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How to Handle a Difficult Boss

Top Tips

What You Need to Know

  1. Though it is common to have problems with a superior, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it. Suffering in silence can escalate the problem.
  2. Discreetly asking your colleagues if they have similar problems can sometimes help you find a surprisingly easy solution.
  3. If you feel you need to go directly to your boss, make sure you are specific about the problem. Simply claiming your personalities clash isn’t helpful.
  4. It is always worth talking to them about any problems before going over their head to someone in a higher position. After all, they may be totally unaware of the problem.
  5. Keep all discussions professional in tone and try and make your boss see the business advantages of taking your suggestions on board.
  6. If you find the issue is not resolved, you can resort to using your companies official grievances procedure.

Problems with a difficult boss are very common in the workplace, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. If your superior makes you feel anxious, irritated, or angry, something is wrong and you need to confront it.

Deal with the situation in the wrong way and you could make your job unbearable. However, the right strategies can peacefully resolve the most common of grievances with your gaffer.

Difficult bosses can be divided into two camps. There’s the bully who rides roughshod over your emotions and ideas, and there’s the indecisive type who never resolves anything. In both cases, the steps to resolution are the same.

Tread carefully

Don’t fume in silence. Letting your frustrations build and your tension escalate will make it much harder to resolve disputes. However, you need to tread carefully and go slowly – especially if you’re new to the job.

Discretely check with trusted colleagues as to what the general consensus is regarding your boss. If they have also had problems, ask them what their strategies were for dealing with them. They might have surprisingly effective methods you can adopt.

Be constructive

If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to address your manager directly. There are some crucial pointers of which to be aware. You need to be confident about your position and specific about where the problems lie. A general “I don’t get on with you” is no use to anyone.

Once you’ve recognised a pattern in your boss’s behaviour, you need to present it in a professional way. Keep it non-threatening and constructive. Make your boss think that what you are suggesting is going to help them.

For example, if your boss is controlling and regularly interferes with your work, you could outline what jobs you do well and then get your boss to agree; the aim being to get your manager to acknowledge that you can be left alone with some jobs.

It’s important to talk to your boss directly in the first instance, rather than going further up your company ladder. Don’t assume that your manager knows about your grievances. They are likely to be busy and have other pressures of their own. You’ll need to spell out your concerns face to face. This course of action resolves the majority of disputes, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

If your chat doesn’t resolve anything, you can talk to the human resources (HR) department, if your company has one, which may offer suggestions on how to deal with your problem.

Grievance procedures

If this also fails to improve relations between you and your boss, you have the right to a formal grievance procedure. You begin by stating your complaint in writing to the HR or personnel department or equivalent. In some instances at small firms, this might be the boss with whom you have a problem.

The matter is then discussed at an in-house appeal hearing or formal meeting, and can be discussed in further meetings should either party not agree with the original outcome. You may in some cases have to seek the advice of a solicitor.

However, this should be a last resort. Processes such as this tend to be time consuming and stressful for everyone involved. Trying to talk out the problem is always better. Remember, all managers were once employees – and one day you might be a boss yourself.

Further Reading


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