How to Deal with a Difficult Boss
Most people have had to deal with a difficult boss at least once in their lives. Whether you are perfectly happy to be managed or whether you are trying to climb the ranks at your company, you might eventually encounter a difficult boss. Whether this person is clueless about managing a team, has difficulty managing their own emotions, doesn’t hold an ounce of empathy in their bones or simply isn’t effective, the bottom line is that their (in)ability to manage and create team unity can create more issues than the actual job itself, which oftentimes makes getting work done (or done well) impossible. So, what can you do? Here are a few tips to help you deal with a difficult boss:
1. Check that the problem is not actually you.
Before doing anything else, you should make sure that your boss is not hounding you because you have a pattern of not completing work on time, being late or defiant. If you have contributed to bad blood between you and your boss, take responsibility for your own actions before looking for ways to deal with that difficult boss. It is also worth your time to make sure that you are not blowing a few mistakes your boss made out of proportion.
2. Examine the motivation.
Why is your boss constantly on your back about finishing a certain project? In most cases, it is likely because someone above him/her is on his/her case about having that task finished. Say, for example, that s/he makes a rule about how long of a lunch break you can take, cutting down an hour long break, to fifteen minutes. This may seem, on the surface, extremely harsh. Is s/he cutting back on breaks because not enough work is being done around the office or because lots of people leave the office for lunch and actually take much longer lunch breaks than the prescribed hour? If he does something that seems harsh and irrational, try to look at the motivation behind those decisions, while also understanding your rights as an employee.
3. Keep working hard.
No matter how ridiculous and unreasonable s/he seems to become, keep working hard. Slacking off or firing back because s/he is acting irrational can hurt your chances of keeping that job, especially if s/he is not the highest authority in the business. If there is someone above who might see your behavior as insubordination or working against the good of the company, you’ll get in trouble. No matter what s/he does, your goal should be to stay on good terms with the rest of the leaders in the business.
4. Stay ahead rampages.
If your boss gets angry when a report is not on the desk when s/he comes in each morning, make sure that report is finished and on the desk at close of business the night before. A great way to avoid ever being micromanaged is to know what is expected of you and to finish it well ahead of schedule. When your boss comes to ask where a certain task is and why it isn’t finished, you can always present them with a completely finished project. Eventually, they will realize that you can handle your own responsibilities (or they’ll continue to hound you, but you’ll always have the upper hand).
5. Document what the boss does and says.
A boss with an anger management problem, who yells at employees in front of the rest of staff, triangulates team dynamics for their own amusement or who openly criticizes people or screams at them, can be terrifying to work for. In this situation, you need to start documenting what is happening, what precipitates it (if anything) and when it is happening. If these types of behaviors are happening in your office, it’s quite possible your boss is not well (emotionally or psychologically), but unfortunately you will need to build a case for upper management and Human Resources. Not only will information about your boss’s (unprovoked) behavior be useful if you ever go to the higher ups, but you might start to see a pattern in that information that could help you avoid being yelled at, triangulated or criticized. It can also be useful to document the instructions and directives you are given. When you are given instructions verbally, follow up about those instructions in an email, so you have hard proof if later s/he questions your efficiency or results.
6. Be a leader in the office.
If your boss is incompetent, checks out, or simply is unwilling or incapable of leading the office, step up and act as the de facto leader. You already know the office well enough that you should be able to lead it in a direction that the company will approve of. While this is a thankless job, people in that office need someone they can rely on for leadership if the person hired to play that role is just not able to do it. While your boss might not notice that you have stepped into her/his shoes, the people above him probably will, and that could mean good things for you down the line. That said, know what type of boss you are working under. Someone who is checked out might not realize all the good work you are doing to lead the team, but if you work under someone who micromanages and creates conflict for the sake of conflict, it might be better to follow and not lead.
7. Understand what makes the boss angry and try to avoid doing it.
Sometimes, the best solution is to leave a job where the boss constantly berates you. Many people simply do not have that option, however. If this is your situation, one of the best ways to deal with a difficult boss is to learn what sets him/her off and then to avoid being that trigger. Other people in the office might still feel the hammer come down on them, but if you’re never late, get your work done, and keep your head down, you can probably sail through without even so much as a glare. If the issue persists, it might be worth your time to talk to the higher ups, but only if you know that they will believe you and will be willing to take action. If not, start job searching. After all, the world is your oyster.