How to Deal With a Difficult Boss Without Losing Your Job

Few things are more discouraging than spending over 40 hours a week taking instruction from a difficult boss. While each person’s definition of what a difficult boss is will vary, employees tend to complain the most about two management issues that fall on opposite sides of the spectrum- either the difficult boss has a controlling personality or she is unable to clearly communicate her expectations.

Unfortunately, most people cannot afford to just walk away from their employment because of poor management. They are often left struggling with how best to deal with a stressful work environment. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to make the workplace a little less stressful by taking a proactive approach to your How to Deal With a Difficult Boss Without Losing Your Jobworking relationship with your boss.

Difficult boss #1: “My boss is a control freak

A controlling boss wants things done his way or no way at all. He knows exactly what his expectations are and doesn’t give you room to maneuver within his strict guidelines. Worse yet, he usually ends up finding a way to change the work you do to make it even more like he would do it, even if that’s not necessarily the best way.

Ironically, this behavior is probably part of what made him qualify to be the boss in the first place. Management tends to reward this style, because controlling behavior usually stems from fear about things not turning out well, thus this difficult boss needs to stay on top of every single step.

Remember your goal is not to change his behavior; your goal is to make the work relationship less stressful. The best thing you can do to defuse a control freak, is show him that you are handling every detail of the project. How can you do that?

  • Divide the project into specific milestones that carefully spell out each action item and send him a copy. This way, if he does begin to micromanage, you can refer him to the document.
  • Update him often when you sense he is getting anxious about how things are moving forward.
  • Speak directly to him with confidence. “I am working on the xxx project and I wanted to run through the progress quickly with you when you have a minute.”

Difficult boss #2: “She never makes her expectations clear and I feel like I am set up to fail

Just like people have different personalities that affect their behavior, bosses are influenced by basic character traits. Some people are poor organizers and always end up flying by the seat of their pants. This is common with people with adult ADHD. Other people are so overwhelmed by what they have to do that they don’t take the necessary time to come up with a clear plan.

If your difficult boss is too vague when it comes to assigning projects, it is up to you to protect yourself by taking control of the situation. Obviously you can’t tell her that she is a poor organizer, but you can make sure you get the details you need and put them in writing, so that when a project ends up late, you can prove that you were following her direction.

  • When she assigns a new project, come up with a list of things you need to clarify. When do you need to give the assignment to her (sometimes that may be a different date than when she needs to submit it to her boss)? What are the guidelines? What are her expectations?
  • Let her know you need 15 minutes to go over the project. Bring the list to her and run down one item at a time. Then type it up and send an email to her with the attachment.
  • Check in with her periodically to see if things have changed or if there is any new information that you need to be aware of. When she sees that you are serious about keeping things moving, she will be more apt to pay attention.

Again, you are not going to change her inability to follow through on things. You can only change how you respond to it. Instead of complaining that she wasn’t clear (and risking her dissatisfaction with your job performance) you can take care of things despite her management style.

By creating your own strategy, you can deal with either a controlling or a difficult boss by determining your own path. Is it frustrating that you have to do be the one to make changes when you are not the boss? Of course, but being able to work in a less stressful environment is certainly worth it.

By Brian Grouzos