Bad Boss Bingo
A fun alternative to the negative cycle of responses that bad bossing can sometimes cause
Having a bad boss can be emotionally and practically draining. That’s no fun, and it’s difficult to retain the energy to continue to contribute and do your best work when you have a bad boss. That’s why I invented Bad Boss Bingo. It’s an attempt to make the reflective practice that can often improve bad boss situations and relationships a bit more fun. The only prize in Bad Boss Bingo is the chance to improve the situation — but sometimes that is exactly the thing we want. Here’s how to prepare:
Preparing to play Bad Boss Bingo
1. Spend some focused time identifying and naming the problem behaviours that are the source of the bad bossing. They might be fairly generic, like “undermining me” or more specific instances “talking over me in meetings.” It might be difficult to make the list. But developing the discipline to be specific about the things that make a boss bad is the only way we can begin to improve the situation.
2. In addition to your list of problem behaviours, consider the effect the behaviour has on you — your reactions and responses. Note down any reactions you think might contribute to a negative relationship or make the bad bossing worse.
Steps 1 and 2 will generate a list of problem behaviours and your current default reactions to these behaviours. You want a manageable list — as you’re gong to use the list to consciously pay attention to these behaviours, so don’t make your list too long… beginners to Bad Boss Bingo might like to start with just one or two things on their list until they progress to Pro-Grade Bad Boss Bingoing.
3. Spend time on each of the items in your list and consider ‘helpful’ responses. There are tips in the rest of the bad boss blog series for how we can adapt and respond to bad bossing. And with some focused time outside of the heat of your natural reaction, you should be able to identify a more helpful response to some of the bad bossing you experience. For example, next to “talking over me in meetings” we might write, “take a breath, wait and restate my last point before continuing”. Or we could add, “actively listen to the intervention and pay close attention to the content, then indicate I’d like to respond — return to the original point or build from the bosses interruption.” For negative responses we might have written, “escalate tension by talking over them” or “raise my volume and keep talking.”
Your list will be a combination of new things you want to try or things you know don’t work and which you want to avoid. You might even add “Bonus Behaviours” which take you out of the immediate situation, like “Raise the behaviour in our next 1:1 citing this specific instance and talk about the impact it had in the moment.”
Our “automatic” responses are often contributing to the pattern of a bad relationship. With minor adjustments we can act slightly differently and improve the situation.
4. Read over your lists of Bad Bossing and behaviours that might improve the situation. You might like to do some editing. You might like to set the behaviours out in a bingo grid (depending on how committed to the concept you are). You might like to create a cheat sheet you can refer to regularly to improve your play.
The point of this stage is to spend enough time with the list that you slightly shift your relationship to the bad bossing behaviours and the ideas you’ve had for non-automatic responses. The central idea of Bad Boss Bingo is that it allows you to define a behaviour you have a problem with and prepare ready-made responses to replace natural negative reactions.
5. Play Bad Boss Bingo
Playing Bad Boss Bingo
1. Live your life as usual.
2. In the course of everyday life you’re likely to encounter the bad bossing behaviours you’ve prepared for. Each time you spot one you might feel a little rush of excitement. This is great. The thrill of earning a Bad Boss Bingo point (1BBBP) will likely make life easier and more rewarding even without the main benefit of Bad Boss Bingo. This main benefit is the ready-made strategies you’ve prepared. If you manage to apply one, give yourself a bonus point (1BBBBP). After interactions, keep a note of the behaviours you spotted and the things you tried.
3. At the end of the week, look back over your notes. Total your points. Celebrate. If over time you find that some behaviours aren’t appearing any more, maybe you’ve affected a permanent change and can drop it from the list.
4. Periodically review your Bad Boss Bingo list and see if you should add or remove behaviours and whether you could try different strategies if you’re still finding things difficult.
Advanced play — making use of priming
I invented Bad Boss Bingo inspired by a sort of cognitive bias or psychological phenomena called ‘priming effect’. Wikipedia describes it as:
“a phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.”
Rightly or wrongly I think of it as similar to the we way we sometimes more regularly notice a model or colour of the car after we’ve recently acquired it. When I play Bad Boss Bingo I find that the priming effect of thinking about behaviours and responses as I make my list helps me to break a negative cycle of stimulus and response. It helps me to semi-automatically introduce one of my prepared alternatives. It’s as if I short-circuit my brain and suddenly become a bit more reflective.
There is a danger in this sort of game. I think priming effect can probably combine with confirmation bias and make us more likely to notice bad bossing — it’s as if we’ve tuned our senses to look out for it. That’s OK if we’re fair and balanced in our evaluation of the boss. Committed players can also add some ‘Good Bossing’ behaviours to their list. Lots of bosses have some good points even if they might spend some of their time on the Bad Boss Bandwagon. By adding a few behaviours that we consider helpful, we can introduce something more positive, drawing our attention to things we can be grateful for. This advanced play will usually make the game even more rewarding.
Bingo is a game of chance. And sometimes working with a bad boss can feel like a gamble as we work around their weaknesses or wait for them to undermine our confidence, contentment or performance. Bad Boss Bingo wrestles back some control. In a playful way it helps us prepare for bad bossing behaviours. It can help knock us out of automatic responses and encourage us to try something more helpful each time we spot a bit of bad bossing. It can also help us identify good bits of bossing to balance our perception of the boss.
If you do choose to play Bad Boss Bingo, be careful not to shout out when you do manage to spot a behaviour or complete your list. Unless they also read this post, your colleagues are unlikely to understand.