boss shouting at staff

How to deal with a problem boss

Having issues with a manager at work? Don’t ignore the problem, instead follow our advice on how to improve matters.

According to the adage, people don’t quit their job or their company but rather quit their boss. In reality though, there are a raft of other factors that also lead individuals to resign including lack of career opportunity and development, flexibility and remuneration. Nonetheless there is an element of truth in the saying, and is confirmed by the vast number of websites and blogs that focus on this subject. The Bad Boss Blog, for instance, provides a space for people “to vent and tell their stories” and claims three quarters of all employees consider their managers as bad.

Dealing with one can be particularly difficult at the beginning of your career when experience is lacking and feel you have yet to prove yourself. Depending on the particular circumstances, you may even start to believe it’s your fault. In most instances, your boss’s behaviour will have nothing directly to do with you. It is therefore important not to let it impact your self-worth as ultimately this could ruin a golden career opportunity.

“The worst thing that can be done is to simply say nothing and put up with it,” says Rosie Bailey, co-founder and principal consultant at people development consultancy OnTrack International. “If you accept bad behaviour and make no comment or appear not to be affected, the chances are that the bad behaviour will persist and probably get worse.”

While never an easy situation to deal with, by changing your stance and taking a more positive approach, you can improve matters.

Take control

Take immediate steps to build your confidence, which in turn will help you to feel more empowered.

Remember you successfully beat off competition to secure your position and were clearly impressive at interview and selection stage. Consider why your boss is making life difficult for you and whether they have any genuine grievances with your performance. Even if they have, this is no justification for treating you poorly as his or her role is to support the team and help individuals to develop.

Also determine whether there are personal traits that might be negatively impacting on the relationship on either or both sides. Perhaps your boss is a poor listener or lacks interpersonal skills. Avoid simply apportioning blame to your boss and be prepared to acknowledge your own shortcomings and their potential impact on the relationship.

Create a culture of mutual respect

Having built a clear and rational picture of the situation and relationship, you will feel more able to have an element of control over it. Bailey recommends the following five steps to produce a more harmonious relationship.

  1. Get into your boss’s shoes – try and understand their world and the stresses and strains placed upon them. This may help you to see things from their point of view and provide more of an understanding of why they behave in the way they do.
  2. Communicate with your boss in a style which they will feel comfortable with. If your boss is dominant and direct then communicating in a cautious or over-verbose way will only cause further irritation.
  3.  Be empathetic and understand how they like to be influenced and use this style to make them listen to you.
  4. Find opportunities with your boss where you can agree and at least have some common ground. Look for instances when you can praise them; people often make the mistake of thinking that praise should be from the boss downwards but praising upwards (when rightly deserved) can be very powerful.
  5. Make up for their shortcomings and try and protect and help them. When a relationship deteriorates it is very easy to fall into the trap of showing the person up. Avoid this as it will look badly on you and ruin the relationship still further.

What if nothing works?

If all efforts to improve the situation fail, then it is time to take alternative action and escalate the problem to someone senior or HR. Making a formal complaint about your boss may seem drastic – and potentially scary – particularly if you are relatively junior but he or she has left you with no option.

As Bailey points out, everyone has their own interpretation of bad behaviour "so know your limits and what you are prepared to accept”. It may transpire that your boss’ behaviour stems from pressure placed on him or her so bringing the problem into the open could ultimately help them as well.

Whether you remain in the role or eventually decide to leave, learn from the experience and avoid mirroring their bad behaviour cautions Bailey: “It’s very easy for behaviour to breed behaviour, instead ensure you behave like the leader you would like your boss to be.”

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