How to deal with a difficult boss

We talk to Paul Greening, an executive search and recruitment specialist about how to deal with a difficult boss so you can be happy in your workplace.

This is so important because your relationship with your boss is central to your happiness at work. Also, work-related stress often plays out at home causing unnecessary tension. The real tragedy is that people often find themselves leaving a company they enjoy, because of a strained relationship with their boss, lending credibility to the truism that “people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses”.

Paul shares with us a few suggestions, which in his experience, are useful pointers to help work through a difficult relationship with your boss. It’ll open your eyes to the fact that the relationship with your boss needs work and nurture just like your relationship with your partner or loved ones.

Try and understand your boss as a person

Make the effort to understand your boss as a person. Try and understand their personality, what drives them, what do they care about, what issues keep them up at night, what frightens them.

Be professional and don’t let your performance slip

It’s inevitable that from time to time your relationship will be strained. You need to hold your head up and make sure you’re managing your own personal brand. Time and again we see people who don’t like working for someone and they let their performance slip. Others in the organisation will always be watching you and your boss. If they can see that you’re in a difficult situation yet behaving in a professional manner and you’re performing you may be moved out of that particular role, or you may find that your boss is being moved on.

Recently, I dealt with a very senior executive from a large organisation. She was a new employee and she felt her relationship with her boss was not working well. He was undercutting her, undermining her in front of her peers. She asked one of the senior HR executives to meet with her and during that discussion it came out that the exact thing that concerned her about her boss’s behaviour was an issue for others as well, making him the object of concern, not his staff. So, don’t get caught up in your one-on-one relationship, there may be others in the same predicament.

Remember to focus on your role. Continue to deliver results. If you’re doing your best then you should take comfort from that.

Have the courage to speak up

Never underestimate their lack of awareness of how their actions impact others. People expect a leader to come to work every day and never have a bad day. Sure, it’s what we expect a leader to be. At the same time, the people that report to them can come to work and can have a terrible day and not be concerned who this impacts. I’m sure we have all seen this at some time or another. However, we expect a leader to not have bad days.

So, it will help to try and be aware of the circumstance, understand their behaviour and have an open dialogue with your boss about how their behaviour is impacting you and those around you.

It’s true sometimes this is hard to do. You may become emotional and this is hard to contain. However, try to focus on the topic, if not, in the end, it’ll feel like you’re not really resolving the issue and this can become really frustrating for you.

A good place to start is talking about how you’re not comfortable with your current working relationship and that you’d like to figure out what can be done to improve the relationship.

You may be surprised how open they are. Once it’s on the table, your issue becomes a known quantity. You can start working on resolving it. If you don’t quantify the issue, you will never improve it. You may just find that you are both happy at this point.

How to initiate a conversation with a difficult boss

It often helps to get out of the office. Or at least to a place in the office that is neutral. But, keep alcohol out of the equation. It’s important to maintain the focus on the conversation.

Another popular option is lunch. However, this may not be a great idea due to the duration. And, if the conversation isn’t really going the way you want it to, it can be a really awkward situation. So, stick to a neutral space, a cafe, a breakout room, maybe even a park bench. Leaders are more open today, so there is a real chance they’ll see your initiative in a positive way.

Don’t allow yourself to be bullied at your workplace

Bullies get their power from those who don’t stand up for themselves, so don’t ever allow yourself to be bullied. It’s not about retaliating and making it confrontational, it’s about firmly but politely standing up for yourself because that speaks volumes about you.

Again, try and sit down with them and explain how their behaviour is impacting you. Make this discussion about how to improve the relationship you have.

How to stand up for yourself and stop being bullied

Once you decide to stand up for yourself, you have to maintain a level of emotional maturity. You need to initiate this discussion and stay on the topic. If the discussion starts to become irrational or the behaviour continues then you may need to take a more structured approach.

This means documenting the behaviour and start talking to someone in HR. These steps are important as you don’t want to end up in a ‘he said, she said’ scenario, you need to have facts to support you.

If you like the culture of the company, then it’s worth putting in the effort required to repair or strengthen that one defective relationship.

What you can learn from this experience

You should learn from this experience and when the next job opportunity comes up you need to take into consideration the culture of the organisation, the leadership, how they handle failure. More importantly, this experience will lead you to consider spending time with the person you’re going to report to before accepting the role.

Think about it like an interview with three rounds. The first meeting creates the first impression where you put your best foot forward. The second and third interview will reveal more about their personality and expectations, giving you more scope to evaluate and understand the person.

You should also try and spend some time with your potential peers to understand what it’s like working for that person.

If you would like more information you can listen to our Podcast (insert) or send an email to Paul at paul@paulgreening.com

It’s my job here at Evalesco to work with my clients to maximise the likelihood that they achieve what is important to them in their life.