Help! My Boss is a Jerk, What Can I Do?

It’s not your boss, it’s you.

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels
|Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels|

Generally, I like to invoke the API Principle (Assume Positive Intent). Chances are, your boss really isn’t a jerk. However, even if we assume that your boss truly is a jerk. You’re still not off the hook. This is still about you.

Ask your friends what you should do, and you will likely get contradictory advice falling roughly along the lines of three categories:

  • Stand up to him, you’re too good to be bullied like that!
  • Tough it out! What are you, a millennial?
  • It’s all about communication. Can’t you just talk it out and get along?

And now you feel even more helpless and confused than when you started. This is where the it’s-about-you part comes in.

Look inside yourself to know what it is you should do. It all depends on your particular circumstances, and most importantly, on who you are. The adage ”To thyself be true” is usually the right answer to most questions, and this case is no exception.

Ask yourself: What’s your superpower? Is it courage? Then stand up to him. Patience? Tough it out until the right opportunity for change arises. Diplomacy? Communicate.

So, be true to yourself. Use your superpower.

Still can’t make up your mind? You may be suffering from analysis paralysis, and chances are analysis is one of your superpowers.

Alright, let’s use it.

GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, and Will) is a coaching framework that helps people draw from their own reserves of knowledge and wisdom to find the best answer to the questions that vex them.


What is your goal? Is it stable and uneventful employment? Or is doing meaningful work more important for you? How about belonging in a community of like-minded colleagues? Or is the time and energy you need to spend at work getting in the way of more important personal goals?

Could it be that you are not really annoyed by your boss, but rather, he represents something that prevents you from achieving something that is more important for you?


Identify the behaviors you boss displays that bother you, and how you react to them. Be specific. Ask yourself what, when, where, and who questions. What did he say? Where? In what context? In the presence of whom?

Is he restricting your freedom or creativity by micro-managing? Or did he make you lose face in front of colleagues? Or is he asking you to do something that you fundamentally disagree with, be it strategically or value-wise?

Avoid why-questions as they create a propensity to justify or jump to conclusions. Whatever your chosen course of action, these specifics will be useful, be them to address them constructively if you decide to confront your boss, or help you identify techniques to deal with them if you decide that an adjustment of your own attitude or choices is in order.


Take an objective look at the options you have and make a list.

Then ask yourself what you would do if you had a magic wand. This last question may uncover new perspectives about what it really is that bothers you, and out-of-the-box ways to deal with it.

With a bit of creativity, some of the items in your list of options can be useful step stones that will take you closer to your ultimate goal.


Decide what you will do. Wishing is not enough. Will is the inner strength that turns wishing into action and makes it happen. Do you have the will to do it?

The answer to this question is mostly dependent on who you are. Are you being true to yourself in this course of action? The more aligned your decision is with your true self, the higher the chances that you will have the will to follow-through.

You, in control

Nasty bosses are difficult to deal with due to the power asymmetry in your relationship with them. But the problem can become particularly pernicious if it fosters a mindset of victimhood, which can send your mental wellbeing on a long-term downward spiral.

Don’t become a victim. By focusing on what you can do, rather than on what is done to you, you regain control over the situation. This could lead to a path-breaking turn in your career, inspire an entrepreneurial start, or give way to a long-postponed sabbatical that yields new and life-changing insights and relationships.

People seldom are the villain in their own story, and that includes your boss’. Chances are, he really is not a jerk. Instead, ask yourself: How much of your issues with him are within your control, and maybe, what annoys you about him is a projection of what bothers you about your own inaction?

Even so. No, especially so, why play a bit character in your boss’ story?

Take control of your own story. Turn your will into action. Be the hero.

Original article first published in Medium.

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