Dealing with a Difficult Boss

Many of us have dealt with a prickly boss.  Often difficult bosses are people who like to be in leadership roles but are not necessarily good leaders. 

A difficult boss may:

  • Have poor listening skills– Tends to interrupt and dismiss others
  • Be Impulsive– Quick to make decisions without using perspective or gathering information
  • Be Rigid– Difficult to negotiate to compromise 
  • Be Averse to Criticism– Are sensitive and defensive instead of owning mistakes
  • Have a History of Poor Relationships– They value themselves most, so you may notice they have lots of ‘friends’ on social media or acquaintances but they lack deep relationships.  In terms of work, you may notice they have a poor work-life balance and do not value their employees’ work-life balance.

How can you work with a difficult boss?

  • Get Perspective

Take a moment to reflect on who else in your life may have related to you in this dismissive way.  If you had a parent, lover, friend, who related to you in a destructive pattern, did you respond to them by setting clear limits, becoming helpless, or having outbursts?  You want to separate your previous experience from your current work experience.  Do not get caught in an emotional tangle and let your emotions burst (or deflate) with your boss.  Instead stay in the present, remember your priorities at work, and set clear limits with your boss.

  • Manage Up

The Harvard Business Review published a series on managing up targeting how employees can develop positive relationships with their bosses no matter how challenging the boss may be.  One of the key factors to managing up is to be a competent employee.  We can become more competent by honing our skills, taking classes, reading, receiving mentorship, and other resources.

  • Team Player

The last tip is to show your integrity.  Be a team player by volunteering for the tasks others may not want to take.  Show self-control in how you communicate and act.  Just as we teach children to help their peers, as co-workers we can also help our colleagues.  By acting as a team player with integrity, you help build trust in your work relationships.  Trust is a major factor in building a positive working alliance.

  • Ask Your Future Self

What would a positive productive relationship with your current boss look like?  Now take a little trip into the future- imagine you are talking to your future self who is experiencing this positive productive working relationship.  What would your future self advise you to do?  Perhaps your future self would tell you to focus on the bigger picture, keep your goals in the forefront of your mind, set clear limits, show your expertise and integrity.

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