7 Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Boss That Actually Work

When you’re working for an unreasonable boss, you feel trapped. No matter what you do, this person is already out to get you. But not everyone has the luxury of quitting tomorrow or even in two weeks. You have a mortgage, kids, and no safety net. Maybe you really like the company and are hoping you’ll outlast the lousy middle management. Not likely.

Facing difficult boss

Whatever the reason, there are effective strategies for handling this situation before you say I quit.

1. Get Past the “What”

You have an incompetent boss. Now what? Let’s get past the what and dive into the “why’.

Why do you think your boss is so hard on you? Why do they relate to you in the way they do? Attempt to put yourself in your boss’s shoes, as revolting as that might seem. Try to look at the workplace, business goals, other employees, and you through their eyes to gain some perspective on the situation. Why do they do what they do?

Go further by asking yourself:

  • What scares them?
  • What do they love or hate about their job?
  • How do they measure their own success?
  • How do they see themselves?
  • How do they think others see them?
  • Do they care a lot about portraying a certain image?

This isn’t about making excuses for their management style. But what it can do is open your eyes to a better way to interact with this boss.

2. Work Around Them

In most cases, trying to expose your boss for the poor manager they are, isn’t productive. They got to their position because someone trusted them. And chances are they have a seat at the table with decision-makers. They can make themselves look in the right and gaslight you easily.

So instead of trying to form an uprising, try to stay out of their way. Do your job, don’t talk behind their back. Let their boss figure it out.

Eventually, they will. And you don’t want to be caught in the middle of it, or be perceived as making matters worse.

3. Focus on Their Strengths

Your boss got promoted because they’re good at something. Identify this strength. Then find a way to recognize it. Often, you can turn around your boss’ perception of you. At the same time, you may start to see a side of your boss you didn’t appreciate before.

Focusing on the good in people instead of the bad has a curious way of changing relationship dynamics. This could completely resolve the issues you’re having with your boss or at least make them easier to deal with.

4. Start Working on Your Exit Strategy

When a wild animal feels trapped, it attacks. You’re certainly not a wild animal, but if you’re feeling stuck in this job or under this boss, you may keep your bristles up around them and be unable to relax. This can make the tension between you two that much worse.

But when you know you’re not stuck here, staying becomes a choice. That tension dissolves and you may even find you’re okay working here for now.

Your exit strategy may involve something fairly easy, like dusting off your resume, improving your LinkedIn profile, and signing up for job listings. But if you’re finding yourself frequently stuck in these jobs with incompetent bosses, it may be time to explore bachelor’s degree programs you can complete online.

5. Don’t Get Reeled Into Their Drama

If your boss is baiting you into confrontations, don’t fall for it. Take the high road. This allows other employees and your boss’ boss to see that they’re the problem, not you.

6. Be Willing to Have Conversation

Sometimes, lousy bosses don’t realize how others perceive them. They may not see that they’re doing anything wrong, or that they could do better. Speak up. This is a valuable life skill for you to develop, and you may help this person improve.

Plan to:

  • Check your emotions at the door, unless you can objectively talk about how you feel without losing yourself in the emotions
  • Find something positive to focus on first
  • Use “I” statements to share from your perspective
  • Avoid throwing blame
  • Avoid making statements that assume why someone is doing something. Intention isn’t always clear. Stick with the actions.
  • Try to find common ground
  • Ask questions and seek to understand
  • Offer solutions, not just problems

7. Don’t Accept Bullying

A bully is a bully whether they abuse kids on the playground or their direct reports in the office. If your boss is verbally abusive, don’t let it destroy your self-confidence. Advocate for your own success. Ask for clarification. Do your best work. And if the behavior continues, it’s time to execute your exit strategy and move on.

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