How To Deal With A Difficult Boss

If the idea of how to deal with a difficult boss is more intimidating than a root canal, read on. The difficult boss comes in many forms, from a boss that bullies to a boss that micromanages. There's the boss that plays favorites and the invisible boss. Regardless of the name, you've got your hands full. Even if you have a job you love, having a difficult boss can make it hard to stop from hitting that snooze button each morning. Here are some tips to help.

  1. Determine if your boss is right. Analyze your boss' comments in relation to your work. Is your job performance good or are you slacking? Sometimes there may be some truth in your boss' actions and comments, while other times he may be way off base. Take an honest assessment of your performance and decide.
  2. Keep the micromanager informed. If your difficult boss is the micromanager type, he doesn't like to give up control. You need to build up trust with the micromanager by keeping him up to date on the progress of your assignments. Once he learns he can trust you, he will give you a longer leash.
  3. Set appointments with the invisible boss. If your difficult boss is the invisible boss, one you have a hard time finding, set up specific meetings to talk with him.  Face-to-face is best, but if that won't do, a specific telephone call will. These types of bosses are often busy and don't have a lot of time to spare. Make sure you are prepared for the meeting by having a summary and specific questions ready.
  4. Maintain control with the bully. Having a bully as a difficult boss is often the hardest boss to deal with. This type of boss can be rude, pushy and downright mean at times. Don't take offense when he acts like this. Instead, maintain your composure. If you keep quiet while letting your boss vent, this can actually calm down your boss.
  5. Document your boss' bad behavior. This should be done just as an insurance policy.  If possible, don't record your difficult boss' bad behavior at work. If you do, for goodness sakes, don't leave the evidence at work. It is best to do this at home, not at the office.
  6. Report an abusive boss to human resources. This is a last resort recommendation. If you have a difficult boss that is abusive or threatening, you may have to report him. This is where number five comes into play, as having hard evidence will be critical. Of course, this is a slippery slope that can have negative or positive consequences in terms of your employment situation. Think through this step carefully before deciding to go through with it.
  7. Don't take it. Last, but not least, look for another job. If you find that you are needing to take vacation days or sick days just to avoid interacting with your difficult boss, then it is time to get out. Take steps to find another job where you may have a boss that appreciates you and your contributions to the organization.


Columbia Business School
Boston University

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