How To Deal With a Challenging Manager (With Examples)

Updated September 29, 2023

A healthy working relationship between you and your manager can be one of the keys to a successful and productive work environment. Having this effective relationship with your manager can promote trust as well as help you manage anxiety or frustration in the workplace. Learning how to properly handle tense situations between you and your employer, manager or supervisor is a valuable skill that can help create a positive environment for you, your supervisor and your colleagues.

In this article, we discuss several ways to professionally resolve any conflicts you may have with a challenging manager.

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Ways to deal with a challenging manager

If you are experiencing conflict with your boss, your initial reaction might be to become defensive. However, there are professional and positive ways you can respond to the situation. Each of these six principles offers a strategy for both understanding why your employer may have reacted the way they did and how to propose healthy, professional solutions to prevent future conflict in the workplace.

Consider these strategies when dealing with a challenging manager:

1. Remain objective

Try to remain objective if your manager is upset. Consider that their behavior may be about any number of things, such as a personal issue that may have nothing to do with your performance. Your manager might seem like an intimidating authority figure but they are a real person with real shortcomings and a personal life.

Unless you know you have made a mistake or are specifically told the cause of the conflict at hand, try not to assume you are at fault just because your boss is upset. It's entirely possible that if your boss is upset, it's related to a mistake they made at work or even issues in their personal life.

2. Take responsibility for your own actions

If you are fully aware that a conflict is t because of a specific mistake you made or something you said, consider taking responsibility and owning up to it. By admitting that you made a mistake or displayed problematic behavior and apologizing for it, you are showing your boss you're willing to accept responsibility for your actions. Remember, your manager likely has a stressful job with a certain set of goals and expectations placed on them, so the performance of every individual in the team they manage may reflect on them as well.

When apologizing for a mistake at work, consider being honest about why the mistake happened and acknowledge that you understand how it affected your manager directly. Then, you might offer a solution to both fix the mistake and prevent it from happening again in the future.

Related: Steps To Take After Making Mistakes at Work

3. Establish healthy communication

You might establish a channel of healthy communication between you and your manager by directly addressing any concerns with them. Addressing these concerns as they arise, rather than waiting for a scenario in which you need to explain yourself, might help increase trust. For example, if you have family issues that are impacting your focus at work, talking to your manager can help make them aware of your issue and help them understand any possible drops in performance. Your manager may be willing to help you find solutions in the workplace to ensure your performance isn't impacted, such as working out a flexible schedule or time off.

Once you have an established line of communication,  conflicts your boss may have with you might be easier to talk through. This also allows you the opportunity to let your boss get a better understanding of the situation from your perspective. Also, proactive communication can show that you want to take the initiative to problem solve and increase productivity.

Related:4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

4. Proactively manage your emotions

You are allowed to process your immediate frustration, anger or fear when you experience negative feedback or anger from your boss. However, know that there is a time and place to address the issues at hand. Consider putting a meeting on their calendar and then do your best not to let it affect you until the time comes.

You might try immersing yourself in your work as a positive way to channel your energy. You can use this time to prepare for the meeting with your manager. If you stay dedicated to your work tasks as well as your relationship with your company, it might help you better remain focused, hardworking and professional in stressful situations.

5. Set personal boundaries

Your manager is in charge of making sure you do your job adequately and professionally. However, if you believe your communication is suffering between you or other members of your team, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, and you can't always please everyone. One of the best things you can try to do is address issues at hand in a levelheaded tone and be honest about your ability to work within a specific capacity and allow yourself to say no to impossible asks.

If you notice a lack of communication with your manager, try suggesting ways for the entire team to work on this. Some ideas might include taking a group class or attending a conference or seminar on cultivating professional relationships that everyone could benefit from.

Related: Effective Problem-Solving Steps in the Workplace

6. Propose a solution

Once you have established healthy communication and have identified the problem, try taking the initiative to come up with a valuable solution. Managers are often solution-oriented and they may not take your suggestion, but showing you took the time to assess the problem and identify possible solutions can show initiative and professionalism.

By being proactive and offering solutions to your manager before trying to fix the problem without consulting anyone, your manager can vet your suggestion and might offer candid feedback on whether your proposed approach is appropriate.

If your manager approves your suggestion, consider taking the heavy lifting on implementing your strategy. This not only helps show that you can follow through with your initiative but also alleviates the stress that would typically fall on a manager overseeing and implementing a solution. By actively working to make your manager's job easier, you are likely showing them that you are willing to correct your mistakes beyond empty words and take responsibility for your actions.

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