Do you have a terrible boss?
Or are you simply interested in learning how to deal with power plays at work?
Well, you have come to the right place.
Just one note: this article is not for the faint of heart.
It’s Machiavellian to the core, packed with office power moves and amoral power plays.
If you’re ready, by the end of it, you will be laughing your way to the bank (or your boss’ job).
- Basics of Dealing With a Bad Boss
- Prepare For The Final Showdown
- Lifestyle Solutions: Live On Your Terms
- Mindsets: Thank God For The Bad Boss
- Do Not:
Basics of Dealing With a Bad Boss
The three main basics of dealing with terrible bosses are:
- Be prepared for the worst: When you can handle the worst, you dominate the easy
- Have Options: Once you can happily walk away, you can stay on your terms
- Keep Mental Control: Control your mind to control your environment
Prepare For The Final Showdown
Who’s got more power? He who knows that if worst come to worst, he’ll win.
Your boss bosses you around because he believes he can.
And he believes you can do little about it.
You want him to believe that you can do little about it.
And as he keeps believing that, I want you t start building power on your side.
You see, right now your boss has the trump card on you: if things were to escalate, he can fire you and you can do little about it.
But let’s move the trump card into your stack and we’ll turn that dynamic on its head.
This article is all about moving that trump card from him to you.
Power Dynamics of Trump Cards
Different environments and different situations have different trump cards
Holding the trump card in a street altercation would mean being confident you can hold your own in a fight.
And it means not being afraid if it came to blows
In the workplace, the trump card means:
- Escalating and getting him fired
- Escalating and getting fired while knowing you can win a court settlement
Or, at the very least:
- Escalating and getting fired while knowing you got other options
- Escalating and getting fired while knowing you can hurt him and his team quite bad
So let’s start doing just that.
We will give your bad boss a nickname: ahole. And now let’s start digging ahole’s grave:
#1. Know Your Rights
Who lets ahole bosses trample on their rights? Those who don’t know their rights
In the vast majority of countries, and probably in every single one of them, there’s a huge divide between what’s legal and how things are done.
That divide is your best friend.
Start by knowing your legal rights, ahole legal rights, and, most of all, what matters in a court of law:
- Consult a lawyer: a 200€ employment lawyer consultation can pay back 100x or more
- Find a lawyer: before you need one. Knowing you got someone to call on will give you huge confidence. Consider getting legal insurance too
- Research online: in the information age, the only upper limit is people’s laziness. Luckily for you, that’s quite a low bar
- Ask: ask those who’ve already been there. Process, timelines, hurdles…?
Don’t postpone, don’t dawdle.
Online research and consultation won’t take you longer than a week of slow pace work and it will serve you for a lifetime.
And you lay the first brick of your Iron Dome.
#2. Induce Him Into Mistakes
Who’s got more power when the sh*t hits the fan? The ones with Evidences
Once you know the law and unbeknownst to a bad boss, start accruing all pieces of evidence that will help you in a legal tussle.
It’s really easier than most would think.
For example, based on the information you gather, is it illegal in your jurisdiction to:
- Work on weekends?
Then do make yourself available to work on the weekend. But do it verbally, and then record all instances they contact you on weekends
- Work longer than 10h a day?
Schedule morning meetings at 9:30.
Now any day with a meeting or work emails after 19:30 is a day to be used against ahole.
- Work during holidays?
Schedule an important call during your holiday, do not contact ahole at all. Let him reach out to you to ask you about that call.
Tell him the line is bad, and tell him to email you.
- The big blunders
Sometimes you can get a slam dunk with a single mistake.
A threat, or a sexual pass.
Company parties with abundant alcohol can make for the perfect honey trap.
be careful about what counts as evidence and what carries more weight.
In some countries, it’s OK to record conversations, in others it’s illegal. Do texts count as much as emails?
That’s all info you need to know and that’s why you consult an employment lawyer within your jurisdiction.
#3. Look Dumb
Which enemy is easy to beat? The one with his guard down
Law #21 of the 48 Laws of Power suggests playing a sucker to catch a sucker.
And that’s true: the dumber you seem, the easier for you to spin your web.
Play naïve and forgiving.
Pretend you’re sloppy in your personal life. Show a hippie side that’s all about moving on -and God forbid, never about suing-.
You can do this with stories and off-hand remarks.
Tell me during team lunch your last landlord didn’t give the rent deposit back to you.
Someone will mention the police and suing and you reply emotionally:
You: man, lawyers only take your money and the last thing I’d do on earth is wasting time with courts. I leave troubles behind and move on
Showing a “moving on” attitude and a naive worldview will make your background work of evidence collection loads easier.
#4. Get Some Sick Evidence
Which enemy is easy to beat? The one the jury will hate
Let him commit the most heinous crime: making people sick.
Get sick intermittently, suddenly, and when he needs you the most.
This will lead him to contact you while you’re off.
Do your work, just a bit at a slower pace, and let him contact you.
Party and sleep a little on Sunday, look like a mess when you visit the doctor, and get a whole week off on Monday. Say being bullied at work makes you a nervous wreck.
Go back to the doctor on Wednesday to record a worsening of the symptoms: your boss keeps chasing you.
Let your doc record everything and use emphatic words such as: bullied, harassed, and intimidated.
In most countries, you don’t report what you’re sick of to your employer. Just tell your bad boss it’s nothing. Actually, say you don’t care about sickness and will get the job done anyway.
That will lead him to contact you anytime you’re off. Exactly what you want.
Oh, the priceless look on his face when he’ll find out.
#5. Keep Your Hands Clean
Which enemy is unassailable? The one you can’t see. No evidence, no case
Law #26 of the 48 Laws of Power says you always must be a paragon of civility and keep a spotless appearance.
Again, Greene’s advice translates perfectly in dealing with bad managers.
As you induce him into mistakes, you instead stay irreprehensible (from a legal perspective):
- BYOD: bring your own device for your personal stuff. Use work equipment only for work stuff
- Go early and leave late: work long hours on paper (and do your personal stuff in an unrecordable fashion)
- Follow All Guidelines: You know all those password guidelines and filing systems nobody follows? Well, you will. Every time.
Lifestyle Solutions: Live On Your Terms
Right now you have problems dealing with a bad boss because you have yet to fix deeper issues in your life.
Fix those same root causes and you will fix most other problems you have.
#6. You’re Not The Boss’ Victim
Who is a victim? Him who think of himself as a victim
Let’s face it dead on.
You’re a grown-up in a free world.
Why are you a victim at all? If you’ve been at the mercy of a bad boss for too long you allowed it.
Thinking of any different else is the equivalent giving up to your oppressor the power to oppress you.
Are you really willing to give all that power over you to some frustrated mid-level manager?
Extreme ownership mentality, such as accepting that you are responsible for everything happening in your life is hard to accept at first, but once you embrace it will set you free.
Once you accept that you put yourself in a victim position it will also mean that you have the power to take yourself out of it.
Starting from now: you’re a free man in a free world, you can move at any time and you can change your circumstances however you see fit. Internalize that psychology and let’s start to give you practical options.
#7. Develop Options: Networking
Who stays a victim of bad bosses? Those with no other options
How do you stay in control of any relationship?
By not needing them.
You might want them, and you should want any relationship you’re in, but you are able to walk out and find other opportunities if the other party crosses your boundaries.
Developing options in the work environment means:
- Know everyone in your industry: meet up, events, trade shows
- Know every competitor in your city
- (Socially) seduce HR people
- Know every other boss in your organization (you could work for)
There are plenty of resources on how to network, including Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone“.
But the quick tip here is to follow that suggestion: always use lunch for networking and make as many contacts as possible.
#8. Increase Your Financial Independence
Who’s afraid of bad bosses? Those who can’t pay rent if they get sacked
Financial independence is a game changer.
Not only to deal with abusive bosses but also for your own self-confidence and happiness.
While the capacity of generating your own income at will is invaluable, the minimal goal is much lower.
Save enough that you can survive for at least 6 months without any income.
That’s the minimum threshold to give you the confidence of standing up for yourself.
Here are some ideas for you to consider:
- Get a GF who can host you: if worst comes to worst, she always wanted to move in any way no? 😉
- Rent out space: rent (or own) a flat with several rooms and rent them out for a profit
- Save money: as simple as that, money is power. Save some power for rainy days
- Golden parachute: arrange for a good severance package, use all the legal hacks above
9. Be So Good They Can’t Sack You
Who is at the mercy of the queen? The little value adding pawns
The simplest, and possibly the most useful “hack” is as simple as that: be(come) great at what you do.
Become a Linchpin.
Be so good they can’t ignore you.
Call it however you want, but make it so that losing you is losing an invaluable member of the team.
Deliver so much value that anyone will be afraid at the thought of you leaving.
Do so much that everyone in your organization knows you’re the man.
If you take this strategy to the extreme you can become more useful to the company than your own boss is!
And when you become more useful than your boss, then you hold the power.
When that happens, guess who is actually afraid of escalating?
So don’t complain, don’t wait… Start today with a single-minded goal: become the best at what you do.
#10. Learn The Porcupine Strategy
Who do bullies pick on? People who can’t defend
It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest tiger, the king of the Savannah, or the deadliest snake on earth.
Nobody’s gonna swallow a porcupine.
Even if on paper they are less powerful porcupines make it hard -and painful- for any wannabe assailant, and that makes them strong.
Similarly, you wanna make the ahole feel the sting every time he disrespects you.
That’s operant conditioning and trust that, like Pavlov’s dog, he’ll soon think twice before harassing you.
Here’s a great example:
Just remember: timid reaction calls for harder put-downs. Bold moves take the fire out for good.
#11. Turn Colleagues Into Allies
Who’s easy to pick on? The lonely one with no friends
Phil Jackson said:
The biggest challenge of leadership is keeping the guys who hate you away from those who are undecided.
And guess what you will do instead?
You will make friends with the whole team and slowly but surely spread the germs of hatred.
You will turn them into allies against the common enemy.
It’s not difficult getting colleagues to dislike average bosses.
It’s a piece of cake turning them against bad ones.
Drop hints if needed, but make someone else admit first that they can’t stand the terrible boss.
Spread hatred but never look like you’re driving a personal crusade: people don’t like whiners.
Let them vent while you provide the sounding board for their stories. Do share your part, but never let your complaints be bigger than theirs.
Remember: if you want to lead this charge you can’t be a victim, so your message sounds like this:
“Man, this company/team has such great potential and I love you guys. It is just a pity that ahole is wasting all our potential”.
You can also orchestrate a group-wide negative review on Glassdoor.
Openly mention ahole if you can -you can with MDs- or make it indirectly obvious it’s about him.
It will also serve you well in a possible court case -and so will your friendly colleagues-.
And once most of the team hates ahole and loves you, you can start thinking about a possible putsch.
Mindsets: Thank God For The Bad Boss
As the great Robert Greene says in The 33 Strategies of War, war is often more mental than physical.
So let’s see the mental aspects of dealing with a terrible boss:
#12. You’re Free
Who’s happy in spite of everything? You!
Imagine a place where you’d like to be.
A white sand beach. A snowy mountain. A happy ending massage in Thailand. Or a sunset on the ocean.
Because you can go there. You can live that. Any time you choose. Any. Time.
Your bad boss simply doesn’t have the power to make your life miserable in a free world.
#13. Win The Mental War: Act, Don’t React
He who makes the other react controls the game.
Tim Grover says that top performers make others measure up to them, not the other way around.
Don’t ask yourself how to deal with ahole then, think how hard it will be for ahole to deal with you instead.
This is mostly a mental attitude of course.
It’s crucial not just to deal with a bad boss, but in life, that you stand guard at the gates of your mind.
Do not allow anyone to drag you down or spoil your mood. This is your mind, this is your own f@c**ng turf, YOU call the shots there:
- Ask empowering questions
- Envision the day you’ll sink him
- Smile at how much better you’re becoming thanks to him
Do anything, but retain control of your mind and emotions and keep it positive and constructive.
#14. Boss? You Don’t Have a Go**amn Boss!
You never have to deal with a bad boss if you never have a boss
Let’s be honest here:
Having a POS of a boss is demeaning.
Never mentally accept any leadership of any undeserving ahole just because his picture sits above yours in some meaningless org chart.
One of the best pieces of advice I got from Brian Tracey is that you always think of yourself as your own boss.
You are the president of your own corporation.
If you have a boss, your boss is your final result only.
- Sales? The customers are your boss. They’re the ones who pay you.
- Research? Are you researching to make our lives better or are you researching to please your boss? Please get your priorities straight because we really need you to be in the former category.
- Customer Relationship? Are you making your customers happy or your boss? Please the former, this world really needs people who can make our lives better.
#15. Reframe It: Your Chance To Learn
Smooth sailing won’t carry you to greatness. Harsh seas and high waves will
Let the victims of this world complain about their hard, hard life.
But not you.
In his masterpiece, The Obstacle Is The Way Ryan Holiday teaches us the Stoic art of looking at problems as opportunities.
How great would you be if you could become that kind of enlightened, resourceful man who can see the pros in the seemingly cons of life?
Because you can.
Be the man who’s glad about the hardships of his life because you know hardships are exactly what make you stronger and build your character.
A bad boss is your chance of putting into practice skills that will make you great.
Thank you, bad boss, for providing me with the chance of becoming a better (wo)man!
And thank you for letting me learn power dynamics and be my power moves guinea pig.
Destroying Ahole Is Your Duty
If you let amoral bosses accrue power, you’re their accomplice
This is the ultimate mindset.
Most employees put their heads down and never do anything because they feel “that’s life”.
“That’s how the cookie crumbles”, you know. You gotta take the abuse.
But that’s not life.
Not only it’s not life, but it’s amoral and unethical not to disempower bad bosses when you have the chance of doing so.
And that’s why, to operate at the best of your possibilities, you need a “righteous mindset”.
Letting your bad boss run slipshod isn’t just bad for you: it’s bad for everyone.
It’s your moral duty to do anything in your power to destroy him.
It will be good for you, for your colleagues, and, yes, for the world at large.
And that’s the mindset you need to have to operate at the highest level: by destroying your bad boss you are doing something good for the world.
So go forth my friend, and do this world a favor.
If you research online “how to deal with a bad boss” you will get, of course, a plethora of plain vanilla, ineffective recommendations.
Some of them are actually counterproductive.
So here’s what you shouldn’t hed from the popular (and poor) common advice:
1. Don’t Talk To Him
People listen to actions, not words. Don’t plead when you can act
I gotta laugh at this advice.
Next thing you know someone will recommend you to pray and turn your cheek.
Sure, 3% of the time, with the right people and in the right situations it can be helpful.
But you don’t make the rules with the exceptions.
Why “talk to your bad boss” is bad “strategy”?
Because ahole he wouldn’t harass you if he knew any better and/or if he cared about you.
“talk to your bad boss” also presupposes a few things which are more likely to be false than true.
- Ahole can take negative feedback: Great people take feedback without taking it personally. But great people are unlikely to be ahole bosses
- Ahole will listen: Most people erect ego barriers to painful information. Bad bosses likely fall in this category
- Ahole will “change”: Most people don’t change. And even rarer is that words will change them
Here’s what’s more likely to happen when you “talk to him”:
Ahole will resent you: If there was a chance he didn’t dislike you before, now he surely will.
Ahole knows you’re enemy: Now you’re on the watch list. Kiss goodbye to any effective silent kill strategy. And if you do great at work you only become more dangerous to him.
2. Talk To His Boss
Here’s another popular piece of advice: “go talk to your boss”.
What are you a kid pleading for daddy’s protection?
Because that’s exactly how you will sound.
As Dan Rust explains in Workplace Poker, upper management doesn’t like people bringing up problems to them.
Also, be realistic: it’s more likely than not that ahole will eventually know you complained to his boss and it will complicate matters further.
Think execution, not a complaint. The time you go over ahole head is when you have enough power or can rally enough critical mass to oust him.
First of all, I want to provide you with a warning.
I am giving for granted here that your bad boss is indeed a terrible boss.
But YOU need to make sure of that.
Ask yourself over and over if the problem might not be you instead. Or both of you as it’s often the case.
And if that’s the case, all the strategies discussed here become not only unethical and amoral but also exponentially less likely to succeed (and more dangerous to deploy).
Legal Note: You might not need to go to court at all. Once you start accruing legal knowledge and proof you might feel confident enough to stand up and solve the problem.
And even if you escalate, a lawyer can also settle for you out of court. And of course, this post is not legal advice. Do your own research.
Summary: Never let a bad boss get to you.
If you like the company, keep delivering excellent performance. As a matter of fact, USE your hatred for the bad boss to become even greater.
Only face him directly when you’re powerful enough to oust him or when he’s disrespecting you in public -you can never allow that-.
Otherwise, be nice enough to leave him unsuspecting as you explore other options, strategize against him and accrue more power.
Now go get him.
And thank you for making this a better world.
1 thought on “17 Steps to Getting Rid of A Bad Boss (Machiavellian!)”
Hi Lucio…Excellent post, love your outlook, based on reality and not how people perceive things. I am in Tech (2 bosses) and a Business Director has control over us and makes us do non technical work with excuses such as we are hiring, you don’t have to do it in a month.
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