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5 Types of Bad Boss and How to Handle Them

Science attracts so many different and quirky personalities that you are bound to have a problem with some people. But when your boss is the problem, its a big problem for you.

So what do you do when you don’t get along with your boss?

Well sometimes the best advice is really to just move on to a position or environment more suited to your personality. But in many cases, if you can understand your boss’ personality trait, and how to deal with that personality type, it can help.

So here are some of different types of particularly difficult personality traits I have found in managers I have worked with, along with a few ways to get along with each type of person.

1. “Did I hear that right?” The passive aggressive personality

Passive aggressiveness is a strategy used when a person basically isn’t able to confront issues directly so instead will use indirect means of criticizing you. It could be in the form of comments or actions that make you question yourself or cause you to make mistakes.

It is difficult to address because oftentimes it may be seen as you “taking it the wrong way” and so others may not always see the problem.
The only way to deal with passive aggressive behavior is to recognize it and address it at the time it is happening. You do not need to be rude or aggressive back. Simply let the person know that their comment was not ok and that their rudeness is not necessary.

The idea is to bring their behavior out into the open. You will feel good about defending yourself without resorting to back-biting or complaining and chances are that once they realize that it doesn’t work on you, they will stop.

2. Manipulative personality

Some managers can demonstrate qualities of manipulative behavior. This is particularly common where there is large power difference with regards to education or authority.

You are the reportee are anxious to make your boss happy and to prove your worthiness. You may find that you are saying yes to things without really wanting too. The problem is that this type of boss may not be looking out for your best interest but their own and so have you running off in multiple directions and not focused on your career goals.

In a way this feels like a compliment because you are taking care of so much and feel validated in your job. But it is important to know when it has gone too far and now you are not progressing in the direction you set for yourself. The most critical thing is to learn to recognize when it is happening and then to address the specific situation with your boss privately.

It may be uncomfortable if you are not used to speaking up, but you will develop great skills in managing others (managing up) and with a little skill and patience you can be sure to keep your career on track while still making the boss look good.

Setting boundaries at the beginning is key.

3. The unfocused boss

Having a supervisor that lacks focus can be exhausting for the people reporting to him or her.

This type of boss has so much energy and wants to do everything and wanted it done yesterday. They commit constantly to more projects without checking with the people who actually do the work. Their positive energy is infectious and it is great to be so productive.

The problem occurs when you start projects or experiments every day. Priorities change daily, or sometimes hourly, and you can’t finish a task before a new one is put upon you. The only way to keep up is to work very long hours and even then your head is barely above water. This type of situation will lead to burnout if not handled timely.

The best way to address this situation is to have a talk with the boss and have prepared a list of every project you have going and where it is at in terms of being finished and the deadline if there is one.

Explain how you prioritized the list and what you feel are the most important projects to complete before taking on more. If the boss wants to add more to your list, give them an honest assessment as to when it can be started. When they insist it must be started earlier, ask them which project on this list should we bump off?

The idea is to bring to their reality all of the commitments so they can understand the volume of work on your plate. You need to be firm when stating that you simply cannot take on another project until projects x, y, and z get done.

They want to keep you working hard for them and making them look great. You just need to restore your sanity and feel good about having a job well done instead of 20 jobs all done poorly.

This type of boss often does not realize the extent of your frustration until you discuss it so it may come as a shock when you finally draw the line.

4. The micro-manager boss

Depending on the type of worker you are, a micro-manager can be a benefit or a nightmare. If you like to have a lot of direction and attention, you won’t mind a micro-manager at all. However, if you prefer to work independently, you will not be a good match with a micro-manager.

This type of supervisor will check in with you every 5-15 minutes to see how you are progressing. You know you are in trouble when the boss positions your desk or cubicle as close to their office as possible.

To survive micro-management, you can try a couple of techniques. One is to find another place to focus on your work; whether you need to read papers or work on a powerpoint presentation, find an empty conference room where you can focus without being disturbed. If leaving your desk is not an option, try putting on headphones or listening to your ipod (even if it is off) as an indicator that you are focused and can’t be disturbed.

If the constant interruptions are occurring in the lab, set the time to go off in a 1-2 minutes. If you are being called to the boss’ office while trying to get your lab work done, bring the timer with you and let them know you only have a few minutes before you need to get back to your samples.

5. The put-down boss

I saved this for last because this is probably the worst situation of all. It is difficult to handle a supervisor who rules by negative reinforcement. Most people will not last under these circumstances and who would want to?

The best approach is to make sure you do not work for someone like this.

During the interview, make sure to talk to others in the group or lab and also, you may want to check references for the boss with others who worked with this person and left the group.

But if you do find yourself in a situation where you have to be subjected to verbal insults, if you are not overly intimidated, try speaking to the person about it and give specific examples of when their language was inappropriate or crossed the line. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the situation, it would be best to leave, plain and simple. No job is worth the anxiety and stress of dealing with abuse.

The workplace is a dynamic place with many differing personalities all needing to work together. It is not uncommon that two people just don’t click or that personality clashes will occur.

The answer to any uncomfortable situation with a boss or co-worker is always to be positive and to be constructive. Focus on the problem and not the person. Focus on how to work together and not how to get the other person to change – because they won’t. I can’t stress enough how important it is to leave any job with relationships intact.

Never insult the boss or management or retaliate on your way out. That is the surest way to never be hired again.

I only listed a few personality types that I have seen during my working years or as reported to me by colleagues. How about you? Do you need help handling a situation at your lab or office?

Originally published 17 March 2009. Updated and republished 10 December 2014.

107 Comments

  1. Monica on February 24, 2020 at 2:24 am

    I work for a small startup firm. Boss is the owner and manager who calls ALL the shots, and I’m the one and only office staff/secretary/admin. So it’s just me and the boss. Boss is an immigrant who probably failed to find a decent enough job here, and thus acquired this startup so he could be independent. But he has absolutely no managerial or ‘people’ skills. He talks down to his staff, belittles, etc. He even drove out a rather focussed and skilled admin assistant that we used to have, due to his attitude. And his main focus is MONEY, which he ruthlessly pursues!

    Many of the work activities are collaborative (between me and boss) and during those times he gives extremely vague and ambiguous instructions, because I can tell that he himself is rather confused and also lacks English skills, and when I make a mistake or fail to ‘get it’ as a result, he gets irritated and belittles me as if I’m stupid! It’s so humiliating!! I am a passive and quiet person, and am not really in the habit of talking back. Objectively speaking, my boss needs me because of my business school degree, the superior spoken and written communication skills I offer, my efficiency, etc. But he always finds ways to indirectly sabotage my efforts and then make me look like the incompetent one, and behaves as if he’s done me a great favour by giving me this job! The pay is miserly, but still I don’t complain. It’s a startup after all. But I feel like an idiot everyday at work, getting more and more confused, walking on eggshells, and making clumsy mistakes that I never used to make!

    • Lightning on March 11, 2020 at 9:34 am

      Same thing happened to me. My boss doesn’t know anything about my job. But she acts like know everything. Even though, she is just a boss’s wife.

    • Daniel on April 6, 2020 at 10:18 pm

      Monica — Sounds to me that your boss is very likely one of an East-Asian heritage. In case you’re wondering or confused, that’s really the standard norm in which they run things. And you got it right: They are only focused on making money. Loads of them by any means possible. If you are a passive and quiet person, you will be his favorite doormat that he will walk over and trample on whenever he feels like doing so. My advice to you is: Do your very best to seek out another job with another employer. It may not be as easy as it sounds like to find one. But, in the long-run, you will be thankful and relieved that you’ve done yourself such a favor. Hugs!

  2. Jay Redd on September 25, 2019 at 1:25 am

    My last two bosses were such assholes. First one would constantly put people down for not doing what he wanted, but he was hard to understand because he’d mumble and had messed up teeth and was super vague. He would straight up insult you if you screwed up. Second one was this condescending dickhead that I never personally had a problem with, but he treated the apprentices, that we’re just trying to learn and help out, like garbage. If they messed anything up, even if they just started, he’d act like they did it on purpose and be a dick to them for the entire day.

    Like come on. These are the same guys always belly aching because they can’t get people to stay more than a couple weeks. How hard is it to get a clue?

    Why are so many bosses such miserable dickheads?

  3. K on August 10, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    My boss is the combination of all the above mentioned traits. I dunno how to manage her at all.

    • Susan on March 19, 2020 at 5:28 pm

      So what if someone made up horrible lies that did not happen or wasn’t even said, then your boss ask for your address the says I’m going to mail you something and I want you to read this on your spare time. Comes to find out that it’s a book for dummies for management but don’t take it offensive. I have been in management for over 18 yes. I’m totally offended.. I don’t even know what to do . I love my job but I am not sure I want to work under this man any longer. He is younger than me and he always cussing and telling things he should not repeat.

  4. Valentino on August 3, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Hi, I work in a small town and my boss falls under “The unfocused boss”. Deadlines changes so many times, especially when we are near to the release. Requirement priority keeps changing so many times sometimes we get frustrated. In the last meeting if he says requirement A should get high priority as customer M wants it in the next release and when we are in the middle he says requirement B should be given higher priority as customer N wants it and hold requirement A for now. As per his previous approval we would have already committed to customer M and our sales team that we are going to release what they have asked in few weeks. End of the day customer M will call and keep bashing us or sales and sales keep putting pressure on us to give the requirement A. If we approach our manager, he says that its better to give them the release soon else they will hold the payment. We are so sick of this. I can’t leave this town either because of my family and old sick parents nor we have any other company which can compete with this.

  5. jack on June 27, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Unfortunately, my last boss was one amalgam of all of the points. at the point of even saiyng that I can’t understand English. (when clearly she was the one with fractured English her self).

    Thank GOD My run on that shit ended 2 months ago!

  6. Doug on June 13, 2019 at 4:07 am

    My boss called me into the office yesterday to let me know the DM does not like me, he says I’m old school.. I’m 66 years old and work circles around the entire staff.. I’m so insulted I want to leave…
    Anyone have any ideas ?

  7. Mary on May 26, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    I work as a housekeeper, and I’m the only white housekeeper and are new boss is mexcain and she wants me gone, she’s been making things up she’s nice to us when the Big boss is near by, but when he’s gone she’s two face. I’m streed out working there. And no one see it. what should I do? This web page has help some.

  8. Buggy Boo on May 8, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    My boss is such a rude micro-managing bully that she isn’t even willing to stick up for me when I’m being harassed by someone even worse than she is. This is her first job as a supervisor. Ironically, before working here I worked in offices where this type of behavior is out of the question, and I have had supervisory experience.

    This is a different field where there are a lot of guys who work in the field, but neither she nor they have the right to make denigrating remarks.

    Yet they do. When I had a grievance about one guy in particular who likes to throw his weight around, her answer was, “Just do the work. He’s a supervisor so you should obey him the same way you would obey the owners. Whenever he asks you to do something, who cares how he asks you just do it. He’s your boss. Don’t question us.”

    During the recession, she once told me that if I had a complaint I should zip it because there are people beating down the door for my job.

    I’m planning to retire early – she does not realize that this means I’m leaving in a couple of months, as soon as I have about a year and one-half left before Medicare kicks in. I’ll get COBRA and then transition to Medicare since healthcare reform has been destablized so much that it’s no longer something I can feel confident getting. To anyone not aware: There used to be a fund reserved to insure the insurance companies were they to price too competitively – guaranteeing them a profit of 115%. Guess what. That fund was stripped of its monies, completely depleted by the Republican party members in Congress. Cute, huh? The party that has acted in bad faith since Day 1 when it came to healthcare reform.

    Well, Trump fans, my boss is one of you. Surprise surprise. What she AND that guy who I’m now supposed to treat as if he’s a demigod have said about my health problems (I have two life-threatening chronic conditions) is that it’s MY fault healthcare costs are so high. What do they want to do – take me out to the back of the barn and shoot me? Good Lord. And by the way, the guy I’m referring to is vastly over-weight and obviously has high blood pressure. He’s constantly flying off the handle. In fact, he’s been given a “talking to” for other issues (involving more adept supervisors who’ve been complained to and have acknowledged that the person complaining had a legitimate grievance). But hey, I’m not supposed to have these hereditary diseases and be working for a living, apparently. I’m supposed to be an heiress, I guess. Because if I weren’t working, they’d call me a “moocher”. Honestly, what is wrong with these Trump groupies who think their sh** doesn’t stink now that a buffoon birther is acting as if he just became king and are entitled now to push people around and insist on being treated as if they’re royalty.

    I take it they’ve never learned this motto: RESPECT IS EARNED..

    Funny thing is, I know both of them are going to miss me when I’m gone because contrary to another insult thrown my way a number of years ago (“your job is a dime a dozen”), I’ve saved this company a lot of grief because my work is stellar. Say what you want about my hair, my weight (I’m 25# overweight – my boss hasn’t noticed so is her mother who is 5 years younger than me), etc., but I’m good at what I do AND multi-task like no one else here.

    And so when I do go, I’m giving her exactly what is required in accordance with the employee manual: two weeks notice. Not a minute more.

    Respect is earned. But in this instance, after over 10 years of putting up with abusive comments, being told I’m doing something trivial “wrong” because it’s not the way my boss would do it (and then it turns out I get it done accurately and twice as fast), and the snide comments that sound like they’re coming out of the mouth of a pre-teen spoiled brat drunk with power, guess what. I agree, respect is earned. Many people have earned my respect. But these jerks who are abusive do not deserve mine. So, yes, respect is earned. And so is revenge. And with the least amount of noise, quietly, and promptly, I will have mine.

  9. russel on April 6, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    I think I’m lucky because my boss is so humble and down to earth person he supports me always and take care of all workers.

    • Romy on July 2, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      I need help with a manager who has overbearing and controlling behavior and uses verbal insults at the drop of a hat. She wants to be copied in very email I send out to clients and is micro-managing every grammar and punctuation/spaces.She wants things to be done by a certain hour within the day and shouts down if things are taking longer( even with budgets where you need precision). I feel very threatened in such a hostile environment.The director whom I report to is helpless in front of her as she manages the show and is a veteran in her field.
      What do I do? Please help

    • Jen on February 15, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      My boss is all of these!!!!

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