In a perfect world, you love your job and your boss. But often times it’s one or the other. If you enjoy your position at a company, but can’t say the same about your supervisor, there are ways to manage your manager short of quitting.
“You have to determine if it’s an isolated situation or if it’s a pattern,” says Stephen J. Johnson author of THE SACRED PATH: The Way of the Spiritual Warrior. “It’s important to determine if it’s a boss issue or an employee issue.”
Anyone who has been in a situation where they’ve worked for a difficult boss knows it’s easy to blame their supervisor. But that may not be entirely factual, which is why career experts say the best way to handle a tough boss is to get to the bottom of the problem.
“If you think your boss is difficult, the question is: Is he difficult for me or do our styles naturally clash?” says Julie Bauke, career strategist, president of The Bauke Group, and author of Stop Peeing on our Shoes: Avoiding the 7 Mistakes That Screw Up Your Job Search. For instance, maybe you are the independent type that wants an assignment, deadline and to be left alone to complete it, but the boss is a micromanager constantly requesting updates and looking over your shoulder. If it’s a managing style that has the two of you clashing, then career experts say it’s up to you to figure out how to make it work. If giving weekly updates will keep your boss at bay then do it if you value and want to keep your job.
Polling your co-workers is a surefire way to get a sense of whether or not your boss is universally difficult or if there’s something going on between the two of you. If the general consensus is your boss is a jerk, then you have to determine if the boss’s days are numbered and you can stick it out or he or she has an in with the CEO and will be there long after you. If it looks like your boss won’t be leaving anytime soon and you can’t stand another day, then it’s best to work elsewhere.
If it turns out that your boss gets along great with everybody but you, it’s a good idea to confront the situation instead of letting it simmer long enough for it to erupt. According to Bauke, talking to co-workers about your boss may provide the insight needed to make it work.
“It’s just like oil and water; find someone that does work well with your boss and ask them why their relationship seems successful,” says Bauke. Get tips on how to speak your manager’s language and to improve the relationship, she says. Talking to your boss directly about what could be a misunderstanding that has created this environment will not only help repair the relationship, but prevent you from landing on a lay off list. Bauke says to also build relationships with other mangers in the organization so you have allies if your boss wants to put you on the layoff list or pass you over for a promotion.
Unfortunately, often it’s not the employee who is the problem, but the boss whose behavior goes beyond difficult to abusive. According to Ronald E. Riggio of the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology Kravis Leadership Institute, if you work for an abusive boss it can negatively impact your mental and physical health. “Working for a bad boss can be very stressful, and psychological stress can lead to physical health problems,” says Riggio.
In the case of an abusive boss it may be best to quit. But, if you can’t or won’t quit, Riggio says it’s important to document the bad behavior including dates, times, specific descriptions of the actions and how they made you feel. You can confront your boss and explain how you feel, or if that will get you no where you can approach HR about the problem. Legal action is another option, but Riggio says there are costs associated with that and it can be risky because it’s not easy to prove. “Getting into a prolonged ‘battle,’ such as a legal action or one that triggers retaliation could make the stress even worse, but doing nothing doesn’t make any sense. No one should have to endure supervisory behavior that crosses the line of decent treatment of others,” he says.