Few relationships in life can get as difficult as the relationship with your boss. Henry Cloud, author of The One-Life Solution, says there are two main reasons for this and you need to understand them.
Reason 1: The boss has real power over youHe/she can make demands on your two greatest resources: time and energy. He/she can fire you. He/she can decide whether you can take leave, see your child playing sport, etc.
- Get your balance sheet up before setting boundaries or negotiating for time or energy.
- Be so good in what you do that they need you more than you need them. This is when you see those conversations go better.
Reason 2: The boss has psychological power over youThey slip neatly into a parental slot in your head, simply based on the fact that they are authority figures. Authority figures can pull feelings and reactions out of you that can go all the way back to your own parents or other early authority figures.
- Determine who this boss reminds you of. Is this boss your critical father or domineering mother or teacher of church figure? Use this as a growth opportunity. Remember, the boss is not your problem. Your problem is the way he or she is able to get you. If you do not grow and resolve this, you will take it with to your new boss. Gain insight and try to get some separateness from your boss.
- Next, respond in some assertive way. Plan the meeting. Get support and role play the meeting before you talk. Own your message and speak directly to your boss. If other people in the department/section have the same problem with the boss, talk to them and ask if they would join you. Go to HR for help. They give professional assistance.
- If your boss is abusive and if you have professional assistance, follow through with the grievance procedures of your company, again with the help of HR.
- If you are not prepared to do the above, but you enjoy your job and you still want to stay in your job, get ways to fire-wall yourself and to work around him/her.
How to handle a difficult boss situationHere are some strategies on handling a difficult boss situation:
- Always have a Plan B: Most people are too scared to confront their boss about abusive behaviour for obvious reasons. Having a Plan B in your pocket (e.g. a job offer from another employer) would give you the courage to confront assertively and respectfully.
- Never react to verbal abuse or harsh criticism with emotions: Reacting emotional always causes more trouble and even a war against an ego. Rather acknowledge and validate his/her argument to get the heat down before trying to state your point of view.
- Discuss rather than confront: If you react emotional, it becomes confrontational and that breeds more conflict. If they criticise your work, that means they have their own idea on how that work should be done. So ask them for their advice on how your work can be improved.
- Keep your professional face on: You do not have to like or be friends with your boss. Keep up a professional face and performance.
- Evaluate your own performance: Before you go attacking your boss, examine your own performance (and check your perception with colleagues). Ask yourself if you are doing everything right.
- Do not go up the chain of command unless it is a last resort: Try to discuss issues with your supervisor first and only go up the chain of command as a last resort.
- Encourage good behaviour with praise: Proactive praising is much more effective than reactive criticism. Very few people praise their bosses and all human beings need it.
- Document everything: If you choose to stay with a toxic employer, then document everything. This will become your main ammunition should a complaint ever be filed down the road. Document interactions with them as well as your own activities so that you can remind them of your own achievements at performance review time.
- Leave work at work: Get into the habit of leaving work at home and not bringing it into your personal life because that will only add to your level of stress.
If you find yourself struggling with a difficult boss, you are welcome to contact Elsa Simpson for:
- Assertiveness Coaching: Individual coaching or counselling or a three-day workshop on assertiveness (becoming aware of your own behaviour, being able to assess other people’s behaviour and learning skills to confront difficult behaviour).
- Relational Coaching: couple in relationship change (coping with lack of connectedness, addictions, affairs and power struggles).
- Group Support Coaching: one-day or two-day workshops (Transform) supporting employees going through organisational change.