How the Heck Can You Deal with a Difficult Boss?

You know what an ideal boss is – someone who helps you succeed, someone who values your work and you as an individual, and someone who has high expectations that force you to increase your skills and abilities.

Unfortunately, many bosses aren’t like this.  They micromanage your work, get angry at any little thing, or just isn’t very competent.  What to do?  You still have to make the best of a bad situation and do as good a job as possible.

Strategies for Dealing with a Difficult Boss

Here are some strategies to help you deal with a difficult boss:

  • Have a focused agenda. When communicating with your supervisor, have a well laid out plan to avoid going off on time-wasting tangents.
  • Get clear direction. Missing assigned targets only irritates task-oriented people, and they can be impatient listeners.  To avoid mistakes, confirm what you hear your boss say they require of you.  Consider following up with a written e-mail confirmation outlining the discussion for future reference.
  • In addition to clear directions, make sure to document all interactions with your boss. Whether it’s instructions, requests, or criticisms, get everything in writing so you can refer back to it if your boss ever gives contradictory instructions.  Create a paper trail of everything you produce.  And be prepared to show your boss your documented proof if they question your outputs.
  • Take the emotion out of it. This is difficult for warm-and-fuzz people, but to work successfully with someone who isn’t, you have to step out of yourself and value what they bring to the table.  This type of person is often firm, but fair.  Being fair means they won’t play favorites.  Perform well, and it will work in your favor.

And Here Are Some More Strategies…

  • Offer a solution. Leadership means having the ability to think through complex challenges and provide a workable solution that builds the confidence of the team.  As a member of the team, you can position yourself well by offering ideas that help move the agenda forward.  Don’t get discouraged when you share ideas and they aren’t on right away.  It takes time for people to hear, see, and understand what you’re saying.  Or it just may not be the best idea at the time.
  • Consider the pressures your leader is under. Take into account that some leaders transfer pressure they’re getting from their leadership to you.  Although this isn’t the best way to inspire great work, it’s not unusual due to the complex and competitive marketplace.
  • Especially when you’re dealing with a micromanager, anticipating the tasks your boss expects you to do and getting them done before your boss even mentions them. When you do this, your boss will realize that you’re on track to fulfilling all your tasks and that they don’t need to watch you to make sure these tasks are completed.
  • If your boss has anger management problems, identify what triggers their anger and be extra careful to avoid those.

What If You’re Mistreated?

If you feel you’ve been mistreated by your difficult boss, you have the right to stand up for yourself.  Disrespectful behavior includes directly or indirectly belittling or undermining you either in private or in front of your co-workers.

Here are some suggestions on speaking up when you’ve been mistreated:

  • Connect on a human level. Say, “I thought you viewed my work performance as … but I must have been mistaken.  Could you help me see it from your point of view?”
  • Be transparent and honest. Leadership doesn’t appreciate you whining about the amount of work you’ve been assigned or making an unreasonable number of mistakes.  In general, leaders do appreciate you standing in your power and addressing any feelings of disrespectful mistreatment when presented in a focused, professional, non-accusatory way.  If you are still not listened to, it may be time to go to human resources.
  • Talk to human resources as a last resort. If your boss or other leaders won’t address the problem, you may consider going to human resources for help.  However, keep in mind that poor treatment of employees is often a supported culture.  It is commonplace in some organizations for employees to be mistreated and fired for speaking up about that treatment.  If this describes your company, more than likely human resources will not be able to help you.  It’s time to look for another job.

[Taken in part from S. Renee Smith’s materials in Self-Esteem for Dummies]