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How to Deal With a Difficult Boss: Strategies That Work

by Kenya Lucas, studioD

No matter how well you work with others, a difficult boss is a major challenge. Many employees internalize discomfort, which can affect productivity. Research by Professor Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Engelhardt of Florida State University found that over 180 workers from various professions reacted in these ways when mistreated by a boss: Thirty percent slowed down or purposely made errors, 33 percent did not put in maximum effort and 29 percent took off sick time when they were not ill. If you can find ways to manage your emotions, you’ll avoid setbacks from your boss’s negative behavior.

Be Flexible

A boss might be difficult because he has a stoic work style. For example, he may insist you work in a cubicle that is adjacent to his office – despite the fact that it’s noisy and visually distracting. Instead of cringing at his rigidity, calmly open a line of communication that focuses on your shared goals and a creative solution. In speaking, you may agree that the most essential aspects of your work together are fluid communication and producing at least two proposals each week. A compromise allows for your own private workspace on the condition that Skype is installed on your computer for video chatting and instant messaging. Plus, if weekly output falls off, you’ll revisit the overall arrangement.

Be Respectful

Being respectful to a rude boss is a surprising tactic. It goes against your instincts. Yet modeling acceptable behavior creates a more balanced dynamic. A rude boss might speak sternly or refuse to value your schedule. This personality type often thrives on negative reactions. Preserve your dignity. Respond politely and, in turn, respect her time constraints. Even the coldest of bosses can eventually warm with comfort. Consider other employment if she refuses to improve. Further, never confuse rudeness with harassment. If you are being abused, have a conversation with a human resources staffer or otherwise explore formal channels. There are some problems that you are unable, or not responsible, to resolve.

Be Accessible

Unavailable bosses are also difficult bosses. While your boss is your superior, a two-way exchange is the key to your arrangement. You need him to help set your priorities, give feedback and provide many other supports. He also needs to connect with you to get things done. Don’t be overwhelmed. In many cases you can adjust your work or communication style to improve logistics. Schedule short meetings and discuss no more than four open items at a time. Take advantage of mobile and other technology. Better organize your own tasks, tackling activities you can easily complete upfront. An unavailable boss is usually overwhelmed himself so express understanding and lend a helping hand.

Be a Team Player

It’s tough to work with a boss who is overly competitive. It’s not enough that she has a higher position; she needs to take credit for everything and never acknowledges your unique contributions. Similar to dealing with a rude boss, your best bet is not playing her game. Emphasize that you are there to make her more successful. Let her know how much you enjoy being part of a winning team. According to Dr. Melanie Greenberg in a 2011 "Psychology Today" article, you should even praise her efforts. Your boss should shift from seeing you as a rival to an ally, which everyone appreciates. If, for some reason, your boss becomes cutthroat – and stifles your professional progress – enlist trusted colleagues or superiors to brainstorm next steps.

About the Author

Kenya Lucas has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in “Anthropology & Medicine,” “New Directions for Evaluation,” “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and “Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.” She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images