Bouncing Back from having a Bad Boss

Protecting yourself and creating a healthier dynamic in the workplace.   A post by Matthew Hill

I recently coached a number of working heroes who had one thing in common. They suffered with challenging and irritating bosses.

In this post we look at 6 ideas that will help you protect yourself from hurt and manage this, the most draining of scenarios.

1. Find your purpose – How can you strengthen yourself from the inside?

Individual resilience and wellbeing increases when you understand the “why" of your job and consciously connect with your calling and motivation. Here is a very simple coaching exercise, best done with a friend that may surprise you as you uncover the power of your “mission”. Answer the following questions about yourself and answer the questions as you hear them. Whilst there are no right and wrong answers in this exercise about a third of the time you will mess it up, some of the time you will get an OK result and, if you're lucky, you may reach a golden answer first time.

a) Who are you?

b) What do you do?

c) Who do you do it too?

d) Why do you feel that you do it?

e) What benefit is it to those that you do it too?

This is a powerful way of shaping your mission, purpose and raison d’etre. When you next face one of those tough moments, remember that you are a front-line working hero with a valid purpose can be of great value and support.

Regain your power

Regain your power

2. The gratitude list – This simple coaching exercise is extraordinarily powerful. Each day take a blank sheet of paper and write down 50 new things that you are grateful for or appreciative of. Big things, small things – anything. It might take you 40 minutes the first day and I want you to repeat it with a fresh white sheet of paper every morning. In a week’s time you will have a completely different energy. You will have a powerful list that flows easily. You will remember just how amazing life is.

Additional parts of the same exercise include writing down 50 skills that you have and 50 achievements that you have accomplished.

3. Detach detach detach – It is so very important that you learn to protect yourself by dissociating from the barbs, slights and insults that your boss articulates. You must isolate yourself from the negative energy and stop engaging whilst wearing your heart on your sleeve. There is a mantra that helps. It is a cynical one but effective in this circumstance. “Life is empty and meaningless and the fact that life is empty and meaningless is, of itself, empty and meaningless!” Repeat it 10 times before you go into the next negative meeting with your boss and treat yourself to an inner smile as you realise this crazy mantra is protecting you from harm as it builds distance and defense from attack and raw emotion.

4. Neutrality – Most expedient humans get through life using their primitive brains and jumping to conclusions, leaping to interpretation, and rushing to label. For some, it is the only exercise they get!

A better way, and following on from point 3, is to neutralise your perspective. Be a boring policeman with a notebook describing exactly the facts in front of you. Using your perceptions, describe what you see and what you hear. Smile as you begin to appreciate the boring nature of your inner voice. Being bored is better than being emotionally beaten up.

5. Projection is dangerous. You do not know what is going on in your bosses mind. You do not know about the baggage they carry around with them. You do not know of their past suffering. It is then pointless to project and set the standard for perfection that doesn't exist in the commercial world or the public sector.

They are human.

They're doing their thing for many invisible and unknown reasons. We do not have to project our own fears onto them. We can leave them be. Put some more distance between you and them. Literally imagine they are standing a little further away from you!

6. Write a positive attribute list. If you've only read this post once, point 6 may be a point too far! If you have read it a couple of times and managed to get some distance, protect yourself and to detach, then I will now set you a test.

Take a piece of paper and write down 3 positive attributes of your boss. Do so without any drama in your mind and resist the temptation to interpret, project, label or to judge. If you can write 3 positive things with no discernible increase in your heart rate you are really making progress. The task on day 2 is to extend the list to 5 positive attributes. Work on this every day until you get up to 10. You will be surprised how your energy changes and you might be more surprised to witness the energy of the other person improve in your dialogues and encounters.


So to summarise, whilst difficult people are difficult, you can protect yourself by peeling off the labels of meaning that you have put onto them. As you detach and put some distance between you and them, you create a healthy space in which to be neutral, be yourself and to explore the positive possibilities of your potential interactions.

Rise above the fray. Be a better and resilient helicopter pilot hovering above them. You are away from the drama and can enjoy your job as you rediscover the authentic and healthy you.

The you that is protected and distant from your boss. Welcome back – you are now a high-functioning individual working hero again.

Matthew Hill trains groups in Assertiveness and Personal Power.

About matthew

Matthew Hill is a leadership author, coach and trainer with a passion for helping newly promoted managers become inner and outer leaders.
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