We’ve all had a difficult boss at least once. It goes with the territory of working for others, and difficult bosses seem to be more prevalent within corporations. This may be down to competition, status fixation, and ego inflation correlating with salary inflation. Whatever the reason, having a difficult boss is a tricky thing to navigate and can drain your energy.
Much as you might be itching to tell your boss to [insert your own expletive], anyone relying on a monthly paycheck is probably hesitant. Besides, ‘difficult’ is a broad description; there are many kinds of difficult and some are harder to stomach than others.
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt (…aka sack)
Back in my corporate days I was contracting as an Executive Assistant to the CEO of a well-known UK bank. He often looked at me in ways that invoked involuntary shudders, but one day we met to discuss a conference he wanted to go to, and he made a comment that required quick thinking on my part. I wanted to keep the contract, but I also wanted him to know he was barking up the wrong tree.
“I would ask you to attend the conference with me,” he said, “but you know, people might talk.” As his EA, I was pretty sure people would expect me to be there, but it had clearly been an excuse to make a suggestive comment. I considered a few biting responses, then just raised an eyebrow and said, “I sincerely doubt that. But not to worry, you’ll manage fine on your own.”
That simple retort got me out of a stuffy conference, his insufferable company, and any future thinly-veiled advances. It also meant I was later ousted on some other minor discrepancy, but I was glad to see the back of him. Sarcasm or contempt won’t work with every boss, but there are other worthy methods:
- Remember… “It’s not you — it’s me.”
Ok, so you aren’t going to hear those clichéd words from the horse’s mouth, but you can remind yourself that it’s probably the case. Unless you’re making endless mistakes, if your boss is being hostile, snappy, unresponsive, or generally challenging, the chances are it’s more about him or her than you.
Perhaps he or she is secretly suffering from overwhelm. Stress tends to get passed down, as that’s safer than passing it up or across; subordinates are are less likely to sack you or answer back. If you’re not sure what’s behind it, try looking at how your boss handles other subordinates, if there are any; if you’re the only one in the firing line, it might be worth asking the question… is this about you, or is it me?
2. Have empathy
It might not feel like your boss deserves empathy, or that you’re even capable of it when he or she has behaved abhorrently; but when you think about it, there’s always a reason and the chances are your boss is suffering on some level.
We don’t know what pressure is on them from above, or what insecurities they have underneath that hostile exterior. Your boss might be just another person whose parents didn’t demonstrate love, compassion or effective communication skills. When we see another person’s pain, if we try to identify with the source of that pain rather than the symptoms, we are less likely to fight fire with fire.
3. Take a deep breath
A good deep breath will cure many problems, and although it can’t change someone else’s personality or behavior, it can change how you respond to it. The only thing we can ever truly control is our own reactions, and a long, deep breath is equivalent to a long, deep pause. It gives you a moment to reconsider a potential defensive outburst, a public breakdown or whatever else might be fighting its way to the surface.
Flooding your body with oxygen not only gives you more mental alertness and focus, but it relaxes your whole being. Any yogi worth their salt will tell you that when stressed, you should breathe your way through it. While you’re breathing, you can clear your mind and let the answers come in due course.
4. Don’t be afraid to be honest
It can take a lot of guts to be honest with your boss. We fear reprisal, loss of our jobs, or the potential worsening of the situation. A frustrating or rude boss has probably been getting away with this for a long time; if they were reasonable enough to sit and listen to your concerns, they probably wouldn’t be behaving this way in the first place.
But that doesn’t mean that you should keep your mouth shut, as allowing somebody to walk all over you tends to lead to more of the same; daily misery and disrespect does not a happy worker make! You’ll end up quitting anyway if you allow it long term, so you may as well call it as you see it. Request a private meeting and then calmly and diplomatically let them know your issue. A good example might be: “I know you’re probably under a lot of pressure right now, so you might not have been aware that you regularly cut me off when I’m delivering my points in our morning meetings, but it’s making me feel undervalued.” If they can’t swallow that, you’ve really got your work cut out, so you might as well…
Sometimes there’s just no getting around somebody else’s inconsiderate behavior. You could fight fire with fire, take it higher, claim constructive dismissal, or instigate a tribunal (if you have the energy), but sometimes life is just too short to be perma-stressed, let alone a downtrodden gopher!
If you’ve tried understanding, empathy, deep breathing and honesty, and you don’t fancy the grueling route of taking your boss (or company) on, do yourself a favor and find a more compatible boss. Perhaps your experience will inspire you to join the hoards of people that have vowed never to work for someone else again, leading you to sovereignty, independence and freedom. The world is your oyster, so they say. You’ll never know unless you try!
This post was written by Caroline Knight, a Freelance Writer based in the UK. Caroline previously worked in nutrition and now runs healing retreats in Europe, alongside fulfilling her love of writing about everything from business to philosophy and transformation of consciousness.
Hi! We’re Team NeuroGum, aficionados of all things brain-related, from creativity to working out. With backgrounds in art, science, and athletics, we love delving into all the potentials of the human body.