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How To Deal With A Difficult Boss

By Maddie Lloyd
Sep. 20, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Have you ever gone into your first day at a new job and quickly realized, “Oh no, my boss is a huge jerk who takes his personal problems out on everyone!”

Just like that, your dream job turned into a total nightmare.

Here’s where it gets better:

Having a difficult boss can make going into work every day a real pain, but you don’t have to accept your nightmare job and deal with being miserable forever. There are steps you can take better understand and communicate with your boss and make both of your lives easier.

Key Takeaways:

  • Working with a difficult boss help you learn conflict resolution skills, how to work with different personalities, and how to get your best work done under conditions that are less than ideal.

  • It’s important to figure out if they’re actually a bad boss or there’s another reason they’re acting a certain way before writing off your boss as difficult.

  • When working with a difficult boss you should figure out their goals and priorities and avoid anything that triggers them to help things go smoothly.

How To Deal With A Difficult Boss

How to Deal With a Difficult Boss

  1. Make sure you’re actually dealing with a bad boss. Ensure that you don’t just have a bad attitude before you start writing off your boss as some oblivious jerk. Ask yourself — Is there a reason they’re acting a certain way, or am I just being a big whiny baby?

    Observe their behavior for a few days and see how many things they do well, versus how many things they mess up or don’t put a lot of effort into. Whenever they’re doing something wrong, ask yourself if it could be something that’s out of their control, or if there’s another forgivable reason for their poor performance.

    If your boss is overall pretty dang good at their job, you might be the problem in this scenario. Is there a reason why your boss seems bad to you? Are they micromanaging or using another management style that bothers you? If so, adjust your work habits to appease your boss and get them off your back.

  2. Try to figure out their goals and priorities. Try to identify your boss’s biggest challenges and ask what you can do to help them and resolve their concerns, instead of just doing what you can to scrape by.

    Being able to assist with your boss’s priorities will help in the overall success of your department or company. Plus, it’s much better than having an overworked, stressed-out boss who starts flying off the handle at the smallest trigger.

    If you can, have a chat with your boss and ask them directly what their primary motivations are. If you don’t feel comfortable having a one-on-one with them, read between the lines in meetings, memos, and other communications.

  3. Identify which triggers set them off. If your boss has anger management issues or otherwise gets overwhelmed easily, it’s probably in your best interest (and that of your coworkers) to identify just what causes their meltdowns.

    Figuring out how to read your boss’s moods and triggers will also help you communicate more effectively with them. There are times when you may not want to introduce new ideas, or you can learn to avoid certain behaviors that cause your boss to lose their cool.

    For example, if your boss freaks out over typos, make sure to triple-check your work before submitting it. If they go rabid when you’re a minute late for work, aim to be ten minutes early every day.

  4. Figure out their work style and what they value in an ideal employee. Understanding your boss’s work style and what they value in an employee is a great way to form a better relationship with them and keep them from harassing you every day.

    Do they like frequent communication and updates throughout the day? Do they prefer for their employees to work autonomously, or do they like for everyone to collaborate? Are they informal or do they prefer to keep it strictly business?

    The better you understand your boss’s expectations and their work style, the better you’ll be able to work with them.

  5. Ask for feedback. A great way to keep your boss happy and keep them from working over your shoulder is to make sure that you’re always on the same page. How can you do this? Easy — just ask for feedback.

    You and your boss can’t read each other’s minds. If there’s something you’re doing wrong, asking for feedback will give your boss the opportunity to help you. If you’re doing everything right, asking for feedback will give them the chance to recognize your awesome work.

    Being able to communicate and have a conversation with your boss is key to having a great working relationship.

  6. Always be one step ahead. If you have a boss that loves to micromanage and check in with you multiple times every day, a great way to get them off your back is to anticipate their requests and having them done before they even come to check in with you.

    Tackle all of your projects and get them done way ahead of time. That way, when they see that you’re always ahead of schedule, they’ll realize that they don’t need to watch your every move and, ideally, give you more space.

    Bonus points if you can anticipate your boss’s needs before they even communicate them. Showing that your a proactive employee won’t just make your relationship with your boss better; it’ll also set you up for career advancement.

  7. Act as a leader when you need to. If you’ve got an incompetent boss on your hands, sometimes it’s in your best interest to take on some of those big leadership decisions on your own.

    If you know the area and the project guidelines well enough, go ahead and pursue a direction that you know will rake in good results for the company. Your coworkers may follow your natural leadership, and upper management will take note of your initiative.

    On the other hand, you don’t want to undermine your direct boss. Always keep them in the loop and never go behind their back.

  8. Don’t assume they know everything. Just because they have the manager title, doesn’t mean they know everything. There will come a time when your boss doesn’t know the answer to a question and that doesn’t mean they are a bad or difficult boss. Give them the benefit of the doubt and try to find the answer yourself or ask someone else.

  9. Don’t let it affect your performance at work. It sucks to have a boss that can’t manage their way out of a paper bag. But no matter how bad they are at being a boss, never let it affect your work. You should always stay on good terms with other leaders within the company and keep your job until you find a new one.

    Don’t try to get back at your awful boss by working slower, taking a bunch of sick, or personal days, or just not getting your work done. This will just throw you off schedule and provide your boss with the ammo to give you a bad reference in the future.

  10. Don’t hold grudges. Yes, bad bosses suck, but holding a grudge won’t solve anything. Come to terms with the fact that your boss has authority over you and that you have to work to their standards. It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to always get your way, and sometimes, you just have to get over it.

    If it seems personal, you can talk to someone in HR about the situation. But if your boss is just a jerk or incompetent with everyone, then don’t take it personally. You can only control your actions, and if you’re always doing your best, you never have to feel bad about yourself.

  11. Avoid future bad bosses at all costs. When you interview with new companies, make sure to do your research ahead of time. Make sure that you’re not going to get stuck with a bad boss again.

    Read employee and company reviews before going into the interview. If you’re interviewing with the person who would be your direct supervisor, ask them “what’s your management style?” when they ask you “Do you have any questions for me?”

    Once you’ve dealt with a bad boss, you’ll never want to get stuck in the same situation again.

Why You Should Work With a Difficult Boss

Your relationship with your boss is one of the most important work relationships you have. A negative relationship can damage every aspect of your life at work.

While you may just want to reduce your interaction with a difficult boss or start looking for a new job right away, learning to work with a difficult boss has several advantages. You’ll learn conflict resolution skills, how to work with different personalities, and how to get your best work done under conditions that are less than ideal.

Additionally, meeting the issues that arise from having a difficult boss has several benefits:

  • More job satisfaction. When you have to deal with a difficult boss day-in and day-out, it can seriously hurt your job satisfaction. When you figure out a system that works for both of you, you’ll feel a whole lot more comfortable and happy at work.

  • Better work relationships. Having a better relationship with your boss can make your other workplace relationships that much easier. You’ll be able to collaborate more quickly and get the resources you need faster, making your job simpler.

  • More productive. It’s hard to get stuff done when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and trying to satisfy what seems like arbitrary wishes. When you can get clarity on what your boss wants, being productive is a piece of cake.

  • Better chance at advancement. Just because your boss is difficult, doesn’t mean they don’t hold significant sway over your career prospects. By working to create and maintain a healthy relationship, you’ll be much more likely to get more raises and promotions.

Final Thoughts

Your boss might be a total jerk who takes their anger out on everyone in the office or an incompetent hack but, like it or not, you have to get along with them as best as you can.

Whatever the case may be, there are ways to deal with a difficult boss instead of just accepting your fate and being miserable.

Try to understand your boss’s motives and learn how to communicate with them, or maybe even just adjust your attitude, and dealing with your difficult boss will surely get a whole lot easier.

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Articles In Life At Work Guide
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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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