Dealing with a difficult boss can make going into the office dreadful. Even in today’s remote-first work environments, a bad boss can destroy teams and kill cultures.
According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, fewer than two-thirds of U.S. workers are extremely or very satisfied with their relationship with their manager or supervisor.
So, what should you do if you find yourself dissatisfied with your manager? Keep reading to learn strategies for how to handle a difficult boss and when it might be time to jump ship in search of something new.
5 Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Boss
1. Get clear on your boundaries.
When dealing with a difficult boss, revisiting your boundaries is a great place to start, since boundary violations often occur when we fail to effectively communicate our wishes in the first place. Ask yourself what support and resources you need from your boss and workplace to make your job more enjoyable.
On the topic of boundaries, I would be remiss to not recommend Dr. Nedra Glover Tawwab’s book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself (shoutout to one of my biggest mentors, Shimina Harris, for gifting me this fabulous resource). While the entire book is a goldmine, I’ll call special attention to chapter 6, which covers identifying and communicating your boundaries, and chapter 14, which covers boundaries at work.
2. Understand what motivates your boss.
Before communicating your boundaries to your boss, it can be helpful to uncover what motivates them and appeal to their career goals. Are they driven by external validation and praise? Do they simply show up to work for the paycheck? Perhaps they’re vying for a promotion?
While you’re at it, reflect on how your boss has responded to feedback in the past, since this can foreshadow how they’ll respond when you speak up. Additionally, consider the best way to deliver your feedback, as some supervisors communicate better face-to-face, while others respond better to emails.
3. Decide when to speak up.
Once you have a good sense of your boundaries and how your manager may respond to them, you must choose when to speak up, as calling your boss out every time they irritate you will likely do more harm than good.
Put another way, you’ll want to choose your battles wisely and decide which workplace issues are worth addressing. If you’re dealing with a particularly bad boss, you might need to choose just one or two areas of focus, at least to start, to avoid even more issues from arising.
4. Know when to go to HR.
When dealing with a difficult boss, it’s also important to know when to loop in your human resources department. According to Jill Katz, the founder and Chief Candor, Courage, & Care Officer at Assemble HR Consulting, “It’s never too early to confer with an HR partner about a difficult boss. As a matter of fact, the longer you wait, the harder it can become for someone to help you in a sticky situation.”
“Like all human relationships, we all play a critical role in creating a dynamic, so it’s useful to take action right away if things don’t feel natural and comfortable with a boss,” Katz adds. “Working with HR as an advisor can help you get a neutral and strategic perspective on how to shift the dynamic early, and, hopefully, make positive changes for the long term.”
5. Make a list of reasons to walk away.
Lastly, it’s important to know when your situation is beyond repair and perhaps veering toward a toxic work environment that you need to walk away from. Potential signs of a toxic workplace may include:
- Your boss is setting unreasonable expectations.
- Your boundaries are being violated.
- You’re constantly thinking about quitting your job.
If any of these sound like they might be your workplace, I share how to take care of yourself and your mental health in this article for The Stability Network. Please remember that your mental health comes first, and that you must advocate for yourself.
Final Thoughts on Dealing with a Difficult Boss
The bottom line is that you deserve a boss who respects you. If you’ve implemented these strategies and are still finding yourself stuck, or simply want an outsider’s perspective, consider consulting an external mentor or career coach to help you weigh your options and develop a path forward. You’ve got this!