8 Strategies for Dealing With a Difficult Boss

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 10, 2022 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated August 10, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Working with a difficult boss is a situation many people will face at least once in their career. While dealing with a challenging manager can certainly present difficulties, quitting your job is not always the answer. There are several ways you might handle a challenging work situation while still remaining professional.

In this article, we discuss tips for dealing with managers who are challenging to work with and we offer examples to guide you.

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 can be the single most important relationship within the workplace, and a negative relationship with your boss can sometimes negatively impact nearly every aspect of your work life. While your first instinct may be to resign from your position, working through a difficult situation can often be the most productive option.

There are several benefits that can come from addressing a difficult boss. A few of these benefits might 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 work through a challenging situation. The following are tips you might consider when dealing with a demanding boss:

  1. Determine your boss' motivations

  2. Take responsibility when necessary

  3. Choose your words carefully

  4. Empathize

  5. Avoid  discussing your boss with coworkers

  6. Anticipate expectations

  7. Practice your leadership skills

  8. Try to understand  your boss' communication style

1. Determine your boss' motivations

Trying to better understand why your supervisor might act 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 conflict.

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're exacerbating the negativity felt in the relationship, it may be beneficial to consider your own role in the conflict and address your behavior according. Not taking responsibility may 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 essential, 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 may 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 try 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. Avoid  discussing 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, you may want to 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

You might consider learning more about your boss's habits, demands and expectations. In doing so, you can anticipate their requests and avoid exacerbating any tension in your relationship. 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 consider using 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 inspired 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. Try to understand  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, consider first sending 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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