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When your manager is difficult

They’re always wearing a frown, criticizing staff, and shooting down ideas. They are a storm cloud, blocking out sunny moods and lightheartedness. They are difficult managers.

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a difficult manager at some point or another. It’s amazing how a single person can sour the mood of an office, isn’t it? Their callous attitude can bring everyone down, deflate motivation, and squash innovation and creativity.

How can you possibly defeat such an energy vampire? Isn’t it easier to simply quit your job and find better management elsewhere?

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to overcome an unsupportive manager, there are a few methods you can try before raising the white flag and heading somewhere else. Start with the following five tips:

Remain calm

The way you react to your manager can have a profound effect. If you return a snippy attitude with snippiness, or if you return anger with anger, you’ll only end up more frustrated. Instead, work on detaching yourself from your manager’s poor attitude. The next time he riles you up, remove yourself from the situation (physically or mentally), count to ten, and think about the encounter logically. Is it worth it to respond in kind? Probably not. Instead, find your inner calm and return childish behavior with calm reason.


Although it may take significant effort on your part, it is best to focus on a task, not the criticism. Unless your manager has good reason for her critiques, it is best to let them slide off your back. Strategize and forge ahead as best you can, keeping the goal—not the criticism—at the center of your mind.

Be direct, if possible

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be direct with your manager. If one of his criticisms seems off-base, ask him to explain what he means and how you and your team can perform better next time. Alternatively, you might try bringing up your feelings in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. Let him know how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what would make the situation better. Use the D4 model of feedback as a guide and be sure to bring up specific examples.

You’ll have to be brave to directly face your manager, but honestly, what do you have to lose? Sometimes a direct approach can be a breath of fresh air. It’s possible your manager is unaware of the profound effect of his words and actions and simply needs someone to point it out.

And if your directness completely flops? It may be a sign that it’s time to move on to greener pastures (but be sure to consult a career coach before doing anything too drastic!)

Have perspective

An article by Liz Ryan of Forbes Magazine encourages us to see our difficult managers as minor parts in our lives. She says, “Eventually you reach a point where no manager can make you fearful, because you realize that any boss is just a bit player in your movie. You are the director and the star. You could leave any boss at any moment and it wouldn’t kill you — it wouldn’t be ideal perhaps, but you’ll survive. Keep that in mind!”

Ask what you can do better, specifically

It’s possible your manager’s expectations are simply not aligning with your work. The only way to find out is to ask for specific feedback on specific projects. Small changes in your work may have a big impact on your boss’ attitude.

Be empathetic

If your manager suddenly becomes more grim and angry than usual, it’s possible she’s going through a rough patch in her personal life. Many of us leave our personal struggles at home and cover up hardships as best we can in the workplace. This might be the case with your difficult boss. With that in mind, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t take harsh words too personally. Remain calm and talk to your boss as an individual, not as a brutish machine, out to get you. Your empathy may make all the difference.



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three types of bad bosses

It happens more often than it should. A person rises to power who doesn’t have the interest, inclination, or skills it takes to be a good boss. It’s not always that person’s fault—many companies do not invest time and resources in training their managers and force many people to learn through “trial by fire.” And then there are those who are simply not interested in engaging with or developing their team. They would rather be doing office work than investing time in their staff.

Whatever the case, you’ve probably encountered the dreaded “bad boss.” I’m going to look at three different behaviors that your bad boss might exemplify and show you ways to overcome each scenario. Ready to grab your own success and jump over the bad boss hurdle? Read on!

1. The Micromanager

This is the boss who is always looking over your shoulder and checking in to make sure you’re doing things just how s/he wants them done. This person is a perfectionist and might go as far as giving you daily or weekly checklists. Such a boss can make you feel claustrophobic and limit your growth potential.

What to do:

First of all, understand that you micromanaging boss is likely acting the way she does because she cares deeply about the good of the company. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it! If your boss is approachable and open to communication, consider scheduling a meeting in which you request to take on a project by yourself. If your boss waffles, ask if there is something about the quality of your work that is holding her back. You might learn some valuable insight from your conversation!

If, however, your boss is not the approachable type, consider a different tactic: Accomplish tasks and check-in before she tells you to. Anticipate the next item on her to-do list and do it before you’re directed to do so. This demonstrates that you are a go-getter and are perfectly capable of going above and beyond expectations without being directed to do so. You may even consider sending your boss your daily or weekly plans so you can gain even more control of your schedule.

2. The Unengaged

On the opposite end of the micromanager boss is the boss who is simplify unengaged. This is the boss who is largely absent or who rarely bothers to check-in with their team. This bad boss might think it’s a waste of time to invest in team-building activities, training, or one-on-one meetings.

What to do:

Initiate engagement. Schedule a meeting with your boss or, if he’s hard to pin down, make a point of stopping by his office when he’s around. Make sure you keep your meeting brief and bright—unengaged bosses often feel like they don’t have time for small talk. In your meeting, be sure to express your thanks to the boss for meeting and let him know that it made a big difference. Such encouragement will help him realize the value of such meetings.

If you’ve tried in earnest to get your boss involved in office life, but he hasn’t taken the bait, try going a different route. Engage your co-workers. If your boss isn’t lending much support, chances are your co-workers are just as frustrated as you are. Connect with them and use each other for brainstorming, problem-solving, and as mental or emotional support. Seek resources together and work on building a more collaborative atmosphere.

3. The Gossiper

“Did you hear about…?” The boss with gossiping tendencies can lower morale and create an atmosphere of distrust. What’s more, if you’re not buddy-buddy with this boss, you may wonder if you will be the next victim of their gossip.

What to do:

This is a tricky one. Although you might not be able to stop your boss from playing favorites and spreading rumors, you can make a personal commitment to rise above office gossip. Harvard Business Journal recommends setting firm boundaries with gossipers (whether your boss or a co-worker). When you see a conversation headed toward gossip, put a stop to it and say, “Please do not put anything in my head that you expect me to not act on. I will not carry around a conclusion about another person without sharing it with them.”

Your integrity carries weight. By refusing to participate in gossip, you build credibility and trustworthiness. And remember, silence is the same thing as complacence. If you are silent, you are promoting gossip.

And if your boss continues gossiping? You have a couple of tough decisions to make. Either you could choose to confront him about it and offer a solution (This article by Vital Smarts goes into establishing ground rules revolving around gossip), OR, If your quality of life is being severely affected by the gossip, you could seek employment somewhere else. If that’s the case, you might want to consult a career coach before making any major decisions.


There are, of course, many other types of “bad bosses” out there, but hopefully this list gave you some ideas for how to deal with your own troublesome boss. Feel free to add your own experiences and advice in the comments section (no name dropping, please!) or contact me for more advice.


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