The sheer nature of boss-employee relationship, regardless of how laid-back it might be, guarantees that there will be at least some friction and tension. The boss, in essence, needs you to do some work for them and has a spectrum of tools to use in getting what they want out of you. This will always cause strain, that’s just how it is. Work-related stress falls under the top five life pressures for the majority of working people.
And, in most cases, this stress comes from dealing with one’s boss. Now, just having a boss presents a potential source of anxiety and frustration, but adding to that is often the fact that many bosses could not be described better than being just plain difficult. To understand how to survive such a type of “superior” and grow professionally (despite the circumstances) we need to analyze the boss and your reactions to him or her first.
The Rise of the Difficult Boss
Every boss is a human being, even though all of us (including themselves) sometimes forget that. What this means is that they will have their good days, bad days, and horrible days, just like anyone does. And as in any human interaction, we will inevitably respond to someone else’s foul mood and probably have our day ruined by it. Yet, even though unpleasant, we will all agree that such occasional situations don’t cause as much stress as instances of chronically difficult bosses. So, let’s dig deeper into what makes a boss difficult.
In the majority of companies, one gets promoted into a manager because of their technical ability to do well what they were hired to do – sell, negotiate, research, provide services… They work very hard, gain skills in their profession, commit many hours to perfecting their competencies, work overtime and bring profit to the firm. As a reward, they get the promotion, and find themselves managing others (a different type of position than they once had). It is extremely rare that a person becomes a manager because of their leadership skills. And in most cases, even after they have been promoted into someone’s boss, they receive little or no training that regards managing and leadership capacities. As a result, we have highly skilled bosses that are lousy at interacting with their subordinates and don’t have a profound understanding of (or interest in) how to motivate others towards success, job satisfaction, and professional growth.
It is understandable then that such person might feel overwhelmed with their new role. In many cases like these, they aren’t really good team leaders and they don’t invest energy into improving their managerial skills. This can lead into many conflicts and stress for everyone at the workplace. And it could look like there’s no way out of it for you. If you complain to a difficult boss that doesn’t have enough self-awareness and isn’t that confident, you might be “angering the gods.” And let’s be honest, in many instances, if you go to his or her superiors, this could also cause professional damage to you, no matter how substantiated the complaint is. You might feel discouraged at this point, but quitting (or being miserable until the rest of your working life) isn’t the only solution.
If you learn how to tackle interaction with such a difficult person with grace, you will not only earn a peace of mind at your current position, but also gain a skill that will save you from many future problems.
How You Can Make Things Better
First, let us start with a general, but very important truth, and that is that stress is in the eye of the beholder. Even though this might not help much without learning about particular things you can do to make things better, keep in mind this credo at all times. Because you cannot change anyone else, in the end, but you can change everything about you and your reactions to what happens to you.
What specifically you can do? You can consider ways in which you could become an asset to your manager. This might sound like giving in, but by finding ways to indirectly help your boss become better in managing others, you will gain success skills for yourself, ones that you yourself can use on your career path. Here are some specific tactics you could try:
- Compare your behavioral styles and find ways to modify your approach to fit your boss’ way of reacting better. Is your boss an extrovert, or an introvert? Does he act fast or prefers to think things through thoroughly? Is he a fast person in general, or is he slow in responses? Does he follow the rules to the letter or is he more of a creative and original thinker? Try to find a way not to fight the differences between the two of you, but to mold your own behavioral style around them. The result could be something amazing!
- Search for ways to fill in the boss’ gaps in skills, instead of emphasizing them and complaining about them. It might not be something you would be eager to do, given how much stress he causes. But if you don’t plan on quitting the job just yet, it will be a relief to make the entire machinery work a bit better. For example, if your boss is a lousy planner, you could take over that part of work. You will be under less stress because of poorly set deadlines, and the boss might even feel a bit of gratitude and be less unpleasant.
- Understand that your boss also feels pressure and is more than just the jerk who comes to work to make your life miserable. He might experience pressure from his superiors, and have responsibilities that you as a subordinate might not be aware of. Also, different people react differently to stress. This does not excuse any rudeness or hostility, but could help you feel less insulted or hurt by his comments and actions. Empathy for your boss will help you feel better, and relieve the tension for both.
- Finally, think about whether your current struggles with your boss might be triggering a previous disturbing or unpleasant memory or relationship dynamic. Sometimes we unconsciously react not only to the person we’re interacting with, but also to what reminds us of somebody else from our lives. If these memories or problems in our current relationships have not been processed correctly, they may be adding to the emotional charge of your current struggles with your boss. And since we’re commonly unaware of such tendency in our reactions, talking to a psychotherapist who would help us see objectively what it is that’s triggering us can be very helpful.
Having to deal with difficult people is a part of life. Most us will have at least one difficult boss at some point in our careers. But, as any other experience in life, we can learn and grow out of such circumstances. Consulting a psychotherapist is highly helpful in this situation, as having a difficult boss that drains your energy day to day can be very damaging for your motivation and life satisfaction. You can work on your own stress management, improve communication skills, analyze your emotional reactions, find ways to confront your frustrations, and be guided through decision-making process with him. You will have someone on your side who will help you tap into your potentials to interact productively, to react adaptively, and to advance in your career and life.