Published June 25, 2014
We’ve all had issues with our bosses at one point or another, but consistently dealing with a difficult boss can make going to work each morning a dreaded task.
The triggers vary: Your boss is a micromanager. He’s moody. She doesn’t trust you or praise you, and she’s often disengaged. You don’t know where you stand.
The conventional wisdom when dealing with a bad boss is to cut your losses and exit stage right. After all, people quit people, experts say, not jobs. But in this economic climate with a still-recovering labor market, moving on isn’t always a choice. But don’t worry, there are plenty of situations in which an employee can effectively work alongside a difficult boss, says Matt Brosseau, director of IT at Instant Technology.
In fact, you may actually manage to cultivate a good relationship and even change your boss by helping him/her become a more effective leader, adds Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and author of "Overcoming an Imperfect Boss" ,who says she’s worked with her share of difficult bosses.
“I confronted them offline, approached them with sensitivity, provided them with good data and stayed calm,” The result: “Some of the bosses who once really annoyed me became substantial mentors and good friends.”
You don’t have to be a victim, Hurt claims. “You have more power than you think.”
Here are some ways to work through uncomfortable situations with a difficult boss:
Be realistic. Hurt recommends establishing realistic expectations before starting a job. It’s important to remember the boss-subordinate relationship is unnatural by design. Plus, it’s like any relationship. “You’re just two messy human beings doing the best you can,” she says.
Don’t cave. Sometimes it may seem easier to take the path of least resistance when dealing with a bad boss and become a “yes” person, who “just emulates trickle-down intimidation,” Hurt claims.
The approach may help you survive short term, but you’ll tend to lose your initiative and creativity which could block your career advancement long-term, she warns.
Don’t jump the gun. Don’t assume there’s contention with your boss, says Brosseau. Relationships take time to develop and for people to feel comfortable with one another.
However, if you suspect the situation is escalating, take notes. A detailed written history of what has transpired lends support to your case when you need to approach your boss to talk it out.
Identify the specific problem. Understand which parts of your boss’ behavior you don’t like and why, advises Hurt. This will help you develop talking points when you address him/her in a private conversation. It will also help you appreciate what it takes to be a good leader—and what doesn’t work.
Initiate a conversation. Don’t wait for your boss to call you in or wait for your formal performance review to bring up the issue, advises Hurt. Take the bull by the horns and schedule a meeting.
In addition to potentially resolving your issue, Brosseau says confronting the problem may lead to increased respect from coworkers who may well have observed ongoing friction and now can see you’re taking charge.
Put it conclusions in writing. Immediately following your meeting with your boss, craft an email summarizing the takeaways, agreements, etc…, says Brosseau, who suggests using a bullet format.
“Then try to get your boss to sign-off.” The written record of the conversation serves as an important reminder for your boss. It is also an important document if and when you have to turn to HR.
Tone it down. When you talk with your boss, choose the right words. Perhaps say something like “I’m not feeling our relationship is the best it can be,” suggests Hurt. Then take responsibility for your part in that dynamic. If you approach the situation with humility, your boss may well volunteer some things he/she would do differently, too.
Brosseau also highlights the importance of positivity and suggests using words like “I like working here, but I don’t feel I’m being as effective as I can be.” A huge no-no, he adds, is a “woe is me” approach.
Be transparent. “I’ve never regretted being more transparent,” claims Hurt, who recommends trying to get to know your boss as a person.
“What’s more, when you ‘bring your whole self’ to work and to a meeting with your boss, he/she will better understand what’s going on with you.”