Three months into working for a S&P 500 Silicon Valley tech firm, Jim had the sick sense that his job wasn't going to work out.

The reason? His boss. She was "super-smart, but had no people skills," said Jim, who asked that only his first name be used. She seemed to constantly target him with dismissive, negative comments about his ideas and work performance. "I was afraid I would be dinged on my review," he said.

His self-esteem plummeted, and his stress levels rose. He felt stuck. With three small kids and a wife who was a full-time mom, he couldn't quit. Jumping to another job after such a short tenure would look bad on his résumé.

Bad bosses are a fact of the American workplace, but there are ways you can maintain sanity if you don’t want to quit your job. (Randy Stephenson/The
Bad bosses are a fact of the American workplace, but there are ways you can maintain sanity if you don't want to quit your job. (Randy Stephenson/The Wichita Eagle) ( MCT )

Jim's situation isn't unique. Various surveys show that a bad boss is the No. 1 reason employees express job dissatisfaction. A bad boss is like being in a bad relationship, says Rebecca Kieler, a Redwood City career strategist. However, some relationships can be saved. It's a possibility worth exploring, especially if you're in no position to quit anytime soon. But you have to take the initiative to improve your situation, she said. As the new year approaches, resolving to improve your relationship with your boss is a worthy goal. Here are tips from Kieler and other experts:

1. Do some self-reflection. Consider whether your unhappiness at work is caused by a toxic boss or the fact that you want a new job or career, said Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University.

2. Gain some perspective, get out of your own head, and ignore the stories you are telling yourself. "Paranoid social cognition" is what happens when people build up assumptions about how others perceive them -- without investigating whether those perceptions are based on reality, according to Nancy Lam, an assistant professor at Saint Mary's School of Economics and Business Administration.

Your boss may not be deliberately targeting you, as you have come to believe. It's possible she is overwhelmed by job demands and boss problems that you don't know about, and she's not aware of how she's presenting herself to employees. "We do tend to think the world resolves around us, as when we feel like we're not being appreciated enough, or that people are taking us for granted," Plante said.

3. To gain perspective, get feedback from others. Don't rely on your best friend or significant other for the most objective feedback; they are likely to bolster your viewpoint, Kieler said. Better feedback, Lam added, can come from a mentor or a colleague outside the department. Then there are co-workers, who may reveal that they, too, are having similar problems with the boss.

4. Ask for a meeting. Many dysfunctional boss-employee relationships arise from normal, human differences in personality, work style and values. Often you can address these differences by having a conversation with your boss, Kieler and Plante said. Some key advice: Don't go into the meeting with a list of grievances that will make your boss defensive. Instead, approach it in the spirit of wanting to work things out. Kieler said, "You can go in and say, 'I think you're frustrated with me, and I know you know I'm frustrated. We both don't want it to be this way.' "

Employees often leave those meetings feeling better, Kieler said. Maybe the boss admits fault, while you gain insight on how you could do your job better. Or you learn your boss truly is unreasonable, or her values or the values of the company don't suit yours, Kieler said. Added Plante: "If you can at least have an honest conversation, you can find out whether it's time to remodel the house or move on to a new one."

5. Assess your boss's personality to even see if such a conversation is possible. Katerina Bezrukova is a Santa Clara University professor who studies intergroup relations. She has identified four basic types of bad bosses: the narcissist, the aggressive boss, the rigid boss, and the boss who is impaired by substance abuse, burnout or a mental health issue.

Unfortunately, narcissistic bosses, with their fragile self-esteem, and aggressive bosses don't respond well to criticism, so it's best to stay out of their way as much as possible, Bezrukova said. However, you may be able to point out to an aggressive boss, who bullies employees and panics on deadlines, that "management by hysteria is inefficient," she said. With the rigid boss, who needs to control every decision, she cites an example of employees who started making decisions on their own but convinced the manager "it was her idea all along."

Finally, if you suspect your boss is abusing drugs or alcohol or dealing with a mental health issue, seek help from your company's employee assistance program, Bezrukova added.

6. With a really bad boss, document everything. Last year, Mary, who asked that her real name not be used, started a sales job at a small Tri-Valley renewable energy company and learned that her boss liked to make off-color jokes about women and dump unpopular assignments on her. Like Jim, Mary felt she couldn't quit. "I had been unemployed for two years, so I needed the job," she said. Not wanting to earn an early reputation as a complainer, Mary bided her time by working hard and documenting her accomplishments, as well as her boss's objectionable comments. Because her company didn't have a human resources department, she eventually contacted the woman from the firm that recruited her. That woman in turn contacted the CEO, who took Mary's concerns seriously. While Mary's boss wasn't fired, he immediately cleaned up his act.

7. Take the long view. After six months in his job, Jim took his family on vacation, where he sat on the beach reading books with such titles as "Coping with Difficult People." He still wanted to work things out with his boss.

But a short time later, that boss was gone. Jim felt a dark cloud lift. He stayed at that job another three years. He said he learned a lot from his toxic boss experience. "It's not all bad. All these experiences help me grow and learn. There was misery and heartaches and lost sleep, but it taught me how to adapt and survive and figure out what to do next."