Dealing With a Difficult Boss

Dealing With a Difficult Boss


This is it. The big question. What to do when you've got a bad boss. The "terrible boss" trope is so ubiquitous across the culture that it's almost become a cliche to mention it. But for millions of workers out there this is a serious issue that can have real ramifications on their lives.

It can also be a very sensitive and difficult subject to deal with and an absolute minefield for people to navigate in the workplace and unfortunately we can't just all wait patiently and hope the boss just gets better over time.

To try and help you out we've outlined some options available to you and how best to handle them if you've found yourself stuck with a difficult boss.

What are your options?

Talk to your boss first

While many of us might think this might make a situation worse, it's far better to honestly, but diplomatically, discuss the issues you have.

How to handle it?

Start by putting yourself in your bosses shoes, what do they care about? Have a 1-2-1 chat with your boss and ask them their exact expectations of you, then outline whether you can meet these expectations. The boss/employee relationship is most often frustrated by both parties not understanding the expectations of each other. Talking face to face is always better than sending an email which can get lost in translation.

Once realistic expectations are set the relationship can improve, talking to your boss first also shows you respect their opinion and didn't go over their head and escalate straight to their boss or HR or even gossiping behind their back, honesty can often save the day.

Request transfer to another team or function

Sometimes, no matter what you might try, two people are simply incompatible and can never make a working relationship function effectively.

How to handle it?

Your boss may feel the same way and rather than continue in a toxic working relationship both of you would be happy for a transfer to a new team or function in the business. This again starts by simply talking to your boss, if the differences are irreconcilable then you should move to joint discussions with HR to move into another team

Look for opportunities to improve

Sometimes a boss might just be hard on you because they think you're not living up to your potential.

How to handle it?

Check with your boss to see if this is indeed the case and you may actually find a golden opportunity to improve, learn new skills or take on new opportunities. Being pushed to be better could actually reignite your passion for the job and improve the relationship with your boss.

Look for other options outside the organisation.

If you've exhausted absolutely every option available to you then you could look for another job.

How to handle it?

Don't just quit right away. Make sure you're financially stable and have a savings buffer in case you can't find a new job quickly. Alternatively, start looking for a new job while you're still in your current position. This is often a last resort and in many cases it's better to try and look for solutions before going through the stress of finding a new job.

Keep records of the various encounters with your boss

This will be very useful to refer back to should you ever be at the stage of needing to escalate further.

How to handle it?

Make sure to save any email correspondence that might highlight your boss's difficult behaviour. Also write down any incidents that occur during meetings or through the course of the day. Not only will this be useful if you ever do have to escalate, it will also give you a good idea of exactly what the issues are with your boss and you can start to try and address these with them directly.

What to avoid

Don't use outright aggression

Aggressively confronting your boss or going over their head straight away will only antagonise them and likely only make the situation much worse. Don't let a difficult boss issue simmer until it reaches boiling point. Deal with it as soon as it starts to become an issue.

Don't let it affect your work

This can be difficult, but avoid letting the stress of a difficult boss seep into your day to day work. Stay focused on the task at hand and keep your boss problem as a separate as an issue to deal with on an interpersonal level.

Don't expect immediate changes in your boss

Remember, the workplace is meant to be a collaborative environment and people can be slow to change. You might also find you'll have to make changes in your own behaviour as you begin to reach a compromise with your boss.

When is it time to escalate?

Only when you've exhausted all other options in trying to work directly to your boss you should then escalate to the HR team. They're in place to look after the well being of all staff in the organisation and should give you both a fair hearing.

Alternatively you could go directly to your boss's supervisor. Although this may not always work in your favour given they may not be an entirely neutral party.

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