How to Deal with a Bad Boss – 6 Tips for Working with a Tough Supervisor

This space is usually dedicated to being a better boss, but what do you do when your own boss is not so great? As you get better at being a manager, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there are LOTS of managers who seem to have missed out on their own training and development. You may be on the receiving end of some of the new manager mistakes I talked about in an earlier post. Whether your manager is too indecisive to choose a sandwich at lunch or a dominating control freak who wants to edit your every email before you send it, you will need some strategies to survive and thrive. Here are your best options for minimizing the impact of a bad boss on your life:

  1. Review your goals – You do have goals, right?  Double check that they are  SMART goals and that you have documented them clearly. Are they aligned with the goals of the organization as a whole?  If you haven’t done so already, meet with your manager and go over the goals of the organization and your team. Make sure you are crystal clear on your metrics for success and your plans to achieve them. If anything is in question, clear it up!
  2. Take a look at yourself – Before you decide your boss is to blame, make sure you are not contributing to the problem. If your boss is suddenly riding you like a show pony, have a look at the last few weeks of your own communication with him or her. Are you giving regular updates?  Meeting your deadlines?  Communicating clearly?  Just because your boss is frustrating you doesn’t mean he/she is a bad boss if your own work isn’t up to scratch.
  3. Talk it out – It’s possible that your manager is unaware of his or her actions. Have a conversation and offer some honest feedback about how the behavior is making you feel. Make sure you are tactful and you keep the focus on specific examples not broad generalizations. Let your boss know you are on their side and want to do the best job you can, but that you feel de-motivated when they tell you your idea is stupid in the company meeting. A word of caution – some managers will become defensive and/or reject direct feedback, but it’s always best to try to work things out directly before moving on to engaging other resources.
  4. Evaluate your communication style – Sometimes you may clash with your boss because your personalities are very different. I’m an outgoing, enthusiastic, damn the details kind of girl most of the time. But when I present to the CFO or any other detail oriented, process focused individual, I adapt my style. I make sure I have checked and double checked my supporting documentation. I create an in depth cost benefit analysis and make sure I run the presentation by another finance person before I send it off to the big chief. If you are butting heads with your boss, it may just be that you’re not speaking their language. In some cases you may want to use a survey such as the DiSC profile or the Forte Communication Style Survey. These tools can help you understand yourself and the person you’re in conflict with, and offer suggestions of how you can work together better.
  5. Get an outside opinion – Talk to someone outside of your organization and lay out the situation as objectively as you can. If you have a coach or a mentor, great, but if not, find a manager in your industry and ask for their perspective. Sometimes even the act of explaining the situation to someone else will help you see where the problem is.
  6. Engage your HR department – If you have done everything above and haven’t resolved the issue, sit down with your Human Resources department and see what resources are available to you to get things back on track. Ask that the conversation be confidential and then lay out the situation.

There’s a reason this blog exists – management can be a tough craft to master and plenty of people are still learning the ropes. Do make sure that you are giving your boss (and yourself!) the benefit of the doubt and not asking for perfection. Everyone makes mistakes or has bad days and unless you are truly seeing a pattern of frustrating behavior over time, it’s best to forgive a slip or two and hope for the same courtesy from your own team members.

One more point – this advice is not meant to cover situations where there is true harassment or other inappropriate behavior. If you feel threatened or otherwise uncomfortable on a personal level about how your manager is treating you, skip straight to step 6 and work with your HR department to get it sorted out.

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