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How to Deal with a Negative Boss

Part of the Business Innovation For Dummies Cheat Sheet

If you’re bursting with good ideas, but your boss always rejects suggestions out of hand, it’s very hard to stay positive and continue to think innovatively. Use these suggestions to keep your own creative spirit alive and to try to bring about positive change in your business in spite of the negative atmosphere:

  • Brainstorm strategies for making change. You and your coworkers have probably witnessed some improvements and changes in your workplace. Even the most negative boss can’t stop all forward progress. So ask yourself how those changes came about. Determine what process is most acceptable to your boss and who he feels he has to listen to. Then re-create the successful strategies when you decide to propose something new.

  • Avoid too much interaction with a negative boss. Try to keep face time to the minimum required and to keep your encounters civil and polite. Spend as much time as you can interacting with people who are more positive and have a healthy can-do attitude so that your own attitude doesn’t turn negative.

  • Innovate outside work. Find ways to engage in creative, forward-thinking activities such as volunteer work, a part-time extra job, an internship, or a hobby so that you stay fresh and get to strengthen your innovation muscles. A bad boss is no excuse to let your creativity atrophy!

  • Make suggestions on paper, not in person or by e-mail, to give your boss time to digest them. The longer you can delay his response to a suggestion, the more likely he is to get over his initial knee-jerk resistance to change and actually look at the merit of your idea.

  • Allow your boss to revise your idea and propose it as his own. It’s frustrating when your boss rejects your suggestion and then proposes it himself a month later. But look at the bright side: At least this means there’s a way to make progress, even if it does involve accommodating an overinflated ego.

  • Build your own coalition for innovation. Sometimes, it’s possible to reach out to others in power in a workplace and build a strong personal network based on your bright ideas and enthusiasm for positive change. You may be able to work with your coalition to bring about innovation. Let them pull your boss’s strings and force him to bring your unit in line with the new direction you helped create.

  • Watch the bottom line, and jump ship if your boss seems determined to run you up on the rocks. The biggest problem with change-resistant bosses is they don’t lead very well. Often, their department, division, or business does poorly for lack of innovation. If that’s the story at your workplace, you probably should begin to look for another job with a better boss and more momentum. It’s hard to be a rising star when you’re working on a sinking ship.

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