How to Handle a Difficult Boss
All kinds of difficult bosses inhabit the business world. There’s the micro-manager, who calls you for an update five minutes after giving you an assignment. There’s the insulter, who believes rudeness and scorn are motivational tools. There’s the drama queen (of either gender), whose approach to life in the office always seems pitched at a level of near-hysteria.
Whatever the bad behavior, one thing is constant: You have to work with the difficult boss in a way that doesn’t drive you crazy.
Some things won’t change
There are plenty of coping strategies for this situation, but in general, your attitude as a business professional should probably start with acceptance. The traits that make your boss a difficult person to deal with aren’t going to go away; they’re part of that person’s makeup. What can change is the way you choose to cope with and manage that behavior.
Adjust your style
Generally speaking, micromanagers lack confidence in the people around them and live in constant fear that important work won’t get done without nagging and over-the-shoulder supervision. Rather than seethe with resentment, adjust your style to reassure your boss that, in fact, projects and assignments are being handled on time and in an efficient, professional manner.
Make absolutely certain you understand what’s being asked of you at the outset of a project. Getting clarity by asking questions demonstrates your focus on detail and commitment to getting things done. As work progresses, keep your boss informed. Ask for input and guidance. These strategies will steadily build trust between you, which should lessen the need for micromanaging.
Sidestep the insults
If your boss flies off the handle easily and seems to yell at the drop of a hat, swallow your pride and let the tirade pass. Then say politely, “It’s important to me to understand where things went wrong, so it doesn’t happen again. Can you tell me how you’d like me to approach this differently in the future?”
Lessen the drama
The boss who gets flustered and dramatic probably is likely responding to emotional triggers. It could be a fast-approaching deadline or an upcoming project assessment meeting with his or her boss. Understanding what sets off the drama can help you deal with it. Get a clear understanding of what your boss’s priorities are—for the day, the week, the month—and make it clear to him or her that those are your priorities, too. It’s best to get this in writing so you can demonstrate your progress in each area before all hell breaks loose.
Get inside your boss’s head
Do you know what makes your boss happy versus stressed out and unpleasant to be around? Most bosses don’t like to be surprised or disappointed, so complete tasks on time and to the best of your ability.
Make an effort to understand how your boss likes to communicate, whether it’s in person, by email or informally at the end of the day. This will reduce misunderstanding, which, of course, triggers bad behavior.
Keep in mind your boss has moods, just like the rest of us. There’s a good time to share information about a project and a bad time. By paying attention to how your boss works, you can better understand his or her preferences and priorities, and tailor your own style accordingly.
Two more adjustments can help you cope: First, look for the good parts of your boss’s personality, the traits that are more appealing and admirable. Second, remember that, even under the worst circumstances, you are responsible for seeing that your boss’s needs are met.
By Lee Polevoi