Day 44 of 365 - Flickr

“My boss is very bright but puts me in awkward situations by saying things that are not true. I am hesitant to bring this up, because he has a short fuse and responds by belittling me,” David explained. If you have not had at least one difficult boss, consider yourself fortunate. Just don’t assume that it will never happen, because chances are it will occur at some point in your career. David’s experience is not unique.

Whether it is a boss whose idea of management is providing constructive feedback via email in all capital letters instead of having a conversation or a manager whose mood swings are so extreme that projects get derailed, a difficult boss can make work extremely challenging. This type of behavior has a significant impact:

  • 65 percent of Americans would choose a better boss over a pay raise because bosses are leaving people feeling unappreciated, uninspired and miserable (Michelle McQuaid)
  • 80 percent of people don’t trust the boss to tell the truth (Edelman Trust Barometer)
  • The organizational cost of difficult bosses is $360 billion a year in lost productivity (Michelle McQuaid)

In David’s case, he frequently found that his boss would agree on an issue with him in a meeting but do a complete 180 a day later by saying he was unaware of the same issue. What made this situation even more difficult was the fact that David’s boss would commonly do this at a high volume in front of others and include comments that would give the impression that David had either dropped the ball or was incompetent. Because David was organized and consistently made sure to get agreement before moving forward, his boss’s behavior was frustrating for him. If you find yourself in a similar situation with your boss, try these suggestions to prevent you from taking any actions that could be career limiting.

Resist the temptation to respond in kind.

While countering substantial “heat” from your boss with substantial heat of your own might be cathartic in the short term, it can have negative consequences when done with the wrong person or at the wrong time. Know when to stand your ground and when to let things roll off your back.

Seek out the sources.

As you encounter these difficult situations with your boss, try to determine the core factors that lead to them. Pay attention to what happened prior to the encounters. Try to identify the triggers that are likely to set off your boss.

Focus on strategies.

Even though you may not like the way your boss treats you, you still have to figure out how to manage these situations if you want to continue in your role. As much as you can, look at these difficult scenarios as problems to be solved and come up with your top two or three ways for doing so.

Keep things in perspective.

Your job is important, and working with your boss as well as possible is part of your job. When you reach a critical frustration point, take a step back and consider the other elements that are important to you. Thinking about family, friends and non-work interests can help bring you back to center.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Day 44-365, Flickr)