Navigating the Challenges of Difficult Boss Behavior: 6 Strategies for Success

December 12, 2014
two hands grasped together

In my travels as a Global Professional Instructor for CPI, I’m often asked how to manage the behavior of others who are in a supervisory role.
Most employees find it difficult—if not impossible—to handle the behavior of their manager. People are concerned about whether they have the “right” to do that. They are certainly concerned about whether it will affect their job as well as the relationship they have worked hard to build with their supervisor.
But it really doesn’t need to be difficult. We just need to tailor our interventions to the person who’s our boss. The following suggestions should help.
Manage up.
There will be times when issues arise and things don’t go well for you at work. Your supervisor will be required to address them with you. Why not beat them to the punch? Reach out to them right away and address the issue before they contact you. They will probably appreciate your proactive approach and feel that, by contacting them first, you’re not trying to dodge the issue. For example, you may have had an unpleasant interaction with a customer. Communicate with your boss and give them the facts and your perspective as well as your game plan moving forward on how you plan to rectify the situation. This approach will generate respect for you.
Get others involved; e.g., Human Resources.
Supervisors are people and sometimes people make mistakes. If you feel that’s the case in a particular situation and you have sincerely tried to address the mistake with your boss, get others in your company involved if you feel they can help clarify things. This is not an attempt to get anyone in trouble or to create “bad blood.” It simply provides an additional perspective that can help remedy the situation. Be honest, nonjudgmental, and professional in your approach. Follow up with your supervisor at the end to ensure that everyone’s on the same page and there are no hard feelings.
Offer to help meet their need to manage others.
Managers are often overwhelmed by upper management’s or administration’s directives to manage personnel. This can create a lot of stress for them. Can you offer to serve as a mentor for other employees they’re managing? Can you offer your services in some way? Can you help pick up some of the slack? This is not about being the “manager’s pet” or scoring brownie points. It’s about putting yourself in the shoes of your immediate supervisor, empathizing, and seeing how you can help.
Develop rapport with your manager.
What do you and your boss have in common? Is it a sport, activity, favorite genre of movie, or mutual desire for excellence? Find that common ground and build on it whenever you can. This not only creates positive vibes, it also gives you something to discuss other than business. My old boss and I used to go out and play darts after work. I found our working relationship improved greatly once we started doing that.
Not only is listening a powerful general behavior management tool, it really creates an environment of respect with your manager. While you may not always agree with what your boss says, at a minimum, they expect your attention for their concerns. If we empathize and put ourselves in their shoes, we would expect the same thing. Additionally, listening to others has a calming effect on them. A calm manager is easier to manage.
Set limits.
As a last resort, you may have to set limits with your boss. Before working for CPI, I had supervisors who were rude, demeaning, bullying, obsessive-compulsive, and control freaks. I found that when I communicated to them what I would accept and what I would not, they generally fell into line. No one had had the guts to do that with them before! When they didn’t change their tune, I found other means of income generation. Acknowledge to yourself the worth you bring to the organization and make a decision. It’s not an easy one, but no one deserves to be abused. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim. No job is worth that!
The Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program is designed to help you manage assaultive and disruptive behavior in a human services setting. We can employ the same methods in a corporate or business setting—or even our personal lives. The techniques I’ve mentioned can help you create a win-win situation for both yourself and your employer. The ultimate winner will be the people you serve. And that’s always good for the “bottom line.”

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