump to deliver exactly what he asked for by the new deadline, he wants something completely different -- by lunchtime tomorrow. Short of quitting, how can you avoid these frustrating exchanges in the future? Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, a marketing firm for organizations with products targeting job seekers and employers, suggests saying something like, "I know things can get crazy around here, but I'd love to nail down the deadline, length, and other project specifics before I start working on it to ensure it matches your vision -- okay?"
The emotionally volatile boss. Perhaps your boss is a screamer. Or a fight picker. Or takes delight in belittling others in a group setting. Julie Jansen, author of You Want Me to Work With Who? Eleven Keys to a Stress-Free, Satisfying and Successful Work Life...No Matter Who You Work With, suggests confronting the problem in the heat of the moment: "When your boss starts the bad behavior, move closer to him or her, repeat their name frequently, and tell them that you will wait until they are done so you can have a professional and civilized conversation," Jansen explains. "If this doesn't work, tell them that you will continue the conversation when they are less emotional."
No matter what your boss's crimes against corporate humanity, Jansen wants you to remember this: "Your boss can make or break your career and job. So you have to decide how important it is to get along with him or her. Often this will entail changing your own behavior and ignoring a lot."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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