Is your bad boss holding you back? Have they become so reliant on you they’re unwilling to let you move onwards or upwards? Or perhaps rather than acknowledging all the things you do well, they fixate – or even invent – constant areas of improvement for your work.
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Are you trying to survive a bad boss? Fed up with advice to speak to them about it, raise it to HR or quit your job?
The good news is there’s a proven, practical way to overcome the terrors your bad boss is creating, and you’ve probably completely overlooked it.
Ready? The secret to surviving a bad boss is … other people. Tah dah!
Researchers have found that the single best predictor of momentary experiences that lead to higher wellbeing and engagement at work, is not what we’re doing, but who we’re doing it with.
In fact, having a best friend at work makes it seven times more likely that you’ll be engaged in your job, makes you better at engaging customers, helps you to produce higher quality work, improves your well-being and makes it less likely you’ll be injured on the job – regardless of your bad boss.
Studies show that a bad boss can greatly undermine your relationships at work and at home.
Perhaps you’re like the legal secretary whose bad boss encouraged her colleagues to ignore her completely. Or maybe your bad boss likes to play you off against your colleagues so there’s no trust among your peers. Or it could be just the sheer stress and misery created by your bad boss is coloring your time with friends and family.
The problem is by design, the negativity created by a bad boss inspires us to protect ourselves, which often means pulling back from others. Unfortunately, this separation can set you on a dark and lonely path that insulates you from the one thing you need most – the love and support of other people who care about you. Making it easier for a bad boss to get the better of you.
“Our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world,” explains George Vaillant, a leading psychiatrist who is famous for overseeing on one of the longest running psychological studies of all time – the Harvard Grant Study which found social bonds don’t just predict overall happiness but also eventual career achievement, occupational success, and income regardless of a bad boss. How can this be?
Firstly, evolution has genetically hard-wired us for love. As a child, your survival depends on unconditional and forgiving love. As an adult, you flourish when the positive emotions of love, joy, hope, forgiveness, compassion and trust allow you to attach to social networks that provide cooperation, support and physical, intellectual, emotional and financial prosperity.
Your colleagues, friends and family are the best source of ideas and encouragement when it comes to surviving a bad boss.
Secondly, we have a biological need for social support. Each time you joyfully connect with another person, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into your bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus. Each social connection also bolsters your cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune systems, so that the more connections you make over time, the better you function.
Enjoyable moments with your colleagues, friends and family offer a biological “undo” effect for the lowering the stress your bad boss creates and raising your wellbeing to start looking for win-win outcomes for you, your boss and your organization.
Studies show even brief encounters which fuel openness, energy and authenticity among colleagues – one conversation or an email exchange – can infuse you with a greater sense of vitality, giving you a pep in your step and a greater capacity to deal with your bad boss. Here are some proven, practical ways from positive psychology to help protect your relationships no matter what your bad boss is coming up with:
People who have at least three or four very close friendships at work are healthier, have higher wellbeing and are more engaged in their jobs. Don’t let your bad boss undermine your relationships when these people are the secret to feeling happier at work. Best of all research shows positive social connections predict more individual learning behavior, motivate you more than money or power and improve your effectiveness and performance which is the best way to ultimately free yourself of your bad boss.
Do you have a bad boss who’s sucking all the joy from your life? Chances are it’s costing you money, success, health and happiness.
Did you know happier employees have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, receive higher performance ratings and higher pay and enjoy more job security?
In fact, the latest scientific evidence from more than 200 studies of 275,000 people around the world tells us that happiness and positivity doesn’t simply reflect success and fulfillment; it also produces it in nearly every domain of life, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity and energy.
Is your bad boss is keeping you from all of this?
While I certainly was relieved to escape each bad boss I’ve encountered at work, it wasn’t until I met Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina, often described as the “genius of positive psychology”, that I really started to understand what these bosses where costing by robbing me of positive emotions like joy, interest and pride in my work.
Barb explained our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best – not when they’re negative or even neutral – but when they’re positive. A rare state when you’re enduring a bad boss.
Yet Barb’s research has repeatedly demonstrated that positivity – or the lack thereof – doesn’t just change the contents of our mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of our psyche by broadening and building us.
Positivity opens us up to be more creative and receptive – even towards a bad boss. Studies show that it literally expands our peripheral vision, allowing us to see more than we typically do. In addition, it floods our brains with dopamine and serotonin and enables us to make and sustain more neural connections so that we can organize new information, think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things when it comes to managing our bad boss.
It also alters how we see our connections with others so that we look past what separates us – like racial differences – and think more in terms of “we” and less in terms of “me”. It can help us be more tolerant towards others – perhaps even a bad boss.
The best part is by opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being. As our positive emotions accrue, they also build up our psychological, intellectual, social and physical resources, leaving us better equipped to face a bad boss.
We become more optimistic, more resilient, more open, more accepting, and more driven by purpose. And what’s more, we cultivate more open-minded mental habits, ignite better connections with others and improve our biological markers for health so that we can lower our blood pressure, experience less pain, have fewer colds and sleep better. Leaving you in perfect form to overcome your bad boss!
My favorite part of Barb’s research is her discovery that positivity obeys a tipping point – even in the face of a bad boss. She’s found when we encounter at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift us, for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience we endure, a tipping point occurs, which predicts our ability to see new opportunities, bounce back from setbacks, connect more with others, and reach our potential.
As part of her work she also notes that appropriate negativity – that we can learn from rather than be shamed by – is a necessary ingredient in life, which keeps us grounded in reality and may even provide a practical use for a bad boss. Barb suggests that the goal is not to banish heart-wrenching negative emotions, but to balance them with enough heartfelt, positive ones (around 3 to 1) so that they no longer leave us to languish.
You can increase your relative positivity (our “positive ratio”) when it comes to your bad boss in three ways by:
This doesn’t mean painting on a smiling face, wishing away your bad boss with positive thinking, or pretending they don’t exist. Rather, it’s about creating moments of heartfelt joy, gratitude, peace, curiosity, hope, pride, laughter, inspiration, awe, and love that arise from how you interpret events and ideas as they unfold – inspite of your bad boss!
You can boost your positivity levels to deal with your bad boss by:
Barb told me that a few years ago she came across a greeting card that read: “Life gives us negativity on its own. It’s our job to create positivity.” She said she liked this phrasing because it reminds us that positivity is a choice – even with a bad boss – a choice we all need to make again and again, day after day.
As a result of all she taught me, I’m particularly careful to gauge the balance of positivity to negativity in my life by using her free five minute Positivity Test online. When I find it falling below three to one I use many of these strategies to improve the way I’m feeling about work.