How To Build A Positive Relationship With a Difficult Boss

In our last post, we introduced a three-part series on how you can build positive relationships with difficult people and why it’s such an important skill.

This week, we’ll focus specifically on building positive relationships with difficult bosses. It’s unfortunate how often leaders in an organization are a source of stress and frustration, rather than support and inspiration. According to a recent survey, the biggest source of stress at work for most professionals is their bosses.

While you can’t control your boss’s behavior, you can control how you interact, relate, and respond to create a more positive relationship with them and a less stressful situation for you. Changing your perspective and understanding your boss’s personality, management style, and responsibilities will help you make your experience working for them and their experience with you as positive as possible.

Today, we’ll discuss boss behaviors that make them difficult to work for, why they may behave this way, and what you can do to better manage your relationship and hopefully make working for them easier.

1. The Micromanager

Micromanager tendencies: doesn’t trust you to make any decisions, won’t let you work independently, requires constant updates, doesn’t allow you any freedom to learn or develop on your own, and thinks their way is the only way to reach an end result.

Why they micromanage: A common reason for micromanagement is fear. Fear of losing control or not being needed. Micromanagers often rise to the management level because of their own superior performance. When they become a manager, they have to learn to rely on others, and for the person that likes to be in control, that’s hard and scary. They also like for others to rely on them because it gives them power and control, so they insert themselves into every task.

Micromanager relationship tips: When you get new assignments, give them an opportunity to share their expertise and feel valuable on the front end. Ask questions like “How would you approach the project? How do you plan on using this? Any potential problems I should be on the lookout for?” Thank them for the advice and reassure them that you will give them regular updates and ask questions as they arise throughout the process. Put aside any feelings of disdain, and be open to learning from them. Keeping your relationships with them positive for as long as you have to work for them will make it a more pleasant experience for you.

2. The Deadline Pusher

Deadline pusher tendencies: always asking for last-minute projects, everything is rushed, there’s a lull between assignments and then an all-hands-on-deck mentality, unrealistic deadlines that force you to work long hours and sacrifice quality.

Why they don’t plan: Continuous disorganization could be a symptom of a number of problems, including ADHD, more responsibility than they can handle, inability to distinguish between essential and nonessential tasks, lack of experience in managing others, and distractions outside of work.

Deadline pusher relationship tips: The best way to work with a boss, who doesn’t plan ahead, is to manage their expectations of you in the beginning. Don’t set a precedent for saving the day. Let them know your work product is better when you have more time. If you get an assignment that’s too last minute for you to do well, tell them you can’t do it in that timeframe. Give them vacation and days off way in advance, send them calendar invites, and set boundaries, such as you will not be accessing your phone or email. For projects that you know are coming, be proactive about asking them how you can begin working on them.

3. The Ghost

Ghost tendencies: goes days without answering emails, won’t answer questions, doesn’t set clear expectations, cancels meetings, and gets annoyed when you need support.

Why they’re ghosting: They could dislike their job, be looking for a new job, be experiencing stress outside of work, or just want to coast as long as they can until someone notices.

Ghost boss relationship tips: It’s not easy to build a relationship with a person, who simply won’t engage, so focus more on how to do your job well. If you have a scheduled face-to-face meeting, plan ahead and be very organized about asking questions and getting all the information you need in that session to do your job. Appeal to their ego when contacting them and tell them you could really use their advice or support on an issue. If you find your job is impossible to do without their input, contact their boss or someone else in your department for clarity. If your boss isn’t doing their job, the situation usually resolves itself with them getting demoted or fired. In the meantime, focus on doing what you need to do your job well.

4. The Jekyll and Hyde

Jekyll and Hyde tendencies: unpredictable mood swings, overblown praise or vicious ridicule, a bully one day and your best friend the next, makes you feel jumpy and uneasy.

Why they’re Jekyll and Hyde: Assuming this isn’t caused by a mental disorder, your boss might be experiencing unsteadiness in their own life and be unsure of how to deal with it appropriately. They also might lack the confidence and ability to do their job well, thus completely depending on you to do it for them. When it works out, you’re a superstar, when it doesn’t, you’re worthless.

Jekyll and Hyde relationship tips: A boss, who exhibits this unhealthy behavior, causes extreme stress to their staff – more than a boss who is consistently nasty. You may not be able to build a positive relationship with a boss like this, but you can make the best of working for them by not reacting to their over-the-top behavior or internalizing negativity directed at you. Be consistent and keep an even temper, contrasting their mood swings.

5. The Blame Shifter

Blame shifter tendencies: never takes responsibility, criticizes you in front of others, plays the victim, doesn’t set clear expectations and berates you for not meeting them.

Why they blame shift: This type of boss lacks confidence and probably isn’t ready or fit to manage you. A boss, who blame shifts, is more concerned about how they look within their organization than producing good results for it. They can’t admit to making mistakes or lacking the ability to handle a task, so they blame others.

Blame shifter relationship tips: If you feel like you can’t do anything right, ask your boss how you can improve your performance. This will force them to pinpoint a specific problem if there is one and help you focus your efforts on giving them what they need. Be persistent about asking them to specifically cite the problems with your work. If you can force them to set expectations for you, it will be easier to meet them or ask for help when you need it.

It’s important to remember that most bosses – even bad ones – are not deliberately creating stress for you or trying to be difficult. Understanding why they behave the way they do and trying to better manage the relationship is the best way to make your work experience with them more positive. Of course, never put up with abuse or harassment and always report it. Learning how to build the best relationship you can with a difficult boss is an incredibly valuable skill that will enable you to remain in control of your career, your performance, and your perspective.

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