The Art of Managing Up
Learn to Handle Your Unbearable Boss
Posted Jun 05, 2015
Having a great boss is a blessing one can only fully appreciate after experiencing what the opposite is like. It’s an unusual person who won’t admit that there is a trait or two – or a hundred, in some cases – that frustrates, annoys or distresses them about their direct supervisor. While some of it is just simple misunderstanding of the boss’s directives and constructive feedback or, maybe, an exaggerated reaction to his or her quirks, in other cases a boss may actually be a difficult person to work under, and a poor leader. When the boss is “bad” it is an extremely stressful task to operate effectively, since one can only say so much to someone who has ascendancy over his or her rank. Yet taking no action is not an option either; bad or incompetent leaders can seriously impede or even damage their employees’ careers, not to mention that they make people just plain miserable.
Inadequate, incompetent, unpleasant, unfair, a bully, a control freak, a bumbling fool (and the list goes on) – these are only a few types of bosses who can make the lives of their subjects unbearable. How do they do it? In a million different ways, and sometimes with gusto. They tend to display the following behaviors and qualities:
- Don’t clearly communicate, communicate exclusively with a chosen few, or over-communicate, inundating everyone on their team with torrents of emails, phone calls and unnecessary meetings
- Lack expert capacity, when they assume a position that is above and beyond their expertise
- Lack zeal or interest in their job and the jobs of their employees
- Play favorites, encourage flattery and reward only the “right” people
- Criticize, blame and notice only the short-comings of their staff, failing to acknowledge or praise employees for their achievements
- Avoid or ignore conflict and other difficult-to-manage situations
- Harshly penalize or incessantly lecture employees for the most insignificant mishaps
- Fail to see their own faults and imperfections, often placing the blame on the team for personal errors
- Place their own responsibilities on others; loudly take credit for others’ efforts
- Have poor manners and lack proper decorum and delicacy in handling sensitive employee information
- Micromanage everything and everyone, and expect others to adhere to the same level of pedantry and perfectionism
- Overstep the boundaries of their authority and professionalism; inflict, overlook or encourage misconduct
Dealing with an inadequate supervisor can be trying, to say the least. It has been previously estimated that employees spend on average 19.2 hours during the week worrying about “what a boss says or does”. According to psychologist Robert Hogan, 75% of adult employees credit their boss for work-related stress. In fact, many find the stress to be too much to handle: results of a Gallup poll which encompassed more than a million U.S. workers identify “having a bad boss” as a number one reason employees quit their jobs.
That said, in a good number of cases the situation is not as desperate as it may seem. Many employees don’t realize that they do have a certain degree of influence and control in order to better cope with a difficult boss. It is possible to exercise that power by developing a set of “managing-up” skills. So, before jumping the gun and looking for a new place of employment, try testing the following strategies on your boss:
- Stand up for yourself. If your boss is exceptionally demanding, critical or demeaning towards you, his or her conduct cannot be described in any way other than bullying. The worst thing you can do with any bully is to back down. Bullies draw their power from those who let them get away with it and those who are afraid and docile. Stand your ground. Keep your head high and show your boss the strength of your character. In a difficult situation, don’t respond with vehemence or cower back in fear. Strive for constructive discussion, ask questions and state your point as well; it will get you more respect that you think.
- Fill in the gaps. If you realize your boss’s weaknesses when he or she doesn’t, don’t whine about those to your fellow co-workers, friends or anyone who will listen. Instead, help accommodate any such shortcomings. It will benefit you almost as much as it will help your boss. For instance, if you know that your supervisor is religiously late to meetings, offer to kick off the next one for him. Instead of being annoyed and frustrated, be proactive!
- Rethink your communication approach. If a single thought of interacting with your boss stresses you out of your mind, evidently something is amiss about the way you communicate with one another. Consider taking on a proactive communicator approach. Study your boss’s mannerisms and habits to determine his or her preferred method of communication – email, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos – and be sure to pass along information. If your boss is lacking in the communication department, you need to step up and assume a role of a facilitator in the process.
- Match his/her behavioral style. Naturally we get along better with people who are more like us, those who understand the way we like to do things and why we do them. Make it easier for your boss to get along with you. Observe how he or she likes things done. Notice the patterns and try to complement those. By matching your behavioral style to that of your boss, you will set a foundation for a more congenial relationship between the two of you. The better you are able to match your style to your boss’s, the more they will really hear what you’re saying.
- Adopt his/her perspective. Every time you tackle a challenging situation involving your manager or supervisor, try to imagine what’s in it for him or her. Think what he/she may care about in the given circumstances and how the possible outcomes might affect your boss. The better you understand your boss’s priorities, the more you will understand your boss and the reasoning behind his or her decisions and actions. Consequently, it will become easier for you to adapt to your boss’s style. This is a useful strategy for every type of boss, but especially for those who tend to rub others the wrong way.
- Leave no room for your own negative behavior. Don’t assume that having an incompetent supervisor is an excuse for you to slack off on your responsibilities or do your work only halfheartedly. Your own reputation and credibility are at stake. You never know who is watching, so remember to always put your best foot forward, even when your boss doesn’t.
- Look at the big picture. It’s important to know where your boss stands in the company, how respected he or she is, how much influence and what sort of reputation your boss has. Knowing to whom your boss reports is also a vital piece of information. If your boss is well regarded and well liked, he or she probably does a very good job of managing up, too. Consider all possible consequences before taking any action regarding your boss.
- Keep up a positive attitude. Although sometimes it’s easier said than done, staying upbeat and engaged at work is an absolute must, and it is widely considered to be a mark of professionalism. According to noted psychologist Daniel Goleman, a positive workplace environment fosters better performance than a negative environment. By remaining assertive and optimistic in the face of obstacles, not only will you improve your professional reputation but you will also help your colleagues be more productive and therefore successful.