How to Manage a Difficult Boss: 4 Tips and a Lesson

how to manage a difficult boss

If you raised your eyebrow reading this title, it means that as an employee, you don’t often keep yourself updated to the newest trends in human resources management and don’t read the latest research in the field. The practice of employees managing a “difficult” boss is called “reversed leadership” and is not something that has been taught since yesterday, but for a few years now. How to deal with a manager you don’t like is an overly – repeated and analyzed subject in many specialized journals and employee dedicated websites, how to deal with an incompetent manager is a hard task, but managing a manager (close to manipulating but not entirely the same) is a hot trend propelled by many specialists in the field. So how to manage a difficult boss? There are plenty of tips and tricks and guidelines, but we’ll focus on four major strategies and see if we can also learn a valuable lesson from the experts.

1. Understand what are those things that make your manager tick. Good and bad

Lisa Quast, a contributor to Forbes Magazine places this “understanding” in the top of her list of tips on how to manage a difficult boss. Understanding his or her goals, priorities, concerns, outcomes and fears and build towards helping the boss achieve the objectives and overcome barriers and obstacles. If this translates to you as “do whatever he / she wants and don’t comment about it” you’d be wrong, because chapter two of this strategy also involves some detective work from your part from a personal point of view: understand how to lower your boss’s frustrations, anger episodes and the general state of unhappiness related to the work. This doesn’t mean sucking up to anybody, but being proactive in a management relationship.

2. Treating your boss as he / she would be a client

Derek Good from ImproveStaff makes a brilliant remark: employees often seem to succumb under the heaviness of their boss’s authority and get confused, not knowing how to act and what to do. Shaking the feeling of submissiveness and looking at your boss from a different perspective might save you and the manager as well. The HR expert advises employees to treat their bosses like they are clients: respectful, but in an open manner. Praising communication, asking and offering feedback, providing regular updates, consulting with the client on mutually important issues to be solved, engaging in an honest win – win relationship.

3. Learn how to manage a difficult boss by finding common communication paths

You should have seen this coming, as communication seems to be the key to almost every problem. Talking to your boss isn’t enough and you know it, as you just pictured the last face – to – face session you had with him / her and still remember your feeling of “it’s impossible to talk to this person!” So lot of talking and no communication is a problem. Discuss, not confront. Don’t victimize you and don’t counter – attack. Understand how does your boss like to communicate: personally, via e-mail, often, rarely? Is he / she spreading a mist of negative emotions, negative behaviors or has a totalitarian approach? You can seek counsel to solve the problem from competent sources or you can breathe, break the patterns and learn how to communicate even with a rigid, uptight boss. Expressing needs, opinions and concerns seem to work best.

4. Instead of being passive aggressive, be assertive

Faced with a difficult boss that might make their lives a living hell, many employees, faced with unreasonable and negative characters and personalities, decide they can’t take it anymore and start looking for other jobs in a vow of silence. Many of them know their days in that company are in a countdown, so they stop caring about the work and willingly or not, start boycotting the whole thing, either by making public their personal issues and complaints related to the boss, or achieve poor working results, as a metaphoric revenge. Passive aggressive behavior is detrimental to yourself, your colleagues and the company. Assertiveness, on the other hand, is the route to choose, as being honest about the problems, trying to solve them, not letting yourself stepped over and reacting in an elegant manner may actually ring a few bells to your boss too.

Many tips, one lesson

Just because a person is your boss it doesn’t mean he or she is not a human being. Of course he / she shouldn’t have behavioral problems, belligerent attitudes, rule over like a tyrant,  bash people around or act like he/she owns your souls and your careers. Terribly deranged people don’t make it to the highest executive positions nowadays, but even if your boss is just difficult without being a sociopath, the lesson is about pro-activity. Don’t be a doormat and don’t become your boss’s arch-nemesis, just because you have a pronounced sense of justice. Assertiveness, communication, flexibility, willingness to collaboration and honesty are some of the strategies to employ on how to manage a difficult boss.

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