Work Relationships

5 Super Simple Tips for Dealing With a Difficult Boss

Written by Peter Jones

There are bad bosses and then there are tough bosses. If your boss is in the second category, they might not be doing anything outwardly wrong or inappropriate—they might even be a good boss, in the end—but they sure do keep you on your toes. Whether it’s micromanaging or outrageously high standards or inaccessibility… a difficult boss is a tough thing to manage.

Here are 5 strategies for how to make the best of a challenging situation, things you can do to change the situation from your end, and how it can benefit your career.

1. Don’t be too sensitive.

The first rule of tough bosses is not to take anything personally. Your boss might have a temper, or a super exacting work ethic, or almost unreasonable standards. Your boss might throw tantrums or demand the impossible. Your boss might be short with you. None of these things should be interpreted as personal affronts.

Your boss is human, and dealing with a bunch of things that have nothing to do with you; that’s in the background of every interaction. But also, a real professional takes the message in the madness (This project not perfect yet? Okay!) and leaves any perceived judgment behind. Let the tone or manner of the delivery be whatever it is; take the information you need and simply do your job. Plus, it doesn’t necessarily matter if your boss likes you.

2. Come up with the solutions yourself.

If you have a tough boss, try to get your questions answered elsewhere—same with your problems and small talk. It’s not possible to never need something from your boss, but you could probably drastically cut down on how many interactions you have with her where you’re not making her life easier. Focus on delivering results when you walk into her office. The more you go in there with solutions to her problems, rather than questions about your own… the better.

3. Be proactive.

If you have access to your boss’s schedule, make a note of what big projects and priorities she’s working on and stay mindful of them. Help where you can. Be proactive. Keep thinking forward, and help your boss do the same. And instead of waiting to be asked to check in (or for an informal performance review), take the initiative to schedule regular check-ins with your boss and come prepared. Detail what you’ve been working on and the progress you’ve been making. Basically, anticipate your boss’s needs and questions and have answers always at the ready.

4. Radiate confidence.

Even when you make mistakes. Especially when you make mistakes! Rather than trying to hide or fib your way out of it, take responsibility. Own it. Say “I screwed up and here is how I’m already working to fix it.” Remind yourself that their anger will fade, that you’re still the smart and capable employee they hired, and give them a bunch of good reasons to forget you ever erred.

5. Figure out what’s in it for you.

A tough boss can actually be a great opportunity. You’ll work that much harder, be that much more on your game. And you’ll probably get lots more done. You’ll also figure out what you are (and aren’t) looking for in your next boss, so you can make a more informed career decision when next you’re on the market. Try to focus on the positive aspects of this challenging situation, and you’ll be able to use this one tough boss to better your whole career.

About the author

Peter Jones