Managing a Difficult Boss

Dealing with difficult people in the workplace is challenging. It’s REALLY challenging when the difficult person is your boss.  Difficult bosses range from rude, arrogant and pushy to micro managers, wish-washy non decision makers, control freaks all the way to downright abusive.  Most of us have had to deal with one or several of these types of bad behavior bosses in our careers.

Bad bosses can make life miserable.  The fact is, you can’t always correct their behavior. However, you shouldn’t have to live in fear for your job or let the bad boss ruin your job experience.  Here are some strategies you should consider when managing a difficult boss:

Talk to the boss. I wouldn’t suggest telling the boss he’s a bad boss.  That won’t get you very far, except maybe ten steps backwards.  Instead, focus on what your needs are and what you need from the boss.  Be positive, polite and non-emotional. The best solution to any conflict is to be able to work it out face-to-face.  It doesn’t always work, but it is an important step in any conflict situation, no matter how intimidating it may feel.

Walk a mile in his/her moccasins. Do you understand the boss’s goals? Have you seriously looked at things from his perspective?  Our view of the world is determined by the lens through which we look at things. Offer to help the boss achieve his agenda.

Lead up.  In his book, The 360° Leader, John Maxwell writes that you can lead from wherever you are in the organization.  In the situation where you are dealing with the boss, you would be “leading up.”  I highly recommend you invest in a copy of this book.  I use it often in my coaching practice. It comes with a leadership assessment tool that you will find quite helpful.  Among the “leading up” practices that Maxwell advocates are; investing in relational chemistry with the boss, doing what you can to lighten his load, becoming a go-to player and be willing to do what others won’t

Talk to others.  You’re not the only one struggling with the difficult boss.  Seek others perspective.  You will find some people are most successful in dealing with the boss than others.  What patterns do you see in those situations that you might apply?  Be extremely careful not to allow these conversations to turn into gripe-fests or ongoing gossip sessions.  Stay focused on professional problem solving.

Behavioral conditioning.  This is one of my favorites. If you have a group of people experiencing the same issues with the boss, you can, as a group agree to intentionally compliment the boss or praise him for the good behaviors he exhibits. There are many documented situations where people have done this and dramatically changed the boss’s behavior in a few weeks!

Talk to the boss’s boss. This is the last resort.  If nothing changes despite all of the efforts you’ve invested, this may be the only option. Again, stay professional and positive.  Keep emotions out of the conversation, but help the boss’s boss understand how the negative behavior is not only impacting your work experience, but also the operation of the department or organization. It may be necessary to ask for a transfer, if that is an option.

At the end of the day, you may be left with no other option than….

Leave the organization.  There are those moments in our careers where we have to face the question: Is this really worth it?  You are the only one who can answer that question.  Seek the counsel of family and friends. You may decide life is too short to put up with Mr. Lousy Boss.