How to Deal with a Difficult Boss

5 minute read
How to Deal with a Difficult Boss

People don’t quit because they don’t like their job, they quit because they don’t like their manager. A difficult boss causes friction and tension in the team causing you to think that there’s only one way out.

This is especially true in sales and marketing where having a difficult boss can affect your performance. When you’ve got quantifiable KPI’s that can be affected by a difficult boss, you have the extra burden that you could get in trouble for their poor management.

As a Sales and Marketing Manager, I’ve had good bosses and you guessed it, difficult bosses. For me, there are two main categories of difficult bosses, “the bad manager” and “the incompetent manager”. One is just ill-equipped to lead people and one just doesn’t have any sales or marketing experience and can’t understand the day to day activities let alone the high-level strategy.

My last boss was in the latter camp, with plenty of management and leadership experience but hadn’t spent a single day working in sales or marketing. You would hope that they would defer to the experts on matters they didn’t understand right? Well, the dangerous aspect to the incompetent manager is that they will try to protect their image, the last thing they need is the CEO finding out that all their good ideas aren’t theirs. Here are some methods I’ve found to successfully deal with a difficult boss.

Make Sure They Are a Difficult Boss

1. Taking a step back

Whilst you might have strong feelings about your boss already, it’s crucial to take a step back, assess the situation objectively before you try to fix anything, you need to figure out what is broken.

Ask yourself, “what makes them a difficult boss?” and write it down. I’ve even written a Pro’s and Con’s list about past bosses. This is important because you’re not going to fix anything with the relationship if you can’t articulate what it is you’re finding difficult to deal with. Try to be as objective as you can, removing emotion from the equation, list work-related things such as; “they didn’t give credit for an idea” or “they set unrealistic expectations for a project” etc. Keep it factual.

2. Seeing things from their perspective

Once you have a list of ‘bad behaviours’, for each item, try to give them the benefit of the doubt, what is the most empathetic reason you can come up with to excuse that behaviour. This seems a bit extreme but it will help you shape your opinion and should help remove any unconscious bias you have towards them.

It might be that they criticised you in front of your team, which is unprofessional, but you know the CEO is on their back about meeting budget so perhaps they’re just under a lot of pressure. It sounds like a long-winded way out of working through these issues but if you think there might be some truth to your most empathetic excuse, perhaps you really should give them the benefit of the doubt and try to move past it.

Alternatively, if you really don’t believe there’s any justifiable reason for their behaviour then there are a few things you can do to move things forward.

Take Responsibility

1. Taking responsibility for your actions

It is a two-way street, nothing happens in a vacuum and odds are, you don’t know their exact thoughts and motivations. So before raising any concerns, just ask yourself “what could I do differently to reduce the friction?”.

This isn’t about letting them off the hook but if you haven’t made any effort to meet them in the middle then they might not be too receptive to take some constructive feedback.

A good way to start is to develop some coping tactics that help reduce the friction. For example, if your boss isn’t very specific with deadlines and is constantly chasing you for things that you didn’t know were important, try asking the question every time  “when do you want this by and how important is it”.  This way, you’re actively mitigating the behaviours your finding difficult to deal with. It has the added bonus that they might cotton onto the fact that you need these things you keep asking for and modify their behaviour.

2. Lead up

Instead of focusing on the negatives with your difficult boss, try to be a leader. You don’t have to be in the management role to lead, leadership is about putting the team first. You know what your team needs and you know what needs to be done to achieve your goals.

Don’t let a difficult boss stop you from being a good leader. As Simon Sinek says:

"I know many people with no formal rank or authority who have made the choice to look after the person to the left of them and the person to the right of them and we would follow them anywhere"
Simon Sinek
Leadership Expert

3. Don't assume they know everything

They might have the title but it doesn’t mean they have all the answers.

Irrespective of how competent your boss is, there’s a job to be done and you’re going to have to work together. Working with your boss might mean telling them your needs. Tell them what information you need or how you need to be managed. If they don’t know something then help educate them so it doesn’t become a recurring problem.

Open Up Dialogue

1. Schedule a meeting to talk

If you’re really having issues with a difficult boss that you can’t move past, the first thing you should be doing is opening up communication. You’d be amazed how much conflict in the workplace can be resolved by talking about it. You might find your boss sees you as a difficult employee but lacks the conflict resolution skills to deal with it. or your boss might not understand the roles and responsibilities your job demands. This is your opportunity to talk about your concerns.

Don’t feel uncomfortable about talking about things you’re unhappy with. Just keep it factual, they are people too and insulting them to make yourself feel better won’t help. Try to list two or three things your finding difficult and ask for their help to work through them and set some strategies moving forward. They are your boss and they should take responsibility for your welfare.

2. Set a follow up meeting

Hopefully, your boss was receptive to the feedback and has agreed to a strategy moving forward. This shouldn’t be the end of it, ultimately you’re in this situation because you’re unhappy and that won’t go away overnight.

It can be helpful to keep all parties on track by scheduling a check-in after a few weeks to see how everyone is feeling and reassess the strategies in place so far.

3. Ask other people for help

Speak to peers or someone outside of work. I  don’t mean to complain about your boss to everyone in the team, but if you have a peer at work or someone you trust outside of work, talk through your frustrations. Get some validation and some perspective about your frustrations.

Take Care of Yourself

Working with a difficult boss can be bad for your health. Studies show that chronic stress can re-wire the brain that affects decision making and self-esteem. Ask for help, speak to friends or family or seek professional help if you need to.

Hopefully, you can resolve the issues with your difficult boss and resolve the situation.

Remember to:

  • Focus on the positives of your job
  • Be empathetic towards your boss and colleagues
  • Set boundaries, try not to let work stress come into your home life
  • Try to resolve the conflict
  • Your mental health is more important than the job

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