3 Things to Remember when Working with a Difficult Boss
If you have had a number of jobs then you have had a number of bosses. They come with a wide range of personalities and management styles. Often bosses are not self-aware of the impact of their styles on their subordinate staff.
Some of the most challenging situations is when you have a demanding boss with a personality that can change from hot to cold and back again. In this power relationship there are a number of things to consider that might assist you to not only manage your relationship with your boss but also to put some context around their behaviour in the workplace.
#1. Your boss is under pressure to perform
Whatever senior position your boss holds in the, they too have a boss and are accountable for the performance of their team. This which includes the work you do. Even if they are one of the highest ranked people in the organisation, they may have a Board or external shareholders to answer to. It helps to understand that the demands placed on you by your boss are in direct relationship to the expectations on their shoulders.
#2. You are not going to change a difficult personality – but you can work with it
We have all had those bosses that can strike fear into the hearts of even the most confident employees. I once walked into a short term ‘temp’ role to assist a CEO. He was gruff, did not display any kind of emotion and met me on day one with what seemed to me at least, with an air of annoyance mixed with an air of ‘I wonder how long she will last’. I was later to learn from other staff in the office that he had been through a number of personal assistants in the 12 months prior to my arrival. Even though I was only in my twenties at the time for some reason I wasn’t intimidated by him. Don’t get me wrong, I have been intimidated many times in the workplace but this wasn’t one of them. I quickly summed up this man as extremely busy, and a ‘no-nonsense’ type person who did not work with emotions. I had already learned at that age a key lesson about strong and difficult personalities in the workplace. And this is:
#3. A boss with a strong personality has little respect for the weak
It is not always easy to do but if you remember this one key thing, it will make your life so much easier as you manage a difficult boss. Show signs of weakness and fear – and they instinctively sense it and may treat you with the same disregard that I sensed upon meeting the CEO in my example. Be respectfully strong and they will respond better to you.
With this in mind I walked into this gruff CEO’s office on day 1 and I controlled the conversation which went something like this:
“I note you are very busy. So when you go to meetings, let me know where you are so I can field the calls that come in your absence to best represent you and help you out. This is your in-tray I see – I will put any incoming messages and mail here. I note you have an out-tray – why don’t you put anything you would like me to do – in this tray and I will come and clear it for you. Okay?"
He looked startled that I was so forthright. But the no-fear approach was familiar to him. I was speaking a language he understood. He nodded. I left his office. Not long after this conversation, he walked out of his office and awkwardly stopped in front of my desk, told me where he was going, and when he would be back. When he was out of ear shot – the permanent staff in the office asked me with amazement “How did you get him to do that? He never tells that PA where he is going. He can’t hold on to a PA because they get frustrated with his lack of communication?”
This lesson has remained with me throughout my career – and I have had a number of managers who have been difficult, sometimes aggressive and overly demanding. But invariably they have responded better to an approach that is respectful, but strong and assertive.
DotPointz to cope with a difficult boss;
- Your boss has pressures from above that you may never really be able to understand
- In most cases it is possible find a way to work with a difficult personality
- Strong personalities respond better if you respectfully and appropriately stand your ground
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