Are you working under a boss who makes your life and work miserable? If YES, here are 40 effective ways to deal with a difficult boss without losing your job.
Working with a hard-to-please boss can be physically and emotionally draining. Among other things, it can make you question your abilities as a human being and your capabilities as an employee.
People have different personalities which are sometimes compounded by life experiences. A lot of these people usually don’t know how to control the fallout of these experiences and usually vent their anger at the slightest provocation and on the nearest person, who usually happens to be a subordinate or employee.
The first thing most employees think about when they find themselves saddled with an impossible superior is to jump ship. But before you start thinking of getting another job, you should think of ways you can better handle your boss so that you both can co-exist peacefully.
You never know, you can still meet a difficult boss at your next job. You just can’t keep running all your life. Here are few beneficial tips that can help you handle a particularly difficult boss.
40 Effective Ways to Deal With a Difficult Boss Without Losing your Job
- Know if you are being bullied
The very first step to handle a difficult boss is to know whether your boos is just being too strict, or if you are being bullied, because the two are different. If you are being targeted for criticism while your co-workers’ mistakes are allowed to slide; if your boss is negative toward you always; if you are never celebrated for accomplishments but always demeaned, then maybe you are being bullied or abused, and you are dealing with a difficult boss.
According to a 2014 survey, 56 percent of workplace bullies are supervisors. If you know what you are dealing with, then you would know how to go about it because abuse can affect an employee’s physical and mental health.
- Identify what motivates your boss’ attitude
Understanding why your boss does or cares about certain things can give you an insight into why he acts the way he acts. If your boss is being very difficult, then try to figure out what gets him or her in the mood. Maybe he or she is very zealous for the job or he or she has some personal or personality issues.
Knowing this would give you an insight on how to react each time. If your boss has anger management problems, identify what triggers his or her meltdowns and be extra vigilant about avoiding those. Adequate knowledge is by far what you need to properly handle the situation.
- Anticipate your boss’ moods and stay one step ahead
This is why we recommend that you should study your boss if you are dealing with a particularly difficult one. Studying him would help you identify his moods so as to stay quite clear during the potentially angry moments. Again, you should also be able to anticipate what your boss wants done, and do them before even being asked.
This would tell him or her that you know your responsibilities, and you don’t need to be monitored. Employees generally get run-ins with their superiors if they leave things hanging, thus predisposing them to the attention of difficult superiors.
- Create an appreciable distance
To keep your mental health intact while you earn a pay check, you must, of necessity keep your distance from superiors that tend to bully subordinates. Working with someone who seems to have no boundaries means that you have to go ahead and set them.
Applying the theory of ‘good fences make good neighbors’, endeavour to always remain at a very comfortable distance from your boss always and minimize things that would make you run into each other. You can target to always submit your reports or whatever when he or she is away from the office, and try to do an impeccable job to avoid being called back for some verbal shredding.
- Double check when in doubt
When dealing with a difficult boss, you have to be extra careful. When instructions are given that you don’t fully understand, you need to ask for further explanation. Understandably, asking him or her directly to explain the issue further may trigger vituperations, so what you have to do is repeat the question back to him and ask if this is what he meant. If he answers in the affirmative, you can then go a step further and ask him to explain it better. When you repeat someone’s perspective back to him, you give them a chance to expound.
- Support them to success
While it may sound counter intuitive to support a bad boss in becoming more successful, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by making him look bad, going to war or facilitating his (or her) failure. If you know you have a boss who’s disorganized, then help him to be on top of things rather than whining about his lack of organizational skills.
If he tends to change his mind frequently, or is outright forgetful, be sure to document interactions so you can refer back to them if he ever contradicts himself. Making yourself indispensable, and someone your boss can rely on to help him do his job can make you an invaluable asset, and can reverse the trend of bullying.
- Know their preferences
We all have our little preferences, and so does your boss too. If you are dealing with a particularly difficult one, get to know his or her preference, it could help you get into his or her good books. How does he like to communicate – via e-mail, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos? Does he like his trumpet to be blown etc? If you get to know these preferences, then work with them to help your case. Working with his preferences is an obvious way of managing your boss without his ever knowing it.
- Try not to get intimidated
People who bully get their power from those who respond by cowering and showing fear. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer, or a judge, try to stand firm. If you are doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give him the satisfaction of pushing you about.
Rather ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but over time you will get better at it and he will look elsewhere for his power kick. If you feel compelled to call your boss on his behavior, go ahead but do so with a cool head and prepare in advance for the ensuing fallout. It could get ugly so think things through beforehand.
- Learn to be tactful
It is always advisable for employees to be open and honest in their communications at work; but if you have a difficult boss, you need to be tactful when you speak so as not to step on a nerve. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time when tensions are running high risks making the situation much, much worse than it already is. So choose your words carefully, and document your interactions with your boss. You will find out that having some documented facts will ensure that if the situation does at some point escalate, you’ve insulated yourself from blame.
- It is good to vent sometimes
Dealing with a less-than-stellar boss daily can really wear you down. Opening up to a trusted friend or family member can help alleviate some of that stress. Not only will it help you get things off your chest, but they may be able to offer you a different perspective about the situation and what is really going on.
While you’re on it, you need to mind who you talk to. In fact, try and avoid sharing your feelings with your colleagues unless they are also partakers with you in the abuse. Why care needs to be taken when talking to a colleague is that they may try to use what you said to curry favour and further put you in a bad light.
- Don’t let it affect your work
No matter how bad your boss’ behavior is, avoid letting it affect your work. You want to stay on good terms with other leaders in the company and also keep your job, so the quality of your work output must not be compromised. If you try to even the score by working slower, skipping work, coming to work late or taking longer lunches, it will only put you further behind in your workload, and make others think your boss was right after all by picking on you.
- Take note of all of your conversations
If you work with a boss who has a knack for denying things, then the best way to work with such a person is to keep track of all your conversations. Keeping track of all of your conversations, whether it’s through emails or memos, will help you be on top of your situation with your boss. Doing so will be helpful for two reasons.
First, having a record of everything your boss said will help you in the event that your boss gives you confusing instructions or claims he or she didn’t say something that he or she really said; you can use the written communication as evidence.
Second, having a record of everything your boss says to you can be helpful if your relationship is so problematic that you want to discuss the situation with a supervisor; in that case, you’ll have written proof that something is off. Is the boss denying that you sent him that proposal you worked on until 3 am, or worse, accusing you of losing a major account because he never saw it? Forward him the original email, print it out, and keep it. Take notes on any conversations about your performance, and your responses.
- Hold your horses
When dealing with a difficult boss, you need to refrain from becoming emotional when having a conversation with him or her. Even if your boss becomes emotional, you need to maintain your professional decorum so that he cannot use anything against you.
Note that your boss may become even more aggravated by your calm and professional demeanor, and if this is the case, explain to your boss that you would like to continue the conversation, but the last thing you want is to upset him, so suggest picking up the issue at a later time.
If you lose your cool, your boss can blame you, even if you’re upset over something completely legitimate. If you hear yourself raising your voice, stop, slow down, and take a few deep breaths. If you can’t keep the conversation at a normal level, then you should resume it later.
- Avoid getting defensive
It is quite natural to want to defend yourself in an argument, but when dealing with a difficult boss, you need to jettison this attitude because it can be easily misinterpreted. You may have issues that you may want to discuss personally with your superior, but if he feels that you are criticizing him, he may turn the tables and place the focus on you.
Don’t get defensive or ignore anything he is telling you. In fact, it can be helpful to ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can correctly before you start a conversation with your boss. You may be having problems with your boss because you have been doing something wrong without realizing it. It’s best to anticipate anything your boss might say, such as the fact that you’re always late or that your reports need to be proofread more, before you start the conversation. Otherwise, you may be in for a shock.
- You cannot change your boss, so don’t try
If your boss is characteristically difficult to handle, not just for you but for others, then the likelihood of him changing is minimal. If this is the case, the only thing you can do is to make him aware of your issues. Though you can’t change your boss or his personality, hopefully talking to your boss will send him on the path to improvement. Furthermore, you can work on improving your relationship without changing your boss. You need to learn to accept his personality for what it is.
- Do not report to a more superior person…if you can help it
Do not go over your boss’s head if you can avoid it, it may backfire on you. Not only will this cause hostility between you and your boss, but the superior may refer you back to your boss, which may result in an even more unpleasant situation.
You should go over your boss’s head only if you feel like you have tried everything with your boss but nothing has worked. Additionally, you can report your boss if you feel that he or she is being sexually inappropriate, discriminating against you based on your age, gender, race, or another external factor, and that further action needs to be taken outside of your boss’s power.
- Know your boss’ place of authority in the company
Know where your boss stands in the company. If your boss is well regarded and well liked, that means that he or she may be doing a great job. As a result, you will be considered the “problem” if you complain about her to higher ups. If you decide you want to take action against your boss, weigh your options carefully before you do. Have faith and trust that you are doing the right things and keep on with it.
- Note when it’s time to report…and do it
While it is advisable not to report your boss to a higher authority for being unpleasant, but it gets to a point when this becomes unavoidable. If you feel like you have tried everything on your own and need to talk to someone higher up, then it’s time to arrange a meeting with a supervisor to discuss the problems you’re having with your boss.
There is no point in delaying the inevitable if you feel like you really can’t work together with your boss. If you’ve tried everything and know that your relationship has reached a dead end, then it’s time to talk to your supervisor about the situation. Don’t be nervous, and stick to discussing the facts instead of getting emotional. The more concrete examples you have, the more respect you’ll get.
- Seek a transfer within the company
Another way to deal with a difficult boss, especially if you have exhausted all methods is to see if you can be transferred to another department in the company or even to a different boss in the same department. If your supervisors are aware of your problems with your boss, they can even support your intention.
If you make it pretty clear that you won’t be able to stay on if you’re stuck with your current boss, in spite of how much you like the company, then they may be able to find an arrangement that makes you happy. Do your research and see if such a thing has been done before, and look out for tips on how to proceed.
- Don’t ignore discrimination
There is one thing that should not be ignored in the workplace, and that is discrimination. If you truly feel that you’ve been discriminated against because of your age, race, gender, or something else beyond your control, then it may be time to take action.
You can consult the EEOC for free, or seek out an employee attorney for a fee if you think you’ve been discriminated against and are in a protected class. Don’t be nervous about taking this measure if this is what’s happening; though it won’t be pleasant, this may be the best way to meet your needs.
- Don’t take it personal
The worst way to handle a difficult boss is to take everything that is being said personally because he handles every other subordinate the same way. Whether your boss is outright ranting or subtly condescending, it’s never something to take to heart. You should know that if you weren’t there, somebody else would be in your place, getting the abuse. If there is constructive criticism in what your supervisor’s saying, then take that, but disconnect your ego from the way he said it.
- Be solution based
If you’ve made a mistake, own it up immediately and say you’ll fix it, with no lame excuses. If your boss loses his cool about missed targets, acknowledge his frustration and offer a solution. A boss’s blame can become apologetic shame if you handle it right. Always come up with a solution to every muck up to help remedy the situation.
- Use humor to your advantage
If you are one of those few lucky people that find humor almost everywhere, then you can use that gift to your advantage here. When you use humor wisely in an e-mail, you are more likely to get a favourable response back. You may find that without it, you would have never received a response from your boss. Of course, not everyone is receptive to humor or sympathy, and certainly not at all times. So you need to study your boss before applying this technique.
- Consider modifying your work pattern
People tend to blame their bosses when things are not going their way and their work output is called into question. But before jumping to the conclusion that your boss bullies you, try to find out if it is your lack of efficiency that is bringing out the worst in him or her. If that is the case, then try to modify your work pattern to increase your effectiveness. A inefficient employee can get even the nicest person lose his patience often.
- Keep at your work to the best of your abilities
Bosses will get on an employee’s case if they keep on making the same mistakes. To ensure that they do not hassle you, be diligent about doing your job to the best of your abilities. Working with that attention to detail will likely keep them away from bothering you. Try making a list of your errors and systematically eliminating them. If you get to zero errors in your work and you are still getting harassed, then it is most likely not your fault.
- Try to make a list of effective solutions
Study the pattern of the conflicts between you and your boss and then draft up some solutions to the problem for yourself and for your boss. In solving any problem, putting together a list of potential solutions and means of executing them is the way toward success. For the ones you can solve yourself, do, and see if there is any positive effect. If there is, try and communicate ways you can work together to improve even more.
- Arrange a meeting with your boss
The best way to solve many interpersonal issues is simply to talk it out in a safe environment for both parties. If you see a problem with your boss, approach him or her and ask for some time to talk about the issues that you see. Offer those solutions to them and try to reach a compromise for the betterment of the working environment.
Of course don’t go in on the attack. Start with a spirit of inquiry and be ready to listen and learn. Assure him or her that you just want to learn ways you can improve on your job so as not to always ignite conflict between the both of you.
- Learn to follow instructions… even if you disagree with it
Managers are paid to be responsible for certain decisions, and they ultimately pay the price if they make errors, so what they say goes. Work is not a democracy as you are mandated to obey your superior. Once they have made a decision on whatever issue, in order to avoid conflict with them, you should follow their decisions to the latter, regardless of what you think about it. But there is nothing wrong with offering suggestions to improve the processes. You can put forward the point and see if it gets accepted, but if not, follow it that way, he would bear the repercussions.
- Set your priorities
Once you start having constant run-ins with your boss, you need to ask yourself if you came to work to fight your boss or to improve your career. If your focus is to become successful in your career, then you must work diligently and keep on producing best results.
Some bosses become bad to their employees when the work is not done properly. So as an employee, you have to do your job and you must do it well because your boss’ priorities are also your priority…as far as the job is concerned. Don’t give your boss any reason to hate you, instead make him or her happy that he hired you.
- See the situation as a learning curve
You might be suffering a lot now because of your relationship with your boss but you will definitely learn something from it. Meeting a difficult boss is not bad after all because you are gaining knowledge and experience that you can use in your future endeavors. When you have successfully learned how to deal with such people, encountering more of them in the future won’t give you a headache anymore.
- Don’t kill yourself trying to please your boss
There is a difference between trying to be more efficient at work to stave off a shouting match, and going overboard with it at the detriment of your mental and physical health. Don’t always take the blame if you know that it is not your fault.
Do not take on too much work if you think you cannot handle it all. Being a martyr is a choice and if you want to play that role in your work, then you’re only being harsh to yourself. It will not help you in advancing your career. The job would always go on if you break down…and your boss might appreciate it that you’re gone at last.
- Don some rose-tainted lens
This kind of situation can make some people to just slack off or lose interest in performing their duties because they hate working with their difficult manager or supervisor. Don’t be tempted to go this way; instead choose to see the bright side of the situation.
Show your boss how better you are by performing well in your assigned job. Be fascinated with your work. Stay upbeat and get engaged with your boss professionally. Keeping a good and positive attitude will not only make you feel better but it also drives you to be the best that you can be.
- Make the most of what you have
You have a job, you get paid properly, and you have a good relationship with your co-workers – here are just some of the things that you should be grateful of. Even though your boss is such a pain, you don’t have to stress yourself out just thinking about him. You can still make the most of what you have in the company you’re working for by focusing on the good things that’s happening to you.
- Kick the temptation to backstab your boss
Backstabbing and gossiping is an unprofessional act. This should not be practiced in the workplace because this only destroys the relationship of people in the team or department. Recognize that no one is perfect including your boss, and so you should not get into the temptation of spreading rumours about him or her. Try to imagine if you were your boss, would you want talks about you to be going around behind your back?
Once you can envision what your boss might be going through, then it might be easier for you to be empathetic to their situation. There is usually a reason why they act or treat you a certain way. Try to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. It might open your eyes to something you did not see before.
- Try and keep calm
Remaining calm even though your boss may provoke you is the best step you can take. You have to approach the situation in a positive manner, by disarming them with a calm, professional, rational style instead of getting swept up in the whole hysteria going on. This could win you a lot of points and even respect among your coworkers; but try not to paint the picture of the victim. Be calm and stoic but don’t cower.
- Don’t react to a bully
Remember that bullies get their power from those who are afraid. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer, or a judge – stand firm. If you’re doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give in to the bullying. Ask questions, seek to understand, and work to defuse a difficult situation instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice, but the results are well worth it.
- Watch your words
Talking less and listening more is the best thing you can do to have a good working relationship with your employer. Do not let yourself become too angry and do not be offended easily. Keep calm and do your best in your work. This is a professional trait that sometimes is undervalued but can have a real payoff in your career.
- Always carry out research before taking that offer
This may sound funny, but the best way to handle a difficult boss is to avoid having one in the first place. So whenever you are looking to move into a new role in the same company, or move to another organization all together, invest some time to get to know the culture, leadership and the sort of management practices that are tolerated and supported.
If you are moving internally, make sure you do your networking ahead of time to get a sense of both the environment within the team you might be moving to, and those who are creating it. If you are moving to a new organization, do your research to make sure you’re not jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Sometimes, in our desperation to escape a toxic work environment we fail to take notice of the warning signs that the new job we’re taking will only be worse. If you do your due diligence properly, you would sure save yourself unpleasant heartaches.
- Don’t burn bridges
A lot of employers do ask for reference when taking on new employees. They may ask to contact your former employer to check facts with him or her. This is the reason why you have to be cordial with your boss, difficult or not. As difficult as it might be, make sure you don’t allow the dynamic to compromise your professional reputation as you may need him to vouch for you someday. Telling a potential employer not to contact your former employer may raise doubts about your credibility.
- Know when enough is enough
People are usually quite excited when they get a new job. Remember all that nervous excitement that you can accomplish just about anything and be part of the success story of the company. But now you just find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning to face a new work day, and you find that you are getting sick often; and may have even started taking antidepressants.
Getting some level of stress from work is not bad, but when the stress is so bad that it starts affecting your health, then it may be time to pull the breaks. Nothing, I repeat, nothing should come before your health and well-being. Know when to count your losses and move on. Dead people don’t work.