Dealing With a Difficult Boss
You might not need to quit.
Posted February 12, 2018 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
You do a great job. You are dedicated to your work and your workplace. You give it your all, but maybe you work for someone who never seems satisfied, or can find fault with everything you do, or doesn’t appreciate you, or is never available—and the list goes on and on.
Depending on what research you review, the numbers could be as low as 50% to as high as 75% on the number of employees who quit their jobs not because of the job itself, or the company or a lack of opportunity, but because of their boss. Dealing with a difficult boss is demanding at best and emotionally stressful at worst. It can impact your work performance, your sleep habits, your home life, your work and personal relationships outside of the one with your boss, your self-confidence, your self-worth and your ability to perform at the highest levels of excellence you could achieve.
A bad boss colors everything: You might drive to work dreading your day. You might have a moment of hope when you submit your latest work only to have it criticized or ignored, and then your day is ruined. You might have a sick feeling in your stomach as you work. You might wake up from nightmares dreaming about your boss. A terrible boss is invasive to the heart, mind, and soul for many people.
If you think you have tried everything and are considering quitting your job just to get away, realize that there are options. Most people don’t understand that the boss relationship is like any other one; it needs to be fed and nurtured. Many employees think that just by doing their best job, or by being a model employee or by working harder and longer, the boss will recognize them and appreciate them. But if communication style, mismatched expectations or a value disconnect are at the heart of the differences, no matter how hard you work, your boss isn’t going to recognize it.
This is why a really good employee can have the “proof” of many years of strong performance reviews and all of a sudden find themselves in danger of being fired, or having been fired. They are the same person, doing the same job, but now what they are doing isn’t good enough and needs to be changed. It is a terrible feeling and one’s self-worth can suffer as a result. This is why, even if today your boss is “good”, you want to recognize it is more about connection, communication and cultural fit than it is about the work itself. This doesn’t mean you can shirk your duties, and each person should strive to be the best they can be and contribute to their employer at their highest levels, but know that alongside doing this you need to pay attention to relationship and values, too.
Be cognizant of your boss’s communication style. Does he or she like more or less communication? How should it be delivered, via email or in person? Do they like updates just to say “I’m working on it” or do they watch deadlines closely?
Get into your boss’s shoes. What might they be dealing with in their role? What pressures could they be facing? Often it’s easy to focus on what you need and what you care about, but what does your boss care about? Can you present ideas taking into account the boss’s needs, too?
When your boss doesn’t respond, or criticizes you, instead of getting immediately defensive, think about becoming curious. See if you can identify themes as to when and why your boss gets upset. If you can identify themes, you start to understand what’s most important to him or her. Again, you can choose to disagree with their perspective and say they don’t have a right to their response, or you can seek to understand. The more you understand about what they care about, and why, the more you can connect issues to their point of view.
Seeking to understand your boss, and then modifying your style to meet theirs, could change the workplace dynamic for you. Maybe you don’t want to employ these ideas, and you think “It’s up to the boss to change for me!” and that’s not a wrong perspective; it just might mean that you do need to start looking for that next job.
Before you take that step, though, consider the power you might have to shift the entire relationship.