The occasional conflict is one thing. Everyone has disagreed with a manager's decision or style. A difficult boss makes this a daily occurrence that, unchecked, can lead to destroyed motivation that drags you down and kills productivity. However, as author Karin Hurt points out in her book, "Overcoming an Imperfect Boss," many difficult managers are simply flawed humans trying their best, and there are likely ways for you to adapt, persuade and, ultimately, manage your manager.
"Few managers are completely toxic," says Schaumburg, Illinois, business consultant Donna Kent. "Often you can improve your relationship and reduce your boss's negative behavior by analyzing the reasons why she's constantly looking over your shoulder or pressing you to complete tasks. It's likely your boss is being pushed by her boss as well." The report that you take care and pride in may be a deadline to your boss, for example. She may have high regard for your work, but in the rush to get to a meeting, social graces disappear. "Some managers clearly communicate their needs, but many do not. Figuring out your manager's needs may re-order your priorities more effectively," says Kent.
Get Ready for Stress-Inducing Behavior
When your boss is difficult beyond the demands of the moment, preparation may be required. Writing in Psychology Today.com in 2012, psychologist Ronald E. Riggio says anticipating a difficult boss is key. As you gather a sense of pattern for your manager's challenging behavior, Riggio advises planning your response. Remaining poised in the face of bullying, for example, takes away the implied power that bullying seeks to capture. Riggio suggests writing and rehearsing responses to help you control your reaction to difficult behavior. Practicing a phrase such as "I'll continue this discussion when you calm down" makes it easier to say in the heat of the moment. Anticipate your boss's response several steps ahead, advises Riggio, and consider options and outcomes.
Maintain Your Professionalism
Writing in Forbes.com in 2014, Margie Warrell says that your boss's bad behavior never justifies your own. Losing interest and slacking off is symptomatic of the poor morale that a difficult boss may inspire. If your boss is that bad, others know it too, and rising above your manager will likely be noticed. Warrell suggests that maintaining your cool rather than following your boss's lead in losing it is another important tactic. She points out that when there is a void in leadership, people notice who is calm and in control. Kent agrees that staying in control when confronted with an out-of-control boss is a powerful skill. "The ability to stay cool under fire sets you apart from the crowd," she says.
Suffering quietly accomplishes nothing, says Warrell, who suggests that you owe it both your boss and yourself to address the negative behavior. She may be surprised or unaware of how her behavior affects you. Bringing the behavior up in a secondary way could help, Kent says. "Say, for example, your boss dumps a huge project with a short deadline. Recapping his expectations in an email may make him realize it's unreasonable or his sign-off may be used as ammunition if things deteriorate," Kent adds.
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