How to Deal With a Difficult Boss (With Tips and Guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 December 2021

Throughout your career, you may work with a leader or manager who has a different personality or communication style than you. This can occasionally lead to conflict or challenging situations. Knowing how to work with different personalities and difficult leaders can help you improve your workplace culture and overall wellbeing. In this article, we discuss why it's important to deal with a difficult boss and show you how to do so effectively.

Why is it important to deal with a difficult boss?

It's important to know how to deal with a difficult boss so that you can help maintain a productive and positive work environment. The relationship you share with your manager is one of the most important relationships in the workplace. When you experience difficulties with your supervisor, this can have a negative impact on you and those around you. While you have the option of resigning from your position, you may want to consider other options before resigning. There are several benefits that can come from addressing a difficult manager such as:

  • reduced work-related stress

  • reduced chance of illness

  • increased work satisfaction

  • improved relationships within the workplace

  • increased job productivity

  • increased potential to advance at work

Related: What Is Company Culture? (With Components and Examples)

How to work with a difficult manager

The following are tips that can help you figure out how to manage working with a difficult manager:

1. Determine your manager's motivations

Trying to better understand why your supervisor acts the way they do can help you determine whether this person is acting negatively on purpose or simply dealing with a high-pressure job. If your supervisor is under a great deal of pressure and in turn puts more pressure on you and other employees, you may be able to voice how this is affecting your work life to your manager. Working to have a more in-depth understanding of your manager's behaviours and motivations can allow you to see things from their perspective and create avenues for discussions regarding your manager's difficult manner.

Related: 9 Occasions to Write a Thank-you Message For Your Boss

2. Take responsibility when necessary

Sometimes a relationship with a supervisor can be challenging due to both individuals' behaviours. While it may be easy to blame your manager for their negative behaviour, it's important to assess your role in the relationship and take responsibility for any contribution to the challenging nature of the relationship when necessary. If you're exacerbating the negativity felt in the relationship, you can try to address your own behaviour first. Not taking responsibility may only worsen the situation and prevent you from improving your relationship with your superior.

3. Choose your words carefully

While expressing honesty and being open in the workplace is important, it's also important to remain tactful and professional when interacting with a difficult supervisor. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and being or being perceived as disrespectful may increase the tension between you and your manager. One way to ensure that you're speaking with your manager professionally and effectively is to focus on work-related matters in your conversations. This means that rather than focusing on their personality or the problems in your relationship, you're focusing on talking about work or other topics.

4. Empathise with your manager

As challenging a situation as this might be, try to consider your manager's perspective to better understand what they might be going through. Your manager may be dealing with the heads of the organisation or going through a challenging time personally. All these things can affect your manager's behaviour and understanding their position might give you a new outlook on their behaviour. More importantly, these things can help you better accept and cope with challenging situations as you understand that you're not the problem.

5. Don't discuss your manager with coworkers

Avoid discussing your manager and the challenges you're experiencing with your co-workers. Your manager likely has their own relationship with your colleagues. Communicating your frustrations may exasperate issues you currently experience and can contribute to a negative workplace culture. Rather than speaking to your colleagues about your manager, you may want to consider talking about these issues with someone external to the organisation. Discussing your situation with other people may help you better understand your relationship with your manager and may help you come up with solutions to improve it.

6. Anticipate expectations

You can deal with difficult leaders by becoming familiar with their needs and expectations. This helps you to anticipate requests and avoid difficult situations preventing additional tension in your professional relationship with the manager. When your supervisor sees that you can work effectively without significant supervision, this can help improve your relationship with them. They may also provide you with additional freedom to work.

For example, if your manager prefers to receive updates about clients before a specific time of day, you may want to spend time every morning discussing your current workload and providing updates about your clients. This may help you meet your supervisor's expectations and show them that you're serious about your position and responsibilities.

7. Practise your teamwork skills

Consider practising your teamwork skills to help improve productivity and increase collaboration within your team which can help alleviate the amount of supervision required by your supervisor. You can consider making executive decisions, when necessary, that may help alleviate some of your supervisor's responsibilities. This may help to improve your supervisor's impression of you and may encourage your colleagues to take more initiative. Improving your teamwork skills may also help you better understand and improve your professional relationship with your supervisor.

8. Review your supervisor's communication

When you want to improve your relationship with a difficult supervisor, you can observe their communication style to determine the best ways to interact with them. For example, some supervisors prefer communication through email, so you may want to send them emails at the end of every workday to update them about your workload. This helps you improve your communication with your supervisor, along with your overall relationship.

9. Adapt to their needs

As there are many different leadership styles, different managers have different expectations and requirements for team members. By developing a better understanding of your supervisor's needs and expectations, you can then better adapt your work processes to help meet them. For example, managers who use strong supervision in the workplace may appreciate an employee who asks questions about projects. This shows your supervisor that you're dedicated to your duties. A manager who utilises a more casual leadership style may expect you to work under minimal supervision.

10. Communicate with your supervisor

When you experience tension in your relationship with your supervisor, you may want to consider how you can communicate more effectively to improve your relationship. When mentioning your concerns to your supervisor, remember to use "I" statements and to demonstrate transparency.

For example, a social worker experiencing difficulty with their manager can say, "When I say I have too large of a workload and don't receive help, I feel frustrated. I feel this way because I'm becoming overwhelmed, and it's impacting my work. What I require moving forward are some resources to help me navigate my workload. If I don't receive some help, I may look for a new job." Using "I" statements can help to remove the responsibility from your supervisor and requires you to remain accountable for your emotions and work.

Related: What Is Communication? (And Its Importance in the Workplace)

11. Recognise when to leave

You may want to consider the amount of adaptation you're willing to do before you resign. If the job or supervisor is having a significant impact on your mental health or overall wellbeing, this may be a sign for you to resign. In many organisations, employees are typically required to adapt to the expectations of their supervisors.

Related: How to Write a Resignation Letter (With Examples)

12. Consider the impact on your work

When having difficulty with a manager, you may want to consider whether this conflict has a negative impact on your work and to make adjustments accordingly. This promotes consistently high-quality work and prevents burdening your coworkers to accommodate those difficulties. One of the best ways to improve your relationship with your manager is to consistently produce high-quality work and to help those around you with their responsibilities.

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