Updated: Oct 14
It goes without saying that your manager or boss plays a key role in your success at work.
They can influence your salary, your performance rating, and open the door to new opportunities within the organisation. A good boss can be the difference between being excited about the upcoming workday or dreading it.
Coming up with a standard definition of a ‘difficult boss’ is not easy.
While we can all agree that overt toxic behaviours such as bullying, harassment or discrimination are unacceptable, how you feel about a specific situation or incident can be very subjective.
There’s no doubt though that working for a bad boss can feel extremely stressful and have a detrimental impact on your well-being.
If you’re in a situation where you’re struggling to work well with your boss, before quitting your job, consider these career coaching tips to help you deal with it:
1. Evaluate the situation
Is there a real problem or is it all in your head? Take time to think very specifically about what is making you unhappy. Can you identify a pattern? Are specific actions or behaviours triggering a response in you and if so, is that response reasonable?
Make a list of examples where you feel your boss has been difficult. Evaluate each situation and consider what it was about them that was ‘wrong’.
Put yourself in their situation. Are they under pressure? Do they have limited time available?
Think about your boss’s behaviour but also think about your own. Is there anything about your reaction or expectations that are at fault here? Could you modify your thinking to make the situation more manageable?
2. Observe and adapt your behaviour
If after undertaking an in-depth analysis of the situation, you think your boss is still the issue, refer to the examples you identified and take time to observe your boss in similar situations.
Watch how they interact with others – peers, seniors, direct reports; and observe how they conduct themselves in different situations.
Notice their preferred style and the people they respond well to, then evaluate your preferences and behaviours objectively in this context.
Can you identify any gaps or differences that you could work on? Could you adapt your style to fit better with that of your boss?
3. Talk with your boss
You’ve tried to adapt your behaviour based on your observations and self-reflections, but you feel things haven’t really changed.
Before you make any decision about your future, try instigating a conversation with your boss to discuss how you are feeling and to constructively explore how you can work together more effectively. Make sure you keep things professional and avoid being personally critical.
It may be that they are unaware of the impact they’re having on you, or you may be unaware of the issues they are dealing with. A conversation can clarify things and help to move things forward positively.
4. Time to go
Sometimes, however, a conversation might not have the desired effect.
If that’s the case and you’re spending a lot of time feeling anxious, undervalued, or nervous about interacting with your boss, it could be time to consider moving on.
Maybe there’s a fundamental clash of styles between you. Or maybe you’re working for a toxic boss who is never going to change.
If you feel you’ve made the effort to improve the relationship but it’s just not getting better, there’s no shame in starting to look for new opportunities – either internally or externally.
Dealing with a difficult boss can be stressful, demoralising and test your resilience. When you’re living with that situation every day, it can be hard to view it calmly and objectively.
A Career Coach can provide you with independent support at the time when you most need it, helping to share the load, supporting you to work through your emotions and – if it comes to it – helping you identify your next career steps.