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08/19/2014 05:51 EDT | Updated 10/19/2014 05:59 EDT

How To Deal With the Boss From Hell

A boss from hell can get you to do tasks that lower your self-esteem and make you their professional slave for as long as you allow it. For example, I once went on a business trip with a new boss to call on clients where I ended up being tasked with chatting up women for him.

It's like a bee sting. Or, food poisoning. No matter how you try to avoid them, it seems that sooner or later, one or both of these unfortunate events will get you.

That's the way it is for millions of people who live in fear that one day they will work for a boss from hell. But millions of others awake daily to that nightmare which has become a reality.

I've had a boss from hell. Perhaps the worst part was that he had exceptional interpersonal skills -- with his bosses and clients. But with his team, he showed another side. Inattentive. Pandering. Tardy. Profane. But otherwise, a great guy with which to work. That's probably the biggest challenge of working with a boss from hell -- he or she is like a chameleon with unbridled ambition coupled with a bullet-proof instinct for self-preservation.

Reluctant wing man

A boss from hell can get you to do tasks that lower your self-esteem and make you their professional slave for as long as you allow it. For example, I once went on a business trip with a new boss to call on clients where I ended up being tasked with chatting up women for him.

After knocking on my door late one evening, my boss told me that he was going to call his wife and kids to do a virtual tuck in. He said he had noticed two women sitting at a table in the lobby bar earlier and asked me to go downstairs and chat them up -- with drinks on the company.

Going down to lobby in the elevator, I told myself I didn't want to rock the boat, even though it was degrading being tasked as a wing man. When I got to the bar, the women had left already. I never respected my boss after that, and was glad to have the opportunity to leave the agency shortly thereafter when life got a lot worse.

These types of tasks, when assigned from your boss can make you fall into the "If I can pull this off, I'll score major points" zone. In reality, by accepting the task and refusing to acknowledge the fact that it is degrading indicates to your boss that he or she can take advantage of you in this way any time for anything.

Reducing the bad boss effect

You can try to change your boss's behaviour -- with no result, especially if he or she has the support of higher ups and clients and sees no need to change. You can express your concerns to your boss, try harder and harder to please, keep notes of bad behavior (which is a good idea should the human resources team get involved), quit, or do nothing.

However, this is the time to look to your own strengths to make life bearable for yourself. Start by doing the opposite of everything your boss does, whether you are senior or relatively junior in the organization. Your behaviour shift could be what gives you the edge for your next big promotion because it shows you take pride in your work and the company.

Here are a few things that will set you apart:

• Turn off your phone and offer your full attention in any meeting

• Pay attention to people's questions

• Mentor selectively not only to give back but to gain another perspective on your business

• Pause when you want to criticize work performance and consider the long-term damage you could inflict

• Keep promises

• Send personal notes, (when and if they are warranted) emphasize being a role model, treating people well and living your organization's values. Doug Conant, a former CEO of Campbell Soup, sent more than 30,000 handwritten notes of thanks to employees.

• Ask for feedback and think 360. You may benefit from a reality check from the people who work for you.

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