Managing Teams

How To Handle An Unprofessional Manager

handle unprofessional manager

You’re getting that feeling in the pit of your stomach again.

You wince, you shake your head. You want to walk out and quit your job. On the spot. Your manager just said something inappropriate again. Somehow you just know that he (or she) should have more finesse or smarts — after all, they’re the boss. Shouldn’t they know better?

Throughout our careers, we have a chance to have all kinds of bosses: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’re not talking about the truly ugly here — that’s for your friendly local employment lawyer to handle.  We’re talking about your average run-of-the-mill faux pas-ing boss. Here are some ways to cope:

Give An Inch

If the inappropriateness is a couple of awkward jokes now and then, OK. As long as it isn’t 5th grade bathroom humor or the kind of stuff that shows a lack of respect or real harassment. But sometimes what we give attention to, grows, so pick your battles if you like your job. You’ll get a good barometer reading by checking in with your body. A physical response means Mr. or Ms. Boss may have crossed a line. If you don’t have a visceral reaction or a spontaneous recoil, it may be something you can ignore. Once.


Let’s say the boss uses a well-known politically incorrect word to describe someone. It may behoove you to remind them gently that what they are saying can be used against them in a court of law. But say it with a grain of sugar, as in, “You know, that word was thrown out of Webster’s Dictionary 25 years ago. Today we say XYZ.” Their reaction will tell you if they’re trainable, which is good information for future career planning. If you choose education over filing a lawsuit, make sure your delivery isn’t too threatening. Yet.

Also read: How to ‘Manage Up’ Your Manager Without Them Realizing it

Draw the Line

Now let’s say it’s worse than we thought and they are quickly reaching your personal tipping point of appropriateness. It’s time for the HARD CONVERSATION. This is when you draw your line in the sand about what you will and will not allow. Make sure you choose the right time and place and make sure you won’t be interrupted. Send an appointment invite to their calendar to mark the occasion — it’s important that you show your boss the urgency of the situation. Lay it down respectfully but firmly. Let them know unconditionally what you will and will not tolerate. Be crystal clear.

Time to Document

You’ll know when it’s time to document — that pit in your stomach will grow and send tingles up your spine. Keep a notebook handy and start documenting with dates, exact times, and infraction details. Include any warnings you’ve given and their dates. You may need this if your boss has retaliation on their agenda and gives you a bad review for speaking up.

Also read: How to Handle a Slacker Colleague – 3 Do’s and Don’ts

Enlist Help

Whether human resource departments can help is debatable. Your best bet is to have plenty of support from family and friends. Take a poll to see if any of your people have gone through something similar. You’ll need their backing to instill confidence, especially before you meet with the boss (see above).


Hopefully, after you’ve applied these tips in order, it won’t come to you having to leave the gig you love. But sometimes you just have to move on to a better job. And a better boss.

Written by Donna MacDonald for Fariygodboss.

About the Author

Fairygodboss is obsessed with improving the workplace for women with crowdsourced reviews, career advice, interview tips and job search strategies.