14 Ways To Manage (And Manipulate) A Difficult Boss
If your boss over delegates, micromanages, vanishes when you need him, screams like a banshee or flings coffee mugs at you, you know you need to do something. But what, and how? Here are 14 ways to deal with difficult behavior and in some cases, even make it disappear.
1. Schedule an appointment.In many organizations, the people who are promoted into management roles are commander and organizer types. Both types operate off a list and if you're not on the to-do list, you'll be ignored. Make an appointment to get on your boss' radar.
2. Ask meaningful questions.Asking "gotta sec?" is not the same as making an appointment. It's an interruption. Also, don't ask your boss "Are you busy?" This is like walking up to a hotel counter with your suitcase and credit card in hand only to hear them ask "checking in"?
3. Get to the point.Right or wrong, most bosses are Type A -- they're driven, competitive and don't want to dillydally. So the faster you get to the point, the better. A lengthy explanation, unless it includes action items, will be annoying because it requires more time and concentration to process.
4. Ask for what you need.If you're afraid to ask for what you need, you won't get it. If you have a boss from whom you need a signature right now, to make a deadline, ask them to sign now. If you simply leave it on his desk with a signature flag, he'll blame you for any delay.
5. Fuss over them.Certain personalities love to be "fussed over" more than others, but who doesn't like to be made to feel special? The phrase "it's lonely at the top" exists for a reason and there's a chance your boss can't really share most of what is going on with anyone. Have your boss' back. Offer to get her lunch. Be helpful and ready to serve and see if it changes your perspective and hers.
6. Read between the lines.Leaders who say "When you get a minute" usually mean "In this minute, right now, will you make time to do X?" Once you understand that code you won't make the mistake of waiting to respond to what are actually subtle commands.
7. Get a clue.If your bad boss just got chewed out by her boss, it's not the time to go in and ask for a favor or leave early. Watch for clues to your boss's mood, so that you don't end up as a punching bag.
8. Speak up.Just because your boss hands you three projects that all take an hour and expects them all to be completed in 15 minutes, doesn't mean that you need to learn how to work miracles. Some things just take time and many bosses forget how much time or how much they've given you. Speak up by asking, "Out of these three projects, which one is top priority?" so you know how to meet their expectations.
9. Take it professionally, not personally.When your boss is yelling at you, it feels personal, but it's often not. Listen, nod, provide results immediately and move on. You're better served to ask if the reaction was all meant for you or directed toward you, once they have cooled down. Then the answer is likely to be no and sometimes an apology.
10. Be bright.Some standard advice for dealing with taskmasters has been: "Be brief, be bright and be gone." The only important part of this phrase is "be bright." If you're bright, contributing, adding value, and helping your boss do what he or she does best, they won't want you to be brief or be gone for long.
11. Stay fascinated.If you drive, you know the feeling of being cut off in traffic. Creative hand gestures help you show that frustration at times, but who hears you? It's not about you. And if you stay fascinated, instead of frustrated, you might even giggle when fascinated at how a boss can be such a jerk. Giggling is better than having to be Googling for a new job if your frustrations get you cut off the team.
12. Save the labels.When you are slapping more labels on people than they sell at Staples, you're part of the problem. Once you label your boss as bad, you expect him to act that way. Your expectations create your responses. Your responses drive your behavior, and if you have difficult behavior, what are you likely to get back? Save the labels for mailing out your resume, if it comes to that.
13. Find your focus.If all you are looking for are the things your boss does wrong, then that's all you'll find. Our brain's Reticular Activating System serves to alarm us to those things that we deem important. Complaints that you spend hours repeating at the water cooler must be important, as often as you share them -- so your brain will find even more. Instead, focus on what you want to see more of: good boss behavior.
14. Move on.No one wants to work in a position in which the stress is high, the boss is crazy and you're constantly in agony or in fear for your job. If it's more than you can bear or feel you deserve, and the boss is just bonkers, then make an effort to move on. You lose the right to complain about your plight if you refuse to lift a finger to fix it or to find another option.
Bosses are people, too, and most are not intending to be difficult. They either don't know how to handle stress or lead people. There are solutions for both, but it's you who suffer from their trial and error. If you work with a manager who's been promoted, but isn't prepared or seems to have long ago lost the desire to care, recognize that these steps can work magic -- even without a wand. They may help you to manage up and feel better about your job -- not to mention help make the difficulties you're having with a boss disappear.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development expert and author of "Make Difficult People Disappear: How to Deal With Stressful Behavior and Eliminate Conflict" (Wiley, 2012). Her training firm develops leaders who were often promoted, but not prepared. Visit www.ContagiousCompanies.com
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