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4 Tips for Dealing With a Difficult Boss

Eventually, most employees encounter a difficult boss. In fact, half of all adults have quit a job to get away from a superior to improve their quality of life.

“Difficult” can mean many things: a micromanager, hothead, poor communicator, someone with lousy interpersonal skills, someone unconstructively or excessively critical, someone who openly shows favoritism, someone lacking competence or knowledge for the job, and so on.

Whatever it is that makes your boss difficult to work with, the results are generally the same. It’s demotivating, demoralizing, stressful and makes the job unpleasant, and the misery often follows you home.

The situation isn’t hopeless, however. You’re just trying to do the best job you can, and usually, the same is true of your boss. Ideally, managers and employees mutually contribute to each other’s success. But sometimes, due to the quirks of human nature and interaction, this isn’t the reality. Take the initiative to improve the situation.

Keep Doing Your Best

Never let a difficult boss affect your job performance. Yes, the circumstances are discouraging, but being a professional means working through that for your sake and for the good of the brand, its employees and its customers.

Your co-workers and other senior-level team members are undoubtedly aware of your performance. If it’s not up to par, you won’t have a leg to stand on if you need to address the situation with other company leaders. You may not even have a job for long. At the very least, it fuels more problems with your boss in a cycle of increasingly poor treatment and performance.

Keep a Fair Perspective on the Situation

Try to see things through your boss’s eyes. Is it possible some of the criticism you’ve received is valid (even if it wasn’t necessarily delivered constructively)? Is your boss hovering and monitoring your productivity so closely because someone is monitoring hers even more closely? Is your boss dealing with a major source of stress in his personal life?

Sure, in a perfect world, bosses wouldn’t let something on their end affect the way they treat employees. But they’re human too. By understanding your boss’s motivations, you might develop some sympathy that helps smooth out the relationship. Also, you can better avoid triggers and head off potential issues by anticipating and adapting.

Keep Lines of Communication Open

Your boss may not realize the extent of the behavior in question or the effect it’s having on you. Every relationship—personal and professional—needs strong communication to thrive.

Schedule a meeting with your boss. If the prospect is scary, or your boss prefers written communication, or finding time is tough, send an email instead. Remain positive, professional, and constructive. Express how you’d like to improve the relationship and your boss’s satisfaction with your performance, and that you want to work together to accomplish this. Explain the behaviors that are interfering with your ability to do your best without making accusations. Offer suggestions for how things could be done more effectively, and then ask for the same.

Keep in Mind the Feedback You Get

Some bosses seem difficult because of unreasonable expectations. Managers walk a fine line to motivate employees to do their best without making unrealistic demands. If unreasonable expectations are an issue you’re dealing with, address it in your meeting or letter. Just remember to maintain a fair perspective and be sure the demands you are referring to are in fact unrealistic.

When you ask your boss for suggestions on how to improve the relationship, take them to heart. It’s a two-way street. If your boss is receptive to the conversation and constructive feedback, it’s only fair that you are too. When both of you make an effort, the results should be positive for both of you.

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