The bad boss, toxic manager, tyrant, or all around ineffective supervisor is a problem many employees face. Stop a random person on the street and ask them about their boss and you’ll usually find a horror story. The experiences are real and leave lasting scars on those put in the unfortunate position of having to deal with difficult boss.

So what you should you do? What are your choices? While there is no simple answer or magic formula for every bad boss problem, there are a few things you can do to remain calm, confident, and maintain your power position in the reporting relationship.

Tip #1. Get grounded. It’s hard to stare your boss in the face when he or she is demeaning you or worse, ignoring you. The answer? Chill out. That’s right – take a step back and focus on what’s being said not how it’s coming out of your boss’s mouth. We get trapped in emotional triggers that send us flying and our blood pressure boiling. Physiologically, the adrenaline and other chemicals that surge when reacting to your boss’s behavior sends signals to your brain that stimulate a fight or flight response. Either you want to engage or withdraw but in both cases you aren’t focused on your boss’s message. Being grounded means you have control of your internal reactions so that your energy is spent on the conversation.

Try this: You’re not trying to suppress your emotions, but you are trying to control them in the moment facing your boss. Think about your boss as a character on your favorite TV show. Watching someone perform TV puts you in the role of observer. If you can picture your boss as a TV character, even though he or she is live in front of you, it helps to keep in you in a calm and collected non-verbal stance and allows you to listen and respond more effectively.

Tip #2: Stick to the conversation at hand. When your micro-managing boss gets in your face about missing a report or deadline and tries to “motivate” you through tough words, you need to zero in on what’s really being asked. Your boss’s style, tone, and ranting are distractions. You need to extract the relevant information nuggets that get to the business need your boss is really after.  

Try this: When your boss takes a pause in conversation, jump in with a clarifying mirror statement like, “I want to make sure I got everything you said.”

Then repeat the highlights of the message (who, what, where, why, when) back to your boss. If your boss is a high pressure type or simply thinks you and other staff members are not accountable enough, a brief restatement of important points shows your boss you’re paying attention.

Tip #3. Agree on outcomes. The final step in taking your boss from initial tirade to balanced communication is to outline the results. You want to make sure you know what to prioritize so you deliver what’s expected with surprises later. You take control of your boss’s initial comments thrown over the wall by detailing the key things your boss wants. You ask for clarification and validation before you end the conversation with your boss.

Try this: Take notes in front of your boss so he or she knows you have a record of what’s being agreed to. Writing things down is useful on many levels not just to make a to-do list. You can also formulate questions easier as you are transcribing rather than maintaining a pure mental volley with your boss about what he or she wants.

Choosing the right time and approach is important in the diffusion process as well but it starts with having the right perspective. Maintain the message not the emotions, and you will find that communication, and relationship with your boss, will improve over time.  

Have a bad boss or work issue? Tony Deblauwe, author of Tangling with Tyrants: Managing the Balance of Power at Work, is a workplace expert and coach with an extensive background helping individuals and corporations achieve success. Get more information at