What to do if you have a difficult boss
Is your manager irrational, insecure or over demanding? Our panel of experts advise how to deal with them
Keep a record of what they ask you to do
Keeping a written record of tasks you are assigned and complete – or times when your manager has behaved inappropriately – will be an invaluable if you want to take things further, says psychologist Denise Taylor.
Gary Wood, a chartered psychologist and life coach, adds that collecting data over a period of time “will help you to focus on the patterns rather than the one-offs”. It should then be easier to gain perspective, focusing on the bigger issues which need addressing and deciding on the smaller problems which should be let go.
Walk away. Don't respond emotionally – with anger or tears – to a situation
Should it become necessary to present this evidence to someone else, Anna Carroll, organisational consultant at Everyday Feedback, says you should point to evidence of direct experiences – and try to avoid personal attacks.
Be calm and direct
Talking directly to the boss is always better than gossiping behind their back. “Calm, clear and objective debate is probably the single best way of resolving issues,” says Kate Russell, managing director of Russell HR Consulting.
Speaking directly with your boss is crucial, agrees Nick Cutland, director of quality at ILM: “Emails can be misconstrued, one person’s intention can be misread by another, so it’s always worth trying to step back and check the meaning.” Meeting each other face-to-face will give you better opportunities “to understand each other’s expectations”. Having challenging conversations is daunting, but is a skill you can develop.
Andrew Fennell, director of StandOut CV, reminds us that it is “not always possible to agree or get on with everybody in the workplace and sometimes there will be people who you clash with”. If this happens, diplomacy is the best tactic. “Remind yourself (and them) that you need to work together in order to achieve common goals, such as delivering work or helping customers.”
If professionalism is not possible, the most important thing is not to say anything you might regret, says Jo Martin, an employment law specialist. “If you want to criticise a senior colleague, your own behaviour needs to be impeccable.”
Psychologist Denise Taylor explains that this means not responding emotionally – either with anger or tears – to a situation. If a meeting is not going well, walk away and return later, so you can make your point calmly and authoritatively.
Speak to your HR or legal team
If speaking to your boss gets you nowhere, Jo Martin advises speaking to your HR team. But you must bear in mind that “they work for the company, and their solution will be in the best interests of the company”, she adds. A good HR team will try to ensure that you are looked after as part of the process, but not all HR teams are that reliable. This will be particularly true in a very small businesses, says Russell. “In this case employees should seek advice externally from a solicitor or HR adviser.”
If it’s regarding a legal matter – such as discrimination or emotional outbursts – or if you are becoming unwell as a result of your boss’s behaviour, you could speak to ACAS or a union rep. “Employers have a duty of care to provide you with a safe workplace, and GPs can be very helpful and supportive if your health is affected, so a visit to the doctor can also be a wise move,” says Martin.
What to do if your boss is a bully
As a last resort, Enrique Garcia, an employment law expert, and Andrew Fennell agree that the boss’s boss is also an option. You “run the risk of further damaging your relationship with your manager in doing this”, Garcia warns “but sometimes it’s the only thing left to do when you don’t feel that you can approach the manager directly.”
Even if you disagree with their decisions, go with it
“At the end of the day, work is not a democracy,” says Jon Gregory, founder and author of win-that-job.com. Managers are paid to be responsible for certain decisions, for which they ultimately pay the price if they make errors. “So what they say goes.” Once they have made a decision the correct course of action is to commit to it and carry on, regardless of what you assess to be its merits.
But there is nothing wrong with offering suggestions to improve the processes, adds Russell. If tension has developed between you both, take the time to understand why your employer might be behaving in this way when you put your suggestions to them. “It shows you have properly considered the matter.”
Keep your options open
Anna Carroll suggests that if the situation seems intolerable, start “looking for other options while you are still in your current role” and “don’t hesitate to jump ship if the offer is a positive change for you”.
If changing careers is unfeasible, for financial or other reasons, Gary Wood argues that you must “find ways to improve your work-life balance, reduce stress and increase relaxation”, both inside and outside of the workplace. He recommends “a little two-minute stress buster” to break through survival thinking, in which situations can only be framed in black and white, and ensure you are mentally “better equipped to consider all options”.
Either way, Gregory says you must “accept that you are not responsible for the poor behaviour of others and refuse to take things personally”. While this may be easier said than done, it is a crucial first step to ensuring that you manage “negative emotional feelings and consequent stress [from a boss] that can literally destroy your career”.