Dealing with Difficult Bosses

The emphasis on teamwork and cooperation in the workplace today is either not known to certain leaders or simply scorned and ignored. Some leaders prefer the term “boss” and they act in the ways stereotypical to the title.

Some are arrogant. Some are pushy. Some are over-your-shoulder inquisitive about your every project. And some are downright tyrannical.

Whatever the manifestation, the Difficult Boss syndrome is not as helpless as it seems….at least, in some cases.

The first step you need to take is to decide whether you like your job well enough to put the effort into dealing with your challenging boss, or whether there are other considerations that make it illogical to change jobs.

“My difficult boss is not mean or ugly; he’s just weak-willed and inept,” says Rachel, an executive assistant for an insurance office. “He promises things will change; they don’t. Other staff members don’t do their job; he does nothing. We ask for basic and needed resources; he makes vague promises but nothing happens. We are floundering in a sea of indecision and lack of leadership. I’d quit if I could, but I have to work and I know I cannot currently earn more money elsewhere.”

When questioned about the good aspects of her job, Rachel admits they are plentiful. She believes heartily in the mission statement of the business, feeling good about its end-result of positively impacting the security of families. She has excellent co-workers. And even the Difficult Boss has some good traits; he is generous when it comes to training and team programs.

Dan’s boss, however, was more of a Mr. Dithers type. Nothing was politically incorrect to this guy, including cussing, yelling, demanding and firing out of hand. Dan was convinced his boss would eventually land a lawsuit on the company…and he was right. Meanwhile, however, Dan needed the job until he found something better and he had to work with the guy. Eventually a lawsuit did cause Dan’s boss to be fired, but in the two years in between, Dan had to find a ways to maintain peace while working with him.

By following the steps below, the Rachels and Dans of the world can still take pride and enjoyment in their work while minimizing the damage of bad bosses:

1. Determine the reasons you do the work you do. Rachel’s love of her organization’s mission statement was a big plus. As well, she enjoyed her actual administrative duties. Dan also liked his actual job, and kept a list of reasons why in his planner to refer to when things got rough.

2. Define the specific challenges you have with your boss. “He gets on my nerves” is not specific. “He ignores my reasonable conversations about the problems” is.

3. List all the positive aspects of your work environment….including the positive points of your boss. In Rachel’s case, her boss had given her the blessing to attend training and for team members to develop leadership programs to improve the organization’s service. Therefore, this allowed the team to maximize their individual and collective efforts, which meant they minimized the damage of their “bad boss.”

4. Maximize the positives, and work around the negatives. At least Rachel’s boss was willing to let her and others develop teams to address situations. There was a chance that from these meetings would emerge creative, affordable solutions to some of their challenges.

5. Have thorough plans ready to present when you do go to your boss. Those in upper leadership have the ultimate responsibility for the whole organization, and this can mean restraints of which you are unaware. Perhaps instead of being “mean” when not meeting your requests before, your boss was unable to do what was needed. Give enough logical reasons to increase your chances for approval.

6. Become a master documenter. While it seems tedious and wasteful to document events, times and conversations, such a record will be essential if your boss fails to do what is the right thing for the organization.

7. Learn to ask for what you need clearly, and state a follow-up expectation. Do not let your boss create havoc by “dropping the ball” and leaving critical issues unaddressed. This will be helped by clearly stating that you have documented and shared with other key players the information and follow-up dates you are sharing with your boss. This makes his accountability between him and several people, not just him and you.

8. Take a course on assertive communications to avoid taking or giving verbal abuse. Truly “bad bosses” can be verbally abusive, and this is unacceptable. Make sure you don’t reciprocate, but do state clearly that you will not accept this. If needed, bring in another leader in the organization as a witness to important conversations, and, again, remember to keep good notes.

9. If you are completely powerless to affect positive change, find another job. As with all life situations, there is a fine line between admirable persistence and foolish devotion. If your boss has more bad traits than good and these are always going to affect your ability to do and enjoy your work, then it’s time to go. On the next job, don’t just be interviewed….INTERVIEW your potential superiors, with diplomacy of course, to ensure there is a more appropriate match.