Career Development – Dealing with a difficult boss

Dealing with a difficult boss

Emotion: Fear (Photo credit: Cayusa)

We’ve all had them, those cranky bosses who make life difficult! Often, this not just for you and the team but for themselves as well!

I’m not talking about bullies; I’m talking about people who find it difficult to get on with other people and end up in senior management positions.  In a fair world they wouldn’t be there, but no one said the world was going to be fair?

Nevertheless, these cranky bosses can create lots of stress in the workplace. If you work to them with a team working to you, you are going to need to handle the situation.  You will need to relieve the stress on you and on your team, so that you can all concentrate on the real job.

Reality says that, if you want to stay, you are going to have to find a way to work with your cranky boss – you need a strategy.

Here are some tips;

Find a common interest   How much do you know about your boss?  See what you can find out.  What are they interested in?  Where have they come from and where do they want to go?  What are they trying to achieve in this role?  See if you can find some common ground.

Don’t jump to conclusions
Try to keep an open mind, don’t start to assume that your boss is going to be difficult about everything/ Start expecting and behaving as if your boss is going to behave reasonably until it proves otherwise.

If your boss becomes emotional, stay calm
Acknowledge the emotion, for example, “I understand that you are upset” but try not to become upset yourself.  Don’t react with emotion to emotional outburst; try to show understanding without being patronizing.

Keep focused on the work and what needs to be done Address the problem and sort out practical solutions and some options – reassure your boss that you are going to solve the problem if you can.

Manage your own emotions. 
You might find yourself getting angry or upset with your boss. Take some deep breaths concentrating on breathing out, then count to ten.  If necessary take some timeout and go to the bathroom.  Do whatever you need to do to calm down.

Stay real If you have a difficult boss, remember, the problem is about them not you.

Do your best to build a relationship that works with your boss.  If you can’t, then only you know whether it is worth staying around.  If it slides into bullying then you need to take advice –in the UK you can ring the National Bullying Help Line on 0845 22 55 787.

Use the power of good relationship building before and during all negotiations with your difficult boss. People sometimes forget than former opponents often make the strongest allies. You may find that a  well managed approach, working things through with your boss and trying to see their point of view, will earn you respect over time. It may even mean you get that promotion!

If you need advice from a coach, my email address is below.

Wendy Mason is a Life and Career Coach.  She helps people have the confidence they need to be successful at work and to change career while maintaining a good work/life balance. You can email her at

6 thoughts on “Career Development – Dealing with a difficult boss”

  1. Hi Wendy – excellent tips. I agree there are people who manage to make it to senior positions with inter-personal skills defficiencies but are valued for other reasons. Perhaps they are functional specialists who need to interact less frequently with others. I agree staying neutral is key!

    1. Thank you Dorothy – yes, I think you make a very important point. Functional specialists may well need support, coaching and further training when they move into senior management roles

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