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7 Ways To Deal With A Difficult Boss

There are actually many steps you can take to improve the relationship, or, at the very least, smooth things over enough so that your daily work life is tolerable.

By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes

It’s the age-old dilemma: you’ve finally found the ideal job, you’re doing work that you love, you like your co-workers…but your boss is insufferable. The ultimate micromanager, and despite your best efforts, you’re just not able to forge the sort of positive employee-supervisor relationship you had hoped you’d have in this role.

If this sounds familiar, don’t stress too much. And know firsthand that you’re not the only person to ever butt heads with your boss—I’ve had my share of clients who were job searching solely to get away from a boss they didn’t like. I’m of the belief that people often want to leave managers, not companies.

Actually, half of the employees in one survey reported leaving a job to get away from their boss. So you’re not alone. There are actually many steps you can take to improve the relationship, or, at the very least, smooth things over enough so that your daily work life is tolerable.

  1. Assess the situation. Do you have any level of responsibility for the damaged relationship, or does your boss have a negative relationship with everyone at work? Is your boss guilty of bad workplace behaviors in general, or does their beef seem to be directed at you individually? Be honest with yourself about your own potential culpability in the situation. If you’re guilty of contributing to the negative dynamic in some way, own it and address it. Ignoring it will only exacerbate the situation.
  2. Practice empathy. Contemplate what your boss may be dealing with, either personally or professionally, that may be contributing to how they treat their employees. Are they constantly stressed about tight deadlines? Do they have a difficult boss themselves? If you’re comfortable doing so and the right opportunity arises, it might even help to ask your boss to open up about what they’re dealing with. Putting yourself in their shoes can help you understand their perspective and allow you to be more sympathetic about their circumstances and behaviors.
  3. Be tactful. I normally encourage my clients to be open and honest in their communications at work, but with a delicate situation like this, it’s important to think things through carefully before you speak. 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—having a solid paper trail will ensure that if the situation does at some point escalate, you’ve insulated yourself from blame. A key tip is to stay results focused: focus on the behavior as something that’s blocking your ability to create results, versus attacking their personality.
  4. Vent your frustrations, but not to your colleagues. Dealing with a less-than-stellar boss on the 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. And remember… Ask someone whose opinion you have the utmost respect for. The last thing you need is fuel to your fire.
  5. Don’t burn bridges. You never know when you might need this person as a reference—many prospective employers ask specifically if they can contact your direct supervisor from your previous jobs, and having to respond “no” will raise red flags and will require an awkward explanation. As difficult as it might be, make sure you don’t allow the dynamic to compromise your professional reputation.
  6. Try to get transferred to another team or department. If you work for a sizeable company that has other opportunities, look into whether there might be openings on a team that is not supervised by your current boss. This is a great, discreet way of getting a new boss without having to leave the company or have an awkward conversation with HR about your boss’s behavior.
  7. Jump ship. Sometimes, it’s just not worth staying if you’re that miserable. There’s actually evidence that employees who have a strong relationship with their bosses are more engaged at work. So depending on the circumstances, your poor relationship with your boss could be costing you professionally, not to mention the stress it adds to your day-to-day work life.

Ultimately, only you will know the best way to handle the situation. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. Is the stress and tension of the situation worth it? Is it affecting your work? Or is the negative relationship just a minor drawback to a job that you otherwise love? Listen to yourself before making any abrupt decisions about how to handle the situation. At the end of the day, know that no one deserves to be mistreated at work, and if you do have to move on, your ideal job is out there, one that comes with fulfilling work and a positive, supportive boss.

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