Career Development

8 Strategies for Dealing With a Difficult Boss

February 22, 2021

A difficult boss is a situation that many people have to deal with at least once in their professional journey. While dealing with a challenging manager can certainly present difficulties, quitting the position is not always the answer. There are several ways you can deal with a difficult boss while remaining professional. In this article, we discuss tips for addressing managers who are challenging to work with.

Related: How to Communicate Effectively With a Difficult Team

Why is it important to find a way to work with a difficult boss?

A difficult boss can present a significant challenge in the workplace. In fact, the relationship with your supervisor is the single most important relationship within the workplace, and a negative relationship with your boss can negatively impact nearly every aspect of your work life. While your first instinct may be to resign from your position, dealing with a difficult supervisor is often the best and most productive option.

There are several benefits that can come from addressing a difficult boss. A few of these benefits include:

  • Reduced work-related stress
  • Reduced chance of illness
  • Increased work satisfaction
  • Improved relationships within the workplace
  • Increased job productivity
  • Increased potential to advance at work

Related: Guide to Company Culture

How to deal with a difficult boss

Sometimes, when dealing with a difficult boss, an employee chooses to quit and find another job. However, it's important to know that in many cases it's possible to stay in the workplace and learn how to deal with a difficult boss. The following are tips that can help you figure out how to manage working with a demanding boss:

  1. Determine your boss' motivations
  2. Take responsibility when necessary
  3. Choose your words carefully
  4. Empathize
  5. Don't discuss your boss with coworkers
  6. Anticipate expectations
  7. Practice your leadership skills
  8. Study your boss' communication style

1. Determine your boss' motivations

Trying to better understand why your supervisor acts the way they do can help you determine whether this person is acting negatively on purpose or simply dealing with a high-pressure job. If your supervisor is under a great deal of pressure and in turn puts more pressure on you and other employees, you may be able to voice how this is affecting your work life to your boss. Working to have a more in-depth understanding of your manager's behaviors and motivations can allow you to see things from their perspective and create avenues for discussions regarding your boss's difficult manner.

2. Take responsibility when necessary

Sometimes a relationship with a supervisor can be challenging due to both individuals' behaviors. While it may be easy to blame your boss for their negative behavior, it's important to assess your role in the relationship and take responsibility for any contribution to the challenging nature of the relationship when necessary. If you are exacerbating the negativity felt in the relationship, you should understand it and work to address your own behavior. Not taking responsibility may only worsen the situation and prevent you from improving your relationship with your superior.

3. Choose your words carefully

While expressing honesty and being open in the workplace is certainly important, it's also important to remain tactful and choose your words thoughtfully when interacting with a difficult supervisor. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, being disrespectful or being perceived as disrespectful will likely only increase the tension between you and your manager. One way to ensure that you are speaking with your boss in a professional and effective manner is to ensure you are staying results-oriented in your conversations. This means that rather than focusing on their personality or the problems in your relationship, you are focusing on talking about work or other topics that will help you achieve your end goal.

4. Empathize

As challenging a situation as this might be, put yourself in your boss' shoes to understand better what this person might be going through. Your boss may have to deal with the heads of the organization. They may be going through a challenging time personally. All these things can affect your boss's behavior and understanding their position might give you a new outlook on their behavior. More importantly, these things can help you better accept and cope with challenging situations as you understand that you are not the problem.

5. Don't discuss your boss with coworkers

Speaking with someone about your difficult relationship with your boss can be an important part of taking care of yourself and venting some of your frustration. However, it's important you refrain from having this type of conversation with other coworkers. Doing so may further encourage negativity in the workplace. Instead, try talking to a trusted friend or family member whose opinion you respect.

6. Anticipate expectations

Take the time to become well-acquainted with your boss's habits, demands and expectations. In doing so, you can anticipate their requests and avoid exacerbating any tension in your relationship. More than that, if your boss sees that you don't need to be micromanaged, they may provide you with more freedom and require you to check in with them less. For example, if your boss wants updates on clients by noon, don't wait to be asked for updates. Send them in as early as you can with detailed information. Meeting and exceeding your supervisor's expectations can show them you respect their requests and take your job seriously.

7. Practice your leadership skills

You can use your difficult situation as an opportunity to practice your leadership skills. Take the initiative and make decisions when possible that you know will lead to positive results for the organization. Your co-workers may be affected by your initiative and start following your steps to achieve results. This can help to turn a negative environment into a positive and proactive one.

Related: 6 Tips for Effective Teamwork

8. Study your boss' communication style

Taking the time to determine your manager's preferred communication style can help foster more effective communication within the workplace. For example, if your boss prefers to communicate primarily via email, make it a habit to first send them an email before confronting them in person about a work-related matter. The better you understand how to communicate with your manager, the more likely your relationship will improve.

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