How to manage stress effectively when you have a difficult boss

Having a positive mindset and practising effective stress management techniques will help you maintain high-performance levels and to sustain motivation even when you're working with an over-stressed boss.

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Meditating, managing your time properly, doing regular exercises and eating healthy – popular self-help tactics for reducing stress levels – might not be enough to help you handle stress at work. If you have a boss who is hotheaded and can’t deal with stress, you are also at the risk of stress and will need better tactics to stay safe.

According to a 2018 study by VitalSmarts, teams led by managers who can’t handle stressful situations have “lower morale; are likely to miss deadlines, budgets, and quality standards; and act in ways that drive customers away.” They are also less successful and more vulnerable to stress.

But this finding is not new.

Six years earlier, Allen Elkin, a stress management expert and clinical psychologist, wrote in his book: Stress Management for Dummies, “… Your boss in a foul mood… can trigger a good deal of stress.”

And stress, irrespective of its cause, is a danger to your job performance, fulfilment, self-esteem and job security.

In 2014, as a 17-year-old student intern in one of Nigeria’s major media companies, I worked under an Editor who was always stressed – frequently tired, angry and irritated; only speaking with me to complain about my story ideas, use of punctuation, or interview material.

By the end of the internship, I was scarred emotionally and desperate to do my next internship at a different company.

And that’s what a stressed manager can do to you too: reduce your self-esteem, make work unbearable or force you out of your job.

Working with a stressed, difficult manager is stressful. But how do you deal with a problem like this?

As a subordinate, implementing flexible work policies or approving a course on stress management for senior executives might be above your authority; but by applying the following tips, you can start reducing the negative impact of your stressed manager on you:


Having a positive mindset and practising effective stress management techniques will help you maintain high-performance levels and sustain motivation even when you’re working with an over-stressed boss.

A great place to start would be to use the following 13 tips on stress management as reviewed in the WebMD Medical Reference by Smitha Bhandari:

  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi for stress management.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and learn to say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies, interests, and relaxation.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you enjoy.
  • Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.

What makes Smitha Bhandari’s tips easy to follow and very effective is the simplicity with which she delivers them. You can start doing them right now, as I have, and monitor their instant impact on your lifestyle and work.


How do you convince your bossy, hotheaded manager that his vulnerability to stress might be affecting the team’s productivity? How do you ask him to prioritize stress management tasks or to change his leadership style altogether?

Let’s turn to Dale Carnegie; the pioneer of self-help literature and the bestselling author of 1937 classic, How to win friends and influence people; where he reveals evergreen techniques for making people do what you want.

Some of his tips will be useful for any employee who wants to convince boss to emphasize stress management. I share these tips below – in italicized quotes – and show how you can use them.

1. Try to see things from your manager’s point of view.

“Remember that other people may be wrong. But they don’t think so. Don’t condemn them. Any fool can do that. Try to understand them. Only wise, tolerant, exceptional people even try to do that.”There is a reason why the other man thinks and acts as he does. Ferret out that reason – and you have the key to his actions, perhaps to his personality.

“Try honestly to put yourself in his place. If you say to yourself, ‘How would I feel, how would I react if I were in his shoes?’ you will save yourself time and irritation, for ‘by becoming interested in the cause, we are less likely to dislike the effect.’ And, in addition, you will sharply increase your skill in human relationships.”

2. Talk, not argue, about the issue with your manager.

“You can’t win an argument… because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.

“Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non composmentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And a man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still.”

3. Get him to agree with you at the onset.

“In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ. Begin by emphasizing – and keep on emphasizing – the things on which you agree.

“Keep emphasizing, if possible, that you are both striving for the same end and that your only difference is one of method and not of purpose.”

4. Let him feel that the idea to manage stress better is his.

“Isn’t it wiser to make suggestions – and let the other person think out the conclusion?
“No one likes to feel that he or she is being sold something or told to do a thing. We much prefer to feel that we are buying of our own accord or acting on our own ideas. We like to be consulted about our wishes, our wants, our thoughts.”

But you don’t have to do this alone, especially if you’re not confident in your interpersonal skills: you can ask for help from coworkers that you trust or the HR professionals in your company.


Reporting your Manager should be a last resort – if all else fails and his attitude still impacts severely on your self-esteem, your ability to work and your comfort in the organization.

Doing this prematurely can cause you more stress at work by worsening your relationship with your boss.

Don’t call for an inquest into his work attitude; this may only increase his stress levels and worsen your relationship with him. Rather, show genuine concern for his mental health and wellbeing, and ask the HR professionals to help him manage stress better.


Carnegie, D. (1936) How to win friends and influence people. Simon & Schuster: New York.

Elkin, A. (2013) Stress Management for Dummies; second edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New Jersey.

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