Dealing with difficult bosses

Dealing with difficult bosses

As the weather heats up so can the office as tensions intensify or disputes go downhill, but all is not lost, there are a few tactics that can help improve the work atmosphere even when dealing with an exasperating manager.

Support them

This may sound counterintuitive, but being supportive and helping your boss become more successful in achieving their goals is a productive way of getting them on-side.

This doesn’t mean becoming a doormat, but identifying their needs and delivering above and beyond their expectations may help them understand how much they rely on your talents and skills, and just how indispensable you are to them.

Understand behaviour

One of the keys to challenging difficult behaviour is understanding what causes it in the first place.

It is only then that you can discover what are the underlying causes driving the behaviour as opposed to what is appearing on the surface. The more you understand your boss the better positioned you are to manage the situation. Try to put yourself in their shoes and look at the workplace from their perspective. Not only will this help you to be more patient and forgiving of your boss’s behaviour but it will also make it easier to take the high road. Rather than sinking to their level, be the type of colleague you wish your boss was. Your positive behaviour will have an impact.

Also understanding their preferences and pet peeves means you can communicate better. For example, if your boss is fast-paced and quick to make decisions and prefers to do things in person than via e-mail, then approach them in this way.

We all have different personality types and we must handle people according to their personality type. Working according to your boss’s preferences is an easy way of managing your boss without them ever knowing it. It is a key leadership skill to develop regardless of the type of boss you are working for.

It is also important that you manage your own negative emotions or reactions to your boss’ behaviour so you don’t end up engaging in self-defeating behaviour such as stonewalling or counter-attacking your boss. This will help you communicate your concerns in a positive manner.

Avoid confrontation

Try not to react to verbal abuse or overly harsh criticism with emotion. This generally will lead to more trouble. When a personal attack is made on you or your work this is a way to try and bait you emotionally. If you react the first time, then you become a target for additional attacks. If you do not react, you strip the difficult boss of their power without heightening the conflict.

It is always better to discuss rather than confront the situation. Confrontation simply breeds further confrontation. Use their criticism as a topic for discussion on goals and problem-solving and ask for advice. Schedule another time after the conflict to have a chat. When this happens make sure to take emotion from the discussion, don’t get personal. The goal of the meeting is figuring out ways you can work together more productively.

Make sure you have a clear action plan of the points you want to make. In this situation it is also good to include some praise of your superior – straight up criticisms will more than likely exacerbate the situation.

During the meeting it is good at some point to ask for your boss’ advice and opinion on your work, make it clear that you are excited about your job and you want to be able to work more productively. This means you can leave the meeting with some tangible items to work on and you can schedule another meeting for a month’s time to review.

If your boss can clearly see that working with you has a meaningful benefit to them, then they are more likely to be amenable.

Speak up

It goes without saying that if your boss is guilty of gross misconduct then you should immediately report them to HR. If their behaviour doesn’t change, then getting advice on your options is wise.

If taking these measures does not work then the next step is to go to HR. It is important to have the courage to speak up rather than leaving the work environment altogether. Unfortunately, oftentimes employees leave rather than trying to have a difficult conversation with human resources. You owe it both to yourself and to your boss to try and work through the situation.

Take the high road

Never let your boss’s bad behaviour be an excuse for your own. All too often, people start feeling entitled to slack off, take longer and longer lunches, lose interest or stop performing well because of their bad boss. Don’t do it. Keep your mind focused on top performance. Complain to your spouse or your friends all you want, but when in the office or workplace, stay upbeat and engaged. Handling a difficult boss well can really set you apart. You never know who is watching or listening but be assured, people who can open or close future opportunities for you are doing just that!

While it may be easy to succumb to resentment or resignation and mentally check out of your job, doing so not only undermines your own integrity but it can put you at risk of being branded as whiner, a slacker, or both.  If your boss is a shouter, don’t react by shouting back. If they are petty or small minded, don’t descend to smallness yourself. Rather maintain a calm and professional demeanour in dealing with your difficult boss. As Gandhi wrote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In this case, act like the leader you wish your boss was.

If you feel you’ve run out of options for dealing with him reasonably, then don’t go rumour-mongering or bad-mouthing him to everyone within earshot. That will ultimately say more about you than it does about your boss (and not things you’d want said!)  Rather, follow proper procedures for registering complaints with Human Resources or with higher-level superiors, documenting each step of the way.

Don’t be intimidated

People who bully get their power from those who respond by cowering and showing fear . If your boss is a yeller, a criticiser, or a judge – stand firm. If you’re doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give him the satisfaction of pushing you about.  Rather ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but over time you will get better at it and he will look elsewhere for his power kick.

If this isn’t the reality, if you dread entering the workplace every morning, you have to start asking questions about why you continue doing the job you’re doing.

If you feel compelled to call your boss on his behaviour, go ahead but do so with a cool head and prepare in advance for the ensuing fallout. It could get ugly so think things through beforehand. What are your options?  Who are your allies? Have you documented his behaviour? Can you deal with the possibility of the worst outcome?  Sure, it’s important to stand strong, but be smart about it.

Above all, work should be a place that you feel comfortable, and allows you to be yourself in an environment that is supportive.

If this isn’t the reality, if you dread entering the workplace every morning, you have to start asking questions about why you continue doing the job you’re doing.

Whatever is the case, many people spend a huge mount of time in work and if you are unhappy, you should take the necessary steps to improve the situation – or leave – otherwise it could lead to years of misery.