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Your cheat sheet for dealing with a difficult boss

The corporate life is not easy - and there will always be difficult people to work with. But, how can you react and respond in these situations without feeling overwhelmed?

Meenakshi Vijay
16th Mar 2019
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Time and again, I have come across the age-old adage in the corporate world that employees leave bosses and not the organisation. It is funny though that bosses are generally the most difficult people to deal with for most employees. While this may be true, a lot has changed in the way people react and respond to seniors today. Let's look at some of the scenarios.


In this competitive culture that we have created and inherited today, we get bosses who are much younger and extremely aggressive in their approach to work. Being young, they put in long hours and expect their team members to do the same, irrespective of age and responsibilities outside of office hours.


Workaholics wouldn't mind, but those wanting to have a semblance of a balance, primarily to improve their health - both emotional and physical, or the ones who want to spend time with their family or are going through a personal roller coaster, find it extremely difficult and sometimes even feel guilty about leaving on time or leaving early than other team members or the boss.


A casual remark from the colleagues or boss who says, "Half day today?" for leaving on time hits the nerves, and at times causes panic if they are being judged for under-performance... In my opinion, stop it right there. There is no need for you to panic or feel guilty. 


Consider this: When the boss gets pulled up for the team’s under-performance, there is a tendency to become aggressive that permeates through the hierarchy of the team. Even the minutest of mistakes becomes glaring. It may affect one's confidence. There is a sudden question of performance issue. The earlier stellar work does not count anymore. Your performance is under the radar.


And then you have the genuinely difficult bosses who prefer to be a terror, the Hitler, or the tartar. They are extremely opinionated and impossible to penetrate. You are never given the due credit. Even with the best of efforts, you are always kept on your toes.


The list is actually endless. While I can't and don't have an authority on difficult bosses and people who have psychological issues, I can provide you some guidelines, which I have found very effective in my 20 years of work experience.


1. Maintain an excel sheet just for yourself with the highlights for the week


2. After every meeting with the difficult boss, draft a MOM and share it with the boss, specifically requesting for any misunderstanding or points omitted


3. Show up for meetings on time


4. Never say a word about your boss negatively to anyone at work. It is very difficult to understand who your friend is or who is not. Sometimes it backfires so badly, you would not know what hit you. This could also jeopardize your future as big firms tend to refer to your former reporting managers to understand how you performed in your last assignment


5. Rehearse worst case scenarios and practice before meetings. This will cause less heart burn, and prepares you to deal with the situation better


6. Do not take negative criticism personally. It isn’t worth it. Nobody remembers it in the long run. It’s like the class 10 board exam marks. It seemed to be the most earth-shattering moment, but over the years, it becomes insignificant. Same rules apply for such instances.


See if there is reasoning behind the criticism.


  • Is there something for you to learn?
  • Is there truly a room for improvement?


If yes, smile and thank your boss for bringing to your notice and promise them that you will try your best to improve. If it is uncalled for, think of your favorite song or place or even your muse... the effect of such a demotivating and depressing moment would be far less. If it’s a one off, then ignore and move on, but if it is happening at a regular interval do the following.


Assess your accomplishments vis-à-vis what was asked. See if there is a reasoning, find out what your challenges are. Zero in where you falter. Seek the help of a colleague for an opinion. Find out your strengths and weaknesses. If you find more weaknesses than strengths, work out a time frame to up your ante or look for another department within the firm that matches your strength. If not, time to float your CV.


While this point may sound cynical, many of us stick around to prove a point, only to make the situation worse. These situations need a brutal self-assessment for our own good.


7.  For that that are truly difficult, but also a management’s pet, you just don’t have a chance.


And then comes your own personality in the professional arena.


The corporate life is not easy. I am saying this primarily to the newbies who start their career with stars in their eyes - don’t be disillusioned and don’t start changing jobs at the drop of a hat. My advice, stick around and find your interests. There is nothing like experimenting in the first five years of your career to find out the where you belong.


Office politics and difficult bosses are part of anyone’s career path. How much ever you hear about employee friendly organisations, politics creep in some form or the other.


Do your work well, be loyal to your work – not the organisation. Be organised, have your facts and figures right, equip yourself with the knowledge in the area of your interest, read, and be current, know the trends. While these sound like something everyone follows, trust me it is not.


While following it may not guarantee you freedom from a difficult boss, it will keep you equipped for any situation at work. At any given situation, stay professional, stay empowered - it sure will give you the strength to tide over the most difficult situation and teams.


Have a fabulous career!


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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