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Workplace problems: How to deal with a difficult boss

The second article in a new series where we take an in-depth look at common workplace problems.

Read: What to do when your boss expects too much

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where every manager is good one. However, we do live in a world where you can choose to respond professionally and make the best of the situation.

How to tell if your boss is difficult:

  • They micromanage everything you do.
  • Their motto is ‘do as I say, not what I do’.
  • They have anger management issues.
  • They show favouritism.
  • They think everything is fine when it isn’t.
  • They don’t support you when something goes wrong.
  • They jump to conclusions.
  • They are disorganised or don’t know how to plan and prioritise.
  • They don’t respect other people’s ideas.
  • They blame other people instead of taking responsibility.
  • They take credit for others’ success.
  • They aren’t around when three’s lots of work to do.
  • They are rude and unkind.

We could go on…

Before you go running for the hills to find yourself a new job, try dealing with the situation head-on, by following these tips:

1. Be supportive

You may be asking yourself ‘how did this person become a manager?’. Just remember that sometimes the best employees don’t have good management skills. They may have worked their way up by being good at their jobs, but just can’t handle leadership. In that case, the best way to deal with the situation is to be forgiving and try to support them instead of finding ways to attack or undermine them.

2. Does your boss have his or her own difficult boss?

Consider that they may be dealing with demands and pressures from higher up in the company.

3. When dealing with micromanagers, stay one step ahead

When they ask you to do something that you can show you’ve already done, they may start to trust you more to get the job done without them telling you every step of the way.

4. Speak to their core values

What motivates your boss? What do they care about? What parts of their work do they love and hate? Use actions and words to highlight to your boss that what you’re doing is in line with their values. Use language that appeals to them, know their preferences and adapt to them.

5. Don’t go to war with your boss

If your boss is incompetent, they will already be doing a good job of making themselves look bad – chances are, you’re not the only one who has noticed. Instead, focus on doing your own job well and work around the weaknesses in their management – whether it is organisation, team building, or thinking long-term instead of only reacting to immediate projects. This will make you indispensable to your boss and hopefully give you long-term rewards.

6. Don’t let them lead by example

If your boss takes lots of time off, doesn’t do much work, or has a lack of motivation, for instance, make sure that you stay focussed and don’t start to copy their behaviours. Equally, if your boss is confrontational or angry, don’t respond in kind. Think about your own reputation further down the line in your career – this person won’t always be your boss.

7. Don’t suffer quietly

This can lead to a toxic work environment. Don’t be afraid to address your concerns, but do it in a respectful way. Make a list of the issues, how they can be solved practically, and show you want to work together going forward to reach the company’s goals.

8. Don’t let yourself be bullied

If you think you may be dealing with a bullying boss (or co-worker), there are some things you can do to try to resolve the situation:

  • Be assertive and learn to say no, as they may respect you more.
  • Speak to your co-workers for support as it’s always more difficult if you feel alone or singled out.
  • Be unwaveringly nice and polite in return.
  • Try positive reinforcement. Thank them when they are respectful.
  • Don’t lose your self confidence or question your value to the company, or that you may be bad at your on job.
  • If you hold up your end and the problems continue, you may want to consider approaching a third party like another manager or HR.