Career Development

How To Deal With a Difficult Boss

June 10, 2021

As you enter professional life, you spend most of your days working, so working with a difficult boss can be a challenge to overcome. Despite the challenge, quitting your job is usually not the answer. Understanding strategies you can use to address a challenging relationship with your boss can help you improve your professional life and your problem-solving skills. In this article, we will discuss how to deal with a difficult boss and why it's important to address such challenges while staying professional.

How to deal with a difficult boss

While faced with a challenging relationship with your boss, you may think that the only solution is to find another job. However, there are ways to stay in the workplace and deal with your challenging situation. Here are tips to help you decide how to manage work with your boss:

1. Understand your boss's behaviour

If you try to understand your boss's behaviour, you may be able to identify if your boss is acting negatively on purpose or simply because of stress. If you see that your manager is acting negatively towards you intentionally, you can first try to find out the reason why and at the same time, work hard to deliver great performance at work. When the time is right, you can try to talk about your challenges with them directly.

Meanwhile, if your supervisor is under pressure and is placing more pressure on you and other employees because of that, you may be able to kindly and slowly discuss how this is affecting your work life to your boss. Having an in-depth understanding of your manager's behaviours can allow you to see professional situations from their perspective and figure out the solution to address any challenges you're experiencing with your boss.

2. Take responsibility when necessary

When you think that your boss is challenging to deal with, remember that an employer-employee relationship relies on both individuals. Thus, it's possible that you find your boss's behaviour unpleasant simply because it doesn't align with what you expect from a boss. Although it's much easier to blame your boss for their negative behaviour, it's equally important to reassess your role in the relationship and take responsibility for any contribution to the challenging nature of the relationship when necessary.

If you find out that you have done something that introduced the negativity in the relationship, you can work to address your mistakes and make it clear to your manager that you want to improve your relationship. Not taking responsibility may only worsen the situation and prevent you from improving your relationship with your superior.

3. Choose your words carefully

Being honest and open in your workplace is important, especially when it comes to work-related matters. However, it's equally important that you remain tactful and choose your words thoughtfully, whether you are talking to a colleague and especially when interacting with a supervisor. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, being offensive, being disrespectful or being perceived as disrespectful may increase the tension between you and your manager in the workplace.

It's best to display professional behaviour when you're speaking with your manager and ensure that you're staying results-oriented in your conversations. Rather than focusing on their personality or trying to understand your boss's behaviour, you can first focus on talking about work that will help you progress in your career. This can help you remain tactful and respectful as you speak to your manager.

Related: Interpersonal Skills Definition and Examples

4. Empathise with your boss

You can also try to understand your boss's perspective if you notice negativity in your relationship. Beyond handling your team, your boss may be responsible for many other tasks, which may include reporting to their own boss. Or, your boss may be experiencing a challenging time personally, which may affect their behaviour at work.

Many things could have affected your boss's behaviour, and empathising with them may give you a different perspective on their behaviour. Practising empathy can help you better accept and cope with challenging situations at work. It may also help you have a proactive conversation with your supervisor that can lead to a better relationship.

5. Refrain discussing your boss with coworkers

Talking about your experiences, including a challenging relationship with your boss, and discussing some of your frustration may be ways you cope with issues. However, you can be aware of who you are sharing such sensitive topics with. When you're having this discussion with your coworkers, it may seem like you're spreading rumours.

Such a situation can worsen your relationship with your boss and even further encourage negativity in the workplace. Thus, it's best to talk to a trusted friend or family member whose opinion you respect instead of talking about your grievances with coworkers whom you don't know very well.

6. Meet expectations

It takes time to be aware of your boss's habits, behaviours and demands. While trying to figure out more about your boss, you can always anticipate their requests to avoid any further tension in your relationship. Perform your best at all times and try to fulfil their expectations of your work.

If your boss sees that you are independent and capable on your own, they may provide you with more freedom and require you to check in with them less. For example, if your boss wants updates on clients by noon, don't wait for your boss to ask for updates. Instead, you can send them in as early as you can with detailed information. Meeting and exceeding your supervisor's expectations can prove to them that you respect their requests, and you're capable of doing your job well.

7. Practise your leadership skills

When dealing with a challenging situation in which you're experiencing a negative relationship with your boss, you can view the situation as an opportunity to improve your leadership skills. To do this, you can take initiative, make decisions and at the same time, stay respectful. You can also try your best to perform well and deliver positive results for your team and the organisation.

When people notice your leadership capability and professional conduct, you can motivative your coworkers to achieve results. This may also attract the interest of your boss or even senior management to notice your abilities. This can eventually help to turn a negative environment into a positive one.

Related: Types of Leadership Style

8. Study your boss's communication style

Finally, it's important that you're able to communicate well with your boss in order to build a good relationship. Trying to determine your manager's preferred communication style can help foster more effective communication within the workplace. For example, if your boss prefers to communicate primarily via email, you can make it a habit to first email them before approaching them in person to speak about a work-related matter. The better you understand how to communicate with your manager, the more likely your relationship can improve.

Also read: How to Improve Communication

Why is it important to find a way to work with a difficult boss?

A negative relationship with your boss can present a significant challenge in the workplace. In fact, the relationship with your supervisor can be the most important relationship within the workplace, and a positive relationship with your boss can affect nearly every aspect of your work life. While some people simply opt to resign from their position, attempting to improve a negative supervisor relationship may turn out to be for the best. These are some reasons to try to address your relationship with your boss before choosing to resign:

  • Reduce work-related stress. Working with a challenging boss can be a stressful experience, but you may experience the same issue again even if you resign and work with another company. Thus, learning to deal with the situation can help you to reduce your stress and improve the situation.

  • Improve relationships within the workplace. This applies not just to your relationship with the boss. When you put in effort to make positive changes, you can also improve the overall atmosphere at the workplace.

  • Increase productivity. Working with a good boss and a supportive team can increase your productivity at work and increase your potential to advance at work.

  • Improve your ability to advance at work. Improving your relationship with your supervisor can help you increase your potential for promotions.


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