Bad Boss? Five Tips to Help You Cope

by Linda P. Kester May/June 2018
Working for a bad boss can turn a dream job into a nightmare. Drawing from her own experience, Linda Kester shares five tips sales reps can use to stay professional and focused despite the influence of a bad sales manager.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: a majority of sales leaders are unqualified and ineffective. This happens because top producing reps get promoted to management, and the skills of successful sales people, such as being absorbed in their own accomplishments and working independently, are not the characteristics of a good manager.

I know good bosses because I’ve been blessed with some excellent ones. My favorite boss was a true leader. She was humble and encouraging, inspiring courage in me. With her support, I became courageous enough to face rejection and resolve objections. I wanted to shine as a salesperson and make us both look good.

I also had a bad boss — I’ll call him BB. He created such a negative environment, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Even though I loved the company, I started looking for another job because he made my life miserable. He was combative, conceited and moody. Asking a simple question could send him on a rampage. He would close his office door and be inaccessible for hours.

According to Forbes, a survey conducted by psychologist Michelle McQuaid revealed 65% of Americans say getting rid of their boss would make them happier than receiving a salary increase. If you’re in this club, or ifyour manager’s lack of leadership skill is hampering your performance, the following five tips can help you resolve conflict and, hopefully, enjoy your job again.

1. Smell the Soup, Cool the Soup

This simple breathing technique can help you stay calm when you feel attacked, offended or misunderstood. When I asked BB for help generating a report and he barked: “I thought you knew how to do it! Forget the whole thing. Why don’t you just go have a baby?” I told myself “smell the soup, cool the soup.” I inhaled, exhaled and took a few moments before responding.

You are far more likely to achieve a positive result if you approach issues calmly and objectively — be assertive without getting emotional.

No matter how badly your boss behaves, avoid letting it affect your work so you can stay on good terms with your co-workers. The key is to respond, not to react. When I responded to BB, I said, in a calm voice, “I don’t appreciate when you raise your voice while speaking to me, and I hope we can have more productive interactions in the future.”

It’s hard to avoid reacting to unfair criticism, but staying calm gives you strength in the long run.

When you smell the soup, cool the soup for just a few seconds, you can maintain a sense of control over your emotions. I also do this before I send an emotionally charged email or text message.

2. Non-Personalization

Focus on the work, not your boss. By focusing on your boss instead of the problem at hand, you are likely to get frustrated and make things personal. Instead of getting angry with your sales manager for failing to communicate valuable information, address your trouble getting leads or the difficulty of getting transactions approved.

Be the best salesperson you can be. Others will evaluate you by the choices you make. Keep your head down, continue to work hard and deliver good results — many times these situations resolve themselves.

3. Have the Tough Conversation

When the time is right, speak up. Be assertive. Articulate your concerns and be prepared for your bad sales manager to get defensive. You may be the first to point out his demotivating behaviors. Many bosses have no idea their reps are feeling overworked, angry or frustrated. Don’t complain about your manager being mean or rude, but focus on work-related aspects of the job, such as your difficulty reaching quota without his communication and support.

If you never bring up these difficulties, your chance of improving your work environment is close to zero. Speaking up may be uncomfortable, but it will be worthwhile in the long run. Remember: don’t be accusatory, stick to the facts and be professional. Say something like, “I don’t appreciate you putting me down in front of my direct reports, and I hope we can have more professional interactions in the future.” Then cite specific examples: “It is not appropriate for you to say ‘just go have a baby.’” This actually happened to me!

It may be intimidating to confront your sales manager, but this step is vital in developing a better workplace relationship. You have a right to express your boundaries in the workplace. Make your position clear in a polite but forthright manner when your boss behaves in an inappropriate manner. If your sales manager is yelling about your work, instead of mirroring his bad behavior, firmly say you will discuss this issue after both of you have calmed down (remember tip number one). Another option could be saying, “Thank you for your observations. I will consider them and get back to you.”

To take a Zen-like approach to the situation, take a breath and ask yourself, “What is my best intention here?” Do you want to fight, or do you want to solve the problem? Once you access your intention, your tone of voice will change. The ability to access your true intention can open your life in beautiful ways. You can’t choose how your boss treats you, but you can always choose your response.

4. Don’t Complain or Gossip

Avoid gossiping about your boss. It’s inappropriate to complain to your co-workers about your sales manager, and many times this behavior will come back to hurt you.

If other sales reps approach you with gossip or persistent complaints about your boss, change the subject.

5. Consider Your Options/Don’t Become a Victim:

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

If your boss is intolerable, take an action step toward making a change — however inconsequential it may seem. You may want to seriously consider transferring to another department.

When I find myself playing a victim role, I wonder how many other people are suffering under a bad boss right now, which expands my view. Thousands of people are dealing with bosses and situations much more difficult than mine. This helps me realize how much I have to be grateful for.

After changing my perspective I look for the hidden opportunity within this situation, which keeps me focused on how to solve a problem or get something good from a current situation. Asking, “Why do I have a schmuck for a boss?” will only make you feel worse.

BB taught me the behaviors to avoid as a sales manager. I am grateful for his presence in my life because the experience helped me develop compassion for others who have a bad boss. Before BB, when others complained about managers, I thought, “You’re just whining, toughen up!” Now I know firsthand how a manager can significantly affect your life and get you caught up in fear and confusion.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins says humble managers are the best leaders. Managers who exhibit traits of humility — seeking feedback and focusing on the needs of others — elicited better employee engagement and job production. Consider this before promoting your best rep into a management position.

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