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Here's exactly what to do when your toxic boss is making work (and life) miserable

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We've all been there at least once: You start a new job, you love the work and you're excited to succeed in the role. But then, after some time, you realize you don't have the most ideal boss.

The reasons could be endless, but the worse-case scenario would be that they simply have some (or all) the traits of a toxic boss: Stubborn, untrustworthy, unavailable, impulsive, demanding, vindictive and so on.

Being stuck with a terrible boss can be very frustrating. It can even end a person's career. In my years of working as an HR executive, I've seen too many employees lose their jobs for being too "difficult" or "uncompromising."

That's right, regardless of what's really going on, even an employee can be accused of being solely at fault, especially if the boss has more organizational power. Even worse, many companies are aware that they lack management training. A recent Gallup study found that 60 percent of government workers were miserable due to poor leadership.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel your boss is in the wrong, and is therefore making work (and life) miserable, it's important to address it. Here's exactly how to do it:

1. Wait for the right time

Never walk into your boss' office unannounced and give them a piece of your mind. Wait until you encounter the next difficult situation, and use that as an opportunity to address the problem.

A senior-level employee — let's call her Katie — recently came to me with a dilemma. Her boss had just called her into a meeting with an important client about a project that was already behind schedule. In the meeting, Katie's boss assured their clients that Katie would be able to close the gap on the project in two days. By Katie's calculations, however, this would not be possible even if she worked overtime for the next two weeks.

Never walk into your boss' office unannounced and give them a piece of your mind.
J.T. O'Donnell
founder and CEO, Work It Daily

Katie wanted to say something, but she didn't want to look disrespectful toward her boss in front of the clients.

That's when I told Katie to address the situation immediately while it was fresh, and then explained the "Ask, Don't Tell" method.

2. "Ask, Don't Tell"

The purpose of the "Ask, Don't Tell" method is to come up with a strategic line of questions that will lead your boss into realizing the problem on their own.

Keep in mind that this isn't something you can just wing — take time to thoughtfully map out the right questions.

In Katie's case, I recommended that she start her questions with:

  • "Can you help me understand…"
  • "Will you walk me through…."
  • "Can you share your thoughts around…"
  • "Will you explain to me how…."
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3. Approach your boss diplomatically

Once you've prepared the right questions, it's time to approach your boss. Avoid doing this in a way that will make your boss feel accused of being in the wrong.

I suggested that Katie say to her boss:

"I wanted to follow up on your expectations for the project. I'm honored that you chose me to work on this account, and I don't want to let you down. That's why I'm concerned about the two-day turnaround. I tried mapping it out on my own, and I'm still having a hard time seeing how I can get it done in such a condensed time frame."

Now that Katie has initiated the conversation, she can now introduce the "Ask, Don't Tell" questions.

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4. Talk it out

As the two worked through Katie's questions, they were able to find a way to get the work done in five days (half of what Katie had originally thought was possible). Katie's boss was also able to see the unnecessary steps that were added to the project.

By asking the right questions, Katie not only solved her problem, but her collaborative efforts won her the trust and respect of her boss. She even received a bonus when the project was done for stepping up in a time of crisis.

If your boss says, "I don't care, just get it done..."

Katie was fortunate enough to have an understanding manager.

If you have a boss who will most likely tell you to "figure it out," it may help to seek the help of your colleagues. They might be able to offer some tips about how to more effectively communicate with your boss.

If Katie had a less reasonable boss and found her colleagues unhelpful, I would have suggested that she go on the record and send her boss an email. In the email, she would explain why she felt she wouldn't be able to complete the project based on her boss' terms. It's always smart to have a paper trail in case the situation escalates, and the higher-ups want to see accountability.

Finally, if no other solution has worked, it's probably time to start looking for a new job. Bosses who say, "I don't care, just get it done," tend to run unhappy, less successful departments. Management by intimidation went out in the 90s. Investing in a work environment where leadership understands and practices emotional intelligence is vital to the long-term success of your career.

J.T. O'Donnell is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online platform dedicated to helping people solve their biggest career problems. She has more than 15 years of experience in HR, recruiting and career coaching. Follow her on Twitter @jtodonnell.

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