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How to Cope With a Supervisor You Do Not Respect

by Debra Kraft

You've landed the job you wanted and work for a company that is well respected in your industry. You're on top of the world. Then you find yourself reporting to a supervisor you do not respect. Maybe she’s new to supervision and still trying to learn the ropes. Maybe her management skills are tolerable, but she is not on par with you when it comes to your specific areas of expertise. Whatever is causing your inability to respect her, you have to find a way to keep a positive attitude and professionally manage the situation.

Consider the Reasons

Give serious thought to what it is about the supervisor that prevents you from respecting her. Write down the key reasons. You won't be showing the list to anyone, so be blunt and direct -- but don’t be demeaning. Use statements that are based on facts, not feelings, such as: “She has less experience than I do,” or “she misinterprets my reports.” Next, write down at least one thing you can do to minimize the effects of each reason. If she misinterprets your reports, one action you could take is to improve your method of reporting.

Get Objective Feedback

Documenting reasons and solutions might not be enough, especially if you have more reasons than solutions. Your feelings might still be getting in the way of facts. Try to get objective feedback by discussing the situation with a trusted colleague or a friend outside of work. Brainstorming resolutions with someone not involved in the situation could reveal more or better options. You might also discover your lack of respect could be based on who your supervisor is after work, rather than how well -- or poorly -- she works. If that's the case, do whatever it takes to remind yourself it's what happens at work that counts.

Balance Personality Issues

Your biggest roadblock to respect could involve personality differences. Look for balance rather than solutions. If you cannot respect your supervisor, it's hard to focus on anything other than her negative character traits. Developing an objective approach can help you redirect your focus to her personality positives. For every negative, try to find a positive in the supervisor’s character. As you focus on the positives, you should start to find ways to minimize the effects of the negatives.

Manage Up

Use the situation as an opportunity to develop better relationship management skills. The act of management does not always flow downstream. Practice upstream management by scheduling one-on-one meetings with the supervisor or offering to help when it’s clear she could benefit from your talent and skills. If you can encourage your supervisor to accept you as a trusted adviser, you could build a positive reputation for yourself among her peers, and possibly among her superiors, as well. Successfully managing up could be your first step to getting an assignment as a supervisor in your own right.

About the Author

A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.

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