From the micromanager to procrastinator and even the dictator, difficult managers come in all shapes and sizes. As sure as night follows day, at some stage in your career you will come across a difficult manager. When you begin to see the relationship going downhill quickly, there are a number of things you can do to salvage first, as jumping ship might not be the answer.
1. Focus on yourself
The first thing to do is to look at yourself and your relationship with your manager. Think about how your whole team feels about your manager. Do they all share the same grievances as you? But what if you are the only one with the issues? At this stage, you have to ask yourself if you have had issues with every boss that you’ve worked with.
LinkedIn Influencer Liz Ryan, offers some great advice, “At work or at home, the most significant thing you can do to change the people around you is to look at your own role in the drama. You have one! We’ve all played the victim part. It’s easier to complain about other people than to shift our own point of view.”
2. Interpersonal relationships
Interpersonal relationships take work. Liz Ryan sums it up well by saying, “We live in a break/fix society. We look for quick fixes. In many cases, we find them. We’re used to pushing a button and making our problems go away. In interpersonal relationships, it doesn’t work that way.”
Marilyn Puder-York suggests seeing ourselves as an equal partner with our boss on this plan, rather than a victim of a power struggle. No one else can magically give us this mindset, though, it’s up to us as an individual to make this happen.
3. Observe your boss
How well do you know your manager? If I asked you what triggers their meltdowns, what would you say? Take a step back and closely observe them for one week. Take note of what makes them stressed, nervous, angry, or defensive. Slowly get to know their motivations, their triggers, and what they fear. Are they worried that you’re better than them? Or are they constantly being knocked back by their fellow managers? Is their workload simply unmanageable? If you were in their shoes, what would you find difficult and challenging?
4. Be amazing at your job
Because you have observed your manager for a week, you’ll now know what pushes their buttons. Next, try and make their life easier. It’ll be hard work, but ultimately you want to gain your manager’s trust. For example, if you’re dealing with a micromanager, give updates first thing each morning and continue to shower them with so much information that they will pour over it all day long.
Likewise, if they are obsessed with time and efficiency – arrive into work ten minutes early every morning, turn up five minutes early at every, single, meeting and be fully prepared for meetings. Being fully prepared means not waiting until the start time of the meeting to begin printing out copies of your handouts for everyone, and turning up late and flustered!
5. Don’t get petty
If things are still not improving, it can be so tempting to try and get score small personal victories – days off here and there, a missed deadline, a long lunch, coming in late in the mornings. However, these actions are nothing more than self-defeating behaviors and if you start going out of your way to annoy your manager, things will certainly escalate. It’ll be hard, but dig deep and rise above it.
6. Focus on building great relationships with everyone
If you’re a bright and capable person who likes to get things done efficiently and properly, other people in your workplace will notice too. On top of this, by being sociable and friendly, you’ll carve out a positive reputation for yourself. You don’t have to be defined by the relationship with your difficult manager, and in big companies, there is always the opportunity to move sideways into other teams and other departments. Always be thinking of your next career step and work towards it with a positive attitude.
7. What are your other options?
If you have exhausted all of your patience and you are still miserable working under your difficult manager, think about all of your options. Did you know that on average people change jobs every three years? Is it possible for you to wait it out until your manager moves on? If you have a feeling that they won’t be going anywhere until they retire, can you consider moving into a new team or moving to a new location? Does your company offer internal interviews for roles? If so, why not apply?
8. If you decide to move on
Sadly, if there are no other viable options for you in your present company you might decide to move on and start looking for a new role. No doubt you’ll wrestle with this decision, especially if you have built up strong friendships with your colleagues, but do what is best for you.
When you begin to get offered interviews, make sure you have an answer prepared for the “so, why are you leaving your current role” question. Avoid saying that you couldn’t work with your manager anymore. Whatever your answer is, practice it out loud as many times as it takes for you to get comfortable with it.
9. Research your future manager
Once bitten, twice shy. When you are offered an interview, ask for the name of the manager of the team. You’ll be able to research your future manager online and if you are lucky enough to have a contact at this company, reach out to them and they might be able to give you the insider’s guide to the culture and your (possible) future manager. The interview itself will give you a sense of what this person is like too. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
As the saying goes, “Work would be great, if it wasn’t for the people”. Interpersonal relationships are not quick fixes and they take work. If you put your relationship with your manager aside, and can still say that you enjoy the company culture, then start looking at small steps for making your manager trust you. You won’t be in that role forever, so always be thinking about the next step to further your career.