Take a moment and think about the word “boss.” What image comes to mind?

Most people flash to a picture of a demanding, screaming, critical, oppressive tyrant. But surprisingly “boss” didn’t start out as a negative word; it actually comes from a Dutch word for “uncle.” And a Dutch uncle is supposed to give you great, honest advice.

The unavoidable fact is that most of us have bosses that don’t just provide great advice. And even though it may not be part of your written job description, pleasing your boss is a big part of any position. In fact, it may be the single most important factor in keeping your job, receiving adequate raises and moving up in the ranks. Think of it as having two occupations doing what your job description says and pleasing your boss.

Learning to Please

It’s easy to please a good boss, one that explains to you exactly what’s expected on the job, gives you guidance when you need it and allows your skills and talents to develop. This mythical good boss also tells you how much he or she appreciates your hard work, gives you plenty of promotions and boosts your salary yearly.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? In reality, though, a lot more of us are strapped with a bad boss someone who doesn’t trust their employees because they are feeling inadequate themselves. A bad boss will question and undermine everything that you do. A bad boss will think they’re right no matter what, will criticize you and won’t listen to anything you say. And to top it off, they will take credit for your good work while bypassing you for raises and promotions.

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Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? In order to make the best of a potentially sticky situation, it’s up to you to find out what your boss really wants and how to deliver.

And remember, complaining about your tyrannical boss to coworkers will not help the situation. In fact, it can potentially make a terrible circumstance worse if your angry words somehow wind up whispered back into your boss’s ear by a devious coworker. No matter what, the fact that you can’t get along with your boss will only reflect negatively on you.

Learning to get along with a difficult boss is among the most important career-building skills you can learn. But what exactly can you do to survive a thorny workplace? Here are several strategies that you can try. And these are good skills to practice with any boss. Even if you have a boss that doubles as your best friend right now, you never know when you’ll wind up working for a nightmare supervisor! So anytime is a good time to practice these effective skills.

Let them be right. Sometimes all your boss needs is to be told that they are right. So do it. It’s OK to swallow your pride and say those magic words, “You’re right.” Or, “I’m sorry.” Or, “Point taken. I’m learning so much from you, and next time I will check with you to make sure I am doing what you want.” Remember, you’re only human; sometimes you will make mistakes. And when it happens, admit your error and apologize. Tell your boss what you learned from your mistake and how you’ll apply it next time. Don’t waste your time explaining why you did what you did or trying to prove how you were right all along. Instead, acknowledge to your boss how accurate his or her point of view is. Behaving like this may leave you feeling like a toady at first, especially if you haven’t had much experience kowtowing to authority. But keep in mind, behaving like this comes as second nature to people who succeed in their careers.

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Let your boss guide you. When you are beginning something new on the job, it can’t hurt to get advice from the higher-ups. No matter what job you have sometimes you will need supervision. And if you receive criticism, turn it into an assignment for next time. “You mean you’d prefer a shorter report including charts?” “Are you saying that you’d prefer me to go to the client’s location and teach them our format?” Give up feeling defensive and blaming something or someone else. “The dog ate my homework” and all the other excuses you may have used in school are worthless in the workplace. You might have to redo a report or other job task several times to get it right, but it’s a good opportunity to utilize your boss’s expertise to help you do your job correctly.


Remember, your boss isn’t the only one you work with. If things are really bad with your boss you may begin thinking about leaving your place of employment. However, before you jump ship, see if you can find a few people higher ranking and influential whose style and work you admire to serve as role models. These mentors can give you advice about how to do your job better and how to get along with your boss and coworkers. And since your mentors might be able to promote you into another department or job function, forming these relationships may even get you out from under your cruel boss. However, if there’s no support at your job, you will be forced to begin looking for a new position. The best way to find another job is to network! Look to all your contacts, family and friends for potential job leads. No one gets through their career alone; everyone needs a reference and someone who can vouch for their work and ability to get along with others.

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Hard work isn’t always rewarded. Unlike school where for the most part your successes (and failures) were yours and yours alone, in the work world what you do reflects on the entire organization. This can be a good thing: sometimes major mistakes won’t fall solely on your shoulders. But what about when you’re doing amazingly well in your job? Then you can expect timely raises and promotions, right? Well, not necessarily. If you have a particularly sneaky boss, your successes in the work place may wind up being his or her successes instead, since your boss can take all the credit. This is just part of life and something you’ll have to get used to if you plan on working for other people during your career. Keep plugging along and doing your best-eventually

it will pay off.

If you can’t change your boss into someone you’re able to work for, change your attitude. For starters, in today’s rocky economy, you can be glad that you even have a job. If you’re fortunate enough to be employed in a high-demand health field, just knowing that there are other opportunities out there can get you through a particularly bad day. (And maybe it’s time to start exploring those options!) After all, having a job is a reason to get up in the morning and it presents daily learning opportunities, a steady paycheck and even a profession to belong to. But if your boss is driving you crazy, you may need to focus on something else to get you through the day. Give yourself a life assignment: look for the advantages at your job. They could be right under your nose, and once you start looking around you will be amazed at how many potential opportunities are right in front of you there are networks to build, skills to develop, experiences to have, allies to form and friends to make!

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