How to Deal with a Difficult Boss & Facilitate a Good Working Environment
When your boss makes your job — and your life — difficult, you might dread coming to (or “logging into”) work every day. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a bad boss is one of the top factors driving employees to quit their jobs in the midst of the Great Resignation. According to our 2021 Talent Retention Report, 69.8% of employees would leave a job due to poor management or relationship with supervisors.
While it’s sometimes accurate that good employees leave bad managers, quitting isn’t always the right solution — or even an option. Consider these seven tips to improve the manager relationship and overcome those "bad boss" woes.
1. Ask Questions for Clarity
Some bosses give vague instructions or refuse to offer much guidance on your assignments. Ask questions to clarify the assignment, including what you’re expected to do and the exact goals you need to accomplish. If any of your boss’s instructions aren’t clear, keep following up with additional questions until you understand. Then, set a date for regular check-ins to make sure you’re on track.
2. Focus on Solutions, Not Problems
A problem-solving mindset can be one of the most effective ways to help you figure out how to deal with a difficult boss. When a problem comes up, don’t go to your boss without a list of possible solutions. Approaching your boss with an action plan shows you’ve put in the time and effort to make their job easier.
3. Speak Up Tactfully
Not all difficult bosses are self-aware about the problems they’re causing. If they’ve been remote during the pandemic, they may be struggling to communicate appropriately with all of their direct reports. That’s why you may want to consider confronting a difficult boss.
Offer some potential solutions on how to create a good working environment. Or explain what you need from your boss and ask for clarification on what your boss needs from you. Use language like “when you do this, it affects my work/motivation/performance in this way.” Approach the meeting with an open mind and a willingness to work together to solve the problem.
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4. Adapt to Your Boss's Style
Deciding how to deal with a difficult boss is often a matter of figuring out their working style and behavioral traits, and using that knowledge to best accommodate their style. For example, maybe your boss doesn’t like to be approached first thing in the morning. Perhaps they’re better at answering questions over email than face-to-face. Observe these quirks and adapt to meet these needs. If your boss likes to micromanage, offer frequent status updates.
5. Get to the Bottom of Their Motivations
When you have to deal with a difficult boss, uncover their motivations. Maybe your boss tends to take out frustrations about their own boss on you. Or perhaps your boss is dealing with personal stressors, especially after months of working remotely. Assume your boss isn’t out to get you. When you start to consider the difficulties that your boss may be experiencing, you develop compassion and remember that the bad behavior isn’t personal.
6. Take Over Your Boss's Least-Favorite Tasks
Find out if there is something your boss believes is stressful or overwhelming and see if you can step in or strategize ways you can assist them. Sometimes, this means you take on a different assignment, get the chance to learn a new skill, or simply improve your manager relationship.
7. Know When to Get Help
If you’re wondering what to do when your boss disrespects you, it’s probably time to address the behavior and take action. Once the situation reaches that stage, it becomes a toxic work environment. Let your boss know privately about the instances that have made you feel disrespected. Clearly document the conversation and the steps you have taken to resolve the problem. If the behavior doesn’t change, your next step is to reach out to HR.
Dealing with a difficult boss is an unpleasant (but sometimes unavoidable) part of the career journey. The good news is that the practice you gain learning how to deal with a difficult boss or confronting a difficult boss can help you develop healthy relationships with future supervisors — and know what behaviors to avoid when you become someone else’s boss.
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