CAREER TIPS - How to do your best work when you have a difficult boss
Try a few of these techniques when dealing with a prickly or unhelpful manager.
Not every boss is perfect, and it’s probably unfair to expect them to be. But research shows you likely prefer the predictability of a consistently lukewarm boss to the ups and downs of a manager who is a loose cannon.
The lesson is when you’re considering a new position, assess your new boss as carefully as the new role. It will matter to your happiness and fulfillment. But what if you’re already in a role and your boss is falling short? After all, not all leaders are stellar, and not all managers have well-developed managerial skills. Fortunately, you can respond to the situation in a way so you still succeed.
First, take steps to manage your boss. Help them win, have their back, keep them in the loop, and take initiative. All of these will contribute to the relationship you’re building with them.
It’s easy to feel down if you’re not getting what you need from your boss. But remind yourself about your ability to influence the relationship and your future. Start by performing with excellence and being above reproach. If your boss is hypercritical, do your best not to give them anything to be critical about. Moreover, stay professional and opt for the high road, when applicable. If your boss demonstrates bad behavior, don’t stoop to their level.
Foster an open relationship with your boss where you give them feedback and talk about what you need. Most leaders appreciate insight into how to guide and motivate team members, and what kind of career development you seek. By being transparent, you’ll set the stage for a relationship between equals—where you respect your boss and they respect you.
GIVE YOUR BOSS THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
A good idea to start with giving your boss the benefit of the doubt. Even if your boss comes across as disagreeable (for instance, quarrelsome, selfish, cold, or callous), consider their behavior may not be about you. It’s possible—and even likely—they are struggling with their own stressors at home or work. Perhaps they are trying and simply attempting to find a style that works for them. They may not even be aware of their impact—their intent may be very different than their demeanor. Be empathetic toward your boss and remind yourself they are only human and struggling just as you are.
As much as possible, show your boss appreciation. While it may feel like a stretch if they aren’t providing terrific leadership, it can actually help you in the end. Gratitude is correlated with greater mental health, so that’s good for you. And a recent study found when leaders feel more appreciated, they tend to feel greater levels of energy, well-being, optimism, and life satisfaction.
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Keep in mind no boss will fulfill all your needs, all the time. Be sure to manage your expectations. Just like any relationship, the other person may be able to meet many of your needs, but it’s unfair to expect them to meet them all.
If you feel less than fulfilled by your manager, find ways to obtain leadership and coaching beyond your boss. Maintain a network of colleagues who can coach and encourage you. Find a mentor with whom you can meet regularly and seek guidance which your supervisor is unable to give or is beyond their responsibilities.
ABSORB AS MUCH KNOWLEDGE AS POSSIBLE
Ultimately, if your boss isn’t providing you needed guidance and leadership, take the opportunity to learn as much as you can. Focus on all the ways you can grow from the professional experience. Consider their behavior and make note of what worked and what didn’t, so you can emulate the best and avoid the worst when you rise to a leadership role yourself. Even bad experiences—and sometimes especially bad experiences—can be rich opportunities for learning.
You can influence your boss and the relationship you build with them. Do your best to drive a positive experience, but also be willing to make a change. Give it your all, but if it’s just not working out, don’t be afraid to find your next best opportunity—a place where you can make your most compelling contribution.
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